The Curmudgeon


Friday, December 31, 2004

News 2020

Three times winner of the Guardian Media Group Award for Nuance

Britain is leading the drive to send aid to countries struck by the recent earthquake in south-east Asia. Over 70 Britons and 100,000 other persons are now known to have perished in the disaster. Millions have been left homeless or without adequate holiday accommodation.

The British government has pledged a whopping fifty million pounds in aid. This is equivalent to the cost of a dozen cruise missiles, or nearly a tenth of the profits expected from the anticipated reconstruction bonanza, for which several British companies have already put in bids.

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, has expressed sympathy for those who lost their holiday homes or loved ones in the disaster, but said that more should be done to link financial aid to practical and compassionate preventive measures, such as adequate military provision and the privatisation of water supplies.

"You cannot expect to help these problems simply by throwing money at them willy-nilly," Mr Johnson said. "In order to be effective, aid must be appropriately targeted and properly monitored, and the natives must be given the chance to earn it with pride, dignity and entrepreneurial instinct intact."

The International Development Minister, Clare Kurtz, thanked Mr Johnson for his helpful remarks and added that Indonesia would be temporarily relieved of part of its debt to Britain so as to facilitate a humanitarian intervention in East Timor.

East Timor has a long history of violence and financial problems, which have been exacerbated by the effects of the earthquake. Indonesia has offered to send in troops to restore order, rescue children and get kittens down from trees, but says it cannot afford to provide an effective force. Ms Kurtz said she hoped the debt relief would expedite the rescue mission. The Indonesian ambassador had already assured her that the Timorese would be happy to pay the costs of the intervention, she added.

Later, the Prime Minister said that he hoped other countries would "stop dragging their feet" and follow the British government's example, which has already been publicly praised by at least two pop singers.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

News 2020

When it eventually happens, remember you read it here first

The daughter of film-maker Lucas Playhill's second cousin was among the casualties of the recent earthquake in south-east Asia, US authorities confirmed today. As many as 50 Britons may also have been killed.

Mr Playhill was unavailable for comment, but sources close to the film-maker's second cousin said that his daughter was "an angelic person, flawless in every way" who was always "full of life" until the day she died.

The news sent a tidal wave of relief surging through the assembled ranks of journalists, who until now have been starved of a convincing human interest angle to bring the scale of the disaster home to their readers.

Since nuclear weapons testing has been resumed in the region, its status as a holiday destination has fallen off in the wake of various radiation scares, which western governments and travel agents maintain have little or no basis in reality. As a result, journalists have experienced some difficulty in finding suitable material.

Among the most appalling sights in this terrible tragedy has been the spectacle of orphan-like press photographers hunting desperately for white faces among the bereaved.

"There've been maybe 60,000 casualties, counting the less newsworthy ones," said British photographer Gonville Mugge as he was issued a picture of Mr Playhill. "That's a lot of little brown faces to wade through. It's been a horrendous experience, but it looks like the worst is over now," said Mr Mugge.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

News 2020

Bringing you closer to the future

The BBC is to assemble an extensive database of acceptable public opinion soundbites as part of its voluntary progress toward greater impartiality, the corporation has revealed.

The database, which will include material from all regions of Britain and every acceptable permutation of acceptable opinion, will be available for use in BBC news and current affairs programmes in less than two years, a spokesman said.

Although the statement did not specify economisation as a motivating factor, it is probable that the corporation wishes to cut down on its outside broadcast costs as well as safeguarding its reputation for impartiality.

The database will consist of nearly 300 million basic digital video soundbites, in many cases comprising the actual recorded words of real British citizens. As time goes on, however, the BBC hopes to generate such material entirely by the use of digital technology.

"Eventually, the technology will progress far enough that digitally composed video faces will be indistinguishable from video recordings of people speaking," said media expert Bradley Ichneumon today. "At that point, all the BBC will need to do is consult the latest opinion polls, calculate the appropriate verbalisation parameters and add those words to the basic digital clip of the talking head."

Such advanced technology would also enable the soundbites to be far more specific and less reliant on generalisations than a mere bank of recordings, Dr Ichneumon said.

However, that point is still some years away. For the time being, the BBC believes that its digital soundbite library, with each word of every soundbite comprehensively cross-referenced, will prove a satisfactory and cost-effective means of conveying British public opinion to its consumers, a spokesman said.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

News 2020

Balanced news from right on the fence

The popular entertainment chain Splattercade has announced that it will return a hundred and fifty million dollars invested in it by the New Democrat Association, a group of self-styled moderate dissenters in the US political system.

The NDA, which consists of business and military personnel from all walks of American life, agrees with all the goals of the present administration, but has expressed reservations about their achievability and the effectiveness of some of the methods used.

"We are emphatically not a political party," said NDA spokesperson Clinton Hillary yesterday. "There have been no petty political squabbles in this great country of ours since the Homeland Constitution abolished disunity in the face of terror, and that is something for all Americans and all lovers of freedom to be proud of."

Nevertheless, the NDA has occasionally risked stepping over the bounds of legality, as when one of its members accused the present Commander-in-Chief of not doing enough to help Israel against the antisemitic terrorist enemies which surround the tiny beleaguered country - the only democracy in the Middle East - on all sides and have threatened to sweep the Jewish race into the sea.

As a result of the ensuing controversy, the NDA revoked the speaker's membership and formally apologised to the White House and to the TV network which carried the interview. Nevertheless, the NDA's reputation for supporting high-tax, big-government liberalism remains one of the major obstacles to the association's merger with the ruling Homeland Administration.

Splattercade, which runs a chain of shooting arcades where patrons can gun down life-size "suicide bombers", will not accept future investment from the association and does not wish to be "an instrument of profit for the National Democrat Association," said Splattercade manager Stubley Bimmel today.

"This is not a political move," said Mr Bimmel. "Splattercade is a business organisation devoted to providing fun entertainment which has nothing to do with politics. However, this does not mean we try to evade our moral responsibility to refuse to accept funding from persons or groups of persons whose position we find abhorrent."

Monday, December 27, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the Fourth and Final

I woke up with a hangover, which is one of the very few Yuletide habits that I have in common with the rest of the world. I was still slumped in the armchair, with the television unplugged before me and three empty bottles by my side. I felt a pang of guilt that I could only remember emptying one; then I remembered what had happened to the others, and the guilt turned to a healthy anti-Cratchit resentment.

I went to the window and opened the curtains. There was very little activity in the street below, but still considerably more than I would have expected on this most paralysed day in the calendar. Another lot of fairy lights - the Glossop's Turkey Vindaloo advert - was well on the way to falling apart, and someone was energetically clambering over the sputtering letters trying to keep them from going out altogether.

Once I'd poured enough coffee down myself to fuel the effort involved, I plugged the television back in so I could see what festive disasters were occurring. I was half-way through the third tragic human interest tale of infants electrocuted by Christmas tree lights and/or impaled upon the spiky armpits of insufficiently standardised Taiwanese teddy bears, and having a reasonable amount of fun for Christmas morning, when I suddenly wondered how they'd managed to get all these news items up so promptly. Then I saw the date at the top of the screen: 27 December.

"If the Spirit of Christmas Present is still fooling around in there," I informed the television loudly, "it has ten seconds to make itself scarce. After that, it's history."

Nothing happened; the date remained the same. Before kicking the screen in I decided to check with an independent source of information. I opened the window and bawled across the street at the electrician trying to fix the Glossop's advertisement:
"Excuse me! What day is it?"
"What day is it?" the distant voice repeated. "Why, December the twenty-seventh, of course. Festivities are over for this year, and thank the gods for that."

Great, I thought. The Spirits had been meant to do it all in one night, and instead they'd taken three. Admittedly I'd missed Christmas; but I'd also missed a whole day's overtime on Boxing Day, and with all the extra money I was presently going to lose to Mr Cratchit's new futures plan it was beginning to look as though what little future I'd ever had was rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

A sound outside the window brought me back to the present. The electrician had clambered down from the sign and crossed the street to see me better. It was a girl about my own age, pretty but grubby.
"Are you a trainee electrician?" I said.
"Why do you ask that?"
"Because that sign you're working on has fewer lights showing now than when you started."
"I'm not a trainee anything," she said. "Certainly not an electrician. I'm a gremlin."
"A gremlin?"
"Industrial saboteur, freelance; working for Cratchit's at the moment. Rival propaganda, wanton destruction of. But that's just a stepping stone; I'll go independent as soon as I'm able."
"You don't like it at Cratchit's?"
"You must be joking. It's like bloody Christmas all the year round, especially where I'm based, in the advertising department. At least in most lines of work Christmas doesn't usually start till August at the earliest."
"I know how you feel," I said. "I work for Cratchit too. Maybe that's where I've seen you before."
"Possibly, though I don't seem to recall seeing you. What's your area?"
"Clerk," I said. "Artificial walnuts. The prospects are good if you like them at nil."
She shrugged. "I don't know that department at all. In my line of work I tend to gravitate away from my employer's centre of operations rather than towards it, you understand. At least during the term of my contract. Speaking of which..." She indicated her unfinished handiwork.
I nodded. "Well, if you should feel that urge towards independence at any time soon, look me up," I said. "I'll show you some good places to plant the charges."
"That would be nice," she said. "It shouldn't be long now, actually. I've already been reprimanded twice for over-zealousness." She winked, turned and walked back towards the Glossop's sign, which was now sagging terminally and looked in some danger of falling on the "Buy Cratchit's" sign right next to it.

"See you soon," I said, recalling where I'd already seen her. "Happy new year, Angela."


Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the Third

These pleasant reveries were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. I was startled; I'd expected the Spirit simply to appear in the house the way the others had. If it had to be invited in, perhaps it was vampiric by nature; surely that would be the next logical step in the evolution of Christmas under the regime of industrial capitalism. But how did one put a Christmas vampire to rest? A stake made of holly, perhaps?

The knock came again, somewhat louder. "Is that the Spirit of Christmas Future?" I called.
"However did you guess?" asked the voice of Mr Norbert Cratchit. "Along with my family I am, of course, the very essence of Christmas for the foreseeable posterity, and it's gratifying to hear you agree. Open up, Scrooge, do. It's raining out here."

I opened the door. Mr Cratchit strode in, clapping me on the shoulder. I hate that.

"Yes indeed, Christmas futures," he said, walking into the living-room and settling into the armchair. "They're a fine investment, Scrooge, a fine investment. In today's unstable world it's always a comfort to know there's something you can rely on, and Cratchit's Christmas futures are just the thing."
"I beg your pardon, sir?" I said.
"Shares, my boy. Or stocks, one of the two. For Christmases that haven't come yet. A small down payment, say forty-five per cent of the three percent of the seventy-five per cent after tax that you actually receive at the moment, and then five, ten or a hundred years down the line, you just sit back and cash in."
"Cash in?" The spirit of Christmas Yet to Come was starting to resemble that of the Present to a depressing degree.
"By selling them on again, of course. Come along, Scrooge, don't be a mug all your life."
"I'm sorry, sir," I said. "I'm not sure I quite understand-"
"Of course not, of course not. If you had any head for finance you wouldn't still be a clerk in the walnut department, eh? Still, can't have everything, as Big Tim's father Bob used to say before he had it. That's why I dropped round tonight, knew you'd be on your own, thought I'd cheer you up a bit with the good news."
"The good news," I said, feeling more depressed by the minute. If there was one thing I could do with less of during the Christmas season, it was good news.
"About your futures," he said, pouring himself a large one from my gin bottle. "It's part of a new employees' package we're going to introduce in the New Year. Sort of profit-sharing on the never-never. We take a portion of your take-home wages, invest it for you in these futures, then a few years later you can sell them again, entirely at your own discretion, free to find and choose your own buyer and everything, and you make a nice tidy profit of which we only take thirty per cent for our trouble."

I stood - I only had one chair, and he was in it - and blinked at him.

"The Prime Minister thinks it's a wonderful idea," he said. "Involving the workers in the business more. Makes them think, um realize they have a stake in keeping it all going. Tough on the causes of crime and all that - might help stop the kind of idiocy that's been going on out there tonight."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Petty vandalism, Scrooge," he said as he tossed back the last of my gin and made a sprint start on the vodka. "Some philistine has sabotaged the illuminations. Our illuminations, more to the point. I shall have to speak to someone about that. People nowadays," he mourned, shaking his head sadly, "people nowadays are not nearly so spiritual as they used to be." And he proceeded to make amends for his own lack of spirits by downing yet more of mine.

I went over to the window. It was true: apart from the lights from the other houses, the street was almost in darkness. The Bratfink's advertisement and the Cratchit's Corpulent Christmas slogan had gone out. Straining my eyes, I could see the tangles of twisted framework and disconnected cable lying on the artificial snow. I was hard put to restrain a gasp of admiration; if only I had the courage to do something like that myself!

When I turned back towards him, Mr Cratchit was on his feet. "Well, Scrooge," he said as we walked to the front door, "I hope I've managed to cheer you up a bit, instil something of the season of goodwill into that cynical head of yours."
"Thank you sir," I said.

He clapped me on the shoulder again. "Well, soon be time to start saving for next year. If you didn't drink so damn much you might be able to afford to decorate this place, buy a tree or some tinsel or something. Employees do get discount on certain selected animal by-products, you know."
"I know, sir," I said. "I'll bear the fact in mind." I opened the front door for him. A young woman was standing on the step. She was fairly pretty and rather oddly dressed, but Mr Cratchit didn't seem to notice; in fact, he walked right into her, and then, a tenth of a second later, out the other side. She threw a contemptuous glance at his back and then turned to face me.

"I am the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come," she said.
I couldn't forbear giving a large sigh of relief. "Please come in," I told her. "Your two colleagues didn't even wait to be invited."
"What about him?" She jerked her head in the direction of the departing Cratchit.
"He wasn't invited either, but I had to let him in. He's my boss."
"Is that so?" She gazed after him again, this time with the least hint of a smile. "Cratchit's Christmas Novelties and Associated Horseshit, hmm?"
"Near enough," I said. "Would you care for a drink?"
"Yes, but unfortunately I can't indulge while on duty. It would cause a dysfunctional temporal anomaly."
"Naturally," I muttered as we entered the living-room; "it does that to me all the time."

She stood in the middle of the room and looked about her with an air of exaltation. "So this is it," she said.
"This is it," I said, without wondering too much what it was. I was too busy wondering about her. She looked several years older than me, slim and fit, and she was dressed like a guerrilla fighter: boots, combat jacket, bandoliers and so on. The only anomalous detail was the fact that around her head she wore a band which appeared to be woven together from sprigs of mistletoe.

"What are you, then?" I said. "A latter-day militant Druid?"
"Don't be silly."
"You're not altogether what I was expecting," I said.
"I could say the same thing to you."
"Are you really a spirit?"
"In a manner of speaking. I'm a limited-sphere spatiotemporal displacement construction, rearward oriented. My name's Angela."
"Rearward oriented?" For a moment I almost suspected Big Tim Cratchit's Escort Agency again, this time admittedly with a certain hopefulness, but Angela said impatiently:
"Rearward in time, of course. I thought you knew I was from Christmas Yet to Come."
"Yes, of course. Silly of me. Do you mind if I ask what year?"
"Nothing prevents you from asking, but I'm not going to tell you. I want it to be a surprise for when you get there."
"I beg your pardon?"
An expression of slight impatience crossed her face. "I didn't realise this was going to be so difficult. You really don't have a clue yet, do you?"
"A clue about what?"
"Us. The movement. The Herodians?"

She said the name as though it might have some significance for me, but I could only shake my head and shrug.

She sighed. "All right, look. There isn't much time. The Herodian movement was founded in - well, some time in your future - to combat the pernicious effects of Christmas. Sabotage, assassination, cratchiting, that kind of thing."
"Cratchiting! Based on what was done to your guest, Norbert Cratchit. The method which was used to victimise him acquired his name. The same thing as happened with a certain Boycott in a previous century, only more so."
"And the name - the Herodians? After the Herod who..."
"After the archetypal child-hater who heroically tried to prevent the first ever Christmas, at the immense personal cost of having his name despised by all posterity. It's one of our sacred missions to rehabilitate him, but we can't do that until the festival itself has been overthrown."
"And just how do you propose to do that?"
"Terrorism," Angela said. "It's the only possible way."
"You really think so?"
"Well, you're a fine one to take that tone," she said, annoyed. "You're really not what I expected at all, even at that age. This could have consequences for our relationship when I get back forward to where I came from."

I thought that over for a bit. When it became apparent that, despite her conversational style, she wasn't going to turn into a bedpost and allow me to wake up, I said, "Well, whatever your purpose is in being here, I suggest you proceed with it. We may as well get it over with."
"Over with?" said Angela, flickering slightly around the edges. "Believe me, this isn't even the beginning yet." Noticing where I was staring, she looked down at her left sleeve, from which a bluish radiance was effulging in a somewhat intimidating manner. "Oh hell. Time's nearly up. Be seeing you. Look, just try to remember what I said for once, and remember that next week is the first year of the rest of your li-"

The blue light crackled and enveloped her, and she disappeared.

"Right," I said. So, by the looks of it, Christmas Yet to Come was going to make even less sense than previous Christmases; evidently present trends were going to continue unabated. The thought filled me with a terrible existential horror and I reached for the whisky bottle, which Mr Cratchit had fortunately overlooked.

To be concluded...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the Second

I hadn't drunk a drop when something tapped me on the shoulder. I twisted my head around and confronted an imposing personage more severely dressed even than Marley had been. Everything he wore was black, except for a plain white collar round his neck and a plain steel buckle at his belt. Both the collar and the belt looked uncomfortably tight, as indeed did the expression on his slablike face. In his hands he held a conical black hat, set off not altogether frivolously with a wide black band.

"Good evening," I said. I picked up the remote control to turn off the television, but the screen was already blank.
"I am a Spirit of Christmas Past," said the apparition civilly.
"A Spirit? You mean there's more than one?"
"Naturally, since there have been so many Christmases. I am the Spirit of Christmas, sixteen hundred and fifty-five."
"Congratulations," I said.
"I'm not proud of it, Master Scrooge," he said, with a certain asperity. "The very word - Christ's Mass - possesses a popish resonance which pleases me little indeed, and the frivolity occasioned by the festival does but ill behove a pious nation such as England."
"Oh," I said.
"As this year's representative Spirit of Christmas Past, in accordance with the rota, I have been ordered to this place by a certain Jacob Marley, in order to demonstrate to you the error of your ways," he went on, gazing about the living-room with the sepulchral hauteur of an expensive interior decorator.
"Rota?" I said.
"But of course, Master Scrooge. The business of administering spiritual regeneration to earthly curmudgeons such as yourself cannot be left entirely to a single spirit, year in and year out. The Spirit of Christmas Past who visited your great-great-great-grandfather was, I believe, a somewhat earlier manifestation than myself, not to mention," he sniffed, "considerably more Roman."
"Well, there's certainly nothing Roman about you," I said. "You seem English to the core - you look as if you wouldn't know what la dolce vita was if it leapt into bed with you."

He didn't exactly look pleased - he seemed physiologically incapable of registering any emotion lighter than dutiful acquiescence - but he gave a small bow and moved round to the front of the armchair, so I didn't have to twist my neck to talk to him.

"That was kindly spoken, Master Scrooge," he said.
"Don't mention it," I told him. "Now, about this spiritual restoration -"
He winced. "Please use a different term than restoration, sir. That particular choice of words is somewhat tactless, not to say cavalier."
"Forgive me," I said. "This regeneration, then. What, precisely, does it consist in?"

There was rather a long pause.

"The fact is, Master Scrooge," he said at last, inspecting very closely one of the more threadbare patches in my carpet, "the fact is, I was in hopes that you could tell me."
"That I could tell you?"
"You must remember," he said, "that this is my first tour of duty; the duration of ... of the tradition is such that no one has yet had to perform the task twice."
"Didn't Marley give you any instructions?"
"Jacob Marley and I," he said, his nose gaining something of its original altitude, "frequent somewhat different aspects of the afterlife. Among other things, his section of hell," he paused for respiratory fortification, went on: "has women in it. In addition, of course, I labour under the handicap of my year."
"Your year?"
"Indeed. I am the Spirit of Christmas 1655, one year after Parliament officially abolished the festival."
"Abolished it?"
"Indeed." He indicated my treeless window and untinselled walls. "I would have thought that, in your family at least, there would be more awareness of the Commonwealth's achievement in that regard."
"Forgive my ignorance," I said, sincerely. "My education was not what it should have been."
"Well, but clearly you are not altogether without hope, since I notice a praiseworthy lack of trinkets and baubles about the place. In fact," he said, with a sigh that was part relief and part exasperation, "I really cannot see what Jacob Marley expects me to do with you. Of course, you still have much to learn about temperance, soberness, deportment, dress, thriftiness, piety, hard work, humility and - by your own admission - history; but your attitude to the popish festival betokens a not altogether irremediable state."
"Thank you," I said, in case it meant something nice.

He pulled on his hat and straightened it with a kind of disciplinarian jerk, so that the rim bisected his head at an angle of precisely ninety degrees. "Well, I shall not detain you any longer, Master Scrooge," he said. "As Jacob Marley doubtless told you, I am but the first of three."
"A privilege to meet you, Mr Past," I said as, with another bow, he politely faded from view.

Well, that wasn't so bad, I thought. In a way it had even been edifying, though doubtless not quite as Marley had intended. Even in England, it appeared, people had been known to have second thoughts about Christmas. There was much comfort in the idea, although I doubted whether the Parliamentary Act abolishing the festival had been very successfully enforced. And the Spirit of Christmas Past, though a bit of a sourpuss, had turned out much better than I'd anticipated; to the extent that I'd had time to conceive anticipations, I had expected some rubicund fatso with a patronising manner and a laugh loud enough to break windows.

Feeling somewhat cheered, I poured a large whisky and turned the television back on. No doubt, as he'd said, I did have much to learn about hard work and temperance. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

The television flickered and clunked ominously. I was about to get up and whack it with the Yellow Pages, but then the picture cleared and a male voice started bawling at me with festive enthusiasm. Adverts, I thought, and picked up the Yellow Pages anyway, in case I needed something to put through the screen.

"Good evening and a merry Christmas to one and to you aaaaaaaalll!" yelled the voice. The picture cleared to show a huge grin full of perfect white teeth, except for one of the back lower ones which was gold. "Hi there!" it said. "I am your Spirit of Christmas Present, your very own Yuletide Celestial Starburst Guide here to help and direct you personally into a new and better future existence thanks to our sponsors at-"

I grabbed the remote control and prodded buttons furiously, but all the channels showed the same hideous smile and the monologue continued without a pause.

"Aaaaaaaand here tonight, this very Christmas Eve, we're going to convert a very special person and a dear close friend of mine, Mr Shalmaneser Scrooge of forty-nine Grobelaar Mansions, North London. At the moment Mr Scrooge is a deeply troubled person with a lack of seasonal spirit, but by the time we're finished with him he's gonna just LUUUURVE the whole thing the way we LURVE it ourselves!"

I ran to the wall and pulled out the plug. The television turned on its castors to keep the grin facing me; the lack of electricity bothered it just as little as the channel changes.

"And how can anyone not lurve Christmas, folks? How can anyone fail to be deeply and spiritually moved by the whole gosh-darn thing? Can you think of a single acquaintance in your whole life, discounting heathen and the frankly worthless, who didn't get something out of it? That spirit of giving? The thought of that divine little whippersnapper gurgling in a mangler?"
"I think you mean manger," I said, pessimistic as always.
"Those songs," it continued without pause, "those stars, those donkeys, those Bethlehems, those cards, those kings riding shepherds while the angel gabbled, the three-day diet of mush on all the TV channels God sends..."
"And how," I said with feeling. The grin abruptly stopped rhapsodising and its voice took on a more sanctimonious twang.

"Now, one of the reasons Mr Scrooge here doesn't care for Christmas is because he's poor, and of course that's understandable, of course it is, it's very very valid if just a little bit crass and materialistic, but this being the season of goodwill we'll pass that over with barely a smirk."
"That's a load of crap," I said. "I'd hate Christmas even if I was rich. My ancestor did."
"But as we Christmas people know, money isn't everything, and if you need to scrimp and save for Christmas and you want to avoid the crowds when doing your shopping, well for golly and tarnation's sakes, what's the rest of the year for? Why do you think you get reminded when the decorations go up every first of September that Christmas is on its way? Do you think we take all that trouble just for the good of our health, Mr Scrooge?"
"All you need to do is work a little harder and scrimp a little more, Mr Scrooge, just like your old relation, that's all it takes. But money isn't everything, you know. It's the spiritual dimension that really really makes it what it really really is, all those angels and the three wise guys following the star on an unstable behemoth, to that mangler or manger or whatever it was-"
"Right," I said. "And don't forget the first spiritual commandment that divine little cow's breakfast gave you: Kill spruce trees for my birthday."

The grin did not fade, but it lost a little of its vigour and vim. "I'm not coming through here very well, am I?" it said.
"If you mean, am I receiving you loud and clear, the answer is yes I am," I said. "Louder than I'd like and clearer than you'd prefer if you had any sense. If you mean, are you connecting with me on a personal and spiritual level, the answer is no. My soul hasn't been less moved since the last time I attended a Church of England service."

The grin thought this over for a bit. "Christmas is non-denominational, you know," it said. "That's just one of its many many beautiful features, the fact that everyone's included whether they're Catholic or Protestant, whether they're Baptist or Episcopalian, whether -"
"Whether they like it or not," I said.
That definitely wilted it. "Shally old pal, I hope you're not suggesting there's anything coercive or hypocritical about this wondrous wonderful wonder of a festival."
"Perish the thought," I said.
"I mean, it's a season of goodwill, a time of family and fraternal gathering, a time to congregate round the fireside and watch The Sound of Music-" It stopped in its tracks for a moment, seemed to mull over what it had just said, and then went on: "All right, if you want to opt out you can opt out, it's got nothing to do with me, it's all optional, completely optional, take it or leave it, no problem at all. Anyway," it added with pouty defiance, "the kiddies like it."
"I hate children too."

There was a pause.

"Just don't come sulking to me when you don't get any cards."
"Humbug," I said.

The screen went blank. I pulled the television back into place opposite my chair, but I left the plug out; I suspected the available fare on the real channels would be little different from what I'd just got rid of.

I sat and grumbled to myself for a while. Not coercive, indeed. What's non-coercive about something that pervades the whole universe for the last three months of the year? That advertisement in fairy-lights for Glossop's Turkey Vindaloo had been up since the end of September, and they'd been stringing the shops with tinsel before November began.

I had another drink and thought about coercion and how nice it must be to do it. Then I leafed through the newspaper and discovered that The Terminator was on, but I couldn't face plugging the television in again, and in any case it was pointless starting to enjoy anything that might be interrupted at any moment by the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come.

I didn't care to think what that one would be like, so I sat back and started fantasising about a video game I wanted to design. It was called Target Santa, and the object was to pursue the old child molester's sleigh (in an advanced jet fighter from the secular republic of the player's choice) while making it as difficult as possible for him to get down any chimneys. Near misses would cause the reindeer to panic, and the resulting losses of alimentary control would be susceptible to manipulation by the player, who'd be able, with skilful shooting, to direct the end product onto the heads of carol singers distributed at random across the ground below. Points would be awarded for (1) direct hits on Santa, which would cause him to swell up temporarily and hinder his access to chimneys; (2) hits on the reindeer, which would eventually cause the sleigh to crash and result in a win for the player; and (3) burial of carol singers under reindeer end products. The rewards for said burials would be calculated on a sliding scale depending on what the singers were warbling at the time of interment: ten points for Away in a Manger; fifty for Jingle Bells; two hundred for Santa Claus is Coming to Town; two thousand for anything by Cliff Richard...

To be continued...

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the First

Marley was dead, to begin with. He died the year before my great-great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Scrooge, had his nervous breakdown. Old Ebenezer died two years later in the workhouse, having given away most of his fortune to the poor of the parish.

I myself am his descendant via one of a few - a very few - wild oats he sowed prior to the making of said fortune. During the last year of his life, Ebenezer sought out and recognized his long-lost son, who was very glad of the privilege until the will was read and it turned out that the entire Scrooge estate now consisted of three shillings and sixpence which had been left, moreover, to the Cratchits.

Disgusted, the younger Scrooge left London for America and there worked his way up through the sweatshops of New York, taking advantage of his family's vinegary temperament to become the Pickled Onion King of the eastern states. Subsequent generations also prospered, until my grandfather lost everything in the crash of 1929 and returned to England, where he rapidly acquired an eccentric reputation (and a police record) by ceremonially burning every single volume of the works of Charles Dickens that he could lay his hands on.

My father, Tiglathpileser Scrooge, was born and grew up in utter penury. Swallowing his pride, he wrote to Norbert Cratchit, a descendant of the original Bob and the senior partner in Cratchit's Christmas Novelties and Animal By-Products, Inc., the phenomenally successful corporation which his ancestor had founded with Ebenezer's money. Moved to pity by my father's plight, Cratchit gave him a lifetime contract as a clerk, on subsistence wages, of which ninety-four and a half per cent reverted back to the employer as part of the Cratchit Provisional Pension Plan.

When I was seventeen Mr Cratchit promoted my father to senior clerk, and as an expression of his personal esteem entrusted to him the care of the corporation's crippled centenarian patriarch, Big Tim. This was a heavy responsibility, since the old man was prone to fly into the most dreadful rages if the smallest thing were denied him, and he would scream all day from his bed for toy trains and lollipops, so that my father was kept constantly busy. When not fetching and carrying he was usually ducking and dodging, since the old man's favourite amusement was to hurl his toys at their deliverer, particularly when the deliverer happened to be a Scrooge.

Eventually, when I was eighteen, Big Tim broke a die-cast model of the Golden Gate Bridge over my father's head. "Don't make 'em like they used to," he is reported to have murmured, settling back with a satisfied smile; but it is unclear whether he was referring to toys or to Scrooges.

In the limitless kindness of his heart, Norbert Cratchit offered me my father's original position with the firm, as a junior clerk in the plastic walnut department. This was shortly before my father died of a fractured skull aggravated by despair at learning that the Cratchit Provisional Pension Plan was in receivership in Paraguay. His last three words were: "Bugger!"

During all this time, naturally, Marley remained dead. The first time I met him was two years after I first started work at Cratchit's.

At closing time on December the twenty-fourth of that year, old Mr Cratchit himself came up and spoke to me. "It's Christmas Eve today," he said, with the perspicacity for which he was renowned.

"Yes, sir," I said. "I would be greatly obliged if you would allow me to come in and work tomorrow, as the season depresses me no end and I'd be glad of the distraction." The money was also not unimportant, but Mr Cratchit found such materialistic motivations distasteful in the extreme.

"Working over Christmas! Can't have that," he told me. "It's a time for the family. Working over Christmas would undermine Family Values. Why do you think I take back half your wages and put them in the Cratchit Employees' Offspring Trust Fund account in Switzerland, if not for the sake of Family Values?"
"But I don't have a family, sir."
"Well, in that case I'll allow you to come in three hours early on Boxing Day. But don't dare show your face here tomorrow. Just have a merry Christmas, and remember - don't buy a walnut, buy a Cratchit's Animal By-product!"
"Yes sir," I murmured, unable to join in as he pronounced the corporation's most successful advertising jingle, one of many hundreds which had been originated by Big Tim himself.

I walked home through the snowy streets. The snow was fake, being another Cratchit's animal by-product which had undergone a certain amount of inexpensive processing. It was fairly realistic, lacking only the colour, consistency and temperature of real snow; and it helped to make the rain look nicer.

As I walked through the streets I could see strings of fairy lights spelling out in red, white and blue - the corporation colours - such slogans as: "Buy Cratchit's!" and "A Corporate Christmas is a Corpulent Christmas!" The main road was lit by little flashing angels blowing trumpets from which came other improving mottoes: "Eat Yourself Sick with Glossop's Turkey Vindaloo" and "Shop at Bratfinks or your Child will Howl the House Down". It was all very seasonal; but for some reason I still felt depressed. I never had cared for Christmas very much. No doubt it was all to do with the traumas of my family history; I knew my loathing was irrational, inexcusable, undemocratic and contrary to natural law, but there wasn't very much I could do about it.

My window was easily recognizable; it was the only one that didn't have a glitz-festooned fir tree sitting in it like Zsa Zsa Gabor in a hedgehog suit. I opened the front door to find an elderly man in a very elderly frock coat standing irritably in my porch. "How did you get in here?" I said.

"Scrooooooge," he replied.

It was a frightful wail, accompanied by much clanging and clanking of a huge chain which he wore coiled around him.
"How do you know my name?" I said. "Is this someone's idea of a joke? Are you from Big Tim Cratchit's escort agency?"

The man said, "Scroooooooooooooooooooge!"
"I'm Scrooge," I said. "Now who the hell are you?"
"In life I was your great-great-great-grandfather's partner, Jacob Marley."
"His partner, eh?" I said. "So you're the one who advised him to throw away all his money?"
"I was permitted to intercede for the sake of his soul."
"I don't believe in ghosts," I said. "I think you're a product of indigestion. You're just a bit of inefficiently processed crispbread, that's all you are." I took off my coat.

Marley's pallid features gained a martyred look, but he ploughed on regardless. "I am permitted to speak also to my partner's descendants, once they reach the age of majority," he said, "given that my original intercession, while entirely successful, exercised such a - ahem - such a powerful influence over the mind of poor Ebenezer. He always was prone to overreaction."

And, apparently to demonstrate his own cool perspective on the situation, he rattled his chain a bit more and wailed: "Scroooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-"
"Yes, yes, all right," I said. "If you're going to preach me a sermon, though, let's at least get away from this draughty porch."
"Earthly chills no longer have the power to chill me, nor earthly fires to warm my weary bones," said Marley. He was blocking my way to the living-room door. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and walked forward. There was a brief, intense chill, lasting perhaps a tenth of a second, and a noise that sounded somewhat like, "Ow!" When I felt the doorknob under my hand, I opened my eyes and looked back. Marley was still facing me, though I hadn't heard him turn, and his expression was more martyred than ever.

"That was very impolite," he said.
"It's not exactly courteous to break and enter a person's home."
"I broke nothing."
"You didn't knock, either," I said. "Anyway, who are you to lecture me on etiquette or anything else? I've yet to see any proof that you're not a hallucination - indigestion coupled with a draught under the carpet."

I walked into the living-room and shut the door. After a couple of seconds I opened it again and peeped out. Marley was gone. I closed the door again and sat down in the armchair, opposite the television. Marley was sitting between me and the screen, apparently perched on thin air.

"You are not taking a very constructive attitude," he intoned. "It was the same with poor Ebenezer. Truly you are your great-great-great-grandfather's great-great-great-grandson."
"And you," I said, "are beginning to get on my nerves. Just say your piece and get out, will you - or do you have to be exorcised?"
"You will be visited," Marley said, "by three Spirits. I shall not bother to tell you that they will appear on successive nights. You will see them all tonight, and face tomorrow's dawn a new man. That is," he added, glaring, "if you know what is good for you."
"Like old Ebenezer knew, I suppose?"
"As I said, he was prone to overreaction."
"You ruined him - you and your meddling. What did his son have to say when you came to wish him the platitudes of the season?"

Marley's cheeks went from white to a sort of graphite grey, and he didn't meet my eyes; I had the impression he was blushing. "Young Ebenezer," he managed at last, "was a person of direct and forceful speech; doubtless a consequence of his unfortunate early life. As his later success and riches indicate, he was also rather immature in spirit."

I sighed. "Have you finished yet, or is there more? If you've said all you wish to, please go away. I'd rather listen to the Queen's broadcast, and that's saying a great deal."
"I shall detain you no longer," he said coldly. "Learn from the Spirits, young Scrooge. Learn, and repent your evil ways - before it's toooooooo - laaaaaaaaaaaaate!"

With this melodramatic wail and a last jangle of his chain he finally faded from view. Not a moment too soon, I thought; with all the noise he'd been making I'd have had the neighbours banging on the walls were it not for the fact that they were making too much noise themselves to notice.

Well, apparently I'd had a real ghost - either that, or the most inventive bit of bad crispbread I had eaten in a very long time. I spent a few minutes looking through the flat for any other supernatural manifestations that might have happened to wander in, but apart from a large and very natural spider in the airing cupboard nothing thrust itself on my attention. I went back to my armchair with three spirits of my own: whisky, gin and vodka. I'd bought the bottles a week ago, having saved all year. I switched on the television and prepared to sozzle myself insensible so as to notice the festivities as little as possible.

To be continued...

News 2020

All the latest, very early

International observers will be unable to directly monitor the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Baghdad because of situational dangerosity, United Nations officials have said.

The rodential carcinoma of terrorist insurgency means that, although officials from several nations have agreed to monitor the poll, they will be forced to do so from the comparative safety of the US space station Lyndon B Johnson.

The United States, which among all the members of the Coalition of Benignity has the largest military presence in the region, has said that it will keep "as low a profile as possible" during the election. "We'll just tell them to hunker down, do their job and stay out of the way," said a State Department official when queried on the actions of the 150,000 US troops in the region during the poll.

Asked whether any troops would be available to act as electoral monitors, spokesman Mayo Tussock said that this would constitute an unacceptable conflict of interest.

"These elections not only have to be free and fair, they have to be seen to be free and fair," said Mr Tussock. "And since, as the Commander-in-Chief has often stated, the whole world has an interest in a stable and prosperous Mideast, it follows that there can be no such thing as an independent monitorial presence without such a conflict of interest."

As a result, said Mr Tussock, the monitors aboard the Lyndon B Johnson would not have the status of genuine international observers, but would be "non-interventional overseers" who would liaise closely with officials in the Democratic Republic via satellite-linked digital communication, and rely on their reports on election day.

"Even though they won't actually be physically present in the vicinity on the day, there are a lot of things those electoral administrators will be able to look at to give them an exceedingly good idea of what is going on down there," Mr Tussock said. "They'll be able to get CNN up there, Fox News, you name it."

Despite the terrorist insurgency and the recent crash of the US space shuttle Ronald Macdonald, Mr Tussock said the observers in the space station would be perfectly safe.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

News 2020

We regret that we cannot be held responsible if the future turns out differently due to inaccuracies in the present

Robertson Fitzpatrick, the so-called "Foetal Avenger" who shot 47 medical personnel dead in the United States over a three-week period four years ago, is awaiting the result of his clemency appeal to the Commander-in-Chief.

Fitzpatrick, who is described by his fellow citizens of Polk, South Dakota as a quiet and unassuming collector of automatic weapons and bowie knives, was sentenced by a federal court to "electrocution with mitigating circumstances".

He won respect with his self-assured demeanour and his defence that he had been contacted by the spirits of aborted foetuses which had not been baptised and which urged him to avenge their deaths.

Abortion in any circumstances is illegal in the USA, and under the provisions of the Coathook Act is usually treated as murder. The only exception is when the operation is performed by one of the country's rare but still extant female doctors, in which case it is treated as witchcraft.

Although frequently misconstrued as a cynical attempt by his lawyers to resurrect the defunct "insanity plea", Fitzpatrick's defence remained remarkably clear and consistent throughout the 26-month trial. Even the prosecuting counsel admitted there was no evidence that Fitzpatrick had not in fact been in contact with emissaries from the spirit world.

Fitzpatrick's only hope of clemency now lies in the Commander-in-Chief, who is empowered by the Homeland Constitution to commute sentences, forgive sins, save souls and turn wine into water.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

A new white paper, issued today under the title Living our Values, sets out the Government's radical plans to bring global warming under control, including the controversial proposal for privatisation of the ozone layer.

Environmentalist extremists and other potential rioters have denounced the plans as "a tax on breathing". The Government denies this, pointing out that the ozone layer is too high up in the atmosphere to be breathed, and that legislation imposing direct taxation on clean air is not yet a realistic option because of fervent opposition from the countryside lobby.

Under the new proposals, shares in the ozone layer would be floated on the free market in the hope of attracting investment. The money paid to the Government by the initial buyers would be used to fund a compensatory reduction in corporate taxation to help reimburse the business community for its enviro-conscientiousness.

"The Government hopes to thrust entrepreneurial know-how and get-up-and-go into the environmental context, in order to facilitate aggressively solutative responses to the varifold challenges facing our terrestrial sphere," said environment minister Wibley Magnox.

The business community was ambivalent in its response. "The business community is always willing and ready to take advantage of new fields of enterprise," said CPI chairman Nigel Feasting-Piranha this afternoon.

However, Mr Feasting-Piranha warned that the business community could not be expected to carry all responsibility for nurturing and protecting the Earth's fragile ecosystem. "I feel it is only fair to remind consumers that, as responsible individuals, they can do their part by avoiding unnecessary driving, reducing excessive utilisation of airlines, installing appropriate devices in their cisterns, and perhaps even planting a tree," he said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

News 2020

Balanced news from right on the fence

The Prime Minister took time out from question time in parliament today to pay a surprise visit to the Democratic Republic of Baghdad. Fortunately, the only subject of question time today was whether the new Minister of Freedom had led a blameless enough sex life to qualify for working closely with identity cards.

A briefing by a spokesman for the US Commander-in-Chief later made clear that the Prime Minister was going as a trusted representative of the entire coalition, including America, Australia, Israel and Guatemala. "All the Chief's major flunkeys are helping him mend a puncture, so we had to send what's-his-tongue instead," it was quipped.

Unlike his security staff and his Middle Eastern colleagues, the Prime Minister wore no flak jacket, relying entirely on the flak jackets of the surrounding press corps to protect him from the fanatical assassins with which even the Democratic Republic is festering.

"This shows that the Prime Minister's reckless political courage is more than matched by his physical bravery," said controversial Independent on Sunday sub-editor Harry Johann. "But, like his political courage, this physical recklessness poses the question: is it wise?"

In the Democratic Republic, the Prime Minister had talks with the President, during which they briefed each other on the forthcoming elections. The polls, which are scheduled for a few weeks' time, are threatened by the cancer of insurgent violence, despite decarcinomating and antimetastatising operations by the Allied armies and air forces.

"There is only one side to vote for in a war between terror and democracy, and I am sure all moderate Iraqis will vote for that side," the Prime Minister told a press conference later in the day. "The indication of moderation which would result from a vote for the only side to vote for would be a very encouraging signal for moderate voters to send," he concluded.

The President of the Democratic Republic added that "Democracy has been staring Iraq in the face for more than thirty years, if only our people had the courage to grasp it. We must obliterate the perpetrators of this cowardly violence and embrace our protectors in their B-52s."

Monday, December 20, 2004

News 2020

Putting the wind up the first draft of history

Time magazine, America's most popular legal source of printed news after the National Enquirer and the Klansman's Weekly, has named the present Commander-in-Chief as its Human of the Year for the eighth time running.

The only other US leader to collect so many nominations was George W Bush, who died two months ago. Mr Bush was actually nominated fourteen times, but on six occasions was prevented by terrorist threat from leaving his Palace of Courage sixty feet beneath the Nebraska desert in order to travel to the magazine's New York offices and collect his trophy.

The editorial staff at Time hope that this year their leader will feel able to accept the title of Human of the Year once again. "There's just nobody who deserves it more," smiled general editor Rimmer Butte. "This award is given each year for outstanding qualities of accomplishment, civic initiative and moral courage, so you can probably see why he gets it so often," quipped Mr Butte, licking his lips with relish.

Although he has been awarded the honour seven times before, the present Commander-in-Chief has accepted it on only four occasions. Six years ago he unwittingly caused confusion when he passed on the award to "the American Peacekeepers", raising questions at the magazine as to whether he was referring to US troops or to the designers of the new space-launched Skywalker nuclear missile.

Two years later, the White House press corps, without the knowledge of the Commander-in-Chief, put out discreet front-page stories about his reluctance to accept yet further accolades. A spontaneous public outpouring of love and admiration ensued, brilliantly mediated by some of America's top journalists and avidly echoed in the British press; but the Commander-in-Chief's famous determination held out and the Time award went instead to his two-month-old daughter Chelmsford.

Finally, last year the Commander-in-Chief again "deferred" the award, this time onto his close personal friend and spiritual mentor, the Reverend Huxtable Chancroid.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

News 2020

All the breaking news - fifteen years before events come together

An almost unprecedented slump in the housing market could take place within a year or two, the government think-tank Booth-Mout has warned. The slump is projected to be even worse than the previous slump two years ago, which preceded the almost unprecedented boom last year. That boom is now tailing off slightly more rapidly than the last boom but one six years ago, which tailed off into a slump which was almost unprecedented at the time.

"The simple fact of the matter is that accommodation consumers are insufficiently motivated to keep up with market developments," explained Booth-Mout spokesperson Foster Cheery.

"Many consumers attempt purchases which are within their spending power at the time," Mr Cheery continued. "This is obviously a very short-sighted way of going about it, particularly in such an important area."

Today's highly flexible and mobile economic climate means that prices and purchasing power can both change at short notice, making it vitally important for accommodation seekers to plan ahead, said Mr Cheery.

While the Government's easing of restrictions on landlords is a step in the right direction, there is still much that needs to be done in the area of consumer motivation, the Booth-Mout report claims. "The threat of summary eviction is only effective if it takes place in the proper context," said Mr Cheery. "It seems obvious from the rising levels of homelessness in Britain that the message is not getting through to the accommodation-seeking public."

Housing minister Gazza Pinksnade said the Government welcomed the report, and admitted that too little had been done to prevent homelessness being seen as a soft option for accommodation defaulters. "Clearly this is a huge problem which we have inherited from previous administrations, and we shall certainly be looking into some radical but economically responsible options to help the free market clean up Britain's streets," Mr Pinksnade said.

News 2020

When it eventually happens, remember you read it here first

The clothing and sporting goods corporation Stitchup Unlimited says it will sue all those who bring the corporate name into disrepute, including those who commit immoral acts while wearing clothes manufactured by the company.

Several corporations, including Stitchup, have sued such well-known menaces as striking workers, trade union officials, whistleblowers, maternity-leavers and the parents of child labourers who die on the job. However, Stitchup is the first corporation to apply the precedent to so-called "sartorial moral libel" as defined under US law.

There has been considerable debate within the corporation as to which criminals should be more harshly punished: those who commit crimes wearing Stitchup clothes (moral libel) or those who remove the brand label before committing their crimes (misprision of trademark).

Stitchup is preparing a test case against America's prostitutes, who are thought to be especially vulnerable to the charge of moral libel because, even if brand labels are not openly displayed on the outside of their clothing, at least some customers will be able to view labels on the inside, with a resulting loss of moral standing for the corporation.

Under the Homeland Constitution, US patent, libel and corporate law applies without restriction throughout all dimensions of the known and unknown universe of time, space and spirit; so it is possible that, if successful, the lawsuit could have consequences for men who visit prostitutes in Britain.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

News 2020

Making the present look like paradise

The number of high school gun massacres taking place in the United States levelled off slightly this year, but the underlying trend is still up, the Homeland Security Service has announced.

Fourteen high schools were affected by unfortunate incidents involving students with automatic weapons. In all, there were 428 teacher and student casualties, not counting the killers themselves. In 12 cases the murderers committed suicide, and in the remaining two cases FBI special tactics teams entered the schools with air and tank support and consummated perpetrator disposal actions with minimal collateral damage.

The perpetrators in all cases were loners and misfits with minimal social skills whose presence is not projected to be sorely missed. All 428 victims were angels upon earth whose demise was a devastating blow to all who knew them and whose spiritual ascension to heaven has been officially confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief's wife's Ouija board.

The Homeland Security Service issued a statement welcoming the slight drop in the number of massacres, and expressing confidence that the downward trend will continue as initiatives to eliminate misfits from the education system are implemented at ever earlier stages in the socialisation process.

The statement also stressed that the "shocking aftermath" of one of the massacres, in which it was discovered that two submachine-guns and a hand grenade, ordered from an internet mail-order site, had not been legally paid for, would be fully and swiftly investigated.

The US Department of Human Resource Maturification said that America's schools would "continue to foster the atmosphere of healthy competition and inimicality to failure which makes American adults the country's number one advantage".

News 2020

Futures traders wishing to profit unfairly from the revelations contained herein are invited to apply to the reporter with appropriate incentives

According to a new study by a team of British and American psychologists, the traditional British stiff upper lip is beginning to enter a new phase of instability.

"As the world around us changes, our diseases change to keep pace with outside circumstances," said team member Daphne Phossick yesterday. "Scientists all over the civilised world, and in the European Community as well, are trying to predict future trends in psychology so that the right pharmaceutical treatments can be developed in time to deal with them."

Such research is especially well funded in the United States, where the major pharmaceutical corporations have recently begun investing in therapeutic talk shows like Whimpfer Osprey's Emotional Exposure in the hope of keeping their fingers on the pulse of America's psyche.

In Britain, statistics are less easy to compile because of the Government's community care approach, whereby patients are encouraged to develop self-empowering strategies for independent living for themselves.

"It's hard to interview people properly about their mental state when they've just been told their benefits are being withdrawn and they have to find a job," admitted Dr Phossick. "But it is beginning to look as if trends in this country are following the same pattern as those in America."

The trend seems to be that, nearly twenty years after anxiety became the new depression, things are changing once more, with self-pity now poised to become the new anxiety.

In the first years of the century, people were afraid for a number of reasons, including terrorism, climate change, and loss of personal security through failure to invest properly in the stock market or in appropriate pension schemes, according to Dr Phossick. These factors led to a "culture of anxiety", deriving from fear and uncertainty about the future.

"Nowadays, the uncertainty has largely been dissipated because many of those people's worst fears have come true," said Dr Phossick. "Terrorism and climate change are both out of control, there are homeless people in their sixties and seventies begging on the streets, and their children and grandchildren can't see any improvements in sight for their own autumn years. The result is a culture of cheerless resignation."

The report contains many grounds for optimism, including the probability that the suicide rate will start declining as those who are unable to cope with life as they find it gradually die out. "In the old days, such people would attempt suicide twice or even several times over a standard career of benefit fraud and service abuse," said Dr Phossick. The virtual abolition of benefits and services will initiate a marked improvement in the statistics, she continued.

Similarly, the fact that the more economically advantaged will be looking for chemical palliatives to the culture of cheerless resignation which has replaced the culture of anxiety will be good news for the economy, says the report.

Friday, December 17, 2004

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

The Iranian government in exile can save itself from annihilation by "a simple act of contrition, repentance and unconditional withdrawal" from the rest of the Middle East, the White House said today.

Allied forces have been carrying out ratcatching and cancer excision missions along the Afghan-Russian border over the past two weeks as part of the latest US-led initiative in the war on unpleasantness. Paradoxically, this has led to increased violence with renewed attacks from insurgents which have killed three American soldiers and about 50 from various other nationalities which cannot be mentioned due to lack of space and/or public interest.

The Americans hope that the campaign, known as Operation Friendly Shove, will facilitate progress towards the possibility of negotiations towards an agenda for negotiating a general peace in the region while ensuring western interests are protected.

"It's a great opportunity for the whole world," said the US Commander-in-Chief from the Oval Office bunker yesterday. "It would be a tragic opportunity squanderation if the peoples of the region failed to take this laurel branch of hope from the dove of peace which the eagle of American democracy is holding out to them," he said.

Earlier in the same broadcast, the Commander-in-Chief called on the Iranian government in exile to produce positive proof that it was neither arming the Afghan insurgents nor sending fighters to assist them. If such proof was not forthcoming by high noon tomorrow, he warned, there would be "serious and regrettable consequences".

News 2020

We regret that we cannot be held responsible if the future turns out differently due to inaccuracies in the present

The ruling coalition in Israel has run into more trouble over its plans to abolish the Palestinians. The minority Labour government, which hopes to lay the groundwork for a fast-tracking of Washington's new two-lane blackcap high-speed cul-de-sac roadmap to peace in the region, depends on the support of the Likud party to maintain its hold on power.

However, hardline factions within the Likud party are opposed to the roadmap, which they claim would limit Israel's future freedom of action in the region. Several Likud members in the Knesset have announced their intention to vote against legislation declaring the Palestinians a non-existent people, on the grounds that such legislation would "dismiss and belittle the extraordinary sacrifice of the Israeli Defence Force in protecting the country from this very real terrorist menace."

"One cannot simply remove a problem by passing a law stating that there is no problem," said Likud leader Yeshua Abimelech today. "Ask the guards at the containment centres whether the Palestinians exist, while they're hammering out the dents all those stones have made in their tanks."

Many Likud members fear that the new legislation will be the first step on a slippery slope towards letting the Palestinians out of the containment centres, where the so-called intifada, or religious ritual stoning of Jews in army uniforms, is being kept under fragile control.

"If the menace does not exist, who are those lurking behind those walls waiting for the first chance they get to murder us all in our beds?" demanded Mr Abimelech in a recent debate on the subject.

The Labour government has said that the roadmap will not involve any condoning of the intifada, and that the containment centres will not be closed until Israel's security can be absolutely guaranteed for all time. "The purpose of this law is definitely not to give terrorists more freedom to commit acts of violence," said Israeli foreign minister Belshazzar Kvetch.

"All we wish to do is to remove the illusory semantic loophole whereby these terrorists can claim that throwing stones at our children is an act of legitimate self-defence," said Mr Kvetch.

The British Prime Minister, who has been fervent in his support for all the roadmaps initiated by the US over the past few years, said today that the new initiative represented "the best chance for peace in the region for a very long time", and called on both sides to show restraint and understanding. "Past and present differences, however serious, must not be used as excuses for any failure of responsibility by either Labour or Likud," he said.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

News 2020

All the latest, very early

Media professionals were celebrating this evening after their heroic activities brought about the resignation of a senior Cabinet minister. The embattled Minister of Freedom, David Blunted, threw in the towel today after weeks of battling to keep his job in the wake of revelations about his private life.

"This is the kind of thing a free Press is all about," exulted Daily Telegraph correspondent Thorogood Honeydew this evening. Mr Honeydew, along with 47 other correspondents in fifteen different newspapers, first broke the story about Mr Blunted using his influence as a minister to gain preferential treatment for himself and his family from a number of public organisations.

The specific issue over which Mr Blunted resigned has not yet been announced, but it is thought to be connected with allegations that he intervened personally to ensure preferential treatment for an immigrant au pair belonging to his mistress. The au pair's application to enter the country was allegedly fast-tracked by Mr Blunted so that she spent barely a month in offshore processing facilities and was even allowed to keep some personal belongings.

"This is precisely the sort of conduct which results in unacceptably high rates of asylum seeker inundation and possible terrorist activity," said opposition spokesman Bunter Davies tonight. "The British press has once again proved its worth by exposing this dangerous scandal," Mr Davies said.

Mr Blunted's successor as Minister of Freedom will be the Secretary of Human Resource Utilisation, Pruitt Blean. Mr Blean announced six days ago that, should Mr Blunted be forced to resign, his programme of increased identity cards, new anti-terrorist measures and constant vigilance on asylum seekers would be carried forward without interruption.

"It's days like this that make being in the media business all worth while," said BBC reporter Raxton Proctoid this evening. "It's the one single thing that matters most to all of us - seeing things change for the better and knowing you made the difference."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

Growing customer immunity to Christmas consumer incentivisations could result in economic problems within a few years, the Conspiracy of Private Interests warned today.

Nigel Feasting-Piranha, the chairman of the CPI, informed assembled corporate VIPs and planners that consumer Christmas apathy could soon reach an all-time high if measures are not taken quickly.

The CPI welcomed the Government's Seasonal Goodwill Act, which permits the imposition of a 22-hour working day on shop, superstore and mall staff during the December rush and the January sales, but questioned the Government's prudence in limiting business freedom of action for the remaining ten months of each year.

According to a speech by Yancey Knight-Crawler, the vice-controller of the world's second largest food conglomerate, Additives Inc., restrictive legal impositions on business liberty may result in "corporate emigration" to more business-friendly shores.

Trade and Industry secretary Aubrey Crynge said that the Government would give consideration to any responsible measures the CPI cared to suggest, and that the Government hoped to educate members of the public more effectively in future as to their spending responsibilities.

Despite the Christmas season starting earlier each year so as to provide a longer lead-in time for slower customers, it was clear that the British public was still not responsible enough to spend the amounts necessary to keep the economy afloat, Mr Feasting-Piranha said.

"Christmas, as everyone knows, is the point of corporate orgasm in the great annual cycle of economic interpenetration," he concluded. "But British industry cannot be expected to erect the towering peaks of economic fertility if consumers act like bitches and refuse to put out when it's time."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

News 2020

Five times winner of the BBC Award for Nautical Non-Destabilisation

A British national disaster on the scale of 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists, was narrowly averted thanks to the actions of the National Police Executive, it was revealed today.

"There is no doubt that a major terrorist operation, which would have been as disastrous in its consequences as the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001, has been foiled by the British police," said the Home Secretary in a statement congratulating the police on their work.

Thousands of arrests and incarcerations, and almost seventeen actual trials, have taken place over the past three months in what has been one of the most massive anti-terrorist operations to take place in Britain since more than three months ago.

Details of the terrorists' plans are still murky, although media speculation has been rife and is planned to continue being rife for the next two or three days. Stories of individual heroism among the police will also be at a premium for a considerable period, in accordance with Home Office guidelines and the limited intelligence of our readers.

It is thought that the terrorists planned to divert the course of several airliners and use them as crude missiles to cause maximum slaughter among innocent civilians by crashing them into crowded buildings in heavily populated areas at times of maximal urban congestion showing utter callousness with incredible ruthlessness at horrendous cost to the detriment of the airline industry.

Due to the considerable attrition in terrorist organisations owing to the war against horribility, it is thought that the terrorists planned not to indulge in another suicide mission like those of 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists.

Instead, it is thought that they planned to divert the airliners using sophisticated guided laser weaponry to disorient pilots and trick them into believing that perpendicular surfaces were actually flat. "This would mean that the pilots would believe the sides of office blocks to be viable landing surfaces," said terrorism expert Grendel Munchkin, "which quite evidently would qualify as a fatal mistake on their part."

In his statement today, the Home Secretary warned the public not to become complacent. "Despite the spectacular defeats which are being inflicted on these enemies of peace and democracy every day, the fact that there is no evidence whatever of any terrorist plot shows that we must continue to be on our guard against an incredibly cunning and subtle, if crude and barbarous enemy," he said.

In closing, the Home Secretary urged the British public to remember 11 September 2001 and the appalling terrorist attacks which took place against America on that date.

Monday, December 13, 2004

News 2020

Making the present look like paradise

The Department of Education and Human Resource Utilisation has called for another shake-up of Britain's primary education system following a damning report into standards of literacy among teenagers and young adults.

The report was commissioned by the Home Office in the wake of a number of security foul-ups stemming from the fact that almost fifty per cent of younger operatives in the public security sector are unable to read an identity card display correctly.

The Department of Public Security blames under-funding and lack of adequate training for the problem, and says that privatisation may hold the answer.

"Private security companies are much better resourced than public services," said spokesperson Gabbitas Megafrat. "They can afford to hire educated people to process the information that comes up on the computer screens. The public sector tends to get left with the dregs."

The Government is thought to be reluctant to further extend privatisation of national security, following the recent embarrassing revelation that, a year after the partial flotation of MI5 on the open market, the Chinese government had acquired a controlling interest, which had been sold to it by the United States.

The Department of Public Security currently employs nearly 75,000 young people as trainee security operatives, who spend their working days cross-checking computer printouts for correlations between the identity card numbers of suspicious individuals and the purchase of suspect items including sugar, weedkiller, nails, items of cutlery and books.

Such cross-checking used to be done by computer, but the DPS computer banks are already overstretched because of the amount of information that needs to be stored in them. New computer banks are being constructed, but the recent problems with the electricity supply and price increases by NatPowerGen mean that they will probably not become operational for about another five years. By that time, if present trends continue, the increasing estimated required informational resource capacity for the UK population will have made the new computers obsolete.

Education minister Kelvin McKenzie today gave a "categorical pledge" to carry out another thoroughgoing review of primary school procedures - the fourth such review in six months - and a major tightening of standards. By the end of the year, Mr McKenzie promised, as much as sixty per cent of Britain's primary school teaching staff would have lost their jobs, committed suicide, or both.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

News 2020

All the breaking news - fifteen years before events come together

Police used tear gas, plastic bullets and harsh language to disperse rioters after an ostensibly peaceful protest over food shortages was taken over by leftwing activists and Islamic fundamentalists yesterday.

The protest began as a march through London towards the Houses of Parliament, with participants holding banners with pro-nourishment slogans. However, this turned out to be a calculated ruse to lull police into a false sense of positive security situation.

Rioting began after armoured police intervened to detain suspected terrorist suspects suspected to be suspected of suspicious activities. Under the Disincentivisation of Evil Act, police are legally obliged to detain anyone believed to "participate in terrorist activities or the giving of aid and comfort to those suspected of participating in terrorist activities or the obstruction of investigation of those suspected of so participating, whether by concealing information, giving false information, failing to promptly report suspicious activity, looking at a police officer in a funny way and so forth."

As soon as the 5,000 armed police deployed to block off all escape routes for the suspects and began driving the remaining thousand or so marchers up a nearby alley for protection, they were rushed by hundreds of Islamic and leftist militants.

"Almost none of the rioters were carrying placards," said Chief Superintendent Myron Bodger this morning. "Those that did have placards were using them in an aggressive manner against police officers, and were obviously not bona fide protesters as defined by the law."

The law defines a protester as "anyone using peaceful and non-obstructive means to register legitimate dissent without causing undue bother to anyone," while stipulating that the so-called "right to protest" is not a mandate to make trouble, but merely a democratic privilege accorded by generous governments.

The shadow law and order spokesperson, Peregrine Widgery, accused the Government of allowing anarchy on the streets of the capital. "This is simply one more example of the Government being soft on crime," Mr Widgery said. "No democratic government can call itself effectual if it permits itself to be criticised by the mob rather than by the elected representatives of those who have been inculcated with more positive and civilised attitudes."

News 2020

When it eventually happens, you'll read here that we told you so

Much of London could be under water in a few years, thanks to rising sea levels, neglected Underground tunnels and rotting sewer systems, according to a report by the Department of the Environment.

The recent collapse of the Post Office Tower into the Northern Line tunnel last year, which resulted in over 500 deaths and slightly longer delays than normal, could be merely an advance portent of the future in store, the report implies.

The study blames the large number of high-rise blocks built by previous governments in their efforts to solve the problem of homelessness in the capital. The tall, heavy buildings are placing a vast strain on underground systems designed to cope with the much smaller population of Victorian London.

"London had fewer people in the nineteenth century than it does now," said environment minister Vesta Feeley. "Also, the Victorians were less politically correct about things like hard work and irresponsible diet, so the people who did live here were thinner and less weighty than those who live here now."

The nineteenth-century "live and let live" attitude to homelessness was also a factor in keeping life in the city balanced, she added. "It's only during the last few decades, when all these buildings have been thrown up, made of dense concrete and hefty steel girders, that the problems have arisen," Ms Feeley said.

According to the report, London's sewer system could have coped with either the building works or the rising water, but it will be unable to manage both at once.

"This Government has never shirked from taking unpopular measures when it has been necessary for the good of the country," Ms Feeley told reporters today. "The time is approaching when Londoners may have to moderate their unsustainable demands for transport and accommodation so that the city can continue to function."

Asked whether the report's revelations would affect London's bid to host the Olympics in eight years' time, Ms Feeley said the Government had every confidence in Britain's "world-class infrastructure", which, even in the midst of the present recession, was still robust enough to provide one in ten London households with a fairly functional lavatory.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

News 2020

Futures traders wishing to profit unfairly from the revelations contained herein are invited to apply to the reporter with appropriate incentives

News reporting in Britain is being carried out according to "warped priorities", according to a report released today.

The report, by the US-based Murdoch Disney Foundation for Truth and Harmony, presents the results of a survey of over 10,000 hours of British news programmes, which were viewed by volunteers in Abingdon, South Carolina and rated on questionnaires drawn up by the researchers.

The survey found that the British media devote excessive amounts of time to reporting the pronouncements of comparatively minor politicians and other public figures, while subjects of genuine interest are neglected. Junior ministers and spokespersons are routinely quoted on British television, even though many people in Abingdon, South Carolina have no idea who they are.

Also, the British media have an "unfortunate tendency" to concentrate on wars, serious crime and problems with the economy, according to the survey. "It was found that non-positivisation was present to a considerably larger degree than in a normal country," the report states.

The researchers suggest that more work needs to be done on shopping opportunities, sex scandals and the amusingness of foreigners, in order to instil in the public a feeling of responsibility for the economy, a sense of moral direction and a cohesive community bond.

News 2020

Balanced news from right on the fence

The Government launched a major stage of its "Security, Opportunity, Prosperity" package this week with the publication of the white paper on the proposed national citizens' watch scheme.

The Prime Minister, with his deep personal commitment to security, opportunity and prosperity, has placed a large part of his own credibility behind the scheme, which aims, in his own words "to involve each and every British citizen in the business of making the country more secure".

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, has criticised the citizens' watch scheme, particularly the so-called Tell-tale's Charter, as "exploiting the young under the guise of opportunity".

The Peer Reportage and Observation Scheme, as the Government prefers to call it, will set up a scale of rewards for schools which encourage an "atmosphere of patriotic information exchange" between pupils and teachers. The Prime Minister has mentioned the possibility of Government grants for children who are able to organise themselves into information-finding teams in order to enhance the security of their schools and streets.

The proposed bill will also modify the old Neighbourhood Watch schemes under a centralised authority, which will issue weapons to selected householders and send out "circuit judges" to impose and carry out non-custodial sentences, such as flogging and branding, on those apprehended by citizens' watch members.

In order to be able to impose custodial sentences, individual watches will have to buy shares in selected prisons up and down the country - a measure the opposition has condemned as stingy and unconstitutional.

The citizens' watch scheme is seen by experts as an important plank of the NuLibLab coalition's campaign to enhance public appreciation of the ideological gap between the "Security, Opportunity, Prosperity" programme and the opposition's "Order, Entrepreneurialism, Prosperity" package unveiled at the last three conferences.

Friday, December 10, 2004

News 2020

Putting the wind up the first draft of history

Academics and investigative journalists across the country have spoken out in favour of the Government's decision to introduce a "rolling 30-year rule" with respect to official secrets.

The original "30-year rule" was found to be inadequate, as it meant governments could keep information secret only for thirty years, unless there was something they particularly wished to censor.

"The old rule was both bureaucratic and inflexible," said journalist Pennethorne Wrigley. "It offered the worst of both worlds - governments couldn't use it to its full advantage, and journalists never received edited highlights of new revelations in official press releases."

The new rule means that the Government can simply let another thirty years "roll on" after the previous thirty years have expired. This means that journalists, historians and other researchers will be spared vast amounts of unnecessary labour which have hitherto been expended trawling through official archives.

"I can't tell you what a relief it is," said Cambridge historian Trumpery Pettifer. "The thirtieth anniversary of the first war of Iraqi liberation is coming up soon, and the thought of looking through all those dusty documents in the hope of scratching up material for a retrospective - well, it was really quite depressing."

The Government was also praised for its commitment to public safety and peace of mind. "Freedom of information is a rare and precious thing," said researcher and writer Clutterbuck Dribley last night.

"It's a great achievement of this government to have protected the ancient rights of the ordinary Briton as laid down in the Official Secrets Act, and at the same time prevented potential terrorists from finding out what happened three decades ago and using the information to inflict massive civilian casualties in congested urban areas," said Mr Dribley.

News 2020

Making the present look like paradise

Millions of working hours were lost yesterday as British television's first experiment in meta-reality TV reached its first major climax. It is estimated that up to 25 million people found themselves unable to tear their eyes away from their television screens and risk missing the pivotal moment when a near-fatal quarrel broke out among the show's volunteer real-life protagonists over which reality-TV programme to watch.

In the event, no actual injuries were sustained, and the argument was resolved by the entry of the one person in the house who is able to programme a DVD recorder. As a result, most of the show's viewers managed to get in to work this morning.

The show, Living Room Live, while achieving what its producer calls "an almost Buddhistic simplicity of conception", has cost the nation about £33 billion in lost revenue thanks to its addictive effect on its viewers.

Meta-reality TV, which commentators have dubbed "the new reality TV", presents its watchers with a view of an ordinary living room in an ordinary British home, whose occupants are carefully selected for whiteness, marriedness, presence of dual biological offspring, and other indicators of acceptable averageness. These volunteers are paid an hourly rate according to the time they spend in their living room, under the camera's gaze, watching reality TV programmes.

This means that, in addition to the unprecedented thrill of watching reality TV on a television set which is part of the picture on their own television set, viewers can enjoy the sophisticated excitement of watching the genuine, unfeigned reactions of others to the reality TV on view.

Further shows along similar lines are planned for the new season, including meta-game shows, in which viewers will be able to watch people watching game shows, and meta-soaps, in which viewers will be able to watch people watching soaps, said producer Vivian Prong-Mandelbrot today. "It should take those break-time conversations about last night's television to a completely new level," she added.

"The reaction to the show has been really phenomenal," Ms Prong-Mandelbrot said. "I think it's giving people a whole new perspective on the potentialities of television in the twenty-first century. That's not to say we encourage people to miss going to work every time it starts to look exciting, but it does show the market is out there for this stuff, and that's what matters in the end."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

News 2020

All the latest, very early

BBC journalist Butch Woodpile, who has been embedded with US forces in the Middle East over the past six months, returned to a hero's welcome in the UK today.

The roads from Heathrow were packed in all directions with cheering crowds. Copies of Guns and Ammo became the new ticker tape and waving became the new dropping as copies of Guns and Ammo were waved at the man the Telegraph christened "Britain's latest warrior poet", who described the "terrible beauty of war" with such intensity that the volunteer rate for the armed forces rose measurably each time his reports were aired on the six o'clock news.

Mr Woodpile's reports from Basra have "set a new standard for embedded journalism" according to the head of BBC News, Mesoglea Murgatroyd. "Although reporting restrictions prevented him saying anything about the Marines' location, direction, condition, orders, weapons, activities, opinions or appearance, Butch was always ready with three minutes of landscape photography and deeply atmospheric commentary. That's what separates the men from the boys in this business."

Mr Woodpile, who has been nominated as BBC Journalist of the Year for his efforts, lived with a squad of Marines as they performed peacekeeping duties around Basra. He shared their food, their feelings, their discomforts, their dangers, and on several occasions he also shared their burden.

"It's a great honour for a mere reporter to be allowed to share in the glory of the military," he said. "I can't begin to express how grateful I am to the US Marine Corps for giving me this opportunity."

"Butch has six confirmed kills and another couple that are indeterminate," said Marine lieutenant Ethan Snodgrass. "The whole squad is very proud of Butch."

Mr Woodpile is modest when he speaks about combat experience, but his pride is evident in the Colt .45 cartridge case which he wears on a chain around his neck, and the large cigar box, presented to him by the squad, in which he carries the trigger fingers of his confirmed kills. "he's probably too modest to mention this," said Lieutenant Snodgrass, "but he chopped those trophies right off and pickled them himself."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

News 2020

When it eventually happens, remember you read it here first

The Prime Minister has rejected opposition calls for another free vote on capital punishment during the present parliament. The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, said that the Government was denying parliament its legitimate democratic rights and that the campaign would continue.

Because of his fervent commitment to human rights and his passionate belief in the perfectability of man, the Prime Minister is known to be personally opposed to capital punishment, although the option to reintroduce it in Britain has been available since the UK opted out of the European Declaration on Human Rights.

The opt-out paved the way for the Sexual Perversity Act, which re-legalised corporal punishment except between consenting adults. The Minister of Justice, John Ketch, was in favour of a capital punishment pilot project in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but was persuaded by the Prime Minister to settle for the reintroduction of penal servitude and hard labour for juveniles.

Several MPs spoke in favour of capital punishment today, stressing the deterrent capacity of televised executions and the possibility of viewer participation in the process of justice by holding polls as to the method of execution.

The Prime Minister admitted the moral value of such ideas, but said that televised executions would less efficient than the prison system both in controlling crime and in redeeming criminals. "A given criminal can only be executed once," the Prime Minister said, "whereas each separate instance of perpetrator restraint and rehabilitation by the private sector represents a new chance of human resource efficientation and a new source of profit for British business."

While he also admitted that executions would relieve the overcrowding in many of Britain's prisons, the Prime Minister said that if present trends continued, the rising rate of self-inflicted justice among inmates would effectively ameliorate the problem within a few years.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

News 2020

Futures traders wishing to profit unfairly from the revelations contained herein are invited to apply to the reporter with appropriate incentives

The Prime Minister has announced that he will moderate his stance on the revised Detroit treaty for environmental protection. His previous uncompromising attitude, while welcomed by the governments of France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Canada, Latin America and Africa, has caused some concern in the international community.

The Detroit treaty was a downrevision of the old Kyoto treaty, which set enviro-scrupulosity targets that are now recognised to have been hopelessly idealistic. The Detroit treaty itself has been downrevised three times over six annual international conferences in the hope of persuading the US to sign.

However, at 11:58pm on Monday, during a press conference in the White House lawn bunker, the Commander-in-Chief of the US stated that Washington "could not accept any strictures which impeded the freedom of American business to spread its luminescent manure on the dark fields of chaos and thus facilitate the cultivation of the fragile flower of liberty."

The following day, at 12:01am, the Prime Minister announced that he welcomed the Commander-in-Chief's statement and hoped that it would do more to encourage other countries to set aside petty national ambitions in the interest of helping the whole world, as the United States had been prone to do throughout its history.

The Prime Minister also stated that, in light of Washington's show of goodwill, Britain would now be prepared to compromise on certain aspects of the revised Detroit treaty, in the hope of making it more inclusive towards the international community as a whole.

He proposed a new international conference, to take place next year, to iron out the details of a new and more generally acceptable treaty. The US has indicated that it may send a delegate "if the atmosphere looks favourable towards a solution".

The Prime Minister dismissed suggestions that he was merely parroting the American line. "It is perfectly reasonable for the American government not to accept any strictures which impede the freedom of American business to spread its luminescent manure on the dark fields of chaos and thus facilitate the cultivation of the fragile flower of liberty," he said.