The Curmudgeon


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Royal Buggery

One of Britain's many scumbag tabloids, the News of the World, has been carrying out "a sustained bugging campaign" targeting a royal or two, as well as "two government ministers, a newspaper editor, an England footballer and a string of celebrities" (encouraging news: the distinction between England footballers and actual celebrities is being made at last), and may soon have to give up its Battenberg Belfry soap editor for a year or two at Her Majesty's pleasure. In this case, no doubt, the pleasure would be considerable. Meanwhile the Prince of Wales, like many modern celebrities, has apparently lost all perspective on the function his family serves; he is, it seems, "unhappy" about the tabloid photographers who represent the delivery side of his sons' contribution to the low-brow entertainment business, and this despite the fact that the potential for misbehaviour prevention under the gaze of so many piggy little eyes must be considerable. If only the Vicar of Downing Street and his pocket Tebbit could arrange for every young couple in the country to be tailed by a pack of paparazzi everywhere they went, the number of teenage pregnancies might plummet; and even if it didn't, the resulting pictures could well be a source of revenue to rival the present taxes on smoking and drinking. However, in the absence of a cue from Tony, who is busy today predicting victory in Afghanistan, the information commissioner has contented himself with a purely legalistic announcement: "Information obtained improperly, very often by means of deception, can cause significant harm and distress to individuals. The information commissioner has called for prison sentences of up to two years for people who take part in this illegal trade in personal information." In these days of surveillance cameras, identity cards and ever-increasing police records for every man, woman and child in the country, it's reassuring to find that people who take personal information for free, or who charge the non-celebrity for the privilege of being intruded upon, as the Government plans to do, need fear nothing; and that there is still some sense of the sanctity of private life where the rich and privileged are concerned.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Foxed, Cocked, Stained and Faded

Apparently George W Bush has an honorary doctorate, courtesy of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where the First Lady is, by the grace of God, a trustee. In partial repayment for this no doubt unsolicited honour Bush is planning to have his presidential library erected, or perhaps consecrated, or possibly just plonked, on the university's grounds. Like every library worthy of the name, it will not confine itself to mere books; no indeed.

For one thing, the Bush administration's records, once the crimes and screw-ups have been edited out, are unlikely to be very extensive; for another, the one book Bush himself is positively known to have read, at least in part, is My Pet Goat, which might not convey to posterity quite the image his marketing executives deem desirable. Of course, Bush is aware of other volumes; on 2 April 2002 he admitted to Hop on Pop-oriented thinkings, and he has also mentioned Camus' The Outsider; a history of the American Civil War; and The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky, to whom the Guardian refers as a "Soviet dissident", although by the time Sharansky wrote the book the Soviet Union had not existed for a decade and a half and Sharansky himself was happily ensconced in Ariel Sharon's government, from which he later resigned because it wasn't right-wing enough. Anyway, Bush found his book "short", like the Camus and, presumably, My Pet Goat.

In order to fill up the shelf-space, then, it is expected that Bush's memorialisers will establish "a public policy centre, possibly called the Institute for Democracy" in order to promote "compassionate conservatism, the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world, and defeating terrorism" and stuff like that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


The Blog Digest 2007 comes out on Friday 1 December. It includes contributions from many of the better class of people, namely those with links on my sidebar, as well as several others whose acquaintance it was a pleasure to make. The editor, Justin McKeating, has done a remarkably fine job in assembling a highly diverse collection of quality writing, which according to the index covers everything from abortion to Zinedine Zidane, taking in bears, corpse robbers, Danish cartoons, elderly care, foot fetishists, golf, Hegel, irreducible complexity, Elton John, the Khmer Rouge, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, memes, Newsnight, Mark Oaten, Jon Pertwee, a brace of Rooneys, speed-dating, toilets (inevitably), the United Nations, vaginas (Noreen's, inevitably) and wasps along the way. It is superbly designed, with illustrations by one Matt Buck (including one of John Prescott having an intimate moment with a pork pie, which is perhaps less forgettable than might be hoped); and it includes a couple of contributions by the present writer, marking the first time my work has appeared between the covers of a book.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Extremist Restrictions

The last thing we need, in this Mother of Democracies, is an electorate which takes an interest in politics. The Metropolitan Police, in their capacity as guardians of free speech, are to lobby the Vicar of Downing Street's chum, Lord Goldsmith, because "officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light". There is, it appears, a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on "extremist protesters", thus presumably encouraging them to do something more extreme than mere protestation. If only the police had powers to "proscribe protest chants and slogans on placards, banners and headbands", the extremists would learn their lesson and slink quietly off, leaving the rest of us to savour in peace and prosperity the freedoms for which they hate us. Unfortunately, in the absence of such powers, "Islamic extremists have learned how to cause offence without breaking the law", which is obviously too bad of them. Even the new law against religious hatred will not criminalise the fiends: "Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behaviour or banners towards particular religions, but would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred." There must, argues the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, be "a clear message that we will not allow any extremist group to display banners or make public statements that clearly cause offence within the existing law", though how the offensiveness of the statements or banners is to be gauged before they have been made or displayed, i.e. allowed, remains regrettably obscure. Will the Metropolitan Police now need to see every public statement in advance of its delivery; or will it simply draw up a list of "verbal behaviours liable to cause offence" and supply a copy to each officer at every demonstration where a politicised section of the population is likely to show up?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Different and Better Times

As we are all aware by now, what the Vicar of Downing Street lacks in repentance for his own derelictions, he is more than happy to make up in moral fervour over other people's. Accordingly, his reverence intends to inflate his humanitarian credentials with a bit of hot air about the British Empire's slave trade, which was officially abolished in 1807 and has evolved unto the present day under various rubrics, notably "aid to Africa". During the British Empire, certain Africans joined enthusiastically in the noble cause, selling their enemies for transportation across the Atlantic; nowadays we content ourselves with letting certain Africans sell us their peoples' water and other resources, and leave the people where they are. As his reverence recognises, progress is a wonderful thing: "It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time"; harder still to believe when so many acts which used to be legal - demonstrating against racism within earshot of the Houses of Parliament, for instance - are now criminal. Personally, his reverence believes "the bicentenary offers us a chance ... to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was", no chances having been previously available, particularly when his reverence's lord and master was democratising those uppity niggers in Haiti. Now that the chance has arrived, "we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition", as is only fitting at a time when next year ends in the same two digits as the year the abolitionists won. One day, no doubt, the Holocaust will be recalled to mind only during years ending in -45. His reverence will also take the opportunity "to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today". Today's humanitarian alternatives, such as mass starvation, cluster bombs and uranium poisoning, were not available in those different and less respectful times; although perhaps, on the whole, it would have been better - more economically viable, more culturally sensitive, more Christian - to leave all those Africans where they were and make slaves of the redskins instead. If that had happened, for example, New Orleans might not have needed God to clean out the riff-raff. But we should not judge too harshly. The slave traders had no Tony to advise them.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I met a man, a thousand years from now,
Who said: "All that we know of your dark age
Is blood and murder - death on every page.
So oft aggression creased the sloping brow
Of noble freedom's champions; tell me how."
I said: "Aggression? No; but righteous rage
Inspired us, democratic lineage
Urged us, our gifts to forcibly endow."

He punched the pain-switch, stilling my crude voice:
"You had not our compassion, nor our grace.
Today our war of justice is no lie.
Our enemies throughout the world rejoice
To fall to so exemplary a race."
He stroked the lever that would make them die.

Morgone Gulbusset Flocker

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ask Not What Your Hospital Can Do For You...

The Vicar of Downing Street is proposing a "new contract between the state and the citizen setting out what individuals must do in return for quality services from hospitals, schools and the police". His public service commission has been requested to ponder "whether it is possible to move from an implicit one-way contract based on outputs, to one based on explicit mutually agreed outcomes", and whether we should aim for "a more explicit statement of the contract that covers both the service offered by the public sector ... and what is expected from citizens (beyond paying taxes and obeying the law)." Even with all those new criminal offences on the statute books, obeying the law is still not enough. Examples of Tony's new social contract include "an expectation that a local health authority will only offer a hip replacement if the patient undertakes to keep their weight down"; presumably, if the patient fails in this undertaking, the hospital will have the right to institute sanctions - withdrawing pain medication, perhaps, or even taking back their hip. "The police might also promise to achieve a specific response time in a local area, so long as an agreement is struck on the local law and disorder priorities"; and if the police do not respond in the agreed time, no doubt the citizenry will be given extensive powers of investigation and punishment to ensure that "local law and disorder priorities" are better prioritised next time. "Parents might also be asked to sign individually tailored contracts with a school setting out what the parents must do at home to advance their child's publicly-funded education", which raises the intriguing question of how the schools will be empowered to enforce their will in the home, not to mention what kind of conditions the faith schools may seek to impose. Tony hopes that this new push towards the end of private life will "examine how to form a smaller and strategic state" because, in case we hadn't noticed, "in his period of office he felt it necessary too often to push from the centre". That would be the administrative centre, not the political. With tax-funded institutions imposing their wishes at local level on the law-abiding citizens who pay for them, we may hope that such Herculean efforts will not again be necessary, leaving Tony's successor to bask in the glory of the Legacy.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship claims that Christian societies are under "unprecedented" attack because student associations at Exeter, Birmingham and Edinburgh have decided to suspend Christian groups from membership. A gaggle of bishops has signed a letter calling for them to be reinstated, apparently on the grounds that freedom of speech under secular law takes precedence over Christ's commandment at Matthew 10 xiv, and outweighs the blessings and reward in heaven promised in the party political broadcast at Matthew 5 x-xii.

Meanwhile, the Church of Scientology has been using its new home in the City of London to good effect, as a base for cultivating the City police. Apparently they "offered support to City police officers in the aftermath of the July 7 attacks last year", though whether the support was moral, financial, spiritual or tactical is regrettably unclear. Over the past year and a quarter, twenty-something police officers have accepted hospitality from the space cadets, including the use at a police concert of a jazz band whose usual rate is £5000 a night, and invitations to a charity dinner and film premiere starring a Scientologist and some special effects. It appears that Scientology is somewhat controversial because of "claims that it separates members from their families and indoctrinates followers", something no reader of, for example, Matthew 10 xxxv-xxxvii would ever dream of doing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Better Safe than Sorry

Fans of ricin plots and the forthcoming Protocols of the Elders of Mecca will no doubt recall the laudable vigilance of passengers on Monarch Airlines Flight ZB613 in August, when eagle-eyed holidaymakers observed two young men of Asian appearance "apparently speaking Arabic and ... repeatedly checking their watches". Several passengers left the aircraft and refused to fly unless the men were removed, whereupon the airline did its part and removed them. As it turned out, of course, the men were not terrorists; but, as we were repeatedly told after the protective detrimentation of Jean Charles de Menezes, if circumstances had been different things might have been very different.

Now a passenger on an American internal flight has displayed a similar degree of initiative, though regrettably not to the extent of getting off the aeroplane. The passenger, on US Airways Flight 300 from Minneapolis to Phoenix, was concerned about three imams who had the temerity to pray before boarding, and who also had three other imams with them, making a total of six imams in all. That was an awful lot of imams. Rather than making a fuss and incurring needless risk of facial identification and subsequent terrorist vengeance, the passenger handed a note to a flight attendant and allowed the captain and airport security workers to take the credit for the subsequent clerical rectification.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

News 2020

Ministers voice concern at "possibly disproportionate" assassination

Yesterday's assassination of the Lebanese Secretary of National Impotence has drawn international expressions of concern from across the international community.

Expressing the concern of the international community, the US Commander-in-Chief called on all sides in the Middle East to exercise restraint.

Speaking from the Oval Bunker this morning, the Commander-in-Chief said that the shooting of Gemayel al-Shatila constituted "yet further proof of the correctuality of the international community's crusade for pragmatic democratisation" in the area.

He also said that, whoever had carried out Mr al-Shatila's detrimentation, Israel was right to stand up to terrorists.

The British Foreign Secretary said that the incident was "a matter of concern for the international community" and called for restraint to be exercised by all sides.

However, he said that the Government would not comment further until the full facts of the case were known.

"We are aware that Mr al-Shatila was shot several dozen times with an automatic weapon, and that his body was nearly cut in half," the Foreign Secretary said when pressed for local colour.

"Obviously, however, a full statement on the matter will have to wait until we know whether or not the incident was shocking and indefensible or merely regrettable and possibly disproportionate, and to know that we will first have to know who it was that carried out this occurrence."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Good News, Challenging News

The Vicar of Downing Street has given a special, one-off sermon to his soldiers in Afghanistan, informing them that, like the rest of the civilised world, they are engaged in a "generation-long struggle".

His reverence found the desert extraordinary: "Here, in this extraordinary desert, is where the future of world security in the early 21st century is going to be played out," he said. Thanks to Tony and Tony's best friend, of course it is just possible that world security might be played out already; but his reverence does not recognise bad news: "There is challenging news and there is good news," he insisted. So when five British troops were killed in Afghanistan over five years, that was good news; now that seven times that many have been killed in the past five months, that's a challenge. Although his reverence claimed that he does not expect British troops to remain in Afghanistan for the entire generation of the struggle, he did give them some useful advice in case matters should become worse: "If your enemy is fighting you - and they are our enemy - then you fight back with more energy and determination." For our soldiers' sake, we can only hope that the Taliban lack sufficient Britishness to take this slightly sub-Churchillian rhetoric to heart.

His reverence made some observations on the state of mind of various key players in the playing out of world security: the folks back home, being the main beneficiaries in terms of political paranoia, trigger-happy police and the occasional suicide bomber, are "very proud of what [the soldiers] do, regardless what they think of political leaders". By golly, the feeling is mutual. His reverence, dressed in an open-necked blue shirt and navy-blue blazer to symbolise his transcendence of party politics, was spontaneously buttonholed by a Sergeant Chris Hunter, who spontaneously informed him that "The lads ... all want to be here. It is a point that is often missed back home that the lads are proud to be here and proud to be doing our job." Perhaps Tony and the lads are unacquainted with Proverbs 16 xviii; or perhaps, like most Christian soldiers, they believe that such things apply to those with purposes less exalted than their own.

His reverence also bestowed his insights into the humble psychology of the liberated. Asked whether the Taliban might simply wait for us to leave, Tony said that "the Afghan people have also got time. They are not going anywhere", no matter how easy we have made it for them; and "they are not going to be intimidated out of a better future", particularly now that they know it may be only a generation away. Tony also noted that "opium production was up in areas of Afghanistan, but insisted it was down in others"; which is certainly quite an achievement after a mere five years. Better yet, "The Taliban thought they could retake Helmand this year - and they haven't." Well, there's good news and there's challenging news. Tony thought he could take Iraq in 2003 - and ...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yet Again, Someone Thinks of the Children

Tomorrow being the start of anti-bullying week, the Minister for Human Resource Moulding, Alan Johnson, will announce a new initiative to put a stop to John Reid's favourite pastime, at least insofar as it is indulged in by those who are under age. The initiative consists in asking the "most popular teenagers in school" to "take on the responsibility of looking after their younger peers". In other words, the most socially successful members of the most harshly conformist group in society except the parliamentary Labour party are to be requested to protect the interests of the playground pariahs. They are even to be asked "to wear specially identifiable clothing", so that the least liked, least attractive and least capable children in the school will know just where to run when there's a crisis. Oh, it will work like a dream.

Then, when the popular ones have resolved all the fights, reported the bullies, provided psychological support to the victims and turned the schools into triumphant seats of tolerance, mutual aid and perhaps occasional learning, the little ones will grow up and find themselves seeking to survive in a world run by the likes of John Reid. The Minister of Unfitness for Purpose now plans to force parents to attend courses on how to raise their children. Of course, the forcing will be "on a voluntary basis" at first, because as Reid writes, "most people accept help when offered" something they can't refuse. For the most failed families, we shall also see much more of the Government's favourite solution to the perceived rise in anti-social behaviour: "accommodation units which resemble boarding schools with strict rules and even curfews".

The Minister of Unfitness for Purpose, you see, recently commissioned a poll which found that "most people believe parents not doing their job properly is the biggest reason for the perceived rise in anti-social behaviour". This is certainly true. Many politicians and most journalists could obviously have done with better parenting. To take only a couple of the more blatant examples: if Mr and Mrs Blair had raised little Tony to understand the difference between helping people and killing them, the world might now be a happier place; and if the staff of the Daily Mail and its ilk had been taught the difference between truth and falsehood, and why it matters, perceived anti-social behaviour might not be nearly so risen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Spot the Slip

Now that al-Jazeera has David Frost on board, presumably it is no longer a conduit for terrorist propaganda, and the Vicar of Downing Street can broadcast his sermons therefrom without doing violence to his conscience or worrying that the Americans will drop bombs on him.

Frost last night put it to his reverence that the Iraq adventure had "so far been pretty much of a disaster", and his reverence was quick to put the matter in perspective: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy ... to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war." It all sounds remarkably like the situation in London, circa February-March 2003, except that in this case the Coalition of the Willing comprises "al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other". Before the invasion, of course there was no al-Qaida presence and precious few Iranian-backed elements. Wonderful word, elements.

In any case, the Vicar's minders "tried to downplay the apparent slip". A spokesbeing said, "I think that's just the way in which he answers questions ... His views on Iraq are documented in hundreds of places, and that is not one of them." Naturally, we are all aware that the way in which his reverence answers questions is not necessarily to tell the truth; but which part of Tony's answer was a "slip"?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mushrooming Conflicts

In a genuine democracy, should such a thing ever come to exist among our thug-bedazzled species, there will be debates over matters of controversy. In our present Mother of Parliaments, the prospect of debate is itself a matter of controversy. Should the elected representatives of the British people, however dishonest or vertebrally challenged, be permitted to diverge from the Government under circumstances when, as some of Tony's chums have admitted in connection with the matter of Trident, the debate must "be carefully managed to avoid deep fissures opening up inside the party at the time of leadership and deputy leadership elections"? The party is permitted to disagree over what flavour filling will occupy the grey suit that will impose Tony's legacy upon us; but the last thing anyone wants is an appearance of disagreement over an actual issue.

Trident is Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent", which, before the rules of the game changed, protected us from attack, invasion and annihilation by somebody or other. Presumably this protection was independent in the sense that, should NATO and the non-canine partner in the special relationship decide that Britain was not worth the trouble of starting a nuclear war, Britain's democratically elected government would be able to start one for us. Somehow, despite the presence of an independent nuclear deterrent, we have managed to become entangled in a war which could last a generation, and it seems that this has increased scepticism about the deterrent's value. The talking-up of the "threat" from Iran's nuclear programme, which so far seems immune to deterrence, may also have backfired a bit in this regard. Public opinion, it appears, is narrowly in favour of retaining a deterrent until voters are informed of the cost, which at present is estimated at twenty-five thousand million pounds and, if Trident's replacement is anything like identity cards or the 2012 Olympics, can only go up. All in all, it's probably a jolly good thing that Tony's coalition partners, the Conservatives, are still numerous enough and right-wing enough to keep our Mother of Parliaments from doing anything silly, like trying to fulfil the country's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

The replacement will have to be ready in twenty years' time or thereabouts, and will be chosen on the basis of decisions by a government whose idea of forward planning is to legislate for tomorrow's newspaper headlines. The Foreign Office last week claimed that al-Qaida is "seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb", which presumably means we need something bigger and better than a nuclear bomb in order to deter them - perhaps, if only We could lay hands on it before They do, the famous something none of us are thinking about at the moment. Once we have that, and depending on how the rules of the game change over the next couple of decades, we can then sell our nuclear weapons to al-Qaida and recruit them against the atheistic menace of China.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Staying the Course

Having listened with "great interest", as rejection letters sometimes put it, to the Vicar of Downing Street's advice on achieving peace in the Middle East, George W "Bring 'em On" Bush has decided that what Iraq needs is a bit more of the medicine which has been working so well for the past three and a half years: namely foreign fighters.

Bush's new plan is expected to have "a decisive impact" on the policy review which family retainer James Baker has undertaken to try and find some means of re-branding the White House's ignominy as merely sordid (or "realistic") rather than catastrophic. The fresh meat, possibly as many as twenty thousand troops, will be used to cleanse Baghdad of the cancer of insurgency, whereupon the fleeing sectarians will be mopped up outside the city by those troops whose convenient redeployment the newcomers will have facilitated. More importantly, "by raising troop levels, Mr Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown".

Bush's new plan "stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq". Having kicked Iraq half to death, wrecked half the neighbourhood and alienated the rest, Bush now expects the neighbours to pick up the pieces, always provided that the neighbours are the right sort of people. "This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait." Perhaps Israel might be persuaded to drop a shekel or two in the hat, as well. America is, according to a State Department official, "prepared in principle to discuss with Iran its activities in Iraq"; not their activities, Iran's and America's, just the activities of some unspecified it. I wonder which of them that could be.

Bush's new plan "focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties", which the introduction of bloody anarchy by the Coalition of the Enlightened has apparently put back somewhat. According to some sources, "creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state"; which will make a pleasant change from the present policy of pretending that Iraq is a fully functional state despite the lack of credible frameworks for virtually anything. Also, "to the certain dismay of US neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside". Apparently it was those poor dumb neocons who thought we could impose democracy at gunpoint, just as was done by the French aristocracy in 1789 or, for that matter, by the British in America in 1776. His reverence would never have been so naïve. But then again, what the hell: at least we deposed Saddam Hussein, and no amount of native unworthiness can take that away from us.

Bush's new plan will include a call for Congress to allocate funds to support the extra deployments, and to "fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces", which will certainly endear the army and police forces to any natives who may have noticed what the occupation has achieved so far. Bush's new plan will also "stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts"; which, in light of New Labour policy at home, may well be something else that Tony did not suggest.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blearily Blaring, Blair's Blears Blurs

Through no particular fault of my own, I am in receipt of an email from Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chair. Like everything else about the Labour Party, the email has received the attentions of marketing specialists. Hence, it has a logo. The logo reads "Labour Supporters Network" and the three letters O are thinned out and joined together to resemble a diagram of a rather uninteresting molecule or a particularly unhelpful section of a Tube map. Beneath the logo is a title: Labour Supporters Network newsletter, and beneath the title is a very small picture which I take to be Hazel Blears, although she seems to have very prominent upper canines and nothing much between them. Somewhere near the picture is a further title, "Opportunity and security for all"; which is, as it turns out, "a programme in tune with our values, and in touch with the aspirations of the decent majority of hard-working people in Britain today".

Now, being labelled a Labour Supporter is bad enough, especially as I have always considered myself one of the decent, hard-working majority; but those words opportunity and security caused me frank apprehension. They look reasonable enough; but context is all, and in the context of a big, fat slice of New Labour spam the first means slashing welfare rights and calling poor people frauds and shirkers, while the second translates as slashing civil rights and calling Muslims terrorists. Accordingly, Hazel Blears next announces that "today we announced the priorities for government" as culled from the past few weeks' headlines in the Daily Mail, "and have shown we are taking the right long-term decisions for the future of our country".

Naturally, the right long-term decisions, while not particularly new, concrete, considered, equitable, efficient, just or imaginative, are at least tough. The Queen's Speech is "ambitious and bold", or at least as ambitious and bold as any announcement of New Labour policy by an octogenarian fiscal tapeworm with a Goon Show voice and a Ruritanian conscience possibly could be; but in one eighty-word paragraph (the only paragraph which goes on for more than two lines, in recognition of the likely attention span of a genuine Labour Supporter), Hazel Blears uses word tough twice. Tough are the decisions which the New Labour programme is taking (sic) "in the interests of our country's long-term future", and tough is the action which New Labour is taking "to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime". The measures to tackle climate change, by contrast, are not tough, or at least not tough enough to merit the privilege of an adjective. Together with proposals to link pensions to earnings and "ensure that millions more women will receive a full state pension", which have taken a nominally Labour government a mere nine years to come up with, these measures, tough and otherwise, constitute "a programme for government which will build on our successes, create opportunities, enhance our security" and blah blah blah. This, particularly the blah blah blah, is "a programme in tune with our values", not to mention the aspirations of that decent, hard-working majority to which, it appears, I have heretofore all too undeservedly consigned myself.

Hazel Blears then goes on to mention New Labour's "Let's Talk" programme, which is about "making sure that we are constantly listening to the public" before peremptorily informing the public that it is constantly wrong. This, like the tough, bold and ambitious measures detailed above, constitutes "building on the success of the last ten years"; or, in Standard English, continuing to flog the horse even after its flesh has macerated, its eyeballs been eaten by crows and its destination reached by automated vehicles. It also means "refocusing today's challenges", which might sound jolly exciting if only it had a meaning. (Despite the lack of meaning, the method is the usual one: "extending opportunity and security in a changing world". But we all knew that.) Anyway, Hazel Blears and her colleagues are looking forward to hearing from us, so that they can clarify those parts of the Queen's Speech which were too ambitious, bold or tough for us to comprehend.

Oh, one more thing: after her autograph, Hazel Blears has attached a postscript, even longer than the eighty-word policy statement, which starts "Being a member of a political party means a lot" and goes on "Never before has the membership of any political party had such power" and continues "future of British politics" and "responsibility to the people of Britain" and "the history of our movement" and "a responsibility and a privilege" and "this historic election" and "your time, your opportunity". The postscript ends "So, if you are not already a member of the Labour Party you can join by clicking here". The words "your security" appear by some oversight to have been missed out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Moderate Muslimity, Forward Positivity

The Vicar of Downing Street having resolved that his last blessing before ascension shall be a final solution to the Palestinian problem, he spent a statesmanlike hour today informing the Americans that it would be a jolly decent thing if they could "re-engage" in the "peace process" and take part in a "whole Middle East strategy". Merely selling arms to the Righteous State and shipping them via the Vicar's parish is no longer going to be good enough; if "moderate Muslim feeling" is to be appeased, there will have to be definite progress in packing those lesser breeds into their little bantustans, so that construction of Israel's Fence of Reconciliation may continue without undue hindrance. This, according to his reverence, is the "single biggest issue" in "getting moderate Muslim countries to support the new Iraq"; and it goes without saying that, once moderate Muslim countries support the new Iraq, all the trouble now being caused there by extremists will die down of its own accord. "By moving ahead in Israel and Palestine we believe you remove the central issue that they exploit to stop progress," a spokesbeing said. There is, of course, no possible risk of the new Iraq becoming a central issue in itself - not with fourteen permanent US bases to help future sovereign, independent Iraq governments keep things just democratic enough. Meanwhile, the Vicar's "whole Middle East strategy" will attempt to tackle those forces outside Iraq which are preventing our boys from being pelted with flowers as they deserve. As usual, one is either with his reverence or against his reverence; the lukewarm he spits out of his mouth: "You don't wait, you move forward and you put it up to Iran and Syria," that spokesbeing said. "Are they going to be part of the positive drive forward or are they not?" This is certainly moderate; and his reverence has even informed Iran how it can make a start on atoning for past transgressions: "assist the Middle East peace process, stop supporting terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon and abide by its international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation". In that case, "a new partnership is possible". If they behave really well, Tony and his chums might even try and teach them how to be civilised.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Suspect Claims

The mad mullahs of Iran, as we know to our cost, are notoriously suspicious. The present titular leader of the world's biggest nuclear power and sometime supporter of Iran's oppressor Mohammed Reza recently branded Iran part of an "axis of evil"; yet Iran's mad mullahs are suspicious. Iran's eastern neighbour, Afghanistan, was invaded some years ago by the world's biggest nuclear power and its little helper, and is arguably no better off; yet Iran's mad mullahs are suspicious. Iran's western neighbour, Iraq, was invaded some years ago by the world's biggest nuclear power and its little helper, and is now a basket case; yet Iran's mad mullahs are suspicious. In the nuclear-armed land of milk and honey, Olmert bar Sharon is comparing Iran's legally elected president to the proto-Saddam, Adolf Hitler, and claiming that he (the Iranian president, that is, not Olmert bar Sharon) is "ready to commit crimes against humanity" and "has to be stopped"; yet Iran's mad mullahs are suspicious.

The suspicions of Iran's mad mullahs have been provoked by a Google Video website entry locating the city of Tabriz "in southern Azerbaijan, currently in the territory of Iran". Southern Azerbaijan in this case means not the ex-Soviet republic but a province which has belonged to Iran for about four thousand years; or, on present estimates, since about seven hundred years before Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to collect on that divine promise of real estate which Arthur Balfour so kindly ratified early in the twentieth century. The notoriously suspicious mad mullahs think that Google, an American company, may be attempting to interfere in Iran's affairs by propagandising for Azeri separatists. Of course it is possible, even probable, that Google are guilty of nothing more than good old-fashioned American ignorance; but one would hope they could be a little more sensitive. It is not so very long, after all, since America itself was threatened on all sides - the USSR lurking just across the Bering Strait, Cuba squatting in the Caribbean ready to smash America's shipping, and the Nicaraguan hordes poised for a blitzkrieg through Mexico. Granted all this, from the founding of Tabriz onwards, took place before the collective human psyche was rearranged by the advent of 9/11; but still, if good intentions can go awry to such an extent - if the defender of truth, justice and enlightenment values should start, however accidentally, to re-write history - why, in that case I don't know what we'd do.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Taking Up the Cross

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has provided an eloquent demonstration of the reasons behind the Church of England's shrinking appeal. Most healthy religions, at least those with Judaeo-Christian symptoms, appeal to human arrogance: they succour their adherents with the assurance that the Universe shares their moral code and will reward the faithful for sticking to it while sticking it to those who don't. They provide answers - not necessarily easy answers, but answers all the same - for all those big questions to which mere science, stuck in its ivory tower of weapons development and baby murder, can reply only with a meek "Don't know". They provide a ready-made conspiracy theory - God is punishing me - to account for whatever vicissitudes bad luck or bad judgement may place in their acolytes' path. Above all they provide, for the comfort of the meek and humble, the illusion that the moral and spiritual itches of a minor evolutionary accident will resonate in Eternity as the cosmic birthpangs of the divine triumph.

The Archbishop of York, though, has other concerns. Speaking to some other full stomachs on Friday night, he complained about the "systematic erosion" of Christianity in British public life, as manifested in non-faith-specific Christmas cards and the reluctance of local authorities to cause offence to the differently deluded. Congregations are failing, not through any fault of the Church, but because official Government Christmas cards say "Season's Greetings"; and the Archbishop of York believes that his moral authority deserves better from the people who pay his stipend. He also criticised Plymouth council for ending free parking on Sundays, although he does not appear to have asked what Jesus would have done when faced with the requirement to pay for a space, or to have considered the possibly implied answer at Matthew 10 ix. It is all very modern, very relevant and very tolerant, no doubt; but is it really the kind of thing to set a man at variance with his father, or the daughter against her mother, or the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, as once it was promised?

Saturday, November 11, 2006


These numberless who stood, were counted, served;
Who died, their backbones straight, without a moan,
Shoulder to shoulder lie, as they deserved,
Immortalised upon a spine of stone.
Who fought the greatest war, that War should cease,
To free the future from beweaponed fear,
Lie silent, while we statesmen give to Peace
Its hundred-twenty seconds from our year.

We thank, with all humility, our slain;
We give our brave boys solemn accolade.
Their sacrifice shall not have been in vain,
Given there's profit in our peaceful trade.
So let this wreath of opium, blood-red,
Sweeten the grave-stench of our glorious dead.

Maunder Priggley

Friday, November 10, 2006

Baby Jesus Says: Buy Now

Discontented parents are complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about Christmas campaigns which have been launched too early. Apparently the advertisements are "misleading", presumably because they claim that Christmas occurs at some point before 25 December; and "socially irresponsible" because, no doubt by some fiendish subliminal machination, they deprive parents of the ability to say "No" or "Wait and see".

Other complainants claim that "the advertising assault represents an over-commercialisation of what is meant to be a religious festival". If it weren't for those damned advertisements, parents and children alike would forget all worldly things and spend the Twelve Days fasting and grovelling for redemption. Or would that be an under-commercialisation of what is meant to be a religious festival?

Speaking of the pieties, fifteen sets of parents have complained about one advertisment for Argos which conveys the blasphemous idea that "Santa may not be real and that it is parents who actually buy children's presents". The parents object to this message on the grounds that the "innocence" of the poor mites is compromised when the lies that adults tell them are exposed. If children are so innocent these days as to believe the claims of advertisers over the assurances of their parents, I can only assume that the parents have spent too little time and effort in cultivating their offspring's trust, and placed too much trust in the television screen to keep the holy innocents quiet.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lessons in Diplomacy

The Minister for Lesser Breeds, Margaret Beckett, has once again reminded British Muslims that they have a job to do. Since they are not merely Britons but "special ability" Britons, they are urged to act as "ambassadors for Britain" whenever they go abroad, perhaps by wearing "Support the War on Terror" T-shirts while on pilgrimage to Mecca.

Mrs Beckett also warned the media that it could be "positively dangerous" to "give a platform to radicals as if they represented the Muslim community as a whole". The Muslim community as a whole stands shoulder to shoulder with Tony and Mrs Beckett, among "all those who reject violence"; sadly, however, "We are too often the silent majority"; hence the need for amateur ambassadorial duties on the part of mainstream British Muslimity. As a member of the government which has responded to the terrorist threat against democracy by removing civil liberties that date back to the year 1215, Mrs Beckett suggested that we should "deny the terrorists the historical importance they claim to themselves", because the terrorists "have no right to speak for" those aspects of Muslimity which Tony and his chums consider worthy of "the great and noble faith of Islam".

She was careful to refute the over-simplification that the War for Civilised Values is in any way a battle between civilisations. The idea that the Crusade for Universal British Values is "part of some anti-Muslim agenda is of course ridiculous nonsense"; after all, we are friendly with Saudi Arabia, we sell arms to Pakistan, and we are happy to co-operate with Colonel Gadafi's security police as long as they promise to be nice. "This is a not a battle between civilisations but a stand-off between the whole of society on the one hand and a fairly small and particularly nasty bunch of murderers and criminals on the other," she re-simplified, possibly keeping a straight face. One assumes that she identifies herself with the whole of society, excluding all those whose views of Government policy are excessively facile, foolish or dangerous for her taste. Such views, as fostered by the British media, are "how it's managed to encourage a young man to blow himself up on a tube train"; therefore news organisations must "let the extremists bark in the night while we, the vast moderate majority, find a common way to defeat them".

So the way forward, it appears, is for British Muslims to fight the Vicar of Downing Street's propaganda war abroad while the British media deny the terrorists the oxygen of publicity by reporting on the activities of the moderate majority instead. "Salaam aleikum, Gaza! My name's Ali and I'm an ambassador for Britain!" (Temporary interruption in transmission) "Well, better luck next time. And now, back to the studio!"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Witch Hunt

If true, the allegations against Dr Joyce Pratt, of Birmingham, could provide a useful pointer towards a future of science "balanced" by religion in Tony's Faith Emporium. It is alleged that Dr Pratt told a woman in search of contraceptive advice that she "had something awful inside her" and advised her to get a second opinion from a priest at Westminster Cathedral, with a view to a possible exorcism. She also supposedly bandied about accusations of witchcraft and conspiracy to murder, though staff and agencies' use of the word "her" fails to make entirely clear who was the alleged witch or who the alleged victim. The road of faith was ever strewn with thorns, and the good doctor is charged with acting in a fashion "irresponsible, unprofessional, intimidatory to her patient and liable to bring the profession into disrepute" and is further accused of not co-operating with the efforts of her employer and primary care trust to investigate the claims. It is possible they were interested only in material evidence, which has had a regrettable but no doubt temporary vogue in such matters ever since we left behind the good old days of Matthew Hopkins and Malleus Maleficarum.

Strangely enough, what with the case being still sub judice and all, none of Tony's disciples has yet felt morally bound to express an opinion, as some of them undoubtedly would have done were Dr Pratt accused of wearing inappropriate headgear to work. Perhaps they feel over-qualified to discuss medical matters, which are, after all, little more than a lot of theories.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Prevention of Terrorism

A terrorist, Dhiren Barot, has been jailed for life. The Minister of Unfitness for Purpose, John Reid, observed that Barot's case demonstrates "that the terrorist threat remains very real and serious", a fact many of us might have gathered from the headlines about Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. The charge against Barot was conspiracy to murder, a charge which existed before the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Barot was tried in a crown court on the basis of hard, legally admissible evidence, which was discovered by police within the fourteen-day maximum period of custody after his arrest in August 2004. He pleaded guilty because the evidence against him was unanswerable, not because the police had been permitted to sweat him for a month or three. According to the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorist head, Barot was a "full-time terrorist" who "used anti-surveillance, coded messages and secret meetings". Nevertheless, although armed police were present at his arrest, no shots were fired and no innocent men harmed; possibly because the 7 July bombings had not taken place, so that professionalism was permitted to overwhelm righteous indignation. It is certainly impressive what the Metropolitan Police used to be able to do as long as their hands were tied.

Monday, November 06, 2006

News 2020

US voters brace for extended choicefest

The US Commander-in-Chief will face what many have referred to as what will be considered a perceived referendum on his administration tomorrow, when millions of Americans swipe their CVC cards on their Diebechtel DomestoDemocratoMatic™ voting machines and press the button which will indicate their personalised opinion of the way their country has been governed for the past two years.

White House spokesperson Hooter Fubsy said today that America's voting machines are "one hundred and ninety-four per cent working", so there is unlikely to be any repeat of the embarrassment caused four years ago, when a 24-hour electricity blackout caused a vote which was widely perceived as a referendum on the administration's energy policy to be placed in what the White House calls "a permanent state of suspended declaration".

The Civic Virtue Credit system, which the Prime Minister is expected to introduce in Britain once the last of the National Identity Databases has been completely outsourced to Calcutta, has also "undergone extensive positive enhancement", according to Mr Fubsy.

"Specifically, the glitch which during the last voterisation motivity exercise permitted voting only by registered malcontents has now been rectificated," Mr Fubsy said.

Under the Homeland Constitution, registered malcontents are not normally granted sufficient Civic Virtue Credits to cast even single votes, in case their influence causes "liberty lurch", the societal instabilitisation phenomenon which, if left to itself, can endanger the very existence of democracy by causing incorrect choices to be made.

For the first time, voters this year will have more than two choices thanks to the flexible democrativity feature on the new Diebechtel machines. Besides the usual opinions of "Perfect" and "Damn Near Perfect", Americans will also be able to vote for a third option, "Mighty Fine". It is thought that this will enable pollsters to attain a more nuanced vision of the American public's state of mind.

The Commander-in-Chief himself is said to be "quietly confident" of the usual 98%-99.99% rating of "Perfect", although some commentators have suggested that the new "Mighty Fine" rating may cause the administration an unpleasant surprise.

The Commander-in-Chief appeared to anticipate the possibility of a lowered rating during yesterday's press conference from the Oval Bunker via terror-hardened weblink. "It is not the place of Americans to be satisfied with less than perfection," the Commander-in-Chief said. "Accordingly, a vote for a lower degree of approval can mean only one thing: evil wins."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another Good Day for Iraq

Having lost, with flourishes, any argument that they might be competent at running an economy, defending their nation against its enemies, or helping its people in the face of natural disaster, the rulers of the free world have gone back to basics. Via their proxies in Iraq, they are using their one true talent and sentencing people to death. Saddam Hussein and two of his co-defendants have been given the death sentence by the kangaroo court, nominally over some murderous reprisals for an assassination attempt in 1982. Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants are not, after all, members of the United States armed forces.

The former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark, joined the illustrious list of those who have been thrown out of the courtroom when he handed the judge a memorandum calling the trial a travesty; but, in the interests of truth and justice, a White House spokesbeing said that today was a "good day for the Iraqi people". Some of the Iraqi people, who may possibly remember a time when the streets were safe and the electricity worked, are still uncivilised enough to disagree. The Secretary of State for Lesser Breeds, Margaret Beckett, observed that "Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime", and that "It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice", so long as the accusations are made by the kind of people the Bush gang and its little helper can get along with.

Although the sentence will not be carried out immediately, except in the event of a lynching or other demonstration of spontaneous Republicanism, no doubt the sentence will help Americans feel better about the Iraq adventure as they await Diebold's correction of their votes in the midterm elections.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Decisions, Decisions

The Vicar of Downing Street is bustling about the business of saving the world. Now that Germany is about to take over the presidency of the G8, his reverence will be informing the chancellor, Angela Merkel, of her duties as regards ensuring that his legacy includes a safe, clean planet for his successors to spy on. Last year, Merkel "announced a scheme to convert older houses into energy-efficient homes to meet emission targets without building more nuclear power stations", which clearly indicates a need for Tony's advice. A world without nuclear power stations is, for Tony, a world virtually without hope of redemption.

His reverence will also be giving Merkel her marching orders over such matters as "Afghanistan, the Middle East, Darfur and Iran's nuclear programme". Meanwhile, in an intriguing article, the Guardian suggests that Britain's share of the US nuclear programme will cost about as much to maintain as it would cost to reduce our carbon emissions by a fairly significant chunk. Well, here's a conundrum and no mistake. Given the choice between cleaning up our act and "deterring" a hypothetical enemy, how will Tony and the Prince in Waiting decide to spend seventy-six thousand million pounds of our tax money? Oh, the suspense.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Qualis Artifex Pereo

Associated Press counted one thousand, two hundred and seventy-two Iraqi deaths reported during the month of October, an average of forty-one per day. Major General William Caldwell, speaking on a day when even this enviable record of "isolated incidents" was exceeded, attempted to apply some perspective for the benefit of journalists fiddling behind the fortifications in Baghdad. Iraq, Caldwell said, is in a phase of transition. "Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture. Blobs of paint become paintings which inspire"; and of course a functioning democratic state is much the same sort of thing. All it takes is a Great Man or so, to bring the inert material - stone, pigment, brown people - to life; and given sufficient time and unpleasantness, Iraq could one day gain a culture with the political sophistication of Norman Rockwell, the linear clarity of Jackson Pollock and the sunny optimism of Edward Hopper.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Environmental Niggles

Now, I'm sure we all remember Niggles - the man who is generally seen either as the last great Conservative chancellor - a perception made slightly easier by the blue-rose-coloured lenses of nostalgia and the fact that his successors were John Major and Norman Lamont - or else as the greasy-palmed chin factory who walked out on his next-door neighbour just as the poor thing was getting into her stride over Europe.

Since his resignation and subsequent demotion to the House of Lords, Niggles has apparently made a thorough study of the physics of global warming, and is now in a position to denounce the whole idea as a symptom of "the retreat from reason we see all around us today." In a lecture to that well-known haven of scientific research, the Centre for Policy Studies, our Renaissance Man accuses the Royal Society's members of "regrettable arrogance and intolerance" for claiming that "a radical change of lifestyle in the developed world" is necessary to prevent the global economy being crippled. Having spent the last few days browsing through the Stern report, Niggles observes that it "adds disappointingly little to what was already the conventional wisdom", aside from statistics which are "essentially spurious" and based on "theoretical models and conjectural worst cases". The single point on which Stern is optimistic is self-evidently the wrong one; namely the cost of reform, which "Stern almost certainly underestimates". Unlike tax cuts and privatisation, policy decisions based on Stern's findings "could have the most profound adverse effect on people's lives"; it follows, then, that the "global salvationist movement" is actively hostile towards the benign wonder of capitalism, the wondrous benignity of the market economy, and Niggles' own suggested policy of doing nothing much. "Given the fact that that the only way in which the world's poor will ever be able to escape from their poverty is by embracing capitalism and the global market economy," proclaims Niggles, the Stern report "is not good news". Having made his reasoned plea for tolerance and understanding towards the free market, Niggles proceeds to anathematise "the irrationality and intolerance of eco-fundamentalism", which treats "reasoned question of its mantras" by disinterested scientific observers like Niggles "as a form of blasphemy". Good news is truth, truth good news; that is all Niggles knows on earth, and all he needs to know.

As far as I am concerned, the question is now settled. Not only the economy, but the very sanity of our culture could depend upon it. As a matter of desperate urgency, the House of Lords must be reformed.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No Lessons Yet, Thank You

Magnanimous as ever, Britain's main war criminal has not necessarily ruled out another inquiry into the Iraq debacle. Another Hutton report could turn out just the proper pick-me-up for this, our tottering State, so long as it is compiled under circumstances convenient for his reverence. The arrest warrant, it would seem, is not valid until the murderer has signed it.

The Minister for Lesser Breeds, Margaret Beckett, spent much of yesterday "deflecting Opposition demands" for an inquiry; but apparently the deflections resulted from a "slip of the tongue". After fifty-two per cent of the bench-warmers at the House of Commons slipped into agreement with the tongue, the Minister for Justifiable Slaughter, Des Browne, said that the Government might one day condescend to hold a "retrospective inquiry", perhaps as opposed to the inquiry into future events which the Opposition was evidently, albeit unwittingly, demanding.

The Vicar of Downing Street acknowledged that "lessons must be learned"; but that, with only a little over a hundred British troops dead and almost as many signs of burgeoning democracy as there were under Saddam Hussein, "this is not the time" for learning them. The only possible result of learning any lessons now would be to send "a signal that would have dismayed our coalition allies, it would have dismayed the Iraqi government, it would have heartened all those that are fighting us in Iraq". What a jolly good thing we've had the sense to stay the course without learning anything so far. The consequences might have been unfortunate.