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Where Does Bad Journalism End And Fake News Begin?

I’m sure we’ve all heard criticism from the US President, and others, of the New York Times, and because of the era we’re in, we dismiss that criticism because of who it’s coming from. Should we? On May 24th the New York Times ran a story, an exclusive, with details about the Manchester bombing. That article can be found here. Found at the Scene in Manchester: Shrapnel, a Backpack and a Battery The Author, C.J. Shivers, is no new-dog-on-the-block. Shivers is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist – but wow did he get this one wrong. Now, the title of this blog questions when poor journalism becomes fake news. So, the part in question is towards the end of the New York Times article. Currently it reads as this: It is not clear from the law enforcement images if the object was a simple plunger switch, or included a timer or a receiver that could be operated remotely via radio signal – or some combination, or something else. Such redundancy, if the object was the switch, could give the bomber or a cell more than one option for deploying the device, and suggest that the bomb was not as simple in design as many terrorist devices, which often are crude and prone to failure or haphazard effect. However, this was not the original text as posted. When the New York Times article went live originally, it included the following section: (the differences are in bold) It is not clear from the law enforcement images if the object was a simple plunger switch, or included a timer or a receiver that...

Sinn Féin have been barking up this tree before. And caved before too

Many commentators have been quick to make the point that Sinn Féin are hanging their hat (and the future of the devolved Northern Ireland institutions…) on getting agreement to implement an Irish Language Act, but yet no such red line was drawn in previous post-election talks. Not so. This Belfast Telegraph article from the late Liam Clarke highlights what has transpired previously. This was written 2 weeks before the Stormont House Agreement was signed. Sinn Fein has set out a list of demands – ranging from millions of pounds in Stormont funding to an Irish Language Act – it wants to see movement on before signing off on any deal on welfare reform and the budget. Conor Murphy MLA (then an MP), said: It (the government) has failed to implement commitments such as Acht na Gaeilge (an Irish Language Act), the Civic Forum, an all-island Consultative Forum, North South implementation bodies and a Bill of Rights…The British Government has also refused to address its role and responsibilities in dealing with the legacy of the past. One observation I would make here is that in 2014, Conor Murphy seemed to accept, from the above language, that the responsibility for an Irish Language Act lay with Westminster and not at the door of the DUP. Following Sinn Féin laying out their stall in 2014 (as they have once again…), the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP infamously said that the DUP would treat Sinn Féin’s entire wish list as “no more than toilet paper.” As it transpired, Sinn Féin signed up to the Stormont House Agreement with no guarantee on an Irish Language Act –...

Nationalism, Unionism, and a lack of Pragmatism

I would consider myself a unionist, if other unionists didn’t make it so fucking hard. Mike Nesbitt said, somewhat bravely, that he would be transferring to the SDLP, his fellow opposition party, in the 2017(a) Assembly Election. Thus bucking the typical, ‘transfer to other unionist’ instruction that has become an ever-present feature of tribal election literature. (And of course, on the nationalist side) Bravo Mike, bravo. This is the first act I’ve seen from Northern Irish political-unionist leader that has ever made me stop and think, “maybe… just maybe, there’s hope for them…” Of course, it’s full of nuance – in Nesbitt’s voting constituency, East Belfast, Andy Allen (UUP) isn’t exactly odds on to be re-elected, and even if he is, by the time he gets passed, the SDLP’s Séamas de Faoite will have been eliminated hours earlier, it’s an irrelevancy. But it’s the symbolism. The UUP voters that do listen to Mike or think like he does, will likely than transfer back inside the unionist club. (Although again, it’s not unlikely that Andy Allen won’t get re-elected, and if he does it will almost certainly be as the last candidate over the line.) The Northern Ireland Executive will be headed by a unionist party, and a nationalist party. Mike has made the pragmatic decision that he would rather that the nationalist party was the SDLP – and why the hell not. I have no doubt that the DUP would much rather that the largest nationalist party was the SDLP as well. Pragmatism: the quality of dealing with a problem in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really...

NI Waiting Lists are costing me my vision

On the 5th of April 2016 I had eye surgery. Quite a horrible procedure actually, for an eye disorder called Keratoconus. The plan pre-surgery was for me to have an operation on one eye, and then approximately six weeks later, to have the operation on the other. It’s now the 10th of February 2017, and when I called the Royal Victoria Hospital today, I was told “there’s no date for you yet, but I’ll email again and ask if there’s a rough estimate for you.” I’m not filled with confidence. A little background: Keratoconus is a degenerative disorder of the eye, where the cornea warps into a cone shape, rather than the perfect curve which most people have. The lower eyeball in the graphic above shows what happens when light hits my eyes. Instead of it being focussed on my optical nerve, it bounces around, causing some problems. I get photophobic very easily. I wear sunglasses a lot, even indoors, and often at twilight when driving, because lights from cars just play havoc with my vision. I get headaches because of light sensitivity and in general my vision is getting bad. Five years ago, my vision was perfect… I mean like Legolas in Lord of the Rings perfect. Then i noticed my left eye was rapidly becoming harder to see clearly with, so i went along to an opticians who said it looked like I had Keratoconus (KC) and I should seek a referral to an Opthalmologist. Which I did and it was confirmed. In my left eye, it had progressed quite a lot, in my right eye though it...

DUP, RHI, Twitter Suspension, Censorship, and Optics

Update: 31/1/17: my account has been suspended again. For the same reason and for the same tweet. Appeal 1 was rejected. So far. Update: 30/1/17: following 7 appeals through twitter support, all rejected; I contacted a number of senior Twitter figures. One of them responded and engaged, they took the time to listen and to actually care. Thanks to them, they saw that the complaint against me had absolutely no basis in fact and was against no rule. As such; I was immediately reinstated and the contested tweet remains. Victory. However, it shouldn’t be THAT hard to get a fair hearing. I am currently suspended from twitter. My account, www.twitter.com/belfastbarman, is visible to people, however I am unable to access it. On Friday 27th at around 10am, I was using the Twitter app on my iPhone, when it suddenly switched to the following displayed message. Not understanding what had happened, at all – and I truly mean, at all. I clicked, ‘Start.’ Which presented me with the following message. At this point, I believed I knew what the issue was. So let me explain. The DUP, Northern Ireland’s largest political party, far-right conservatives, staunchly Christian-fundamentalist, and currently embroiled in the, ‘Cash for Ash,’ scandal, also known as RHI. The DUP announced a candidate for the East Antrim constituency who runs a company called, ‘Stephen Ross Boiler Services & Repairs. Stephen Ross is also currently an elected Councillor in Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council… in light of the, ‘Cash for Ash,’ scandal, I believed that announcing Cllr Ross as a candidate was deeply ironic and had terrible, (pardon the political term…)...

Donald Trump Appears To Be So Desperate For Cash That He Is Breaking The Law

As someone who was born in the UK and lived almost exclusively here since birth, with a brief period in Canada, I was quite surprised that Donald Trump was asking for my help in his campaign to become president. What could I do that the hundreds of millions who actually are American could not? As someone who makes a big deal out of being rich, why does he need $35 from me? And is that even legal? No. I’ve never registered support for any American presidential candidate. There are two plausible options as to how I got this email. Trump or one of his team randomly entered my email address into their database. Trump or one of his team has bought mailing lists in bulk from some marketing company, now he is sending mailshots to people who have no involvement whatsoever in Trump’s campaign, the Presidential campaign in general or even have nothing to do with America and AREN’T AMERICAN. But I definitely did not ‘opt-in’. I mean, I’ve not registered support for either candidate… of course I think that Trump is an evil runt of a man who might in fact be being controlled in a Lord Voldemort/Professor Quirrel-esque way by Dougal from The Magic Roundabout who has become symbiotically entwined with Trump’s brain… But ultimately, until the Dougal theory is proven, Trump is potentially in breach of Federal Election Commission legislation governing who can and can’t donate to an American Presidential campaign. He is DEFINITELY trying to persuade ME to act in breach of the FEC legislation.. Can non-US citizens contribute? Foreign nationals are prohibited from making...

The Makings of a Homeless Teenager

I’ve been meaning/wanting to write this for a while but keep talking myself out of it – I’m reasonably sure the catharsis of putting in the effort will either be beneficial or ruin me; we’ll see. I also don’t want it to seem self indulgent, it absolutely isn’t. That’s the caveat out of the way. Many times now I’ve spoken about my experience of being homeless, through this site, Slugger O’Toole, BBC and others. I’m always acutely aware how these tend to be reduced to a specific angle or a particular soundbite, I wanted to share a less filtered account. I became homeless because my mother and her partner drank instead of paying rent; it’s that simple really. A long, long time ago in a land kinda near here my mother and I moved to England to be with a guy she had met; seems reasonable enough. He seemed an OK kinda guy,  he had one of those Nokia Communicator phones, big and brick like but opened length ways and became like a palm pilot – he also had a laptop he let me play on, command & conquer was the only game… I was grand with that. We’d been on the south coast for about 3 years I think when we ran into difficulties, I would have been maybe 14. She had job after job (they never seemed to last long) working in most of the pubs in the area (it seemed that way anyway). Ending up in a basement flat in a village called Hassocks (we ended up here after being kicked out of our previous house...

Spotlight, Spotlight & Jamie Bryson

Watching BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight program tonight, regarding the NAMA sale and Frank Cushnahan, among others… something occurred to me that suddenly lifted a cloud of misunderstanding. When Jamie Bryson first wrote his blogs where he named certain individuals, political leaders among them, I watched eagerly, waiting to see the evidence… there appeared to be none. I, and many many others gave him some serious amount of shit for being a bullshitter… I think at this point, most people engaged with current affairs and politics in Northern Ireland, assumed there has to have been some level of truth behind it, but the lack of evidence was just galling. We wanted him to be right, and he just flunked it. Or did he… I spoke some months ago with an MLA who had seen what evidence Bryson submitted that day to the committee, they told me that there was, “definitely something there, but it was outside of our terms of reference, it’s been passed on to the relevant authorities.” MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE MOVIE SPOTLIGHT. I watched the Oscar winning film, ‘Spotlight’ yesterday, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a fantastic part where the Spotlight (of the Boston Globe) team are trying to get some documents revealed by a court, documents that were legally, “under seal,” – and it’s a struggle they seem to be losing at the time. There is a reveal moment where a lawyer involved in the case says that he applied to the court to depose a priest who had been guilty of child abuse, a lawyer for the church filed against this. At this...

Kindness Drawers – A New Innovation in Giving

On New Year’s Eve, when many of us will have been socialising with friends, maybe having a few drinks and waiting for the Official Announcer of The Years, Jools Holland, to tell us that 2016 has arrived, some wonderfully compassionate fellow Northern Irelanders were installing the Kindness Drawers in the centre of Belfast. The idea is so simple it’s almost embarrassing… Created by the people who brought Belfast the Homeless Pod, Common Law NI,  a year before, a stack of 2 shelving columns where people who have things to donate, can leave items – and homeless people who are in need of items, can get them. There are a plethora of groups doing great work in Belfast on supporting and helping the homeless and a dearth of people willing to help however they can – I saw a great number of initiatives over the Christmas period where people were organizing giving to help people in need… this is in the same vein, but with no fuss – you can fill a shoebox and give it to an outreach organization, of course you can, and more power to you… Or, if you’re so inclined, you can drop it yourself when you’re able to, directly into the Kindness Drawers yourself, no need to wait for a local group to start an initiative… help how you can, when you can. There’s definitely something to be said for people who are homeless being able to help themselves. Obviously, this stuff is donated… but instead of having to go to a charitable group or wait until and outreach organization comes along and asks if...

#OccupyQUB ended as it started – not with a bang, but a whimper

The, “Civil Rights Movement,” has ended… (their words… not mine – Civil rights defines as – “the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.” Quite how occupying a building and saying “we’re not leaving unless you do something we tell you to do” fits into social freedom and equality, I’m unsure). #OccupyQUB “took over” a couple of cubicles in the finance office of the administration building of Queens University Belfast, their demands?   Fossil Free QUB had been campaigning for some time to encourage QUB to divest from fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, Gazprom and others – in fairness, this is a noble cause and one that I and many others will support. The problem arises when ultimatums are brought into the arena – “Do this or else.” Who responds well to that kind of activity? Prior to the, “Occupation,” – such as it was, Queens had said there will be a workshop on the issue on the 6th of January, they had also pledged to review their investment policy (which would take between 6-9 months). Queens released the following statement, Queen’s statement   “At its meeting on 14 October 2015, the University’s Investment Committee agreed to carry out a comprehensive review of its Investment Policy. The review is expected to take 6 – 9 months and will be informed by best practice in the area of ‘Socially Responsible Investment.’   “As part of this review the University has engaged directly with students from Fossil Free QUB.  To help inform the investment policy review, a workshop will be held in early January 2016 (6th...

An Open Letter To Refugees Coming To Northern Ireland…

I consider myself an average Northern Irish citizen, and as such I’d like to extend a warm welcome to any and all refugees coming to Northern Ireland to escape persecution, war and conflict. Hello and welcome to you all – Dia Daoibh agus Céad Míle Fáilte Romhaibh. The difference between where you’re from and Northern Ireland is probably quite massive, so I thought it might be handy to write a wee (little) guide for you to refer to.   1: You may think you know English… disregard all of that knowledge, it’s outdated… we may technically speak English but it’s mostly unrecognisable to the outside world. This blog from Sarah Arnold may help. 2: You should perhaps start taking anti-cholesterol medication as soon as possible, our standard diet will destroy you. 3: Vegetable roll is not for you. 4: Do not… repeat, DO NOT try to go to Primark on a Saturday. 5: Ask NO questions about Daniel O’Donnell, it’s best left alone. 6: Make sure, before you go into a shop, that it is in fact a shop… some of our shops aren’t real, they’re just there for decoration. 7: Larne isn’t as bad as people make out it is. 8: But still, don’t go to Larne. 9: You may have heard of the ‘Emerald Isle’, you should also become accustomed to the phrase ‘Gray Skies’. 10: Don’t be confused by the ‘Westlink’, despite the name, the road runs pretty much North-South. 11: If you will be driving, you should acquaint yourself with the following places and avoid them: Black’s Road, Grosvenor Road, Chichester Street, Ormeau Road, Sandyknowles, Short...

Tragedy Whataboutery – And Why Resonance Is Key

Raise your hands if you’ve seen something like this doing the rounds lately… It reminds me of one of my favourite stand-ups, Glenn Wool, who during a great set on religion mentions Islam and follows it up with, “but I have to criticise ALLLLLL religions equally otherwise you’ll be branded an Islamophobe.” This is definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in a bit of inoffensive religious humour…   So I guess the question is, why does it matter? I don’t claim to speak for ‘everyone, everywhere’, but I’m pretty confident that I’m in the same mindset as a great many people here… I don’t think anybody should be murdered. I think terrorism is bad. I think a terrorist who attacks Paris, London, New York, Coleraine or Walmington-on-Sea is just as much of an asshole as a terrorist who attacks Beirut, Damasak, Mamasapano, Gush Etzion or Hebron. I think the victims of a shooting in all those places are just as missed as each other, their deaths should equally be mourned and justice should be pursued with equal fervour. I’ve never been to Beirut, Damasak, Mamasapano, Gush Etzion or Hebron, I’m not sure I know anyone who has – and that’s not the fault of anyone, I just don’t. I’ve been to Paris, I’ve friend’s in New York, I’ve lived in London, I’m writing this article from Coleraine and I was a big fan of Dad’s Army as a kid so Walmington-on-Sea holds a special place in my childhood. It doesn’t mean I care less, it means attacks on the second list don’t resonate as much as on the first...