The Curmudgeon


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rights to Silence

The Guardian notes a report by Human Rights Watch which castigates the British government, among others, for publicly espousing the cause of democracy while cuddling up to such paragons as Pervez Musharraf, Vladimir Putin and Hosni Mubarak. The report also criticises the international community for recognising the dubious popular mandates of certain leaders: "It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally", according to HRW's executive director. The British government was "castigated ... for its pioneering policy of allowing terrorism suspects to be transferred to the care of brutal regimes on receipt of what the group termed 'empty promises of humane treatment'"; apparently Putin's Russia, where human rights must be nearly as much of a concern as in Bush's America, is now happy to accept such promises from the charming regime in Uzbekistan, thanks to our example when deporting people to places like Algeria, Egypt and Libya.

Strangely enough, the Guardian has placed the story in the "World News" section; presumably because Human Rights Watch is based in the US and because the HRW report also has a lot of stuff in it about the doings of nasty foreigners, some of whom might not even be friends of ours. Even stranger, the Guardian's story contains no comment, explanation or rebuttal from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for International Development, or indeed any other department of the British government or their shadows or anonymous spokesbeings. Imagine that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ehud Put Forth His Left Hand

The government of the Righteous State has sponsored a report on the conduct of its rampage in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. The report castigates the government for having "wasted an opportunity, for Israel was engaged in the war and did not finish with a conclusive, clear-cut victory". In other words, despite the sustained efforts of the international community to prevent a ceasefire, Israel's violence in Lebanon was simply not violent enough to suit the investigating commission. According to the commission's leader, Eliyah Winograd, "great failure overshadowed the military operation", in which a hundred and fifty-eight members of the master race perished along with a thousand or so persons of lesser significance. In a previous report, the commission had accused Olmert bar Sharon of "very serious failings", but it now turns out that these were "built on substantial grounds". Although the commission, in the great tradition of government commissions, does not recommend penalising the government whose failures it was set up to investigate, it is clear that Olmert has a long way to go before he can consider himself equal to the hero of Sabra and Shatila.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Terminator

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Secretary for Non-idle Poverty, James Purnell, is a time traveller. Purnell has attracted previous notice from your correspondent with his promise, as Cultchah Secretary, to bring about a cost-effective, world-class renaissance in British art which would put us on a par with fifteenth-century Italy. If Jonathan Yeo is to fulfil the role of Leonardo, I humbly volunteer for that of Savonarola.

Now Purnell and the Glorious Successor have announced an acceleration of what is euphemistically called "welfare reform", in much the same way as cutting public sector pay to feed investment bankers might be called "redistributive taxation". Purnell noted that "We should not be ideological about who provides the service - we should just work out who is best at providing it." Since rampant privatisation is not an ideology, "private firms such as McDonald's" have worked out as fulfilling this criterion, and thus will be allowed to award skills qualifications; hence my hunch that Purnell has discovered the secret of time travel or, more likely, appropriated it in cost-effective fashion from someone with a larger brain and a less hypertrophied organ of self-interest.

In more innocent days, time travellers would go back and try to make their fortunes by inventing the safety pin; but the descendants of New Labour's Britons will be made of sterner stuff. It is doubtless future-imperfects like Purnell who will go back to bestow Theosophy upon the nineteenth century, perpetual motion on the eighteenth, witch-hunting on the sixteenth, and Christianity on the fourth, once it has been worked out who is best at providing them. As with these afflictions, as with identity cards, faith schools, the Private Finance Initiative and Operation Iraqi Liberation, what matters is not usefulness, or even harmlessness, but a correct degree of profit for the right people. Purnell, given his record, probably got a second-class degree in ratburger with relish during the third or fourth decade of the present century and has come back here among the primitives to ensure that nobody will be born with sufficient education to prevent the final and ultimate victory in the war on privacy, the Penguin Modern Classics edition of The Da Vinci Code and the supreme and unrelenting Cultchah which spawned James Purnell. It's the sanest explanation I can think of.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Confidence Tricks

Fears of global recession caused stock markets in Europe and Asia to tumble today, thus increasing the chances of global recession. The Shanghai index fell seven per cent due to heavy snow, a slightly better performance than would be expected from a British railway company but still discouraging. "Reuters reported that shares in miners (sic) fell after the snow forced some factories to suspend production, leading to less demand for metal", which evidently explains the general panic. Apparently it did not occur to anyone to check whether the factories might be working again once the snow has been cleared. Manus Cranny of Cantor Index, who despite his name is apparently an individual human being and not a merchant bank, a handy hole in the wall or an alien, said that today "is all about confidence", and warned that "banks, miners and housebuilders could experience a tough time today". It seems Manus Cranny likes to keep his hand in as an astrologer. The chief economist at Goldman Sachs Japan said that five out of eleven indicators had deteriorated, and if a sixth did so it would indicate a recession. Thus did the chief economist at Goldman Sachs Japan fuel the fears of recession which led the indicators to deteriorate. It is thanks to the hard work and discretion of people like Manus Cranny of Cantor Index and the chief economist at Goldman Sachs Japan that we have avoided the boom-bust cycle of the bad old days.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Charity Work

The Dragon School in Oxford is trying to protect its tax breaks by teaching seven-year-olds the wonders of sanctimony. As an independent school which charges more than twenty thousand pounds a year to keep its pupils out of their parents' way during term time, the Dragon is naturally anxious about its "charitable" status, which is at risk from the Charity Commission's new standards requiring schools to offer their services to those who can't afford to pay for them. The Dragon has responded with "a number of bursaries", which will give the more privileged pupils a useful supply of financial inferiors on whom to practise their newly-inculcated philanthropic impulses; and has appointed a Blairily-titled "director of social impact" to ensure that none of its charges miss their place in the ongoing motorway pile-up that is New Labour's social policy.

To its credit, the school has recognised that, while in a healthy society privilege and responsibility imply one another, the present situation in our Mother of Democracies is a bit more liberalised. The Dragon is not paid twenty thousand a year to turn out a lot of plumbers, teachers, home helps for the elderly and other social dross; the loving parents who put up the fees have a right to expect a captain of industry, a celebrity or, at the very least, a tennis player for their trouble. The director of social impact wants the pupils "to understand that by any stretch of the imagination they are privileged", but does not imagine for one second that the pupils' privileged status means they will automatically be of some use: "We hope a lot of them will be successful in the future and in a position to give".

Accordingly, a seed must be planted at the age of seven in the fragile hope of its blossoming into a charitable impulse in twenty years or so; by which time, if present trends continue, the health and education of those who cannot afford to gamble on private schemes will be entirely the responsibility of charitable organisations, or of nobody at all. Classes include "giving children a pound, asking them to 'grow it' and then encouraging them to discuss which charity to donate to"; meanwhile, there are consultancies for older individuals, offering three whole weeks a year in which to learn that "philanthropy is not just about money; it is about time".

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Higher Positive Integrity

The Ministry of Nuclear First Strike has discovered that our brave boys in Iraq need "a better understanding between right and wrong" in order to avoid breaches of international law like the alleged ill-treatment of Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel receptionist who had the bad manners to suffer ninety-three injuries in British custody. Our brave boys are accused of using five enhanced assertiveness techniques - wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and drink (or "starvation", as it used to be known in Oldspeak) which are banned under international law and other forces of conservatism, but are not banned under the British army's rules of good behaviour. Edward Heath banned hooding in 1972 after being embarassed before the European court of human rights over the war on terror in Northern Ireland; but "somewhere between then and 2003 that directive got lost", along with the one from Nuremberg about conspiring to wage war. Hence, "soldiers were not told about their obligations under international law"; doubtless as a result of bureaucratic carelessness by the intelligence services.

The Ministry's report blames ministers for "lack of awareness of the operational context" and "paucity of planning for nation-building" once the Iraqi nation had been demolished, and otherwise going about their crimes against peace without due care and attention. The report recommends that soldiers be reminded of New Labour's respect agenda with such "core values" as "selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty, and respect for others", and that they be informed that loyalty "is not just to your mates but to a higher positive integrity, to tell the truth", as habitually practised by Ministers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

It's Alive

A "biologist and entrepreneur" named Craig Venter claims to have created a synthetic chromosome, which is apparently a "significant but not final step" in the race to create new life for profit. It is to be hoped that the new life, when it emerges, will be an improvement on the common bread mould, the game show producer, the flu virus, the politician, the plague bacillus, the celebrity, the dandelion, the advertising executive, the flea, the venture capitalist, the hair louse, the welfare bureaucrat, the housefly, the stockbroker, the brown rat and the human being. Unfortunately, given that Venter seems to be thinking mainly in terms of producing "the first billion- or trillion-dollar organism" - presumably something approximating the evolutionary status of a really successful politician or other biological weapon - this appears unlikely.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Irrational Numbers

A rogue trader has cost France's second biggest bank more than three and a half thousand million pounds. He was acting from "totally irrational" motives, according to the boss of the bank, who does not know him.

As a result of the activities of the trader, whose employers are unable to locate him in order to fire him formally, the bank will be forced into a four-thousand-million-pound capital raising.

An investment banking audit expert stated that "Most banks have cases where traders have been naughty, but in the majority of cases it is managed internally and kept quiet. It is the sheer scale of this which is unusual. ... It suggested that the independent checks just weren't picking up on the trades."

This is one reason why the flotation of public services on the stock market results in greater efficiency and competitiveness.

However, since the French do not always follow the more civilised practices in use here on the mainland, it is not clear as yet whether French taxpayers will have the privilege of paying for the bank's misfortunes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Difficult Circumstances

A letter, forwarded by my MP to draw the attention of the Foreign Office to this little matter, has elicited a reply from Kim Howells, whose quintessentially New Labour brand of plain speaking and ethical rigour has exercised your correspondent on one or two previous occasions.

Howells replies as follows:

As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have noted, we are grateful for the service of our locally employed staff in Iraq, and recognise that without their vital contributions, our work would be even more difficult and challenging. They have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK's efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq.

Gratitude, of course, is a wonderful thing to have when the bullets are flying overhead, and the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary should be given due credit in this regard. Where open-handedness is not an option, open-wordedness is often a useful substitute. An almost unprecedented note of honesty is also struck with the absence of democracy from the list of things the UK supports in the new Iraq.

Howells continues:

Mr Challinor raises the fact that Iraqi staff need to have served for 12 months or more in order to be eligible for the scheme. Since 2003, the British Government - mainly in the form of our armed forces - has employed thousands of Iraqis, often for short periods of time. When we considered this issue, Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other interested Departments agreed that we need to focus on staff who have given us dedicated service over a period of time.

Well, obviously, if the numbers run into thousands, focus is definitely needed. The question I actually raised was whether the Government might do better to help people on the basis of the risks to which they are exposed, rather than on the basis of an arbitrary time stipulation. Howells makes it clear that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other interested Departments believe the time stipulation has greater priority, but he does not trouble to justify their belief. Being a Government minister, perhaps he considers it self-evident. Anyway:

A 12 month requirement is not unique to the UK - it is also a feature of the US Special Immigrant Visa programme for their Iraqi staff.

And if it's good enough for the Bush administration, it's good enough for New Labour. Furthermore:

staff who have not yet worked for us for 12 months but reach that mark in future will become eligible at that time.

Like the gratitude, doubtless a great comfort to somebody. Drawing a line under the issue and moving on:

Mr Challinor also raises the issue of Iraqi staff who worked for the UK before January 2005. In 2003-2004, the environment in which our more transient civilian work-force was operating was not the same. This policy is about recognising those who have had a sustained association with us in particularly difficult times. We believe that staff who have worked for us since the cut-off date have had to face uniquely difficult circumstances

In 2003-2004, while the officially recognised war was going on and, among other things, the good people of Falluja were getting the white phosphorous treatment, times were not particularly difficult in Iraq. On the other hand, since 2005 circumstances have been uniquely difficult, but only those Iraqis who have sustained their association with us for twelve months or more deserve much help from those who helped to bring their difficulties about. Nevertheless:

We aim to process all applications as efficiently as possible.

This is certainly reassuring.

Inevitably, it will be necessary to carry out a number of checks on those seeking leave to enter the UK.

And there are thousands of the buggers, remember. I noted in my email that, as Dan Hardie observes, Iraqi refugees in Syria are being screened by the Syrian police and delayed by British bureaucracy so that they are at risk of outstaying their visas and being deported. Howells replies that:

We are working to ensure that any former staff who need to travel to third countries as part of this process are able to do so. More generally, the Borders and Immigration Agency and UNHCR are working closely to put in place systems to ensure that those locally engaged staff who have expressed an interest in the Gateway resettlement scheme have their cases processed in a timely fashion. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is facing immense challenges in respect of the large numbers of displaced Iraqis within the region but we have been working closely with them and are confident that the interpreters and their dependents who are eligible will be considered within the timeframes that we have previously issued. ... Mr Challinor is also concerned that potential applicants who need to travel outside Iraq in order to be eligible for the Gateway resettlement scheme face difficulties in achieving this. I can ensure (sic) Mr Challinor that we will make sure that all eligible applicants are able to gain entry. Overall, we believe that the new policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance to those Iraqi staff who have had particularly close and sustained associations with us in difficult circumstances, and we will continue to work to ensure that it is implemented fairly and efficiently.

In short, the Government is working its scheme to ensure that the Government's scheme works as the Government decided the scheme will work. I am sure we are all duly ensured.

Mr Challinor raises the concern that eligible parties cannot apply for assistance via Basra International Airbase due to militia checkpoints. Whilst there is no initial requirement for Iraqi civilians who are interested in our staff assistance scheme to travel to the Airbase, based on our current knowledge of the situation in Basra and our recent experience with locally engaged staff, candidates who do need to travel to the Airbase should not encounter any problems.

Howells' superior knowledge of the situation in Basra will certainly be reassuring to those who have the misfortune to be stuck there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rock Phishing

From: "darlingbloke"
Date: Mon Jan 21 2008 4:00pm Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: get R O C K off with hairey Virgin

Daer Sir Madam or Taxpayyer

I am darlingbloke i am Darling Bloke. i am Bloke i am darling darlingBloke bloke. I am Chancer of the eXcheqqqer in Thrusting major Britishness contry country. as Chlancelor itt is my Duty to Portect tacxpayer whereber they may be and as tacxaperyer youu can rset assured that any offfer i make is Geniune this is a Geniune Offer.

As Chancelrol of the xccccheque r bloke I am rsponsbible for teh wlelbing welbieng wellbeinmg of Investors. invsetsorts take Rissks for the Sake of Wrold Economoy & msust therefroe be Portected from evil. without Invetsors we would nott have Tenchology Viagara Universitsy Christian theme praks Blenkinsops Silvertop hare tonic or anythning Nice. investrots must be Portected or oldlabour inflationarary darkage overpaid Pubic Sector Wankers of discontent!!!!!!!!!!!!

howevererer As Daring chancerlord of the cheque ex checker etc ect etc ass as Darling Bloke i ofgfer YOu the tapxapyer Chance of a Lifemite to Hlep those less frotuntate that yrsellf This Schmeme is Arstight Airthight Artight. Y OU Cnanot Loose ecxept potentitally over 5ve or 10yrs.

thusly therefore as daring Bloke i hvaev taken the Libertry of utlititising Monies you Tacxpaer have alraedy Paid to Hlep unfrotuntate invetstors You Cnanot loose. You have Saved thosuiands of Inocents frtom Wiping Out You Cannnnnnot Lose. congartiulatons on your Choice I hop eyou wlil find the Spearhaed porvided by Sir dicky Virgin Brosnan a Comforttable andd rwewardnig Expeiereince. i am Darlingbloke.

Yorus very sincecurely

Darlingbloke (Bloke)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Energy Efficiency

The number of people living in fuel poverty is at its highest for almost a decade. This no doubt accounts for the price increases announced by British Gas and its competitors, all of whom plan to raise their bills by between fifteen and twenty-seven per cent, thus continuing the combination of low prices and efficient service which is the hallmark of privatisation and competition in the free market. The Government, which has committed itself to ending fuel poverty in England by 2010, is at risk of legal challenge from a coalition of pressure groups, led by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, who have obviously failed to realise the extent to which the Government respects its obligations under the law.

The law in question is the Blairily-titled Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act, which was passed in 2000 - that is, before Osama and company changed the rules of the game by drawing the free world's attention to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass nonexistence - and placed the Government under a legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty among benefit cheats and pension crisis exacerbation resources. One consumer group, Energywatch, has suggested that the state should force energy suppliers to offer subsidised "social tariffs" for less efficient consumers; and given a choice between free-market dogma and state intervention on behalf of the vulnerable, New Labour will always jump the right way. The Government and its non-binding regulator "insist it is better to allow suppliers to offer these lower tariffs voluntarily". No doubt it is better, for some: the Minister for Administrative Administration, Hutton the Thrift, "defended the energy industry last week in the Commons. He pointed out it was spending £56m this winter to fund social tariffs. Yet the six largest energy suppliers made profits of £2bn in six months alone last year", thus continuing the combination of low prices and efficient service which is the hallmark of privatisation and competition in the free market.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Leaky Vessels

The Royal Navy, protector of our island home, guardian of the Freedom of the Seas from time immemorial, and a top class employer with top class people, has managed to lose the personal details of six hundred thousand people who "had expressed an interest in joining the armed forces". Unlike the disks containing twenty-five million child benefit records which were lost by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs a couple of months ago, the Royal Navy's records were definitely stolen. They were on a laptop which was removed from a vehicle in Edgbaston, apparently while the officer in charge was otherwise occupied. The Ministry of Defence has known about the theft since it occurred more than a week ago, but decided not to tell anyone in case the police investigation was hampered by the publicity: witnesses coming forward and getting in the way, all that sort of thing. The part-time Secretary of Defence, Des Browne, will be trotting out the excuses next week, and no doubt hoping volubly that this little hiccup will not prevent anyone expressing an interest in joining the armed forces.

Meanwhile, documents bearing people's personal details have been found near Exeter airport by a motorist who found similar documents in the same place a few weeks ago. Devon and Cornwall police said that the documents would be returned to the Department of Work and Pensions, where doubtless they will remain safe and snug hereafter.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Labour, New Best Friend

The Glorious Successor has been laying the basis for a new special relationship with China, doubtless on the basis of shared values such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, transparency in government and the enlightened occupation of other countries. He believes that "tens of thousands" of British jobs for British workers will thus be created, because "we are able to sell to China ... financial and business services and environmental technologies" which have contributed so much to Britain's brilliant economy, dynamic infrastructure and plentiful domestic water supplies. He also believes that "a whole range of British brands ... are now becoming very popular among the rising number of Chinese consumers" and has instructed the Chinese government to the effect that he wishes to see "100 new Chinese companies investing in Britain by 2010 and 100 new educational partnerships between the two countries", presumably because these nice round figures make such good reading in the press releases. For the sake of "the success of the global economy as a whole", to which these dealings are "absolutely crucial", we must hope that the Chinese are better at fulfilling their business plans than New Labour is at reaching its targets on such trivia as carbon emissions and child poverty.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wade And Found Wanting

The future of British family newspaper the Sun was plunged into doubt yesterday when redheaded editor Rebekah Wade revealed the dismay her policies have caused to British communications entrepreneur and national hero Rupert Murdoch.

Sexy stunna Rebekah, 39, admitted disagreements with Mr Murdoch over coverage of national issues like Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Mr Murdoch, who is 76 and has a family to support, was "often dismayed" about the content of the paper, Rebekah admitted.

However, she claimed not to remember discussing "tomorrow's newspaper in the censorious sense that you keep telling me exists and I say doesn't".

She was speaking to the Lords communications committee, but despite a record of suspected domestic violence she is not expected to face criminal charges.

The Sun is thought to be vulnerable to competition from free advertisements, the internet and the demise of independent newsagents. This thought to be because the Sun is at the popular end of the market, unlike the Guardian which does not suffer these nuisances.

Rebekah's red-headed editorship has seen the British family newspaper's circulation drop below three million for the first time in over 30 years, but she claimed to be "quite upbeat" about the prospect of further decline.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Suitable Case for Treatment

An international force of conservatism has failed in its duty to draw a line under the Iraq war and start helping our little brown brothers to enjoy their independence in peace and freedom. Medact, an international organisation of health professionals, "exists to highlight the consequences of war, poverty and other threats to global health" and otherwise stir up trouble. Its report on conditions in Iraq "says the occupying powers had a duty under the Geneva convention to protect health services even after the establishment of the interim Iraqi government in 2004". Doubtless the impossible nature of such demands is what has made the Geneva convention the quaint little relic it is. According to the report, "Iraqi hospitals are not equipped to handle high numbers of injured people at the same time", in spite of all the practice we've been giving them; and "the health system is in disarray owing to the lack of an institutional framework, intermittent electricity, unsafe water, and frequent violations of medical neutrality", in spite of repeated attempts by the Coalition of the Enlightened to ensure that its air raids are appropriately targeted, and in spite of a thriving PFI programme in which "reconstruction contracts were more often awarded to the private sector than to expert health bodies". They still can't bestir themselves to be worthy of our efforts, it seems. Either Medact or the Guardian give the coalition credit for "a flurry of idealism" motivating the abolition of healthcare charges, which have now "been quietly reinstated by health authorities unable to pay salaries and buy the drugs they need". Fortunately, it is still possible to bribe one's way into hospital, so medical care is available to those of the deserving who have not yet emigrated.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Museum Values

The former Batrachian in Charge of Putting Teachers in their Place, Lord Baker of Smirking, seems to be trying to ingratiate himself with the Glorious Successor by proposing a National Museum of Glorious Britishness. As Tristram Hunt points out, when Baker was education secretary under Margaret Thatcher his idea of history was a "Westminster-and-Whitehall view of the past that mainly entailed good chaps doing good things", or as Orwell put it somewhere, a list of battles won by the English. Accordingly, the idea of his museum is "to celebrate the great British values" which we share with George W Bush and the House of Saud, and "on which our culture, politics and society have been shaped"; our culture, politics and society being neither amorphous nor multifaceted, but a straight-run, teleologically determined path leading from Alfred the Great through Agincourt to Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and the final, overdue cessation of apologies for the Empire. Part of our trouble, you see, is that with all those repeats and remakes on the television, with advertisements for the latest exhibition at the Imperial War Museum plastered all over the Tube, with the whims and megrims of the House of Windsor splattered like a bulimic's banquet across the scumbag press, we just don't have any real sense of the past. Perhaps we've been living in it too long.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Guerra Contro il Terrore

Not always was the Ministry of Lesser Breeds the paragon we know today. In 1976, "at the height of the Cold War" as the Guardian hath it, or during détente as the merely historical might say, Foreign Office planners considered supporting "a clean surgical coup" as a means of ensuring that Italian democracy was protected against the whims of Italian voters. Faced with the possibility of government by the Italian Communist Party, the British ambassador in Rome blubbered that it "would create a serious problem for Nato and the European Community and could turn out to be an event with catastrophic consequences", whereupon the Foreign Office drew up a memo listing options from financing rival parties to "subversive or military intervention" against the legally elected government of a sovereign nation. Pelting with flowers was apparently not among the results foreseen, perhaps because the Eyeties are more nearly white than the Arabs: the idea of military intervention was considered "unrealistic" because of the potential for "prolonged and bloody" resistance by those under attack. Imagine that.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

They Track Luggage, Don't They?

The war on privacy continues with a scheme to implant electronic tags under the skins of convicted paedophiles and sex offenders so that they can be released into the community and "create more space in British jails". Since our new Titanic jails will probably be run by private companies, the Government presumably does not wish to give its corporate friends the trouble of looking after anyone dangerous. "If we are prepared to track cars, why don't we track people?" demanded Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The tags "are already used around the world to keep track of dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage", and paedophiles and sex offenders are obviously much the same sort of thing. The idea is to use Global Positioning System technology to monitor offenders and thus prevent them going near places such as primary schools. Self-evidently, if a sex offender is prevented from going near primary schools but nevertheless feels inclined to indulge his illegal proclivities, he will find it utterly impossible to get a victim elsewhere; particularly as the Global Positioning System will only inform the defenders of our lifestyle about the position of the offenders (cars, dogs, cats, cattle, airport luggage), not about what they are doing. Still, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Ministry of Snoopery, Incarceration and Profits both seem to believe that this system of monitoring will work in the shadow of tall buildings, which a previous satellite tagging scheme did not.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tony Good, Greenies Bad

The man who first informed the Vicar of Downing Street about the propaganda advantages of greenwashing has accused environmentalists of hindering the War Against Warming. This is, of course, a standard New Labour tactic: the crisis in the NHS is the fault of doctors, nurses and patients; the crisis in education is the fault of teachers and pupils; the pensions crisis is the fault of people who pay National Insurance; the crisis of public confidence in the Metropolitan Police is the fault of the people who got shot. Sir David King caricatures the Green position as "let's get away from all the technological gizmos and developments of the 20th century" and "well, we'll just use less energy" and hence encounters little difficulty disposing of the argument. He "prescribes a barrage of technological measures based on nuclear energy, wind power, cutting emissions from cars and buildings, increasing the global area of solar panels by a factor of 700, and capturing and storing emissions from fossil fuel power generation" and also argues that "aviation has been unfairly scapegoated". So far, he has managed to persuade the Government of the case for nuclear power, based on the well-known renewable isotope of uranium, and for lots of airports; but the rest of these admirable measures seem to have fallen by the wayside. Those Luddites at Greenpeace certainly have some explaining to do.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reactor Reaction

The Government has formalised its consent to the policy of building a new generation of nuclear power stations. Private companies are lining up to take advantage of this clean, efficient and economically viable technology, which explains why so many nuclear power stations have been built without government subsidies. It also explains why New Labour is insisting that there will not be any subsidies this time, except in "extreme circumstances", or for decommissioning, or in order to make things cheaper and easier for the companies involved or in order to create "greater certainty for investors", since the last thing anyone has a right to expect of an investor is that they should risk their money in a free market.

As on most issues other than the trivial, Her Majesty's Opposition has continued the war against Punch and Judy politics by rolling over and emitting a long, gushingly submissive stream of warm, pressurised water: "Our position is, by and large, similar to the government's", though with some important differences, such as Alan Duncan's belief that Alan Duncan, rather than Hutton the Thrift, should be Minister for Corporate Pandering. "If business wants to invest" on the basis of private profit at the taxpayer's expense, "it should be free to do so, and it should know that the investment climate will remain stable under any Conservative government".

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tagged by a Teabag Again

That estimable literary critic, Larry Teabag, seems to think that just because he said nice things about my magnum opus he can meme me whenever the fancy takes him. Unfortunately for all concerned, he appears to be right. He also refers to me as a "negative miserabilist", which presumably means I am a positive felicitationist, and challenges me to name seven things of which I am in favour. Obviously, this puts me out a great deal more than it does you; particularly as, pedant that I am, I do not propose to cheat. Any miserabilist with a modicum of low cunning can disguise a negative as a positive by subtly darkening the shades of meaning in, for example, I am not in favour of Boris Johnson to produce I am in favour of the violent disassembly of Boris Johnson, or even slapping a patchy coat of primer onto I am against the blasphemy laws to disguise it as I approve of repealing the blasphemy laws. I am not in favour of such subterfuge; but here are seven things of which I do approve:

1. Winter. Cold weather, howling gales, black bare branches stark against a slaty sky; it gets dark early and the Great British Belly wobbles off into hiding for a month or two - all to the good.

2. Cats. Species disdain, silent condescension and batting helplessly squeaking small creatures back and forth on the front doormat all help to make the world a more enjoyable place. Cats have honed these skills to perfection.

3. English. Not that I have anything against other languages, but I grew up with this one: a useful tool, a superb entertainer and a serviceable bludgeon.

4. Spiders. Their jaws move from side to side; they have lots of eyes; they trap other creatures, paralyse them and suck them dry; and the way they walk is also rather good.

5. Caffeine. I don't know where I'd be without it, but wherever that is I don't wish to go there.

6. Apartheid. Parents and children should be segregated from civilisation until (a) they learn how to conduct themselves in a civilised manner, or (b) the children are old enough to join the armed forces, or (c) they are all dead; whichever happens first.

7. Barking mad films. Recently viewed nominees include Shane Carruth's Primer, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Pigsty, Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder, Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and Béla Tarr's Sátántangó.

The inconvenience is hereby passed on to Michael, Fumier, Foot Eater, Ion, Ed, Sue and Whoever.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Essential Global News Network

It is gratifying to observe that the Associated Press seems to be employing the brightest and the best to report on George W Bush's last quack at a final solution to the Palestinian problem. According to Anne Gearan and Josef Federman, Bush "told Israelis that 'illegal' outposts in disputed land must go". There are something over twelve hundred words in the AP report, but the word occupied is not one of them. East Jerusalem and the West Bank "are claimed by the Palestinians", on who knows what esoteric Islamic grounds.

In the course of not discussing Israel's nuclear arsenal, Bush stated that Iran, which has invaded so many countries since 1979 that none could be specified, is a "threat to world peace". Nevertheless, he was challenged by the Israelis about the recent intelligence report saying that Iran had halted research on its own deterrent. "The fact that they suspended the program was heartening," Bush said; but he added for his allies' comfort: "The fact that they had one was discouraging because they could restart it." Hence, "all options are on the table to secure our assets", legally acquired or otherwise. No doubt Olmert bar Sharon was duly reassured.

The legally elected government of the Palestinian people is mentioned once, as "Islamic ... militants" who control the Gaza Strip and "are not a party to negotiations". Significantly, "It was from Gaza that militants launched rockets Wednesday into southern Israel", and that presumably explains that. Gearan and Federman do their bit for Palestinian self-expression by noting that "Palestinians oppose calling Israel a Jewish state, saying it rules out the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lost properties in Israel." They must have been talking to an interesting choice of Palestinians. No sane person objects to calling Israel a Jewish state, since that is precisely what Israel is. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state is what rules out a number of Palestinian rights, including the right of return to the lost (or stolen, in Oldspeak) properties.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Supply and Demand

Unlike some of the world's other major polluters, the Chinese government takes population control seriously; so much so that people can be expelled from the party, or barred from government employment, elective office and being political advisers, if they have more than one child per family. The Independent notes that the policy of permitting an extra child to rural couples whose first-born is a girl has "boosted a traditional preference for boys". A hundred and eighteen boys are now being born for every hundred girls; this means, of course, that the next generation will have a healthy market for marriageable females, which should reduce the motivation for "forced abortions and female infanticide". According to the Independent, the one-child law was "seen as" a way of reining in population growth, rather than actually being one; but it appears to have worked rather well, reducing the average birth rate from six children per couple to less than two. The rich and famous are happily breaching it, of course; but the immunity of the better-off to mere legal obligations is no more unique to the corrupt, repressive and inefficient Chinese Communist system than it is to the lily-white shores of free-market Albion.

Monday, January 07, 2008

David and Goliath

Those fiendish Iranians have caused tensions with the US to resurface, spattered with facile journalistic paronomasia, by bullying American ships as they went about their legitimate and peaceful business in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Strait of Hormuz is a shipping channel in international waters (i.e. Anglo-US/Iraqi waters). The three American ships were a destroyer (the heaviest type of surface combatant ships in general use), a frigate (an even more disadvantaged vessel, sometimes weighed down yet further with guided missiles) and a cruiser (slightly more vulnerable than an aircraft carrier).

Five small Iranian boats appeared, leaving the defenders of freedom blatantly outnumbered. A Pentagon spokesbeing - a species known for its skill with facts - said that the Iranians had radioed "something along the lines of: 'We're coming at you and you'll explode in a couple of minutes'." They also dropped boxes in the water to force the weaker ships to take evasive action.

The boats "made some aggressive manoeuvres against [the American] vessels and indicated some hostile intent," in spite of their country having been labelled part of an axis of evil and threatened with World War Three. The Pentagon spokesbeing said that the Iranians moved away "literally at the very moment that US forces were preparing to open fire", in spite of the odds being, as so often, heavily stacked in favour of the enemy.

A State Department spokesbeing said that the US has no plans to lodge a formal protest, possibly out of concern that the international community's hollow laughter might make George W Bush's visit to the Middle East appear more ridiculous than it absolutely has to.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

British Faith for British Greatness

Now that the season of goodwill is safely behind us, the Bishop of Rochester has had a bit of a blather in the Torygraph about the ways in which the evil Muslims, multiculturalists and secularists are undermining "that vision of its destiny which made [Britain] great". I knew there must be some reason why we lost India.

The Muslims are undermining us by turning their communities into "no-go" areas and "insisting on artificial amplification for the Adhan, the call to prayer". This "raises all sorts of questions about noise levels", apparently because the means of such amplification were "unknown throughout most of history". It seems possible that urban noise levels in the present anno domini - traffic, car alarms, public address systems yelling at hoodies, destiny-conscious Britons listening to Thought for the Day on their iPods - might have something to do with certain mosques' wish to assert their presence more loudly; but since the Bishop does not stoop to give examples, the matter is presumably not one he finds terribly urgent. He even admits the existence of Decent Muslims who "are trying to reduce noise levels from multiple mosques announcing this call, one after the other, over quite a small geographical area", but again fails to specify where. The relationship between piety and reality is rarely an easy one.

The Bishop is also concerned that, despite the non-demise of Christmas as a Christian celebration, "it is now less possible for Christianity to be the public faith in Britain" thanks to lack of funding for "chapels and chaplaincies in places such as hospitals, prisons and institutions of further and higher education", or else because "the authorities want 'multifaith' provision, without regard to the distinctively Christian character of the nation's laws, values, customs and culture". This has come about "because of a 'neutral' secularist approach which refuses to privilege any faith". If only the vile atheists like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ruth Kelly and the rest would be less secular in their approach, millions of destiny-conscious Britons would be banging on the doors of churches all around the country, provided the Muslims didn't scare them away. Also, "secularism has its own agenda", while the Bishop has only God's; "and it is certainly not neutral". Since secularists are people who hold certain opinions (viz. secular ones), it is difficult to see how they could be "neutral", at least on this particular topic. A more interesting question might be whether their agenda makes any sense; but the Bishop appears to find this line of inquiry unduly tainted with worldliness.

The solution to it all: Britain must "recover that vision of its destiny which made it great. That has to do with the Bible's teaching that we have equal dignity and freedom because we are all made in God's image", always provided we do not use our freedom to insist on artificial amplification for the call to prayer. I would be interested to know from which part of the Bible the Bishop derives this teaching; the little Scripture I can recall has mainly to do with the superior dignity and freedom of Christians and Jews, with wailing and gnashing of teeth for the rest of us. As to the sense of destiny which made us great: "It has to do with a prophetic passion" for abstract nouns "and it has to do with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ regarding humility, service and sacrifice"; which is, of course, why the Bishop's particular brand of Christianity must be privileged, paid and subsidised.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Renaissance Men

The Glorious Successor's policy of repeating the tragic farce of the Blair years as farcical trash continues with a megalomaniac report, commissioned by James Purnell, the Secretary of State for Cultchah, claiming that Britain may be about to produce "the greatest art yet created", ushering in a "new Renaissance" comparable with that in fifteenth-century Italy.

The report, "Supporting Excellence in the Arts", claims that, thanks presumably to the likes of Dan Brown, J K Rowling, Damian Hirst and Big Brother, "the society we now live in is arguably the most exciting it has ever been", and that the arts "have never been so needed to understand the deep complexities of Britain today". It argues for a new "appreciation of the profound value of the arts and culture" by somebody or other, and for "the reclamation of excellence from its historic elitist undertones", excellence being, apparently, not an elite thing at all. The Cultchah Secretary agrees: "Instead of just focusing on things you can measure," he said, "people have got to have the space and the courage to say, 'Actually, this is better than that, and we're going to fund the stuff which is going to be world-class.' " The judgement as to what particular stuff is going to be world-class will no doubt be the responsibility of those best qualified to foresee the cultural climate of the next hundred, five hundred, or possibly thousand years. Purnell also noted that "the review's logic was in keeping with Labour's belief that funding decisions are best taken in the context of reform", whether reform is needed or not; or even whether the idea of "reform" has any meaning in the context of the greatest art yet created. "If you just put the money in and don't take decisions to go with it, then three years down the line you won't have used the money as effectively as you could have done." Great art is nothing if it is not cost-effective within a three-year fiscal period.

Maybe it's because I'm an elitist, but I have my doubts. Of course, fifteenth-century Italy is a place and period whose devotion to good government, humanitarian idealism and public probity is startlingly similar to that of Britain under New Labour; but, Orson Welles' great speech in The Third Man to the contrary, such enviable cultural conditions do not necessarily guarantee any great artistic flowering. They might not guarantee it even if Gordon Brown and his apparatchiki had the wide interests and artistic sensitivities of a Rodrigo Borgia, rather than the penny-pinching instincts and vulgar prurience of a slightly subnormal Daily Mail reader.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Fiscal Prudence

The Government - those nice people in suits whose job it is to safeguard taxpayers' money from being wasted on fripperies like a national transport system, a sustainable energy policy or wages for people in the public sector - have brought off another flux in the turbulent kaleidoscope that is the efficiency paradigm by spending something more than two thousand million pounds on computer and IT projects. Of course, this is not the whole story. The figure of two thousand million applies only to those projects which have failed, and therefore is probably an underestimate; particularly as, in order to safeguard the taxpayer's peace of mind, "neither Whitehall nor the National Audit Office, parliament's financial watchdog, keep definitive lists of which schemes go wrong".

Contrary to what one might expect, given the Government's record of encouraging constructive criticism and tolerating dissent, "one senior Whitehall official" has called the matter into question, noting that "the government's £14bn annual spend on IT could be used to build thousands of schools every year or to employ hundreds of thousands of nurses in the NHS"; or, perhaps more realistically, to bail out a few more of its pals in the boardroom the next time a bank goes belly-up. The official, who is Programme and Systems Delivery Officer at the Department of Work and Pensions Crisis, estimated that only thirty per cent of projects are successful, and noted that "it is not sustainable for us as a government to continue to spend at these levels" and therefore "we need to up the quality of what we do at a reduced cost of doing so".

But sustainable and not sustainable, as far as politicians are concerned, have nothing to do with the difference between surviving and going under; they are simply a pair of alternatives, of which the former is a bit more expensive than the latter. The term not sustainable, in this government's ears, conveys little more than a slight inconvenience, something on a par with not legal or not compatible with the public interest: something to put aside pending a good day to bury bad news. Although the Guardian notes optimistically that the "extensive list of failed projects calls into question other major government IT programmes, such as the proposed £5bn ID cards scheme", the Glorious Successor will doubtless ride out this petty nit-picking.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Efficiency, economy and consumer choice are running rampant on the railways, as engineering work by Network Rail overruns for days on end while fares are hiked by three or four times the rate of inflation. This is, of course, just the thing to get people off the roads and onto less pollutive forms of transport, besides being a wonderful example of the ways in which privatisation of public services can lead to vast and profitable improvements. The Minister of Transport, Ruth Kelly, apparently has nothing to say on the matter, but her shadow, Therese Villiers, said that rail passengers had been "on the end of a real double whammy" and had been "let down badly" by New Labour's failure to overturn the policies of the last Conservative government.

Meanwhile, Network Rail has "apologised profusely" for the disruption, blaming "a shortage of specialist engineering and contractor staff". A similar tactic is in regular use on London Underground, where those in charge apparently believe that a recorded apology followed by a non-explanation followed by further delays is a cheap and amusing method of adding spice to our journeys. (They've also taken to informing us that certain messages on the PA system proceed direct from "the control room at X station", where X station is the station one happens to be in at the time; which is obviously deeply relevant to someone or other.)

The Office of Rail Regulation is launching an "urgent investigation" into the delays, and Network Rail could be fined before being allowed to proceed to the next glorious episode of efficiency, economy and consumer choice.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Colonial Service

As leader of the country which in better days helped to provoke the Mau Mau rebellion, the Glorious Successor evidently feels a certain paternal concern over the way in which the benighted fuzzy-wuzzies are messing about with democracy. He has spoken to the president of Ghana and the head of the Commonwealth observer mission in Kenya, and has welcomed the former's "decision to help with a process of dialogue and reconciliation" which apparently followed from this edifying conversation. Doubtless the decision would never have been made without the Glorious Successor's help; certainly his "unstinting support" is just the sort of verbiage the situation requires, navigating a delicate course between the Scylla of concrete action and the Charybdis of minding our own bloody business for once. As a shoulder-to-shoulder ally of a government which has stolen at least one election, a sharer of values with an Islamic fundamentalist monarchy, and a repatriator of wandering citizens to several countries of similar moral renown, Gordon has prudently refrained from giving vent to any overt judgements about the Kenyan election, but has "urged" both the cheat and the cheated to "exercise restraint"; the exercise of restraint being a handy sort of dodge when violence needs to be stopped, provided the violence in question is not that of the US armed forces, the British armed forces or the existential self-defence forces of the Righteous State.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Was It For This Our Saviour Died?

In these depraved and immoral times, alas, it is virtually impossible for a Saviour to be born before the forces of secular commercialism turn out to nail him up. Out for a constitutional yesterday, in order that the season's monosodium glutamate might be dissolved by the day's carbon monoxide, I saw the symptom - the first Creme Egg advertisement of Easter, which is, after all, a mere eighty shopping days away. The motto this year, admirably summing up the transience of all worldly things, is "Here Today, Goo Tomorrow".