Rotten ApplesIf the available ingredients are Paul Gambaccini, Larry Elder and 9/11, is there a suitable recipe that can successfully blend them so the end result is a satisfactory soufflé? Such is the dilemma that often faces yours truly when several stories are vying for attention without any inspiring me enough to pen an entire post. If not giving over one post to one story, the task is then to join the dots of apparently unrelated plots and make a valid connection that holds up to scrutiny, regardless of whether or not any common factors jump out and join hands. However, perhaps the one thing these three individual storylines share is the Winegum Telegram itself. Each contains elements of stories that have been covered on here various times over the past six years, whether false allegations, Identity Politics, or reflections on where we are now courtesy of an event that took place two whole decades ago.

As far as Gambo is concerned, there is certainly enough history to warrant a post, though I’ve satirised his self-important pomposity via other online mediums many times; in this particular case, however, a live TV outburst during a down-the-line interview with Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC encompassed other previous topics like the corruption of the Met and the folly of media-driven witch-hunts into ‘historical abuse’. Gambaccini, for all his faults, has become a defiant contradiction to the narrative the BBC has stuck to ever since the Savile scandal almost a decade ago, and seeing him let rip with the enduring anger of a man to whom a criminal wrong was done remains an undoubtedly novel sight on our premier broadcaster. Gambo was invited onto the BBC News Channel to discuss an open letter signed by numerous prestigious parties (including Stephen Lawrence’s mother) who declared themselves victims of the Met’s incompetence and malpractice; the letter in question was a protest at the suggestion Met Commissioner Cressida Dick would have her contract extended for another couple of years. It demanded Boris Johnson curtail Ms Dicks’ role ASAP on the grounds that she has done nothing to alter the corrupt culture within the Met since her promotion.

Ms Derbyshire attempted to uphold the now-redundant BBC pretence of impartiality during the exchange, but something that was once admirable and key to the BBC’s position has been so abused in recent years that it no longer convinces as a tactic. And it prompted an understandably incendiary outburst by Gambo. ‘All throughout the witch-hunt,’ he snarled, ‘the BBC was on the side of the wrongdoers – and this will come out, by the way; don’t think that we are going to go away. We haven’t come for the BBC yet because we’re doing the Met now, but in the years to come – boy, the truth about the BBC complicity in the witch-hunt will be known.’ The fact that this is a former BBC star employee returning to plunge the knife into a corporation that failed to reward loyalty and long service by presuming guilt before innocence is perhaps emblematic of so much that has gone wrong at the Beeb in the last decade or so, and one cannot help but sympathise when Gambo admitted, ‘I’m sorry to have to say negative things about people; this is not why I went into public life.’

Circumstance and unforeseen events have forced the likes of Paul Gambaccini into the place he currently occupies; I’m pretty certain he’d be far happier embedded as the anchor of a long-running show on any of the BBC’s five national radio networks than having to kick his former employer while it’s down, but he no longer has a choice. The climate the Western world currently finds itself inhabiting is one some of us saw coming a long time ago, and we knew it was one in which we’d have to stand up and be counted. Hot on the heels of ‘Exposure’, I’m currently working my way through another of my previous satirical series, ’25 Hour News’, for Patreon uploading. Considering the material is seven years old, it’s nevertheless drawn an enthusiastic response from my subscribers – and one unnerving element of sitting through it again for the first time in a long time is how disturbingly prescient it seems. I saw a genuine TV news story yesterday from Australia that melodramatically reported on a dozen cops pouncing upon a solitary individual seen walking alone in the open air without wearing a mask. If that’s the actual news, then there really is no need for a parody anymore.

Moreover, who would ever have imagined back in a year as relatively recent as 2014 that it would eventually be perfectly permissible for a white activist masquerading as ‘anti-fascist’ to wear a gorilla mask and physically abuse a black politician running for the office of California Governor? That’s what happened this week to Larry Elder, the broadcaster-turned-political candidate who happens to be that most unfathomable breed to the SJW, an African-American Republican. Of course, the outrage that would have greeted this act captured on camera (or Smartphone) had Elder been a Democrat would have made Elder an international household name overnight; the woman in the gorilla mask would be eviscerated by media of both the mainstream and social persuasion and it’d be the lead story on CNN as well as splashed across the front page of the New York Times, held up as yet one more example of America’s systemic racism. As it is, Elder’s political affiliations means the story has been summarily buried by all the media outlets that ordinarily fall over themselves to push the race agenda, which suggests race is not really the issue after all. If it was, then it would be applied to everyone, regardless of where they stand on the ideological spectrum.

The racism inherent in ‘anti’ racism is really laid bare when it comes to how a character like Larry Elder is treated by the left. He refuses to play the oppressed victim card and evidently has the ‘wrong’ opinions; in the skewered logic of the Woke mindset, he’s fair game for racist abuse due to the fact he’s an Uncle Tom, nothing more than a subservient mouthpiece for White Supremacy on account of not sticking to the script whereby everyone has their preordained place. Should Larry Elder become the first black Governor of California, his achievement most likely won’t count in the same way that Margaret Thatcher still doesn’t count to some over here as a glass ceiling-smasher because she came from the wrong side of the divide. One doesn’t have to agree with all his beliefs to hope Elder wins – if only for the fact his victory would shatter the unhealthy omnipotence of the dominant dogma and enable even more people to discern the double standards bullshit at the rotten core of Identity Politics.

And so we ice the cake with some 9/11 topping. It was 20 years ago today? Yes, hard to believe for those of us who were around, I guess; but there it is on the calendar – and we only have to look at current events in Afghanistan to be reminded of its legacy. Amidst the expected TV documentaries which followed a well-trodden path, I did see one which focused on the Presidential perspective, featuring extensive and previously unaired recollections from Dubya and all his key players who are still alive. It was genuinely fascinating to hear how that dramatic day unfolded for the Commander-in-Chief and how his frightened team had so little clue as to what was happening, forced into flying around in circles aboard Air Force One, desperately trying to work out anywhere to land that might be safe. It served as a reminder of just how unprepared America was for 9/11 and how the passing of decades had erased the collective wakeup call of Pearl Harbour; given the diminishing length of attention spans, the sixty years that separated Pearl Harbour and 9/11 has probably been halved so that the impact of 9/11 on the present day will perhaps be gone within ten years from now. Considering how quickly the illiberal nature of certain pandemic policies has been normalised, perhaps we won’t have to wait even that long.

© The Editor




TalibanThe manner in which occupying superpowers exit foreign soil usually depends upon the circumstances surrounding their presence in the first place. European withdrawal from overseas territories in the post-war era was often prompted by the economically challenging strain of running Empires in the wake of global conflict; fighting for the mother country in WWII gave colonial subjects an extra bargaining chip in the clamour for self-determination, and most imperial overlords were too exhausted, broken and bankrupt to resist for much longer. Moreover, independence movements were rarely conducted in a non-violent fashion, and warring factions that placed the colonial masters in the unenviable role of permanent peacekeepers could lead to an ignominious flight from the colony in question. Palestine and India were not exactly dignified departures on the part of the British, and the less said about what happened in the Congo when the Belgians bolted the better. The painfully protracted battle for Algerian independence almost provoked civil war in France, with rebel French-Algerian generals pointing their warheads in the direction of Paris at the height of the crisis.

However, these distant examples were all the legacies of 19th century expansion by the European powers, staking a claim on land that was either taken by force, ceded from one power to another, or gradually occupied after the establishment of maritime trading posts. By the middle of the next century, attitudes were beginning to change and the first two or three decades following the end of the Second World War saw the previous century’s global conquerors in gradual retreat back to first-base. Military interventionism as we have come to know it is a different issue compared to Empire-building, but it can provoke the same indignation and aggression in the native population that characterised the final fractious years of colonialism. Of course, military intervention is never embarked upon without both an official motive and an ulterior one, even if the latter is something Western powers generally deny. But what’s really remarkable about many of the military interventions of the past 50-60 years is how they repeat the same mistakes that were often made in the very same countries before.

Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR, was testament to Hitler’s misplaced belief that his war machine was capable of doing what Napoleonic France failed to achieve in 1812; indeed, one might argue Bonaparte’s Russian invasion was a success in comparison, for the Emperor and his army at least occupied Moscow, even if what they found when they got there was an empty shell of a city abandoned by the Tsar. Whilst the infamous French retreat from Moscow was already legendary by the time Nazi Germany suffered its own devastating defeat on cold Russian soil, the fact Adolph dismissed the lessons of history because he believed he was on the right side of it set a precedent that seems to have become the blueprint for military interventions ever since. The American adventure in Vietnam followed the French one, and the American expedition to Afghanistan followed the Soviet one. Neither previous example served as a warning or deterrent. It’s almost as though past disasters are never taken into account, as though the new army preparing to launch itself onto an old battlefield always believes it has the copyright on victory denied its predecessor.

When the USSR invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979, the Soviet Union was already living on borrowed time as a superpower, but the fact the Russians swiftly became embroiled in a conflict that spanned all-but 10 months of the next decade probably contributed in no small measure to the USSR’s collapse shortly thereafter. Stats for the number of casualties and losses on both sides in the war are (as is often the case) inconsistent, though it’s estimated over 14,000 Soviet troops lost their lives as well as 18,000 Afghan forces fighting alongside the Soviets; in total, around 80,000 Afghans are alleged to have been killed during the Soviet occupation, with the ‘lucky’ survivors reduced to refugees totalling 5 million. Bearing in mind just how prescient an example Afghanistan has become as a cautionary tale to superpowers contemplating intervening in another nation’s affairs, perhaps it’s no real surprise that Afghanistan is a country with something of a history when it comes to this.

The British had a go a couple of times when ensconced next-door in India – 1838 and 1878 – and neither could be classed as successful from a British perspective. A Russian presence in Afghanistan predates 1979 – indeed, the two British interventions in the 19th century were provoked by it; and the Russians returned in 1929 and 1930, when the Raj was still on the doorstep. The war that began in 1979 was the longest-running Russian intervention in Afghanistan, yet even the fact its disastrous legacy was well-documented didn’t prevent American troops touching down on Afghan soil just 12 years after the Soviet withdrawal.

Following 9/11 and confirmation that Osama Bin Laden and his gang were based in Afghanistan few were surprised when the US launched an inevitable invasion of the nation in October 2001, a military intervention backed by several NATO allies. There wasn’t much in the way of an alternative option when such a grotesque crime had been committed. That said, the Bush administration probably didn’t envisage it would take another decade (and another President) before 9/11 would be ‘avenged’ in the good ol’ fashioned American way by taking out Bin Laden; but by then America had become bogged down in another Middle Eastern conflict to which there seemed to be no end. Instigating one war in the region may be regarded as a misfortune; to instigate two looked like carelessness – and whichever way one studies events in Iraq, success is not a word that immediately springs to mind. When it came to Afghanistan, however, the first few months of the US presence saw a grateful population liberated from a gruesome regime that the world had barely paid attention to up to that point.

Post-Soviet, Afghanistan had fallen under the brutal rule of the hardcore fundamentalist Taliban, who first made an international name for themselves with their philistine approach to the antiquities of the Middle East, committing the cultural crime of destroying the ancient gigantic statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan early in 2001. As knowledge of their other activities became more widespread following the US invasion, the grim extent of their ‘Year Zero’ approach emerged; few who can recall seeing the joy on the faces of ordinary Afghans, dancing in the streets and gleefully shaving off their compulsory beards as Taliban strongholds swiftly collapsed, could dispute that – at least in the beginning – this military intervention had the look and feel of a necessary humanitarian mission. With the support of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, coalition forces swept the Taliban from power by the end of 2001 and there then followed attempts to establish a democratic political system.

Presidential elections took place in 2004, with Hamid Karzai elected President for the first of two five-year terms; but the Taliban hadn’t gone away. They were especially strong in Helmand province, where British troops were dispatched in 2006 – officially part of the reconstruction project, though quickly drawn into combat. Although the NATO involvement in Afghanistan officially ended in 2014, the Taliban continued to wreak periodic havoc on the people, routinely staging the most unwelcome comebacks since Jedward; they are currently on the rise again – right at the very point when the remaining Western forces are winding up operations. President Biden last week announced the American military presence in Afghanistan will finally end next month, almost 20 years after US forces arrived. The body count in that time period is difficult to determine with accuracy, but some estimates reckon as many as 170,000 civilians alone have been killed. The one question it’s hard to avoid posing is was it worth it? Then again, has any intervention in Afghanistan ever made the country, the region or even the world as a whole a better, safer place? Anyone who has lived through the past couple of decades can only answer no.

© The Editor




Today should have been May Day Bank Holiday, but it was postponed – not for the obvious reason, but because it’s been rescheduled to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. Still, one can’t help but feel that a delay of four days isn’t long enough. It’s a bit like being one of those unfortunate kids born in the second half of December, those whose aunties hand them a present and say ‘This is for your birthday AND Christmas’. Most people are off work, and a Bank Holiday is a day when workers are given a treat by being given…a day off work. Surely it would’ve made more sense to have simply shifted the Bank Holidays that appeared smack bang in the middle of the lockdown to a later point in the year? But, one can’t really blame those whose job it is to plan public holidays for failing to anticipate a situation few saw coming; this situation is too strange for that. And it also continues to place the months, weeks and even days leading up to where we are now in a weird fabrication of immense distance.

However, history has taught us that this ‘optical illusion’ of memory has a habit of recurring whenever a life-changing event occurs and the world on the other side of the event suddenly feels much further away than it actually is. Think of how the last summer on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War is often portrayed as the golden swansong of an Edwardian age that was instantly plunged into luminous amber by those finding themselves on the Western Front. Of course what they’d left behind must have suddenly seemed magical. Certainly a conflict that began on horseback and ended in tanks did indeed serve as a watershed between one era of warfare and another, but this can feasibly be expanded to encompass a wider contrast between the world of 1914 and the world of 1918, one that stretches way beyond the battlefield. It’s no wonder the Edwardian age remains bathed in an alluring glow – though one perhaps viewed from the perspective of the officer class; war stopped play of a cricket match in which all the players were gentlemen.

Across the Atlantic, the three major bombshells that had the greatest impact on the American psyche between World War II and the present day were Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. The first was undoubtedly a shock to the American public; it brought a policy of isolationism to a dramatic end overnight, though Roosevelt had hardly been detached from events in Europe behind the scenes; what the Japanese attack on the US Navy in Hawaii did was to curtail the facade of non-engagement. But the US officially entering WWII didn’t necessarily worsen life for Americans who weren’t drafted; compared to here, the home-front in the States was probably better than it had been before 1941, so there wasn’t much yearning for the lost world that existed prior to Pearl Harbor. If anything, looking back to the Great Depression from the perspective of an economy energised anew by the war effort negated the kind of nostalgic longing for the recent past that the British experienced during the First World War.

JFK’s assassination is another matter altogether. Today, it tends to be viewed through the prism of the conspiracy theory industry; had David Icke been around at the time, he’d no doubt have got in early – though his removal from YouTube over the weekend says more about the Google Thought Police and the intolerance of the Silicon Valley worldview than it does about a man that anyone with half-a-brain recognises as an irrelevant fruitcake. Anyway, as for the President who bit the bullet on 22 November 1963, the trauma that hit the US over the death of a man who represented far more than he ever delivered instantly mythologized the Kennedy Camelot in a way that has proven remarkably resistant to no end of damaging revelations ever since. The orphaned youth of America may have been coaxed out of mourning by The Beatles – whose landmark debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ took place just two-and-a-half months later; but as the decade unfolded with the black hole of Vietnam and further traumatising assassinations, looking back to the perceived innocence and optimism of the early 60s and harbouring a grievance that the nation was robbed of a hope it has never regained was a comforting illusion that endures.

With 9/11 – an event that dragged more than just the one nation into its toxic orbit – the rapid realisation that the world had become a less nice place gradually shone a more benign light on the 20th century’s last decade. All those truly horrible elements of the 1990s – from bloodshed in the Balkans to genocide in Rwanda – were overshadowed in reminiscences that airbrushed the worst from the picture, and the 90s was refashioned as the Indian summer of a safe, peaceful planet in which things could only get better. The end of the Cold War, the Kyoto Protocol, Gazza’s tears, Bill Clinton receiving blowjobs in the Oval Office – hell, we’d never had it so good. By 12 September 2001, it already seemed like a hundred years ago – a fun and frivolous era when all we had to concern ourselves with was whether or not Blur would beat Oasis to the No.1 spot.

The dawn of a new age’s first task is to instantly distinguish itself from what immediately preceded it; but when that new age is a dark one, what immediately preceded it inevitably appears shiny and bright – and better – by comparison. Naturally, the Edwardian era seemed preferable to the carnage of WWI; naturally, the young President cut down in his prime felt like the murder of the American Dream he’d embodied; and naturally, the 1990s came across as a less bleak and far more hopeful period because it was a brief bridge between one Cold War and another. And now we find ourselves in a fresh time of uncertainty and unease that is painting the normal we knew before Covid-19 decided to extend its influence beyond China’s borders as not only eminently desirable, but as something we lost a long time ago – far longer ago than is actually the case.

It may well be that the only thing in 2020 that we have to fear is fear itself; but the abrupt loss of so much we invariably took for granted and the sudden change to the majority of lifestyles has had the effect of making many feel as though where we were pre-lockdown was some dim, distant Golden Age we can never get back to. It’s amazing how quickly one becomes accustomed to the changes, too. Just in the way a scene from a movie barely a decade old might already seem strange should it feature characters smoking indoors, I’m starting to marvel at the absence of social distancing in any drama I watch and have to remind myself that this situation hasn’t always been the case. It just feels like it has. To claim that the past is beautiful and the present is beastly (nice turn of phrase to justify the title, eh?) might be stretching the truth; but if it were in my power to turn back the clock, I probably wouldn’t say no.

© The Editor


I remember a first date once, which – though an encouraging start – turned out to be merely the prologue to another example of why my being one half of ‘a lovely couple’ is the relationship equivalent of a coalition government, i.e. an exceedingly rare aberration destined to end in tears. But I was younger at the time, so can be excused. And, anyway, she was a fascinating woman who worked for a charity and was about to jet off on a related business trip to New York. A second date was definitely on the cards, but the Manhattan outing would put it back a week or two. I resolved to pick up some kind of quirky guide to the Big Apple for her and pass it on before she packed her suitcase.

One topic of conversation that came up during the evening was a shared recollection of early 80s nuclear paranoia. She and I recalled the collective fear of those years, when pre-apocalypse tension infected the culture and seemed doomed to become a self-fulfilling prophesy; it was the age of Greenham Common, ‘Threads’ and ‘Two Tribes’. My date and I agreed such a bleak atmosphere genuinely (and thankfully) appeared to be a thing of the past – at least where the west was concerned. And when, you may ask, did this rather pleasant exchange take place? Why, to be exact, September 10 2001.

I was in a second-hand bookshop the following day when, having located just the kind of offbeat volume I’d intended, I heard something strange was happening at the World Trade Centre; the shopkeeper shrewdly informed me a fire in one of the twin towers had sent it crashing to the ground only after I’d bought the bloody book. Of course, it was no use to its recipient, as the trip to New York was cancelled and the state of global emergency she and I had perhaps unwisely relegated to the past tense suddenly re-emerged uglier than ever in the here and now. And, although the panic 9/11 unleashed unsurprisingly lasted longer than my dalliance with this particular lady, the numerous offshoots of the September 11 attacks that are still with us have sadly become part of the cultural wallpaper.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that those of us who were transfixed by the grotesque sights on our TV screens 18 years ago have gradually become immune to the horrors embodied in the events of 9/11 since. But exposure to subsequent wars and terrorist atrocities with their roots in that day could possibly have engendered a subliminal immunity so that what initially provoked genuine fear of a potential WWIII scenario is now met with shoulder-shrugging weariness. During the recent blanket coverage of the first Moon Landing’s 50th anniversary, one overlooked fact left out of the celebrations was that the viewing public of the time became bored with the great adventure so quickly that the only other Apollo mission anyone ever recalls is 13 – and that crew never even made it to their destination. When an achievement as immense as men on the moon can induce a jaded response as one lunar landing rapidly follows another, perhaps the repeated detonation of bombs in a crowded environment fails to maintain the level of shock such an appalling act warrants simply because it’s just one more atrocity in a very long line of them.

The world is far more intricately connected today than it was in 2001 – a period when social media was in its infancy and traditional mediums still had a monopoly on the way we consumed news. Indeed, the only occasion in which I can ever remember the newspaper racks being emptied in my local supermarket was the day after 9/11; everybody had clearly purchased a paper as a souvenir, just as their fathers (or grandfathers) had when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It’s hard to imagine that happening with an equivalent incident today. I suspect many a website or search engine would crash, but there’d still be plenty of Fleet Street’s finest waiting to find a home. Then again, how long would shock linger now? Long enough for that interminable 24 hours between a story breaking and it making the physical front page? Probably not. The nature of how news is transmitted to the masses has changed so much since 2001 that the manner of its digestion has changed too – as has its presentation, presumably in order to hold the diminishing attention span of the reader. Often it seems that stories which don’t really deserve the dramatic headline ape the major event so that each and every item battling for space has to be given the full (to use a quaint old phrase) ‘stop press’ treatment.

It could be a result of living through two traumatic post-9/11 decades or it could simply be my age, but I find I don’t lose sleep over any of the news stories designed to provoke panic nowadays. I feel almost ashamed to admit it, for I realise I’m supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear – fear of climate change or Brexit or knife-crime or the far-right or the far-left or Boris or Corbyn or Trump or Putin or China or North Korea or No Deal…and yet, I’m not. However, that’s not to say I don’t care; caring about an important issue and (on occasion) being passionate about a few is listed on my membership card of the human race – and I hope that’s been evident in some of the things I’ve written here. But I don’t worry about today’s shock-horror stories, certainly not the level of worry I’m constantly told I should feel. Then again, being told how I should feel is something that media in all its current incarnations has come to specialise in.

Media of the social variety is regularly – and often rightly – castigated for its ‘echo chamber’ tendencies, and (should I wish to do so) I can certainly think of an easy way in which I could severely deplete my friends list on Facebook overnight, simply by expressing an opinion I’m not supposed to possess, let alone express. But hasn’t the new media merely learnt the lessons of the old media? Yes, Facebook and Twitter reflect users’ already established opinions back at them, confirming biases and upholding prejudices whilst discouraging discovering different perspectives; but then again, so do the Daily Mail and the Guardian. This trend could also be responsible for the current vogue in looking at an unfavourable event from a favourable angle in order to make it more palatable to those it upsets.

The remarkable success of the Brexit Party in the recent European Elections was countered by its opponents combining the split Remain vote as spurious evidence that Nigel’s barmy army didn’t actually win after all. The same tactic was applied in the wake of the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election by the other side, showing how putting the Tory and Brexit Party votes together somehow proved the Lib Dems were actually the losers. The fact that none of these combinations actually appeared as such on the ballot paper is regarded as almost immaterial when it comes to a ‘moral victory’ – or it could just be that this curious development proves how the Remainer/Leaver divide now counts for more than traditional party allegiances.

I considered using Nick Ross’s sage advice as the title for this post, and then remembered I’d used it as the title of an obituary for ‘Crimewatch’ I penned on here whenever it was that the show ended its lengthy run. As a matter of fact, I do have nightmares – constantly; and they’re horrible, far worse than any I had as a kid. But they’re all of a domestic nature, nocturnal kitchen-sink dramas featuring those I have loved and those I have lost; they don’t contain any bogeymen that dominate national or international headlines at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a strange place that I don’t scare easily anymore – at least when I’m awake.

© The Editor