The Curmudgeon

YOU'LL COME FOR THE CURSES. YOU'LL STAY FOR THE MUDGEONRY.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

In Memoriam

The law of England has many uses. It can be a sop to the tabloids, a catch-all arrest warrant, or a license for the Government to circumvent those inconvenient statutes whose repeal it finds politically inexpedient. Now a new use has been found: the law of England can serve as a memorial to the dead. Shocked into action by the non-military killing of a non-Muslim, which may have been accidental and whose perpetrator is said, in the conveniently anonymous passive voice, to be "obsessed" with violent pornography, the Government has decided to extend its police powers over what passes before our eyes. Although there is "no evidence of a direct link between viewing violent images and committing violent acts", the Government has decided to award gospel status to "developing research suggesting that individuals who were predisposed to commit violent or other sexual offences might become more likely to do so when exposed to such material". Research which is as yet incomplete, and with which some members of the British Psychological Society disagree, does no more than "suggest" the possibility that individuals with a predisposition towards violence might perhaps, in certain circumstances, become more likely to indulge that predisposition after viewing certain images. Furthermore, somebody's mother believes that "for quite a lot of people, especially if they are rather impressionable, [such images] can be very harmful indeed", which obviously settles the matter. The mother regards the law as "a terrific memorial" for her daughter ("In memory of Jane Longhurst, and for the gratification of Liz Longhurst, I arrest you for the unauthorised exercise of your visual cortex"), but has misgivings over "whether there will be enough money to make sure it is enforced properly". Since enforcing it properly will presumably involve monitoring every download in the country to ensure the absence of violent bits and sexual bytes, she may well have a point.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

News 2020

Wind of change shines on floating moneyspinner

The Prime Minister today announced a new package of packages to help people on low incomes afford adequate disaster insurance.

From next year, people carrying the cheapest three types of identity card will be entitled to purchase shares in future rescue operations at a special reduced rate.

The profits on these shares will be fed into a special fund, administered by firms contracted by the Government, which will help shareholders pay for food, water, shelter and administrative costs should they become involved in a disaster without proper access to a helicopter.

The Prime Minister made the announcement as he personally consecrated Britain's first aquatic hypercasino, which has been completed after three years' work by private contractors Hallibechtel Happiness Ltd and pronounced almost within the requisite 23% safety margin.

The hypercasino, called George's after Britain's unofficial patron saint, the late President George W Bush, utilises state-of-the-art flotation technology to remain permanently buoyantified on the surface of Lake Beyoncé.

The lake was unexpectedly created when a hurricane and tidal wave produced an unscheduled urban submersion four years ago.

The incident rendered more than 2,000 people without a second home and caused a massive increase in insurance claims. Anti-globalisation campaigners sometimes refer to the incident as an "environmental disaster", despite Government denials that the environment was involved.

More than 3,000 suspected migrant workers, asylum seekers and public transport overcrowders were killed in the incident or detrimentised by assertive response contractors. A further 17,000 are suspected of using the chaos as a means of evading deportation and/or compulsory usefulness opportunification.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Old News

Ninety per cent of five hundred nurses questioned by Age Concern said they "do not always have time to help patients who need assistance with eating"; and this a full five months after the Secretary of State for health service privatisation, Patsy Hackitt, informed the Royal College of Nursing all about reorganising rotas and making better use of permanent staff. According to Age Concern, sixty per cent of elderly patients are at risk of "malnourishment or deteriorating health". Malnourished patients, the Guardian has discovered, "stay in hospital longer, are more likely to develop complications after surgery and have higher mortality"; which means that the nurses, presumably, will soon be busier still. Let's hope they can get around to reorganising their rotas while they still have a bit of time to themselves.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tipster Wilby

Blairville will lose the next championship - and it will be a good thing

The team is tired, and players are either past it or wet behind the ears. It needs time to properly renew itself


The game is up. After more than a decade of new shorts, Daveybloke United will be champions in 2009 or 2010. The victory will be slender enough to give Blairville hopes of an early return. But Golden Gordon, assuming he has inherited the managerial mantle, will go to run the local betting shop or something of the sort, making way for a younger leader who can remake the Blairville brand.

That is roughly what I see happening over the next few years. There is no reason why you should pay any attention, though my views echo those held by some of Blairville's more thoughtful loyalists since well before the 2005 playoff. I have a poor record of sporting prediction, having completely failed, for example, to foresee the Accrington Stanley collapse of 1970.

For several reasons, my forecast is no more plausible than any other on offer but, in the run-up to the championship, at least saves us from more speculation on the tediously unanswerable question "When will the manager go?". The latest bookies' figures show consistent and widening Daveybloke leads, and a strong enough performance by Middleton manager Menzies Mingle could steal Blairville players where Daveybloke haven't a hope.

More ominously for Blairville, public confidence in its handling of the midfield has dropped dramatically since last year's game. Indeed, according to last week's ICM/Guardian poll, the fans no longer credit Golden Gordon for the past nine-plus years of benign rebounds and a majority deny the team have become better players under Gordon. The latter finding, in particular, defies all statistics published by the professional press, but perception is all.

The Daveyblokes have still to benefit significantly from the fans' disillusionment with the present management - 38% don't know which team would make more photogenic champs or don't think either is any good - but they have almost certainly buried their biggest millstone. It is nearly 14 years since Black Wednesday, and the shots of Nobby Lamont hurrying in and out of the penalty box as though playing the final scenes of some demented opera.

This accords roughly with the normal cycles of fan memory. People took about the same length of time to forget Blairville's frozen balls and, in an earlier cycle, postwar rationing and, earlier still, the Daveyblokes' prewar record of throwing international matches and locking fans out of the stadium. There comes a point when it's no use reminding fans about your opponents' former crimes, because many will be too young or too thick to remember them. And Daveybloke, knowing that getting rid of negatives is more important in sports than establishing positives, is shedding troublesome legacies, most recently the South Africa policy which everyone will be too young or too thick to remember. By 2009, respectable folk will be able to cheer on the Daveyblokes again.

There is one other reason - rarely mentioned - to believe that Blairville will lose next time. "New shorts" have lost meaning not only because fewer people understand what is supposed to be new about them, but also because this looks like a very old team. Worse, it is not easy to see how, by the next championship, it can plausibly make itself look younger.

Of the 23 team members, all but four are over 50, and 10 are over 55. By the next championship, they will all be at least three years older. Some, particularly the croquet specialists, will presumably have retired by then. But it is symptomatic of Blairville's plight that everybody canvassed as the next leader - Gordon, Vinnie Johns, Johnson Johnson, even the no-hope winger John McJohnson - is older than the present manager.

A new manager could start with a big reshuffle and try to achieve a more youthful look. But where will the new blood come from? Of the four under-50s in the team, Benedict Kelly is 38, Millipede Davis is 41, Jacky Smithy 43. So there is an enormous age gap between the generation that now dominates the team and the younger members. Look across Blairville in general, and the story is much the same. Neither the international squad nor the Blairville Bovver has a single player under 50.

In other words, Blairville has a missing generation. Most players in their 40s are not well-regarded or well-known. Blairville's rising stars are all in their 30s. There is a good reason for this. The formative years for team spirit are those spent at polytechnic. Anybody now in their 40s would have attended polytechnic in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Blairville was still called The Footy Team and all the vitality, modernity and fresh thinking came from the salesmen. It was simply not a good time to be a player, just as the 1960s, when most of the present management went to university, was not a good time to be another player.

Does age matter? I think it does. Blairville's lost 40-something generation should now be moving up the ranks, ready to take senior team positions and give off that air of steady competence, experience and reassurance that is always an incumbent champion's biggest asset. Players in their 30s, no matter how talented, can easily look out of their depth, as Kelly did coaching the juniors. Players are at their best between 45 and 55, the age at which the public expect to see people in positions of authority - in schools, hospitals and private companies as well as in sports.

That is why Blairville as a whole looked so instantly convincing when it won the championship in 1997. In 2009, however, it is unlikely to have a single prominent player in that age group. It has a choice between sticking with the present team, with the risk that it will look old and weary, or jumping a generation, with the risk that it will look as green as the Daveybloke crew but without the promise of a fresh approach.

If it did lose the next championship, Blairville could return in 2013-15 with a team that boasted a rare combination of youth, talent, maturity and experience. Barring a revival of Footy players in the Blairville team or a cleverly engineered Daveybloke explosion from the midfield, I cannot see the Daveyblokes being an appealing alternative in the longer term. There is little sign of a new sporting ferment of the sort that carried the Grantham Grocery Privateers to the premiership.

A period in opposition, far from being a disaster, will be the final test of the durability of Blairville's historic transformation. In the past, a team turfed out of the championship would normally lose several consecutive matches; if it won, it was by the slenderest of margins, as in the 1970s. To fulfil Blairville's ambition that it should become the natural championship team of this century, it needs to show that it can bounce back quickly from defeat, as the Daveyblokes always did in the 20th century, and as some foreign teams still do.

I hardly dare say it - but I'm almost looking forward to a Blairville defeat.

Peter Wilby is a former editor of the New Statesman and, thanks to the good offices of David Traynier at PoV, is now sporting correspondent at the Guardian.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tagging Rubbish

The Secretary of Talking about the Environment, David Miliband, has expressed an interest in "variable waste charging where the polluter is made to pay". To this end, identification chips are being installed in the lips of rubbish bins so that the contents can be scanned as they are tipped into the dust cart. Some dust carts are able to link the information from the lips of the bins to the amount of rubbish collected from each disposability fulfilment service user.

A spokesbeing for the Department of Environmental Footling and Rubbish Alertness (Defra) said that local authorities have not been ordered to place our rubbish under electronic surveillance. This may well be true; Tony Blair has, after all, been out of the country for a while. However, Defra has paid councils five million pounds to conduct forty pilot schemes "to help the UK meet tough European landfill reduction targets". Apparently landfill reduction is yet another imposition from Brussels, and is not a genuine priority here on the mainland.

Simon Davies of Privacy International has complained that the tags will "inevitably be used to boost revenue". This strikes me as rather unfair. The Government has shown no interest at all in using computer technology to collect revenue. From the privatisation of essential services through the Surveillance Makes You Free ID card project to the efficientiation of the NHS, the Government is much more interested in using revenue to collect computer technology. Indeed, so dedicated are they to the wonders of IT that it seems a distinctly secondary matter whether the systems work or not. Given the Government's known priorities and previous record, Simon Davies should be grateful to know that at least some of his tax money is ending up, very nearly harmlessly, in the dustbin.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Thomas Tessier

Among the novels of Thomas Tessier, his first, The Fates (1978), is both typical and exceptional. It's exceptional in that it has almost no plot and a large cast of characters; the story portrays the murderously destructive effects on a small town of a mysterious, possibly supernatural force; perhaps a malignant relative of Bradbury's blue globes in The Martian Chronicles. Fortunately, the ways in which The Fates typifies Tessier's work are mostly virtuous: it is literate, compact (none of Tessier's books so far has stretched to four hundred pages), and feels no obligation to finish on a happy note. Although one of the characters, a college teacher, has done some pontificating about the causes of the phenomenon, at the end of The Fates the destruction is no closer to being understood, let alone stopped, than it was at the beginning.

Tessier's subsequent novels retain the concision of The Fates' apocalyptic vignettes, and put it to the service of ends more private and intimate if not necessarily less horrifying. His second book, The Nightwalker (1979) is told almost entirely from a single point of view, that of a quiet young American, adrift in London, who is periodically overcome by an uncontrollable, apparently reasonless urge to inflict mutilation and death. The book leaves open the question as to whether his violence is the result of post-Vietnam trauma or something supernatural, like lycanthropy; among the scenes I find most disturbing is that in which the young man consults a medium, who observes portents of malice and destruction in his very physique.

No less a pessimist than Ramsey Campbell described Shockwaves (1982) as "remarkably dark", but the book seems generally underrated. Tessier wrote it on commission for Nightshades, a series of "dark romances" which does not appear to have survived beyond the first four volumes, and found it a far from enjoyable experience. To me, the horror elements of Shockwaves seem the more harrowing for emerging from a narrative that starts like an unusually literate and well-characterised Harlequin romance. A college student finds herself in love with, and subsequently married to, an up-and-coming lawyer; but the point where the Harlequin romance would have broken off (wedding bells, prospects, rich and happy ever after) is exactly where the heroine's troubles begin: her gradual discovery of the insensitivity and amoral careerism underlying her husband's charming exterior is interwoven with the gradual approach of a ghostly avenger known only as The Blade. Again, the ending is the bleakest possible, a terminal shattering of the heroine's romantic illusions coupled with the seemingly endless persistence of the horror that destroys her.

Tessier recovered from the trauma of Shockwaves by writing one of his richest and most personal books, and the only one in which the main protagonist is a genuine innocent - a child, in fact. Phantom (1982) is also written in a more evocative, less pared-down style than the previous novels, allowing Tessier to show in loving detail his young hero's friendship with two mildly eccentric old codgers in the seaside town to which his parents have moved, and to create such atmospheric set-pieces as the boy's solitary visit to an abandoned, haunted spa. Beginning with his mother's near-fatal asthma attack and climaxing with a prolonged, disturbing fever-dream of afterlife, Phantom concludes on a note of hard-won optimism that is quite unsentimental and anything but cheap.

Ramsey Campbell described Finishing Touches (1986) as something he wouldn't have dared to write himself; which, given the kind of things Campbell has dared to write, indicates his own generosity as much as Tessier's radicalism. Indeed, Finishing Touches is by far the most extreme and misanthropic of Tessier's books (I trust nobody imagines I intend either of those adjectives as a complaint), a non-supernatural horror story more strange and more disturbing than most writers could manage if they overturned half the laws of physics. Tom Sutherland, a young New England doctor on holiday in London, falls in with semi-retired plastic surgeon and bar-room philosopher Roger Nordhagen, who introduces him to a very, very exclusive club and his exotic and evocatively-surnamed assistant, Lina Ravachol. Nordhagen, who prides himself on providing "the finishing touches" to nature's imperfect efforts, has a shocking moral and surgical horror hidden away in his basement; but the end of this horror - the death of Nordhagen and his victims - is merely the end of Sutherland's own initiation. Very few writers would have sufficient imagination to take Nordhagen's finishing touches beyond mere murder and self-indulgence by Sutherland and Lina; although murder and self-indulgence certainly play their part, Tessier does manage it, to the extent that one is forced to admire not only his artistry and rigour, but that of his protagonists as well. The relationship between Lina and Sutherland is Nordhagen's final work of finishing, and it surpasses his prior achievements much as those surpassed the achievements of Vlad Tepes, Burke and Hare or Jack the Ripper.

Tessier's next two books are also non-supernatural, but are a little more like conventional thrillers, though expectably neither of them is the least bit average. Rapture (1987) is the story of Jeff, a successful self-made businessman who decides that the true love of his life is a girl he knew in college, and who knows absolutely that he is also the one for her. He applies to the business of tracking down and pursuing her the same calculation and attention to detail which no doubt made his IT firm such a success; and when he finds that she is married, with a teenage daughter, and disinclined to consider him more than a rather casual friend, he is forced into drastic action. Like Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, Jeff does not care for murder until the blindness or foolhardiness of others makes it absolutely necessary; unlike Ripley and some of Highsmith's other killers, he is not particularly likeable, or even particularly interesting except in the manner of some poisonous entomological specimen. It's a tribute to Tessier's ability that, despite taking place almost entirely in this single, obsessive, narrowly efficient but wholly unsympathetic consciousness, Rapture grabs the interest and holds it mercilessly.

A less driven, more expansive and generous work, Secret Strangers (1990) is the story of Heidi Luckner, a teenager whose father has suddenly disappeared. The difficulties resulting from her mother's inadequacy and her own resentment at her abandonment and increased responsibility prompt Heidi to an amoral rebellion: when she discovers that a neighbouring couple are involved in a suburban sex ring with under-age paramours, she and her boyfriend try to blackmail the couple, leading to ever more harrowing revelations. Secret Strangers is a moral horror story; like Rapture, it involves people who never see themselves as corrupt no matter how badly they behave, but Heidi's youth and confusion make her a far more sympathetic and redeemable character than Jeff. The element of chance in Heidi's surname points up the book's final irony: is it bad luck that makes us go wrong, or are we, like the Nightwalker, doomed to evil by our very genes?

Since Secret Strangers, Tessier has been far less prolific, though his work continues to retain its originality, intelligence and unpredictability. During the nineties he produced only one further novel, Fog Heart (1997). The book concerns two married couples, in each of which one partner holds a terrible secret, and their involvement with a frail, suicidal young medium. Three set-piece séances, each more eerie and frightening than the last, draw the main characters towards self-knowledge, danger and death. In its depth of characterisation, its plot and pacing, and its carefully constructed atmosphere of unredeemed grief and guilt manifested as supernatural dread, Fog Heart is a masterpiece.

In 2000, Tessier published his first book of stories, Ghost Music and Other Tales, a superbly varied collection which includes such works as "In Praise of Folly", in which a connoisseur of architectural oddity finds himself at the centre of a weird, mad monument; "I Remember Me", a quasi-science-fiction story chronicling the end of the world through progressive amnesia; "A Grub Street Tale", a charming story of literary revenge which, like Karl Edward Wagner's "The Last Wolf", holds a special appeal for such brilliant but unsung talents as the present writer; "Curing Hitler" and "The Banshee", about the ways in which good deeds don't go unpunished; and "The Dreams of Doctor Ladybank", a novella in which the eponymous psychiatrist exerts telepathic control over a couple of low-lifes. "Blanca", another story of an idle American in a foreign land, effectively combines police-state terror with supernatural apprehension; and sketches such as "In the Desert of Deserts" and "Nocturne" combine atmosphere and unexplained mystery in a manner worthy of Robert Aickman.

Tessier's most recent book is Father Panic's Opera Macabre (2001), a short novel which, like Shockwaves, begins gently only to plunge protagonist and reader into nightmare. A successful young writer of bland historical fiction, on holiday in Italy, encounters an eccentric, Croat-descended family and commences a delightful affair with its most attractive female member. When the lovers play with the wax masks used by the family during its circus past, the writer discovers that his mask won't come off, and is thrust into a hallucinatory landscape in which uniformed troops commit horrifying atrocities. It's a long, shocking and, on first reading, baffling passage which once again shows Tessier's disinclination to make things easy; the horrors are never explained within the story itself, and only an afterword detailing the activities of the Croatian Ustachas during the Second World War provides some context for the reader.

Tessier continues to publish short stories, and at present is working on a new novel called Wicked Things and a second collection. It's to be hoped that this portends a new and sustained period of activity; at the moment, just about the only thing wrong with Thomas Tessier's books is that there aren't more of them.

Friday, August 25, 2006

One Sustainable Resource

Despite the fact that over a hundred thousand Britons per year can no longer stand living here, the Office for National Statistics finds that the population of the United Kingdom has risen above sixty million and is growing faster than at any time since the early sixties.

Two-thirds of the rise is because of migrants but, surprisingly enough, the Government figures which conjured press hysteria earlier in the week have proved misleading. The Home Office said that 427,000 East Europeans had arrived over the past two years to swamp us; the Office for National Statistics notes that this year's hundred and fifty thousand migrants from Commonwealth countries outnumber the East Europeans by a factor of two to one, and that furthermore the Home Office neglected to observe how many East Europeans went home. The concept of anyone's arriving here, seeing the quality of our Press and the tourism-friendliness of our health service, sampling the wonders of our infrastructure and signing on for our benefits, and then wishing to go back to some foreign country, was evidently beyond the imaginative powers even of the Department of Unimaginable Terror. The idea that the Home Office may have known that some of the nearly-whites went home, but deliberately failed to mention the fact in order to induce a tabloid frenzy, is of course the crudest kind of conspiracy theory and not to be entertained for a moment.

Meanwhile, despite ever more efficient methods of inducing self-destruction in our less efficient offspring, deaths continue to be outnumbered by births. The birthrate in Britain is now 1.8 squalling future debt repayment units per viable uterus. In a world where so much that's of value is running out, there is still a plentiful and growing supply of Britishness.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Integrating Cohesiveness, Cohering Integrativity

The Sectarian of State for Community Control, Ruth Kelly, has called for an "honest debate" on multiculturalism. In Oldspeak, presumably, this means that multiculturalism is next on the list for deregulation, privatisation and ultimate abolition.

It is essential, Kelly informed her doubtless rapt audience at the launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, to bind Britain's various ethnic and religious groupings ever closer in the wake of last year's suicide bombings. "We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness," she said. Apparently Kelly's idea of a uniform consensus does not include the Daily Mail or that considerable portion of Britain's news industry which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. This might be more reassuring were it not for the fact that Kelly's employer, the Vicar of Downing Street, is himself part owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Kelly noted that, faith schools and the Home Secretary's whims possibly aside, there could be no "special treatment" for minority communities as this would cause resentment and exacerbate divisions. As befits New Labour democracy, there are "non-negotiable" rules which all must accept, and the "responsible majority" must marginalise those who seek to cause "conflict and tension" between communities. She noted that, perhaps as a result of special treatment for minorities, white Britons are "detached from the benefits" of the increase in wondrousness which nine years of Blairism have wrought upon society, and therefore "they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance". Once again, it seems doubtful whether tabloids shrieking migrants jobs muslims terror migrants jobs muslims terror migrants etc. were uppermost in Kelly's mind.

The reference to last year's bombings, as though our present racial and religious tensions had burst forth from nowhere on 7 July 2005, makes the purpose of this sermon clear enough. "In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture," pondered Kelly, "have we ended up with some communities living in isolation from each other, with no common bonds between them?" Communities of ordinary decent hard-working family Britons, and communities which listen to Bad Imams, perhaps. Once again, we are being informed that the British government's foreign policy has nothing to do with terrorist attacks. If Tony has erred, it is in being too tolerant, too soft on immigration and other causes of crime, too little inclined to do exactly what the Mail and Murdoch say he ought to do. Bombings do not beget bombings; the very idea is absurd - but multiculturalism, now, that's quite another matter.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

News 2020

Mullahs advantaged by homeland oppositionality

The Iranian government in exile is waging a deadly charm offensive against the US-led, British-practicalitised Middle Eastern freedomisation project, according to a new report.

Iran's former mullahs are wanted by western governments for various crimes against humanity, including almost knowing how to build a nuclear weapon and acts of unprovoked cartographic cleansing against Israel.

However, decades of dictatorship, violence and non-democratised imams have led many in the region to regard Persian-occupied Iran as a "martyred nation" which is suffering under western "occupation", the report says.

The coalition programme of Qualitative Advancement by Gainful Mideast Interventional Response Engagement (QAGMIRE) is considered "evil" and "militaristic" even in countries which have not yet been liberated.

"This is simply another example of the way in which domestic support for terrorism has forced our boys to fight blindfold on one leg with their hands tied behind their backs and their genitals threatened by dogs," said report co-author Podger Wangford.

Mr Wangford, a researcher for socio-financial think tank the Blair Endowment for Reasonability and Knowledge, said public relations firms were so overworked trying to engage the public at home that attempts to re-illusion the Muslim world were badly under-resourced.

Foreign Office minister Knugley Muckle said that the Government would be careful to consider the report to the extent necessary for the report to be considered carefully considered.

"If the demand for conflict infotainment at home could be somehow de-desperatised, a future upquantifying of entermation for those resources which are presently subject to Iranian mullaganda would obviously be a matter for prioritisational fast-track," the minister said.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Thwarting the Monotheodictatocaliphatisation

In yet another freedom-enhancing phase of the War against the Abstract Noun, the Government is expected to announce that "imams should be officially accredited and trained to prevent 'extremist preachers' from radicalising young people at mosques". Not being extremist itself, the Government sees the fight against the noun as a perpetual crusade, according to Phil Woolas, one of Ruth Kelly's lambs of integrative cohesion at the Department of Communities. "This is a generational thing," Woolas told a meeting of community leaders. "We are determined to protect civil liberties", at least for the deserving. "But we can't solve it on our own. The terrorists will use whatever argument they have got to pull the wool over susceptible people's eyes, but their goal, as Bill Clinton said, is to destroy the idea of a pluralist society". Just imagine - if the terrorists won, we would no longer have the privilege of choosing between Tony Blair and David Cameron. Instead of market forces and the wishes of the Bush administration, we would be subject to arbitrary, irrational rule by bloodstained religious maniacs who denounce anyone who disagrees with them as facile, foolish and dangerous. "Get across the understanding that what these people are about is destroying the idea of society and creating a mono-theocratic dictatorship," Woolas instructed the community leaders. So that's what those people are about. "The government is very clear that the vast majority of Muslims want to defeat this terrorism carried out in the name of religion," Woolas reassured the community leaders. "Don't believe that the government doesn't understand your fear," Woolas urged the community leaders. "Of course we do." Of course they do, having themselves to thank for fomenting the said fear in such impressive quantities. "Don't fall into the trap, don't allow yourself to be used by the terrorists," Woolas exhorted the community leaders, who presumably were not, as yet, ensconced among the vast majority of Muslims with sufficient Government accreditation.

Monday, August 21, 2006

News 2020

Parents to get more money under new law

Hard-working parents who find themselves unable to spare sufficient funds to cope with the pensions crisis will be able to sue their children for help under new legislation in the war on irresponsibility, the Home Office announced today.

"Too many parents who have worked hard and made sacrifices to pay for their children's marketability find themselves without financial support almost as soon as the Government allows them to stop working," the Home Secretary said.

The Government would not shrink from taking the necessary measures to re-responsibilitise Britain's youth, he said. "Just because parents have paid to put young people through school doesn't mean education is free," he went on.

Under the new laws, parents will have the right to sue their children for living space and a monthly income not exceeding a certain percentage of the juvenile party's total earnings. There will be rebates for couples who were married in church and have two or more children born in wedlock.

Similarly, parents who supplied broken homes and equivocal moral values may be means-tested or given community service tasks so that they can earn whatever proportion of their children's income they are eventually awarded.

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, condemned the proposed legislation as "legalistic welfare-statism" which within a few years would result in "wrinkly calamity staring us in the face".

"It is simply a disgrace that the Government, instead of offering labour skills training opportunities for superannuation freedomisation marketability enhancement, simply attempts to sweep the carpet under a judicial wig," Mr Johnson said, before announcing that the NuConLib Alliance would be voting with the Government to get the bill through.

The Shadow Minister for Sanitation, Ethelbert Feeley-Mossop, is understood to have sent a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to ensure that there are no "loopholes" in the legislation which will permit "unwarranted financial thumb-sucking by Private Secretaries whose ministers enjoy a harmless whack of school uniform and talcum powder outside Parliamentary hours". The Prime Minister is not, as yet, known to have replied.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Myth of the Holocaust

Those evil Iranians are at it again. "Iran cartoon show mocks Holocaust" proclaims Robert Tait in the Observer, before describing some of the pictures on view: "Ariel Sharon, the incapacitated former Israeli Prime Minister, is wearing an SS uniform. A man with Jewish side locks is depicted as a vampire drinking from a container marked 'Palestinian blood'. An Arab figure is impaled to the ground by the absurdly long nose of a man in a black hat characteristic of orthodox Jews and marked 'Holocaust'." These are "among the results of a competition run by the country's biggest-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, to find the 'cleverest' cartoons satirising the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in the Second World War."

Tait's second paragraph notes with admirable objectivity: "At their worst, the images conform to lurid western stereotypes of Iran as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, as evoked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a 'myth'." Our quarrel is not with ordinary Iranians, but with the evil Ahmadinejad, as I am sure the Observer will remind them when the bombs begin to fall. It should be remembered that there is a difference between a myth and a fiction. A myth is a narrative which encapsulates a tradition, such as the Trojan War, the career of King Arthur or the Book of Genesis. A fiction is simply a story that is untrue, like The Da Vinci Code, or that one about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

It is perhaps notable that Tait does not quote Hamshahri's criteria beyond the word "cleverest", since the cartoons he describes - presumably, given the lurid moral indignation on display, the worst he could find - have very little to do with satirising the slaughter of six million Jews. Since it is unlikely that many Iranians consider Ariel Sharon a paragon of peace and compassion, it seems possible that his depiction in SS uniform might be satirising Sharon rather than whitewashing the Nazis. Since Israel vaunts its exclusionary status as the Jewish state, it hardly seems rational to criticise cartoonists for portraying Israeli aggression against the Palestinians as Jewish aggression. And, since the standard Imperial Humanitarian response to any criticism of Israeli actions is to press the Holocaust button good and hard, it hardly seems surprising that there is some cynicism in the Middle East about the ways in which the Holocaust is used; the ways in which the history of the Holocaust is simplified and distorted to suit a particular point of view; in other words, the myth of the Holocaust.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Amoeba,n. Mathematical anomaly which divides in order to multiply. Cf. humanity, which multiplies endlessly and grows ever more divided. Despite its not having been endowed with dominion over the rest of creation and the power of naming all other animals, it is just possible that the amoeba will survive.

Breast,n. A lump of meat with which a woman may feed a pup or entice a cur, according to her preference.

Demotion,n. Sincere recognition of genuine merit.

Egalitarianism,n. A belief in the necessity of curing those who harbour delusions of superiority to oneself.

Journey,n. A period of inconvenience between a disaster and a disappointment.

Murgid,adj. Morbid and turgid.
She considered D H Lawrence a dirty old man, and Poe a murgid monomaniac.
Jolliper Gniddle


Parable,n. A fable illustrating some improving moral point, as in many television dramas. The most famous teller of parables is perhaps the founder of Christianity, who used them to inform his disciples that unless they did as they were told, and behaved like sheep or infants, his father would banish them into outer darkness, the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Reparation,n. That which is demanded from the loser at the end of a war, in order to stir up the lasting resentment necessary to precipitate a new quarrel and prevent the generals going hungry.

Tomato,n. A shiny red agglomeration of vegetable matter which fattens under greenhouse conditions. Distinct from the Londoner in that it possesses both taste and superior powers of mobility.

Walkman™,n. A device which confers upon those within a dozen yards of the user the privilege of enjoying the beat of the user's favourite popular music. Unfortunately, the Walkman™ is equipped with headphones rather than speakers, thus obliging users to sing along, or else keep the volume sufficiently high to induce permanent psychosis in many rodents, before the subtler pleasure of the lyrics can be equally widely disseminated.

Friday, August 18, 2006

At Last, Someone Thinks of the Children

In an effort to compensate for recent derelictions, the Department of Unfitness for Purpose has come up with a real tabloid-pleaser. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which extends such compassion to a certain kind of African, "is planning to remove failed asylum seeking children who have no family in Britain", starting with five hundred Vietnamese. Apparently the failures' best interests will be "a primary consideration", but sufficient flexibility will be permitted that other primary considerations will be permitted to take primacy: "There are likely to be occasions when IND takes a decision to remove ... which is not in accordance with the best interests of the child but is necessary for the immigration control." The failures will be permitted "non-legal representation", but the Department of Unfitness for Purpose will take upon itself the responsibility for the final decision, there will be no right of appeal and they could be back in Vietnam, Angola or enjoying the privilege of military service in the Democratic Republic of the Congo within the space of a week.

A team has been established to look at "problems", presumably of the public-relations variety, which surround the "provision of support" to children who have had the temerity to slip into Britain unaccompanied. As everyone knows, Britain's levels of sex, violence and swearing render it at least a Certificate 15 destination, and the UASC (the Home Office acronym for the problem at hand) would clearly be better off under proper supervision in their countries of origin. A forcible repatriation scheme to Albania "envisaged that children would be met on arrival at Tirana airport by border police and an NGO coordinator, and given a welcome pack, including basic toiletries", which we must only hope would have been provided at the expense of Albanian, not British, taxpayers.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Upward Creep

As you luxuriate in the quiet comfort of Britain's public transport system while light-heartedly awaiting the next announcement of inestimable promptitude; as you confidently await your National Health Service hip replacement, secure in the knowledge that the appropriate tranche of middle management is obliged to issue notification of any changes within an acceptable period of time; as your child slips happily into the tolerant, non-discriminatory, non-evangelical faith school dearest to your heart; in short, as you go about your humble affairs in Tony's Choice Emporium, take a moment to reflect upon the contribution of one vital but frequently misunderstood community, the extent of whose just reward was revealed yesterday. I refer, of course, to Britain's investment bankers and financiers, whose bonuses have increased by a quarter over the past two years, making Thames Water's price increase of twenty-four per cent over five years look almost criminally unambitious. Bonus payments to our brave boys in the City totalled nineteen thousand million pounds this year, which is equal to Britain's entire annual transport budget. Still, according to the director of investment affairs at the Association of British Insurers, City bonuses "have a pretty close link to performance, almost certainly closer than that achieved in the publicly listed sector where, over a long period, we have seen evidence of upward creep." Additionally, of course, investment bankers and financiers would never dream of opposing legislation designed to put them in their place; and certainly they would never dream of going on strike. If ever they became so irresponsible, why, I don't know what we'd do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Grass Affair

The head of Germany's Central Council of Jews is the latest to join in the grazing frenzy over the belated admission by Günter Grass that he served in the Waffen-SS. "His long years of silence over his own SS past reduce his earlier statements to absurdities," Charlotte Knobloch said. "We adored him not only as a moral icon, but as a figure who was telling the truth even when the truth hurts," complained Michael Jürgs, Grass' biographer.

Grass was born in 1927; he was twelve when the war broke out, six when Hitler became Chancellor, seventeen when he was called up for military service, having volunteered and been rejected for the submarine corps two years earlier. When he joined the Waffen-SS he was an adolescent, presumably with no real memory of life before Hitler, certainly with a social and political consciousness shaped entirely in the context of war and all-pervasive Nazi propaganda; and as a member of the Waffen-SS he was a soldier, not a concentration-camp guard or an ethnic cleanser in the Einsatzgruppen. He was a teenage soldier. Certainly he should have spoken earlier; but the plangent pronouncements of Michael Jürgs (not to mention the undisguised gloating of some pompous asses in the press) come perilously close to the undignified indignation of a husband walking out on his wife when, after thirty years of marriage, she tells him she wasn't a virgin when they met.

Those who suggest that Grass should give up his Nobel Prize are perhaps unaware that the Nobel Prize for literature is awarded on grounds of literary merit, not autobiographical virtue. If the Nobel Committee satisfied itself that Grass produced outstanding works of an idealistic nature, then Grass is entitled to the prize, no matter what he may have done before or since. The honorary citizenship of Gdansk, which Lech Walesa no longer wishes to share with him, is presumably a matter for the city fathers; although again it was presumably awarded because of what Grass wrote, not what he did, or what he failed to admit he did, during the war.

In the view of Charlotte Knobloch, it seems, the suppression of a particular truth negates truths which have previously been told. This seems an odd way of looking at it. Either Grass' previous criticisms of Germany's dealings with its history are valid, or else they are not valid. If they are not valid, then presumably their absurdity is neither increased nor decreased by Grass' concealment of his own past. But if Grass' criticisms of Germany's dealings with its history are valid, then they are, by definition, not absurdities. Valid criticism is, by definition, necessary and desirable, and to the extent that Grass has made a career out of valid criticism he deserves credit for it. The fact of Grass' hypocrisy in making such criticisms while failing to be honest about his own history is a secondary and purely private matter, fit for the attention of Grass himself and for those who require "moral icons" in place of those rare human beings who are capable of being truthful at least some of the time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Sun

Aleksandr Sokurov 2005

Like Oliver Hirschbiegl's 2004 film Downfall, with which it would make an interesting double bill, The Sun features a remarkable central performance depicting an earthly god in twilight. Unlike Bruno Ganz' Hitler, however, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, as played by Issei Ogata, retains enough humanity (and, perhaps, calculated opportunism) to forego his divine status and remain as a symbol of continuity for his people while conveniently averting trial as a war criminal.

Hirschbiegl's film is realistically shot and resolutely clear-eyed, allowing the unreality of life in the bunker to emerge through the action and the dialogue - the latter typified early on by Himmler's confessed dilemma: when he surrenders to the Americans, should he greet them with a conventional military salute or with a Sieg Heil? By contrast, the weirdness of Sokurov's film extends into its visual style, the scenes in Hirohito's bunker suffused with sepia murk, while the few outdoor scenes look over-bright yet oddly unfocussed, as though the sun god from whom Hirohito claimed descent were one of the flashbulbs belonging to the mob of American photographers who, at one point, obtrude themselves noisily upon the top-hatted Emperor's Chaplinesque dignity.

There is one overt flash of fantasy, in the form of a mad dream-sequence wherein Hirohito sees his country devastated by squadrons of monstrous flying fish; but for the most part Sokurov mesmerises with the minutiae of the Emperor's daily routine: being dressed by his servants, responding with otherworldly pomposity to the empty rhetoric of his war cabinet, holding forth in his marine laboratory about the wonders of an interesting species of crab and displaying the only sign of irritation he shows in the entire film when an exhausted underling dozes off while transcribing his soporific insights. Between edgily polite interviews with General Macarthur (Robert Dawson), who alternates between annoyance and bemusement at the Emperor's seemingly supra-Oriental detachment, Hirohito waits quietly twitching in his bunker, endlessly re-drafting an epigrammatic poem and discussing his grandfather's supposed sighting of the aurora borealis with a trembling, stammering scientist who accepts one of the Hershey bars Macarthur has sent the Emperor with the reverent trepidation of a man accepting a lightning bolt from Zeus.

The more emotional scenes, as when Hirohito examines a photograph album containing pictures of his family (and also of Hitler and Hindenburg, his European parallels in calamity and outdatedness respectively) or starts a letter to his son in which he promises at last to discuss Japan's catastrophe frankly, are all the more touching both for the restraint with which they are played and the atmosphere of mundane yet appalling absurdity which pervades the whole film. The final scene, immediately after Hirohito has made his famous broadcast renouncing his godhead, is genuinely and remarkably moving, showing in rapid succession his ludicrous, almost inexpressible sense of relief, his childlike dependence on others and the awful yet helpless responsibility of his office.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bingo Night With Gordon

HSBC, those champions of thrift in all its forms, have extruded a study showing that sixty per cent of women - a larger percentage than last year - are failing to contribute to a pension fund. Almost a quarter of those asked said that "they were not saving for their future because they did not have a job or were employed part-time". The poor fools "are not saving for the future because they mistakenly believe they have to be working to make pension contributions". Ironically, a mere £100 a month out of their unequal, part-time or benefits-agency-endowed income will get them a £165,000 fund in which to luxuriate when they retire, provided they are no older than twenty-seven and don't miss any payments, and provided the Government does not change the rules, and provided subsequent Governments do not change the rules. On a completely unrelated topic, women tend to be prejudiced against most forms of gambling.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Distorted Views

The Government is seeking to widen consultations with Muslim communities. In characteristic enlightened fashion, rather than trading beads or fire-water with their little brown partners, ministers have tried to gain their trust by informing them that their view of the world is facile, dangerous, foolish and distorted.

This robust reassertion of the global values of tolerance and democracy came in response to an open letter from forty-odd Muslim individuals and organisations, which claimed that British policy in the Middle East was increasing the threat of terrorism and requested that we "show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion". Obviously, such blasphemy could not go unrefuted. "I have no doubt that there are many issues which incite people to loathe government policies," allowed Foreign Office underling Kim Howells, "but not to strap explosives to themselves and go out and murder innocent people." Nobody could possibly loathe government policies that much, because such an extreme of loathing for government policies is simply not humanly possible. That settles that, then. They must hate us for some other, better reason - perhaps because we're free? The Government can hardly be blamed for that.

Douglas Alexander, the Secretary for Delays, Cancellations and Pollution, said that "No government worth its salt should allow its foreign policy to be dictated to under the threat of terrorism". Apparently there is no difference between giving in to terrorism and doing one's best to avoid the ham-fisted provocation of it. Similarly, the Secretary for the Rest of the World, Margaret Beckett, said that it would be the "gravest possible error" to draw a link between government policy and the threat of terrorism. When compared with some of the Government's errors, that sounds pretty damn grave.

Suggestions of such a link are, in Mrs Beckett's view, "part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life." Whether the distortion is a result of reactionary Muslimity, Muslimity in general, or simply the fact that one is not drawing a ministerial salary, she apparently failed to make clear. Instead, she suggested that we "put the blame where it belongs", targeted blame being what passes for positive action with New Labour. The blame in this case belongs with "people who wantonly want to take innocent lives", Olmert bar Sharon excepted.

The Vicar of Downing Street, in accordance with the theology of the Four Genuine Dates, observed through a spokesbeing that "the terrorism affecting the West today has blighted Muslim countries for several decades", during which the West took no particular interest in the Middle East, and certainly did not discontentify anybody. Perhaps the highly effective response of Muslim countries to the terrorism that blighted them is the reason why Tony now behaves increasingly like a Middle Eastern potentate.

In any case, Ruth Kelly of Opus Dei is going to call on British Muslim leaders to take "greater action to tackle extremism", while once again "seeking suggestions on what the government can do to support them", short of mass seppuku, one assumes. Later this month, Kelly will also launch a Commission on Integration and Cohesion so that Muslims can be shown just where they're mixed up about things, and be converted to that non-facile, non-dangerous, non-foolish and utterly non-distorted view of the world which is privileged to be held by the Government.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Keeping the Faith

The Vicar of Downing Street is resisting calls from his congregation to return from his holiday in the Caribbean and take personal charge of the crisis which has erupted from the recent non-occurrence of a terrorist attack. Tony believes that the Home Secretary, John Reid, and Lord High Everything Else Prescott "have handled the crisis effectively", or at least not so dangerously well as to make Tony himself look unnecessary. "If he's going to come back there has to be something only he can do," a Downing Street spokesbeing said. Tony has been telephoning Prescott, and has also been making various calls in favour of doing nothing to hinder Israel in its manufacture of images for the recruitment of suicide bombers; but aside from these vital and statesmanlike functions it appears there is no particular reason for Tony to break off his communion with the Divinity. A few malcontents are asking for a recall of Parliament so that Tony can ignore it properly; but now that the Glorious Twelfth is upon us Tony's coalition partners can hardly be expected to support a resumption of parliamentary grousing. Besides, the divine grace cannot be summoned, commanded or conjured. The wind bloweth where it listeth.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rather an Odd Phish

From: "Dr.JohnReid"cobra@pnac.uk
Date: Fri Aug 11, 2006 2:00am Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: nicness in future for you
Reply-To: jreid_2006@pnac.com

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

News 2020

Terror police terror plot prevention swoop terror panic alert terror

A massive terror prevention operation by British anti-terror police prevented potentially massive terror operations in Britain by terrorists carrying out terror operations in Britain, it was announced today.

The terrorists' terror plot was described by the Home Secretary as "potentially the most awesomely apocalyptic terrorist terror ever to have been prevented" and by anti-terror police chief czar Troilus Boner as having "virtually unlimited armageddification terrorist terror potential".

Asked whether the terrorists' act of terror would have been worse than the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists, anti-terrorist expert Bradley Ichneumon said the terrorists would almost certainly have terrorised Britain with a terroristic act of terror.

The terrorist plot, which is thought to have been conceived by terrorists living in Britain for utilisation in acts of terror on British territory by terrorists based in Britain, was officially declared prevented at 2am this morning, once it became clear that the terrorist incident had not taken place.

Immediately news broke of the terrorists' terror plot, the Home Secretary introduced four new levels of terror alert and officially raised the terror alert level status to its highest terror alert status level.

"In light of this latest terrorist incident, I must announce that the terror alert level is now set at Really Super-Hyper-Critically Critical," he said, before recommending that the public continue about its business as usual and report anything suspicious to the police.

"Suspicious behaviour, suspicious packages, suspicious bags, suspicious looks, suspicious words and suspicious facial hair can all be reported in confidence and for free," the Home Secretary said.

Legislation will be introduced early next year to allow anti-terror police to use a proportion of their funds to offer cash rewards for the more informative members of the public, he announced.

Further modernisation and disirrelevantisation of British liberties is expected from next week, with restrictions on anti-terror police arresting potential terror suspects whose terror suspectability potential has not been definitively established coming under review.

The news that a terrorist incident had been prevented caused panic at Britain's airports, with hundreds of flights delayed and tons of luggage encased in concrete and buried beneath land seeded with salt. It is expected that, as a result of the reduction in air travel due to the terror prevention alert, Britain's greenhouse emissions will be lower this month than at any time since the last major terrorist act of terror not to take place.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Modified Freedom

The Minister of Internal Security has said that Britain is "in the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of World War II". Then, as now, the country was in the grip of an imperialistic, egomaniacal prime minister whose contact with reality was intermittent at best, who wasted the lives of British troops in futile and misconceived military campaigns, and who was a fervent believer in the forcible tuition of global values to uncivilised tribes.

Like his great contemporary, Churchill was also a social Darwinist, and like Hitler he was not averse to helping evolution along with programmes of forced eugenics and concentration camps if evolution seemed a bit slow off the mark. Continuing this noble tradition, the Minister of Unfitness for Purpose has called for a "Darwinian" approach to the law. The Minister, you see, is "in a very difficult position" because our antediluvian legal system requires "sufficiently cogent admissible evidence for a criminal trial" and does not even permit him to deport or detain people at his own personal convenience.

As the Minister for Internment proclaims, presumably on the evidence of his own meteoric career: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Thus, on the social level, it is the liars, sycophants, cowards and sneaks who prosper, since courageous and outspoken people of principle will inevitably stumble when a change takes place to which they object. Instead of adapting to, let alone profiting by, the new circumstances, they will end up as social misfits like Brian Haw or convicted criminals like Maya Evans, pitied and despised by the population at large and without further hope of a ministerial career.

Regarding our legal system, which has proved so maladaptive as to get in his way, the Minister for House Arrest profundified that "Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms." Those freedoms which the Government has already modified - "freedom from detention, forced labour, torture and punishment without trial" - were formulated in the wake of state fascism, and have not been fought for over centuries by mobs of evil left-wingers as was previously thought. These freedoms are now under threat from "fascist individuals". Unlike the Minister for Behavioural Socialisation, these individuals believe in detention without trial, chain gangs, extra-legal punishments and obtaining evidence by torture. They also "oppose our fundamental values", such as adapting to change rather than wasting time trying to be strong or intelligent.

Well, more fool them. From the Darwinist perspective, you see, house arrest and deportation at the Minister's whim are just necessary modifications of the freedom to travel; just as human beings themselves are merely land-dwelling, sexually reproducing, multicellular amoebae.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Our Kind of Immigrant

I have had occasion before to mention Charles Munyaneza and Célestin Ugirashebuja, both former mayors of Rwandan towns and both accused by the Rwandan prosecutor general of taking shares in the 1994 holocaust. Munyazena, who is a non-failed asylum seeker, is accused by more than forty witnesses of organising massacres in his province, Gikongoro, and is fifty-fourth on the Rwandan prosecutor general's wanted list. Ugirashebuja, who is ninety-third on the same list, is accused of similar activities in his own province of Kigome. The Rwandan prosecutor general has issued international arrest warrants for both men; naturally, the British government has spared all efforts to co-operate, to the extent that the secretary general of Amnesty International has written to the Vicar of Downing Street's adviser on earthly law, Peter Goldsmith, expressing "grave concern". A spokesbeing for Goldsmith's office said it was aware of the letter. The attorney general is not, after all, the Home Office, which dismissed the Rwandan government's warrant on the grounds that "the UK does not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda and police were under no obligation to visit the suspects". The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, having been instructed to finish its business by 2008, is now asking governments to prosecute genocide suspects in their own countries. The British government did manage to prosecute an Afghan warlord last year for hostage-taking, mugging and shooting civilians prior to the advent of the Great Liberation; however, war crimes investigations are the province of the anti-terrorist branch, which has its hands full at the moment protecting us from the likes of Jean Charles de Menezes, Mohammed Abdul Kahar and anyone who looks demonstratorial near the Vicarage without asking permission first.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Asylum Seeker Returns Home

A pioneer of democracy, George W Bush style has made a welcome return to Britain after twelve years in Israel. Dame Shirley Porter, the Conservative leader of Westminster council who sold council homes to Tory voters, suffered the hardship and ignominy of all who are ahead of their time: she was accused of "blatant and dishonest misuse of public power" and ordered to pay a surcharge of forty-two million pounds. Being from an ordinary, hard-working family, which supplemented its meagre income by labouring for a well-known supermarket chain, Dame Shirley had a mere three hundred thousand to her name, although it later turned out to be just twenty million. In 2004 the council, in a fit of most un-Toryish fiscal imprudence, allowed the British taxpayer to make amends to Dame Shirley by shouldering thirty million from the debt, thus freeing this enterprising and innovative lady to make Blair's Britain a happy home for her declining years. Her new flat in Mayfair is worth an economical one and a half million, so she should have some loose change to spare even if her state pension fails to cover the heating bills next winter. If her appetite for public service has not been quenched by her unfortunate experiences, perhaps Tony would be kind enough to sell her a nice, warm, ermine-lined seat in the House of Lords.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Identity Management: Appropriate Utilisation, Effective Maximisation

The Prince in Waiting, Gordon Brown, has come up with a wonderful new way to drive down the cost of New Labour's solve-everything surveillance project: he's going to sell the databases to high-street businesses. This means that police could be alerted instantly and utterly when a wanted person (or, for that matter, anyone who was disliked for any reason by anyone with access to the data) used a cash machine or a supermarket loyalty card - all in the name of crime prevention, of course.

"There is going to be a key issue over the next 10 to 15 years about identity management right across the public and private sectors," said a spokesbeing for the Prince. Identity management: what a charming phrase. "It's about people coming to accept that this is not only a necessary but desirable part of modern society over the next 10 years"; as with so many New Labour innovations, the commodification of our retinas, fingerprints and genetic inheritance is not only inevitable but will actually do us good. If we would only stop trying to interfere with management decisions, and start to realise what a crime-free, respectful, humanitarian-interventional, profitable society is being constructed for us, everything would be wonderful. "What [the Tories] are objecting to in the political sphere is going to be absolutely commonplace in the private sphere and saying 'it's not the British way' is just not going to work." Apparently the Tories are the only opponents of the Surveillance Makes You Free scheme whose opinion is worth answering.

Still, "Brown believes that, if myriad private databases develop, there is a risk that information will leak or be stolen." Now, there's a thought. Brown has set up a task force to look into the problem. As one would expect, given the qualifications and experience required, the task force will be led by a banker and will "examine the evolving technologies used for identity management and consider how public and private sectors can work together to maximise efficiency and effectiveness" and will "be a key part of the identity management architecture across government" and will "build on work underway across Whitehall". And we all know how well Whitehall has handled the matter so far.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hijack

The Home Secretary, John Reid, has always taken a refreshingly flexible approach to stuffy legalisms. A few months ago, as Secretary of State for Bombing, he lamented those aspects of international law which were hamstringing the UK and its allies by implying that torture, imprisonment without trial and pre-emptive strikes against non-threatening states are somehow legally dubious, or possibly even unlawful - and this despite the unrelenting moral passion displayed by Reid's master Tony, and Tony's master George, in their efforts to spread peace and democracy around the globe. Reid also noted the crying need for legislation to deal with "something none of us are thinking about at the moment", a warning which seems to have gone sadly unheeded by world leaders struggling to cope with the merely conceivable.

Now, as Secretary of State for Internal Security, Reid is hampered by the namby-pamby, Old Labour attitudes of the British judiciary. Like nurses who believe that hospitals are for treating people rather than making profits, or transport industry consumers who believe that railways are for getting people from place to place rather than making profits, or anti-democratic activists who believe that the House of Lords is for representing the people rather than making profits, Britain's judges have been consistent in showing themselves badly behind the times. The appeal court has just upheld the right of nine Afghans, who hijacked an aeroplane to get into the country, to "remain, work and enjoy other freedoms in the UK".

Obviously, this is outrageous. The idea that a Home Secretary should have to deal with, of all things, asylum seekers in accordance with the laws of his own country, rather than simply disposing of them according to his Tony-inspired whim, is a concept that has baffled, in succession, Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke and, now, the estimable Reid himself. Worse, the case provoked a "public outcry"; or, in Oldspeak, a few squeals of indignation from the tabloids. Reid, however, has the solution: "I therefore intend to legislate at the earliest opportunity to take new powers to deny people in this position leave to remain." This will certainly help; but how unfortunate that the judges have made such measures necessary by applying existing laws in such an unimaginative, unhelpful and ministerially non-empowering fashion.

Friday, August 04, 2006

An Almost Unacceptable Tragedy

Israel has bombed the main coastal road north of Beirut, causing a "major setback" to aid efforts, in the words of UNHCR's senior information officer. Vehicles may possibly be allowed to take secondary roads, but even if these are not also destroyed, shipments will be slowed. The white painted line down the middle of the road was doubtless an arrow pointed at Israel's heart, utilised by Hizbollah in aiming their devastating attacks on the Righteous State.

Meanwhile, the Vicar of Downing Street has postponed his holiday in order to battle for peace among the spinally-endowed in the Labour party. He described the Righteous State's bombing campaign as "unacceptable", but has decided to accept it for the time being: "I have got to try and get a solution to this, and the solution will not come by condemning one side, it will not come simply by statements that we make, it will only come by a plan that allows a ceasefire on both sides and then a plan to deal with the underlying cause, which is the inability of the government of Lebanon to take control of the whole of Lebanon."

The impotence of the Lebanese government has no underlying causes, of course. In matters concerning our little brown brothers of Araby, all the history Tony can remember comprises four genuine dates: March 1988 when the evil Saddam used chemical weapons on Halabja, August 1990 when the evil Saddam invaded plucky little Kuwait, 11 September 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists, and March 2003 when Britain and its allies liberated Iraq. Nevertheless, "much of the Arab and Muslim world do not think we approach [the Palestinian issue] in an even-handed way". In Tony's view, the misconception of much of the Arab and Muslim world concerning Tony's even-handedness is "of far greater significance than even the differing views of the tragedy in the Lebanon". It really is too bad of them, since Tony has always been a fervent supporter of restraint on both sides, and would probably be more than happy to permit American arms sales to the Palestinians if that should chance to be America's wish.

Tony suggested that "it might be necessary to talk to elements of the democratically-elected Hamas government in Palestine, even though Hamas has not renounced violence or accepted Israel's existence". We must hope that Hamas will condescend to send its elements to the negotiations, even though Israel has not renounced violence or accepted the existence of Palestinians. Tony hopes a UN resolution can be passed by early next week, so presumably he can bring himself to accept the continuation of the unacceptable bombing campaign till then. The resolution, he said, would require Israel only to suspend "offensive operations". Those aspects of the bombing which are purely defensive - all of them, according to Israel - will no doubt be permitted to continue.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Well-Deserved Accident

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has ruled that the Forest Gate shooting, like the Stockwell shooting, was nobody's fault. There was "no evidence" of intent or recklessness by the police officer who had the gun. The officer identified himself as "armed police" as he climbed the stairs of the house, but as he was wearing a respirator his words were muffled. The accidental-shootee, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, apparently jogged the highly-trained officer's arm, causing the highly-disciplined officer to fear for his life despite the two hundred and fifty colleagues who accompanied him on the raid.

In another development reminiscent of the Stockwell case, it has been discovered that the shoot-to-protectee was a criminal all along. Menezes, as may be remembered, was an illegal immigrant with a forged stamp in his Brazilian passport. Mohammed Abdul Kahar, as it now turns out, is a possible child abuse image manufacturer and collector. The police, who have had his computer in their possession for about two months, apparently found the incriminating images just in time to arrest him on the very day the IPCC report appeared.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Winning Side

I dreamed I came upon a rubbled place
Beneath a sick sky poisoned by dead cloud;
And that the ruin spat a blackened hand.
It dragged a blackened arm, a blackened face,
Which bled through crazy teeth and cried aloud.
The eyes went skidding over the burnt land,
Slid on to mine, and suddenly were stilled.
"They did it, then," he said. "My house was killed."

I condoled, shiftily; but still he stared.
"Weren't you among that lot who talked of peace,
And said that if sufficient numbers cared
We'd save the world; that one day wars would cease?
Well, you were wrong!" he spat out bloody foam,
And killed me with a fragment of his home.

Golpoid Hussop

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Crusading for Renaissance

Israel's biggest European arms supplier has joined the Bush administration and the Bush administration's little helper in watering down a European call for an immediate ceasefire in the Lebanon calamity. Bush's buddies, who also included the Czech and Polish governments, found unacceptable a draft which warned the Righteous State that disregarding civilian safety "constitutes a severe breach of international humanitarian law". Instead, all parties are called upon to "do everything possible to protect populations and to refrain from actions in violation of international law", except for United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, General Assembly Resolution 194, and one or two others of similar insignificance.

Tony and his chums, it appears, are "refusing to call for a ceasefire without the other two elements of the diplomatic plan - political negotiations and the stabilisation force - also in place". However, the Secretary for the Rest of the World, Margaret Beckett, said she would be surprised and dismayed if anyone, even Israel, interpreted the EU statement as a "green light" to continue fighting. "It explicitly calls on all parties to cease the violence," she said. Then again, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking for Israel's biggest European arms supplier, said that "Cessation of hostilities is not the same as a ceasefire ... A ceasefire can perhaps be achieved later"; so perhaps the Righteous State does have a green light to continue the conquest so long as it does so in a non-hostile spirit. I'm sure this will be easy to arrange.

Meanwhile, the Vicar of Downing Street himself is about to address the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles before taking himself off on holiday. Most observers believe he will "keep in constant touch with fellow world leaders", just in case any of them are tempted to go off-message.

Tony apparently "planned the basis of this speech several weeks ago", and happily "the crisis in the Lebanon has not changed its thesis". As has been made plain to many in Iraq and elsewhere, it takes more than a massacre or two to shake Tony's self-belief. Tony will go on to inform his audience that "the purpose of the provocation that began the conflict was clear: it was to create chaos, division and bloodshed to provoke retaliation by Israel". Since, as we know from Tony's previous pronouncements on the subject, Muslims tend to operate on a false sense of grievance, it follows that Hizbullah cannot have been retaliating for anything, let alone for a provocation by the Righteous State. Thanks to that Muslim propensity for grievance, however, a few bombed villages and a paltry pile of corpses has led "to Arab and Muslim opinion being inflamed not against those who started the aggression but against those who responded to it." Cunning fiends, these terrorists.

Still, thanks to Tony and his chums "it is still possible even now to come out of this crisis with a better long-term prospect for the cause of moderation in the Middle East succeeding", as Tony's speechwriter elegantly hath it. The cause of moderation is apparently that of George W Bush, whose respect for such democratic documents as the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights is so legendary as to be virtually mythical. Tony and his chums "will continue to do all we can to halt the hostilities", though not by the clumsy and inefficient method of getting the hostile parties to cease firing at each other; and then, once the political negotiations and the international force have been arranged to the satisfaction of all concerned whose opinions are at all important, "we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us."

You see, children, those that threaten us (they are not, I observe, those who threaten us) have embroiled the world in "an elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future". This struggle is partly a struggle between what Tony is pleased to call "reactionary Islam" and what Tony is pleased to call "moderate mainstream Islam"; it is possible that Tony finds one of these more tolerable, and less partial to wallowing in a false sense of grievance, than the other. "We will not win the battle against this global extremism," reasons Tony, "unless we win it at the level of values as much as force," and to do this we must "show we are even handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world", as when Syria and Iran are peremptorily ordered to behave themselves while Israel attacks a sovereign nation. Nevertheless, believe it or not, "we are at present far away from persuading those we need to persuade" that we are altogether living up to our noble ideals. Cynical bastards, those extremists.

The reason for our present difficulty is that "there is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and clutching with increasing definition countries far outside that region." Perhaps arc of extremism is the new axis of evil. In any case, it's a clutching arc, which sounds pretty dashed evil to me. His reverence apparently does not go into detail as to which countries are being clutched, but he notes that the triumph of our values will require "an alliance of moderation" which, considering that we need to defeat an extremist arc, sounds fairly sensible. The alliance of moderation will defeat the arc of extremism by "paint[ing] a different future", perhaps in the shape of a moderate, embracing arc to replace the extremist, clutching one. The moderate alliance will include "Muslim, Jew and Christian, Arab and Western, wealthy and developing nations ... in peace and harmony with each other" so that we can "revitalise the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to make peace between Israel and Palestine"; and then all join together and move forward as one - driven by values, uplifted by moderation, fair and even-handed in the justice of our sustainability - in the war to protect our petroleum from the heathen Chinese.