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Speed Read – the four Top Three stories of the week (an essay on hope)

Every week The Friday Speed Read assembles an array of delicious news ingredients on its kitchen worktop before then smushing them together between two slice of fresh summary ready to be served up to you on this internet plate. Better metaphors are both available and encouraged.

How’s everyone feeling today? I realise that I don’t often ask this at the beginning of a Speed Read and maybe I should. Admittedly, my capacity to intervene if things are not tip-top is limited to the few platitudes that I can pull together in an overly-stuffed sentence like this one but this perhaps should not mean that I should not ask. All of which double-negative fun is to say that yes, I hope you’re catching at least a small wave of Friday feeling atop your psychological surfboard as you head towards the beach of the weekend. (I’m tired; it’s been a busy week).

I do realise that this is largely a matter of perception but of three biggest news stories of the week, none of them is about Covid-19. And yes, if you’re living in India with the virus running rampant; if you’re Brazilian sitting hopelessly at home as your president stands idly by while the country collapses under the strain of his wilful ignorance or if you’re tumbling into a dark tumult of grief at the death of a loved one from this beastly disease, then Covid-19 is going to be the biggest story of your week. Indeed, to even use the word ‘story’ in these cases is almost offensively reductive.  But for those of us blessed to live in a reality in which Covid seems, for now at least, to be in retreat, then I do think that its drop down the news agenda this week is another welcome sign that better times may indeed by close.

I’d normally worry that lumping three stories together under a “biggest” epithet would exert pressure on my tired brain to justify a largely arbitrary and swiftly-made choice as I sat down to write this week’s column. But not this week. This week I can say with some confidence that two of these three stories have, without hyperbole, the potential to change the world. And if all this seems like an elaborate build-up to a comic of reveal of say, scientists in Alaska finding that rubbing cheese into the small of your back can improve your karaoke skills or a football team in Bavaria made-up entirely of badgers has beaten FC Ingolstadt 04 reserves 3-0, then all I can say is that this is a good idea and will surely make its way into Speed Read during some blissfully quiet week in the future.

But for now at least, let’s talk about reality.

When Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds following his arrest on the 25th of May last year, it could easily have gone unnoticed. But it wasn’t unnoticed. It was filmed. And the recording was tragic and it was damning. The whole world was able to witness what we can now call George Floyd’s murder and hear his dying words – “I can’t breathe . . . I can’t breathe” – an instinctive, human plea that became totemic; a mantra for a worldwide protest.

This week saw Chauvin found guilty of murder. Despite the damning video evidence, there was widespread concern that the jury may not have returned this verdict. After all, barely any police officers in America have ever been convicted when tried for murder and the legal requirement for a for a unanimous jury decision made many nervous that the charge was unlikely to stick. But justice prevailed and the work to reform what President Biden described as “the systemic racism that is a stain our nation’s soul” can begin. There’s a long way to go and there have been many “no turning back” moments in the past but as Biden also said, we mustn’t let George Floyd’s final words die with him.

President Biden is also at the centre of the second of the week’s biggest stories following his promise made on Earth Day (Thursday of this week) that the US is committing to reducing its carbon emissions to 52% below 2006 levels by 2030. This is double what had been previously promised and is, however you look at it, pretty significant.  After four years of Trumpian lunacy on climate change, with all of its sarcasm, denial and rolling back of pro-environmental legislation, it’s clearly a relief that the Biden administration is making good on its election promises to lead the fightback against the existential threats posed by the climate emergency. Words are one thing of course; good intentions are just breaths in the wind until they are matched by actions and yes, in a world in which India and China’s carbon emissions are still rising there is still a huge amount to worried about but I am going to somewhat esoterically quote a film the soundtrack of which crept onto a “songs you like” playlist some AI bot curated for me this week – The Commitments. In the film, veteran trumpet player Joey “the lips” Fagin says the following “I believe in starts. Once you have the start the rest is inevitable”– and although 90s film adaptations are hardly a solid basis for a philosophical system (but to be honest, you do a lot worse) I for one am comforted by it.

The third big story of the week could be easily dismissed as a load of hot air by those for whom sport is just entertainment for people who can’t read books (let me be clear, I do not subscribe to this view) but to do this would be to massively, cruelly underestimate the influence of football on the national psyche.

 You’ll have seen the story because you were alive during the 48 hours period at the start of the week during which some of the richest men in the world gave us all a lesson in how to catastrophically ignore the wishes of your customer base by launching a breakaway European league of the continents (and the UKs) “biggest” (and in football this is ferociously subjective) clubs. This was an idiot move for reasons that you already know or simply don’t care about so I won’t bang on about it but I will say this: the working class game of football has long since been transformed into something else entirely by money and to pretend that the swift, humiliating demise of the European Super League idea is somehow a victory for honest, hard-working supporters is almost offensive when Premiere League players are routinely paid over £100,000 EVERY BLIMMIN’ WEEK. However, if this week shows anything at all it’s the fact that one, there are still some things that unite our fractured island; two, this is an opportunity to reform the game in a way that wrests some control away from the billionaires to return it to the fans and three – imagine what else we could achieve if we were as angry about other, arguably more fundamental issues, as we are about football.

The fourth of the three big stories of the week (ignoring the ongoing row about James Dyson and the like texting politicians asking for favours – don’t get me started. . . .)  is the news that new research proves that just a single dose of either the AZ or Pfizer vaccine reduces the chance of even catching Covid by 65%. And yes, there is a constant danger of new variants and yes, we must not get ahead of ourselves but I don’t know about you, but this week has been stuffed-full of hope and I for one am going to allow myself to be optimistic.

To play us out, a new track by The Chemical Brothers. As colleague and tastemaker Shaun has just said in the group chat, “we all need new Chem Brothers.” Yes Shaun, yes we do.

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