Friday, 3 December 2010

Corruption...and our surprising responses to it!

Katherine Pendill’s recent facebook status update brought the line “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are” by Anais Nin to my attention. I had never encountered this quote before, although it really only restates the obvious fact that a lot of what we observe can never be empirically proven, especially where other people and their actions are concerned, as it is as much a result of our perception as it is of whatever phenomenon we think we are perceiving.


Doesn’t there come a point where so many people think they ARE seeing things AS THEY ARE that it’s highly unlikely that so many people can wrong? At this point are we merely discussing a consensus of opinion or reality itself?

Something happened today. To many people it will seem trivial, but to many millions of others, including me, it was actually quite important. I make no apologies for finding it important, it’s part of my “cultural heritage”, it’s one of the subjects I’ve always been most interested in (regardless of how trivial some others may find it), it’s something I love the way I love music or books or films.

FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Assocation, the world governing body of international football, awarded the World Cup, the flagship international football tournament, to Russia for staging in 2018 and to Qatar for staging in 2022.

“Okay,” you might say (I’m assuming a large number of people reading this will have no interest at all in football, hence the cool reaction), “it’s an international tournament, so why not Russia and Qatar?” And, at that level, you’d be absolutely right in saying that and Sepp Blater, the FIFA President, does have an agenda for taking the World Cup to nations and continents that have never hosted the tournament before.


Let’s get the clich├ęd elephant in the room out in the open – FIFA is an endemically corrupt organisation. Two of its executive members have been suspended for selling votes. Another, Jack Warner, was fined $1million (US) for profiteering on the black market with tickets for the 2006 tournament held in Germany and then attempted to order $84.5million worth of tickets for the 2010 tournament in South Africa, presumably for the same reason; to put together over-priced corporate packages which bypass the authorized ticket allocation system. That fact that Warner was still on the FIFA Executive Committee beggars belief; most nations regard black market ticket touting as not only immoral but illegal and he should surely have been facing charges somewhere. Three other members of the executive committee were named in a BBC documentary only three days before the votes took place as having received payments and bribes from at least one sporting organisation.

I’m not going to go into all the details of these allegations, I’m not writing this for a publication that will give me money to do so or a university course that will give me a mark towards a qualification, so you can all happily Google away yourselves and look at the evidence. You may have to pay to look at the Times pages online but that’s a small price if you want the full story. Suffice to say that putting “FIFA” and “corruption” together in a Google search will get you over 500 references. The choice of two nations with the poorest technical bids (ie: no stadiums currently capable of hosting the tournament, no travel infrastructure, insufficient hotel accommodation, etc) and mixtures of dodgy human rights, corrupt political institutions, suspected mafia involvement in police forces and judicial systems and the like were never going to be anything less than controversial.

The point of this piece is to ask what should be done about such an organization and, more tellingly maybe, why are so many people in the United Kingdom happy to turn a blind eye to such corruption and castigate the news organizations that report it? Four of the five panel members on BBC’s Question Time on December 2nd were actively criticizing the BBC for not postponing the Panorama documentary into alleged FIFA corruption screened on Monday November 29th until after the December 2nd vote. The letter pages of are today full of fans haranguing the BBC and The Sunday Times for England losing the World Cup bid; the same can be found on BBC and Yahoo web forums. The only notable exception in coverage that I have seen so far came from Michael Portillo on the BBC’s This Week programme broadcast immediately after Question Time, and he asked exactly the question I have above: Are we now happy as individuals to just allow corruption to flourish as long as we get what we want?

I can only answer the second question for myself and I say “No!” I know people who I believe to be corrupt in one way or another; where nothing has been proven against them I will keep my own consul and keep them at arms length, where something has been proven against them I will disassociate myself from them and also from anyone who decides that their behaviour is acceptable. This is my chosen stance and it can sometimes bring me into conflict with other people who don’t share my views on this or on the individuals involved. I admit I have made incorrect judgments in the past and, where this has happened, I have apologized and left it up to the other person to decide how they wish to relate to me, or not as the case may be, from that point onwards. Having a moral stance in life in not an optional extra; being mealy mouthed about a situation you see as wrong is not a positive character trait (don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or lose “influence” or, worse still, have to admit to being wrong), it’s cowardice pure and simple!

Having got that out of the way and magically made myself the Chief Executive of the English Football Association for the duration of this piece, I will now answer the first question: What should be done about FIFA and its corrupt antics?

The first thing the English FA should do is resign its memberships of both FIFA and UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) which would then exclude the English national team and English club sides from all competitions run under the auspices of these organizations. FIFA would not give a damn about this, but, believe me, UEFA would. The European Champions League and Europa League competitions derive a lot of their financial power from the participation of English clubs and the support of English supporters, Sky Television makes a lot of money from English subscribers watching these games on their sports channels.

The second thing to do would be to invite all nations that have an issue with these tournaments to take part in alternative World tournaments in the same years which would be run in England (or the whole United Kingdom should the other domestic Football Associations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide to join in action against FIFA). Most pointedly, invitations would be sent to Spain and the United States of America, both of whom have also expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the 2018 and 2022 tournament awards (even President Obama has called the 2022 award to Qatar wrong). Indeed, either Spain or the USA might be tempted to host one of the tournaments as an alternative to England and should be actively encouraged to do so.

Thirdly, the UK government should be lobbied to request international political investigation into a body that sees itself as something akin to the Vatican, allowing no political input into the independent football associations of each nation upon fear of expulsion from “the family” of football associations but quite happy to demand tax concessions for itself and its “partner” organisations from national governments in order to allow international tournaments to take place on their territory (this is part of the conditions that FIFA require governments of football associations wishing to bid to hold their tournaments sign up to).

Will this happen? I doubt it, but I’d be interested to see what might happen if these requests went “viral” on the internet and every football fan with an issue over these tournaments suddenly started emailing their domestic football associations and ministers (or equivalent) for sport with these demands.

I’m off to start emailing…

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

It's the Pink Rays from Sirius, Man! Memories of Paul "Gamma" Gamble...

Paul Gamble – Gamma – the ultimate Frank Zappa fan, science fiction bookseller and film fan and champion has passed away. I don’t know of the technical details of his death but, from news received via mutual friends, it was not entirely unexpected in a technical sort of way; Gamma had been a monumental drinker and partaker of life’s pleasures for a very, very long time and that lifestyle invariably takes its toil. Sixty-two years is still far too young though, I never expected Gamma to live to less than two hundred and sixty-two or somewhere thereabouts (maybe the odd millennia on top).

Gamma and I started working together in 1985 although we’d know each for a few years prior to that; via chatting in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, the London SF and comics bookshop that pre-dated Forbidden Planet; talking and drinking at conventions and other gatherings; and minor book-booking visits to Titan Distributors in Mile End. For a goodly few years we attended numerous SF and fantasy conventions together, got pissed together after work discussing books and authors and the weird and wacky nature of the world, turned up at the Wellington on the first Thursday of the month when London’s SF fandom held court. We’d go drinking together in Kentish Town where Gamma moved to in the 80s with a motley crew of friends and acquaintances (Hunter Tremayne, Elaine, Richard Lewis and Graeme Roberts, God only knows how many others). Gamma was instrumental in getting the Philip K Dick Metz Speech performance that took place at Mexicon IV which I chaired, he spent a lot of time in the late 80s getting Barry Bayley, another friend who is no longer with us, republished by Pan (I believe), He championed Interzone, the British SF magazine which took on New Worlds mantle for being cutting edge and breaking new British writers in the field, frequently haranguing the accounts staff at Titan with loud outbursts of “These guys NEED to be paid, it’s an important magazine man!”

That’s all the easy stuff to write; we all have our times and dates and venues for meeting and being with Gamma and I could easily add dozens more instances and names – drinking in the Troy Club with John Brosnan, yet another departed friend (God, I hate that term), frequently; retiring to the same venue after Forbidden Planet signings with a hoard of SF writers and artists and fans; sitting in bars in hotels until 3 or 4am getting hammered with the same crew of people (Dave Holmes, Iain Banks, Penny, Roger, Richard, Graeme, Andy, Greg Ketter and Bryan Barrett if they were visiting from the States, numerous others) whilst Rob Holdstock (no, can’t say it again, I really can’t) or Dave Garnett or Rog Peyton or Chris Evans or someone else would wander by, join in the laughter and buy another round. The Dave t-shirt planning sessions were particularly surreal, the lists of lettered and numbered Daves, the room party at Mexicon III would stand out in my memory except for the huge amount of whiskey I drank at it (I ended up recovering in bed at home for three days after that convention and still can’t drink Whiskey because of it!).

It’s easy to glorify the past, but these were magical times in my life and I met a lot of people that I admire and respect and love to this day – Banks obviously, Dick Jude, Dave Baldock, Colin Greenland, Roz Kaveney, Jim Burns. Stan Robinson, dozens of others to add to the names dotted throughout the above – and I wish I had seen them all more in the last fifteen years or so just like I wish I had seen Gamma in that time, but life gets complicated at times. I’ve been seeing Dave Tamlyn quite frequently recently, met up with Dick and Iain a short while ago and it just sort of seemed obvious that Gamma and I would meet up at some point soon as well; no need to push it, the universe provides the time and place and reason. I feel like Elric at the moment, wanting to damn the Gods of Law and Chaos and take my revenge on them, but maybe it’s better this way. I get to remember Gamma as the elemental force he was; filling the world with Zappa and Dick-isms, getting a stiff upper lip in a convention hotel bar or the Troy Club, verbally pummelling some editor into submission that Barry Bayley or Mike Harrison or (insert name of author here) should ALWAYS be in print, joining in with his son Leon, still a teen in my mind, as they belittle my beloved football team as we sit in a beer garden in Kentish Town and that manic laugh and smile that would erupt and infect everyone around him.

I hope someone, preferably the biggest, most noticeable name in the SF field we can find, writes of Gamma’s life for Locus. There are a lot more authors out there than people realise who owe him a sizable chunk of their career for always keeping them being talked about or seen in print in import editions and damn where the rights may have been. There are a lot of fans who encountered books and magazines they may never have seen but for Gamma’s existence. There are a lot of us who would have far fewer happy memories of this world but for his presence in our lives.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

What an Interesting Week!

My my my, what a week it has been…

First, we’ve had 50,000 students protesting in London against university top-up fee rises where a few arseholes have kicked off, smashed a few windows, admittedly to the Tory party headquarters, danced on a roof at same said headquarters, and dropped a fire extinguisher from said roof at said headquarters that could have hit someone and, highly likely, killed them. From my extensive experience of students (Middlesex University Student Union employee as a bar manager in the mid nineties plus various periods of studying), most students aren’t actually that radical; it’s the Socialist Workers party and other hangers-on who want their grant money for bollocks “newspapers” and badly organised gigs that cause the problems.

Then we’ve had the announcements of reforms to the welfare system that’ll take three years to start and seven years to finish, if they ever get off the ground that is, which, if government traditions where I.T. systems are concerned continue, seems highly unlikely.

Everyone’s up in arms, we’re going back to the eighties, there’s going to be riots in the streets in Toxteth and Brixton and
Trafalgar Square
again! Heterosexual women with big hair and shoulder pads will don bovver boots and carry placards, turn lesbian overnight and chain themselves to branches of Waitrose! Dave Cameron will start cross-dressing, get a blonde bouffant hair-do and start asking to be called Margaret! The despondent Labour party will dig up the corpse of Michael Foot, parade it into parliament at the head of their massed rank of righteous indignation and Harriet Harmon will reveal, coyly, that Michael was that foolish liaison she experienced in her freshers week! My dog (if I had one) will sleep with my cat (if I had one) and begat a dat! Shudder!

Actually, I agree with Phill Hall, the students should be made to pay for their education. Stick 1% on top of their income tax after they graduate and start earning, and start it when they go above the average wage. What’s so wrong about that?

Again, as Phill has said elsewhere, it would never really affect most students very much anyway. The well-heeled son of the well-heeled father probably will end up making a considerable contribution to the costs of his education, but the average media studies student who ends up stacking shelves in Tescos at minimum wage (sorry guys, but you can’t all be film reviewers for the Guardian or get that gig on Film 2015 with Claudia Winkelman) is never going to have to worry (same goes for most archaeologists, but that’s a purely personal aside!).

It’s the same with welfare benefits reform. All the major parties and, indeed, the majority of the public realise it has to be done. Even if there are only 17,000 households in the UK getting over £400 a week in housing benefit under the current system, that’s still too much. Cut the level of housing benefit to something reasonable but also cap the level of rent private landlords can charge to anyone, working or not. People tend to forget that these self same landlords are, at the end of the mortgage period, gaining a sizable tangible asset which the tenant is effectively buying for them with their rent. (Okay, this ignores all those buy-to-let landlords who “own” property on interest only mortgages and expect to sell the property at the end of the mortgage period for a huge profit but, I’m sorry, the saying “If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is” comes to mind.)

And you know what? Personally, I agree that if someone refuses three job offers, so long as those jobs are appropriate to the skills and personal abilities of the candidate, they should be told to fuck off and don’t darken the lengths of our dole queues again. Caveats apply of course where people have genuine health or other issues that need to be addressed.

And I have one last, highly personal, point to make because I know someone will accuse me of it. I am NOT a Conservative party supporter, but neither am I a Labour party supporter, nor a Liberal-Democrat or a Green. I have, at various points in my adult voting life lasting thirty-one years, voted for all of them at some point in some level of election. Do you know why? Because they aren’t all always wrong and they aren’t all always right!

Some of the biggest racists I’ve ever met come from the “working classes”, the heart and soul (so they would have us believe) of Labour party support, some of the people with the biggest social consciences I’ve met have been members of the Conservative party, the one politician I met after the Broadwater Farm riots who really cared (so it seemed to me) was a Liberal (Lynne Featherstone for your information) who never had a cat in hell’s chance of ever standing or getting elected in that seat. It’s not that simple to put people in factions that either find favour or disfavour with us in a blanket circumstance; I think you might find that’s called dogma, which is never a good thing.

Hey ho! I wonder what next week will bring?