The Curmudgeon


Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Mass of Trouble

The sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak apparently wishes to continue the rollback of the reforms instituted by the Second Vatican Council by allowing general use of the Tridentine Mass, a sixteenth-century version of the ceremony and a "great treasure" which refers to perfidious Jews who live in blindness and darkness and which includes a charmingly sanctimonious prayer that "the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ". At the moment, this delightful piece of work can be performed only with special permission, but the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak apparently wishes to "liberalise" its use. How nice to see that free speech is such a concern in the church's higher echelons.

The idea, it appears, is to "reach out to an ultra-traditionalist and schismatic group, the Society of St Pius X" - the sainted Pius being a rabid reactionary who appears to have been born about four hundred years too late for the wellbeing of either his church or his congregation. Among other achievements, he managed to provoke the French into kicking out the Jesuits. In 1905 he asserted the existence of Limbo, which the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak has recently abolished. Pius' response to the outbreak of the First World War was apparently one of "horror and melancholy", which obviously helped a good deal.

If the Tridentine Mass does come back into widespread use, it will be amusing to see what effect this has upon the newly-appointed Saviour of the Middle East (the missionary formerly positioned in the Vicarage of Downing Street) in his attempts to bring peace and harmony to the benighted. "New Labour, New Jerusalem" is no doubt a laudable project, but it seems that fans of the Tridentine Mass "tend to oppose the laity's increased role in parish life... collaboration with other Christians and its dialogue with Jews and Muslims".

Unfortunately, Tridentine does not mean that the Mass has three teeth - one for the Jews, one for the Muslims and one for the Protestants. It is a reference to the Council of Trent.

Friday, June 29, 2007

London Terror Bomb Terror Alert Terror

Terror bomb terror car terror bomb terror returned to terrorise London's streets today when a bomb was discovered in a car outside a London nightclub, terror bomb alert terror car terror.

The anti-terror head of Scotland Yard's anti-terror unit said it was too early to speculate about who may have been responsible for the terror bomb, but Iran Iraq Syria Muslims Iran Muslims Iraq al-Qaida al-Qaida Iran Iran Bloody Irish anyway.

The anti-terror Prime Minister, who is against terror, said he would "stress to the cabinet that the vigilance must be maintained over the next few days", which sounds jolly helpful.

The anti-terror Secretary for War, Des Browne, who is also against terror, responded by thanking God for the police and explosives experts, which sounds even more helpful, especially when it comes (as inevitably it will) to the point of asking Parliament to countenance locking people up without trial for as long as somebody thinks it necessary terror terror terror:

"Mummy, you love me don't you?"
"Of course I do, darling."
"You thank God I'm here, don't you?"
"Naturally, dear. Every day I express my gratitude to God that he stuck his invisible hand up me that night and ruptured that condom the nuns always warned me against."
"Good. In that case I want a new bike and a puppy and a Playstation and I want to be able to lock Timmy in the fridge for three months every time the fancy takes me."

You can see the terror logic of it, I hope.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Legal Beagle Snuffles Out

In keeping with New Labour's commitment to public relations, the Saviour of the Middle East's former legal adviser has acknowledged that the reputation of the Serious Fraud Squad has been "damaged" by the BAE corruption affair. Lord Goldsmith's own reputation was presumably not even worth discussing. He came over all coy when asked whether the Government would co-operate with the inquiry by the US department of justice, saying that he could not answer the question as he was leaving office; obviously, having worked with Gordon for a mere six years, he cannot possibly take it upon himself to predict what the chap will do. Lord Goldsmith said that the decision to cut off the investigation into the BAE affair had made him "uncomfortable ... not because it was the wrong decision", perish the thought, "but because it could lead", though by no means inevitably, "to a view that this country wasn't as committed to tackling corruption overseas as I believe it is", which would be too jolly bad, particularly given what we know about the country's commitment to tackling corruption at home.

Robert Wardle, the head of the Serious Fraud Office, admitted the damage to his department's reputation, but said that "it was an exceptional case in exceptional circumstances". Upon seeing the evidence of extensive wrongdoing, m'lud, I was instructed by my superiors to close my eyes tight and not pursue the matter any further. It was an exceptional case in exceptional circumstances.

Quite irrelevant of course, but Terry Nation's book Rebecca's World features some highly dangerous creatures called the Swardlewardles. They're dangerous because they can make you laugh yourself to death. Quite irrelevant, of course.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheering for the Antichrist

I'm deeply grateful to Larry, over where the tannin and the haemoglobin frolic, for his very generous review of my novel Beelzebub. It's particularly pleasing that he has chosen to post it on a day when so little of significance has occurred in the news - occurred all over the news, as a matter of fact, which is one reason why I'm glad of a cheering ego-boost.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Political Defectation

The Prime Minister-appoint has been revealed as the "key player" behind the defection of an embittered throwaway from Daveybloke's front bench. Brown's spokesbeings announced the deal "just 24 hours before he is due to grasp the reins of Number 10", as the Guardian hath it. Any bad writer can mix metaphors, but it takes a journalist or two to mix a cliché.

The defector is Quentin Davies, whose voting record shows no interest in such trivia as Parliamentary accountability or Trident, but a strong attachment to principle in opposing gay rights and a genuine interest in supporting fox-hunting. He is now said - doubtless by someone who ought to know - to "favour social justice combined with an enterprise culture, which chimes with 'Brownism'," according to the Guardian's Michael White and Matthew Tempest. Apparently Daveybloke is firmly and publicly against combining social justice with an enterprise culture, although I must admit that the occasion of his saying so has, for the moment, slipped my mind.

Possibly with a little editorial help from Gordon, Davies also wrote a nasty letter to Daveybloke, accusing him of "replacing the party's 'sense of mission' with a 'PR-agenda'" in a manner that New Labour would never dream of doing. "Under your leadership the Conservative party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything," Davies declaimed. Again, it seems rather difficult to understand why this should be a problem. The Conservative party has never collectively believed in anything, or stood for anything, except jobs for the boys and keeping the rabble in line. Neither has any other political party, unless it was an illegal one or had a membership in the dozens or less.

Davies also informed Daveybloke that "It is fair to say that you have so far made a shambles of your foreign policy, and that would be a great handicap to you - and, more seriously, to the country - if you ever came to power." I must confess I was unaware that Daveybloke even had a foreign policy, or if he did, that it diverged in any significant way from the New Labour one of Supporting Our Boys. "For the record," Davies said, "I have had no discussion concerning - nor will I seek - a government post in the upcoming reshuffle." Well gosh, I did wonder about that; how clever of him to have anticipated. I'm reassured now, however. Simply by being a Tory who has turned his coat to join New Labour, he makes the purity of his motives as plain as a pile of elephant dung on a midsummer morning.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Change of Attitude

Gordon and Harriet, Harriet and Gordon. North and South, Finance and Justice, Man and Woman, Not Tony Blair and Not Hazel Blears. As far as the jabbering classes (the Independent's leader writer, for instance) are concerned, this is the new archetypal Dream Ticket, unmatched in its archetypal tickety oneiricness until the next one comes along. Gordon is direct and insistent and promising and prioritising and refreshing and serving and dutiful and inclusive and responsible and open and even talked about values, which apparently is something Tony never quite dared. Harriet's election as deputy leader "brings a woman into the upper echelons of the party, but also of the country", which is clearly a Good Thing in itself if the shining examples of Margaret Beckett and Ruth Kelly are anything to go by. Harriet may also be "just what he needs to counter the woman-appeal of David Cameron", whatever that may mean.

Thanks to the estimable Justin, we are in a rather good position to hear just how much things are about to change, at least as regards such minor matters as concern for the state of reality and respect for the intelligence of those whom one asks only to serve.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Now that his ascension is only a few days away, the Vicar of Downing Street has granted the Pope an audience and has presented him with a portrait of Cardinal Newman, who will remain perhaps the most prominent British Catholic in recent history until Tony's own conversion has been appropriately formalised. A Downing Street spokesbeing said that the poodle and the eunuch had "positive" talks, which "focused on the Middle East, international development and interfaith issues", but unfortunately declined to say whether the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak had expressed any moral qualms about all those Muslim corpses littering the area. Perhaps they had more important things to discuss.

The White House has indicated that "it would support Mr Blair carrying out diplomatic missions in the troubled region for the powerful Quartet of the US, the UN, Russia and Europe", Russia and Europe being presumably outside the UN rather than above it. Having got the go-ahead, the Prince in Waiting, Gordon Brown, has "warmly endorsed the idea of Mr Blair acting as a Middle East envoy for the major powers", which optimists will see as a favourable sign as regards his sense of humour. The heir praised Tony's "great knowledge both of reconciliation, and how to make it happen" between such apparently antagonistic entities as legality and bribery, bombing and anti-terrorism, democracy and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, national law and Peter Goldsmith, and so forth.

Tony himself apparently intends to make "a major announcement on his post-Downing Street plans when he officially stands down on Wednesday". Gosh. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Bedford Incident

James B Harris 1965

The director of The Bedford Incident, James B Harris, was Stanley Kubrick's business partner and producer from The Killing (1956) to Lolita (1962). Harris' film is ironic and suspenseful rather than satirical and comic, and is very far from being derivative of Kubrick or anyone else; still, there are several parallels with Dr Strangelove, released in 1964 but, as usual with Kubrick, planned and researched for several years beforehand.

Both films deal with a sudden heating-up of the Cold War owing to the actions of renegade military officers: SAC commander Ripper (Sterling Hayden) in Kubrick's film, and naval commander Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark) in Harris'. Like Ripper, Finlander allows his psychological problems to push him into exceeding his authority: ordered to exercise restraint while chasing a Soviet submarine which has briefly violated NATO territory, Finlander instead becomes obsessed with forcing the sub to surface.

In both films, too, there is a chorus of rational characters who try to intervene: US president Muffley and RAF officer Mandrake (both played by Peter Sellers) in Dr Strangelove, and reporter Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier), ship's doctor Potter (Martin Balsam) and German ex-submarine commander Schrepke (Eric Portman) in The Bedford Incident. However, although Muffley and Mandrake both take decisive action which could have averted disaster if not for some very bad luck, the voices of reason aboard the Bedford remain no more than voices, overruled and drowned by Finlander's mania. "What say we jump ship?" Potter suggests to Munceford at one point; unfortunately, as Schrepke later points out, the water is too cold.

Plenty of war films before and since Dr Strangelove have indulged in caricature, intended or otherwise; but the characterisation of Finlander, abetted by a superb performance from Widmark, is commendably complex. When Finlander confides to his most trusted subordinate that being a real bastard isn't as easy as it looks, the officer is sufficiently confident to reply that Finlander has enough talent to make it look very easy indeed; clearly the commander is no simple martinet.

Another quality which The Bedford Incident shares with Dr Strangelove is its sensitivity to language. When Munceford hears that Schrepke served in the German navy during the Second World War, he prods: "Hitler's navy?" Schrepke answers quietly, "Dönitz' navy." Finlander, whose outspokenness has hampered his career prospects and whose impatience with political manoeuvrings causes him to defy orders which refer to the delicate international situation, shows a similar lack of perspective over who is really in charge. He also displays an almost paranoiac sensitivity to the possibility of being misquoted; having finally granted Munceford an interview, he warns: "Don't ever put words in my mouth"; which, given the dénouement, is an irony worthy of Kubrick.

Harris' films appear to give the lie to Alex Cox's dictum that you should never let your leading actor co-produce: Richard Widmark co-produced The Bedford Incident, and in 1987 James Woods was co-producer as well as star of another ambivalent study of brutal masculinity, Harris' underrated James Ellroy adaptation Cop.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Holy Shit

The Vicar of Downing Street is apparently going to worship his invisible friend in new and interesting ways once the End Time of His Own Choosing is past. He "has been attending Catholic mass, often with his family but also occasionally alone, since long before he became prime minister" and has had his children indoctrinated into the Catholic faith. Apparently he used to "slip into" Westminster cathedral and take communion now and then until Cardinal Hume prevailed on him to stop. He has not actually converted before now because of "sensitivity about the place of Catholicism in British public - and particularly its constitutional - life"; in other words, he has put off entering the True Faith for reasons of political expediency. No doubt the Catholic church will be proud and happy to welcome him into the fold; although it is a little difficult to see what such a famously clear conscience will find to talk about during confession.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Firewater No Good for Natives

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, has announced a ban on alcohol and pornography to Aborigines in the Northern Territory. The "sale, possession and transportation of alcohol" will be banned for six months on "Aboriginal-owned land"; it appears that Aboriginal land ownership does not extend to doing as the white man does on his land. Howard, of course, is thinking of the children: "We're dealing with a group of young Australians for whom the concept of childhood innocence has never been present." His excuse is a report with the charming title Little Children Are Sacred, which calls up delightful Victorian visions of sailor suits and pinafores and subject races who knew their place; and which found that "drinking was a key contributor to the collapse of Aboriginal culture and neglect of children". In the white population, of course, drinking is a valuable social activity and a key contributor to the supremacy of white culture and nurturing of children. "There is a strong association between alcohol abuse, violence and sexual abuse of children," claimed one of the inquiry's co-chairs; but only among the Aborigines. "They are consistently the nation's most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence." Of course there are underlying causes for this situation. The underlying causes are that Aborigines are disadvantaged, unemployed, alcoholic, drug addicted and violent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Premature Release

The Vicar of Downing Street began the week leading up to the End Time of His Own Choosing with an expression of regret at being forced by circumstances to act in a way that might be construed as forgiving or merciful. About twenty-five thousand people with sentences of between a month and four years will be given an eighteen-day remission in order to ease prison overcrowding.

His reverence was very clear on the reasons why this population problem has arisen. "First, because the number of people in prison has risen dramatically as a result of a 25% increase in sentencing"; and, self-evidently, this is no fault of the Government. It's the result of market forces, or God's will, or the poisonous influence of Magna Carta or sunspots or something. "Secondly, under this government we are now recalling people who breach their licence conditions and there's 5,000 extra in prison as a result of that"; an uncharitable observer might claim that the Government could be considered to have something to do with this, but that's just the sort of hindsight-driven, paradigm-stodgy carping which has prevented Tony drawing a line under Iraq. After all, it could hardly have been predicted that, by filling up the prisons, we eventually would run out of prison space; nobody really knew that prison places were a finite resource until they had all been used.

Thirdly, "we now have almost 3,000 people in prison on indeterminate sentences for violent and sexual offences". Since it is difficult to subtract eighteen days from an indeterminate amount of time, I suppose we may take this as reassurance that the ravening horde of hardened criminals who are about to be ejaculated onto our streets will contain relatively few actual rapists and murderers. This was his reverence's obligatory genuflection before the altar of Murdoch, whose thoughtful style was creditably adopted by his acolyte-in-waiting, the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, who described eighteen days' remission as "opening the prison gates and releasing 25,000 prisoners onto our streets". How nice to see that, under Daveybloke's civilising influence, the Conservatives no longer resort to Daily Mail hysteria at the drop of an opinion poll.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gentle Persuasion

Somewhere in between the glorious victory over the Taliban and the glorious victory over Saddam Hussein, I wrote a short but irritable novel called Terminals, a slightly science-fictional satire about a virtual-reality addict working for a Government-sponsored euthanasia programme as 9/11-like events unfold in the background. I posted an extract here some time ago, and the total lack of yells for more during the intervening twenty-eight months has finally broken through my remaining reserves of modesty. Something else that helped was Henry Porter's article in March, the penultimate paragraph of which insults me personally as a writer by implying that Tony Blair is the product of my own values and at one with my view of society. Buy Terminals here; and if you hate it, blame Henry Porter.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Amazing Daveybloke

The new, cuddly, in-touch, streamlined, modernised Conservative party has made another of its increasingly forlorn attempts to look as though it had some sort of difference of principle with New Labour. First, the superbly-named Shadow Minister for Cultchah, Hugo Swire, was quoted as saying that museums should have the right to charge people for the privilege of looking at their own national heritage. This was not only a bit unpopular; it also looked dangerously close to being a policy, and the infamous Swire, doubtless with much twirling of tweed moustache and swishing of non-animal-product riding-crop, dispatched a tactful spokesbeing to assure the Murdoch Times that he hadn't known what he was talking about.

Meanwhile, Daveybloke has been stiffening the sinews of his very own Tooting Popular Front with talk of a "battle for Britain" which will see the end of the "phoney war" between himself and the Prince in Waiting. How nice to see that the Conservatives no longer play the World War II card at the drop of an opinion poll. Daveybloke clarified the position on grammar schools, promising to introduce a "grammar stream" into secondary schools, but giving parents and teachers the final say. This is certainly helpful. On the threats from terrorism and crime, Daveybloke said he thought we should tackle them. As far as economic stability and social cohesion are concerned, Daveybloke tends to favour these. Daveybloke is in favour of "the family", which is "the one institution in our society which matters to me more than any other" and which is also, rather mystifyingly, what "our collective security is about". Does Daveybloke intend to provide government initiatives to allow stable and loving families to go out and pot a few Islamists at the weekend? I doubt it, but only because I don't believe Daveybloke has John Reid's sophisticated sense of humour. In any case, it is reassuring to observe that Daveybloke is also in favour of "a radical improvement in Britain's economic competitiveness, promoting innovation and stimulating the creation of new businesses and jobs".

In summary, Daveybloke noted that the electorate now has "a clear choice" between "two different visions of society" and "two different approaches to running the country". The likelihood that both visions are domestically neoliberal, anilingually "Atlanticist" and internationally belligerent, and that both approaches to running the country involve more privatisation, no progress to speak of on climate change and a surveillance camera on every corporately-sponsored lamp-post, at this stage should bother nobody. In what Daveybloke or the tabloid crew who write his speeches lauded, with über-Blairite orgasmitude, as "this amazing country in this amazing century", all that old-fashioned Punch and Judy politics, whereby government and opposition got into disagreements over the way things were done, simply has no place.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Plant a Tree With Defra and Save the World

The Department of Environmental Fudgery and Rhetorical Activity (DEFRA) has announced the launch of a special website to enable planetary consumers to calculate how much they are contributing to climate change and what they can do to mitigate it. "I hope that in time it will come to be seen as the gold standard for carbon calculators," said David Milibalabaland, the Secretary of State for Talking about the Environment. Of course, the calculator has been slightly simplified so as not to confuse anyone - areas omitted from the reckoning include "food consumption, public transport and the overall share of emissions generated by public services - from street lights to schools and health care to military spending" (sic). "Just as people are increasingly looking for advice in areas of their life like fitness, diet or lifestyle, we need to give them this support in reducing their carbon footprint," said David Milabilabiland. Well, one learns something new every day. Naturally I was aware that New Labour has plenty of advice to give about fitness, diet and lifestyle, but I was not aware that it had been looked for.

A Friends of the Earth campaigner implied that people, even British people, might have difficulty mending their ways "unless, for example, government has got a good public transport system"; but fortunately the chairman of Shell UK was on hand to make a more constructive contribution. He said that Shell "wanted an international agreement on how much emissions would be cut by, an international carbon trading system, public funding for new technology, and regulations to set standards for everything from vehicle emissions to building design." Doubtless Shell, like so many companies, is energetically lobbying David Milibilabaland's department for all this, and the soon-to-be-unveiled gold standard for carbon calculators is merely the illustrious beginning of DEFRA's dynamic response.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another Loyal Public Servant Speaks Out

I have never heard of Andrew Bearpark, despite his charming surname. The reason for this is simple: Andrew Bearpark was "probably the Coalition Provisional Authority's central British figure". The Coalition Provisional Authority, you may recall, was the organisation set up by the Enlightenment Alliance to ensure that the Iraqi people didn't let liberation go to their heads, as little brown people sometimes will (see Hamas, democratic election of, among other things) and start bombing and shooting and becoming generally over-Islamic. As some of you may have noticed, the Coalition Provisional Authority failed resoundingly in this laudable function, and Andrew Bearpark has told the Guardian why: it was "a 'dysfunctional organisation' which almost completely ignored the British". Well, I suppose that would explain it.

To be fair, it is evident that Andrew Bearpark and the Viceroy of Mesopotamia, Paul Bremer, were operating at cross purposes. Andrew Bearpark mentions "looting on an industrial scale", but apparently believes that the troops were there to prevent it, rather than to facilitate the industrious activities of Halliburton and the rest. Andrew Bearkpark mentions "British attempts to be signatories to the formation of the CPA as a joint occupying power under the Geneva convention". The American position on the Geneva conventions at that time, expressed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was that they were quaint and outdated. The British no doubt stood shoulder to shoulder with this position, but thought that a piece of paper should be scribbled on for form's sake. However, the Americans "brushed aside" our concerns: "Throughout its entire existence, CPA was a US government department and no agreement was ever signed between the British and the Americans, because the Americans refused even to consider it." This is certainly a surprise.

Andrew Bearpark concludes that "If we are going to take upon ourselves the right to invade people's countries and kill people - which is what we do with maybe the most laudable objectives - it puts an incredible moral responsibility upon us to do it as well as we possibly can." Andrew Bearpark is not interested in a "witch-hunt", by which he presumably means actually prosecuting anyone; but he thinks that "the absence of proper planning in Iraq" amounts to "criminal negligence". It has taken Andrew Bearpark rather a long time to reach that conclusion.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wrong Key, Wrong Door

A Tale

Were it not for the quarrel with his wife, Holman would never have found the key. Certainly it was not his habit to stare at the pavement while walking; but after the long and wearying argument, which had continued at intervals over the entire weekend and was still unresolved when he left on Monday morning, Holman's normally upright carriage was more than a little wilted.

If asked why he was staring at the pavement, he would have said that he was thinking hard. How anyone could become so emotional over so trivial a matter - a purely domestic question of interior design, barely worth a moment's thought - was beyond his comprehension. As to how anyone could perpetuate so futile a disagreement over a period of forty-eight hours - that, he supposed, was something a psychiatrist might possibly be able to fathom.

His wife was still asleep when he left, so he had no chance to discuss it further with her; and although he thought hard about the problem as he drove to the office, understanding still refused to come. That was why, as he walked the hundred yards from the car park to the building, his brow was still furrowed and his head slightly lowered; and that was how he saw the key.

It was a perfectly ordinary door-key, fairly new and shiny; which may be why it caught Holman's eye, and why he so far sacrificed his accustomed dignity as to stoop and pick it up. Unlike Holman's own door-key, it was not attached to a ring and did not have a plastic sheath over its top; nevertheless, as Holman straightened he found one hand moving to his trouser pocket, checking almost furtively that his own keys were still there.

Upright once more, and ignoring the twinge in his back, he held the key in his open palm and glanced around at the people on the street. Almost all were his own kind: uniformed in dark suits, armed with briefcases or laptops, marching cadres of corporate dynamism. None looked as though they had lost anything; still less did any of them seem the type to be careless with their property, let alone to have holes in their pockets. As it seemed a waste simply to throw the key in a litter bin, and as he could hardly just leave it where he had found it, Holman closed his fist and then, after a moment's consideration, dropped the key into his pocket with those he already owned.

Fortunately, Holman was not the kind of man to let a spoiled weekend interfere with his concentration at work, and the day proceeded according to his usual businesslike routine. If he thought of his find at all, it was merely to fill an empty moment - of which, as on most Mondays, there were few. His wife did not telephone, even to interrupt. Perhaps, Holman ruminated over lunch, the key had been discarded by someone who had somewhere better to go at the end of the day.

When work was finished, he left the building and walked to the car park. Although he was tired, his mood had improved, and he kept his attention away from the ground and firmly on the way ahead. He got into his car, drove out of the car park and onto the main road, and made the journey to his own street in about the usual time. The street was just the same as always; one of the neighbours even looked up at Holman's car as he drove past. Holman had parked just outside the front gate, locked the car and walked halfway up the drive before he realised that the front door was not his own.

The keys on his key-ring had no effect, of course. Holman methodically tried them all, one after the other and some more than once; he refused to demean himself by knocking. At last, on a sort of irritable whim, he took out the key he had picked up that morning and discovered, not greatly to his surprise, that it fitted the lock and turned quite smoothly. Putting the key carefully back in his pocket, Holman pushed open the door.

His shoes clumped on bare boards, and he seemed to be breathing dust. As the door clicked shut behind his back, something not his wife arose from a dark corner and hastened, gaping, to greet him.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Won't Somebody Think of the Embryos?

An elderly celibate with an invisible friend has ordered his co-religionists to stop donating to Amnesty International. Cardinal Renato Martino, who is president of the amusingly-titled Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, declared that Amnesty has "betrayed its mission" by advocating medical assistance for "women who have had abortions ... regardless of the reason for the abortion", and for advocating the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest or health risk. Before April this year, Amnesty's stance on abortion was "neutral", which the Vatican apparently found tolerable; it appears that Mother Church no longer spues the lukewarm out of her mouth. Nevertheless, Cardinal Martino noted uncompromisingly that "the Church teaches that it is never justifiable to kill an innocent life ... To selectively justify abortion, even in the cases of rape, is to define the innocent child within the womb as an enemy, a 'thing' that must be destroyed. How can we say that killing a child in some cases is good and in other cases it is evil?" Assuming for the argument's sake that a foetus is a child, and that an extra, AIDS-infected mouth is better for the souls of a poor family than medical assistance, the Cardinal's mention of innocence is troubling. If an agglomeration of cells is a child, and a child is a human being, then the agglomeration must presumably be tainted with original sin, unless the Cardinal presumes to deny Christ's own assertion that there is none good but one. In any case, since the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak has sent the celestial bulldozers in to expunge Limbo from the cosmos (it was just a theological hypothesis all along - fancy that), surely the agglomerations, even if innocent, have little to fear; in which case, how can we justify failing to speed them on their way to salvation?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The Vicar of Downing Street's dear old mother has been induced to give an inspiring message to our boys. It is twenty-five years since Margaret Thatcher defeated tyranny and violence by liberating some rocks with sheep on them from the Official Hitler Revived and Imminent Threat to World Peace of 1982, the evil Argies.

Thatcher noted that "there are, in a sense, no final victories, for the struggle against evil in the world is never-ending"; it appears that the Bush administration's global struggle against nastiness, or whatever it's called this year, still has at least one passionate acolyte. "Tyranny and violence wear many masks"; perhaps this is why the democratic, peaceful Thatcher government got on so well with the cunningly masked, or at least considerably moustached, Saddam Hussein. "Yet from victory in the Falklands we can all today draw hope and strength." I can just see our boys in Basra drawing strength from victory in the Falklands, provided of course that I am careful not to open my eyes.

As Tony has been on occasion, the old bag was at pains to remind our boys of the suffering and deprivation involved in sending other people to war: "Sending troops into battle is the gravest decision any prime minister has to take. To fight 8,000 miles from home, in perilous conditions, against a well-armed, if badly led, enemy was bound to be an awesome challenge", even without the moaning minnies: "Moreover, at such times there is no lack of people, at home and abroad, to foretell disaster." Truly, war is a perilous undertaking - possibly almost as perilous for the troops as for the prime minister who uses their corpses as stepping-stones on the hazardous clamber to greatness. Doubtless listeners to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, particularly those in Basra and Afghanistan, were duly perspectivised.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bless Them That Curse You

The media - red in tooth and claw like a Campbell on the trail of a Gilligan or a Downing Street spokesbeing driving a David Kelly towards the cliffs - hunts like a feral beast, tearing people and reputations to shreds. Tony says it, so it must be true. His reverence believes that media standards have declined since 1997, when many journalists attacked his opponent, but said his speech was "not a whinge about how unfair it all is", even though many journalists are now attacking him. His reverence believes that this regrettable decline has caused the extended, joined-up sofa interface that is British public life under New Labour to be "damaged in a way that needs repair". It would have been so much better had it been damaged in a way that didn't need repair, but life can be cruel sometimes.

His reverence particularly deplored the Independent for being "avowedly a viewspaper not merely a newspaper"; unlike, presumably, the Sun and other stalwarts of the Murdoch stable of objectivity. His reverence deplored the "confusion of news and commentary" which apparently prevents many journalists presenting the simplest Downing Street leak from the appropriate angle, and said that the damaged relationship between the public and himself "reduces our capacity to take the right decisions". I'm afraid I have neither the urge nor the gastric fortitude to read the sermon in full, but I have no doubt that his reverence was careful to specify which wrong decisions he took as a result of the media's feral pressure.

In speaking of the decline in public trust, his reverence may possibly have had in mind a poll which found that only seventeen per cent of Britons now believe that the government "can be trusted to put the interests of the country ahead of their party". Given Tony's idea of the interests of his party, this is perhaps a little unfair; Tony has rarely, if ever, hesitated to sacrifice the interests of Labour party members in the service of British interests, so long as the interests were appropriately vested. More surprising is the fact that, despite the best efforts of the feral beast, the belief that "official figures are distorted to support leaders' arguments" is held by only sixty-eight per cent of the populace. Noted historian, Shakespearean and military strategist Andrew Marr ("I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we're so steeped in blood we should go further", Observer, April 18, 1999) noted that it was wrong to confuse a decline in deference with a rise in scepticism: "Deference is about social status and I think the end of deference is almost wholly to be applauded. This shows that authority and respect have to be earned", as in the case of Rupert Murdoch, the People's Princess, Andrew Marr, etc.

Simon Kelner, the editor of the Independent, replied to the Vicar of Downing Street's sermon by noting that the newspaper "whether it be news or views, was the product of its editorial staff, and was untainted by allegiance to a political party", like the Sun, "and uninfected by proprietorial influence", the need to turn a profit being quite outside the owners' remit. Simon Kelner also regards his reverence's mention of the Independent as "a vindication of our stance on Iraq". The Independent's stance on Iraq is that the war is a "mistake".

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Faintly Appalled

Tim Stevens, whose excellent weblog I am unfortunately not at liberty to identify (and no, it isn't this one, so keep your vile postmodernist suspicions to yourself), has very kindly reviewed my book Radical Therapies. It is just possible that there are some of you out there who are still living without it, and this review should do much to persuade you that this is not an acceptable situation. I'm very pleased at the comments on the ending of The Little Doctor (extract here), with whose closing sentence I had to tinker a good deal before I got it right. Oddly enough, I've always thought of "House of Stairs" as uncharacteristically romantic; and as for my dreams, I almost never have them - at least, not to remember when I wake. I hope Mr Stevens will find this reassuring, and thank him for his trouble and generosity.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saving the Planet

Diplomatic Dialogue for World Leaders

Yo Blair.

Er - "you", George, aha ha, aha ha, aha ha ha ha. It's wonderful to see you again, defending the interests of the poor and the helpless, intervening humanitarianly to save the planet shoulder to shoulder with Britain's greatest al-

Yo. Seen Angie around?


Angie Murca. She's hostifying this wingding, I'm told.

I think you may be meaning Angela Merkel, as it were?

That's the gal. Remember how I grabbed her that time in Russia, that time -

Yes, George. Hilarious, aha, aha, aha ha ha. If I could just -

- when we was talking about stopping the Lebanon shit and -

Yes, George. If I could -

- and I said some shit to you and you said some shit to me and then -

Yes, George. If -

- turned out the microscope was still functionable -

Yes, George -

You might just oughta let people know about that stuff. Get Mandelbert or Campbellbert or whatever to release it to the press, y'know. Voters like a guy who looks dumb once in a while.

George -

I mean, just look at Scooter.

George -


George, I wonder if I could ask you a very small, that is a very small to you but to me rather significant, well very significant, I mean it shouldn't matter much to what is, after all, the greatest country in the world, but to me and my little British people it would matter ever so much -

Yo Pooty-Poot.

- if you wouldn't mind, that is. I'm sorry, what did you say?

Just saw Pooty-Poot back there. Probably still pissed about the missile defence shield.

Well, if you can't get it into Poland you can always put it in Scotland, as it were. I mean, I'd be only too happy, as part of my legacy -

Yeah, heard you were leaving. Too bad.

Well, I wanted to go out on a high. Before my people become tired of me. I thought I'd just leave quietly, take a few trips to see some of those I've helped in the past. You know, once you've saved someone's life, you're responsible for them for ever?

You mean like liable? Like legalitigacitously? I thought I told Congress to do something about that.

No, not legally, just morally.

Well, that's okay then. I mean, we can do moral responsible till the cows hit the fan. Why else would we keep praying to Jesus to help us sort shit out?

I couldn't agree with you more, George, I simply couldn't. Now, speaking of moral responsibility, I wonder if we could discuss that little -

Yo waiter.




Hey, waiter! Like, yo?

George, that's Shinzo Abe.

No it ain't, it's plain ornery English.

No, I mean that little guy is Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister.

Prime minister? You sure?

Yes, George.

Sheesh. Well, it's a good thing you said something. Might have been a little tension there if I'd a done said what was on my brain at the time when I was gonna say something to the guy, him being a Chink and all.

Yes, George.

Might have given him my laundry or something. Could have disincentivised him. They're funny that way.

Yes, George. Now, if we could discuss the planet for a moment?

Planet? What planet?

The Earth, George, the planet Earth. God's creation. You remember what I said the other day, when I phoned you up - the planet's in trouble, and only we can save it?

You said something about it to some secretary of Dick's or something.

Well, I'm very grateful that he passed the message on, of course, and of course I'm very grateful to you for listening and remembering the message when you received it. That's the kind of simple, great-hearted generosity that makes our relationship special. Now, about the planet, George - if you wouldn't mind terribly, and if it isn't too much trouble, I'd like very much for my legacy to include something about saving it a bit, if at all possible.

Yeah. You mean like a mission to carbonise our turds so we're safe from the varmints.

In a manner of speaking, George. I mean trading carbon emissions so we can save the environment. But you put it exceptionally well.

Sounds a little displausibilitude there to me. What about the mirrors in space thing?

But that could take years, George. I have to leave office in a few weeks. I just thought it would be rather wonderful if we could, if you could, as it were -

You mean like propose some stuff?

That would be just wonderful just extraordinarily deeply absolutely wonderfully -

Hey, there she is. Yo Angie.

So, George, I take it we have an understanding? As between equals, George? George?

Oh sure. I'll tell them Chinks and Injuns what-for, zero problemo as we say in Texas. Yo Angie! Hear you're having a little Vietnam syndrome. Protestors, riots, the works. And my grand-daddy Prescott said you krauts were the most obedient guys in the world, except maybe for the Democrats. Times sure they are a-alterin', as we say in Texas.

George, I -

Yo Blair. Don't interrupt.

Aha. Aha, ha ha.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Innocent Goldphish

From: "rwardle"
Date: Fri Jun 08, 2007 1:00pm Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: watch fine upstanding Peter take me roughly from behind

Hi there!!!!!!!!!

I am Robert wardle Head of the Serious Fruad Office. i am Taking responsibility for decision to confidentialise infromation about Payments to islamic fudnamentalists. i am taking this repsonsibility because of having regard to the need to portect national security. Lord Goldsmith is a fine atttorney general and an honourable and honest man whom is deeply and Desevredly respected by all who knwow him.

itt is Not true that lord Glosdmith ordered infromation to be with hled from anti-business elements at the Ogranisation for Economic Corporation and Devlopment. Lord Gdolsmirth is a fine attorney gneneral and an honourable man. it Has always been a positiive Pleasure to be directced by him and i regret only thtat in this case the opoprtunity to be diretced by Him was not availablble owwing to the Fact that He did not direct me.

I Robert Warble am responsbibile for Natonanal Security. it is Pyurely orgasnisational decision having northing todo with Governmenet. Business is Business and the Suadis have theire own Customs which we musut respect for the Sake of universal values adnd NAtional securtity. Lord goldmiths is a Ffine man and a lawyr.

Three Cheers for Lord Goldsmith and national Security,

Robert rorgle wargle gargle Wardle.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Deeply Saddened

The subtler partner in the Coalition of the Enlightened fell over another milestone today when one of its military resources was detrimented by small-arms fire in Basra. The resource in question was "mounting a search and detention operation", which is probably just the sort of thing that causes irrational hatred to erupt in volatile people whose experience of Abu-Ghraib-enhanced democracy is limited. The detrimentation means that the Britishness of the region has been reduced to the tune of a hundred and fifty since the launch of Operation Telic in March 2003 which, as Fred Attewill and agencies observe with cluster-bomb precision, was undertaken to "help overthrow Saddam Hussein" and was more than two years ago.

The Ministry of Pre-emption was "deeply saddened about this death and all the lives that have been lost"; indeed, the Minister himself was so distraught that he had to relegate the announcement to an anonymous spokesbeing. No other deaths worth mentioning took place in Iraq today.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

George and Tony Bestow Relevance

The Vicar of Downing Street has assured the world that he can get the Bush administration to agree to a target for a "substantial cut" in greenhouse gases, and that he can get the Bush administration to agree to limit America's options by submitting to a framework sanctioned by the irrelevant, outdated and inefficient United Nations. His reverence is sure that Bush's "speech last week, in which he talked about establishing a US-led initiative to tackle global warming, was not a ploy to undermine the UN or the G8", which is jolly reassuring too. Tony thinks that Bush's announcement, in which Bush committed the US to telling India and China where to get off, was "significant and important" and "moved things on". Since Tony thinks this, "it is absurd to say otherwise"; but, as with so many theological exercises, "on the other hand you then need to flesh out what it means".

Drawing upon his considerable experience of reality, Tony informed us of "two political realities": the first, that "America will not sign up to a global deal unless China is in it", and the second, that "China will not sign up to a deal that impedes its economic progress". As far as America is concerned, of course, provided China agrees to the deal American "economic progress" (or, in Oldspeak, the continuation of the kleptocracy's welfare state) is hardly even a consideration. Tony shows his usual impatience with time-wasting arguments that lead to unnecessary disagreements between the voice of the people and the forces of conservatism: "People can debate this up hill and down dale, but I am telling you these are the two political realities."

One of Bush's senior advisers on climate change denial, James Connaughton, has said that "it was never anyone's intention to have a separate process", as witness Bush's announcement of his intention to start a separate process, and that the US proposals "feed into the US process". Having thus received clearance to involve the UN, Tony noted in true shoulder-to-shoulder fashion that "anything that is agreed must feed into the UN process". Well, there's a load off everyone's mind.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Britishness: Earned, Not Learned

The Sectarian of State for Muslim Control, Ruth Kelly, has put her little head together with that of Liam Byrne, who is one of the Government's numerous Ministers for Tabloid Pacification, in order to extrude yet more words of wisdom on the wonders of Britishness. They are worried about a "critical risk" that forty years of increasing diversity in the country is causing communities to "start looking inward and questioning their identity", rather like Her Majesty's Opposition or the kind of people who talk about "Britishness" all the time. Thus, "instead of emphasising what they have in common with others," the said non-white, non-Middle-England communities "stress the divisions and differences". The task of all who subscribe to the British values of American democracy, Chagossian fair play and North Korean efficiency, it appears, is "not to plan a separation" over the next ten years.

It sounds easier than it is. The business of not planning a separation includes plans for a number of interesting and enlightening community activities designed to enlighten the interest of British communities about the enlightened and interesting business of being a community in Britain. Suggestions include "incentives for 'active citizens', such as cash top-ups linked to the Child Trust Fund or reduced tuition fees", while teachers get their pay cut as a reminder of just how much Britain values their activities. Another idea (I use the word euphemistically, of course) is a national "Britain" day, on which our pride in our uniquely superior non-exclusiveness will, "in co-operation with local areas", spontaneously overflow in a cleansing, cohesifying cluster-bomb of integrative consolidation and separative non-planning.

There is also a suggestion for "local 'good neighbour contracts' for all newcomers, explaining the rights and responsibilities of living in the UK". Contracts with whom? The Government? The local authority? The neighbours? Serco, perhaps? Who will decide whether a given contract has been kept, and what will be the penalties should either signatory fail in fulfilling their obligations? It is pleasant to think of Ruth Kelly or Liam Byrne being deported at dawn for falling behind in their Britishness; but I suspect it will remain merely a thought.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Legal Setback

It looks as if elements of the US military are becoming just as recalcitrant, old-fashioned, quaint and outdated as the forces of conservatism which are clinging to such passé pieces of legislation as habeas corpus and the right to trial here in the Poodle Archipelago. A military judge, Colonel Peter Brownback, has dismissed all charges against a Canadian guest at the Guantánomaly on what appears to be a technicality. The pawn of the forces of evil, who was capturised in Afghanistan five years ago, was designated an "enemy combatant" at a hearing in 2004; unfortunately, the Military Commissions Act, which Congress passed last year in one of its many valiant efforts to keep the Bush administration happy, specifies that only "unlawful enemy combatants" can be tried by tribunals Guantánomalous. The chief military defence lawyer at the asymmetrical warfare training camp observed that none of the remaining guests has been designated an "unlawful" enemy combatant, and shrewdly deduced that Colonel Brownback's ruling would have a "huge" impact; always assuming that the Bush administration does not simply change the rules again.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sweeping Winds, Changing Brooms

The Prince in Waiting has reassured those already pining for Tony's joined-up, strong-but-safe, non-reversible government that they can look forward to more of the same. He proposes "an extension of the 28-day limit on detention without charge", which his reverence had to abandon when the parliamentary Labour party had one of its all too infrequent attacks of vertebratism. He proposes "making terrorism an aggravating factor in sentencing, giving judges greater powers to punish terrorism within the framework of the existing criminal law" and allowing police to interrogate suspects after they have been charged. "This would be subject to judicial oversight to ensure that it is correctly and sparingly used"; it is not clear whether the judicial oversight will be subject to oversight by one or other of the Ministries of Having Been Split in Two to ensure that it also is correctly and sparingly used. The Prince in Waiting also intends "moving towards allowing evidence from telephone-tapping to be admissible as evidence in court" and "increasing the security budget, which has already doubled to more than £2bn a year after 11 September 2001" when Britain was not attacked by terrorists.

The Prince in Waiting believes we must be vigilant. He believes that "anti-terror methods must be more sophisticated, with earlier intervention"; since Tony apparently believes that anti-terror measures should start in the womb, it is not altogether clear how early the Prince in Waiting intends his interventions to be. But he does believe that "the world has changed, so we need tougher security" and therefore "our security must be strengthened". However, he also believes that "the government needs to do more to assure people that civil liberties are not being trampled on", so he also plans to "place the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which reports to the Prime Minister, on a similar basis as parliamentary select committees, which are accountable to MPs" who, thanks to the revised and updated Freedom of Information Act, will soon be accountable to nobody.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wicked Things

According to the front-cover blurb for Thomas Tessier's new book, Wicked Things, Tessier is, in the opinion of the Washington Post, "one of horror fiction's best-kept secrets". It seems to me a singularly irrelevant and irritating thing to say, as though Tessier's most important literary quality were the fact that the Washington Post's book reviewer happened, until a short while ago, to be ignorant of him. Other annoyances include a chunk of cardboard junk mail inserted half-way through the book, perhaps on the assumption that American literacy rates will improve if novels have commercial breaks; and the fact that Scramburg, USA, which occupies the last ninety pages of the 340-page volume, is summarily dismissed on the back cover as a "bonus novella". Still, packaging aside (though in all fairness, and greatly to the publisher's credit, the book appears to have been proof-read by a literate human being rather than a spell-checker), it's good to see a new Tessier book appear at last, and the fact that it contains two works instead of one is certainly a bonus.

The start of Wicked Things - a first-person detective story, narrated by an insurance investigator looking into a sudden rash of claims in a small, remote community - makes it appear a rather conventional thriller, and the early stages of the case proceed in time-honoured fashion as the investigator, Jack Carlson, arrives at the suspiciously placid town, finds the local police unsympathetic, interviews possible suspects, and is eventually confronted with murder. It's only some way into the book that one discovers that its nearest relative in Tessier's previous output is not Rapture or Secret Strangers - his non-supernatural, psychological horror novels - but Shockwaves, in which the formulaic conventions of the romantic novel are set up and worked out in the first third, only to be cut to pieces during the rest of the book.

The possible presence of the supernatural in Wicked Things is adumbrated very subtly, in ambiguous hints and portents. The sky over the town displays a peculiar luminescence, like the aurora borealis; perhaps that is indeed what it is, but the ground in certain places also seems subject to strange visual effects. On a couple of occasions Carlson has visions of a dead, moon-barren landscape, but perhaps this is a psychological symptom; certainly, in view of the little he says about his personal life, his later comment "Nothing in my history" seems more painfully apt than he intended.

Like all the best literary investigators, in pursuit of the truth Carlson outstays both his welcome in the town and his employer's patience. He discovers an apparently fanatical religious cult and a red-light district whose mores might be routine for Hamburg or Amsterdam, but are shockingly alien to small-town America; again in the time-honoured fashion, he confronts the pillars of the community with what he knows and tries to bluff them into thinking he knows more; but, as Ramsey Campbell has observed in connection with the novels of John Franklin Bardin, the conventions of the detective story are invoked only to be undermined, and the outcome is pure horror. The dénouement is swift, sudden and nasty, and will likely be seen by some readers as a cheap trick; I suspect, given Carlson's religious unbelief, that the ending is in fact an economical hint at a fate worse than death. Certainly it indicates that Tessier has lost none of his willingness to take risks.

The novella, Scramburg, USA, has a tidier plot and an ending which is neatly ironic rather than nihilistic. Frank Bell, the Schramburg captain of police, is asked for help by the town minister, whose teenage foster-son is proving troublesome. As the boy is eighteen and no longer legally entitled to live in his foster-parents' house, the captain obliges by ordering him to leave town, and beats him up into the bargain. The boy and his friends take revenge during the Fourth of July holiday by committing various crimes against property, whereupon the captain and a buddy of his - a veteran of enhanced interrogation techniques - take drastic action to end the bout of anti-social behaviour.

Set during the year of the Cuban missile crisis, the novella administers its own vicious beating to the hypocrisy, small-mindedness and sadism underlying Kennedy's famous victory. The rampaging teenagers are troublesome enough, but two of them are orphans who spent their infancy in the Town Farm, a poorhouse-cum-lunatic asylum; while the family lives of the others are unsympathetic at best and otherwise merely brutal. The police captain helps the minister from pure ambition, because the minister's influence can get him made chief of police; the minister himself recognises this and uses it, interrupting the story of his family's woes with a businesslike declaration of political patronage.

When the missile crisis erupts in October, the editor of the local newspaper pontificates about what should be done: take out Castro, and if the Kremlin doesn't like it, take them out too. "That day is coming sooner or later, and we might as well get it over with while we've got the clear edge in firepower." The escalation of violence between the authorities and the teenagers exemplifies the mutual assured destruction that results from this charming mindset. Translated from the Dutch, the town's name means Scratchville; scratch Schramburg 1962 and find, at least in part, USA today.

While neither Wicked Things nor Scramburg, USA is quite up to the standard of Fog Heart, Finishing Touches or Secret Strangers, both of them are terse, brutally effective pieces. Each is short enough to be read at a sitting; which, given their relentless build-up of suspense and horror, can perhaps be counted one of the book's few mercies.

Friday, June 01, 2007

For God's Sake Think of the Children

A Scotsman with an invisible friend has compared those who give and receive abortions to psychotics who butcher children - the small-time, quiet-loner type of psychotic, of course, not Cherie Blair's husband - and has warned that being pro-choice and Catholic erects "a barrier ... to receiving holy communion". Presumably a disinclination to overturn the 1967 Abortion Act causes some sort of interference with the process of transubstantiation, so that one ends up swallowing something undesirable, instead of just the body and blood of an ancient Palestinian troublemaker. Cardinal Keith O'Brien was exercised by the fact that, in the fortieth anniversary year of the Act, there are thirteen thousand fewer unwanted children than there might otherwise have been.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor defended his colleague, saying that "the Catholic Church believes that every life has been created by God in his own image and likeness. This means that all life is sacred, with value and meaning at every stage and in every condition, from the moment of conception." There are degrees, of course. The value the Catholic Church places on the lives of a few million Africans, for example, is substantially less than the value it places on the need for their spermatozoa to have appropriate freedom of travel, to say nothing of the need for a flourishing human immunodeficiency virus.

I am myself a hard-liner on matters of birth control; the term unwanted child is, as far as I'm concerned, a pleonasm, and when I am master of the world I plan to introduce tax breaks for abortionists, financial incentives for voluntary sterilisation, and chemicals into the drinking water to lower sperm count. I am surprised that more conservatives don't agree with me on this, since it is basically a matter of market forces: too many human beings means that human life has little value. If there were fewer human beings, human life would accumulate more value, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand. As a means of reducing the population, of course, abortions are not quite as exciting as war; but with a little cultural conditioning it is not impossible that they might acquire a certain glamour of their own.

Jack Straw, whose discomfort at certain types of headgear was so vocally expressed some little time ago, apparently made no comment on this issue, which is merely one of life and death.