The Curmudgeon


Monday, October 31, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Clodgery,n. Hard and unrewarding work among resistant thicknesses.
Her classroom and her flower beds alike appeared made entirely of clay, wherein no amount of clodgery would persuade the smallest shoot to flourish.
Wilhelmina Druckle

Gangster,n. A politician or businessman with inadequately developed media skills and limited access to professional plastic surgery.

Island,n. Piece of land surrounded by water on all sides, except for the side that matters.

Last Supper,n. The occasion of Christ’s final meal before his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, deification and distortion. It was at this solemn festival that Mary Magdalene emptied a bottle of expensive perfume over Christ’s feet, causing Judas to complain that its value might better have been spent on the poor. Christ rebuked him, thus establishing for all time the Christian preference for practical ritual over empty concern for the needy.

Ordinance,n.(US) Bombs. Hence the term Ordinance Survey, a map of British bombables.

Pen,n. A weapon commonly held to be mightier than the sword, although the blunt ignorance behind the sword is frequently mightier still.

Remains,n. A corpse not intact enough to be "resting", and not sufficiently departed to be "at peace".
Those mourners in bleak cavalcade
Are gathered to bury a maid
Who had the bad luck
To be squashed by a truck
And scraped from the road with a spade.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Smile,n. Facial politics.

Truth,n. The first casualty in war; hence the near-universal enthusiasm for the war against terrorism, the war against anti-social behaviour, the war against drugs, the war against poverty, etc.

Uniform,n. A mode of dress popular among paid thugs of the self-righteous variety, signifying controllability and a propensity for directable violence. As a sexual attractant, the uniform is now less often admitted to than the famous triad "gentleness, consideration, sense of humour", but is probably more reliable.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tony Gets Real on Climate Change

The Vicar of Downing Street writes in the Observer that climate change is a major threat. Gosh. It must be true, then.

This week, it appears, "is a potentially crucial week in the fight against climate change". Tony has called a meeting about it, and has written his Observer piece in order to explain to the proles what is so important about the matter and what he thinks the difficulties are with the current climate change debate.

First of all, "we know climate change is a major threat". I am not sure who "we" are meant to be in this instance. Tony's meeting will be between the G8 and China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, and the biggest member of the G8 has hardly even got around to admitting that climate change is happening, let alone doing anything about it.

But Tony is quick to absolve the major partner in the Holy Alliance of any wrongdoing in the crusade for sustainability. Not only is Kyoto "not enough" (thanks largely to US insistence on watering it down), but "We" (Tony and George W Bush?) "have to understand as well that, even if the US did sign up to Kyoto, it wouldn't affect the huge growth in energy consumption we will see in India and China." So you see. Even if George W Bush were interested in keeping treaties, there will always be others who aren't. The refusal of the world's biggest polluter to clean up its act is as nothing compared to the pollutive potentiality of countries which, even as we speak, are striving to get dirtier.

This is what Tony means by "a reluctance to face up to reality and the practical action needed to tackle problems". Economic growth among the heathen hordes "will be powered to a large degree by coal, which is both relatively cheap and readily available", after the grossly materialistic, commercially calculated fashion of those who have yet to see the light. "This," Tony observes, "could be a relentless driver of global warming." However, "by developing and sharing new technologies for coal we" (Tony and UK plc?) "can minimise its impact."

What new technologies? Well, "we" (Tony and God?) "need to create the right market conditions to increase the necessary investment to develop and install new low carbon energy generation - and to ensure it is shared with emerging economies." So the new technologies have yet to be developed, but if and when these nebulous new technologies are developed we will share them with China, having first created the right market conditions. That is certainly far-sighted of us. Enhanced sustainability, here we jolly well come.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

News 2020

Top US official indicted

The US Commander-in-Chief today paid tribute to the Assistant Vice-Undercommander, Libby "Chopper" Lewis, who has been indicted for obstruction of covert operations revenge and has resigned her post as a "gesture of innocence".

Ms Lewis is also being charged with two counts of perjury and three counts of conspiring to make the security services look stupid.

The Commander-in-Chief has accepted Ms Lewis' resignation, but heaped praise on her record as four intelligence operatives in dark glasses dragged her by the hair from the Oval Bunker.

"Chopper has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country," the Commander-in-Chief said.

As the intelligence operatives broke Ms Lewis' fingers to stop her clinging to the legs of the historically significant Nixon desk, the Commander-in-Chief reminded them that "Each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial."

White House experts said that the Commander-in-Chief's words were probably intended to remind the intelligence operatives to remove Ms Lewis from the mainland United States before applying interrogative assertivity measures.

Ms Lewis' arrest in the Oval Bunker was broadcast live across America by Hallibechtel Justice and Redemption Broadcasting Services.

Friday, October 28, 2005

News 2020

Opposition condemns plague measures

As the latest epidemic of bubonic plague rages in India, forcing British tourists to cut short their holidays, the leader of the opposition has launched a virulent attack on the Government for failing to do more to stop the disease reaching Britain.

The NuLibCon Alliance leader, Boris Johnson, today accused the Government of "a totally un-British degree of complacency and self-satisfaction" and blamed the NuLabLib Coalition's "free and easy attitude to immigration" for the possibility that the epidemic might have the "potentiality to devastate British shores".

The Government has placed a blanket ban on all imports of brown rats and their fleas until the epidemic can be contained.

Today the Minister for Health Industry Deregulation, Yersinia Profitt, announced that the Government will be purchasing two million tons of Hallibechtel FrendliHelthi's Patented Plague Panacea as a "precautionary measure".

"Two million tons will be enough to treat every man, woman, child and brown rat in the United Kingdom twenty-three times over," Ms Profitt said.

However, Mr Johnson accused the Government of interfering with market forces. "The Government's artificial creation of demand for Hallibechtel FrendliHelthi's Patented Plague Panacea is simply one more instance of its crypto-socialistic refusal to allow the market to proceed in its inflexible benevolence," he said.

Mr Johnson also condemned the Government's restrictions on brown rat display and flea mobility, saying that "if the market had intended rat fleas to be less mobile, investors would be purchasing shares in rat fleas with less powerful legs".

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Criminally Irresponsible

The civilised world, and the Israeli government, have joined in the predictable chorus of indignation over the Iranian president's call for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map". Shimon Peres said that "the remark contravened the UN's charter" and was "tantamount to a crime against humanity", much as labelling Iran a member of an "axis of evil" manifestly is not. Rhetoric, like the law and nuclear weaponry, is only dangerous when the wrong people use it.

President Ahmadinejad was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, who died in 1989. Khomeini's call to annihilate the Zionist state was taken up by Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2001. "Such calls," says the BBC, "are regular slogans" wherever the benighted Iranians congregate to discuss the United States or its Zionist lackey; and yet the Zionist state is still with us.

The United States enjoyed a cosy friendship with the Shah, whose policies of democratisation were so popular in Iran that they provoked the 1979 revolution. The United States enjoyed a cosy friendship with Saddam Hussein, whose decade-long war of aggression against Iran involved the use of chemical weapons supplied by companies from the US and western Europe. Alas, the mad Iranian mullahs and their crazed, fanatical subjects have yet to learn to appreciate the good we have done them.

"Calls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community," sermonised the European Union. No member of the European Union, least of all the current president, would dream of calling for violence or the destruction of any state. The current president of the European Union is Blair's Britain, which recently helped its master destroy the Iraqi state ("regime change"), more or less without calling for violence.

Israel, which is itself in violation of one or two United Nations resolutions, has called for Iran to be expelled from the UN, presumably so that Israel and its allies may apply the principles of the UN charter to Iran with an appropriate degree of rigour.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

News 2020

Ecclesiastic eroticism encyclical issued

The Vatican has intervened in the controversy over the sexual activities of priests with an encyclical from the Pope.

Coming after less than three decades of controversy over the controversial issue, the promptitude of the intervention indicates how seriously the Pope takes the controversial controversy.

The document, titled De Glutibus Puerorum, expresses the Pope's "deep concern" that the reputation of the Church is being "defiled by evil rumours" that some priests have engaged in sexual activities.

The encyclical calls for "a more seemly restraint" on the part of news agencies in reporting such matters, because of the pain and distress (panem et circenses) which the revelations can cause to members of the Church.

Taking as his main text Leviticus 18 xxii, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination", the Pope defends priests who have "carnal relations" with boys under the age of twelve, on the grounds that "mankind" refers to adult males.

Since males of the Jewish faith reach the age of majority at twelve, the prohibition on sex with "mankind" does not apply to boys of eleven and under, the encyclical says.

The document appeals for "Christan love and tolerance" for the "considerable difficulties and embarrassments" (ani horribili) suffered by priests whose sex lives are exposed to the public gaze.

The encyclical concludes with an uncompromising condemnation of adult homosexuality, and of consensual adult heterosexual intercourse outside Christian marriage.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Historical Britishness

Today, as everyone with any aspiration to Britishness must know, is the anniversary of both the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and the Charge of the Light Brigade (1854). Surely, no one who claims even a modicum of Britishness can be unaware of these glorious episodes in our British history, which between them encapsulate so much of what is uniquely sterling and wondrous in the British national character.

British is brave, as at Agincourt when the enemy cavalry became stuck in the mud and the British archers rained death on them from a slightly smaller distance than a Coalition of the Willing pilot democratising Falluja;

British is fair, as when the Light Brigade fiasco was blamed not on Lord Raglan who did not charge the enemy and survived, nor on Lord Lucan who did not charge the enemy and survived, nor on Lord Cardigan who did not charge the enemy and survived; but on a Captain Nolan, who did charge the enemy and was killed;

British is tolerant, like Henry V, glamorous victor of Agincourt, two of whose favourite pastimes were the burning and boiling of heretics;

British is unselfish, like Lord Cardigan, who brought his private yacht to Balaclava, where the petty priorities of various supply ships, hospital ships, etc., were duly put into perspective;

British is law-abiding, like Henry V, chivalrous victor of Agincourt, who claimed a throne to which he was not entitled and who massacred prisoners of war in defiance even of the largely undemanding moral standards of his time and class;

British is plucky and independent, as may be seen from the fact that both of these glorious adventures were undertaken without American guidance.

Monday, October 24, 2005

News 2020

PM promises radical education shake-up

The Prime Minister has promised "more choice, more causes of choice" for parents and pupils in his forthcoming education encyclical which will be issued tomorrow.

In a speech to the Faith and Education Committee for England and Scotland today, the Prime Minister promised a greater role for faith-based initiatives in supporting parental choice.

The Prime Minister's proposals were greeted with enthusiasm by the members of FaECES. "At last the Government is getting down to fundamentals," said mother of two Millicent Mogley-Proctor.

"Just as free will is the basis for true faith, so faith is the bastion of knowledge and unquestioning obedience the eternal path to gainful human resource utilisation potential," the Prime Minister said.

The controversial reforms will put parents "at the forefront of British educationality" by enabling them to opt out of the compulsory education system and arrange for the education of their children in a manner of their own choosing.

"Some parents may even choose to teach their children themselves, and we intend to opportunify the enforcement of this kind of educative parentality within the family unit," the Prime Minister said.

Parents wishing to have their children educated in the home environment will be able to claim special vouchers entitling the domestic unit to a set number of educational visits by charitable and religious representatives for moral augmentation of the benefiting juvenile resource.

Eventually, the "cumbersome present-day system" of troublesome, state-subsidised specialist "teachers" could be done away with altogether, the Prime Minister concluded.

But in other quarters, the controversial proposals have been greeted with controversy.

The leader of the NuConLib Alliance, Boris Johnson, has criticised the proposals for insufficient stress on corporal punishment, while the opposition's educative opportunification spokesperson, Candidave Davis-Davidson, has pointed out the limited opportunities afforded by the domestic environment for "the healthy cameraderie of the prefect-fag relationship."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Amethyst,n. A shade of purple appearing in, and frequently descriptive of, the prose of bad romantic novelists.

Colonialism,n. Charitable policy adopted by advanced nations exclusively for the benefit of their poorer brethren. The stages are (1) conquest in the name of liberation; (2) economic rationalisation and restructuring of native buying habits; (3) guided democracy and insurgent pacification; (4) a firm hand; (5) temporary stabilisation measures; (6) a lesson they will never forget; (7) diminishing returns; (8) phased withdrawal; (9) peace with honour; (10) if only we had stayed.

Departed,adj. Insincerely dear and politely dead.

Family,n. The sale of one's future into paid or unpaid slavery in return for the delusion of immortality through one's offspring. A bargain even Faust had the sense to avoid.

Holocaust,n. The murder of approximately six million proto-Zionists in the death-camps of the exclusionary Aryan state, and now one of the primary justifications for the crimes of the exclusionary Zionist state. About eight million lesser persons also perished, including Slavs, Roma, Communists, Socialists, democrats, conservatives, homosexuals, the physically or mentally impaired, and those Christians whose humane scruples overcame their loyalty to the established churches. However, these deaths did not constitute a holocaust and, in order to avoid the danger of glamorising an evil dictatorship, are rarely mentioned today.

Literature,n.(Obsolete) The humble precursor of the modern-day book trade.

Necrophilia,n. A preference for sleeping partners who are also silent partners.

Penis,n. Male organ of susceptibility to Freudian analysis.
The concept of Father's castration
Would fill me with morbid elation
And strange nameless fears;
Till, with gardening shears,
I cut off the source of frustration.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Scandal,n. A news agency's impersonation of moral outrage.

Xolp,n.(Onomatopoeia) An urgent request for aid, made while inadvertently swallowing large quantities of liquid.
The drowning man yelped, gulped, xolped and was gone.
Quargle Blimmer

Saturday, October 22, 2005

News 2020

White House tries to douse fires of Muslim indignation

The US Commander-in-Chief has instructed embassy staff in the Islamic world to sensitivitise their approach to the disposal of Muslim collateral damage.

The White House is said to be worried that an Islamic backlash may result from the showing of images of American troops disrespecting the corpses of terrorist suspects.

The 47 suspects were "aggressively cavity-investigated" by US troops using standard issue 7.62mm probing devices. With tragic irony, it was only after many of the suspects had died that the soldiers realised none of them was armed. The suspects were then re-classified as accidental civilian casualties.

The soldiers then cremated the bodies, a practice disapproved of by Muslims, who are not yet sufficiently democratised to appreciate the benefits of a Western open-casket grieve-in.

Speaking from the Oval Bunker, the Commander-in-Chief emphasised that "no lover of freedom would wish to try and stop an American soldier in the course of his international duties."

However, the Commander-in-Chief went on to say that Americans abroad must respect local custom "provided it does not obstruct our efforts in the war on terror, the battle for democracy, the fight for freedom, the attack for peace, the cruise missile raid for civic pride, and so forth."

Three of the US embassies in Iraq have issued statements about the cremation. While omitting the term "apology" because of cultural factors, they expressed regret over the incident and explained that "the incendiary option" had been favoured only because no bulldozers were immediately available to the troops.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Deadly Table-Leg

The Vicar of Downing Street's old school chum Peter Goldsmith, whose position on the legality of the Iraq assault was such a model of consistency, independence and integrity, has denied any political interference in the Crown Prosecution Service decision not to prosecute the killers of Harry Stanley. This is certainly reassuring.

The Independent newspaper notes that there have been thirty fatal shootings by police in the past twelve years. Many of them were undoubtedly justified in the circumstances; those who fire at policemen, wave guns in the air or take other people hostage can hardly expect the police to give them a chance to do worse. Others are a little more doubtful.

Before open season was declared on darkies with rucksacks, British police officers were allowed to discharge their weapons to defend themselves or to protect members of the public whose lives were in danger. The guidelines recommended that they "shoot to incapacitate".

Harry Stanley was incapacitated with extreme prejudice in 1999 after a telephone caller told police they had seen an Irishman with a sawn-off shotgun in a bag. The killers told an inquest last year that Stanley, a Scotsman, had turned "in a slow, deliberate, fluid motion" and pointed the plastic bag he was carrying in "a classic firing posture". Like the string of falsehoods more recently told by the police in connection with the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, this story did not stand up to scrutiny. Like de Menezes, though with a little less enthusiasm, Stanley was shot in the back of the head.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was "arguable that the officers' haste and lack of planning led them to breach their duty of care to Mr Stanley and cause his death", which sounds very much like criminal negligence; but nobody is going to be prosecuted - not for murder, not for manslaughter, not for conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice.

Although the officers were present at Stanley's death and presumably were not suffering schizoid hallucinations or the effects of mind-altering drugs, and although the forensic evidence contradicted their version of events, two specialists have concluded that the evidence did not prove the officers were lying. The specialists were in the pay of the Police Federation and Surrey Police, respectively, so their conclusions are unimpeachable. Perhaps the officers' firearms training had neglected to stress the distinction between the part of a target's head that can aim a table-leg and the part that can't.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New, Improved and Necessary

Everyone needs an IDENTITY, and with the new, improved IDENTITY CARD your IDENTITY will be kept safe for all time on as many databases as the Government can afford to keep at reasonably low risk of terrorist penetration insofar as this is not inconsistent with responsible approximation to impacting fiscal targets.

The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is a new and improved CARD for your personal IDENTITY. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD has BUILT-IN BIOMETRIC CAPACITY (BBC) to ensure that your IDENTITY is protected against all forms of fraud, terrorism and privacy invasion.

The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is an IDENTITY CARD which is new and improved. Without your new, improved IDENTITY CARD you may be unable to apply for a DRIVING LICENSE. Your DRIVING LICENSE enables you to exercise your inalienable right to PERSONAL TRANSPORTATION without undue risk of being blown up by those TERRORISTS whose fiendish machinations the new, improved IDENTITY CARD will minimalise to whatever extent is feasible within the limitations of its capabilities under the dynamics of any given situation which may happen to arise.

The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is a CARD which is new, improved and IDENTITY. Everyone needs an IDENTITY. Without your new, improved IDENTITY CARD you may be unable to apply for a PASSPORT. Your PASSPORT is a certified BRITISHNESS ENHANCER.

Everyone needs an IDENTITY. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is a new IDENTITY CARD which is an improvement on all previous identity cards. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD contains more details, reveals more facts, enables deeper readings, stimulates more sensors and is very nearly as inexpensive as its predecessor. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD enables rapid and convenient CONFIRMATION of your non-complicity in TERRORIST ACTIVITIES, and facilitates CONSUMER PROFILING by personalised retail service providers to make your shopping experience a smooth one.

Everyone needs an IDENTITY. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD protects your IDENTITY against terror, fraud, asylum seekers, the nanny state, animal rights activists, hurricane, earthquake, woodworm and people who DRESS STRANGELY.

Everyone needs an IDENTITY. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is new and improved, and incorporates numerous new improvements. The new, improved IDENTITY CARD is new and improved. Everyone needs an IDENTITY. If you need an IDENTITY, you need the new, improved IDENTITY CARD, and your IDENTITY will never have felt so new or improved before.

Everyone needs an IDENTITY. Failure to produce proper identification on demand may result in criminal charges and/or imprisonment, not necessarily in that order.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

News 2020

Iraqis defiant as trial continues

The process of justice in the Democratic Republic of Baghdad continues this week with the continuation of the trial of seventeen former dictatorship facilitation operatives.

The men, who have been on trial for twelve and a half years, are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, malicious use of British-made body belts and shackles in a manner not specified on the packaging, and having their indefatigability saluted by a political undesirable.

The men, who have been defiant throughout the trial, were defiant again today as the court attempted to restrain their defiance. Wearing suits and beards, the men defied the court repeatedly. Their voices, stances and words were described by analysts as "defiant".

If found guilty, the men could suffer capital punishment, as the US-British democratising authorities have not yet been able to persuade the natives to relinquish their customary attachment to the death penalty.

"We're running advertisements pleading for clemency every half hour throughout the trial," said Brayer Gurble of Hallibechtel Redemption Services, the felon containment company which is expected to pick up the contract for the men's prison sentence in the event of civilised influences prevailing over a guilty verdict.

The trial is being broadcast by FoxDad, the Democratic Republic's independent news channel, with a twenty-minute time delay to ensure that no displays of defiance are permitted to interfere with the pleasure and edification of the viewing public.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

The British government has given an eloquent demonstration of how seriously it takes its human rights commitments by signing a "memorandum of understanding" with mad-dog-turned-poodle-protégé Colonel Gadafy of Libya.

The Home Secretary, Cards Clarke, has deemed the presence on our pristine Belmarshed shores of a certain Libyan national as being "not conducive to the public good", and wishes to send the gentleman back where he came from. But Mr Clarke, poor Mr Clarke, is impeded by the European Convention on Human Rights, from which Britain has not yet opted out, which forbids him to exercise his powers of deportation when the country of destination is known to practise torture. Presumably, this is one of the reasons why we deport so few Americans.

The memorandum which the British ambassador has signed in Libya "obliges" the Gadafy regime to refrain from torturing, executing or otherwise aggressively incentivising the deportee. "The signing today of the UK's second MOU, this time with Libya, demonstrates that we are making progress in concluding agreements that will allow us to safely deport foreign nationals," stated Mr Clarke, cannily omitting to say whose safety was uppermost in mind.

Mr Clarke went on to believe that "these, and the other ongoing negotiations [with eight other North African and Middle Eastern states, some of them no doubt nearly as law-abiding as Libya], are an example of the effective international cooperation that we need in order to confront and defeat the type of terrorism we now face", as in London on 7 July, when a tube train was blown up by non-Libyan nationals.

Still, the Blair government's commitment to the human rights of non-Britons and other suspected terrorists is, of course, a matter of extensive public record. Once the Libyan gentleman has received his official welcome back home, the British embassy will, of course, follow his subsequent fate with the deepest interest. Any transgressions by Colonel Gadafy's enforcers will, of course, be instantly reported to the British Foreign Office, which will then take stern measures to ensure that Libya lives up to its obligations.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Straw Socks it to the Mullahs One More Time

With the Vicar of Downing Street and his master's voice cosily cloistered at Chequers, it has fallen to Tony Blair's second-best suit to give Iran a fresh warning over its suspected support for Iraqi insurgents.

Jack Straw informed BBC Radio that evidence had been presented to Iran which, in the judgement of the British government, "clearly links the improvised explosive devices which have been used against British and other troops, mainly in the south of Iraq, to Hizbullah and to Iran". The Vicar of Downing Street said last week that there was evidence linking explosive devices which have been used against British and other troops to Iran. Before that, a senior flunkey who refused to be named said that bombs which killed British soldiers had been supplied by Hizbullah via Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The evidence mentioned by Straw certainly seems to be mounting up.

His master's voice said that "Washington had also warned Iran and backed Britain's position". It is certainly reassuring to know that the evidence is good enough for Washington. "I have every reason to believe that the British are right about this. I trust the British on this issue," Dr Rice said charitably. "The British are operating in the south, they know the situation there," she continued. This seems a healthy sign for the Special Relationship; I seem to recall that some weapons inspectors, operating in Iraq a couple of years ago, were not trusted nearly so much.

Iran, of course, has denied the charges. Allegations backed up by evidence, however ethereal, are necessarily charges. "There is not any kind of direct or indirect connection with Iran," said the Iranian ambassador in London, Seyd Mohammed Adeli. A likely story.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials have blamed Britain for two explosions in a shopping centre near the Iran-Iraq border. Four people were killed and eighty injured, though fortunately none of them was British. In the honourable journalistic tradition of not pressing anonymous officials for evidence, the anonymous Iranian officials do not appear to have been pressed for evidence. Charges without evidence are simply allegations. The British embassy in Tehran has rejected the allegations.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lions, Lizards and Gospel

C S Lewis was a brilliant writer; no author capable of starting a book (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", I think) with the words, "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it" should be entirely dismissed by the discerning reader. But he was also a bigoted, inflexible and, as Philip Pullman has pointed out, unforgiving Christian; and this stance permeates the Narnia books. As a child I was intent on the details and the stories, and noticed the propaganda barely if at all; though I do remember looking slightly askance at the characterisation of Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who is fond of mechanical things and also "beetles, if they were dead and pinned to a card"; and whose parents are "nonsmokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes". I myself was fond of aeroplanes at the time, and saw no particular virtue in smoking and drinking; and I was vaguely conscious that Lewis was holding these little prejudices against me.

At the beginning of The Silver Chair something else gave me pause. The heroine, Jill Pole, is being bullied at school; yet worse, she attends what is called a "mixed" (i.e. a comprehensive) school, something the narration denounces as perhaps "not nearly so mixed as the minds of those who believed in them". Bullies are not punished at "mixed" schools; they are considered "interesting psychological cases" and, so long as they know "the right things to say to the Head", they end up rather admired than otherwise. It is a sad spectacle when a writer of Lewis' obvious abilities turns out satire that is too clumsy for a ten-year-old; but it was, after all, only a story.

The most controversial aspect of the Narnia books, and the films to be derived from them, should be the treatment of the Calormenes. The natives of Calormen are dark-skinned and worship a god called Tash, who in the last book turns out to be an evil demon. Since Tash is a three-headed lizard, or something of the kind, Pullman's contention that Lewis is portraying "a religion that looks a lot like Islam" may not entirely convince; what is certain is that the Calormenes look and behave a lot like Middle Easterners. In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", after the young Narnian king Caspian has ended the slave trade in the Lone Islands (and substituted an aristocratic ruler for the bureaucratic governor), the Calormene merchants praise him highly and "paid him long compliments; but of course all they really wanted was their money back." Clearly Lewis wants nothing to do with alien, verbose ideas of politeness. In another book, we find that when Calormenes mention their king, the Tisroc, it is the done thing to add "may he live for ever"; naturally, a straight-talking Narnian exile, who owes unquestioning obedience to a slain and resurrected talking lion, queries this ludicrous custom.

In the final book, The Last Battle, Narnia is bloodily invaded by the Calormenes, and the heroes must disguise themselves; only washing with a particular formula, says the king, "will make us white Narnians again" (my emphasis). A young Calormene soldier is eventually admitted to eternal life along with the heroes, presumably by the usual Christian expedient of renouncing his entire culture and previous life; but it is quite clear which of the two races is superior in virtue, independence, thought, courage, faith, etc., etc.

Pullman objects to the books' lack "of love, of Christian charity"; but I think this misses the point. Like his contemporary and fellow Christian Tolkien, Lewis divides his fantasy world into Good and Evil. The Good, as Ambrose Bierce said in a different context, are the heroes and their friends, and can do no wrong. The Evil are their enemies, and can do little else. Love and Christian charity are for the Good to share among themselves; on the Evil, or the sceptical, they are simply wasted. Near the end of The Last Battle a miraculous banquet is set before the heroes; but a band of dwarfs, who lack theological insight, are unable to see more than a few old turnips.

A major theme of The Last Battle is an attack on any idea that there might be common ground between religions. A crafty ape drapes a lion-skin over his honest but simple-minded donkey friend and goes about proclaiming that Aslan, the lion-saviour, has come again; it is this swindler who later proclaims that Aslan and Tash are one and the same. Of course, the assertion is ridiculous. A lion may lie down with a lamb, but surely never with a lizard.

Now Disney executives, smitten with the wonder of spiritual things, are "eagerly anticipating repeating the success last year of Mel Gibson's Jesus biopic (sic) The Passion of The Christ" and hoping to heal a rift with Evangelical America which has emerged over such matters as gay-themed days at Disneyland. "Christian marketing groups", an intriguing alliance between the Temple and the money-changers, have been charged with selling the first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Eminent theologians at the National Association of Evangelicals and the Billy Graham Centre have praised The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as an effective tool for God or his earthly minions to communicate the Gospel message. If the Observer has quoted him correctly, Pullman believes that children will be "corrupted"; but I doubt it. The Lord of the Rings, which is fundamentally just as simple-minded and reactionary as anything Lewis wrote, does not seem to have caused a massive upsurge in piety. Much of Lewis' satire is too crude or too irrelevant to be more than a slightly distasteful distraction from the plot; if Disney's screenwriters know what is good for them, they will leave it out. If they don't leave it out, their box office will probably suffer. Whether they can handle The Last Battle without either emasculating it or alienating half the audience will be an intriguing question to ponder for the next six years or so; but I suspect that, whatever the shape or form in which the Lewis gospel comes to the screen, where the soil is not fore-poisoned the seed will quietly choke.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Revival Preaching

The Vicar of Downing Street has emailed me another sermon, aimed largely at publicising a longer sermon to which he subjected some of his remaining activists earlier today. "Our opponents are forced to try to imitate us," he gloats. "Across a whole range of issues, politics is defined on our terms, on our issues, governed by our values."

Of course, one should never underestimate what a competent team of spin doctors, backed up by a D notice or so and a little blackmail, can achieve in the matter of defining terms. This Tony defines as "having the courage to change" and "taking and keeping the centre-ground". However, "continued success rests on having the courage to keep changing". This is certainly true. If Tony had been less willing to keep changing his excuses over the assault on Iraq, he might not have succeeded in getting our troops to go; which in turn might have meant the loss to the world of his Churchillian speechifying on 7 July, to the incalculable detriment of British culture.

So, having taken and kept the centre ground, we (that is, Tony and his chums) must now abandon the centre ground. "In policies and in our public services, we have to get away from taking power to the centre and trust people and communities to take control of their own lives," under maximum surveillance, of course. Nevertheless, those who are scrambling to ape New Labour's policies, when they arrive on the centre ground "will find us already there, with the ground staked out". It is certainly reassuring that Tony defines "government" as "being unable to engage in ... fudge, ambiguity, lazy thinking".

Whether we (Tony and his chums, that is) remain on the centre ground, or stake it out before abandoning it for the Tories to find us there, the one thing we absolutely must not do is move left. A left-wing government would lead, always has led, "to a Right wing Conservative government." That would be disastrous, of course. If there's one thing this country does not need, it is another government of pious, privatising, patriotic Atlanticist warmongers.

Now that politics is defined on our terms, on our issues, and governed by our values, "we need a new politics to revive our democracy," Tony preaches in his email. "We have to look afresh at our party to ensure our structures draw people in, not put them off." In the speech, Tony practices what he preaches: "thank you for the advice, but we want [the] centre ground shaped by progressive politics" as defined by ourselves.

We (Tony, that is, and his chums) need a politics that is "open, inviting and rooted and engaged in local communities"; which, as you would expect, means taking "tough decisions that offend people" and "aiming for respect rather than affection". Most people are well aware of Tony's decisions to be tough on public services, tough on the unemployed, tough on the sick and tough on Muslims; and, of course, his aspiration to the respect and affection of George W Bush is too well-known to need more than a passing mention. Given this unrelenting success story, one wonders why our democracy should need reviving at all. We (that is, Tony and his chums) might do better simply by withdrawing its feeding tube and turning off its ventilator.

As though in preparation for this act of terminal mercy, Tony informed his remaining activists of the role of debate and compromise in government, and his Christian conviction that material wealth is not the only thing that matters. Government, he evangelised, "means decisions weighed not in argument and counter-argument, but in pounds, shillings and pence in people's pockets."

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Squeak from the Bilge

One of the first and biggest rats to scrabble aboard the good ship Blair at its triumphant launch seems to be taking a few practice leaps in preparation for the going-under. Baroness Thatcher, Blair's spiritual godmother in everything from privatisation mania to White House sycophancy, has taken it upon herself to criticise the Prime Minister's decision to follow George W Bush into Iraq.

As Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher did her best to return the country to the Victorian age; and at eighty the Baroness retains her customary degree of up-to-dateness: "The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof," she observed, a mere two years after the rest of us noticed. Asked whether she would have invaded Iraq given the intelligence at the time, she told the Washington Post: "I was a scientist before I was a politician. And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof - and then you check, recheck and check again."

Doubtless this healthy habit of mind underlay all her most amusing decisions; especially the one about the General Belgrano being inside the exclusion zone, and the other one about the poll tax being a jolly good idea. I am sure scientific rigour lay at the very basis of her attitude to Europe. She knew the Germans had started two world wars; she knew the French were shifty, garlic-scoffing weaklings; she checked, rechecked and checked again, and by Jingo! all of it was true.

As might be expected, despite her reservations over Blair's decision, the Baroness continues to believe that the military ousting of Saddam Hussein was a Good Thing. According to her aides, she wished that the removal of her government's favoured ally and trading partner "had been achieved by the first Gulf War ... which took place shortly after she was forced to resign". Had fate and the White House permitted, no doubt that is when she would have achieved it herself.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Straw Stands Firm

One of George Bush's lesser spokesmen today presented the world with his idea of how long it will take before British troops can be permitted to stop dying for the Texas draft-dodger. It would, he hoped, be "a matter of a very limited number of years".

Straw compared the situation in Iraq to that "after the war in Europe", which started when a powerful country invaded a weak one over a fictitious grievance; and to the joyous labour of "building up stable nations from the collapse of the Soviet Union", where the analogy escapes me. He also instructed his audience to "look at Afghanistan" which, as everyone knows, is now a byword for stability, democracy and hope for the future. His audience included the parents of several expended British military assets, who were doubtless deeply impressed.

Straw was speaking on Newsnight, the flagship news programme of the broadcasting corporation which is even now renegotiating its license fee with the British government. Coincidentally, a representative of an Iraqi political party was present to warn the Foreign Secretary of the dangers of letting the natives tell their masters what to do: "If you put it in the hands of the government, they will ask you to stay there for 20 years, because they want you to fight other sections of Iraqi society," he told Mr Straw. Subtle folk, the Arabs.

However, with his usual fine comic touch, Straw reassured us that troops would continue to be blown up for George "until local authorities were ready to take over responsibility for security" and "assuming the United Nations mandate for the deployment is renewed". Don't blame poor Jacky for your soldier-boy's demise - it's all the responsibility of the UN and the Iraqis. It's hardly our fault if, as one British expendable said, Iraqis' "primary loyalties were to their tribe and religious leaders" rather than to the state set up by glorious liberators who, so far, have killed over a hundred thousand of them and starved half a million of their children to death. Besides, surely no one would want Bush and Blair to abandon their moral responsibilities without proper authorisation under international law.

Small chance of that. The government's position is that British troops will remain in Iraq "as long as necessary", and will not be pulled out while the instability caused by their presence continues.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Law and the Prophets

The threatened religious hatred law has prompted some of God's noisier children to go bleating to Caesar. The evangelical kindergarten Christian Voice, which earlier this year tried to protect Britain's collective soul from the ravages of Jerry Springer: The Opera, objects to the proposed law on the sensible if non-cheek-turning grounds that it may prevent them excoriating their enemies in appropriately unforgiving terms: "It is not just Islam which is the problem. If a preacher is explaining the horrors of Hinduism ... a charge of stirring up religious hatred would be almost inevitable."

The freedom to explain the horrors of Hinduism or the Problem of Islam is, according to Christian Voice, "our freedom to preach the gospel". Perhaps someone better acquainted with the gospel than I am will be good enough to point out where the horrors of Hinduism or Islam are mentioned.

In a sublime access of moral fervour, Christian Voice has said that it will use the religious hatred law to prosecute bookshops selling the Koran. Thus shall the evil law which was intended to censor the gospels' home truths about Hinduism be used for the glory of God and the routing of the Mussulman hordes. "If the Qur'an is not hate speech, I don't know what is," fulminates the director of Christian Voice, Stephen Green. "Nowhere in the Bible does it say that unbelievers must be killed."

Like too many of God's children, the Reverend Green does not appear to have paid very close attention to his Father's speeches. The notorious commandment at Exodus 22 xviii is merely a single example, unless God and the Reverend Green intend us to believe that all witches are Christians. Another charming example may be found at Exodus 31 xiv-xv, where God explicitly states that anyone who works on the Sabbath "shall be cut off from among his people" and hence, presumably, no longer fit to be called a true believer.

There also seems a touch of paradox in mounting "a 1,000-strong demonstration" against a law, while simultaneously threatening to hit others over the head with the same law; but no doubt, as always, the gospels have made appropriate dispensations in advance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Confidence,n. Invested foolhardiness.

Dear,adj. Not cheap, hence beloved.

Educate,v.t. To provide a child with enough social skills to get through a job interview and a sufficient degree of literacy to apply for a credit card.

Face,n. A mask of meat and dust through which the larynx lies and behind which the skeleton grins.

Gimmick,n. A sign in the window of a business establishment, promising no gimmicks.

Intestines, Organs of digestion and moral fortitude, useful alike in war and peace.
A soldier exclaimed, "War is Hell!
And when I get back I shall tell
Those at home to make haste
And protest at this waste."
Then his guts were blown out by a shell.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Marketing,n. The honourable trade and profession of co-respondent in the amicable divorce between a fool and his money.

Orchestrate,v.t. To organise a group of people into harmonic co-operation, frequently by stringing them along in the service of a base fiddle.

Rhombulent,adj. In the act of turning into a parallelogram.
The square deal the Government promised is looking distinctly rhombulent.

Tribalism,n. The patriotism of the uncivilised, consisting in a fanatical and unreasoning attachment to the people of one’s own extended family or clan, rather than that deep and abiding reverence for the noble traditions evolved and fossilised several centuries before one’s own birth which is the mark of a genuinely elevated culture.

Monday, October 10, 2005

News 2020

Tough on cigarette smoke, tough on the causes of cigarette smoke

The Prime Minister opened a new front in the war against poisonousness today by announcing tough new measures to combat smoking in non-public places.

Speaking at a Christian Cleanliness conference in Uttoxeter, the Prime Minister said that next year's legislative package would be "the very definition of radical proactive antipollutivity".

The Home Secretary has already run into parliamentary opposition because of the controversial Lungwatch programme, whereby the extent of nonsmokerhood would have been compulsorily displayed on every stakeholder's ID card by the time of the next national voting season.

However, the Prime Minister said today that the Government would continue, "all gears full forward for God".

The new measures will include "radical deregulation of the national smoke detector assets", the Prime Minister explained. All the smoke detectors in Britain will be electronically connected to one or more of the Diebechtel Information Central Complexes in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Calcutta, where voter records, benefit records, criminal records, personal identity records and consumer purchase records are all confidentially stored.

A sophisticated and thoroughly confidential process of cross-referencing will ensure that any anti-nonsmoker who lights a cigarette, even if only in a petty attempt to pollute his or her own home, will be instantly detected, identified and placed on the Home Secretary's proposed Human Pollutants Index.

The revenues extracted from the fines imposed on pollutive elements will be used to finance tax breaks for families whose earning commitments necessitate ownership of more than one car, the Prime Minister said.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A History of Violence

David Cronenberg 2005

The opening titles of A History of Violence appear over two men leaving a motel. They stow their bags and complain about the heat. The older one goes back inside for something. When he comes out his companion says "What took you so long?" and he says he had some trouble with the maid. As they're about to set off, they discover they are low on drinking water. With a sigh, the younger man goes into the motel to fetch some from the cooler, and the camera follows him. The motel contains two dead bodies and a great deal of blood. As the young man fills the water bottle, a witness interrupts him.

On the revolver shot that follows, Cronenberg cuts to a little girl sitting up in bed, screaming from a nightmare about monsters in the wardrobe. Her father, mother and elder brother all come in by turns to assure her that there are no such things as monsters, and even if there are you can scare them away by keeping the night-light on. Cronenberg, who spent his early career subverting clichés about horror-film monsters, in this film brings the same unsettling touch to the clichés of the small-town mystery, the repentant-killer thriller, the father-and-son melodrama, and the gangster film.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Edie (Maria Bello) live with their two children in an idyllic Indiana small town. Everybody knows everybody; people greet each other by first name on the street and depart with "See you in church". Tom and Edie hang their coats on hooks with a carved T and E above them. There is no malicious gossip, no religious or racial bigotry, no casual day-by-day meanness; at least, none is visible. Perhaps it's just because this is a Cronenberg film, but Stall's surroundings seem a bit too good to be true; a dream of a small town rather than a real one. A violent young man's dream of peace, possibly.

At one point, after a touching recreation of the teenage sex life they never had a chance to share, Edie tells Tom "You're still the best man I've ever known." This judgement seems eminently correct when the two violent unpleasantnesses from the prologue turn up in Tom's diner. Seeing that they are about to rape and murder his staff, Tom clouts one with a boiling coffee-pot, gets his gun away from him, and shoots them both dead, despite being stabbed through the foot in the process. Much against his will, he becomes a local hero, and his face goes all over the television news.

His example also causes some small trouble at home: his gentle son Jack (Ashton Holmes) has been having trouble with a bully. He has managed to avoid disaster so far by turning the harassment into a joke, but when cornered in a corridor Jack lashes out and puts the bully in the hospital. The subsequent argument between Jack and Tom gives us another creatively warped cliché: when Jack protests that violence is, after all, the only language some people understand, Tom lectures him: "Listen, smart mouth. In this family we don't settle things by hitting people." Jack retorts "no, in this family we shoot people", whereupon Tom settles the issue by hitting him.

Trouble continues with the appearance of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two thugs. Fogarty is a Philadelphia gangster with a dead eye amid a mass of scar tissue in about the same place where Tom scalded the man with the coffee-pot. Fogarty claims that Tom is Joey Cusack from Philly, causing the sheriff to ask Tom if he's on some sort of witness protection scheme. Tom denies knowing anything about Fogarty or Cusack, but Fogarty persists, showing up at the mall where Edie has taken their daughter and telling her to ask her husband where he learned to kill people so effectively. The final shootout with Fogarty and his goons brings violence right to the heart of Tom's family.

The period between this episode and Tom's confrontation with middle-rank gang boss Richie (William Hurt) is the part of the film that bears the Cronenberg signature in its most distinctive form. Tom is twice asked for the truth about himself - once by his wife and once by the sheriff - and on both occasions he says "Truth?" as if genuinely puzzled by the word. He tells Edie that he killed Joey Cusack - "I spent three years becoming Tom Stall" - calling into question not only his own identity, but those of his wife and children as well. "What about our name? What's Stall?" she asks him. "It was available," he says. Although Edie later tells the sheriff that Tom "is who he says he is, and that's all that matters," she is clearly far less sure that he is the best man she's ever met. When Tom thanks her, she erupts in renewed fury and resentment - "Fuck you, Joey" - leading to a sex scene which is the polar opposite of the playful fantasy of a nonexistent past early in the film. It seems that the present was the fantasy, and the past - real and ugly - is all too genuinely a part of it.

Cronenberg has always taken a refreshingly agnostic view of such generally unappreciated protagonists as madness, disease and malfunction, and his attitude to violence is similarly free of moralising. Violence is ugly, horrible and harmful, and it solves problems. Tom is never portrayed as a liar, a hypocrite, or a man playing a part; both Stall and Joey Cusack are perfectly real. Nor does Cronenberg sidestep the problem by making A History of Violence a Jekyll and Hyde rerun and giving one of them victory over the other, as virtually any other film-maker would feel bound to do.

Those of Cronenberg's films which do not end with the death of the protagonist usually end with a question mark - fanatics Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh staring at each other in eXistenZ with "Wha'?" plastered hilariously across their faces; or, on a very different level, Peter Weller in Naked Lunch, trying to cope with the discovery that his writer's creativity is inescapably linked to the violent death of his wife. The ending of A History of Violence, after a gangland confrontation even more stylised and fantastic than the down-home idyll at the beginning (a middle-aged diner owner's fantasy of violence, possibly), is one of Cronenberg's greatest uncertainties. There are monsters, and the light does not frighten them; your husband, your father, is not what you thought he was. You are not what you believed yourself to be.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I Come Not to Bring Peace

According to a report which the BBC may yet disown in yet another access of post-Hutton contrition, George W Bush informed the Palestinian foreign minister in 2003 that he was "driven with a mission from God." The syntax certainly seems authentic. Apparently God also gave Bush personal instructions about the war on terror: "God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

Bush also claimed that he felt God's words coming to him on the subject of his little brown brothers in the Middle East: "'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it." The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, claimed that Bush said, "I have a moral and religious obligation. I must get you a Palestinian state. And I will."

This is all most encouraging, of course. I was shocked, therefore, to read today that the presidential articulacy surrogate, Scott McClellan, has denied the veracitosity of these remarks. George W Bush "never made such comments". George W Bush did not claim God's authority for the war on Afghanistan or the war on Iraq; he has not been divinely inspired to get the Palestinians their state or the Israelis their security; and he does not admit to recognising a moral or religious obligation to get Mahmoud Abbas a Palestinian state.

I find this all rather odd. How can it be that a born-again Christian, who famously prayed with his poodle in 2002, is taking decisions of global importance without the guidance of his omnipresent sky-daddy? How dare Scott McClellan, who was not present at the meeting in question, presume to cast doubt on Bush's relations with the Deity? Does McClellan think Bush smites multitudes for fun?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Voices of Reason

The well-known paragon of moderation and restraint, George W Bush, has had a sudden attack of veracity. Iraq, he said, is the main front in a global battle with extremists. Starting with Iraq, the extremists are seeking to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world". Of course we all knew that, which is why we hope the insurgency will win; but it is encouraging to see Bush admitting the fact at last.

Not being an extremist himself, Bush has only one prescription for the fight against the militants: "we never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory". The militants, he said, had an ideology comparable to communism. After all, communism is atheistic, secular and originated in Europe, while Islam is monotheistic, mystical and originated in Arabia. You can see why they would both oppose America and all it stands for. They're practically indistinguishable.

Bush, like his doggie, has been blessed with an uncanny insight into the way the militants think: "The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia." It's a pity he wasn't more specific about which governments in the region are so moderate that they're in danger from their own people.

Meanwhile, the Vicar of Downing Street has echoed his own anonymous flunkey by stating categorically that certain explosions in Iraq are suspected to have been caused by material provided by Iranian "elements" who may or may not have had the support of their government. Eight British soldiers (and, no doubt, sundry lesser persons) have been killed since May in roadside bombings, which may or may not have had anything to do with Iran. Nevertheless, Blair warned that Britain would not be intimidated into giving up America's demand that Tehran abandon its nuclear programme, which may or may not be intended to create an independent nuclear deterrent in as little as a few years' time.

Blair informed the Iranians that British troops were helping in the development of a "sovereign, democratic government", and asked, presumably not unrhetorically: "What's it going to be like if you have a free Iraq ... run by the rule of law, with a free press ... run by the will of the people?" Of course, that will depend on who makes the laws that rule, and who is decreed by the White House to embody the people's will. Until 1990, I seem to recall, the nominee was Saddam Hussein: a precedent which might give the Iranians some (spurious) cause for concern.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Accurate, Reliable and Trustworthy

"It seems to me vital that the news is accurate, reliable and trustworthy and that people don't feel they are being spun a line."
Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Iran was today accused by the British nation, whatever that may be, of supplying Iraqi insurgents with equipment to kill British soldiers in the south of the country.

A senior government official, whose name is clearly of no importance, said that there was evidence that the Iranians were in contact with insurgent groups fighting the occupiers in Iraq.

"We think it has come from Lebanese Hizbollah via Iran," he said, offering no evidence worth publishing. He added that the action could be an attempt to warn Britain, which is in breach of the UN charter and which has shown no interest whatever in its nuclear disarmament obligations, to stop its demands that Tehran should abandon its controversial nuclear programme.

Tehran's nuclear programme is controversial because Britain disapproves of it. Britain disapproves because the White House disapproves.

The unnamed official continued, "It would be entirely natural that they would want to send a message 'Don't mess with us'. It would not be outside the policy parameters of Tehran." This clearly settles the matter,

The anonymous official claimed that the explosives had come from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. He refused to be drawn on whether the Revolutionary Guard were operating on orders from the Iranian government or were playing at being Oliver Norths. Reporters refused to be drawn on whether they attempted to draw the official on the matter of evidence for his assertions.

The highly reliable official said it now appeared that "elements in Tehran" were in contact with Sunni Muslim insurgent groups in Iraq. This is a big surprise, since Iran is Shia and, as everyone knows, because occupation officials have told us, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims enjoy blowing each other up - the very thing we occupied Iraq to prevent.

The non-specific official said there was some evidence, which he did not specify, that the Iranians are in contact with Sunni groups. The official said he did not think it was for a benign purpose. Reporters refused to be drawn on whether they asked, "Benign for whom?" or whether the evidence was any more reliable than the evidence of weapons of mass destruction, uranium yellowcake, forty-five-minute warnings, etc.

The eminently newsworthy official warned that there was likely to be an upsurge in violence, presumably above and beyond the civic beautification projects which constitute American tactics in the country, "in the run up to the referendum on the new Iraqi constitution on October 15 and also in the lead up to elections in December". This was the official's way of saying that people will continue to be slaughtered until at least the end of the year.

"That is what the security forces are preparing for. There are a lot of people who don't want this process to succeed," he said.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tory Differences

The Conservative party conference has one cardinal advantage over the Labour party conference: I have never been ignored in a Big Conversation with William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard or any of the present gathering of thugs, cranks and con men, so none of them have sent me any emails. It is most refreshing when politicians are so busy squabbling with each other that they have no time to bother with the electorate, and I believe this is a trend to be encouraged.

Occupied as I am with such matters as earning a living, watching DVDs and occasionally cutting my fingernails, I have not followed the conference in any great detail; but I have gathered one or two indications as to the state of Her Majesty's Opposition, which I present herewith for the delectation of the curious.

After three successive defeats - the last at the grubby hands of a New Labour party which gained the votes of a whopping thirty-seven per cent of the electorate - the Conservatives are all agreed that they would like to win an election, preferably the next one. They are all agreed that in order to do this, they will have to change from a party that loses elections to a party that wins them. They are not agreed on what changes will have to take place in order to accomplish this, but some of them seem to think it's about time to get on with it.

They are agreed that the British public must be made to understand what the Conservative party stands for, and why it is better fitted for government than Labour. They are agreed that the Conservative party will be better fitted for government when the Conservative party knows what the Conservative party stands for. To this end, they are going to elect a new leader. Some of the candidates are even distinguishable from one another, if not from New Labour:

Kenneth Clarke, an elderly man in a hurry. In favour of war, privatisation and, presumably, greater civil liberties for tobacco companies.

David Cameron, a fresh-faced young thing who yesterday invited his party colleagues on "a wonderful journey". Since many of his party colleagues are in their second or third childhood, this Disney touch may just turn the trick for him. Polly Toynbee, whose taste in these matters is no doubt impeccable, finds him genuinely likeable.

Malcolm Rifkind, formerly a nonentity in the Thatcher government, who did not vote in favour of the war in Iraq because he lost his seat in Parliament the election before. In favour of privatisation and, probably, future wars of a more opportune character than the present one.

David Davis, not fresh faced or young and hence not to be confused with David Cameron. In favour of war, privatisation, Britishness and hanging, which may just turn the trick for him.

Liam Fox, in favour of war, privatisation and muscular Christianity for men.

Well, gosh. I wonder who they'll choose.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Bask,v.i. To relax smugly, as in an atmosphere of acute envy.

Covetous,adj. Unduly disapproving of the wealth of a televangelist.

Gongle,n. Someone who peers benignly from a great and lanky height.
I think of God as someone very tall and ascetic, a little absent-minded for all his omnipotence; in short, a kind of eternal gongle, though probably without spectacles.
Scumblie Blopwit

History,n. Victorious propaganda. The source of those lessons which must be learned in the present so that the mistakes of the past may be properly repeated in the future.

Market,n. The hope and basis of civilisation, the regulator of human intercourse, the guarantor of progress and the arbiter of success. The determinant of truth, the wellspring of happiness, the dispenser of justice and the healer of ills. The market empowers, enlightens, enthuses and embraces. It confers choice and enhances freedom. The poor, the weak, the sick, the vulnerable – it can cure society of them all. Verily, the market maketh woodworm shrivel in their holes, stoppeth premature hair loss and draggeth your inner beauty screaming to the surface. There is no trouble the market cannot soothe, no problem it cannot rectify, no evil it cannot overcome. Available at bargain rates from all reputable outlets.

Name,n. The first of many disadvantages with which parents can endow their offspring.

Obscene,adj. Tending to deprave or corrupt anyone not appointed as an official censor.

Printer,n. One of the four main reasons for the non-publication of any given literary work. The other three are the editor, the publisher and the writer.

Serve,v.t.(Politics) To rule.

Violent,adj. Inclined to commit acts of torture, rape, murder and property damage, rather than hiring them done like a civilised human being.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Small Business Mentoring

The catchily named Associate Parliamentary Skills Group and National Skills Forum, an "influential cross-party group of MPs", continues the present trend for contraction and convergence in the political sphere by agreeing various measures for the profit of UK plc: "increased funds for adult training, a greater focus on apprenticeships and training tax breaks for small businesses".

The businesses can be very small indeed, it seems: Barry Sheerman, a Labour member of the Associate Parliamentary Skills Group and National Skills Forum, is shocked at the dilatory dreaminess of Britain's five-year-olds. "For too many children, a future as a fairy princess or pop star is the only dream they have, and it doesn't occur to them to aspire to go to university, be a doctor or a scientist," he said. Or a chimney sweep, perhaps.

The Chair of the National Primary School Head Teachers' Association gave the idea of providing careers advice for five-year-olds a "cautious welcome". He did say it would be wrong "to give young children precise advice on their future careers", though it is unclear whether he meant more precise or less precise than going to university or being a doctor or a scientist. There is, however, "no reason why we could not give them an awareness of the reality of the way the world works."

Well, that would be a good thing, certainly. No one wants children with no awareness of the reality of the way the world works. Such children would presumably be immune to the wonders of family values, to the advantages of the free market and perhaps even to the Social Darwinist lessons of life in the playground. Such children would presumably be classed as autistic, and hence not a particularly good investment for anyone. We certainly cannot permit British children to grow up in a state of sensory deprivation, as undoubtedly they must unless the reality of how the world works is drummed into them by a careers mentor.

A five-year-old with no idea of how to pass a job interview? A primary school pupil without an appropriately realistic sense of upcoming job-market opportunifications? An infant unable to compute the level of basic salary necessary to pay back the student loan for which said infant will have to apply in barely more than a decade? When New Labour gets around to reintroducing the great Victorian idea of juvenile career opportunities for the income-challenged, parents and wee ones alike will thank their lucky stars for the foresight of the Associate Parliamentary Skills Group and National Skills Forum.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Virtue Speaks

The Republican moral crusader, former drug czar and gifted comedy entertainer William Bennett has proposed an interesting way to be tough on the causes of crime.

In his time, Bennett has gladdened the book market with a series of moral tracts, including such titles as The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals and Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He has also sought to elevate the moral character of America's little people with The Children's Book of Virtues; The Children's Treasury of Virtues; and The Book of Virtues for Young People. He has also edited an enticing 832-page compilation, titled for variety's sake The Book of Virtues, in which he utilises a variety of sources - biblical, literary, traditional and political - to illustrate the virtues he considers it desirable to be seen as supporting. "Most selections," comments Library Journal, "are introduced by a short thematic note, e.g. 'an honest heart will always find friends'." Booklist, meanwhile, noted that the collection is "perfect bedtime, anytime family reading" with some pieces "so brief they can be read at the dinner table", presumably before getting down to the more important business of consumption. As might be expected, Bennett served under Reagan as secretary of education.

Bennett's selection of virtues - self-discipline, compassion, work, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, faith - is predictable enough; and given his eight-hundred-thousand-a-year gambling habit, the absence of thrift from the list is an encouraging sign of consistency. He defended his remarks about pre-emptive pickaninny termination by appealing to honesty: "we can't say this is an area of American life [and] public policy that we're not allowed to talk about - race and crime." Compassion also got a look-in: "I'm sorry if people are hurt, I really am."

"If you wanted to reduce crime," Bennett said on his daily radio show, "you could, if that were your sole purpose; you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." As a man of (presumably anti-abortionist) faith, Bennett went on to say that aborting black babies to reduce crime would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do", in which case one wonders why a man of his self-discipline, responsibility and honesty suggested it in the first place.

As a matter of fact, shorn of its racial aspect, Bennett's proposal makes perfect sense. The more abortions, the fewer births; the fewer births, the fewer people; the fewer people, the fewer criminals. And, incidentally, the fewer drivers, the less pollution, the less crowding, the more homes, the more employment. It is on such sensible grounds as these that a rational society would foster homosexuality, place compulsory limits on the size of families, and offer financial incentives for remaining childless; but I doubt that Bennett has thought the matter through to this extent.

Nor will he. The White House press secretary has said that George W Bush "believes the comments were not appropriate", presumably because Bush prefers to let God drown his blacks rather than risk the divine wrath by aborting them. Friendship and loyalty will doubtless do the rest, and Bennett's lapse into near-sanity will prove a mere momentary aberration.