Sunday, May 29, 2022


One way to regard the Deppfamation trial — not necessarily the right way — is as a conflation of two separate criminal trials for domestic abuse, one of which has metastasized into a trial for sexual abuse, rape even. 

In the one where Amber is in the dock, Johnny and his lawyer's have made a case which feels more factual and thus perhaps more just, but is nevertheless still rather weak. 

Meanwhile, Amber's case against Johnny seems not merely weak, but also flawed.

And flawed on paper, even before the additional shortcomings of her own all-too-easily mocked testimony and the underperformance of her lawyers can be factored in. 

It seems genuinely bizarre to me that after six weeks of this ugliness, a jury may come back early next week with something akin to a binary, yes/no answer as the solution. And that so much money should ride on that decision is basically obscene. 

For these are not criminal cases based on charges of abuse, but a pairing of defamation suits informed by the even more culturally complex matter of the limits we impose on free speech. 

In their closing arguments Amber's team began by name-checking the first amendment, suggesting an urgent societal need for their client to be able to say whatever comes into her head. 

Johnny's team countered that there can be no freedom to lie, or at least to show reckless disregard for the truth. There is an implication here that this includes saying things for which there is no shareable foundation. 

This contrast is not as polar as it may at first seem. As a society we implicitly police public speech in terms of its direction, upwards or downwards. 

Each of us tends to feel more empowered to speak freely of our feelings about elites, such as the uber-wealthy and politicians, than we do about minorities and disadvantaged groups. (And discourse surrounding the latter is increasingly contaminated by slippery ideologies which work to exacerbate the pressures on free expression.)

Amber's POV: striking 'the monster'

Amber Heard tried to establish herself as a figurehead of a cause that was prominent in the culture of that moment. Women are not a minority, but they are often disadvantaged. Yet there are contradictions in the #metoo discourse, for it has some markedly elitist overtones, the movement having first emerged out of a scandal in the narrow milieu of Hollywood celebrity. These contradictions help to explain the financial high stakes in Fairfax County. 

Yet it remains unclear whether Heard can be a legitimate target or whether she has successfully cloaked herself within a partial taboo. And how groundbreaking in acceptable speech terms would Johnny Depp be as an abused husband set upon by a vindictive wife? 

As mentioned in a recent post, during the course of 2019, I became the victim of a stream of defamatory online posts that a judge would later describe as "potentially criminal" to the perpetrator, by way of a stern warning. Some of these were overtly xenophobic and homophobic. 

I've since asked myself whether it is more or less defamatory if a malicious voice refers to one's sexuality or reproductive status depending on one's gender and/or the truthfulness of the statement. (It's certainly more defamatory to be painted as a monkey when you are not.)

Such are the nuances in our free speech debate these days. The soon-to-end trial in Virginia might appear on some levels like an unpleasantly toxic celebrity spat, but should the jury reach a conclusion, it will undoubtedly be an historical one, for Americans and perhaps less dramatically, for the rest of us in the free world. 

Anyway, there is one last important point to make in summary, which both sets of lawyers appeared to dodge. 

Benjamin Rottenlawyer told the jurors that they only need believe that Depp pushed Heard once for them to find for her. 

Camille Vásquez then corrected him, informing them that they could not pick and choose; it had to be all or nothing. 

And she was (almost) right. But what she might have said is that in the end it is down to one of Amber's stories only — either you believe the worst tale of abuse — the broken bottle — or you have to find for Depp, because we cannot as a society tolerate perjury in a court of law. 

Rottenlawyer was undoubtedly playing the jury for fools, for if Amber lied under oath about the rape, then not only should she lose the defamation case, she would deserve to be jailed for one of the most heinous examples of perjury ever televised. 

Firestarter (2022)


Confirmation that Zac Efron's career is in the toilet. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Lying to the people....

The House Committee on Ethics must now determine if Boris Johnson is guilty of lying to the Commons. 

They will find this rather tricky. The PM knows the formulae that will probably save him. He misled MPs, misrepresenting the facts, but all because he didn't have a complete grasp of them at the time. 

Over in the US, i.e. post-truth America, there has been some chatter around the topic of perjury and specifically whether Amber Heard should face relevant charges. 


This too would be tricky. My gut feeling is that Heard has often been lying in court, but she has in the main situated these lies within her own personal truth, AKA 'lived experience', largely disconnected from the documented facts. 

Where she could be more vulnerable is in the area of doctored evidence and in the incitement of third parties to commit perjury on her behalf. 

V and I have been the victims of false testimony on multiple occasions here in Guatemala. The first instance was all too clear cut: my accuser filed a police report alleging I had attacked her on a day I was not in the country. There is no way she can not have known that she was lying. Utterly despicable. 

In court she avoided prosecution and secured a peace agreement of sorts based on another blatant lie. Yet on that occasion it was her lawyer who perjured herself, giving faith in front of the judge to a non-fact. 

Unlike subsequent members of her legal team, this lawyer had an air of basic decency and honour about her. I am inclined to think that she sincerely believed she was telling the truth at the time, and thus was possibly herself the victim of her client's malicious dishonesty. (But still, she gave faith to something she could not give faith to, because all she had to go on were the words coming out of the mouth of a client that by then she absolutely had to know is a liar.) 

Last March the same woman's husband blithely lied to a judge, claiming to have only missed two of the previous court sessions, when in fact he has skipped six.* 

Of course he might argue that the other four had somehow slipped his memory, but what of when he informed another judge in 2020 of his employment and income status in a manner that was patently untrue at the time?

This man also produced a denuncia against us at the MP later that year which was grounded in a collection of the most absurdly and obviously false allegations. The most bizarre aspect of this was that the evidence he submitted actually incriminated him in the commission of the very crime that he was trying to pin on us. 

These counter-denuncias are a worrying feature of the justice system in Guatemala. It is highly unlikely that the authorities in European countries would ever permit a man accused of sadistic, sexually-aggravated abuse to harass his victim — while he was consistently dodging the requirement to face her in court — with spurious allegations which amount to a form of intimidation, if not extortion. 

He now seems to have become so hooked on the highs of making ludicrously baseless allegations that he has only gone and made one against one of the presiding judges on his case, also in a sense, his jury. Your guess is as good as mine as to what he can possibly hope to achieve with that.

In spite of the collective expensiveness of her legal team, Amber Heard has made also made some bizarre gaffes, such as submitting digital photos as evidence which pretty much any computer-literate person could expose as having been modified from the originals. 

Our accuser submitted much of his evidence in 2020 as low-res black and white print-outs, perhaps aware that the original digital files would end up in effect testifying against him. 

He has also resorted to inciting others to lie on their behalf, dependents, friends and so on, but most significantly legal counsel, and in the latter case at least, it's always hard to make accusations of perjury stick on representatives and/or underlings. 

Today Amber Heard stated that a number of her ex-husband's witnesses including Kate Moss plus other friends and employees had "come out of the woodwork" for him (a barely disguised euphemism for lying on his behalf) owing to his power as a famous male. 

When she then alleged that he had "recruited" millions to torture her, she was in effect positing that absolutely nobody could support him without having submitted to his terrible power — which made him sound like that other tyrant of the current moment Vladimir Putin…rather than a leading Hollywood character actor.

In doing so she is all too obviously neglecting the contribution that her own personal aura and the apparent incompetence of her legal team might have made to this full on recruitment drive. 

It's nevertheless evident that many people are indeed willing to lie or at least back up a falsehood for someone on whom they are dependent financially or by whom they are perhaps just subconsciously influenced or manipulated. Yet I find Amber's apparent willingness to make these accusations against otherwise credible witnesses disturbing. 

Since the start of the Deppfamation trial in Virginia, she has hovered on the edge of open disrespect to the court and the process and can barely conceal her contempt for the opposing legal team. 

However much I might personally dislike a question or indeed the person asking it, a courtroom is never the place to become brincón (overbearing), because, like the House of Commons, it is a space where all discourse takes place with a duty of utmost respect to the presiding authority. 

And it's hard to picture Heard as a mouthpiece of the truth when she responds to questioning by conducting a sort of performance where she addresses, the ceiling, the jury, the back of the room, but almost never the person conducting the interrogation. In her case "non-responsive" tends to mean over-responsive

Liars resorting to ‘my truth’ often end up in an alternative reality of their own fabrication, where all connection with actual events becomes distorted. 

Surprisingly often, bad advice lies at the root of this. I can’t help imagining that for Amber there was a watershed moment when someone (or maybe just her inner demons) told her she might perpetuate her status in the industry beyond a certain age by becoming a voice. Those offering this sort of advice rarely touch on the potential for blowback. 

I have believed from the start that this couple engaged in mutual abuse. But the case is not about domestic abuse, it is about the kinds of speech that are permissible in the aftermath of such abuse. 

And this is where Amber's status as a voice tends to come apart. Depp has shown up with convincing witnesses and supporting evidence that he was himself abused. Heard has not, at least relatively. 

Having watched much of the trial I cannot recall a single telling piece of evidence presented by Heard's lawyers, and this when their client was clearly the sort to create incriminating tableaux for her camera, along with a tendency to use audio rather speculatively. One ends up with the impression of someone who has tried, and ultimately failed, to fully entrap her partner. 

Yet she still might have been abused by Depp. If so, one has to be sympathetic, but ultimately that is not what this trial has been about. 

The significance here is not about criminal behaviour, but about the principle that any statement made about someone else in public needs to have some sort of perceptible foundation in truth. 

Time and time again in Guatemala I have had to put up with statements made in public about me that have none such: statements about my character, my actions, my sexuality, my reproductive status, my professional abilities, my security system and so on — all just calumnies that are hardly worth the time it would take to rebut them. 

In the state where Depp and Heard are facing off, defamation is defined as speech based on malicious falsehood or a reckless disregard for the truth. Here in Guatemala the law is seemingly less certain, sometimes deferring to the alleged victim's sense of injury rather than any agreed notion of objective truth. 

While Amber may have failed to prove that she possessed the requisite foundation for her to pen that piece in the Washington Post, Depp is also going to struggle to prove that she has acted maliciously. He's more or less in the position I would have been had I lacked that stamp in my passport demonstrating beyond all reasonable doubt the malicious intent of my accuser. 

As I said, I have my gut feeling, but juries ought not to reach verdicts with their gut. Their job is simply to decide whether conclusive cases have been served up by the lawyers. (Though in truth juries often seem to resort to a balance of probabilities, just like the rest of us.)

Back to absolute master at allowing others to take the fall for him. That and the non-apology, the non acceptance of personal responsibility. And like Trump, it would seem that he is being protected from the usual consequences of his actions and attitudes by compliant, cowardly and possibly venal members of his own entourage.  

The people may some day get the chance to properly punish them, and him, for their defiant lack of principle. 

* His lawyer has missed double that number. Together the absence of one or the other of them has required the trial to be rescheduled a total of 15 times. This looks far more like a duplicitous strategy than an unlikely pattern of chance events. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Pinpoint Outrage

With regards to Idrissa Gueye, apparent rainbow refusnik…

Absolutely nothing good has ever come from forcing people to agree with opinions that they clearly reject. 

And as a liberal society we need to be able to take a stand against compelled speech in any form. 

We surely cannot go about cherry picking the parts of recalcitrant religious conviction that we think unacceptable in a 'modern' context. 

If Gueye, a Senagalese muslim earning a living in Paris, sincerely believes homosexuality to be sinful, we shame ourselves by homing in on only that part of his alleged mental make-up. 

Of course much of that which is presented to us as a matter of conscience, of heartfelt, internalised ideology, is often little more than dressed up bigotry, but that is not how the believers see it and we cannot ultimately win this battle by selectively taking on only those instances which contradict our own increasingly repressive, speech-smothering ideologies.
The level of hypocrisy underlying all this, given the ownership structure of PSG, is of course stratospheric.

Friday, May 20, 2022


Where for one very memorable term I studied (intensely) the history of revolutions, and my mind was like...


Friday, May 13, 2022

Pettiness of the Highest Order

We Brits have a remarkable capacity for elevating the trivial to the level of matters of vital national interest. (Viz the current national debate concerning the Leader of the Opposition's takeaway curry order.)  

I say remarkable rather than unique, as it would appear to have taken root elsewhere in countries such as Belize, presumably as part of our colonial legacy. 

During the current hiatus in the colourful Depp-Heard trial I have been following — with a slightly guilty relish — the spat between two footballers' wives in the High Court in London, a libel case in which nobody stands to make a fortune (on the contrary, both will emerge much the poorer as only oligarchs and tyrants can afford this kind of vanity legal action in Britain today) and seemingly hangs on news items of far-reaching consequence, such as a flood in the defendant's kitchen, which (allegedly) never actually took place. 

Nevertheless, the so-called Wagatha Christie speech incident, which occurred somewhere in the strange liminal locus between cyberspace and the 'real world', will I suspect in the end present us with a narrative of wider significance. 

As a society we are already asking ourselves how many people can legitimately be held responsible for content published on social media, but here there is also the question of how many people can be held accountable for consuming it and then acting on that consumption. 

Most interestingly of all perhaps, the final judgement of the UK's highest court will indicate the extent to which the real world consequences of cyber defamation can be quantified. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The Worst Person In The World (2021)

Like, Drive My Car,  the movie that pipped it to the Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards, Joachim Trier's painfully mis-categorised "Romantic Comedy" is a flawed, yet somewhat wonderful oddity. 

These days it would seem that subtitles are a prerequisite for anything approximating original, thought-provoking drama on the big screen. 

That said, two of my closest friends are Norwegian, one from Bergen and the other from a part of Oslo where postcodes and accents definitively matter, or so I am told, and not being a Norwegian speaker myself, I had a sense here that I was perhaps losing some of the key nuances of this story simply by not being able to deconstruct the diction of the protagonists. If this film had been set in London, the performers' intonations would have been markedly important. (Just think of Four Weddings And A Funeral). 

In simple terms this is the story of a young woman who fudges the irreversible choices we are all faced with in our twenties. The central performance by Renate Reinsve as Julie is extraordinary. Yet I quickly found myself asking whether my growing fascination was with the actress or the character, the latter being fairly shallow on paper, a woman scripted by two men. 

Reinsve reminds me simultaneously of three women of my own personal acquaintance, two of them here in Guatemala. There are scenes here that she inhabits as a charming, magnetic presence and there are others where she appears to have pulled back the lever to reverse thrust and duly manifests as a drained and draining personage in dialogue with the other leading characters, almost exclusively male. 

It's as if she has a natural ability to appear a decade older or a decade younger — full of promise or full of regret —  entirely on cue. 

If Reinsve is fluent in English star status is almost guaranteed after this. 

There is some ambiguity as to whom the title refers. In the screenplay it appears only once, in reference to a barista called Elvind. Yet it could also be applied to Julie's other bloke, cartoon-provocateur Aksel, seemingly the best combination of dialogue and performance on show, from Trier's established collaborator Anders Danielsen Lie. 

In the film's latter stages he makes a speech that I shall remember more than any other aspect of the story. He observes how he grew up in a world where young people used to hang out in shops because that was the place where culture was to be encountered, as objects

He also notes that one reaches a stage where one realises that the bad things one had been endeavouring to avoid were not the ones that actually happened, and that one finds oneself passing a point from which life is inevitably led in retrospect, no matter what might have previously occurred. 

This scene is the most disarmingly powerful thing this otherwise slightly patchy drama has to offer. 

But perhaps patchy is unfair. Maybe there is no attempt being made to provide us with what generally goes by the name of a character arc.

During one of her media interviews (Observer) Reinsve noted that: “We asked questions when we made this movie and I feel we didn’t give any answers”, suggesting that Trier's aim was something more like “a big conversation” than a fixed statement.

For me it was a conversation that at certain points I really tuned into, at others, a bit less so.