The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Free to Kill Again

The killer of thirty-one people could soon walk out of court free to kill again, even after admitting breaking the law.

The mother of one of the victims today accused the killer of "playing for time" and said that the legal costs of the case could have been spent on making the public safer.

The deaths, as well as over four hundred injuries, took place on 5 October 1999. Families of the victims have been fighting for justice ever since.

After a three-year investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service decided last December that there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute certain individuals over the deaths.

Evidence is still occasionally required in British courts, particularly when the deaths in question are the result of white-collar fiscal prudence rather than black-bearded political extremism.

Although the killer has admitted the actions which led to the thirty-one deaths, the killer has disclaimed all responsibility for the deaths, calling them "a terrible event for everyone involved".

However, it is not known how many of the dead and injured were the killer's own loved ones.

Despite not having been punished, the killer today claimed to be a reformed character who had "changed enormously for the better".

Among other moral redemptions, the killer's name has been changed so that people in the killer's care do not suffer undue stress from the previous name's negative connotations.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tony to Save Civilisation One More Time

Britons, with the possible exception of corporate Britons and those who absolutely cannot do without a new airport terminal, "must be prepared to pay now to avoid future disaster" from climate change. Tony says it, so somebody ought to do something about it.

Wearing a poppy, in recognition of his considerable contribution to the Afghan opium trade, his reverence said that the world faces no issue "more serious, more urgent, or more demanding of leadership - here, of course, but most importantly in the global community". One wonders if he has a leader in mind. His reverence may be leaving his present employment quite soon. There is, in his reverence's view, "overwhelming scientific evidence" that climate change is taking place, so from now on the UK will "have to be bolder" than his reverence has managed to be over the past nine years. His reverence also noted that "if all Britain's carbon emissions were stopped in one fell swoop, they would be replaced within two years by the increase in Chinese emissions"; which translates into Standard English as the trademark "don't blame me."

By way of boldness, then, the Secretary of State for Greenspeak, David Miliband, announced "four pillars" to prop up the Government's show of vague interest in keeping some of the planet habitable. The first is to "enshrine into law Britain's target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050 from 1990 levels". Translated into Standard English, this means that nobody in Britain need feel obliged to do very much, except perhaps turn off the occasional tap, until 2049. The second pillar is "an independent carbon committee to ensure cuts in carbon use", by the judicious application of whatever set of rubber teeth the Government sees fit to give it. Third, the legislation will "create enabling powers", as opposed to obligations, compulsions or anything (shudder) planned, "to put in place new emissions reduction measures", and the final pillar is "to assess what additional reporting and monitoring arrangements" are required for the all-important public relations exercise which will be the largest aspect of the whole enterprise, as well as the only aspect to be much thought out.

The Prince in Waiting observed that "Building a low carbon economy in Britain and across the world means higher productivity from increased energy efficiency, it means new markets, jobs and exports from environmental technologies and products"; as does everything except investing in education, public health and public transport, and paying pensioners what is owed them.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Church,n. A worldly organisation for the care and upkeep of the divinely inspired. A building in which those who believe that, wherever three gather in His name, the Saviour is present, attempt by weight of numbers to sway the Saviour to their own advantage.

Defeat,n. The only war crime.

Earn,v.t. To gain a salary in exchange for performing a useful function, after the fashion of politicians, corporate executives, etc. Nurses, teachers and other less efficient breeds also gain salaries, which are not to be confused with earnings and are known instead as costs.

Faith,n. Collective delusion, sanctioned by clerics and sanctified by military might and mental inertia.

Genocide,n. The deliberate and occasionally mistaken act of eliminating an entire people. The whisk whose stirring motions produced, from pagan eggs broken upon the cutting edge of Manifest Destiny, that great Christian omelette which is the United States.

Mole,n. A small dark blemish in either the skin or the garden lawn.
The death of the Duchess of Dee
Was something appalling to see:
She was gobbled up whole
By a thing like a mole
Which hatched from a wart on her knee.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Reputation,n. A mask composed of applied and solidified rumour, which for the most flattering results is best applied oneself.

Schismatic,n. A heretic with sufficient followers to escape eternal damnation and set up his own stall from which to hawk yet another one-and-only Truth. Examples include the Christian schismatic Luther, the Jewish schismatic Paul, and the Chaldean schismatic Abraham.

Trimp,n. A triumvirate of tramps.
Thrice ugh: a trimp!
Boveller Snitch

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Suspect Advice

Well, here's a thing. Mohammed Abdul Kahar, whom the police shot-to-protect on 2 June, released without charge and then, by an interesting coincidence, arrested for collecting child pornography on the day the IPCC reported on the incident, will not be charged with sex-crimes, either. The Crown Prosecution Service has advised the police not to prosecute, in a renewed paroxysm of outdatedness which cannot help but reinforce the perception by the Vicar of Downing Street and his pocket Tebbit, John Reid, that the law needs relaxing further so as to permit appropriate latitude for those whom the authorities choose not to suspect of anything to continue sleeping soundly in their virtuous beds. After all, if a suspected terrorist and suspected paedophile can walk away free, with no more stain on his character than the British police and the British journalist can hawk up between them over a period of five months, what will become of Tony's pledge to "harry, hassle and hound" from the country those suspected of involvement in organised crime?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Preaching Common Sense

The Archbishop of Canterbury, having returned from a fortnight in China, now favours readers of the Murdoch Times with his insights into the nature of a secular society. China, it seems, "is having to cope with a vacuum where cohesive social morality ought to be, a vacuum shaped by the past 50 years of Chinese history". The Chinese government now "repeats regularly that religion is essential to the 'harmonious society' it aims to create" and "there is a clear recognition that both the motivation and the volunteer base that will make for a sense of responsible citizenship is not going to be there without the religious communities." Well, if the Chinese government recognises it and Rowan Williams agrees, I suppose we must all fall into line.

Dr Williams admits that the situation in the UK is, at the moment, slightly different from that in China; nevertheless, when people talk about "becoming a secular society", the Archbishop fears they may not realise that "they are in effect echoing the idea that the basic and natural form of political organisation is a central authority that 'franchises' associations, and grants or withholds their right to exist publicly and legally within the State". I hadn't realised that myself, I must admit. I always thought a secular society was one in which the state had nothing to do with religion. The idea that, in wishing for such a society, I was inadvertently advocating Beijing-style centralism never crossed my mind, and I would heartily repent my short-sightedness if the Archbishop had bothered to give the slightest indication of the link between the two ideas. Unfortunately, the existence of such a link appears to be a matter of faith.

Dr Williams displays his Church's distinctive brand of unctuous hypocrisy in noting that our system is "secular" in that "it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body" while entirely omitting from mention the legal and civil privileges accorded to the Church of England. A system in which the Government appoints religious leaders, and in which religious leaders have uncontested seats in one of the houses of Parliament, is "secular" only in the specifically Christian sense that it is less Christian than Rowan Williams might prefer.

Dr Williams then proceeds to equate the idea of a secular society with somebody or other's "ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen — no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils". Dr Williams proclaims such an ideal "politically dangerous" because "it assumes that what comes first in society is the central political 'licensing authority', which has all the resource it needs to create a workable public morality". A central political licensing authority which licenses Christian faith schools is, apparently, not a product of such distorted thinking; but again I am at a loss to discover the reasoning behind this distinction. Dr Williams, who has an invisible friend and believes in the resurrection of the dead, concludes that "we could do with some common sense and realism" on the subject.

Meanwhile, never having been much of a one for regulating big business, the Government has backed down from the idea of compelling faith schools to accept quotas of pupils from different faiths or none. The Church of England says it will introduce the policy voluntarily, but has "cautioned against" requiring inferior faiths to do the same. The Secretary of State for Consumer Development, Alan Johnson, said today that he, Ruth Kelly and the Vicar of Downing Street, among others, "share the same goal for a more cohesive society where faith schools play an important part in building understanding and tolerance of other faiths and communities" by practising voluntary apartheid inside school hours.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

News 2020

Muslims offended - no casualties yet

Muslim leaders have reacted with fury to the shadow Home Secretary's warning that Britain will soon be facing a "cultural crisis of unprecedented proportionality" unless the country's human resources stop insisting on the practice of voluntary apartheid.

David Davidson-Davies, speaking in chorus with the Minister for Culture 'N' Sports 'N' Stuff, said that Britain had become "socio-culturally fragmentised" owing to members of the public failing to engage with national aspirations as represented in Westminster and the business community.

Although Muslims were often justifiably accused of integrative non-application, even genuinely British people "might benefit from examining their conscience on this issue", Mr Davidson-Davison said.

In a controversial statement which is sure to provoke controversy, Mr Davison-Davis implied that voluntary apartheid was even more highly developed among the truly British.

"Of course, it's very easy to detect Muslim non-integrativity because of the way they dress," he said. "And the fact that no Muslim has ever bothered to become leader of a major political party is proof of the fact that they still have a long, hard road to furrow before they can be said to have blended adequately into the national background."

But he continued on to continue that many non-Muslim groups, such as "young people, old people, those on low incomes, those suffering from so-called health problems, those who disenliven the housing market by failing to own a second home and so forth", also tended to define themselves as separate from society in general.

"If such people are permitted to associate with their own kind to a degree approaching excessive exclusivity, the only possible result can be a cultural crisis of unprecedented proportionality which may well end in the apocalyptic dawn of a bloodstained sunset for the Union Jack," Mr Davies-Davidson said.

Muslim leaders have expressed "disappointment and disgust" at the shadow Home Secretary's comments, but no deaths have been reported so far.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Flexible Path of Victorious Prevailing

With midterm elections a fortnight away, someone has apparently advised the leader of the free world that he ought to make some sort of show of looking like a statesman. Accordingly, in a speech from the monkey house today, Bush condescended to admit a degree of non-satisfaticalism with that differently-accomplished Mission in the Middle East. "I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq," he said. "I'm not satisfied either." This is certainly reassuring.

Among his concerns were "the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the loss of life and the growth of insurgency", all of which are, it would appear, somebody else's fault. Bush provided further indication of his engagement with an intriguing new reality by saying he would "'bring the troops home tomorrow' if he did not think a peaceful Iraq was vital for US security". If a peaceful Iraq were not vital for US security, Bush might consider removing the cause of the war. Defeating terrorism in Iraq is "essential to turning back the cause of extremism in the Middle East", therefore Bush will continue to provide, at the expense of the American taxpayer and with the blood of the American soldier, a 169,234-square-mile propaganda mill for the terrorists.

Bush noted that the Coalition of the Retroactively Invited was "constantly adjusting [its] tactics to meet the changing threat", as can be seen from the colourful history of the original casus belli, which began with the weapons of mass nonexistence, metamorphosed into regime change, matured as civilising the natives, and now lies in drooling senility as the occupation's few remaining enthusiasts try to conjure up a worse-looking alternative. Despite these changes in our goals, "our goals are unchanging". Ostensible goals, after all, can be altered at the flick of a columnist, while the real goal has been awaiting liberation under the soil of Iraq for some millions of years.

Bush also urged people not to believe "enemy propaganda" to the effect that the US presence in Iraq was the cause of all the trouble. Evidently the insurgency would have happened anyway. He acknowledged that, to America's grief, "we've lost 93 American service members in Iraq" while, to the Real Iraqis' glory, "more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have given their lives in battle", all fighting shoulder to shoulder, no doubt. In addition, "Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups and criminals."

Western values being what they are, the violence which Iraqi civilians have suffered at the hands of combat pilots, tank crews, coalition-sponsored militias, mercenary contractors and American teenagers is presumably a good deal less unspeakable. Curiously enough, Bush did not speak about it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Withhold Not Correction from the Child

Encouraging news for discipline fans: Tony's Family Paradise is jailing more children than ever before, some of them more than fifty miles from any opportunity to disrupt the home environment. Many of them have slept rough, have drug or drink problems, or are premature parents, in which case, of course, it serves them right and helps keep the homelessness figures conveniently low. In many cases, they have been in care or in children's homes, sponging off the state; while in prison they will, of course, have many opportunities to learn how to support themselves by relieving others of their property by stealth and/or violence, like responsible members of the international community. Perhaps thirty per cent of the girls and women claim to have been sexually abused, many have been subjected to governmentally non-approved forms of discipline, and many young offenders of both sexes have suffered loss, bereavement, and failed to pull themselves together. The chief inspector of prisons has expressed particular concern about "the number of young people with mental illness who end up in our prisons because of the lack of adequate provision outside", which shows a deplorable tendency to lend credence to the old "insanity plea" which these surplus-to-requirements human resources may easily have picked up by seeing evil criminals waltz out of court on probation with orders to live in a bail hostel but otherwise free to kill again. The Department of Unfitness for Purpose said that imprisoning children is, like everything else, "a last resort", and added that "of the 190,000 young people dealt with by police every year, only 4% were given custodial sentences". Four per cent of 190,000 is seven thousand, six hundred children per year; and it's working so well that the numbers are still going up.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Gung Ho, Gung Ho, It's Back to Work We Go

The deputy prime minister of the sovereign, independent Iraqi government has been visiting the Vicar in Downing Street, helping to clear up the mess created by the head of Britain's armed forces, Sir Richard Dannatt, who recently permitted reality to intrude upon his comments to an degree unacceptable in the Coalition for Universal Values. The deputy sovereign, independent prime minister begged Tony not to cut and run. Tony told him that Britain would hold its nerve until the job was done. The deputy sovereign, independent prime minister said that "We need to demonstrate progress on the ground", an acute strategic judgement after forty-odd months of "tough transition" at the cost of perhaps two per cent of the population. The defence secretary, Des Browne, said that British forces would be "out when the job is done". The Secretary of State for the Rest of the World, Margaret Beckett, said that any future dismemberment of the country was "very much a matter for the Iraqis. They have had enough of people from outside handing down arbitrary boundaries and arbitrary decisions." Confirming Ms Beckett in her understanding of native psychology, the deputy sovereign, independent prime minister "warned Iran and Syria not to interfere in Iraq's affairs". He added that "the training of Iraqi forces", as opposed to the fake Iraqis who have chosen the wrong side in the clash of civilisations, "had been improved", as demonstrated by the recent re-taking of Amara from Shia militia. Amara is in "the mainly Shia south, which contains the majority of Iraqi oil", so naturally "British troops waited outside the city in case they were needed". Meanwhile, the commander of British troops in Basra, Major General Sheriff, said he was "absolutely certain" the battle for hearts and minds was being won. "We are seen as occupiers" by some unimportant people, but "we are also seen very firmly as part of the solution" by the people who matter, namely those with whom we stand shoulder to shoulder. The people of Basra "realise this place is not going to get better by magic", which, although Major General Sheriff did not say so, may well be the reason why some of them have resorted to more worldly methods of using a bang and a flash to improve things. A total of 119 British troops and nearly 2800 American troops have died since the Coalition for Mushroom Cloud Prevention invaded; as have an estimated six hundred and fifty thousand persons of lesser significance.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Working Wrinklies, Matching Ministers

Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative is planning to woo the grey vote with an address to Age Concern. "The fact is we are an old country - with our best years ahead of us. That is how I see Britain - and it is how I think older people see themselves". As usual, Daveybloke's acquaintances among the group he is courting seem to be the more optimistic ones. "We have certain cultural and economic assumptions which make us think about older people in terms of the cost, not the potential benefit they represent." There is profit in old people, if only the resource can be properly exploited.

Daveybloke lays out the conventional wisdom: "The conventional wisdom goes like this. The economy is made up of fit younger people working at full stretch. They produce the national wealth. The wealth pays for healthcare. The healthcare helps people live longer. In fact, in many ways, it is the other way around." Daveybloke turns the conventional wisdom on its head: "There is some fascinating research which turns the conventional wisdom on its head" - well, if it fascinates Daveybloke it must be true - "longevity itself can produce wealth", much as anti-terrorism can produce values, I suppose.

"We have traditionally thought that we need to grow our GDP in order to pay for our ageing society", as is clear from the Conservatives' record of investment in pensions, cold-weather fuel payments and so forth, at the expense of the wider economy and particularly the ever-downtrodden business community. "In fact, our ageing society can help our GDP to grow", always provided that such trivialities as housing and healthcare do not cost more than the longevitous can, in good conscience, contribute.

Elsewhere, the shadow foreign secretary has been displaying the qualities of imagination and independence which brought him such brilliant results as leader of the Conservative Party. He has called on the Government to "undertake a thorough reassessment of its strategy in Iraq", preferably one that mirrors and/or matches the one going on in Washington. Even the timing should be carefully choreographed: ministers should "spell out candidly the Government's plans for Iraq at the same time as former US Secretary of State James Baker releases his review of American options, said Mr Hague", who also helpfully advised the Government to work towards withdrawal of British troops "sooner rather than later" while warning against an "over-hasty pullout, which he said could destabilise the administration in Baghdad", despite that administration's present rocklike solidity.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Hephaestus Plague

In the southern United States, an earthquake opens up a chasm in the earth's crust. Soon afterwards, the peach and tobacco farmers in the area discover that a new kind of insect has emerged: a large black beetle, more than three inches long, which moves extremely slowly and is too tough to squash. The insects are eyeless, but are equipped with hard, chitinous rear antennae which they rub together to produce a chirping sound. When the insect wants to eat or defend itself, it uses the antennae like the proverbial two sticks, rubbing them together to produce sparks and eating the ashes from what is burned.

Despite the damage to the farmers' crops and homes, the scientists who invade the area are confident that, because of their slowness and lack of wings, the creatures cannot spread; however, one of the world's biggest sources of carbon is the exhaust pipe of the American motor car, and the insects are quite intelligent enough to capitalise on it. Soon they are all over the country, causing a long, hot and deadly summer.

The hero of The Hephaestus Plague is James Lang Parmiter, a professor of entomology whose increasingly morbid identification with the insects enables him to discover their vulnerabilities and help to save a humanity with which he is profoundly out of sympathy. He comments at least twice on the abundance of evidence that God has more interest in insects than in people: "When you think of God's glory by the life He has created, you had better well be ready to include the fangs or eight eyes of a spider or the pervasive cockroach before you sing any hymns." Parmiter's suggested formal designation for the species is Hephaestus parmitera, after himself and the Greek god of fire. Parmiter rejects the Latin fire god, Vulcan, because he served Jupiter, while Hephaestus and the insects serve nobody.

Parmiter quickly discovers that the insects are a kind of cockroach, and that they move so slowly because they are under massive internal pressure. Forced by some threat to emerge from deep beneath the earth's surface, they are suffering from the bends. This gives Parmiter the first clue as to how they might be killed; other methods, meanwhile, are proving something of a fiasco.

The insects' shells are flexible as well as tough, and cannot possibly be damaged by a shoe sole, even with the weight of a man above it. Normal insecticides will not work on a creature which is as hermetically sealed as a Sherman tank and, furthermore, seems to eat nothing but carbon. One of the book's funniest and most chilling sections details the increasingly desperate efforts of a scientific team at the Smithsonian to find a predator that will destroy the parmiteras. A tarantula uses up all its venom in three ineffectual bites. A centipede is systematically dismembered and scattered about the cage. A Gila monster swallows one insect whole, only to have the thing burn its way back out. A parrot sustains permanent psychological damage. Sulphuric acid works, but only when the insect is fully immersed.

When Parmiter hits on the means of destroying the insects, the novel still has a hundred pages to run. The parmiteras are extremely complex, both genetically and in their intricate symbiosis with the bacteria which constitute most of their internal workings. They have a greater potential for mutation - and evolution - than any other insect species. Working alone in his house, cut off from the world, Parmiter produces a new strain, and finds he can communicate with it.

The Hephaestus Plague is compact and competently written, managing in less than two hundred and fifty pages to produce one of the most convincing (at least to this non-entomologist) science fiction monsters, and one of the most fully and sympathetically characterised mad scientists, that I have encountered. It was the basis for William Castle's last film, the unpretentiously titled Bug (1975), which Kim Newman has described as a feature-length excuse for the moment when one of the insects, hiding in a telephone earpiece, ignites an unfortunate character's hair-do.

The book was written by Thomas Page and published in 1973. My low-priced Bantam paperback informs me that Page was born in Washington DC and wrote articles on the motion picture industry before becoming involved in advertising; all of which must have served to give him a healthy perspective on the merits of insects as compared with human beings. I don't know anything else about him.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Strange Bedfellows

Despite peacekeeping efforts by the world's biggest polluter and its poodle in Iraq and points east, the world faces "conflict and insecurity" unless it acts now on climate change. Tony says it, so it must be true. Now that Britain no longer holds the presidency of the European Union, the British government believes its successors should do more. There is "a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points". As things catastrophic often will, the catastrophes would have "serious consequences", notably for consumer security, energy supplies and Brown's economic miracle, though not necessarily in that order. Tony and his counterpart, Jan Peter Balkenende of the burqa-bashing, asylum-seeker-failing Dutch government, have signed a joint letter to inform their less far-sighted colleagues that the challenge of climate change "can be seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Europe to mobilise the political will and resources to transform and modernise our energy system". Among the means of opportunifying ourselves are "cooperating more with booming economies such as China", where a small, unelected and authoritarian cabal engages in repression and censorship at home while occupying a foreign country against the will of its people.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Full Spectrum Dominance

In the absence, so far, of a dirty-bomb attack on New York or a cleansing spray of cruise missiles over Iran, the leader of the free world has fallen back on the Kennedy doctrine ("Look at all that lovely black vacuum out thar! Let's go grab us a moon!") to rally the troops for November.

In what the Guardian swooningly refers to as "a bold claim to the final frontier" and a "vigorous" assertion of America's "rights" and a "muscular overhaul of policy", Bush informed the universe at large that space is important to US national interests and called for a cosmic make-over in the interest of American spying and war-making; or, in correct English, "the development of space capabilities to support US intelligence and defence initiatives". Such initiatives will in no way imply the development of weapons, according to a White House spokesbeing. Good heavens, no. Similarly, Frederick Jones of the National Security Council informed the Associated Press that "protection of space assets does not imply some sort of forceful action"; particularly as the US faces "novel threats" since the nation's previous policy declaration on colonising the universe. After all, what leader of the free world, in the face of novel threats, would even consider contemplating forceful action just to keep the cosmos Republican?

Space activities, you see, such as the preservation of America's "rights, capabilities and freedom of action", have "improved life in the US and around the world". Wherever the US is able to "dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so", there security will be enhanced; wherever the US military has the capacity to "respond to interference and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests", there economic growth will flourish. America's mastery of space (the achievements of the USSR and others being scientific rather than God-given, and hence purely theoretical) has also been a cultural force, "revolutionising the way people view their world and the cosmos". Indeed, it seems more than likely that many of those who believe in the literal existence of hell now also believe in flying saucers. Since, in the words of Frederick Jones, "we depend on space capabilities for things like ATMs, personal navigation, package tracking, radio services, and cell phone use", the idea of weapons in space seems like something out of Star Wars.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Big Guns, Flat Feet

Even if the script is becoming a little monotonous, the saga of the breached control orders continues to provide quality entertainment for addicts of game-show sadism and films in which the boom microphone spends more time in shot than out. It has emerged that the Iraqi in the case is technically not under a control order at all, since the police "did not get to him in time" to renew the order by handing it to him physically, as is required. Control orders are merely "a loose form of house arrest, usually placing suspects under a curfew and requiring them to report regularly to police"; so one can understand how the police might have lost track of the gentleman more easily than they would have done had circumstances been as Guantánomalous as the Vicar of Downing Street originally wished.

His reverence's pocket Tebbit, the Minister of Unfitness for Purpose, today echoed his master's voice, claiming that the Home Office would never have shot itself in the foot if only Her Majesty's Opposition had allowed it to use a larger calibre weapon. "The opposition in parliament is led by the Conservatives and the Liberals," he announced. "If they want to prove their credentials, why don't they vote in parliament for every single stronger measure that we bring to combat crime?" The last time I checked, the opposition in parliament was in a minority by a factor of some sixty seats. If the Labour government could persuade members of the parliamentary Labour party to prove their own credentials, perhaps others might feel more confident about the merits of those ever-stronger measures.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Highly Dangerous, No Risk Involved

The Department of Unfitness for Purpose has admitted that two men, a Briton and an Iraqi, have escaped from the restraints imposed by their control orders. The Briton was supposedly part of a cell "planning to travel to Iraq to attack coalition forces", and thus stands accused of harbouring desires which are not in accordance with the express wishes of Her Majesty's Government. The Iraqi apparently constitutes a still greater risk. Nevertheless, the men are not sufficiently dangerous to be charged, tried, named or even for the public to be informed of their escape until some weeks after the event.

Luckily, according to the policing minister Tony McNulty, "people who needed to know, in the context of public safety, did know". Unfortunately, the police and security services, who may possibly be included among those who needed to know, after a period of weeks still have no idea where these gentlemen are. Luckily, the policing minister Tony McNulty has "rejected concerns that both men posed a danger to the public, or could mount a terrorist attack against Britain". Unfortunately, the British citizen, who is alleged by unnamed sources to have links with al-Qaida, "is believed", by sources an anonymous counter-terrorism official did not specify, "to pose a danger of involvement in terrorist attacks within the UK."

The Vicar of Downing Street has responded to the problem with his usual forthright self-exculpation, blaming the Parliament which refused him permission to kick the suspects into jail and throw away the key.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Far Right is Still With Us

She's at it again. The Sectarian of State for Muslim Control, Ruth Kelly, has been giving more useful advice to the aliens in our midst. If Muslims do not "root out their own extremists", such as women who choose to dress in a fashion which Jack Straw finds uncomfortable to behold, then "the far right could exploit community divisions". It would certainly be too bad if people far to the right of New Labour took over the business of exploiting divisions between communities. Detention without trial; tarring all Muslims with the "extremist" brush; surveillance programmes for university students - who knows what they might dream up?

Elsewhere at the Department of Tact, Phil Woolas the generational crusader mounted his hobnailed pogo stick and bounded gently into the controversy over Aishah Azmi, a Muslim teaching assistant who has been suspended from a Church of England junior school for refusing to remove her veil. Woolas observed that barring men from working with Ms Azmi would be "sexual discrimination", which is perfectly true but entirely beside the point, since nobody has suggested doing anything of the kind. Woolas also said that, by wearing the veil and thus inuring children to its perfidious effect, so that in later life they may be free from the famous discomfort experienced by Jack Straw, Ms Azmi was "denying the right of children to a full education". Woolas also said that she ought to be sacked. It is not clear to me whether such ministerial interventions in unresolved cases of this sort are considered good practice generally, or whether they are the standard only in those emergencies where Muslims are involved.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some Rights are More Equal than Others

Christ forgave harlots and publicans, but he was regrettably reticent about gay people. Accordingly, the Vicar of Downing Street and his Sectarian of State for Tolerance Control, Ruth Kelly, have been forced to intercede on behalf of their invisible playmate to block "proposals to stop schools, companies and other agencies refusing services to people purely because of their sexuality". Catholic adoption agencies, who presumably believe that it is better for a child to be battered in wedlock than brought up in sin, "fear being forced to allow gay couples to adopt children". Catholic faith schools are arguing that the rules "could affect teaching about sex", preventing the necessary inculcation of post-marital heterosexual intercourse as the sole acceptable practice. Obviously, given the progress the church has made in eradicating naughty sex practices over the past thirteen hundred years or so, this would be too bad. They also fear that they would be forced to "let gay groups hold meetings on their premises after hours", necessitating daily exorcisms to purge the buildings of their deadly homosexual miasma. His reverence is "anxious about the impact on faith schools and faith-based adoption agencies", who might, I suppose, if worst came to worst, refuse on their conscience and in fear for their immortal corporate souls to accept the public money which his reverence intends to throw at them. That would certainly never do.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mission Accomplished

Historical Dialogue for Conqueror and Chorus

Gentlemen, as I am sure you will appreciate, the Duke has had a rather tiring day, so there will be a short statement followed by a brief session for questions. Those of you from the liberated territories will address the Duke as "Your Royal Highness". Those of you from France may continue to address him as "Your Grace". Thank you.

Good evening. Some years ago, as you are no doubt aware, the then king of England, Edward the Confessor, promised that the crown should devolve upon me at his death, in accordance with international law. A little later, Harold Godwinson, who had made some pretence to the throne, was shipwrecked on the shores of Normandy and, in my presence and with his hand upon a box containing the mummified foreskin of St Ethylbreth the Choirmaster, swore not to stand in my way when the time should come for me to claim my rightful position. Harold Godwinson having broken that sacred promise and sought by armed resistance to prevent me assuming my rights, I have been forced regretfully to defend myself by force, in the face of the imminent threat that he might further decide to conquer Normandy in the near future. The coronation will take place in Westminster this Christmas, pelting with flowers optional.

That is the end of the statement. The Duke will now take questions.

Your Grace, can you tell us about the battle?

We won. (Laughter) Details of the superiority of Norman arms, particularly the Norman helmet with its famous nose-shield and the rectangular Norman shield, will be released in due course. A vivid but impartial narrative of the tapestry of events leading up to today's victory is being threaded together even now.

Your Grace, what are your plans with regard to Saxon property rights?

The so-called property rights of the Saxons are safe in our hands. They will merely be co-ordinated and codified in accordance with natural law and common decency, while anyone found hunting deer in the royal parks will be boiled to death.

Your Royal Highness, can you tell us the condition of the ki- of the Earl of Godwin?

I think I can safely say that his perspective on the matter has been improved. An arrow pointed the way. (Laughter)

Your Royal Highness, what are your views on the cultural integration which will now be necessary between Normans and Saxons?

I foresee no great difficulty. England is a potentially great country which I am proud to have subjugated in the name of decency, international law and the divine will. Once our universal values of honour and civilisation have been implanted in the population at large, I consider it eminently possible that England may one day play a not altogether unimportant role in the history of Normandy, and even of France.

Your Royal Highness, did you sustain any interesting bruises during the battle?

I'm sorry, but the serial rights to my autobiography are already the exclusive property of Pillage magazine. I would, however, like to pay tribute to my allies, Harald Hardrada and my dear friend Tostig, who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me throughout this difficult and painful time, and who may without undue exaggeration be said to have played a not inconsiderable part in laying to some extent the groundwork for the potentiality of today's glorious victory.

Your Royal Highness, is it true that you're a bastard who likes to hurl rebels off battlements?

So long as I am of noble blood, I hardly consider my family background relevant.

And the hurling thing?

Anomalous. Those responsible will be found out and punished. They were doing a difficult job under difficult circumstances.

Your Grace, can you comment on the rumour that a certain Hereward is plotting your wake?

I don't think we need pay too much attention to a few terrorists squatting in caves. If they wish to disregard the wishes of God and try to disrupt our reforms, we are more than adequate to the challenge. Bring them on!

Thank you, gentlemen, that will be all. Copies of the Duke's statement can be collected from the monk at the door. War crimes trials for the former English nobility will begin tomorrow under the jurisdiction of the new English Lord Chief Justice, Robert of Anjou. Thank you, gentlemen, for your co-operation.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Minor Omissions

The Foreign Office's annual report on selected human rights is set to "raise further suspicions in the Arab world" that the Vicar of Downing Street and his master in Washington are biased towards Israel. Due to an oversight - the kind of honest mistake that happens all the time in the public relations business - the report condemns Hizbullah's rocket attacks on Israel, which killed about forty civilians, but omits all mention of Israel's rampage in Lebanon, which killed over a thousand civilians. According to "a Foreign Office source", this was because "the British embassy in Damascus had sent information on Syria and Hizbullah for inclusion in the report but there was no such communication from the British embassy in Israel". Evidently the British diplomatic service is careful nowadays to employ only the right sort of anti-semite.

The Minister for the Rest of the World Excluding Europe and the Liberated Territories, Margaret Beckett, said that the omission occurred because the publication deadline was "a little bit tight" and, it appears, wholly beyond the control of the Foreign Office, which published the report. Despite this unfortunate imposition, the report does manage to include a reference to the ceasefire which occurred a little more than thirty days after the Foreign Office refused to call for one, and to a speech by Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, two days after that. There is also a photograph of "a Lebanese woman amid the rubble of Beirut", presumably engaged in abusing Israeli human rights.

Still, Beckett did manage to denounce the Guantánamo Bay anomaly as "unacceptable in terms of human rights" and "ineffective in terms of counter-terrorism". Sanctions against the US are already in place, with the government refusing to take back those inmates who have families or refugee status in Britain. That will teach them.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

News 2020

Britain and allies condemn controversial report

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary today joined the growing chorus of condemnation from the Pentagon, the White House and other sources of press coverage in condemning a controversial new study of terrorist psychology.

The study, which was compiled from interviews with nine hundred and eleven known terrorists across the world, provoked instant controversy with its controversial claims that terrorists are "made, not born" and are sometimes "rationally motivated" as a result of "genuine grievances".

This morning, as the controversial report went to press, hundreds of experts were seen queuing outside the BBC's Birt House, spontaneously offering their services in the effort to balance the record.

In the US, the reaction to the controversial report was negative. The report's controversial publication on 12 October, the anniversary of Columbus' first attempts to bring democracy to the native tribes, was seen by many as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the national holiday.

"As far as I am concerned, this study has a maximal deplausibilitisation factor, and I haven't even read it," the Commander-in-Chief told concerned reporters via hijab-proof digital link to the Oval Bunker. The Prime Minister later told BBC's Yo! Breakfast Roundup!!!! that the British race stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans in not reading or believing the report.

The Foreign Secretary later emphasised what he described as "the moral aspect" of talking to terrorists. "Frankly, in even giving such allegations a moment's attention we lose a proportion of our humanity," he said. "I hope for their sake that these so-called university people never have to look an injured child in the collateral damage."

The governments of Britain and its ally, the United States, had both said that terrorists were totally irrational and were parasitic on fictitious anomalies in the democratic record, he said. "Once a fact has been decreed by a sovereign, independent government, there is no reason to accept just anybody's version of things," the Foreign Secretary said.

General Claiborne P Minuteman, Commander-under-God of the Enlightenment Alliance forces in Persian-occupied Iran, also condemned the controversial report.

"It says terrorists are just like the rest of us, it gives credence to killers who have not been renditioned and therefore may well be lying, and it doesn't even do it from a representative group of specimens," he said. "This isn't science, it's politics. It's just a bunch of academics reaching their own conclusions."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Better than Saddam

That useful journalistic standby, "Staff and agencies", today demonstrates his relaxed grasp of the language by abolishing the distinction between deny and discredit. Aptly enough, he did so in a piece about George W Bush, who has respondified to the latest estimate of Iraqi collateral damage with characteristically robust rejectitude. A "lot of innocent people" have been detrimented, Bush admits; not being one to dabble in legal obligations and such, he does not know how many, but he positilutely and certifinately does not attach credibilitude to the findings of a "controversial report" that excess deaths since the heady days of statue-toppling and Mission Accomplished have reached six hundred and fifty-five thousand, or about two and a half per cent of the Iraqi population. The controversial study, which was carried out by the same controversial Johns Hopkins team which carried out a previous controversial study two years ago, is causing considerable controversy, largely by virtue of the fact that the Iraqi government and the Coalition of Puppeteers disagree with it. Even the "top US general in Iraq", George Casey, disagrees with the controversial study, which makes it about as controversial as a study could possibly get. A spokesman for the sovereign, independent Iraqi government said that the controversial report "exceeds the reality in an unreasonable way", not at all like the more civilised and rational ways of reality-excession which have been evolved at the White House, the Pentagon and Downing Street. The figure cited in the controversial report, according to the sovereign, independent Iraqi government, is "inflated" and "far from the truth"; regrettably, the sovereign, independent Iraqi government continues to keep the genuine, uninflated truth to itself, so we shall just have to keep on making do with these constant overestimates.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Once again, the British public has let Tony down. Thanks to our laziness and wilful ignorance, the government is on course to miss yet another target: this time the one about stopping the rise in obesity by 2010, at least among those too young to be officially impoverished. The Health Profile of England has been unveiled to show a variety of unpleasant bulges, notably the fact that Britain now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe and that, despite nearly a decade of moral enlightenment, the north-south divide remains as evident as ever.

His reverence, contributing to the BBC's morning serving of intellectual Pot Noodle™, noted that "it is to do with poverty. It's to do with diet, it's to do with exercise. It starts at school and it starts with what parents feed their children", and that "it was the government's job to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle", although "the government cannot do it all." As so often when it comes to public health, the government's job is essentially one of public relations. It is up to the public - more free, more empowered, more efficientised than ever before - to make the right choices.

The difficulty for his reverence, you see, is "trying to balance not becoming a nanny state and telling everyone what to do, with trying to educate people that there are real choices which you make". Historically, of course, when nice people of his reverence's income bracket employed nannies to look after their offspring, the said nannies would occasionally take an interest in the health of their charges. Since then, of course, the rules of the game have changed. If there is one area where New Labour does not wish to become a nanny state, that area is public health.

His reverence did his best to acquaint us with the complexities of budgeting for ID cards, private prisons and Iraq. "We can't really afford a decent healthcare system," he said, "unless healthcare is not just about treating you when you are sick but also about looking after your fitness, your healthcare." The National Health Service, it would appear, is not so much under-budgeted as over-patiented. To remedy the situation "requires people to take some personal responsibility for what they do", such as being poor, and advantagising oneself of the many opportunities for personal responsibility and education which the state of being poor affords those who have chosen it.

His reverence attempted to waken our slumbering social conscience by informing us that the choices we make - e.g. the sensible choice of not being poor, as opposed to the silly choices made by some people - "make a difference to your health and fitness and that in turn makes a difference to the whole of the country." That's the stuff to give 'em, Reverend. There is such a thing as society. Feed your children properly, otherwise the Health Profile of England may suffer yet further.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nuclear Transparency

North Korea, which is no longer a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, claims it has exploded a nuclear weapon. The international community has responded with expressions of concern and threats of sanctions; that is to say, in much the same way as it has responded to the non-construction of nuclear weapons by Iran. George W Bush has described the nuclear test as a "provocative act", although the North Korean government claims that, like the American and British nuclear arsenals, it will "contribute to maintaining peace and stability". North Korea, according to the Guardian, has "sacrificed its diplomatic and economic wellbeing for military security" With the insouciant attitude to other people's sovereignty which has done so much for our own diplomatic and economic wellbeing and military security, Bush has reiterated the international community's "commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula"; while the Vicar of Downing Street, whose heir presumptive is itching to replace Trident with something sexier, reiterated his commitment to George W Bush by calling the test "irresponsible". The "scale of the military threat posed by North Korea is unclear"; what is certain is that a threat exists. North Korea is reclusive, secretive, walled-in, curtained-off and closed, but we in the international community can be morally certain that its quantity of weapons-grade plutonium, which apparently is enough for all of half a dozen bombs, will not be wasted on mere deterrence.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


OPTIMIST: You wouldn't really be able to think this connection between a poster and the world war right through to its logical conclusion.
GRUMBLER: Usque ad finem! If the posters had been shot dead, the human beings would have survived.
Karl Kraus, The Last Days of Mankind

Military units in the United States are now providing families with life-size cardboard cutouts of relatives posted overseas. The National Guard in Maine has given out more than two hundred since January. The scheme began when a potential widow named Cindy Sorenson made a life-size photograph of her ex-husband after he was sent to Iraq. The model "helped [their daughter] cope with missing her father". Now the two-dimensional persons "can be found going on dates with their wives in Alaska and having dinner with their families in Colorado". After all, they don't fight with their spouses, shout at their children, incur medical bills with their post-traumatic stress, or publicly criticise the government for its mendacity and incompetence. Two-dimensional love is a wonderful thing, just like in the movies. "Experts" - whether military or civilian, psychological or public-relations, is not specified - "believe the cutouts are a useful psychological device, especially for children, that helps cope with the stress of long absences". Dear Daddy, you'll be glad to hear I don't miss you so much any more because I have a cardboad cutout instead. Don't hurry back. Then again, with the casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan set to keep on climbing, perhaps the stress of reunion is not considered an overwhelming risk. Meanwhile, the scheme "allows the family to genuinely feel the missing person is still involved in day-to-day life." Leave that poor infinitive where it lies and have a look at the word that splits it. The families genuinely feel that their father, mother, wife or husband is there to play with the children and help with the dishes. It's a pity the cutouts make such convincing human beings yet apparently fail the test as soldiers; otherwise the government could have left the people alone and shipped the cutouts to Iraq. The logistics would certainly be simpler.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Enemies Within

From the Tomb, an interesting question: why is the largest haul of explosive chemical components ever to be found in someone's house in this country not considered newsworthy by the national Press? According to the prosecution in the case of David Bolus Jackson, who lives in the house in question, there were twenty-two chemical components, rocket launchers, British National Party literature and a "nuclear biological suit" to wear while reading it. Also charged was one Robert Cottage, who stood as a candidate for the BNP last May. The two of them are alleged to have had "some kind of master plan", which speaks well for that traditional British entrepreneurialism whereby explosive substances and protective clothing are not simply picked out of skips at random and stored against the day when they might come in handy. Intriguingly, both men were charged under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883, which raises the hitherto scarcely thinkable idea that there might already have been laws adequate to deal with destructive lunatics in our midst before the catch-all, charge-a-few, convict-a-couple Prevention of Terrorism Act came along. Even more intriguingly, the story does not appear to have stimulated any national headlines, despite the sterling work of the police in making the largest haul of explosive chemical components ever to be found in someone's house in Britain - and without shooting anybody. Instead, we have the Great Veil Controversy, which no doubt is as it should be. You can say what you like about the British National Party, but one thing nobody can deny: at least they don't hide behind veils when plotting to blow things up.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bare-Faced in Blackburn

An empty suit has expressed some concern over the way some people dress. A woman with "a broad Lancashire accent" came to the empty suit's constituency advice bureau wearing a veil. The suit was discomfited by "apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds - the entirely English accent, the couple's education (wholly in the UK) - and the fact of the veil". The suit was also discomfited "about talking to someone 'face-to-face' who I could not see". This was because "the value of a meeting ... is so that you can - almost literally - see what the other person means ... So many of the judgments we all make about other people come from seeing their faces."

Muslim women who wear veils in the empty suit's presence are now informed, since they may have forgotten, that "this is a country built on freedoms". They are informed that the suit "defends absolutely" the right of any woman to wear headgear which does not unsettle the suit personally. "As for the full veil, wearing it breaks no laws", as yet. The suit then requests the woman to lift her veil, and "can't recall a single occasion when the lady concerned refused". Nevertheless, "there is an issue here". What could that be? "It became absolutely clear ... that the husband had played no part in her decision" to wear the veil. Muslim women being what they are, the suit was surprised at this, but apparently not particularly worried. "She ... had read some books and thought about the issue"; again, this was surprising, but not excessively unsettling. "She felt more comfortable wearing the veil when out." This, it appears, was the crux of the matter.

OK, said the suit, but "did she think that veil wearing was required by the Qur'an?" After all, if it is not required by the Qur'an, the act of wearing a veil in the presence of an empty suit could be considered frivolous, and even provocative. The suit explained that "many Muslim scholars said the full veil was not obligatory at all", no matter how comfortable it might be. "And women as well as men went head uncovered the whole time when in their hajj - pilgrimage - in Mecca". In short, the suit did its best to make clear that, since the Qur'an does not command it, there is simply no excuse for Muslim women to go about wearing the veil. Such gratuitous eccentricity of dress is "bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult", since not everyone is as willing as the suit to make accommodations. Perhaps the empty suit has spent too much time in the callow atmosphere of Westminster, where everybody's face is visible, and where the Vicar of Downing Street's visage, floating radiant with sincerity above another suit, has come to symbolise all that is honest and virtuous among those of us who have entirely English accents and were educated wholly in the UK.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Adultery,n. The means whereby love and marriage go together like a horse and pedestrian.

Critic,n. One who is paid to crack open a work of art, stamp on the kernel and spit fragments of shell in the reader's face.

Frigid,adj. Stiff and chilly in manner, temper or person.
An incompetent climbing Mount Dredge
Was stranded by night on a ledge.
When found, he was frigid
And frozen so rigid,
They rode him downhill like a sledge.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Grey,adj. A compromise between black and white. In politics, a compromise between two shades of grey is known as a "courageous and unprecedented innovation".

Human Interest,n.(Journalese) The distillation of newsworthiness. An item unencumbered by national or international significance, which is deemed worth reporting in the news solely on the grounds of its being reported in the news.

Naked,adj. Engaged in testing a lover's affection by observing the extent to which they can restrain their mirth.

Quadrifulgent,adj. Exuding from four places simultaneously.
Enemy blades had deprived him of all major extremities save his head; his life's blood spurted with roseate quadrifulgency.
Mimsy Piggler

Specious,adj. An argument which lacks the courtesy to prostrate itself sufficiently for the squeezing of its awkward substance through the lofty portal of your intellect.

Wolf,n. Wild canine which, for having thus far refused to be bred by humanity into chihuahuas, poodles and Pekes, has been persecuted very nearly to the point of the extinction merited by such a wholly misconceived career move.

Zimbabwean,n. A Rhodesian displaying the blackest possible ingratitude towards the man by whom his nation had the honour to be enslaved.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Demeaning and Trivialising

The national director for patients and the public, Harry Cayton, who advises ministers on "improving patients (sic) experience and on building a patient centred health service", has apparently nothing to say about privatisation, low wages, long hours, underfunding, inadequate training, middle management epidemics, centralisation, hospital closures, cockroaches, the pharmaceutical industry lobby or irritating acronyms like that of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Instead, he has criticised NHS staff for referring to patients in "demeaning and trivialising" fashion. Cayton does not criticise NHS staff for addressing customers in such a fashion, so the all-important medical problem of public relations does not arise; perhaps it is the managers whose sensibilities have been offended. If the NHS wishes to become truly patient-centred, it must protect these fragile creatures and "change the language it uses to describe customers". The term "frequent flyers" (used by NHS staff for people who are in and out of hospital) exercised Cayton particularly, although the term "customers" (used by the Department of Health for people who don't know that the NHS is still free at the point of use) seems as acceptable as ever. The use of bad-taste humour to get through the day is now permissible, it appears, only at ministerial level.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Not Quite British Enough

The United States Government's representative in Europe has refused to allow the return of nine British residents, or to be more precise nine former British residents, or to be absolutely fair nine potential failed asylum seekers and possible terrorists, who are at present being entertained in the Guantánamo Bay anomaly. According to the British authorities, the men have no legal right to return, whereas the US authorities do have a legal right to detain them indefinitely without charge, because the White House says so. Besides, even if the men were released, the Americans would want them kept under twenty-four-hour surveillance, an act of public protection for which MI5 has neither the manpower nor the appetite. "They do not pose a sufficient threat" to be allowed home, according to the head of counter-terrorism at the Home Office. It is also feared that "human rights legislation", that well-known and perennial obstruction to British justice and common sense, could get in the way of our deporting the men to countries where they might one day be treated as badly as the Americans are treating them now.

Although some of the men are married to British citizens, or have British citizens as children, siblings or other tribal relationships, at least one of them shows a grasp of British values which seems tenuous at best.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Standing Consumer is a Happy Consumer

In British statecraft, one of the most effective and time-honoured ways of tackling malcontents (i.e. the British public) is to make the problem worse. People dislike Tony Blair? Offer them a choice between Gordon Brown and John Reid. People think the NHS is under-funded? Break it up and sell it off. People are worried about their civil liberties? Take their worries away. If the consequences of complaining are worse than the circumstances which gave rise to the complaint, so the thinking goes, then sooner or later, when matters are genuinely bad enough, people will stop telling their country what it can do for them, and will at last get around to asking what they can do for the Government.

The merits of this logic appear to have dawned on South West Trains, which makes its profits from some of the least satisfied passengers in the United Kingdom. South West Trains have been browbeaten into dealing with the overcrowding on their commuter convenience modules; but since it's the passengers and not the shareholders who have been complaining, it is obviously out of the question for them, as a public transport company, to deal with it by spending money on public transport. Instead, they're going to remove some of the seats from their carriages so that the passengers will have more standing room.

This measure being what a spokeswoman called "a creative way of getting to grips with the situation right now," it will for the moment apply only to those trains which take a long time to cover a short distance, and not to the ones which take a long time to cover a bigger distance. Like income tax and the occupation of Iraq, the measure is also "not seen as a long-term solution", apparently because South West Trains expect it to make passengers happier. "If anything, this will enhance comfort," proclaims that same spokeswoman, who seems rather shrewdly to have remained anonymous.

By a remarkable coincidence, given the necessity of ripping out seats, the experience of South West Trains is that "many passengers are happy to stand on short journeys, especially if it means they have more space." I wonder how many passengers they asked, particularly those passengers who, with no seating available, had little other choice except to enjoy the vistas of comfort and contentment which are opened by hanging onto a commuter proprioception enhancement fixture while swapping halitosis with a friendly stranger and trying to complete the journey with both eyes intact and only minor contusions.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transport Privatisation has suggested using "double-deck trains", which may or may not amount to more than making passengers lie prone on the roofs of the carriages and pay extra if they survive. In any case, the tunnels should be fun.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Old Father Hubbard

The Bavarian Minister of the Interior, Gunther Beckstein, has made some disparaging comments about the sci-fi religious cult of Scientology, whose adherents are setting up "tutoring programmes" across Germany. A spokeswoman denies that the programmes are being used to recruit children and their families, tutoring as a means to conversion being "against Scientology doctrine"; in which case, no doubt, if a pupil should ask the teacher what Scientology might be, the teacher would stoically refuse to answer on the grounds of a conflict of interest.

Although denied the tax-exempt status for which the Americans invented God, Scientology is legally recognised as a religion in Germany; but Gunther Beckstein denies that it is one: "Scientology is not a religion. It is a business". The distinction is not always an easy one to make, of course, particularly in a Protestant country; but Beckstein notes that the aim of Scientology is "to gain power over individuals and try to brainwash them", which appears to settle the question. According to the Observer, Scientology also has a reputation for being "secretive, wealthy and extremely aggressive in repelling critics", quite unlike, say, Vatican Incorporated.