The Curmudgeon


Monday, February 28, 2005

Experience This

There was a time, I suppose, when certain words had meanings other than the trivial - when brilliant, for example, had to do with illumination, incandescence, intellectual fireworks, rather than with anything judged by the yawning classes to be mildly agreeable and/or slightly amusing.

In that Arcadian era, if ever it existed, the word experience presumably had to do with things that happened to people; things like battle, sex, having a child or gaining some new ability or expertise. An experience, in other words, was something out of the ordinary; something that left you different from what you were before.

Naturally, that is why the advertisers took it over. To the advertiser, which is to say the salesman, which is to say anyone who wants to have much chance in the world, the product must always be the sum of all virtues. There is no room for perspective in the salesman's philosophy. It is not enough to say of a deodorant that it will stop people fainting when the consumer raises their arm; the deodorant must be the cheapest, the most effective, the most astounding, the most seductive, and the most exquisitely, sinfully pleasurable in application that has ever been known to man, beast or supermodel. It must be an experience.

Nowadays, there are experiences waiting for us everywhere. An organism which used to be known and healthily mistrusted under the rubric car salesman has now mutated into a pusher of child-friendly, environmentally conscionable, utterly comfortable, stunningly beautiful, automotive experiences. Unfortunate film fanatics, such as the present writer, are urged to be content no longer with merely slumping in front of the television and taking in a DVD; we are urged, frogmarched, squalled and dazzled towards the home cinema experience.

There was a time, just possibly, when being shot at or going into space was an experience. These days, watching a digital video fake of someone else being shot at or going into space passes muster under the same name; as does watching a digital video fake of someone getting laid, I suppose.

Conversely, thanks to the shampoo experience and the public transport experience and the boiled sweet experience blaring and flashing at us from every corner of the universe, any real-life event that may actually happen to us becomes merely a recycling of advertisers' jargon. The experience is cheapened and trivialised even before it can be dismissed as "brilliant".

The result is a vicious cycle, whereby advertisers make inflated claims for the saleable excrement of modern life, which consumers eventually learn to disbelieve at a certain collateral cost to the language, which forces the advertisers to make yet more inflated claims and commit still more semantic rape. Eventually no word will mean anything very much except "good, innit" and "bad, innit", as has already happened in the political system. At which point we can all stop speaking and start communicating simply and directly, in the good old-fashioned way, by hitting each other with debris from the brilliant civilisation that has crumbled around our incomprehension-experienced ears.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Man (Cheloviek)

by A S Gruskov
Translated by Antonia W Bouis

(Kiev: Vremya, 1989; New York: Random House, 2002)

Reviewed by Samuel Grimsnipe

This is not the first book to be published by Anatoli Gruskov, but it is the first novel. Admittedly, there are those who contend that calling it a novel is stretching a point; but, its undoubted oddness granted, it remains a book-length prose work concerned with fictional events; that, so far as we are concerned, will suffice.

Gruskov's ten previous works have all been in the realm of political economy, and the reader of A Man may easily be forgiven, having taken this book from the fiction shelves and upon opening it for the first time, for wondering whether the author has indeed shifted to different ground. Is Gruskov simply, and wisely, attempting to write a novel in keeping with what he knows best, or has he something more ambitious and subversive in mind? Is he, perhaps, trying to widen the audience for discourses on political economy through the cunning device of disguising his latest lecture as a work of art? But art today, after all, is properly appreciated by rather fewer people than economics, and mere curiosity value sells far more poorly than is generally imagined. Gruskov is unlikely to widen his readership with that sort of gambit; quite the opposite, in fact, as part of the readership he already has may desert him out of pique at his defection to a different genre.

A personal project, then, undertaken without reference to public opinion or bank balance? That seems a rather more plausible explanation; but there still remains the question of the project's goal, personal or otherwise. To break the mould; to overstep on purpose the boundary which separates fiction from non-fiction, which so many of Gruskov's ilk so frequently overstep by accident? Or perhaps all the author really wants is to show us that economists, too, have souls.

If this is indeed the case, and if he has succeeded, he has done so more through the fact of the book's publication than through anything in the book itself. The approach of A Man to its subject matter is as chilly as that of the graphs, plots and statistical tables with which all Gruskov's books are littered, this one included; this is not a story, nor an examination, nor even a post-mortem, of a human being; it is a dissection, performed by someone who has neither respect nor disgust, nor even curiosity, but knows very well what he will find and seeks, with the same disinterested neutrality, only to instruct others in the knowledge. Whether Gruskov adopts this manner by habit or by design, and whether in the end it matters, is for the reader to decide.

The book is divided into seventy short chapters, which increase in length and detail towards the end, and which alternate with the inevitable documents and statistics. A casual glance through the pages gives the impression of a report by some zealous private detective: between chapters one and two, which taken together occupy about a page, is what purports to be the protagonist's birth certificate, while between chapters two and three we find a table of his grades through primary school set against the national average of the time; between chapters three and four his secondary school grades are presented in similar fashion; and so on.

The chapters themselves are all in the first person, each one told by a different narrator whose name forms the chapter heading, all of the narrators having in common their association with the man of the book's title, the subject of Gruskov's dissection. At the beginning, the associations are of the slightest, and the narrators' testimonies correspondingly short; the very first takes up fourteen lonely-looking lines set in the centre of page seven, and describes the narrator's experience of passing one man on the street one day and noticing about him nothing more remarkable than she noticed about any of the hundreds of other people whom she passed on that same street during that same day. The second chapter describes something closer to what one would call an encounter; the narrator in this case is a tramp who received a donation from the plump hand of a middle-aged man in a business suit - a man who we learn only gradually is the same person to whom pertain the birth certificate, and also the school reports, records of job interviews, and so forth, with which the text is strewn. From this point the testimonies work their way carefully through the man's former schoolmates, his teachers, his first employer, his colleagues at work, and finally to his closest friends and immediate family; but the man himself is never directly heard from.

As might be expected from an author of Gruskov's background, the book is superbly organised, the narrative pieces and tabled documents carefully orchestrated for maximum impact. The order of the factual documents is diametrically opposed to that of the narratives; they begin with the most personal, the most intimate records, like the school report, and progress steadily outwards, like a film camera trained on a single face, which gradually pulls away to lose it in a crowd of others. Only for the space of five or six episodes in the middle of the book, does the individual emerge in the documents to more or less the same degree as in the narratives; before then, the narratives are remote from him and the documents close to him, while afterwards the roles are reversed as we begin to hear from friends and family rather than from strangers and casual acquaintances, and the documents we see become more akin to national surveys than to records of individual achievement.

The more personal of the documents, those nearer the beginning, make it clear that Gruskov's protagonist is a representative of that fictional, yet extremely helpful and totally universal clique, the Average Man. The author does not go so far as to endow him with three-quarters of a car and two and a half children; but he comes fairly near the mark. The man is a middle-aged office worker, married with a daughter, averagely intelligent, averagely prosperous, and averagely overweight; all this information is summed up in little numbers encapsulating the lifestyle, income and physical proportions of our hero, which are then checked against little numbers encapsulating the Average Man, and which in all cases prove either very similar or identical.

Having demonstrated, by the end of the book's first half, that his subject is an average man in all respects, Gruskov goes on to demonstrate in the second half the achievements of an average lifetime. He begins in a relatively inoffensive vein: the amount of food an average man consumes in his lifetime; the amount of oxygen he breathes; the amount of material waste he produces through the use of his body and the machines which cater to it. To begin with, these facts look like something out of a trivia game: did you know that the average man shaves thirty feet of whiskers off his face during one lifetime? But soon the figures take on a less human aspect: between chapters fifty-three and fifty-four, for example, are statistics showing the amount of paper used by the average corporation in a single year; this figure is then divided by the average number of people employed by such corporations, and the result is presented as the amount of paper used by an average single worker in one such corporation. It is left to the reader to make the connection between these increasingly impersonal facts and figures, and the man about whom he is reading in the increasingly personal chapters in between.

From about chapter sixty to the end, the documents are both impersonal and unsettling. The last few sets of statistics detail the achievements of an average lifetime in their most abstract form: the ultimate origins of what has been produced, the ultimate destination of what has been rejected. Gruskov gives us the quantity of sewage which an average lifetime contributes to the water of the Earth's seas; the quantity of smoke which must be pumped into the atmosphere in order to keep the average man cozy; the number of trees which must be felled in order to provide him with the paper he uses on behalf of the company that employs him. We are given the number of livelihoods lost through industrial antics in the Third World; the number of homes lost through natural disasters aggravated by the "over-utilisation" of natural resources; the number of lives lost through wars caused by the developed world taking what it wants from the undeveloped, and leaving the natives to fight over the scraps. And again, these figures are divided by the number of persons who make use of the purloined resources, thus eventually leading the precise number of deaths, from war, famine, disease and flooding, through which the average man gains his creature comforts.

In the last five narrative sections, whose respective speakers are the man's parents, his daughter, his closest friend and his wife, we find the use to which all the above has been put. The man works to keep himself alive, to support his parents and to bring up his family, and all of them express their gratefulness through one platitude or another; but although these last five have known him far longer and more intimately than any of the other narrators in the book, not one of them has anything substantial to add to what has already been said. If all seventy sections of prose had been gathered together to describe, say, a book instead of a human being, chapter one would have revealed the wording of the title, chapter five the names of the author and publisher, and chapter ten the subject of the cover illustration, the hues and details of which would then have been described, from ever closer viewpoints, through all the subsequent chapters, while the book being described remained shut, its theme, plot and style completely unexplored, except as far as the cover revealed them. The reader observes the protagonist of A Man as one observes a portrait depicting the play of light and shadow on a face, rather than the face itself; instead of providing more light to see by, the successive chapters merely increase the magnification on what can already be seen. If A Man is a portrait, it is the portrait of a man in a dim room, with much of his face completely obscured; the longer the audience stares, the clearer become those parts which can be seen, as the onlookers' eyes grow accustomed to the gloom; but the shadow is so deep that it can never be penetrated at all. In the same way, the gestures and actions of people, like titles and illustrations on the cover of a book, generally reveal little or nothing as to what is behind them, whether to beggars in the street while making a casual donation, or to their own wives in twenty years of marriage.

By thus reversing the conventional device of exploring a man from within himself, through his reactions to others, and instead exploring his own protagonist from within others, through their reactions to him, Gruskov might have highlighted beautifully this gap between intention and action, the terrible gulf which lies between the possession and the expression of a personality. But in this respect, because Gruskov has chosen, for the best of reasons, to deny his protagonist the opportunity of speaking for himself, the book succeeds only partly. The author has done very well with his juxtaposition of subjective narrative with cold statistical fact, an excellent idea which could have been put to quite harrowing use; but unfortunately Gruskov remains an economist and not a novelist, and he therefore relies too little on the reader's emotions and too much, instead, on the reader's logical abilities. As a result, the protagonist of A Man is too easy to reject; it is too easy to escape the book's intended indictment of oneself, through simply invoking one's own divergences from the mean. Logical thinking would indicate that an average is a synthesis of, and therefore a representation of, everybody including oneself; but in a novel, logic alone is not enough. By keeping his protagonist silent, Gruskov presumably intended to avoid prejudicing the issue, to keep readers from sympathising with the man while making it impossible for them to avoid seeing themselves in him. Gruskov expected his readers to look upon this man, to add up the gains and subtract the losses, to come up with a minus and cry mea culpa; but one cannot have it both ways. The average reader is hard enough put to see himself in a character drawn up for him in three dimensions, with colour and sound, without being required to identify with a phantom whose visage is shot through with mathematics.

The author has attempted to guarantee that no-one could possibly escape his meaning, by keeping his central character silent, and by averaging out that character's every quality so as to enable as many readers as possible - indeed, every reader without exception - to identify with him to some extent. And this is the book's tragic flaw, for although an average incorporates every individual of its own type, the individual does not, conversely, incorporate an average. Gruskov's Average Man has no independent existence outside other men; and while his protagonist's silence admirably demonstrates this mathematical fact, it also provides his readers with an immediate, obvious, and easy escape route. In attempting to portray everyone at once, Gruskov has portrayed no-one at all. No individual can possibly be either everyone in the world, or absolutely nobody. The protagonist of A Man will touch no chord in most of those who read about him, because he is both at once.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Snacks and the Cataclysm

I do have a life, you know. One of my many amusements lies in spotting symptoms of cultural decay and the decline of what is sometimes laughingly called western civilisation.

Newspapers and television are, of course, out of bounds for that game. Diagnosing cultural decay from those sources is like diagnosing cancer with a raw chunk of smoke-blackened lung under your nose: little challenge, less fun. It's tempting to exclude advertisements from the reckoning as well; but if you try to ignore advertisements in a city you can end up ignoring certain things which are, on the whole, better noticed than not: buses, for example, and walls and so forth.

Still, if you look to advertisements for the tar-choked alveolae of Albion, I can promise that you won't need a microscope. I saw, fairly recently, an advert for Kit Kat, emblazoned on the side of a building as though to provide a textbook illustration of why so many London pedestrians look at nothing but the pavement.

Everybody knows about Kit Kat. Have a break; have one. It's a popular snack, famous for the wafer inside, the chocolate outside, and the fact that it comes in long thin components which can be satisfyingly snapped off and scoffed. None of this - none of what might, when talking to a layman, be called the "edible" part of the product - has changed, but the advert wasn't talking about the "edible" part. It was talking about the wrapper. New Convenient Wrapper, it said, or something to that effect. It's been a while, and I've been trying to lose my memory, so I may not have it word for word.

Kit Kat, you see, used to come in a tinfoil wrapper which had a sort of paper sleeve around it; there were, in effect (I hope you are following this) two wrappers. You had to take the paper off, and then (still with me?) unwrap the tinfoil before you could get at the "edible". This defect, which has kept the sales of Kit Kat so depressed for so many years, has now been modernised, no doubt as a first step towards making the wrapper the only part of the package you can eat.

The new wrapper, you see, comprises only a single layer of shiny, plastic-textured paper, without the tinfoil. It is, so to speak, tinfoil-free. The tinfoil content has been radically disincreased. This means (as the astute among you may already have surmised) that there is only one stage to get through when unwrapping.

The lucky consumer need not even switch unwrapping methods half-way through. You remember how awkward it was, struggling through all that unnecessary paper-tearing only to discover the tinfoil-removal procedure still staring you in the face like a Marine Corps obstacle course. As of now, you need no longer fear. The unwrapping schedule for this particular product has been effectively halved, and possibly even more so.

That's what the advert was advertising, and that's how I knew that western civilisation that month was still, as scheduled, on the steep and downward. In fact, after seeing that advert I spent several hours hoping that it had already collapsed, and watching the pavement for portents.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Once there was a writer named Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz; he was a painter, a playwright, a critic, a novelist, a philosopher, a photographer, a womaniser, a drug fiend and a Pole. He called himself Witkacy, Vitcatius, Witkatze, Vitecasse and much else, but mostly Witkacy.

His father, Stanislaw Witkiewicz, was a painter of landscapes, well-off and with some unconventional ideas about education. At this time Poland was part of Tsarist Russia, and Witkiewicz senior was a Polish nationalist; when the First World War broke out Witkacy enlisted as an officer in the Russian army, wounding his father grievously in the heart. When the Revolution came Witkacy was elected political commissar of his regiment, an occurrence he later ascribed to his own "schizoid inhibitions" about asserting himself over his men. He also claimed to have worked out his philosophical principles during an artillery barrage. None of his works sold particularly well, but his philosophical magnum opus probably did worst of all.

He drew and painted monsters and grotesque tableaux; he photographed himself dressed up in every imaginable role; he painted self-portraits which he called Auto-Witkacys; he painted under the influence of alcohol, morphine, peyote, marking the paintings carefully in a code which showed what substances he had used while working on them. He churned out portraits for money, calling himself the S I Witkiewicz Portrait-Painting Firm and drawing up a standard contract. "The customer must be satisfied" was probably its most sensible clause.

He wrote three huge novels called, in order of composition, The 622 Downfalls of Bungo and Farewell to Autumn and Insatiability. He was one of the first to recognize the merits of his less flamboyant but equally original compatriot, Bruno Schulz. Most of his respectable contemporaries and, no doubt, many of his friends, thought Witkacy was a lunatic.

He published lists of his friends, ranking them according to how he felt about them at the time, promoting and demoting. He was a friend of the composer Karol Szymanowski. He was, intermittently, a friend of the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and accompanied him on a trip to the tropics. They squabbled yet again and split up, agreeing to meet at a certain point further along the way. When Malinowski got there he saw Witkacy being hung up and kippered over a bonfire by a group of natives, but before he could shoot at them Witkacy yelled that the people were helping him; along the route he had chosen he had become infested with parasites, which the flames and smoke would repel.

He wrote plays, many of which are lost. One, The Crazy Locomotive, is about two criminals who hijack a train and drive it faster and faster towards doom. The action takes place almost entirely in the cabin of the locomotive, and the stage directions demand a cinematic projection of the landscape rushing by, faster and faster. The Polish manuscript for The Crazy Locomotive has been lost, and had to be reconstructed from a foreign translation.

His plays have subtitles like "Four Acts of a Rather Nasty Nightmare" and "There is Nothing Bad Which Cannot Turn into Something Worse" and "The Hyrcanian World View" and "A Non-Euclidean Drama" and "A Comedy with Corpses". Witkacy's dramatic theory was based on what he called Pure Form, by which he meant that the merit of a dramatic work must reside in its formal qualities and not in any resemblance to "real life". Real life, in Witkacy's view, was increasingly the province of grey pulpy masses and mad dictators. Grey pulpy masses and mad dictators do appear in his works, but he despised realism. He also despised the cinema, thinking it a symptom of everything that was wrong with the world.

In The New Deliverance, a jagged line splits the stage in two; on one side a family of bourgeois mediocrities take tea and pontificate, while on the other Richard III is chained to a pillar and menaced by hissing thugs. In The Madman and the Nun, an artist confined to the padded cell is driven to suicide in the time-honoured fashion, but appears a moment later freshly groomed, ready for a night on the town with his lover and a doctor whom he murdered earlier. In Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes there is a chorus made up of forty characters, all of them called Mandelbaum. Only a couple of Witkacy's plays were produced during his life, and they were dismissed as the ravings of a syphilitic.

When Hitler invaded Poland, Witkacy fled east, only to find that Stalin was invading too. He committed suicide. Later he was "rehabilitated" and some cultural bureaucrat gave a speech over his grave, which contains a body that apparently is not Witkacy's. He was born on 24 February 1885, so today is not his anniversary.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Terminals: an extract

Never to be a major film directed by Steven Spielberg

Naturally, Grayling had used nuclear weapons himself on any number of occasions. As an adolescent he had played Peace Wars, in which the player manned a strategic defence space station in orbit around the earth. The object was to foil a massive, multi-phase ballistic missile attack. At the end of the last phase, if the player had managed to keep civilian casualties within moderate and acceptable levels, a message was beamed to Mission Control and the game ended with a spectacular white-out as those whose lives had been saved launched their all-out and unopposed retaliation. Besides Peace Wars, there were any number of strategy games in which victory depended on possession of a viable genocidal deterrent; but Grayling had never, before that Tuesday the ninth of November, been exposed to the potentialities of nuclear weapons in quite so much detail.

Within hours of the destruction of Manhattan, the media were bursting with information about plutonium, uranium, chain reactions and critical mass. There were capsule histories of the Manhattan Project, with statistical comparisons of the known effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs against the estimated effects of the New York bombs. The possible symbolism of Manhattan as a nuclear target was mentioned as a potential clue to the perpetrators of the atrocity.

"They did it to themselves," Suster heckled the TV. "They did it to themselves, and they deserved all they got."
"What do you mean, they did it to themselves?" asked Weston.
"They're always humping those missiles around the place," Suster said. "Cities, everywhere. Only a matter of time before one or two went off."
"If those were American warheads," Weston said, "they were awfully small ones. Two bombs just to destroy Manhattan."
"They've got them in all shapes and sizes," Suster said. "Large, extra large, economy-size. Small ones for tanks - battlefield nuclear weapons, they call them. Little tiny ones that the CIA use to blow up individual subversives. Maybe two of those went off in Manhattan. Maybe they were testing them."
"Crap," Weston said. "If they want to test weapons, they can do it on an enemy. Africa, Central America, the Arabs..."

They were sitting in Suster's flat, watching the TV. Suster lounged full-length on the sofa, his elbow on one of its arms and his feet on the other. Weston was sitting on the floor with his legs crossed, never taking his eyes from the screen even when Suster flicked the channel over. Grayling sat in the armchair, his eyes straying nervously between the appalled TV, the unknown Weston, and the shelves all around them stocked tight with games. Every now and again he would wonder rather guiltily where Suster had put the playskull which Grayling had given him for safekeeping.

All the TV channels kept switching between images of Manhattan and the two mushroom clouds hanging over it, and the studio where various experts were being marshalled to share their thoughts on what the catastrophe might mean. Few of the experts managed to say more than a couple of sentences before Suster derisively interrupted, which inevitably prompted an argument with Weston. When New York was on the screen, however, they both fell silent, except for occasional expressions of awe at the devastation.

"Very little is known at the moment of the actual extent of the damage," a commentator intoned over a static long-distance shot of the two hovering mushroom clouds; "but Cheers Channel will be bringing you live, up-to-date coverage of all developments as they occur in this grave and tragic situation. To recap once more: the incredible news has now been confirmed, that two nuclear explosions have taken place on Manhattan Island, the most important of the five boroughs of New York City, the location of the Empire State Building, Broadway, the Rockefeller Centre and the United Nations buildings. The number of people who live in the borough is estimated at one and a half million, including many of America's richest and most important citizens. It has been confirmed that Mayor Coniglio is safe - the mayor of New York was outside the city when the attack occurred. The White House has confirmed that the American government is treating the situation, quote, very gravely, and that the President will address the nation in about half an hour from now. And of course, Cheers Channel will be bringing you that presidential address live as it takes place when President Mander gives the address to the American people..."

Suster scratched at his ear, and the channel changed. The long shot was replaced by a closer one, which moved slowly up the stem of one of the mushroom clouds and then shakily zoomed outwards to show the whole.

"Obviously at this stage very little reliable information is available about the scenes of devastation on the ground on Manhattan Island at this time," a commentator said, with as much gravity as the speed of his delivery could sustain. "Manhattan Island, bought by the Dutch from the Indians in the seventeenth century for twenty-five dollars, site of the Empire State Building and the World Financial Complex - the island and indeed the city now face the greatest catastrophe in their long and eventful history. Two nuclear explosions have taken place, one of them apparently a direct hit on the Financial District at the southern end of the island. It is not known precisely how or by whom the bombs were set off, but it seems clear that a terrorist group was involved..."

Suster scratched his ear again. The mushroom cloud disappeared and was replaced by a middle-aged, bespectacled face talking about the likely effect on air traffic and, by extension, tourism and, by further extension, the world economy. Suster, apparently enjoying himself, let the face talk for nearly five minutes before changing to a channel showing the closest view they had yet seen of the ruins of Manhattan Island. The camera movement was almost undetectable at first, because dark clouds of dust obscured everything by which movement could be judged; but eventually the picture cleared patchily to show glimpses of a flattened, blackened terrain marked roughly with dead-straight tracks and occasional, bizarrely upright bits of wall.

"What the hell?" asked Weston, sitting forward. "They're not letting pilots in there already?"
"Drone plane," Suster said. "Remote control. Might even be amateur. There'll be amateur footage all over the media tomorrow. Some people are going to make a mint. Know how much Zapruder got for the Kennedy film?"
"How much?" asked Weston.
"A lot," Suster said. "You can bet on it. Of course, everybody's got a vidcam now, so the market'll be more crowded these days. That might knock the prices down."

The TV said, "...and all communications with the island are still dead. A nuclear detonation causes massive electrical failure even long distances from ground zero, which means that all telephones, modems, computers and other forms of electrical communication are in effect useless for miles around. Rescue workers are busy cordoning off the remaining boroughs and supervising orderly evacuation of those thought to be most at risk from radioactive dust blown by the wind..."

The ruins gave way to a schematic weather-map of New York City, with animated arrows showing wind direction and small red clouds to show pockets of radiation. Suster scratched his ear again, and the mushroom clouds reappeared from a new angle.

"...shocking atrocity," said the commentator. "According to the State Department, the bombs are likely to have been, quote, small but dirty, which means they probably had small explosive power - small for nuclear weapons, that is, of course - but were capable of emitting large amounts of deadly radiation. As of this time, there are unconfirmed reports that a massive firestorm is raging over most of Harlem and Central Park, and in a few minutes we hope to talk to former New York fire chief Lou Scardino so that we can get some idea of just what kind of measures the New York fire department is likely to have been taking in order to deal with this terrible emergency..."

Suster scratched his ear a little more thoroughly than before, and the commentator's voice shut off, leaving the images to follow one another in silence: the mushroom clouds, a map of New York, a still picture of the Empire State Building, an animated graphic showing the destruction of bridges and the probable effects on the sewers and the subway system.

"Well," Suster said, "this is history in the making, all right."
"Or history in the ending," Weston said.
"I doubt it," said Suster. "If they were going to retaliate on that kind of scale, they'd have done it by now. They'd have done it within half an hour of the bombs going off."

Weston gave a grunt, unconvinced but not prepared to argue. Suster pulled his feet in and rolled himself upwards into a sitting position, his arms spread out along the back of the sofa.
"Disappointed?" he said.
Weston grunted again and shook his head, not to answer the question but to scorn it. Undeterred, Suster addressed himself to Grayling:

"You see, Weston's favourite games have always been the really destructive ones. Not just the ones you used to like, Grayling, the kind where you wander around as a mere individual with a lot of guns and ammo. Weston thinks bigger than that. He's always been a strategy man, haven't you, Weston?"
"I'm always beating you at Crusade and Conquer," Weston said.
"That's true, you know," said Suster. "He always beats me. But in spite of that, he never scores very highly. My scores when I win against other people are always much higher than Weston's scores against me. And the people I win against usually score higher than Weston does when he wins. You know why that is?"

Grayling looked from Suster to Weston and back again, wondering how they behaved when there was no third party around them to absorb all the barbs. Probably they dispensed with conversation altogether and communed via the playskull.

"It's because of the way he wins," Suster said. "He operates a scorched-earth policy. He destroys his own resources so that I won't get to use them, and my seek-and-destroy missions always cost me more than they gain because my units always have to travel so far to find any of his."
"I see," Grayling said cautiously. He himself had never been much good at games like Crusade and Conquer, partly because he tended to rush into a fight too soon and partly because he could rarely sustain the necessary level of concentration all the way through. It was, after all, only a game.
"Weston has a liking for scorched earth," Suster said. "Suicide missions, self-destruct buttons, you name it. One of the games he'd like to see on the market is a World War Two flight simulator with kamikaze missions."
"There are plenty of flight sims where you can be the Japanese, aren't there?" Grayling said.
"Yes, but you lose points if you get yourself killed," Suster pointed out. "He doesn't approve of that, do you Weston?"
"It was just a thought," Weston said, getting to his feet. He moved slowly, placing both hands on the floor to push himself up, as though his back muscles pained him. "You needn't try to make a philosophy out of it."

The TV screen showed a news announcer mouthing with silent gravity. Stills of world leaders appeared, captioned with phrases from their comments about the disaster. Condemnatory adjectives flashed across the faces.

"What do you think, Grayling?" Suster asked. He stretched his legs out comfortably in front of him and wriggled his feet at the TV. "Global warfare by tomorrow tea-time?"
"Who knows?" Grayling said.
"Won't do your business at the Chamber any good," Suster said. "Why pay for the service when the whole world's about to get crisped for free?"
"It isn't my business," Grayling said. "It's a job, that's all." He went to join Weston, who was scanning Suster's shelves as though they were in the Games Emporium. Most of the game discs were still in their cardboard packaging, the boxes covered in lurid illustrations of violence. Many of the boxes had been illustrated before the Visual Representations in Marketing Act prohibited packagers from using images that did not feature in the game itself; those boxes would now be collectors' items, at least in the rarefied world of game enthusiasts. Other game discs, the older or cheaper ones, were piled in their flat plastic cases with only their titles visible.

"How many have you got now, Suster?" Weston asked. "A thousand? Two?"
"Somewhere in between, I think," said Suster. "How about you?"
"Not many," said Weston.
"Weston doesn't work," said Suster to Grayling. "I don't suppose the Chamber has another vacancy for a game geek, does it?"
"No, it doesn't," Grayling said without turning from the shelves. "And I wasn't taken on because of my... expertise in all this." He swept out an arm to indicate the two and a half walls of Suster's living room that consisted of shelves crowded with games. "It was just part of my rehabilitation programme. You told him that yesterday." He crouched down to look along a lower shelf. "Bloody hell - Tomb Raider?" Over his shoulder he asked Suster, "Don't you ever throw anything out?"
"Why should I?" Suster said. "I'm not the one that's being rehabilitated. Anyway, this is nothing. I know people with rooms where you can't even open the door. You have to force it a bit and slide in sideways, then climb over piles of games to reach the playskull."
"Wonder how long it'll take before someone makes a game out of that," Weston muttered.

Grayling had taken out the Tomb Raider box and was reading the specifications on the back. "Do you play this with the TV, or what?" A thought struck him suddenly; he turned to face Suster, waving the plastic disc box. "Tomb Raider. Isn't this a what-do-you-call-it, a game derived from a film?"

"Derived from a film?" Suster said. "You mean a tie-in? Don't think so - I haven't got many of those."
"You sell them though, don't you?"
"The Emporium has a few, I think," Suster said. His expression now was tinged with genuine concern. Grayling's attempt to throw off a playskull addiction, in the process abandoning his friends and going to work as a Chamber menial, might one day be forgiven; but sliding downmarket into tie-in games was inexcusable.

"Do you know of any tie-ins for films with that actress you mentioned yesterday?"
"What actress?" Suster said.
"The one you said would be sure to come and visit us at the Chamber," said Grayling. "Only to back out as a publicity stunt. Or something like that."
"Oh, said Suster, "that actress - Penelope Carbo. Is it really her, then?"
"Nobody's told us," said Grayling.

In fact, Crozier had come away from his own personnel check practically foaming because nobody had told him. "It's so unprofessional," he kept saying. He had spent the rest of the afternoon alternating loud complaints about Amalgamated Arts' lack of professionalism with furtive expeditions to the staffroom where he could listen to his MeMod. Whenever Crozier came back into Reception, everyone had tensed in readiness for the latest bulletin; but Grayling had heard very little about the disaster that was new since ten minutes after the story first broke.

"Does Penelope Carbo work for Amalgamated Arts Incorporated?" Grayling said to Suster.
"How the hell would I know?" Suster said. "One fucking entertainment conglom sounds much like another these days. Anyway, I wouldn't bank on her showing up now." He gestured at the TV screen, which was showing the mushroom clouds from yet another shaky amateur-footage angle. "Didn't you hear? That's going to hold up air traffic for days, if not weeks. And as I said before, why should she bother? Why should anyone bother with Chambers now?"
"If we do get global war tomorrow," Weston said, "we won't all go up instantaneously in smoke during the first three minutes. Some people might prefer to get it over with, rather than hang around to find out if they'll be one of the lucky ones." He turned his dry, narrow eyes on Grayling. "You might just be into a growth industry. Briefly, anyway. A boom before the bang."

The TV screen was showing the seal of the President of the United States, presumably announcing the President's emergency address to his nation. Weston turned to Suster.
"Switch that crap off," he said. "Let's play a game."

Buy the book

Sunday, February 20, 2005

News 2020

Three times winner of the Guardian Media Group Award for Nuance

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, has accused the Government of a "deep-seated urge to pander to left-liberal orthodoxy" and a "racist reluctance to protect the character and heritage of England".

In what is widely considered one of the opening salvos in the new voting season, and on the eve of the publication of the NuLabLib manifesto, Neither Left Nor Right, but Forward with the Troops, Mr Johnson attacked the Government over its asylum policy, saying that the off-shore migrant storage and disposal centres were not properly secure.

"The Government's disinclination to prevent the swamping of the nation is the product of nothing less than a racist attachment to inferior and primitive cultures," Mr Johnson said.

Under a Conservative-led government, he continued, all potential migrants would be compulsorily checked not only for infectious diseases, work-shyness, terrorist sympathies and lice, but also for bad manners, malodorosity and "any horns, tails or tridents which might be concealed about their persons," as specified in the Conservative manifesto, England's Glorious Blood.

The Prime Minister replied that the cost of such measures would be "prohibitatory" and challenged Mr Johnson to produce figures proving that the economy could sustain "such an excessive number of checks being effectively carried out on each and every migrant."

Mr Johnson also attacked the Government for failing to institute adequate controls over liberal bias in the mainstream media. The Conservative elder statesman, Lord Sandunk of Idsmith, who led the party during one of its more successful phases in the early years of this century, has produced an extensive report on media bias, which Mr Johnson referred to as "damning."

"Outdated left-liberal orthodoxy is entrenched in the mainstream media like one of the 17,000 British rubber gloves which are lost up the intestines of unscrupulous asylum seekers every year through the trendy carelessness of medical personnel," Mr Johnson quoted.

The BBC issued a statement this evening saying it had already apologised and promised to do better seven minutes before Mr Johnson began to speak, while Guardian columnist Tynee Pollyp said that Mr Johnson's "bludgeoning tactics" could only lose him votes among those Guardian readers who were intelligent enough to understand him.

News 2020

When it eventually happens, remember you read it here first

The Government has announced the opening of a new phase in its criminal justice programme. "We are taking the war on dishonesty into a new theatre of operations," said the Minister for National Virtue, Blandly Trollope.

"We cannot hope to teach wisdom and democracy to less advantaged peoples unless we ourselves are pure," the Prime Minister stated in Parliament at the beginning of the present session, and his personal commitment to the war on dishonesty has been instrumental in a number of statutes to enhance the public's moral standing.

The new Office Equipment Bill will be a "logical follow-up" to the package of legislative measures which have been introduced to help make the country worthy of the Government's moral fervour.

Previous measures have included the National Media Semantics Act, which formalised the use of words like violence and death in appropriate contexts. Many media professionals protested that legal statutes were unnecessary, since no genuinely virtuous police or military measure has ever been referred to as "violence", or as causing anything but "unwanted but necessary casualties"; but the Government's dedication to ensuring the moral character of the nation held true.

Other measures included the seasonal manhunt license for home-owners, and the Adolescent Persons Enhanced Socialisation, Homogenisation, Instruction and Training initiative, which replaced the old Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and many schools.

The Office Equipment Bill will make compulsory the common professional practice of fitting digital mini-cameras to computer monitors so as to ensure maximal efficientisation of the temporal dispensation of every human resource. A new offence of "temporal larceny" will be introduced to deter non-effective utilisation of work-time, along with a sliding scale of penalties for unauthorised removal of company items.

"This bill will be the most extensive temptation avoidance measure ever put in place in the professional sphere," Mr Trollope said today. "The introduction of this law will save the economy some thirteen billion pounds a year in lost and pilfered office equipment." The figure rose to twenty billion if biros and paper clips were taken into consideration, he added.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

News 2020

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

Anticipated aquatic nonabundances in the western world could be as significant a boost for the British economy as global warming may one day prove to be for the Cornish wine trade, leading experts have concluded.

Commissioned by the Bournemouth-based utility company, Sub-Sahara Water and Gunnery (SWAG), the report draws precedents from recent ventures in Africa, which has always manifested a high degree of water retail opportunity.

"It's all a matter of taking the proper attitude," said report co-author Muttley Pringle today. "The old-fashioned, big-government, crypto-socialist way of describing this kind of event would be to call it a shortage, or even a drought. What we've tried to do is get beyond the negativity and down to the underlying essentials."

Mr Pringle continued, "In today's global climate, we believe that more positivity is not only called for, but necessary, and we believe that Sub-Sahara are the people to provide that positivity."

Sub-Sahara Water was originally set up under the auspices of the Overseas Development Secretary, Claire Kurtz, to provide aquatic consumer outlets in Ghana and other African countries.

After the initiative encountered extensive customer resistance from the economically untrained natives, Sub-Sahara Water branched out into the defence field so as to solidify consumer loyalty among those wealthy enough to afford its drinking water.

"In times of retail opportunity such as this, one often encounters people who wish to advantagise themselves of your product by forcible means," Mr Pringle explained. "We've found that aiding large customers in protecting their investment can lead to highly productive relational fructification."

Department of Trade and Outsourcing spokesperson Myra Snook has welcomed the report. "Although the consequences for Britain of meteorological flexibilitisation are as yet unclear, the SWAG report is an excellent antidote to fashionable nay-saying on the subject," she said.

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

The execution of Crawford City bomber Luther Calvin Parsons has been postponed again as lawyers and other morality professionals attempt to fit his case to the penal statutes of the Homeland Constitution.

The Homeland Constitution has one of the longest and most extensive penal sections in the free world, and pamphlets containing the clauses on methods of execution have become popular reading with the public since horror fiction and films were banned under the Intellectual Morality Code.

However, the authorities seem at a loss to resolve Parsons' case legally, even though the convict himself has expressed a wish to pay for his crimes and to "get it over with".

Parsons was found guilty of the unauthorised demolition of a public building in Crawford City, Texas, resulting in the unscheduled and permanent deactivation of 93 human resource units. At his trial, Parsons asked that his kidnap and dissection of seven prostitutes be taken into consideration, but the killings were not considered sufficient mitigation for what the judge called his "wanton disregard for the real estate of the municipality".

Parsons' expressed wish to be executed has complicated the case because of the moral dilemma involved in being seen to give a convicted felon what he wants.

"If any convict thought he could just waltz into a homeland penitentiary and ask for his heart's desire, well, pretty soon we wouldn't have much of a penitentiary system, would we?" said prosecution attorney Zebulon Stringbean, who is pushing for Parsons to be released.

However, defence attorney Devonia Mountweevil, who is being retained to look after Parsons' best interests by the correctional facility of which he is a resident, refused to admit that this latest stay of execution was a setback.

"Of course nobody wants him executed until we know he's sane enough to appreciate what's happening - not even him," she said. "And as long as he wants to be executed, that means he may be suicidal, which means he might go to hell if we execute him while he still feels that way. No genuinely responsible penological system could possibly take that kind of responsibility lightly."

Ms Mountweevil has moved that, as soon as all necessary profit quotas on the case have been fulfilled, Parsons be given antipsychotic drugs in order to ensure his sanity, so that "whatever wishes he expresses will be genuinely his own and the State can therefore disregard them with a clear conscience".

Friday, February 18, 2005

News 2020

Balanced news from right on the fence

The US Commander-in-Chief has appointed a new director of intelligence, Mr Borg Slavebridge. Mr Slavebridge is the nephew of the well-known diplomat and raconteur John "Black Jack" Slavebridge, but the Commander-in-Chief has denied that the post of director of intelligence has been made hereditary.

"The idea of hereditary privilege is not recognised by the Homeland Constitution," the Commander-in-Chief said, "and I do not believe it is something which my glorious predecessor, George W Bush, would ever have approbated of."

Black Jack Slavebridge was known for his diplomatic efforts in Central America, where he devoted many years to the stabilisation of the fledgeling democracy in Honduras. Although not directly involved in the training of pro-active electoral persuasion units, he was much criticised because of the over-zealousness which led some rotten apples in those units to publicly execute a Catholic Archbishop who had exceeded his religious brief.

The incident caused some embarrassment in Washington at the time, but Mr Slavebridge's diplomatic skills and personal charm enabled him to ride out the storm.

His nephew Borg is largely unknown, particularly in the Middle East where he will presumably concentrate most of his attention. "I think he has the experience and knowledge which make him ideal for this job," the Commander-in-Chief said yesterday.

The younger Mr Slavebridge has never been to the Middle East, speaks no Arabic and has no knowledge of Middle Eastern culture. The White House believes that these advantages will enable him to carry out the delicate diplomatic work of persuading the indigenous human resources to accept democracy, without his resolution being swayed by the needs of a voluble but uninformed and inexperienced electorate.

"This guy here will be a dagger in the heart of international terrorism," said the Commander-in-Chief, putting his arm around Mr Slavebridge's shoulders. "He's going to help finally solve the problem once and for all, and he'll never let this administration down. His honour is loyalty."

News 2020

Easily digestible facts for the modern news consumer

The US government has succeeded in its attempt to trademark the terms democracy and freedom and democracy. The word freedom remains in the public domain as long as it is used alone and not in conjunction with the words and democracy.

The decision by the Lord's Own Patent Authority in Washington DC to grant the US government's application for trademark rights to the terms means that the terms democracy and freedom and democracy can now be used only under a franchise granted by the US government.

Any other country on the face of the earth, or any other power on any planet or in any dimension of the universe of space, time and spirit, known or unknown, must now apply to the United States Federal Trademark Bureau for permission to call itself a democracy.

Use of the terms in the media and in everyday conversation remains unrestricted until the US patent authority pronounces on the White House's secondary appeal relating to copyright of the words themselves, as opposed to their usage as trademarks. This verdict is expected within a few months.

Honduras, Guatemala, Israel, Colombia, Uzbekistan and the Democratic Republic of Baghdad have all been granted exemption from liability under US law, and will therefore be able to go on calling themselves democracies without risk of legal action.

The Prime Minister was the first to congratulate the US government on its victory. "This is a great day for freedom, a great day for democracy," the Prime Minister said. "The British government's franchise application is, of course, being lodged with the appropriate department in Washington as I speak."

As a loyal friend and ally of the United States, Britain's application could be fast-tracked and might take as little as five years to process, the Prime Minister said. Until that time, Britain would continue to refer to itself as a democracy "because that is what we are," and would pay the necessary fines without demur.

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, agreed with the Prime Minister that today was a "great day for liberty and universal suffrage", but criticised the government for "using taxpayers' money to reimburse the Americans for its own careless talk." An immediate referendum should be held on whether Britain should continue calling itself a democracy whatever the expense, or find an alternative term such as "parliamentary representocracy" for the duration of the application's fast-tracking, Mr Johnson said.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

News 2020

Three times winner of the Guardian Media Group Award for Nuance

International tension was heightened today by Andorra and Liechtenstein as the two countries announced the signing of a mutual assistance treaty.

The treaty pledges each country to come to the other's aid in the event of a "threat" to its security. This could mean that the United States and its allies might have to attack both countries simultaneously if they wished to prevent the pact coming into effect.

Both the US Commander-in-Chief and Israeli foreign minister Yeshua Gideon expressed their concern at the "radical international destabilisation potentiality" of the treaty.

The Commander-in-Chief said that the pact "might well represent the most serious threat to world peace" since the mutual assistance treaty between Cuba and Venezuela at the beginning of the century.

Even the treaty between Botswana, Swaziland and Rwanda, which threatened world stability by outnumbering America three to one, was not such a "blatantly irresponsible act of antidemocratitude," the Commander-in-Chief said.

The US has declared Andorra and Liechtenstein part of "old Europe" and has repeatedly accused both nations of developing weapons of mass destruction and illicit utilisation of the French language.

"What concerns us is not what Andorra or Liechtenstein might do in two years, three, years, five years or twenty years," said Mr Gideon. "What concerns us is that they have the knowledge for making these weapons which could one day be used against London, Washington or Jerusalem."

The scientific knowledge for making nuclear weapons has been under US government copyright for nearly a decade and a half, so any attempt by other nations to manufacture such weapons would be a serious breach of informational ownership.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

News 2020

All the fun of the future without the pain of living there

Is sex the new democracy? According to a nationwide poll, more and more people are succumbing to sexual apathy. The report, commissioned by the Sun newspaper in association with the men's magazine Titzancarse and the women's magazine Glaze, concludes that the British are turned on by sex almost as little as they are turned out by elections.

Apathy figures are particularly high among teenagers and twentysomethings, states the report. "In middle-aged and elderly people the sex drive is slightly higher, possibly because of regrets about a youth wasted not bothering to try getting laid," said Roger Noblett, editor of the tabloid paper's monthly "The Sun Gets Sensitive" column.

Most disturbing, according to Evening Standard sexual health adviser Lord Archer, is the fact that over a quarter of the laddish resources interviewed were prepared to admit to not having had sex, even at the age of nineteen or twenty.

"The ones who admit to not having done it, without the rational incentive of a court case to motivate their denial, are probably in the minority," Lord Archer said. "There will be plenty more who haven't done it, but refuse to say so because they're afraid no-one will believe them."

The media could be partly to blame for the problem, according to media expert Dr Bradley Ichneumon. "Despite heavily sexualised advertisements, facile sexual jokes, doom-laden headlines about teenage pregnancies and almost continuous discussion of sexual matters in newspapers, magazines, television programmes and on the internet, it seems the natural process of gold-digging, bribery and intercourse is losing some of its mystique," he said.

"The media needs to wake up to its responsibilities towards young people. A healthier perspectivisation is required," Dr Ichneumon said. "They must be informed of the need to keep up the national birth rate. They must be informed that sex in advertisements is simply intended to help them towards making the right consumer choices."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

News 2020

Balanced news from right on the fence

Despite the recent securing of Venezuela's oil fields, the establishment of a permanent ring of bases in the country and the holding of the first truly democratic elections to be held there under US auspices for some considerable time, the Americans' public-relations problems continue.

Among the most serious of these problems is the question of what to do with the captured Venezuelan leader, Hilario Bolvidar, who was discovered like a spider in his rathole directing terrorist operations via the mysterious hypnotic power shared by so many rogue dictators.

The problem of what to do with captured dictators has caused the Americans difficulty in the past. A few, such as Manolo Aregan of Panama, have been able to make new lives in the United States. Several generations of Salvadorean and Guatemalan dictators have become useful and prosperous citizens, and Mr Aregan's family now runs a modest used-car dealership chain which extends throughout the state of Florida.

Others, such as the Haitian "priest", General Jean-Bertrand Arachnide, and the Islamic fundamentalist government-in-exile of Iran, have chosen to remain outside their countries and have repeatedly refused Allied offers of a fair and open trial while their economies are being rebuilt.

The US and Britain have generally distanced themselves from calls for the execution of the Venezuelan leader. The British foreign secretary has warned against the possibility of the Allies being seen as exacting revenge on a defeated enemy. "The undoubted fact of Mr Bolvidar's intention to obliterate the free world, despite his lack of opportunity and equipment with which to do so, must not lead us into the temptation to act barbarically ourselves," he said.

Despite the good intentions on display, however, the Allied attitude may lead to some unpalatable paradoxes. The notorious US inhibition against executing Hispanics may not be particularly well appreciated in South America, which has a long cultural tradition of electoral mayhem and "democracia al cuchillo." But by the same token, simply handing Bolvidar over to be torn to pieces by rampaging mobs of newly liberated savages could easily be interpreted by sceptics as a compromising step.

Bolvidar is currently being held at an unknown location, where he will be questioned about his crimes against humanity and psychologically analysed to see if he shows remorse.

Monday, February 14, 2005

News 2020

Bringing you closer to the future

The Department of Holocaust Studies at Tel Aviv University is to be merged with the Department of Nakba Denial, the Israeli education ministry announced today.

"We believe that the argument regarding the lack of a so-called 'Palestinian nation' which was supposedly dispossessed when the state of Israel came into being has now been pretty well won," said departmental head Professor Dolf Shekelgruber.

Both the Department of Holocaust Studies and the Department of Nakba Denial specialise in the history of events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

"Now that the historical fact of Israel's peaceful establishment in a non-populated land has been accepted by all but a few extreme intellectual cranks, it seems foolish to waste resources running two departments," Professor Shekelgruber said.

In Britain, the Foreign Office and the Department of Human Resources welcomed the merge as an important step on the road to peace in the Middle East.

"In order to understand the present, we must learn the lessons of the past," said junior education minister Delbert Lidtrap. "We must learn them thoroughly, we must apply them consistently, and we must teach them with proper regard for economic necessity."

The US government also welcomed the Israeli move. "This is an important stepping stone towards a genuine road map of major constructivity," said White House spokesman Prescott Kennedy.

"The American government is pleased to see the University of Tel Aviv taking steps that will facilitate future changes in attitude with regard to the history of the last century," Mr Kennedy continued.

"As resources in the Middle East are used up and American interest in the region declines, there will naturally be a period of US disengagement from the Israeli state," Mr Kennedy said. "Intellectual acceptance of what is now called Holocaust denial may well be an integral part of that process, and we're considerably happified at Israel's display of foresight in this regard."

Sunday, February 13, 2005

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

The ongoing debate in the United States over the ownership of freedom took a new twist today as the Commander-in-Chief said he would not invoke the Homeland Security Speechification Acts to ensure a reasonable outcome to the argument.

The speechification laws have been used to considerable effect in reaching conclusions in previous debates on terrorism, abortion, gun liberalisation and freedom of Christian worship, but the intervention of the Federal Enforcement Executive would be unnecessary in this case, the Commander-in-Chief said.

The argument over whether freedom is a gift from God or whether it is the property of the United States, to dispense at will to whomever the country sees fit, has occupied America for several years. There have even been times when disagreements threatened to split the very fabric of government, with both factions invoking the name of George W Bush to legitimate their point of view over this complicated issue.

"Freedom and liberty are too precious a thing to be taken for granted and thought of as being owned," said Senator Langhorne Mubley this evening. "That's why we believe freedom is a human achievement, America's gift to the world. It's not at all like food or water or fresh air - not like some commodity to be bought and sold."

But Senator Mubley's opponents are just as certain of their opinion. "Freedom runs in the veins of every American like HIV through a drug-addicted problem youth," said Representative Alberta Bineswacker. "Therefore, Americans must have been created with this gift from God. Further, it seems clear that other nations have not been so created, and it is not for us to interfere with the hand-outs of Providence's grace."

However, despite the risk of a nationwide division over the issue, the Commander-in-Chief has stood firm. "One of the signs of a healthy democracy is vigorous and free debate, provided such debate does not degenerate into mere mud-slinging, name-calling or the inhibitionising of pro-active measures against international varmints," said the US leader on national television this afternoon.

News 2020

All the latest, very early

The deputy editor of the Nearly Independent and Upper Middle-Class Advertiser, Tristram Wright-Wrigley, has offered a robust defence of his newspaper's environmental policy and his own controversial condemnation of "non-sensible environmentalists" in last Sunday's edition.

"It may seem inconceivable in this day and age, but there are still people who apparently believe that radical changes in society somehow necessitate radical changes in people's behaviour," Mr Wright-Wrigley said today.

His original article was a response to complaints by extreme environmentalist pressure groups that the Nearly Independent and Upper Middle-Class Advertiser was not doing enough to publicise the possibility of climate change due to carbon emissions from vehicles.

In his article, Mr Wright-Wrigley condemned this point of view as "naive" and pointed out that almost all car manufacturers were researching more enviro-scrupulous methods of selling their products.

"If we as a newspaper tried to exert pressure on these people, instead of engaging with them by simply taking their money and carrying their advertisements, they would take their trade elsewhere and we would have to double our cover price," wrote Mr Wright-Wrigley. "And the British public would lose one of the few remaining bastions of genuine press independence, of free speech and uncompromising truth, which are left to it in these troubled times."

However, some environmental groups, which Mr Wright-Wrigley had castigated as "non-sensible", have protested about the article. They claim that as long as newspapers depend on advertising for revenue, they are "compromised" in their efforts to tell the truth.

"Idealism is all very well," said Mr Wright-Wrigley today, "but one has to live in the real world. Frankly, if the world is heating up - something that is still unproven according to many scientists at General Motors and other respectable sponsors - but if it is heating up, there isn't much one newspaper can do about it as long as we live in the kind of society we live in at present."

Switching on the air-conditioning with a languid secretary, he gave an easy smile. "I'm sure our readers are intelligent enough to appreciate the dangers of climate change without being lectured with a lot of extremist propaganda before they've even driven to work," he said.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

News 2020

Putting the wind up the first draft of history

The administration of the late George W Bush may have indirectly contributed to the present fuel shortage, a shock new Pentagon report implies.

President Bush's administration was much criticised at the time for being overly idealistic in attempting to instil Western values in alien or primitive cultures, but in recent years the Homeland Security Acts against disseminating terrorist propaganda have allowed a less harsh perspective to emerge.

However, the Pentagon report says that Mr Bush's enthusiasm for shedding the daylight of democracy upon benighted lands may inadvertently have harmed America's ability to weather future problems such as those which are presently emerging.

Ironically, the civilising mission for which Mr Bush is most criticised in the report is the one in the Middle East- a region which until recently held the largest remaining oil reserves on the planet.

"It is possible that, if previous administrations had placed less emphasis on the well-being of non-Americans, and had instead concentrated more resources upon the acquisition of the region's crude oil reserves, the United States might have been better placed to deal with current energy difficulties," the report says.

The present Commander-in-Chief has made no comment on the report, although White House press spokesperson Buzz Clampett was anxious to defuse media speculation about a possible forthcoming peak in oil production.

"As is well known, oil production has been in a state of negative additionality for a period of more than ten years," Mr Clampett said. "It seems rather odd to complain of fuel shortages and at the same time claim that production is peaking."

The present fuel and energy problems were due largely to the shortage of energy caused by lack of fuel, Mr Clampett said. "Delays in exploiting new opportunities have arisen from big-government interference in the activities of oil companies," he added. "Also, the overindustrialisation of China by the Chinese government is a cause of considerable concern with regard to China's persistently energy-consuming and inscrutabilitising activities."

Asked directly about the Pentagon report, Mr Clampett said that both he, the Commander-in-Chief and the entire White House staff were "morally certain" that no insult to a great man's memory was intended.

He also warned reporters against the so-called "fossil fuel fallacy", namely the fallacious and crypto-evolutionist idea that crude oil is a limited resource resulting from a purely mechanical process of biological decay. "God will provide," he concluded, to the press corps' independent and subtly nuanced applause.

News 2020

All the fun of the future without the pain of living there

The Chancellor has kicked off the voting season for the Treasury team by giving a rousing pep talk on the economy to assembled industrial leaders and wealth creators at Hayek Hall in Westminster.

In his speech he accused the opposition of trying to steal the NuLabLib coalition's clothes as "the party of fiscal prudence, free markets and asylum seeker deportation".

Conservative plans to solve the country's education problems by sacking 140,000 teachers and using the money saved to cut taxes so that parents could buy education vouchers were, the Chancellor said, "a typically half-hearted attempt to emulate Government policy while seeming to oppose it."

The opposition knew that Government policies were the only sensible ones, said the Chancellor. "The political and economic consensus which obtains at this point in British politics is a clear indication of the correctitude of taking Britain forward with a steady hand in the Exchequer, as we have done for the past quarter century," he concluded.

The Conservatives reacted with derision to the speech. Boris Johnson said the idea of stealing NuLibLab's clothes was "almost pornographically absurd" and that the Chancellor was "a bag of rancid pork scratchings with a boring hairstyle."

Friday, February 11, 2005

News 2020

Three times winner of the Guardian Media Group Award for Nuance

The Ministry of Freedom has expressed concern over whether the British people are sufficiently grateful for the liberties which remain to them.

"There is such a fashion these days for criticising those in authority that many people seem to forget they live in one of the world's most free and liberal societies," said Ministry spokesman Howard Tebbit.

Irresponsible comments by members of the public could easily result in the destruction of the very liberties of which such comments were taking thoughtless advantage, Mr Tebbit continued.

"It is precisely to forestall these dangers to British democracy that the Government may occasionally be reluctantly forced to place certain slight restrictions on various minority extremes," he said.

Mr Tebbit was responding to criticism of the Government by the leader of the Opposition, Boris Johnson, who said that too few Britons appreciated the society they lived in.

"Disapproval of something or other is expressed virtually every day," Mr Johnson said. "Everything from our glorious history to our virtuous and dignified royal family - the whole great heritage of all English-speakers - is fair game for the wolf-whistles of scapegoating catcallers."

Mr Tebbit did not comment on whether any new measures are planned to combat the growing crisis, but it is thought that the Prime Minister favours a more aggressive approach in the early stages of education, with daily "citizen's pride" assemblies in schools.

As to the media, whose cynical and flippant attitude has often been blamed for the modern "culture of blame" in politics, one possibility might be to pass into law the present informal arrangement whereby anyone criticising the Government expends a reasonable quantity of space and/or time giving a simple and sincere expression of gratitude for the incomparable nature and achievements of British democracy.

However, Mr Johnson, as a former newspaper editor, put forth a more hardline view. "An expression of gratitude, however sincere, cannot compensate for the insidious effect of disruptive opinionatising, nor can it substitute for good old-fashioned love of country," he said.

News 2020

Easily digestible facts for the modern news consumer

The Prime Minister has been touring the country in preparation for the voting season, which is expected to open some time next spring. During the next few months, all Diebechtel voting machines installed in the homes of members of the public will be electronically checked for readiness from Diebechtel's headquarters in Canary Wharf.

The voting season is often considered one of Britain's quainter formalities, an amusingly antique ceremony without real purpose, rather like the monarch's speech at the opening of parliament or the holding of public opinion polls. American tourists often find our politics strange, and express resentment at the idea that they should have staked their own national security on keeping Britain a potentially unstable three-party state.

However, the Prime Minister is determined that British democracy should have its day. Over the past week he has made visits to several locations, which will be revealed once the tour is over so that terrorists cannot accomplish violence-oriented itinerary extrapolation procedures while he is still on route.

At each stop on the journey - dubbed "The Journey of Life" by Downing Street press agent Mandel Moanbull - the Prime Minister has unveiled the NuLibLab coalition's "campaign pledges", another formality which many today perhaps consider a little meaningless, yet which encapsulates in its impressionistic postmodernism all the pageant and colour of British democracy in the twenty-first century.

The pledges were unveiled one by one at five separate locations across the country, with plenty of small children in attendance in each case to emphasise the Government's commitment to Britain's future and the optimum economic development of every human resource. As is traditional, the pledges contain minimal verbs and no words with more than one syllable, thus encapsulating the Government's radical dynamism and the Prime Minister's personal faith in the intelligence and judgement of his audience.

The Government's pledges for this voting season are:

You more well off
You get more dosh
You get more stuff
Your kid the best
Your home not blown up

These are also the pledges of the Opposition.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

Game show producers FoxFun Ltd have announced a new reality television programme which could hit British screens as early as this autumn.

FoxFun have been behind many of the most successful game shows on television, including last year's mega-rated hit Social Darwinism, in which a dozen randomly-chosen contestants are locked up in a small room until one of them has won.

The new show, provisionally titled Moral Courage, will feature a variety of situations in which contestants will be instructed by the host to inflict pain in return for prize money. The "victims" will be volunteers from problematic social groups, including prisoners, pensioners, welfare cheats and single mothers.

FoxFun is a subsidiary of a company which is owned by a corporation which has what spokespersons describe as "a friendly working relationship" with several perpetrator restraint and moral reclamation firms. Carefully screened residents of selected establishments will be given time off their sentences in return for appearance on the show - an initiative already applauded by the Ministry of Freedom.

"It's just that sort of deft combination of compassion and practicality that the Government has always tried to practice in places like Africa and Brixton," said junior minister Brindley Flacker about the FoxFun proposals.

"Obviously, the recipients of the non-positive neuronic stimulation will be selected with the greatest possible care," said producer Marglim Stanley.

"Social surveys have repeatedly shown that large-scale fraudsters and embezzlers rarely benefit from physical punishment or long periods of confinement under harsh conditions," said Mr Stanley. "In a way that's a handicap, since audiences like to see rich guys suffering. But we prefer to think of it as a challenge, as an opportunity to display some moral courage ourselves and show viewers those welfare moms getting what's coming to them."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

News 2020

All the fun of the future without the pain of living there

The Prime Minister this afternoon issued a public apology to the US Government on behalf of the British detainees in Guatanamo Bay and other American terrorist suspect processing facilitation centres across the world.

"Thanks to the errors and omissions of previous administrations in failing to curb possible terrorist activities, a number of British passport holders are now being held by the United States," the Prime Minister said.

"On behalf of the Government and the country, I would like to apologise to the United States for all the trouble, and even danger, which that great nation has suffered due to the fact that British identity documentation was found on these particular suspects," he continued.

A number of British passport holders have been detained at various times by the United States in the course of its democracy distribution efforts of the past twenty years.

Several detainees have been released and sent back to the United Kingdom, despite the fact that many of their terrorist activities were so effectively concealed that no charges could be brought against them in this country.

The Prime Minister's apology has been expected for some time, particularly since last week's secret court-martial and execution of two detainees, one a British passport holder and one not.

A parliamentary question on the subject had been prepared by Lynn W Cad, the NuLibLab Member for West Fawning and special deputy under-envoy for human rights; but in the event the Prime Minister decided not to wait.

"I wish to emulate my great predecessor, Lord Blair of Belmarsh, by opening question time today on a note of respect for our greatest ally, mingled with humility and a personal hunger for justice," he began, eighty-seven seconds after luncheon ended.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

News 2020

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

The US oral comfort manufacturer, Larding & Happikid, says it will sue the children's television network, Murdoch Disney Infantile, for breach of contract. L&H claims that one of the TV channel's shows "fostered an atmosphere of consumer resistance" in the target audience.

Larding & Happikid says that it bought 144 hours of prime advertising time (approximately four weeks' worth) from Murdoch Disney for a new confectionary product called the Clusterbomb.

"The Clusterbomb is basically a large sweet with a lot of little sweets inside it," said sales executive Lycra Fondue. "The advertisement was one we're all very proud of, showing kids eating these sweets and finding them so delicious their arms and legs flew off into the air."

The company alleges that Murdoch Disney Infantile broadcast some of the advertisements during an "oldie" programme which, through "avoidable negligence" on the part of the TV company, garnered "undue and undeserved attention and enthusiasm" from its impressionable juvenile audience.

"There's no doubt in our minds that the show played a significant part in distracting the kids from the virtues of our product," Ms Fondue said. "We've even heard rumours of some kids actually being annoyed at the commercial breaks, and displaying symptoms of contentment when the show interrupted."

Murdoch Disney says it will contest the claim. "The idea that a responsible television network would ever act in a fashion contrary to the interests of its advertisers is simply ridiculous," said spokesperson Byron Silkworm.

The title of the children's programme in question will remain confidential until the trial, and any subsequent lawsuit by Murdoch Disney against the makers, have been concluded.

Monday, February 07, 2005

News 2020

Bringing you closer to the future

The Prime Minister has once again defended the methods of the liberatory coalition in the Middle East, after isolated and unconfirmed reports by several hundred Arab news agencies implied that inappropriate treatment of potential juvenile suicide bombers was taking place to the detriment of US policy in the region.

"We absolutely condemn all forms of torture and all methods of inhuman and degrading treatment, no matter how useful the information that may be gathered from their use," the Prime Minister told a press conference today.

He was responding particularly to concerns by Guardian columnists Preston Kettle and Tynee Pollyp that British troops may have been involved in non-official interrogation activities. Ms Pollyp in particular had raised the possibility that young and impressionable soldiers might be irremediably scarred by their experiences.

However, the Prime Minister emphasised that coalition forces could not afford to be "overly sentimental" in the methods they used to bring freedom to all oil-producing nations while winning hearts and minds despite the machinations of the forces of antidemocratification.

"We know that these ruthless terrorists heartlessly use human shields whenever they can, and that this heartless ruthlessness can have terrible results," he said.

"Such ruthless tactics have resulted in massive civilian casualties in almost every incidence of urban-oriented direct action by coalition troops. Nevertheless, despite the anguish and incomprehension aroused by such heartlessness in every fibre of our being, we must continue to see through the job we have begun."

The use of enhanced questioning techniques on selected pre-adult non-coalition human resources was a regrettable but potentially necessary possibility in a war situation, he continued.

"Senior military personnel have advised me that immature units are less likely to inflict physical harm on our troops even when subjected to questioning of considerably enhanced assertiveness," the Prime Minister said. "It is the Government's view that the priority of protecting our boys from harm must remain carefully balanced against the necessity of doing good to the natives."

Sunday, February 06, 2005

News 2020

When it eventually happens, remember you read it here first

Peacekeeping forces in the Middle East will be among the first to benefit from the new defunct personnel unit homeland delivery receptacles, military sources said today.

The receptacles will replace the so-called "body bags" in which insurgentally detrimented personnel have hitherto been shipped home to the traditional quiet unpublicised heroes' welcome.

According to Halliburton Plastics media liaison executive Waylon Chickenburger III, the receptacles are also 40% biodegradable, with self-assembly light cardboard coffinising fittings and self-unfurling flag of the country of the combatant's origin and/or paymaster.

"The coffinising attachment can be utilised by an act of minor manual haulage on a particular string, whereupon the various components emerge and automatically interlock into self-assembly oriented activity," Mr Chickenburger said at a special demonstration for journalists.

"The flag will disunfurlate itself once the coffinising procedure has undergone completion," Mr Chickenburger said.

Each receptacle also comes complete with an audio device which will play back recordings of the appropriate national anthem and quadrophonically-rendered rifle fire for military salutes.

Halliburton Plastics, which has been awarded sole manufacturing rights under the Compassionate Contracting statutes, says that the new receptacles are twice as odour-proof and almost ten times as photogenic as the "body bags", which cannot be shown on prime-time news broadcasts in case of consumer upset.

"Halliburton is proud to have made this humble contribution to the ever more comprehensive media coverage of our war for truth and niceness," Mr Chickenburger concluded.

News 2020

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

Media power in the free world may be getting out of hand, according to a survey of student attitudes in the United States. Almost three-quarters of those interviewed expressed some dissatisfaction with the news media, often on the grounds that it abused the freedom granted it under the Homeland Constitution by criticising government policy.

The poll, commissioned by Murdoch Disney News as part of its youth marketing strategy for this year, asked almost 20,000 young people what they thought of press and TV coverage of important current events.

Most of the students were satisfied with coverage of the Commander-in-Chief and some of his dogs, although a small number observed that the press occasionally implied that certain policies were not the most efficient way of carrying out America's will. Most of the students who mentioned this criticism said it was "probably a bad thing".

Coverage of foreign policy was criticised on the grounds of "too much bad news, and too little human interest". Students thought it would be appropriate to show more pictures of soldiers consoling newly-democratised widows, and helping natives pull down statues of evil dictators.

"Although the Preventive Infotainment Act protects Americans against much world news that might alarm or depress them, matters such as potential rises in the price of petrol or coffee are occasionally considered soundbite-appropriate," said media expert Dr Bradley Ichneumon today.

"It is clear that young people today, at least in America, feel that such items contain some degree of audience demoralisation potential," Dr Ichneumon continued. "Executives at Murdoch Disney and other info-disseminatory business outlets will be thinking very carefully about these findings."

The students interviewed came from fifty different high schools located all over the United States. Asked about their political opinions, over 97% of those interviewed described their views as "moderate".

Saturday, February 05, 2005

News 2020

All the fun of the future without the pain of living there

The Home Secretary yesterday delivered a rousing and controversial defence of multiculturalism in Britain, although it is still not clear whether the rest of the Government stands by some of his remarks.

He was responding to an attack by Robert Kilroy-Silk, leader of the British Exit Europe Party, who claimed that immigrants were costing the UK more than twenty billion pounds a year.

Mr Kilroy-Silk also claimed that part of the reason Britain lost the bid for the 2028 Olympics was "the intolerable atmosphere of political correctness which has poisoned our infrastructure and is even now engaged in wrecking our national shopping mall system."

"Britain has a long and enviable tradition of toleration," the Home Secretary responded. "We have tolerated Irish, blacks, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Muslims and all manner of other races who flock to these shores to escape the evil of terrorism elsewhere."

But Britain not only tolerated immigrants, the Home Secretary said. To gasps of incredulity he declared, "Our country, our economy, our citizens cannot do without these worthy British subjects."

"We need these subjects to drive our buses and trains, to sweep our streets, to maintain our sewers and prevent our drains from overflowing unless it rains," he said. "We need them to serve our meals, wash our dishes, stack the shelves in our shopping malls and pick our cockles. And who can deny them the right to do so, since they so clearly enjoy the simple pleasures of playing a useful role in a true multicultural democracy?"

Mr Kilroy-Silk responded that if "genuine Britons" had a chance at the jobs which were being taken by immigrants, everyone would be able to afford a car and an automatic dish-washer. "Not only that, but crime would decrease because of the lack of immigrational illegals to commit it," he said.

The Home Secretary's remarks were later given a more nuanced spin by the office of the Prime Minister. "If the last three decades have proved anything, it is that there are very few things a true Englishman cannot do without if necessity sounds her trumpet in the hour of need," the written statement said.

News 2020

A future so foul it's practically inevitable

The junior Minister of Culture, Victoria Beckham, has officially welcomed the publication of the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary on behalf of the British Government.

Although the new dictionary contains several hundred new words, including long-time popularisms like innit and fackin, this year's edition is almost 26% shorter than the previous version, thanks to the removal of words and phrases like "greenbelt" and "apostrophe", which are no longer in use.

Many of the words which remain have acquired new definitions to keep up with the changes in the language as it is spoken. The word democracy has gained a record 17 new meanings, although several of these have resulted in controversy, with traditionalists claiming that the dictionary is being taken over by "Americanisms".

"There are always a few traditionalists who prefer to stick to the original definitions," said Oxford co-editor Mal Propp. "The word democracy, for example, originally meant rule by the people. But that was in Athens two and a half millennia ago, and the world has moved on a bit since then."

In a brief speech at Oxford University, Ms Beckham used a number of her favourite one-syllable words to express her enthusiasm for the dictionary, and her appreciation for the compilers' efforts. "To those who diss our speak, we say just this: this book is well fab, right," she concluded, to solemn applause from the assembled dons.

Friday, February 04, 2005

News 2020

It isn't true yet, but it will be

The British genius for self-deprecation may finally have gone too far, according to Minister for Middle England Ellie Citon-Burchell. In a forthright address to the Blair-Brown Foundation for the Preservation of the British Sense of Humour, the Minister hinted that the Home Office may be preparing legislation to ensure that the country's heritage of fun is not hijacked by extremists.

"Increased public safety via seven separate identity card schemes; a national transport system that runs at least part of the time in almost every part of London; a health service that delivers quality healthcare while helping the national economy - all have fallen victim to a new, debased, so-called sense of humour," the Minister said.

"It has become fashionable in recent years to use this so-called humour as an excuse to sneer at some of this country's greatest achievements," Mrs Citon-Burchell said. "There are even some - not all of them even so-called humorists - who imply that the British Empire itself is somehow a thing of the past."

But Mrs Citon-Burchell reserved her most condemnatory remarks for those who "by sneering at our country's history, at our special relationship with the United States, and above all at our war to eliminate, once and for all, ultimate nastiness from the world, are guilty of nothing less than seeking to undermine the Government in time of war."

Although already somewhat restricted thanks to the laws against incitement to religious hatred; against incitement to commit acts of terrorism; against incitement to general evil; against reporting of news in a manner likely to cause alarm and despondency over breakfast; and against looking at an officer of the law in a funny way, "free speech in this country is neither an absolute to be used irresponsibly, nor a birthright to be frittered away," said Mrs Citon-Burchell.

"Free speech is a resource to be used for the general good in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the lawfully elected government," she concluded.

News 2020

All the latest, very early

The US Commander-in-Chief yesterday delivered his annual State of the Homeland speech, setting out America's agenda for itself and the world in the coming year.

The main themes of the speech, as expected, were thrift and patriotism at home and winning the war on inscrutableness abroad. Accordingly, the Commander-in-Chief focused on the administration's plans to tighten up social legislation, improve education and bring to a satisfactory conclusion America's difficult diplomatic relations with China.

The Commander-in-Chief said the country could be proud of the results of the "war on homelessness", with almost 50% of America's accommodationally disadvantaged now being cared for by the charitable wing of the prison system.

America's previous over-commitment to welfare had been considerably slenderised, the Commander-in-Chief said. The tax money of ordinary Americans was no longer being wasted on those who failed to contribute to the national economy, but instead was being used ever more efficiently to protect the country against the scourge of international godlessness, he said.

On the subject of education, the Commander-in-Chief echoed the words of the Secretary of State for Juvenile Chastity, Clelia Narrowbore: "Our children have too long been allowed to wallow in material things. They must be rescued and processed towards a responsible adulterisation."

The administration's radical new education programme would include reverence for the flag, intensive Christianity awareness and classes on how to keep sexual thoughts at bay until after marriage, according the twelve-point programme set forth in Ms Narrowbore's bestseller, Don't.

In the sphere of international relations, the Commander-in-Chief reiterated America's commitment to the war for democratification, and warned China that its rush towards industrialism "could extract a heavy price in international goodwill".

China's consumption of raw materials has been rising at what experts call "an alarming rate" for what experts call "nearly twenty years", and both US and British diplomats have expressed the worry that if the Chinese economy continues growing too fast it might one day do itself an injury.

"The benefits of industrialisation are like the benefits of love," the Commander-in-Chief said. "You can't hurry them. You just have to wait. They don't come easy, it's a game of give and take."

The speech concluded with footage of a Chinese-American woman embracing the mother of someone who knew a soldier who had been killed in the terrorist insurgency against US peacekeeping forces in Taiwan.

The speech, which the Prime Minister today called "statesmanlike" as usual, was broadcast on all channels of American television, and the first five minutes were watched by an estimated 150 million Americans. The resulting power drain and widespread blackouts meant that the remaining 173 minutes were watched by an estimated 30 million Americans.