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Rebekah – the speculation continues…

June 25th, 2014 Comments off

Sorry, more about Rebekah B…

When I left News International at Wapping in 1991, a young woman 11 years my junior was just starting her career there. Maybe we passed on the stairs? She most certainly would have been the one going up!

Rebekah Wade, as she was then, the “flame-haired temptress” in the joke cliché beloved of British satirists, was not a journalist but a secretary. In the law, medicine, other professions, an unqualified person cannot take on the role of the practitioner. But journalism is one of the few fields where a person can literally work their way up from sweeping the floor or running errands – it happened a lot in the 20th century and is still possible today. It’s a good thing, but does undermine the claims many of us, including me, would like to make for journalism being regarded as a profession.

But Rebekah Wade/Kemp/Brooks’s talents cannot be classified in a traditional way – other than that of the courtesan, the wildly successful female enchantress of men of power.

For the unusual thing about Brooks, it appears, is that she has succeeded with charm and grit, and seduced [not, of course, in the physical sense] all those around her from mogul Rupert Murdoch to former PM’s wife Sarah Brown.

The moment when Murdoch, having flown to London because of the Milly Dowler hacking scandal, was asked his priority and replied “This one”, indicating Brooks, has become one of the most famous, extraordinary and puzzling, aspects of the whole business.

Descriptions of her effect on powerful people echo comments on Bill Clinton, in that the beam of her gaze seemed to indicate that the person she was meeting was the most fascinating, important, and possibly sexy, individual in the world. However, this effect seemed only to be deployed on VIPs, and not, as a politician would have to, on ordinary plebs.

Brooks’ image to the world consisted of her sex-flag of hair and As the 2012 Vanity Fair profile of her by Suzanna Andrews described it, a “Mona Lisa smile…as if she knows something she’s not telling.”

While social media erupted with astonishment at Brooks’s acquittal on all phone-hacking conspiracy charges on June 24, even Nick Davies of The Guardian told the BBC’s Newsnight that “I sat in the court room for nearly eight weeks, and I would have acquitted her”.

Brooks seems able to enchant just about everyone – no doubt it is all very studied, yet comes across as completely natural. Otherwise savvy operators such as David Cameron, Tony Blair and Piers Morgan would see right through her with their fake-detecting antenna, right?

Removing my tongue from my cheek, it’s only left to list Lily Langtry, mistress of the Prince of Wales and loads of other toffs 100 years ago; Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who did much the same sort of thing in Russia; Madame Pompadour or even, er, Wendi Deng? But these ladies played a role chiefly as sexual partner and fascinator, whereas Brooks was – and may well be again – a figure of power and achievement on male terms. She was the archetypal irresistible female, but with her hands on the lever at the most important media group in Britain – or not, as her not guilty verdict seems to suggest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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50% turnout? Politics needs more ‘Hell and Maria’ types

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

POINTLESS is an enjoyable early evening quiz show on BBC One. In it guests aim to decide which answer to a question would have had zero correct answers out there in the real world.

It’s hosted by Alexander Armstrong, with the wonderful, bespectacled Richard Osman as his sidekick. And last week there was a fascinating fact which appealed to me particularly. It was that Calvin Coolidge’s vice president on the 1924 ticket, Charles Dawes, was the same man who wrote the music for the hit song “All in the Game” in the 1950s. (“Many a tear has to fall, But it’s all, In the game…”.)

And to top his achievements, Charlie won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. He was, according to the Nobel website, known as “Hell and Maria” Charlie.

Now there’s a multitasker/polymath par excellence, which leaves one musing via the cliché “They don’t make ‘em like that any more.” At least, not in our dull western democracies, where high office seems reserved for the superhumanly bland, setting aside an Obama or two.

Read more…

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Longform journalism is dead! You read it here first

May 20th, 2014 Comments off

Longform shmongform. If you’re emulating Marcel Proust, don’t do it online.

“Why do you spend so much time reading those long boring articles in the New Yorker?” my husband inquired sniffily, before resuming his enjoyment of Neatorama.

Why indeed, I ask myself – well, not when it’s an instructive account of Berlin’s hipp-est clubs , as in a few issues back, or Lizzie Widdicombe’s fascinating “The End of Food” in the May 12 issue.

But sometimes you (that is, I) find the finger sneaking forward to scroll down – and there’s more – and more- and more – and for heavens’ sake, I have a life to live! Part of which includes reading all the other interesting stuff on the internet, and keeping up with the latest viral rabbits-eating-raspberries genre.

Another quote: “Longform is dead,” proclaimed the slender, sensitive, journalism graduate by my side as we quaffed institutional wine and celebrated the surprisingly good magazine which he and his peers had produced as a final-year assignment.

The magazine was both on paper and online – there was more content online, but the editor, my companion, assured me that it didn’t run on and on like Beowulf. “Always loved reading,” he said, “but I’ve realized there’s no point in putting long articles on my own website. It’s all about music, and I can see from the views and hits that people will watch the video, but just about nobody reads the equivalent article.” Read more…

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Ireland decides: perhaps hardened criminals should not drive cabs

January 23rd, 2013 No comments
Plans announced to clean up Ireland’s 6,000 taxi drivers with criminal convictions astonish Angela

 

In Ireland, after you’ve hailed a taxi, the driver who takes you home might be a sex abuser (convicted), or a thief (convicted) or violent (convicted).

Just when we living on the Emerald Isle thought we couldn’t be shocked about the incompetence of the authorities (two and a half years into our economic bailout, each of us paying €14,000 to make up to rich speculators) – along comes the news that 6,000 licensed taxi drivers here have criminal convictions. That’s about one in six.

Read more…

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Were the Nazis mad? No, says Tel Aviv academic

October 15th, 2012 No comments

The old chestnut of Hitler’s mental state has re-emerged. Angela heard some interesting takes on it at a London conference

WERE THE Nazis mad? Was Hitler possessed by some demon of the mind, which enabled him to carry a nation with him in his genocidal campaigns?

The answer is often a lazy ‘yes’. Collectively we cannot accept that such inhumanity to fellow creatures could be a sustained campaign for a whole nation.

But Jose Brunner of Tel Aviv University begs to differ: madness would have undermined the project. An incompetent or weak mind could not have sustained the huge undertaking which was the Second World War, and the extermination of whole races of people.

“Why do people say the Nazis were mad?” Brunner challenged a conference on totalitarianism in London. ‘They could not have prosecuted a war of that magnitude, over all those years, if madness was the prevailing condition.”

Likewise, says Brunner, a philosophy professor, the comfortably dismissive notion of Hitler as a madman distinct from society does not wash with his career. “If Hitler had been just mad, he would have lived his life in a garret, would never have been able to do what he did.”

Also director of the German history institute at Tel Aviv, Brunner was addressing a gathering of historians, philosophers and psychoanalysts at the Wellcome Centre in London. They had come together to consider the links between totalitarianism and psychoanalysis.

The Holocaust and the Nazi regime were major themes. The 20th century history of psychoanalysis – and in particular how it took root in the United States due to the arrival of many Jewish analysts, fleeing the storm in Europe – was largely seen through the prism of the Holocaust. A key organizer, Daniel Pick of Birkbeck College and the British Psychoanalytical Society, has just published a book on the conundrum of the Nazi mind and the motivation for the Third Reich.

 The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind uses, naturally, the case of Rudolf Hess as one key to the thought processes behind Auschwitz. (Hess was the senior Nazi who was captured after he parachuted into Scotland in 1943, and spent the rest of the war at   Spandau prison camp. There was little doubt that he was mentally ill, with even Churchill weighing in to comment that Hess was a “medical not a criminal case”).

Pick’s book also contains some fascinating material assembled by the OSS, one of the precursors of the CIA, who ‘profiled’ leading Nazis from a distance during the war. Some studies were done at closer quarters during the Nuremberg trials.

But were they certifiably mad? You’ll have to read Pick’s conclusions, but there is certain merit in Jose Brunner’s argument.

On the subject of a more contemporary horror, the debate raged both inside and outside the Norwegian court-room where Anders Behring Breivik stood trial for the murder of 77 people in July 2011. An eminent London psychiatrist told this writer, “Breivik is not necessarily mad because of what he did. He just made different choices.” And the court, in the end, decided that Breivik was sane.

There has been a recent manifestation of interest in Hitler, the Nazis and their inner workings. As well as Pick’s work, Laurence Rees’s book and BBC series, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, has just been published. It’s not immediately obvious why this has re-emerged at this time. It is 73 years since the Second World War was under way, although coming up to a tidier 70 years, in December, since the attack on Pearl Harbour which sanctioned the US entry to the conflict.

Whatever the immediate cause, the fascination with the evil of Hitler and his henchmen will remain. The darkness lurks within human beings: we crave to know what causes it to escape.

Links:

http://www.beyondthecouch.org.uk/?unique_name=events&item=60

 http://www.law.tau.ac.il/Eng/?CategoryID=242&ArticleID=171&Page=1

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Psychology/?view=usa&ci=97801683

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/01/pursuit-nazi-mind-daniel-pick

 

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