On a small screen, perhaps half the size of a single page from a tabloid newspaper, framed in gold glitter paint, I watched The man who armed the world. Featuring The man who became the son of Africa (subsequently The smuggest man in the world), it told the story of Victor Bout, a former Soviet military man turned international arms dealer. Bout is now in jail in Thailand, where he was arrested by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in a clever sting operation earlier this year. The programme was very good (Tom Mangold is a man to be admired) in many respects. It spoke to all the people who in their own way had helped track down and trace Bout and his dirty dealings selling arms to anyone and anything who paid. The programme featured lots of Hain plus a senior US advisor who I met years ago in Angola, Witney Schneidman. They spoke at length about the evil Bout and their roles in trying to find him. Hain chuckled about his own idea to shoot Bout’s plane out of the sky, laughing down his nose as he recalled how his advisors had gasped and panted at the idea. Brushed over far more swiftly in the show was the fact – Mangold interviewed a member of the US army serving in Iraq – that the Americans used Bout’s armada of aircraft to regularly deliver arms etc to their own troops serving in Iraq following the invasion in 2003. Bout also used British territory frequently to run arms into other countries. Meanwhile, Hain huffed and puffed about his own role in exposing Bout for running guns to both sides in the latter years of the Angolan war. Marvellous. Does Mangold trust the audience to pick up on the hypocrisy, the absurdity, all alone? Without any help?
The programme ended. I sat in my chair gazing at the glittery gold box, my eyes wet with tears. The day had begun with a voice from a much smaller black box telling me that Lloyd Blankfein would not be taking home his usual annual bonus this year. Last year that annual bonus was calculated at 54 million US dollars. His salary was a mere 600,000 US dollars. The little black box spoke the facts calmly and quietly. No irony. No anger. Just the facts. I was once given a bonus by the BBC. Fifteen hundred quid I think it was, for some programmes I’d made about AIDS. I felt so ashamed earning extra money for wallowing in the disease, I gave half of it away, including a third to someone who had agreed to be interviewed live every day for five days about what it is like to live with AIDS. A nurse from Zimbabwe, she spoke frankly about oral sex, condoms, living with AIDS, and how she left home to come here to get treatment. We’d paid her some pitiful amount for her services. It still makes me feel sick to remember. Mark Byford invited us all to a party and told us all how wonderful we were, how amazing we were for making programmes about AIDS. I stood bemused at the back of the room, remembering the bizarrest of meetings I’d had to attend listening to people saying things about BBC strategy and one BBC I truly did not understand. The beginning of the end. Kofi Annan’s voice was piped through speakers, filling the room, vibrating the bouquets in the arms of an overwhelmed woman who’d saved Africa for one week. Byford’s hand jangled and wriggled in his pocket.
Abandoned. Is this it? A quarter of British bees have died. Rocking in the chair. Alastair Cooke is God. President Jammeh is untouchable. Eight male voices coming from the little black box. Another three male voices from the gold. Ten cats shitting on the window. A man with a belly in a skeleton suit. Sausages and crisps and fizzy white wine. How long can a Christmas tree last before it loses its needles? The third runway. “Malcolm Gladwell is black.” Children prohibited from the Tate. And Cabindans should grow up. Reading Ill Seen Ill Said and listening to ubuweb thanks to the latest post from Tim Etchells (see right). I like entertainment, said J, and I like being forced. If somebody is permitted to manufacture arms, why shouldn’t somebody else be allowed to sell them?