The Curmudgeon


Saturday, September 30, 2006

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Suffer Little Children

The great American tradition of celebrating family values by dumping the brats at summer camp gains a new twist in a documentary about the charmingly-named Kids on Fire camp at Devil's Lake, North Dakota. The website of Pastor Becky Fischer, who founded this particular dupe factory, notes that "We believe that childhood is the time that God designed for people to receive the gospel." Pastor Becky, ex-motel manager, ex-radio station manager and ex-sign shop owner, apparently specialises in telling seven-to-twelve-year-olds that they are hypocrites and phonies and that "This is a sick old world. Kids, you got to change things. This means war." Gospel, I seem to recall, means "good news". A cardboard cutout of George W Bush is utilised in prayer meetings; I am not certain of the Pentecostal churches' position on idolatry, but in this particular case it appears encouragingly flexible.

The film has been criticised on a Christian website as "a sarcastic documentary that paints evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and politically concerned Christians as very shrill, warlike and dangerous", when of course they are nothing of the kind. "I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam," Pastor Becky, fisher of men's children, tells the camera in her no doubt calm, peaceable and trustworthy fashion. "I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospel, as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine." Of course, it is possible that this quote was taken out of context: "They're out to show the most dramatic, exotic, extreme things they found in my ministry," she said of the film-makers. "I'm not ashamed of those things, but without context, it's really difficult to defend what you're seeing on the screen."

The Reverend Ted Haggard, speaking for the National Association of Evangelicals, expressed concern that "those on the far left" will utilise the film to "reinforce their most negative stereotypes of Christian believers". The talk of war, he said, was allegorical. "It doesn't mean we're going to establish a theocracy and force people to obey what they think is God's law." No doubt the seven-to-twelve-year-old phonies and hypocrites, crying for salvation in the context of an image of the War President His Very Own Self, will be made well aware of the distinction.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Shoulder to Shoulder, Brows Unbeaten

The Vicar of Downing Street's grand inquisitor took to the pulpit today, pledging as usual to crack down on everything in a "seamless coordinated approach to the now seamless threat", whatever that may mean.

Although he suggested a "community payback scheme", which sounds like something the Krays might approve, the good doctor seems to have said little about the possibility of making London's most violent criminals pay for the medical costs of their victims in the Middle East. Instead, he complimented the Beloved Leader on his good taste in subordinates: "leadership is not a zero-sum game. When one of us shines it doesn't diminish the others, it reflects on all of us". Further, "When one of us succeeds, the others don't fail. We share in that success." What light through yonder window breaks? It is the West, and Tony is the sun, which shines upon the just and the unjust, and bringeth warmth to keep the daisies bright.

He discoursed upon free speech: "when the terrorists or their loudmouth advocates of terrorist sympathisers tell me that we won't be allowed to raise our arguments in this or that part of the community, my answer is simple." Advocates of terrorist sympathisers? In any case, as usual, there will be "no compromises" with the abstract noun, which is not at all surprising but seems to be a crowd pleaser.

Simplicity, then: "This is Britain," for those who didn't know it. "There are, and will be, no no-go areas in our country for any of our people, whatever their background, colour or creed", although income might possibly be a factor. "We will go wherever we please", except the parliamentary exclusion zone; "we will discuss what we like" so long as Government policy is not affected; "and we will never be browbeaten by bullies.' That's what it means to be British." After all, why should we need browbeating when we're in a special relationship with the Global Enforcer?

From simplicity to clarity: "let's be clear. It cannot be right that the rights of individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people." Those who have not been found guilty of certain crimes must forfeit certain rights. It is better for a million innocents should suffer than for one extremist bully to get away. "Full stop. No ifs, no buts. It's just plain wrong." So much for discussion.

Meanwhile, "the decent, silent majority of Muslim men and women" who have supported the Government so steadfastly through Afghanistan, Iraq, the Lebanon debacle and the drum-beating for Operation Iran Liberation, must "have the courage to face down the extremist bullies", and the Vicar of Downing Street's pocket Norman Tebbit will "have the courage and character to stand shoulder to shoulder [ah, the old favourite again] with them doing it". John Reid's Own Britannic Janissaries: doubtless the scimitars are being polished even as we wait.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Incalculably Safer

The Berlin opera house Deutsche Oper has engaged in a rather craven act of self-censorship, cancelling four performances of a production of Mozart's Idomeneo because security services warned of an "incalculable safety risk".

The opera as originally written is in part a pagan version of Judges XI, in which a father inadvertently offers the life of his child in return for having his wish granted. Perhaps because his child is a son and not a daughter, Idomeneo shows a little more intelligence than Jephthah the Gileadite; he orders the boy away and offers himself instead. Since the god is Neptune, saviour of ships, and not Jehovah, smiter of Ammon, everything turns out reasonably well.

In the Deutsche Oper production, the sea-god's clemency is repudiated in favour of a general twilight of the idols, with the severed heads of Neptune, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad appearing in the final act. Whatever its artistic merits or demerits, this is clearly not a case of singling Islam out for punishment in the manner of the famous Danish cartoons or, for that matter, that of Manuel II Palaiologos.

The Bavarian minister of the interior calls the affair "sad proof that Islamic extremist agitation is already affecting freedom of opinion in our society"; which seems a little odd given that Deutsche Oper's abjection appears to have resulted not from threats by Islamic extremists, but from the oracular forebodings of the security services.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

From the Belfry

The Communities and Local Government Enforcement Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has used her speech at ConfLab 2006 to urge delegates against listening to council tenants. "We are listening," she said.

The Government has already conceded that "its aim to ensure all social housing met the so-called decent home standard by 2010 had slipped", which may possibly be another way of saying that the target has been moved. "By 2010 over 3.5 milion homes will have been refurbished," Ruth Kelly said.

Ballots of tenants have shown that they prefer to keep their homes under local authority control, so councils are being made to transfer their stock to housing associations or "arms-length management organisations" before they can afford to make repairs. Ruth Kelly has plans for "giving council and housing association tenants a bigger say in the management of homes".

The issue has placed the Blair cabal at odds with the remains of the Labour party since the year we began a certain costly venture in Iraq. "We have to make sure we are responsible with the public finances," Ruth Kelly said.

Monday, September 25, 2006

News 2020

Hot air policy takes wind of change by storm

The Minister of Legacy Preservation, Norman Truman-Lyman, today gave his "categorical and holy word" that he would continue to build on the Prime Minister's achievements while radically renewing the Government's direction towards a smooth and orderly transition to a basic reorientation of the natural centre of politics.

In a barnstorming speech at the annual NuLabLib Coalition Badge and Balloon Jamboree, Mr Truman-Lyman laid out his "vision of Britain", which commentators have interpreted as a renewed effort to present himself as a solid Britennial visualiser.

Mr Truman-Lyman expressed "confidence verging on the limitational absoluteness of considerability" that the NuLibLab Coalition would "romp home to victory" at the next voting season, predicting that "a comfortable 10% of the electorate" might still be comfortable enough to cast their ballots in the Government's favour.

While dismissing the opposition with faint praise as "the party of war, privatisation and public relations", the Minister reserved his harshest criticism for anti-environmental pressure groups who oppose Government measures to secure the world's natural resources.

"To those who set themselves against the introduction of private know-how and private initiative into the preservation of our planet and our species, I say this," he said.

He continued, "Arguments about whether people should be allowed to breathe are the privilege of opposition. When in Government one has to make tough decisions about how to facilitate respirational capacitance for each citizen according to his or her degree of entitlement to basic human rights."

Mr Truman-Lyman denied that Government plans to allow private contractors to nurture and sustain the atmosphere's oxygen content meant that the air would be privatised. "The oxygen content of the atmosphere is less than a quarter of its total amountitude," he said.

He also refuted the "aerobic blood libel" that human resources only breathe oxygen. "When a human resource engages in a pneumotracheal ingestive experience, all the gases in the atmosphere are consumed, including the seventy per cent or more which will remain free at the point of use," he said.

Delegates clapped and cheered as the Sinceritometer built into Mr Truman-Lyman's state-of-the-art Hallibechtel autocue flashed almost continually in the region of "very sincere".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blair's Blears Blares

As ConfLab 2006 ratchets up the noise, Hazel Blears has emanated, no doubt spontaneously, a valedictory tribute to her Beloved Leader. Blears also found time to criticise the Beloved Leader's number one fan, observing that "slick isn't enough, Mr Cameron. We know it's all PR, all brand repositioning", apparently with a straight face. But, as befits the party which has had "a lesson in unity and purpose and a lesson none of us should forget", adulation and self-congratulation were the major themes. "Tony Blair has led us to three election victories. He has been a Labour Prime Minister for longer than any other," she said. Irrespective of policy or the public interest, longevity is a wonderful thing. His reverence "has been a great leader for our country and an inspiration to our party", and the last decade has been "a fantastic time to be a member of the Labour Party", which doubtless explains the vertiginous drop in membership. The future of the party, Blears explained for those who did not know it, "lies in our ability to live together and collaborate" on whatever the Beloved Leader tells us to do. The "achievements of three successive electoral victories", namely the Iraq catastrophe, the Afghan quagmire, the Prevention of Terrorism excuse, the identity-card lunacy, the PFI swindle, the NHS privatisation, and the use of British troops in the service of the Bush administration, must never be "written off". If there were an international criminal court worthy of the name, I don't suppose they would be.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beach Wart

Contrary to the floating urban myths which have gained ever more ground in the public mind since their airing on the internet, the entire series of Beach Wart, consisting of twenty-six half-hour episodes, was never in fact broadcast on television. After the disastrous showing of the first and final episodes for Lorimar executives in 1985, when producer Beltran Murch was repeatedly kicked in the navel, the series was sold to Brazilian TV as part of a package deal including The Jimmy Swaggart Story and the popular soap Troubles of the Very Rich. Episode four of Beach Wart, "I Got My Lumps", was reportedly broadcast in the northern areas of Brazil between 3:30am and 4:15am local time on 23 September 1986, but no documentary evidence exists to substantiate this claim and it has not been possible to trace reliable witnesses who will admit to having watched it.

The series was the brain-child of independent producer Beltran Murch and writer Cleavon Stringbean, whose previous collaboration Canned Laughter, a sitcom about the problems and triumphs involved in producing a state-of-the-art canned-laughter track, had amused several Hollywood personnel. Although the series never progressed beyond the "pitch" stage, Murch and Stringbean were sufficiently encouraged to write a pilot for a new project, to which they gave the working title Hairy Situations.

Numerous basic elements of the finished series, such as the tragic personality of the warted hero and the strikingly original stroke of having the crusty senior character with the heart of gold killed by falling masonry after the first six and a half minutes, were already in place in the original draft; but considerable changes had to be made before the concept evolved into Beach Wart. As originally conceived, the series was to have been an urban comedy-drama, with the hero constantly trying to compensate for his affliction by solving mysteries, helping distressed persons, and hitting criminals. One draft of Hairy Situations even made the character an ex-cop, who had been thrown off the force as part of a public-relations drive and who was engaged in an obsessive crusade to demonstrate to his ex-colleagues the triumph of his own "inner beauty, warts and all".

However, the pilot script failed to elicit the response for which Murch and Stringbean had hoped. One executive at Paramount, who Stringbean claimed had been "quite appreciative" of Canned Laughter, called in person at Murch's home and smacked him fourteen times with the rolled-up manuscript. Another executive, who may have been from Viacom or possibly Fox, returned his copy of the manuscript by hurling it through Murch's window wrapped around a dead rat. Not content with this perhaps slightly over-emphatic rejection, the same executive subsequently threw xeroxed copies of the manuscript, also wrapped around dead rats, through Murch's window on a daily basis until Murch threatened legal action.

Because of this and similar responses, Murch and Stringbean gradually came to the conclusion that they needed to re-think their concept; and over the next few months they refined the pilot script into the basic scenario of what was to become Beach Wart. The location was moved from the city to a summer holiday resort; the central character, Marvin Culpepper, evolved from a troubled ex-cop turned amateur detective into an ex-hairdresser turned troubled professional coastguard; and, perhaps most importantly for what little success the series did have, the extent of his wartedness was radically reduced. In the original Hairy Situations draft, Culpepper is described as "extensively warted", and the size, texture and position of the warts on his nose, forehead and chin are carefully thought out and meticulously detailed for the benefit of the make-up and/or casting departments. In the end, Murch persuaded Stringbean that only a single wart was necessary, incorporating the best elements of the warts in the draft and situated with sufficient prominence to ensure audience response. Also, the number of lines of dialogue given to the wart was drastically cut.

Among other changes, the most significant had to do with the character of Darcy Pilbrow, Culpepper's long-suffering female friend. Originally a faithful long-term lover who sticks by Culpepper despite all his problems, Darcy's role was made more subtle and poignant by making the relationship more abrasive and platonic, turning her into a woman unable to reveal her depth of feeling for the hero in case he should interpret it as pity for his wartedness. On the negative side was an alteration which both Murch and Stringbean regretted, but felt necessary to improve the project's chances: the demise of the crusty but warm-hearted senior character was discarded, and the falling masonry changed to a collapsing sand castle.

There is little purpose in rehashing the endless controversies over how Beach Wart eventually got the green light for filming. Murch, who died in 1992, always maintained that the thirst for originality and controversy which brought Lorimar behind productions such as Dallas motivated them to produce Beach Wart, but "somewhere between filming and distributing, it just fucking dried up." Stringbean, who is still alive behind barbed wire in the Connecticut Vultures of Mercy nursing home, says that Lorimar's original interest was the result of Murch's leading them to believe that a number of prominent actors had shown enthusiasm for the project. Murch did in fact approach both Tom Selleck and James Arness for the role of Culpepper, but their responses are no longer on record. Murch also tried to entice the young Tom Cruise into playing Culpepper's wart, but for reasons of his own Cruise chose to make the film Top Gun instead. It is intriguing to consider the possibilities for his career had Cruise chosen differently.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Human Resources

Next March, the rump of the British Empire will congratulate itself on the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, no doubt with much tolerant head-shaking over the tardiness of Britain's rivals in following our glittering example. The condition of slavery was abolished a quarter of a century later, in 1833, as the effects of the Industrial Revolution made it apparent that landlords and manufactory owners could impose far more economically viable conditions upon "free" tenants and workers than were dreamed of by the most efficient slave-drivers.

The Vicar of Downing Street's press decoy, John Prescott, will soon be chairing a meeting of the committee charged with preparing for the celebration of national virtue. It is expected that one of the topics under discussion will be "proposals for a statement of regret" at Britain's part in the slave trade, which killed perhaps twenty million Africans over the course of three and a half centuries. A formal apology has already been ruled out; if Britain had not taken part in the slave trade, after all, there would now be no opportunity for Africans to be grateful for its abolition.

Since the "statement of regret", if made at all, will receive a full five months' polishing, no doubt it will be a masterpiece of New Labour historicity. In the midst of our pride in our Britishness and our determination to stop apologising for the past, we shall be given to understand that although it is deeply regrettable that some people feel that the economic complexities of the situation at the time did not altogether justify the activities of certain sections of the entrepreneurial community, nevertheless, in the interests of balance, it is necessary to emphasise that the decrease in population caused by what is now emotively referred to as the slave trade (rather than, say, "economic reallocation of selected human resources") may well have led to a rise in living standards for those Africans who remained behind. Can't say fairer than that.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Jeb's Justice

The paragon of civilisation, the champion of freedom, the arbiter of justice and World Cop by the grace of God has done justice at last upon Clarence Edward Hill, who killed a policeman in 1982 and subsequently spent a little more than half his life on death row.

Doubtless it was as improving and salutary an experience as befits a Christian nation, particularly given that the state in which Hill was terminally corrected is Florida, which basks in the gubernatorial benevolence of Barbara Bush's boy Jeb. "The sentence when it's the death penalty is not completed until the execution takes place and so it's justice denied," pronounced little Jeb on dismissing Hill's appeal. It is to be hoped that, if little Jeb should inherit the family home on Pennsylvania Avenue, this conflation of law with justice might make him a bit more mindful than his brother of such legal niceties as the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution of the United States.

Justice was administered to Clarence Hill by strapping him to a gurney and giving him three separate drugs. Hill received an exclusive preview of the procedure eight months ago, when he was strapped to the gurney with needles in his veins and kept that way for an hour and three quarters until the Supreme Court decided to deny justice a bit longer by granting a stay of execution.

In twenty-seven of the fifty states, it is illegal to administer the three drugs to animals. The first causes loss of consciousness; the second causes paralysis, so that the various functionaries in attendance don't have to defend themselves against an unconscious man; and the third causes cardiac arrest. Last year, a study based on autopsies of executed prisoners discovered "levels of anaesthetic insufficient to produce unconsciousness", and opponents of justice by lethal injection claim that the anaesthetic does not ensure that the beneficiary is unconscious when the heart is stopped. "If the anaesthetic wears off by the time the final drug is administered it is equivalent to being burned alive from the inside out, with no ability to cry out for help," said Mark Elliott of Amnesty International.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Parenting Made Simple

The Minister of Homeland Security, John Reid, has been informing Muslim parents that they had better start looking after their children properly. We all know, because Tony has said so, that the grievances motivating suicide bombers and their controllers are fictitious; therefore they must have been badly brought up. "In protecting our families, we are protecting our community," the Minister pointed out, for the benefit of those who had failed to internalise New Labour's agenda on family and community values. He also denied that "efforts to tackle Islamist terrorism amounted to a war against Islam"; though any comments he made about the present government's efficient recruitment drives for Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza do not appear to have been recorded for posterity. Unlike Britain, the US or the Righteous State, warned the ex-Minister for Bombing, John Reid, terrorists are waging a "violent and indiscriminate war", and communities need to be more aware of "telltale signs" of brainwashing. "These fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombings," informed the Minister of Moderate Fitness for Purpose, John Reid. "Look for the telltale signs now and talk to them before their hatred grows," instructed the Minister of Surveillance, John Reid. Obviously, having been groomed and brainwashed to the point where thoughts of murder and suicide are detectable in their little foreign faces, their hatred will die down in moments after a talking-to from a watchful parent inspired by the Minister of Dawn Raids and Deportations, John Reid.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

True Democracy

They still have a thing or two to learn about democracy in Hungary, where people have been rioting because their Prime Minister lied.

According to the Guardian, Ferenc Gyurcsány "emerged from the communist youth movement to become one of Hungary's richest men during the privatisations of the 1990s". His opponents in the Fidesz party, by contrast, are "rightwing". Given that the Guardian elsewhere describes one of Britain's parties of privatisation and surveillance at home plus belligerence abroad as centre-left, this is perhaps not as paradoxical as it sounds.

Most of the rioters were young men, which shows that the Hungarians have yet to discover the democratic joys of the ASBO and the diagnosis of personality disorder. Also, Gyurcsány not only admitted lying (in a speech "peppered with obscenities", according to your Tunbridge Wells correspondent) but allowed himself to be recorded making the admission and then, when the recording was made public, admitted its authenticity. As we on the mainland are well aware, this sort of thing could never happen in a more established democracy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Our Valued Citizens

Brace yourself: a study of executive bonuses has discovered that increases in "directors' compensation" are frequently linked neither to long-term strategy nor to value for the shareholders. Imagine that. It is possible, according to KPMG, who carried out the survey, that the higher bonuses mean performance is improving. Then again, they concede, it is also possible that requirements have become less stringent. Chief executives in the largest hundred companies took home an average of £2.3 million last year, of which the annual bonus accounted for more than half. Chief executives in the next two hundred and fifty largest companies took home an average of £878,000, of which the annual bonus accounted for two-thirds. Almost all City bankers expect higher bonuses this year, and a quarter of them expect more than double last year's bonus. "Too many companies are paying executives for achievements against targets with marginal relevance to the corporate strategy and the value proposition it puts to shareholders," a KCMG partner said, perhaps in order to emphasise the way in which performance may be improving. The situation is "not necessarily to every executive's liking either." This is certainly understandable. Some of the increases are "because pension shortfalls are being replaced with cash payments and incentives". Evidently the poor things are having a hard time keeping up their National Insurance contributions.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Social Problem

Surrounded on a stationary train
By paper lamentations big and bold
That Britain's greatness could not come again
Till we regained our pure-white gloss of old,
I saw a headline slither from its place
And stamp the floor with black and hefty rage;
The paper's reader frowned at the white space
And quickly rustled up the sporting page.

The black ink in a wobbly blot arose;
Black words clumped into fists and shiny boots
Which found and fought one of the country's foes,
Who undermine our State with foreign roots.
Shaking his head, the reader turned to me:
"These black chaps are so violent, you see."

Bozzler Frippett

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Protecting Our Masters

The Minister for US Interests in Europe has blocked European censure of the American practice of kidnapping people and torturing them in secret locations. According to the last forty-three words of this story in the Guardian, Bomber Hoon was kind enough to intervene at a meeting of foreign ministers in order to protect the Bush administration against any unpleasantness.

The preceding five hundred and forty-two words of the story are about Hoon's protectee, which is utilising the not quite brand-new political tactic of warning that imminent apocalypse will result from any failure to let the Bush administration do exactly as it wishes. The US Supreme Court having ruled that the Bush administration's military tribunals for detainees violated American law and the Geneva conventions, the White House has denounced the conventions as "vague" and is trying to change American law.

"Time is running out," Dick Cheney informed a press conference, through the usual channel. It is "vital that our folks on the frontline" - that would be the brave, upstanding kind of folks who drive innocent men to acts of anomalous warfare at Guantánamo - "have the tools that are necessary to protect the American people" because "the enemy wants to attack us again". And after all we've done for them, too.

Colin Powell has added what the Guardian tactfully calls his "prestige" to the cause of Republicans who oppose the White House proposals. Powell wrote that the proposals would create doubts about the "moral basis" of the War Against the Abstract Noun. It says a great deal for the character and honour of Geoff Hoon that he appears to have fewer doubts about the legal and moral basis of the White House's actions than the former secretary of state and pointer-out of big Iraqi trucks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Capital With A Human Face

The Secretary of State for Faith Schools and Top-up Fees, Alan Johnson, has been targeting blame for the fact that not enough people are advantagising themselves of the Government's Club 18-30 initiative for universities. The Government wishes to get half of the population within that age range into whatever remains of our higher education industry by 2010. Messages are getting back to Alan Johnson about the ways in which teachers advise pupils on their future.

"Problems of aspiration in deprived areas are very real," observed Drummond Bone, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University and president among vice-chancellors. But with a well-placed preposition, the Guardian's education correspondent implies that Bone's statement is an argument against the National Union of Teachers' contention that "teachers in areas of deprivation have a harder battle to overcome the damage they have suffered." But perhaps that was how Bone intended it.

According to Alan Johnson's spies, some teachers in deprived areas "encourage children to aim pretty low", and as a result "we squander human capital and waste individual potential". This is certainly too bad. The squandering of human capital, in a culture where capital means so much, is a serious waste of resources, and might be inexcusable if that particular type of capital were a little less easy to replace. The idea that children should aim low - just because they were born low, brought up on low incomes, educated on low resources and given a low priority by their lords and masters - shows a criminal lack of perspective now that Tony's Choice Emporium requires a decent supply of unemployed graduates.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

News 2020

US challenges Far East terror conspiracy to prove innocence

The terrorist attacks on America of 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists, were "almost probably not" the work of Iranian robo-mullahs, the US Commander in Chief said today.

The attacks on America by terrorists of 11 September 2001 changed the rules of the diplomatic game and turned America almost overnight from a deeply humanitarian if unsubtle and isolationist power into a highly pro-active though deeply humanitarian one.

Initial intelligence reports blamed the attacks on Saddam Hussein's Iraq and its suspected Taliban allies in what was then left of Afghanistan.

By an ironic quirk of fate, intelligence services were not informatised that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks until both countries had suffered considerable democratisation trauma after decades of unparalleled Muslimity.

Since shortly before the successful pre-emption of last year's nearly very possible Irano-Syriac nuclear attack on the Outer Hebrides, the US government has blamed atomically-powered robo-mullahs, capable of incinerating steel girders with a flash of their beards, for the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, when terrorists attacked America.

Speaking from the Oval Bunker today, however, the Commander in Chief conceded some ideological ground to those who claim that the administration has not fully appreciated the extent of the terrorist threat, while insisting that "the past two decades' advances in the war on terror will be vaporised into obliveration unless the Crusade of the Willing is globally de-obstaclatised."

In what some see as a toughening of America's stance towards the suspected monolithic and ruthless conspiracy, the Commander in Chief also challenged the Sino-Palestinian Enclave for Caliphatisation, Terror and Economic Regulation (SPECTER) to "prove once and for all that they are not a force for evil".

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant

Those tiresome De Menezes people are complaining again, this time because Cressida Dick, the officer commanding the Stockwell shoot-to-protect squad, has been promoted to deputy assistant commissioner. As to whether Cressida Dick should face disciplinary charges, no final decision has yet been publicly admitted; so, not being an asylum seeker or on benefits or having an Asian demeanour or having been denounced as a terrorist by anyone who matters, she is of course innocent until proven guilty.

One investigation has found that Cressida Dick's orders to the shoot-to-protect squad were unclear and that the officers who carried out the prophylactic action misinterpreted what she said; hence, as we all know, the protection was nobody's fault. A further investigation is still trying to determine "whether the force told the truth after the killing". Since Metropolitan police officers, in the words of Cressida Dick's sponsor and fellow Oxford graduate, do not spin, and since a spokesman from the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police said that De Menezes' "clothing and his behaviour at the station added to [the officers'] suspicions", given the presumption of innocence it appears that a denim jacket and an unhurried gait were sufficient to set alarm bells ringing and, subsequently, trigger-fingers pumping.

During the investigation, Cressida Dick is "said to have impressed her bosses with the way she coped with the pressure". She may give garbled orders when mere lives are at stake; but under genuine pressure, it seems, she manages admirably.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Strengthness, Not Scaredness

The Vicar of Downing Street and his angel of mercy, the Secretary of State for Health Service Privatisation, are both doing their best to reassure a nervous flock. His reverence believes that Britain's human resources feel "under threat" from terrorism, migration and globalisation, because "the interplay" between the three has changed: "Suddenly we feel under threat, physically from this new terrorism that is coming onto our streets, culturally as new waves of migrants change our society and economically because an open world economy is hastening the sharpness of competition."

Translated, this means that Tony's forces of justice should be permitted to continue their brilliant policy of random harassment of Muslims, dawn raids and occasional shootings; that John Reid's forces of justice should be permitted to continue their brilliant policy of random harassment of immigrants, dawn raids and deportations; and that everybody should continue to work harder, work longer, work for less, invest in private pension plans, and spend, spend, spend. This is called "an approach which is strong and not scared".

Meanwhile, Patsy Hackitt, the Nurses' Friend, has been reassuring the staff of NHS Logistics that their imminent sell-off to a private profit interest means only that "they will continue working for the NHS as part of the NHS and true to its values". This is certainly convincing. NHS Logistics is the branch of the NHS which supplies "everything from stationery to bed linen and MRI scanners"; and so, as one might expect, the Government has decided to contract the service out to a German parcel company. Conditions for staff will be "comparable" to their present ones. Translated, of course, this means that conditions will be worse, since if there were the slightest chance that conditions might be the same or even (perish the thought) better, Ms Hackitt would have said so.

"The central issue here is that it is not driven by ideology," Ms Hackitt said. Ideology is for Islamofascists and crypto-Marxist union bosses. The Vicar of Downing Street and his chums are, necessarily, driven by something else. "We are not in fact selling off the business (sic) to private shareholders in the way that gas and telecommunications were," Ms Hackitt said, observing that "the NHS has always been a mixed economy," as opposed to, well, you know, a service. But that is not an ideological observation. God, George and Tony forfend.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Telling Johnny Arab What's What

With an immediate ceasefire in the Labour party not a particularly realistic prospect, the Vicar of Downing Street has condescended to dispense comfort to the Lebanese prime minister. He committed himself, during his remaining time before his inevitable ascension unto the American lecture circuit, to bringing about something the Guardian is pleased to call "the Middle East peace process", which last time I checked involved turning Palestine from a couple of very large prisons into a lot of smaller ones. This is certainly reassuring. His reverence justified his disinclination to call for an immediate ceasefire when Israel is doing the firing on the grounds that there was "never going to be a cessation without a UN resolution". Since Israel has never violated a UN resolution, the only possible results of calling for a ceasefire without one would have been undesirable ones. Had his reverence lost his nerve, he would have isolated Britain both from the Bush administration and from the other member of the international community. It is to be hoped that the Lebanese people will one day appreciate what dire consequences they might have suffered, had his reverence failed not to call for a ceasefire when not doing so mattered most.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Breathing Fire and Brimstone

As we approach the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America of 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists, inevitably a few parasites are emerging to cash in on the world's sympathy for the victims of that tragic piece of television. It seems that seventy per cent of those involved in clearing the rubble at the ruins of the World Trade Centre towers are suffering from cancers and lung diseases thanks to the glass, asbestos and other terroristically empowderised substances they breathed in. "We started cleaning the New York Stock Exchange because that had to be open," claims one of them, who was told that the air was safe but now appears to be contesting this view, despite the fact that the air was obviously a good deal safer for him than for the three thousand martyred Americans who are no longer able to bless the nation with their presence, much less to complain about a little caustic erosion of the oesophagus. "Now they should be helping him," claims the wife of this breathtaking epitome of lower-class rapacity, unaware or blithely dismissive of the possibility that "they" - the insurance company, the New York Stock Exchange, or the Bush administration - might have one or two problems of their own. Have these people no sense of respect for the fallen, no inkling of solemnity in the face of George W Bush's approval ratings? Do they not understand what it means to be approaching the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America of 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Civilisation,n. The act or quality of being better than one's enemies, who are by definition uncivilised.

Euphemism,n. The terms by which we depict our own actions, omissions, intentions, wishes and biological processes.

Forethought,n. The means by which flaws in a planned enterprise may be anticipated and neutralised, unless the said flaws are so basic and fundamental to the aforementioned enterprise that their anticipation would constitute an unacceptable disincentive potential.
The boy stood on the burning duck
To keep it nice and still;
The bird profusely mourned its luck,
As burnt ducks often will.

The boy stood on the burning duck
Despite his scorching toes;
He hoped to have an egg to suck
And balance on his nose.

He waited on the burning duck,
That his wish not be foiled
For eggs above the common ruck:
Not laid, yet ready boiled.

He'd stay atop that burning duck
As long as it might take;
Yet he too was down on his luck:
'Twas no duck, but a drake.
Frabley Squimpottle

Kerzle,n. A particular form of canoodle which few know about and still fewer practise.
Even on the sacred matrimonial mattress, she clung to the superstition that a kerzle would turn her tongue blue.
Moppet Minge

Language,n. Verbal idiosyncrasy. Adoptive slang. Peripatetic argot. National code.

Man-eater,n. Animal regarded with fear and disgust by the species which invented the proverb that one is what one digests.

Olympiad,n. Series of games held for the promotion of international brotherhood, uniting all humanity in the common bond of commercial profit and mutual xenophobia.

Politics,n. Continuation of war by other means. The art of what is possible without unduly alienating those whom providence has entrusted with the care of a given politician's present reputation and future financial security.

Statesmanship,n. Imitation of the mob's idea of greatness, as performed by the imitation of a human being.

Umbilical Cord,n. The fast-food straw through which we are held and cossetted through the first forty weeks of our existence. After eviction from the womb, the maternal apron strings and the televisual placenta are often considered adequate substitutes.

Voluntary,adj. A guideline which specifies that a commercial organisation shall not engage in profiteering by nefarious means, except where it suits the organisation's purposes to do so.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Positive Thinking

Well, here's a thing: it appears that climate change may have been "the main driver behind the birth of civilisation". Caused by "natural fluctuations in the Earth's orbit round the sun", as George W Bush might say if he believed the earth went round the sun, a sudden increase in global aridity forced people to abandon their carefree hunter-gatherer existence and congregate around the remaining water-holes, which some enterprising souls had no doubt privatised so as to ensure a happier society for all. Without "the driving force of climate change" (dear me, such automotive metaphors), "human society might have evolved much more slowly", according to Dr Nick Brooks of the University of East Anglia.

Without impugning Dr Brooks' theory, whose plausibility I am not qualified to judge, I am reminded of something I once read about Dr Edward Teller, the Hungarian-American nuclear physicist and proud parent of the hydrogen bomb. Teller was a rabid enthusiast of nuclear weapons - bigger, better, more - and his preaching of their virtues was by no means confined to mere deterrence: "We cannot and must not try to limit the use of weapons," he wrote, claiming also that "Properly defended, we can survive a nuclear attack ... As a nation, we shall survive, and our democratic ideals and institutions will survive with us, if we make adequate preparations for survival now". The way Teller rhapsodised about the benign powers of nuclear weapons made one wonder why he advocated wasting them on the evil Russians. These days, of course, we do not make such mistakes; those innocent Iraqis and Lebanese civilians, with whom we have no quarrel whatever, are precisely the ones who have felt the fraternal warmth of our depleted uranium. In the good old days of the Cold War, when the Great Satan of the moment largely knew its place and did not attempt to sneak nail-scissors onto civil aircraft, Teller was sometimes allowed foaming and sputtering onto national television so as to give a near-reasonable cast to whatever atrocities the US Government and its little helpers happened to be perpetrating at the time; nowadays opinions like his are slightly to the left of the political mainstream. Progress is a wonderful thing.

This gentleman of science once wrote, regarding radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests: "Its effect on human beings is so little that if it exists at all, it cannot be measured. Radiation from test fallout might be slightly harmful to humans. It might be slightly beneficial. It might have no effect at all. ... Deploring the mutations that may be caused by fallout is something like adopting the policies of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who approve of a past revolution but condemn further reforms." Radiation is an agent of evolution; radiation is emitted by nuclear explosions; therefore nuclear explosions are a Good Thing. Climate change wove the swaddling clothes in the cradle of civilisation; cars and cheap flights are agents of climate change; therefore you, yes you, by going your very own traffic-jamming, overconsuming, carbon-emitting way, are driving civilisation towards its second childhood.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Issues at Hand in the Heartlands

True as ever to the liberal democratic spirit, the Guardian has sent a minion to a pub to find out what might be going on in the minds of the lower classes. Kirsty Scott went to the Broomfield Tavern in Lanarkshire, than which "there are few more solidly Labour regions in the country" and interviewed three whole voters.

A fifty-five-year-old man "nurses a half of stout and a growing anger at what is happening to the party that once earned his support". A sixty-six-year-old man and retired health worker "still thinks of John Smith" and says that "Nobody trusts them now ... I will never vote for them again". As with many a newspaper quote from the civilian population, the ellipses are by far the most interesting part. A fifty-eight-year-old man "blamed the media for the frenzy of speculation over Mr Blair's departure", but added that "everything they've done for us has been good. You have to remember when they got in, how it felt. It's like a religion, Celtic and Rangers. You want Labour in."

It is certainly good of the Guardian to occupy Kirsty Scott's time with the down-home insights of these honest working folk. It is to be hoped that Ms Scott did not have to spend too much time trawling Lanarkshire watering-holes for honest working folk who could express themselves in a fashion so elegantly combining Scots pith and editorial wind.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Abominable Snowman

Val Guest 1957

An English anthropologist, Dr John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is carrying out some research as a guest of the lama in a remote Himalayan monastery. Rollason believes that the yeti is a separate human species which has been driven to isolation and near-extinction by its more aggressive cousins, and when an American expedition led by Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) breezes in, Rollason joins it over the objections of his wife and the warnings of the lama (Arnold Marlé). Rollason soon discovers that Friend's interest in the creature is neither scientific nor benign; and as tensions within the expedition rise, it emerges that the creature itself is rather different, and much less helpless, than any of them had imagined.

The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, based on his television play The Creature. The Abominable Snowman was Kneale's last collaboration with Guest and Hammer Studios, after the less than happy experience of adapting his serials, The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass 2. Kneale had disagreed violently with the casting of Brian Donlevy as the eponymous boffin - "once an excellent comic heavy but gone quite to pieces ... turned my troubled professor into a bawling bully", he lamented in the introductions to the published scripts.

However, The Abominable Snowman used many of the original cast from the television version, including Cushing and Marlé (intriguingly, the role of Friend in the television version was played by a pre-Zulu Stanley Baker); and despite its sensational title is a superb production, thanks to Guest's workmanlike direction and Arthur Grant's excellent black-and-white Scope cinematography. The French Pyrenées do sterling duty as the Himalayas, and the snowbound mountain scenes are always convincing and frequently awe-inspiring. Cushing's performance is up to his characteristic high standard, the other actors play their roles creditably, and the script is relatively free of the racism and misogyny which were later to become some of Hammer's less fortunate trademarks.

Rollason's wife Helen (Maureen Connell) is both anxious at his joining the expedition and angry with him for concealing his intentions from her, but she is never presented as neurotic or misguided; her worries are extremely well-founded and, unlike Judith Carroon in Hammer's version of The Quatermass Experiment, when she tries to help her husband she achieves rather more than simply causing the situation to worsen. Similarly, the superstitious fears of the natives and the apparent hostility of the monks towards the expedition are shown to have very good reasons behind them; while a certain amount of fun is had at the expense of Rollason's assistant, Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), a cricket-jerseyed Englishman Abroad who complains volubly about the weather and the Easterners' chronic inability to supply him with a proper cup of tea.

The real monster is Tom Friend, an affable but ruthless huckster who takes irresponsible risks with the lives of his men and whose previous contributions to anthropology include an exploitative and fraudulent venture involving children supposedly reared by wolves. With fine irony, his eventual fate points up his status as the story's true "abominable snowman". Meanwhile, the audience - a dominant species in the shadow of the hydrogen bomb - is left with the parable in which the lama had earlier warned Rollason against the pursuit of knowledge for the wrong reasons. When a great king approaches the end of his reign, the lama said, he had better stop looking to expand his realm and start thinking about a worthy successor.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where There's Life, There's Brute Reproductive Instinct

Since there are only six thousand million souls in the world, and since the Rapture is clearly close at hand, any failure to grant the opportunity of heavenly bliss to as many little angels as possible would obviously be an act of gratuitous cruelty. Hence the craze for test-tube sextuplets and so forth which graced the headlines of our tabloids and various other soap operas before God gave us asylum seekers. Now, it appears, there is the possibility of womb transplants which, in the words of the Press Association, "would give new hope to women unable to have children because they are born without a uterus or have had to have an emergency hysterectomy". A woman without children is, ipso facto, a woman without hope. Fortunately, this small but novel contribution to the population explosion could conceivably come to fruition in as little as two years' time so that, when the crash finally comes, there'll be all the more of us around to enjoy it.

Monday, September 04, 2006


As the more observant and efficiently-browsered among you may have noticed, there have been some renovations to the sidebar. Just because something was posted a month ago or more, that doesn't mean you're allowed to forget about it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


A Tale

A woman stood at the traffic lights, waiting to cross the road. Her dark coat and hat were meant for a far colder day; weighed down with a plastic bag on each side, she resembled a lumpy mother holding her lumpy white twins by the hair. Her face, crushed between hat-brim and collar, was inanimate yet somehow furtive, the tics and twitches struggling and suffocating under the doughy flesh. To the extent that they were visible, her blunt and shadowed features went unnoticed; even while she waited, staring stolid and motionless at the zebra, two passers-by had brushed unknowingly against her.

At last the lights changed. To her right, a bus slowed jerkily and halted, vibrating with impatience. On the far side of the road a dark green saloon with its single occupant headed a growing, growling queue; and beyond the saloon an invisible motorcyclist was audibly making plain the harnessed potential of his engine.

The woman stepped off the pavement and began walking across. Observed from on high by the bus driver, she placed one foot in front of the other consciously and with care, as though on camera or a rickety footbridge. The laden, knobbly bags banged against her ankles. She kept her head lowered, as if using the zebra stripes on the road to measure her deliberate progress.

She had completed perhaps two-thirds of her journey when the lights changed again. The bus gave a gasp and a creak and moved away, dragging a draught which pulled at the woman’s hat. As she came within view of the motorcyclist he goaded his engine to an even louder roar, and the driver of one of the cars – perhaps the second or third behind the green saloon – sounded his horn.

The woman halted, causing the driver of the saloon to lift both hands from the steering wheel in pleading exasperation. After a moment, the woman dropped both her shopping bags which, well-fed, remained upright on either side of her. Slowly, the woman’s knee began to buckle, so that as she dropped her body turned to the left and she faced the driver of the green saloon.

It was, the driver must have thought, some sort of attack brought on by the heat. The woman’s head had drooped, so that her hat came loose and threatened to fall. As her hip came into contact with the road’s surface, she placed both hands on the ground. At that point another horn sounded, and was joined by an irritable chorus. The woman’s head jerked upward; the hat fell away, exposing her wiry grey hair; her eyes narrowed, staring at the driver of the green saloon. With the smooth efficiency of an eyeblink, her feet and hands placed themselves beneath her body and levered it upright. She stood on all fours and, her yellow teeth glinting, she snarled.

Drivers behind the green saloon, who could not see the woman, gave vent to renewed impatience. The motorcyclist, who had watched the whole performance, moved back a few yards and then abruptly accelerated past her, rounding the next corner with a sharper turn than necessary. Still on all fours, the woman hurried away, vanishing silently down a side-street.

Her shopping remained in the road. After a few moments, the driver of the green saloon got cautiously out of the car and, ignoring the clamour of horns, picked up the plastic bags and put them carefully on the rear seat before driving away.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

News 2020

PM refutes eugenics claim over final solution

The Prime Minister has issued a "refutatory denial of categorical rebuttality" in response to claims that the Government's proposed measures to reduce antisocial behaviour are undemocratic.

Government proposals for a final solution to the antisociality problem include programmes of "active disencouragement" for breeding teenagers whose National Interpersonal Compatibility Knowledge Database profiles indicate a likelihood of dysfunctional offspring.

Families showing several or more designated "risk factors", including low income, alcohol consumption, single-parentitude, excessive Muslimity or other symptoms could face "protective dissolution", with adults being placed on compulsory usefulness schemes and children boarded out to whatever faith schools the arresting officer decides are most economically viable.

The Prime Minister's rebuttal today refuted claims by protesters against targeted human rights that the new measures amounted to a "eugenics programme".

"I utterly and categorically refute the irresponsible claim that the new measures allegedly amount to a so-called 'eugenics programme'," the Prime Minister said.

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, criticised the Government for "excessive intrusion into the lives of its subjects" and said that the police, voluntary services, rational and responsible religions, and the use of longer prison sentences would "entirely suffice for building a cleaner and purer Albion".

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Matter of Perspective

I saw a Sun headline on the Tube today. I'm not proud of it; but Sun headlines are not always possessed of sufficient discretion, politeness or understatement to make them easy to avoid. This one said SEX KILLS, only bigger. A sub-header proclaimed that "making love" (it's a family newspaper) can increase the risk of not one but two kinds of cancer.

I didn't read any further, as the pattern on the seat-cover opposite was crying out for my attention; but I was a little disappointed to learn that the story was apparently this one. Women at risk of, or under treatment for, cervical and womb cancer, are advised to avoid unprotected sex in order to avoid being infused with prostaglandin, a chemical compound which "could fuel the growth of both types of cancer". The medical director of Cancer Research UK says it's "an interesting piece of laboratory research" and that "the likelihood of any unprotected sex affecting the successful outcome of their treatment is considered slight".

So it appears that, before we can calm the crisis of overcrowding resulting from the inexplicable popularity of another kind of uterine growth, a more effective deterrent will have to be found. The current epidemic of pierced, bejewelled and exposed flab, which makes so many women look like random agglomerations of substandard baking dough, might just possibly do the trick; but I doubt it somehow.