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Saturday, August 05, 2006

A different world

In recent days I have woken up to the latest news of violent death and personal disaster in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere and despaired. Like many people I am in a state of denial, trying not to come to terms with the huge global issues and problems facing all of us, for fear that I will fall into a deep depression about the future of the human race. Emma Brockes in today's Guardian just about sums it up:

When things started to deteriorate, it took a while to register. We are accustomed, as sophisticated consumers of the 24-hour news media, to taking a rolling approach to disaster, which means never regarding a story as finite, which means pretending that nothing has ultimate consequences, which means, if you want to go the whole philosophical hog, existing in a constant state of denial about death. Anyway. In news as in life, the way we deal with disturbing events is to wrap them in analytical packaging, an evasion that makes us feel more in control. If you don't have a position on war in the Middle East, you at least have an appreciation for the range of positions at your disposal and as long as Sky News keeps booking the experts and loading the graphics, there is no catastrophe too great or too strange to absorb.

September 11 was the exception to this. But without a single event to focus on, it has been relatively easy, since then, to relegate the daily drip of bad news to the top shelf of the brain. One night last week, the main item on the 10'clock news was Israel sending troops into Lebanon. It was accompanied by footage of tanks throwing up dust and people crawling out of bomb damaged housing. The second item was news of three British soldiers being killed in an ambush in southern Afghanistan and nine hundred more British troops being committed to the region, bringing the total to 4,500. The third item was that Corporal Matthew Cornish, a 29-year-old British soldier, husband and father of two young children, had died in a mortar attack in Basra, bringing the total number of deaths in Iraq that day to 60, which the reporter pointed out was slightly below average, and the death toll over the past two months to nearly 6,000.

At this stage, the shelf starts to buckle. Embedded in these stories was speculation about Iran's nuclear threat, a reminder that Gaza is still under siege, analysis of Tony Blair's fallout with his cabinet and footage of his joint press conference with George Bush, which when it was shown the first time round - Blair frowning powerfully, Bush sinisterly jocular - was a tipping point into despair for lots of people. The final item on the news that evening couldn't have been more symbolic if it had shown the ravens leaving the Tower of London. Fidel Castro, the one constant in all our lives, was on the blink. That's when I reached for the phone and -

"We're fucked."

Her analysis is spot on, right down to the conclusion:

You reassure yourself that, as in all cycles of history, this one will come to an end, too. Then you remember that the man in charge of writing the ending is George Bush, and you have to start again.

Amongst all this tragedy, it is helpful to have a some cause for hope, no matter how trivial. Tommy Sheridan's libel victory against the News of the World will have to do right now as such a moment. And what a triumph it was:

It took a jury just less than three hours to decide that the former leader of the Scottish Socialist party was not a serial adulterer with a predilection for champagne, swinging and orgies, but a Scrabble-loving, tea-drinking family man and the victim of what he had called "the mother of all stitch-ups".

No matter what one thinks about Sheridan, one has to admire anybody who can take on the big boys, conduct his own defence and emerge victorious against all the odds. The most bizarre moment in the trial, amongst many bizarre moments, was the insight provided by Mrs Sheridan into her husband's life, that was instrumental in swaying the jury:

At first, Gail Sheridan appeared to be playing the traditional role of a politician's wife in times of trouble: standing by her man, grinning and bearing it. Turning up at court in a different outfit and designer sunglasses each day prompted one wag to remark that if you must listen to claims that your husband is a coke-snorting swinger, you may as well look your best. But then she delivered a remarkable performance in the witness box which must have helped swing the jury.

"I certainly wouldn't be here giving evidence if you had been having affairs," she told him. "There is no way I would be here and neither would you. You would be in the Clyde with a piece of concrete tied round you and I would be in court for your murder." She described her husband as a rather boring man, who had an unappealing, hairy body.

The 42-year-old former air hostess has always admired Mr Sheridan, she told the court. "But I have never been more proud of you than I have been in the last four weeks. You're taking them on, the News of the World ... the legal establishment. I've never been more proud of you ..." At that point, Mr Sheridan wept.

The case has almost certainly destroyed the Scottish Socialist Party as a force in Scottish politics, not because of any fall-out for Mr. Sheridan, but because of the way that it was exposed during the case as an organisation riven by factionalism and bad blood, some of whose members could face perjury allegations as a result of their evidence. The case is a minor diversion from the horror going on all around us, but a welcome one at that.
"Her analysis is spot on"? Hmm. Well, it is spot on if we ascribe responsibility for all of the world's ills that she mentions to George W. Bush. I wonder if it really can be that simple...
It is spot on in suggesting that George Bush is not up to the job of addressing those ills. Which is what I think I said.
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