The Curmudgeon


Friday, October 31, 2008

Practical Universality

The Nazi child-killers at Amnesty International are to be allowed to propagandise for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has caused so much trouble for the defenders of Western values in their various wars on terror, fraud, offensiveness, idleness, obesity, privacy and so forth. A short film, titled Everybody, will be sent to every school in the country, so that children may be indoctrinated with the idea that terrorist suspects have the right to life, that hoodies have the right to liberty, that those unprepared to work hard and adapt to change have the right to security, that pupils in differently-superstitious faith schools have the right to freedom of opinion, that pornographers have the right to freedom of expression, and that children who happen to be smaller or stranger than oneself have the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Fortunately, being children, the film's viewers will have plenty of time to learn that, in the real world, the title is short for Everybody Except.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Concerted Intervention

The Glorious Successor has demanded that credit card companies change their rules to make it more difficult to repossess homes, while his little Darling has demanded that oil companies give up some of their shareholders' profits so that the Britain's carbon footprint may be kept at a size appropriate for a global power. Both of them have urged banks to behave as if there were confidence in the global financial system, even though there isn't. Nevertheless, the final decision remains with the credit companies, the oil companies and the banks. Legislation is not being drafted, penalties are not being increased, prison sentences will not be meted out, and victims will not be making headlines. It's only a crisis, not a catastrophe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One Wheel On His Wagon, And He's Still Rolling Along

The Glorious Successor's new-found complacency over his marginally improved poll ratings appears to have got the better of him, even unto the potentially fatal extent of allowing somebody to loosen the straps on Butcher Hoon. Hoon, the Minister for War and the Colonies at the time of Operation Iraq Liberation, was kicked into merciful near-silence as Minister for Europe; which, in post-Thatcherite Britain, is more or less the equivalent of being made Ambassador to Wonga Wonga Land. He was then promoted to chief whip, until the resignation of the former transport secretary at this year's party crap-and-clap festival somehow incited Gordon to try and demonstrate that New New Labour has more embarrassing presences to its name than Ruth Kelly.

Asked about the possibility that the recession might cause more delays to public transport projects than even the requirements of private finance and Britishness might warrant, Hoon responded that he was simply not going to be drawn down the path of pessimism. Hoon didn't win the war against terror in Iraq by being drawn down the path of pessimism, and Hoon does not intend to be drawn down the path of pessimism now. Hoon magnanimously failed to see any particular reason why parliament shouldn't be informed of "significant project delays", but prudently failed to give any guarantee that inconvenient facts would not be suppressed to suit the Government's will and whim, according to precedent. Hoon has no sense of there being complacency at Network Rail, and apparently sees the company directors' bonuses as an incentive to learn lessons and implement them.

On the question of the continuing metastasis of Heathrow, Hoon said that "the main issue was deciding whether the economic advantages of an extra runway outweighed environmental concerns", since obviously environmental consequences do not have economic consequences. Hoon, who does not see it as his job to "tell people how they should or should not travel", but nonetheless intends to "promote public transport use", was also at pains to reassure those who have been "herded in like cattle" on crowded trains that their experiences are not typical. "Our railway system has become, in parts, the envy of Europe," Hoon said. It is possible, I suppose, that some Europeans envy Network Rail's system for incentivising the learning and implementation of lessons.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Off the Rails

Well, here's a fascinating fact or two: In the mid-1990s, staring electoral annihilation in the face, the government of Edwina Currie's little friend privatised the railways. It was one of the few shrewd moves by a government which, until the advent of the present one, bid fair to be ranked as the most weak-kneed, mean-spirited, small-minded and sanctimonious in living memory. Edwina Currie's little friend and his chums split up the railways into various bits - rolling stock, tracks, stations - and sold the bits to various companies, ushering in a golden age of lousy service, fatal accidents and, most importantly, considerable profiteering. One of the companies, Porterbrook, which leases trains to railway companies that don't like to be bothered with things like carriages, was sold by the Currie-cosy's government for seventy-three and a half million pounds to Charterhouse Capital Partners, who sold it to the aptly-named Stagecoach (an uncomfortable, unreliable, slow and dangerous means of transport) for eleven times as much. A parliamentary watchdog said that the taxpayer had been stiffed for nine hunded million pounds, and the Edwina-warmer and its chums were no doubt as chastened as ministers usually are by taxpayer-oriented considerations.

The privatisation was shrewd because it left the incoming Labour government with a vastly inefficient transport system which had just been made even less efficient by a vastly profitable act of sabotage. From our present perspective, eleven fed-up and disgusted years later, it is easy to forget that New Labour in 1997 were assumed to be somewhere, however slightly, to the political left of the Conservative Party. Aside from the benefits to their corporate friends, the bag-swinger and its chums hoped to make it as difficult as possible for Labour to do anything about Britain's transport system, whether by re-nationalisation (at vast expense) or reform of the private sector (which would bring forth the usual squeals of indignation from the kind of people who never have to ride on a train). The ploy failed because Tony and New Labour were no more interested in efficient public transport in 1997 than they are now; but it did mean that, particularly in the present economic climate, there is a very simple explanation for the expense, inefficiency, irrationality and general all-out Britishness of our rail system; namely: "The train-leasing business has recently been dominated by large banking groups". Says it all, really.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wicks Fix

The former Minister for the Relief of Impoverished Energy Company Shareholders, the granny-tagging Malcolm Wicks, has signed a deal with a transnational consortium to decommission the Sellafield nuclear accident, starting a month from now. Concerned as ever to ensure that the costs are borne by the appropriate people, Wicks agreed to an unlimited indemnity, at the expense of the taxpayer, if anything should go wrong. Thanks no doubt to his British values of hard work and fair play, Wicks ensured that the indemnity covers accidents which are the consortium's fault, thus pioneering the strategy Gordon has used more recently to force the banks into line. Doubtless with the usual New New Labour dedication to the truth, Wicks claims that the reason he rushed the deal through parliament, without consultation, was that the consortium threatened to pick up its toys and walk away if he didn't do as he was told. The deal, as any deal must be which includes corporate profits, taxpayers' money and nuclear waste, was so swooningly attractive that Wicks caved in and left it until ten weeks after the expiration of the time limit for queries by MPs before he deigned to make the details available.

According to a spokesbeing for the Department of Uranium, Petroleum and Extortion, "There is only an extremely small possibility of the indemnity ever being used", which no doubt is why the consortium turned it into a deal-breaker; "and so the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority assessed that the benefits" to someone or other "of engaging the contractor would far outweigh the small risk" to someone else "that the indemnity may be called upon". Malcolm Wicks is now the government's "climate change envoy"; a post for which he appears to have qualified in much the same fashion as the former Vicar of Downing Street qualified for his own transfiguration into a peace envoy, and which he will doubtless fulfil with much the same quality of result.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Toil and Trouble

Having been petitioned to pardon the four thousand or so people who were tortured and executed in Scotland for crimes against Christianity, the Scottish parliament appears to have suffered an attack of moral relativism, after the fashion of the Very Reverend Joseph Augustine Di Noia some time ago. A pardon would be inappropriate, the honourable members decided, because the victims, like Helen Duncan, "were tried and convicted in the laws at the time"; and laws, you know, are passed by parliaments and therefore can never be wrong. "Further, it may be particularly difficult to apply modern knowledge and concepts of morality to events which took place centuries ago"; and by the same token one never knows when witch-hunts of one kind or another may happen to come back in fashion. Nevertheless, certain elements are campaigning for at least a memorial, "as a reminder of the dangers of scapegoating innocent people when a society feels under pressure"; the main danger being that the vulnerable will suffer and die while their persecutors gain riches and influence wherewith to bask in their Calvinist probity. Modern knowledge is a wonderful thing. "I always hesitate to use words like barbaric," said a political historian from Edinburgh University, "because the people who did this regarded themselves as civilised, and some were as well educated as we are." Provided one regards oneself as innocent, by such brilliant logic, one cannot commit a crime; and we all know that now, as in the Middle Ages, one can get away with virtually anything provided one has the appropriate school tie. How comforting to know that some concepts of morality never change.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Freud, Schöner Götterfunken

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has accused the Independent newspaper of stealing his party's political clothes with "a desperate attempt to make something out of nothing". The nothing in this case was dinner with Rupert Murdoch who, as owner of a substantial chunk of Britain's news media and the Sun, seems to be the kind of foreigner most immigrant-bashers can do business with. Daveybloke was conveyed into the Presence by the private jet of Murdoch's son-in-law, Matthew Freud; though, given Daveybloke's occasional commitment to appearing sort of greenish at times, it is always possible that he swam across the Aegean to Murdoch's yacht, while the jet transported his briefcase. Daveybloke and his family were also treated to a sailing holiday in Turkey, perhaps to compensate for the company on board the yacht, which seems to have included Murdoch's favourite expert on paediatrics and domestic violence. However, as with Peter Mandelson's and George Osborne's cuddling up to Oleg Deripaska, or Pauline Neville-Jones' part-time work for the charmingly-named Dmitry Flirtash, it appears that nothing remotely untoward was going on - no honours sold, no influence bought, no regulations circumvented, no conditions made, no kickbacks promised, and the freedom of the Press and the integrity of the bloke left as unsullied as anything possibly could be after dinner with Rupert Murdoch at his son-in-law's expense.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Together for London

My Tube journey yesterday morning was particularly loathsome, thanks to delays caused by a person on the rails somewhere along the Northern Line. To their credit, Transport for London announced the problem as a person on the rails rather than as a "customer incident"; but it still meant that the train, which had standing room only when I got on, was approaching breathing room only by the time I had to get off. The crowding was so bad that some people were even driven to move down inside the trucks (or "carriages", as the PA system aristocratically euphemises them) and stand in the aisles between the seats, rather than simply leaning against the doors. Naturally, the platforms were crowded too; and naturally, those on the platforms were in such a hurry to get on that they could spare little, if any, time or patience for those who wished to get off.

Now, to those who dabble in physics, or to pedants like myself, it seems almost easy to understand that if a particular confined space is full, and if some of what is filling it wishes to escape, an advisable course might be to wait for the escape to be consummated before attempting to fill the confined space further. There are some Londoners who have grasped this concept, but I fear they are still a fairly small elite. As soon as the doors opened, and before I had managed to struggle half-way through the semi-permeable concretion of lard and luggage between me and the platform, some grunting thing with hyperactive elbows had thrust itself into the mêlée. Given its obvious endowments of intelligence and foresight, it probably thought it could get a seat.

I did manage to disembark in the end, at the cost of some annoyance and a good deal of unwanted physical contact; no doubt there were others who were not so lucky. Fortunately, Transport for London has set up an online forum, Together for London, which is a place to get talking and share your great ideas to make London a better place, starting with considerate travel. In future, especially between eight and nine o'clock on a wet October morning with crowds and delays and a hard day's work ahead for pay which is losing its value in a job which may soon cease to exist, I'm sure it will make all the difference.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Infamous Suggestions

The Minister of British Jobs for British Workers, Phil Woolas, has been removed from the panel on tonight's Question Time, because the Government wants to talk about the economy instead, and not at all because of any gaffes he may have committed. Oh, good heavens, no. Like his fellow clown Ivan Lewis, and no doubt just as inadvertently, Woolas made the cardinal error of saying something with which a left-of-centre, twenty-first-century government might agree. In an interview with the Murdoch Times, Woolas said regarding disestablishment of the Church of England: "I think it will happen because it's the way things are going ... It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith." The Ministry of Incarceration and Deportation promptly dispatched a spokesbeing to reaffirm New New Labour's commitment to monarchy, misogyny, homophobia and religious discrimination: "The Church of England is by law established as the Church in England and the monarch is its supreme governor. The government remains committed to this position and values the establishment of the Church of England".

Supposedly, Woolas also suggested that there should be a cap on the country's population - a sensible enough notion, given that the British Isles, like British banks for British taxpayers, are a finite resource and cannot accommodate infinite numbers. This was apparently less of a gaffe than the one about the Church of England, because he didn't really say it, or if he did say it he didn't mean it that way, or if he did mean it that way he only meant to suggest that we should cap those increases which arise from immigration. Certainly nobody would wish to suggest that he meant we should make some attempt to limit the number of unwanted children being born; let alone that he meant we should do anything to ensure that breeding rights are confined to those actually capable of bringing up their offspring. Oh, good heavens, no.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not Very Nice People

Three-fifths of the law lords have ruled that, while there are "undeniably unattractive aspects" to stealing a people's homeland and letting it be used to facilitate kidnap and torture, the 9/11 attacks are as good an excuse for that as they are for so many other derelictions. The Upper Miliband urged that a line be drawn under "the conduct of an earlier generation", which did not have a global war against terror to contend with; while the Upper Miliband's legal carrion-eater, Jonathan Crow QC, observed that, thanks to the conduct of that earlier generation, "the Chagossians do not own any territory". Since possession is three-fifths of the law, the victims of the theft have no right to their own property, and are in fact causing gratuitous and malicious injury to the lily-Whitehauliers: "What is being asserted is a right of mass trespass".

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Charming to the Last

The Bush administration has dropped charges against Binyam Mohamed and four other guests at the Guantánomaly. Since the charges - humorously referred to as war crimes charges - are not subject to the jejune limitations of mere legality, the camp's chief prosecutor has reserved the right to revive them at any time; the most opportune time being, apparently, after the presidential election. The Foreign Office does not seem to have troubled itself to comment upon this new outbreak of charm from the Pentagon; presumably it is waiting to hear what President Obama or President McCain has to say in favour of kidnapping, torture and illegal detention before letting slip an opinion about a case of such limited Britishness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Windy Rhetoric

Since the Lower Miliband has committed whatever Government is in power in twelve years' time to finding an excuse as to why it couldn't be done, the Observer has decided to help out a bit on this business of generating fifteen per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Despite the Glorious Successor's airy commitment to clean coal and sustainable uranium, it appears that we might have one or two problems expanding our wind power because "there is a severe shortage of engineers and companies are reviewing their commitments to wind energy because of spiralling costs"; and it is not at all clear that we can train enough out-of-work bankers, marketing executives, stockbrokers and other recipients of the taxpayer's largesse to make good the shortage in the time we have left. There is "a growing conviction that the plans were rushed through so quickly by the government" - well, there's a surprise - "that it will now take substantial new money and guarantees to work" - money which the Government has doubtless already earmarked for worthier projects, such as the national identity database, the replacement for Trident and the Olympics. There is also considerable opposition to land-based windfarms from the kind of people who have not yet grasped the fact that you can have an overcrowded society of greedy and wasteful human beings, or you can have a beautiful landscape, but that it can sometimes be difficult to sustain both at the same time. Given that Gordon Brown has claimed that Britain is a world leader in renewabilitising its national energy supply, it should come as no surprise that "Texas alone plans more wind power than is expected to be installed in Britain in the next 20 years"; that "China plans 100GW of wind power by 2020, a ten-fold increase from today"; and that prices for the necessary technology, where we seem to have missed the bus as usual, are heading rapidly upwards.

It was once observed of a previous government that, on an island virtually made of coal and surrounded by fish, they had somehow managed to achieve a coal shortage and a fish shortage at the same time. The Glorious Successor seems well on the way to achieving shortages of wind power in the British climate and shortages of solar power in the face of global warming. Perhaps he really is a miracle worker, after all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

For Our Own Protection

The court of appeal has ruled that there should be no "irreducible minimum" of information which the Government should be obliged to disclose about its reasons for placing people under house arrest. On the other hand, such people should be protected from "significant injustice" as far as is possible within the parameters of what the Government deems convenient to itself. "There are no rigid principles," said the court, reflecting British values at their most eternal. "What is fair is essentially a matter for the judge", whose job it is to interpret the law as drafted on the back of Agent Smith's envelopes and hustled through Parliament by the usual cabal of the hidebound, the spineless, the paranoiac and the opportunistic. When someone is under twenty-four-hour surveillance, when their human contacts are strictly limited and carefully watched, when their access to the internet and other forms of communciation is severely restricted or cut off altogether - clearly, in such circumstances, giving them any clue as to what they might have done to deserve such treatment would be a terrorists' license to kill.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Creative Differences

Vatan, the third most popular newspaper in Turkey, has had its website blocked because a litigious crank objects to the readers' comments. "We are trying to protect ourselves," said a spokesbeing. "Vatan is always propagating against Mr Oktar and constantly publishes allegations about him. When people read these they are provoked into using these insults against him." Mr Oktar's previous achievements include denying Turkish readers access to Richard Dawkins' website and Wordpress (or, according to the Grauniad, World Presse), launching a libel suit against Google Groups, publishing the weighty Atlas of Creation, and generally demolishing the theory of evolution, using many different forms of proof and evidence, in a way that has never been employed before.

Elsewhere in Turkey, there has been a raid by Kurdish militants (not to be confused with Kurdish separatists, who fought against Saddam Hussein, or Iraqi Kurds, a subset of the Real Iraqis who collaborate with the occupation) which killed seventeen troops near the border with the Democratised Zone. Another newspaper, Taraf, claims that the Turkish army failed to act on prior intelligence about the raid, prompting the chief of staff to issue journalists a polite request to "be careful and stand in the right position". It is not yet clear whether the chief of staff will need to resort to litigation under Turkey's religious hatred laws in order to ensure his will is done.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Money Seasons Justice

I wondered how long it would take. Lloyds TSB are lobbying for renegotiation of (or, in Standard English, threatening to renege on) the terms of the Glorious Successor's glorious bailout of the free market. Shareholders who have been receiving "healthy twice-yearly payments" are irritated at the prospect of having to return money to the taxpayer before they are allowed to receive more. It appears that this was a condition imposed on an unwilling Gordon by the neo-Napoleonic perpetrators of the single currency, the Social Chapter and the Human Rights Act; so it is more than possible that a fairness-enhancing readjustment (or, in Standard English, a cave-in) may yet take place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Amid the dark clouds of renewed financial chaos which have descended now the markets have decided that a few hundred thousand million in taxpayers' money isn't quite enough for them, and the likelihood that millions of taxpayers will lose their jobs in the near future, there are one or two silver linings. The first is that Gordon Brown, thanks to his consistent support for private profit over public benefit, for PFI over NHS, for bigger airports and renewable uranium over noisy windmills and nasty sustainables and, not least, for war over peace, is unlikely to suffer from fuel poverty in his retirement.

Gordon has done his best to dispense further comforts, even going so far as to dredge up everybody's old favourite about feeling our pain: "Every person who loses their job and the redundancies that are taking place in our country concerns me," he said, in his inimitable failed-English style. In spite of this, the shadow Minister for Forcible Flexibilitisation, Chris "Boot Camp" Graybeing, made some nasty remarks, prompting the present incumbent, Tony "Deep" McNulty, to condemn them as "shallow comment from a shallow man".

The subject of this brilliant debate is Gordon Brown's discovery of a way to "combine his fight against climate change with the need to provide jobs in an economic downturn", as the Guardian and agencies put it. The country's leading liberal newspaper compares Gordon's initiative (training people to install loft insulation) to Roosevelt's New Deal; along with the idea of combining a fight with a need, this surely constitutes encouraging evidence that the characteristic New Labour combination of breathlessness and brainlessness has by no means departed from our political discourse. Even the unpleasant surprise of Gordon's first real experience in boom-and-bust economics has not altogether dampened the mood; I am sure Tony would be proud.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Steady Hand on the Tiller

Well, here's a thing: only a day after Gordon and his henchbeing, Agent Smith, were forced to retreat on six-week internment for terrorist suspects and Icelandic bankers, Lord West of Rocksteady has issued a spontaneous bulletin about the hugeness of the threat and the near-adequacy of the Government and how we can now feel almost completely safe as, through the reliable medium of our elected representatives, we rush about in panic scattering unencrypted memory sticks in our foaming wake. "The threat is huge," the noble lord blubbered. "It dipped slightly and is now rising again within the context of 'severe'. There are large, complex plots", one of which has been foiled; on the other hand, "another great plot is building up again, which we are monitoring", presumably as a last resort now that the forty-two-day miracle cure has been so cruelly dashed from the helpless lips of British anti-terrorism. On the other hand, "We have done all the things that we need to do", which is jolly reassuring; but on the other hand (who's counting?) "the threat is building - the complex plots are building". Gosh. Let's hope nobody tells the plotters that they're being monitored.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Suspended Sentence Scandal Silence Scandal

A deafening silence vibrating with moral indignation rang out from Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives as their former candidate for Watford received a suspended sentence today.

Ian Oakley, who is now a potential candidate for the Shirley Porter Good Clean Politics Award, pleaded guilty to five charges of criminal damage and two of harassment, and asked for sixty-eight other offences to be taken into account.

"This derisory sentence is yet another example of the Government's utter unconcern with victims' rights and utter refusal to get tough on crime," a spokesbeing for Conservative Central Office did not say.

The chairman of the bench said that Oakley had "clearly ignored the very obvious distress that would be caused to the victims and others who became involved", although it seems at least equally possible that Oakley did take these factors into account but regarded them as more advantageous than otherwise.

"Vicious hate campaigner walks free", front-page headlines in the Daily Maul and Murdoch press did not scream.

Oakley's tactics included silent phone calls and accusations of child abuse. Given the popularity of such tactics with New New Labour's chums in the banking and Muslim control industries, Oakley's political career may not yet be over.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Forty-two of the country's most noted writers, not including your correspondent, are protesting against the Government's attempt to increase detention without trial to six weeks. The legislation was passed in the Commons with the help of those champions of freedom and tolerance, the Democratic Unionist Party, and now faces a possible bounce back from the Lords. The Glorious Successor will no doubt be hoping that his use of anti-terror legislation to coerce a friendly government may be taken as proof of the necessity for stronger measures; if the financial situation gets any worse he may wish to consider holding selected European leaders hostage until the White House lets him know what to do.

The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said that none of the writers who were invited to take part in the protest refused; it seems that neither the freedom-loving author of Saturday nor the freedom-loving author of The Second Plane was asked to participate, yet the Observer refers to the protest as a "flexing [of] intellectual muscles in a manner not seen since leading figures in the arts world regularly clashed with the Thatcher government in the Eighties".

In fine abstract-noun-spouting mode, a spokesbeing for Agent Smith said: "We are resolute in our determination to put our arguments to the Lords"; doubtless their resolution is similarly determined, inasmuch as their determination is resolute.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

All Part of Her Charm

The Guardian feels that the Republican ticket in the present campaign has suffered a "body blow" because John McCain's running mate has been found guilty of ignoring some fuddy-duddy old rules about "ethics" and "public trust". It is a little hard to see why this should make much difference to the nation that elected the present incumbent once, any more than Palin's nanocerebral jabber should be a disadvantage in the country that elected Ronald Reagan twice. Indeed, Palin's breaches of the rules were apparently made in order to give her sister's ex-husband what was coming to him after a bile-spattered divorce and custody case, thus proving her ability not to insist on going by the book when family values are at stake. This attitude will no doubt serve her well in office should she ever have dealings with such dynastic tyrannies as the Saudis, the Bushes and the Clintons. The investigators also noted that Palin's husband "enjoyed extraordinary access to the governor's office and her closest advisers, despite being unelected and having no salaried state post", in accordance with the commands of St Peter and others that wives should be obedient to their husbands. Again, it is difficult to see why God-fearing Americans should have a problem with that.

Still the Guardian is not particularly well known for its insight into the American political psyche (or, arguably, anyone else's). During the last US presidential election, the paper urged its readers to email undecided voters and instruct them to vote against George W Bush, with no very obvious result except for various permutations of fuck off and some unsolicited dental advice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Transparent Intelligence

This week is, as I'm sure we were all unaware, National Identity Fraud Prevention Week; and the Ministry of Punching Above Our Weight on the International Stage has celebrated the fact by regretting the loss of yet more private details of public employees. From memory sticks and laptops, they have worked their way up with diligence to losing an entire computer hard drive, and it seems entirely possible that by the time National Identity Fraud Prevention Week rolls around next year they may have achieved the disappearance of a whole network. The Ministry of Democratisation doesn't even know whether the information on the drive was encrypted; in fact, it seems more than possible that the Ministry doesn't know what "encrypted" means.

According to a spokesbeing, the loss this time is believed to comprise "the names, addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth and driving licence details of around 100,000 serving personnel across the army, navy and RAF, as well as their next-of-kin", plus data on applicants and their referees, and possibly bank details besides. The computer belongs to the Government's IT contractor, EDS (Efficient Data Services? Extended Digital Spookery? Every Detail Stolen?), whose private sector efficiency has previously benefited several prison officers. The chair of the all-party parliamentary group on identity fraud has said that "Transparency is key to ensuring that the public is aware of how its information is being handled"; but even though he is a Tory, I doubt this is quite what he had in mind.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Only 3700 Miles From Anchorage

The smallest and least overtly Muslim member of the Axis of Evil has returned to trouble the Bush administration's last glorious months. North Korea tested a supposed nuclear weapon two years ago, resulting in a "disarmament pact between the country and the US, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan", although the Independent's reporter unfortunately fails to make clear precisely what armaments the US, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan committed themselves to giving up.

North Korea, whose oil reserves are thought to be minimal and which is not very Muslim at all really, has now banned UN weapons inspectors from its main nuclear facility on the grounds that the US has reneged on a promise to remove it from a blacklist of states which sponsor the wrong kind of terrorism. The Americans say that they could hardly be expected to keep their promise until they were certain the North Koreans were keeping theirs; and we all know how much credence the White House places in the findings of UN weapons inspectors.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Same Symptoms, Different Disease

A private mental health clinic near London's taxpayers' money absorption district reports an increase of one-third in the number of financial service providers seeking help for anxiety, depression and stress over the last three months. There has also been a twenty-seven per cent rise in inquiries about the clinic's programmes for dealing with eating disorders, and a thirty per cent rise in those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction, "often the result, says the clinic's medical director, of recreational drug use tipping into full-blown dependence during times of stress", rather than mere shiftlessness and hypochondria as happens so often with the poor folks. "We're seeing 25-year-old bankers waking up with acute anxiety and stress, and realising that the job they thought they had for life and the bonuses they had come to rely on had literally disappeared overnight," said the clinic's medical director, William Shanahan; a pity so few people these days are able to work hard and adapt to change. According to Shanahan, there is still not enough recognition of the mental health problems faced by those in high-pressure jobs; perhaps because such problems bear a deceptive resemblance to what is usually diagnosed as scrounging in lesser beings.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


The leeches in Hollywood aren't the only ones who can't leave well enough alone, it seems. Bram Stoker's great-nephew thinks he has "a little bit [of his ancestor's skills] in the bloodline"; so little that he has collaborated with a historian, screenwriter and member of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula to perpetrate an "authorised sequel" to his great-uncle's book. Whatever its merits and flaws, Dracula was at least written by a real writer, who had published novels and stories before it and continued to do so after; one of Stoker's later books, The Jewel of Seven Stars, rivals Dracula in quality and impact, especially with its original, unhappy ending. The sequel, co-written by an ex-sports coach who has a famous bloodline to plunder, reeks of stolen life. Stoker's book was set in the present day, with references to Kodak and use of a phonograph diary; the sequel is set in 1912, at a good safe distance. Avoiding the original's epistolary form so as not to confuse "a modern thriller readership", and featuring the obligatory clunk of postmodernism-for-the-masses in the appearance of Bram Stoker himself as a character, it has sold for over a million dollars to three major publishing houses, and shooting of the film version is scheduled for next June, four months before the book comes out. Hence, say the screenwriter and the great-nephew, "we were able to give [Bram Stoker] back his legacy - reclaim Dracula for his roots" - those roots which have been so cruelly sucked dry by profitable films and spinoffs. "Maybe even more important is to give the novel's legions of loyal fans what they have been waiting over a century for...the return of the real Dracula." Evidently the legions of loyal fans are getting tired of ploughing through that damned epistolary format over and over again, and have been thirsting all this time, through all those sequels and remakes and re-imaginings and ripoffs, for a true, authentic Dracula, renewed and resurrected in the warm and wormy soil of corporate gimmickry.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hacked About

The Press Association has been getting its clichés in a twist over the case of Derek Brown, who has been given a life sentence for butchering two women. Naturally, the victims were young mothers, second only to murdered newly-weds and dead pets as providers of pounds per column inch on the journalistic button-push; and there are the usual emotional appeals, cravings for notoriety and combing of files, spiced up with the killer's juicy ambition to emulate Jack the Ripper and his picking up of his victims in the area the Ripper stalked. Best of all is the murderer's social life: a loner in the second paragraph, in accordance with the time-honoured serial killer psychological profile, by the end of the story Brown somehow manages to become a father of seven. Unlike the young mothers, it appears, the loner's status as a parent is incidental rather than central; the concept of women being butchered by a middle-aged family man is evidently a bit too much for the Press Association's collective consciousness to handle.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Pride in Our Island's Story

The shadow Secretary for Schools has apparently deplored the fact that history is not being taught in such a way as to make juvenile human resources sufficiently proud of sharing a national heritage with the likes of Michael Gove. The Independent has asked a few people some questions about this; among them a historian from Michael Gove's party who apparently thinks universal suffrage and manhood suffrage amount to the same thing. They didn't ask me, so here are my answers.

How do we teach children pride in our island's story?
Why on earth should we? Surely history should be taught because it is useful or interesting, not as a means of indoctrinating our already ignorant, miserable, boorish and violent brats with the vices of patriotism and xenophobia.

Does that mean learning kings and queens and dates by rote?
Kings and queens exerted a certain influence on our history for quite some time, and it is generally just as well to be aware of the order in which events happened.

What are 10 of the important dates children should know?

1215 Signing of Magna Carta, later to be repealed by Tony Blair.

1555 Foundation of the English slave trade by John Hawkins and associates, later to be apologised for by Tony Blair.

1600 Foundation of the Honourable East India Company, with the intention of bringing free trade and civilisation to the benighted.

1746 Battle of Culloden. The Duke of Cumberland's army of brave boys doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances gives the rebellious Highlanders a lesson in British unity.

1815 Battle of Waterloo. End of Napoleon's attempts to impose unaccountable European standards on British democracy, as led by George III of Hanover and his popularly elected Regent.

1847 Height of the Great Famine in Ireland. Market efficiency of the English absentee landlord system shown to great advantage in the exceptionally low casualty rate among English absentee landlords.

1879 Battle of Ulundi. Civilised values brought to the fuzzy-wuzzies good and proper.

1918 England wins First World War, with help from its oldest and greatest ally.

1945 England wins Second World War, with help from its oldest and greatest ally, and turns immediately to saving the world from Communism.

1968 As Chagos Islanders are forcibly expelled from their homeland, English tolerance and fair play seen at their best in Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Family Values

Having rescued the American economy and made the world safe for Wall Street once again, the Bush administration has found time to attend to the moral aspect of its legacy by increasing abortions in Africa so that the Heathen Chinee may not profit from the United States government. The US Agency for International Development does not directly fund the supply of contraceptives to African family planning clinics, but it has now ordered its missions to "ensure that no [USAID-funded contraceptives from host country governments] are distributed to MSI at this time". MSI is Marie Stopes International which, according to USAID, "supports the Chinese national family planning programme"; as a result, MSI estimates that there will be another three hundred and twenty-five thousand unwanted pregnancies in six African countries. The Bush administration will presumably derive some satisfaction from the knowledge that only about sixty-five thousand of those pregnancies will be aborted, making a grand total of two hundred and sixty thousand children who will be wanted by no-one but God and the White House and will probably be fed by neither. Doubtless the Heathen Chinee are duly chastened also.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Oh Mandy

I remember all my life
Rainin' down as cold as ice
Shadows of a man
A face through a window
Cryin' in the night
The night goes into
Mornin', just another day
Happy people pass my way
Lookin' in their eyes
I see a memory
I never realized
How happy you made me, oh Mandy

Well, you came and you gave without takin'
But I sent you away, oh Mandy
well, you kissed me and stopped me from shakin'
and I need you today. Oh, Mandy!

I've walked away when love was mine
I'm standing on the edge of time
Caught up in a world of uphill climbin'
The tears are in my mind
And nothin' is rhyming, oh Mandy


Yesterday's a dream
I face the mornin'
Cryin' on a breeze
The pain is callin', oh Mandy


You came and you gave without takin'
But I sent you away, oh Mandy
You kissed me and stopped me from shakin'
And I need you!

with apologies to Barry Manilow

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dodgy Investments

The Department for Elderly Freezing, Rotting and Apathy, in association with the Department for Bankers' Expenses and Regulatory Relaxation, has released figures showing that three and a half million households were suffering fuel poverty in 2006, an increase of forty per cent on the numbers for the year before. Two and three-quarters million of the three and a half million were households classed as "vulnerable", namely those containing a juvenile consumer potentiality, a pensions crisis culprit, a drain on the NHS or other non-viable human resource. The Government, with its usual astuteness, has connected the rise to the increase in energy bills between 2005 and 2006. Given that shareholders in energy companies have continued to receive their legal entitlements, prices have continued to rise since 2006, and Help the Aged and Friends of the Earth claim that there are now at least five million households suffering fuel poverty. On the bright side, it is doubtful that many such households are occupied by City speculators, short sellers, venture capitalists or anyone else whose gambling debts are a desirable commodity in today's free market.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Our Reputation Safe At Last

A study by the Met Office has an optimistic message for the Glorious Successor; namely that the only real hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change lies in "cutting global emissions by 3% a year from 2010". Since 2010 will most likely be the point at which the Daveybloke administration starts cutting emissions by building the London Haystack a new airport in the Thames estuary, Gordon will no doubt be heaving a sigh of relief. Further solace will be found in the news that the worst effects may not be felt until the end of the century, and will have most impact on plants, animals, poor people, foreigners and other creatures which, even if they happen to live in marginal constituencies, rarely turn out to be New New Labour core voters. Best of all, if Daveybloke's administration continues the New New Labour policy of green rhetoric for the public and green lights for the polluters, there is every possibility that, soon after the end of the century, there won't be anyone left to remember how shallow, dishonest, vacuous, myopic, pusillanimous, greedy, mendacious and callous it was necessary to be in order to gain the privilege of serving us.