The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

All Wet

Australian scientists have produced a computer simulation of the world two and a half thousand million years ago, which suggests that about ninety-seven to ninety-eight per cent of the planet's surface was covered in water. Naturally, the only way the Press Association can convey this to its readers is by way of Hollywood; in this case Waterworld, a Kevin Costner vehicle in which "humanity struggles to survive after the ice caps melt and inundate the planet with water". The Press Association happily labels the time of excess surface moisture "the waterworld era"; however, despite this creditable instance of Hollywood's customary geological realism, there were one or two differences from the film. For one thing, the water contained no fish. "Back then life consisted of nothing more complex than algae and bacteria", some of which may have been even less interesting on the personal level than a character played by Kevin Costner.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Popular Medicine

Plans are a-limp for health industry consumers to post their opinions of GPs on an NHS website. Ben Bradshaw, who has apparently attained ministerial status by virtue of an alliterative name, says he "wants the site to do for healthcare what Amazon has done for the book trade and Trip Adviser for the travel industry"; he compares the process of seeking treatment for illness to that of going on holiday, and the expression of public support for a non-privatised institution to "the results of an east European election under the Soviet regime". People will be allowed to comment anonymously, but the comments will be moderated to prevent specific individuals being identified, and the "forceful expression of positive or negative views" will be permitted. It is not clear what age certificate the more forceful expressions of public opinion will carry.

The chair of the BMA's committee on general practitioners thinks that the whole idea "has everything to do with consumerism and it has not been thought through well" and "has a great potential to be misleading"; but New New Labour are going ahead with it anyway. Fancy that. Still, there is some hope. "Officials have been told to have the appropriate software ready next year", and we all know what can happen when New New Labour officials get mixed up, if that is the term I want, with anything a bit computery.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Sepulchre's Whiter Than Yours

The Church of England is making another effort to squeeze that great, fatty hump through the eye of the needle. Not by selling all that it has and distributing to the poor, of course; such naïve Biblical literalism must be left to the publicans and harlots. Instead, five bishops have made representations to the Sunday Torygraph about New Labour's avarice and moral corruption, as well as the inevitable celibates' jokes about the "breakdown of the family". The bishop of Durham claimed that the Government had not done enough to help the poor, which seems rather ungrateful given the many opportunities for poverty-induced repentance afforded by New Labour's welfare, education and health policies. "Labour made a lot of promises but a lot of them have vanished into thin air", the Bishop said, implicitly contrasting Labour with the sort of people who promise mercy to the merciful, the earth to the meek, and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven within a single generation of Christ's earthly existence.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We'll Eat Again, Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

When the race card isn't enough, play the war card. The Glorious Successor has conjured up the spirit of the Dunkirk fiasco, promising blood, sweat and tears for all the right people and noting that, in the face of global recession and runaway climate change, "the scale of the challenges we face is matched by the strength of my optimism". The soundbites are becoming less and less distinguishable from Tony's, apart from the fact that the grin has to be kept dangling in place with real nails these days. Gordon's government will be the "rock of stability" which will squash the unworthy beneath its weight as the earth heats up and the economy goes into deep freeze. Over the other great challenge of our times, "international security", given Gordon's contribution to peace in our time it might be charitable to draw a discreet veil, preferably one as black as Iraqi crude and as thick as Geoff Hoon.

"Today, the issues may be different, more complex, more global" than the Second World War, an altogether simpler and more local affair; yet nevertheless, "the qualities we need to meet them the British people have demonstrated in abundance before". After all, we survived the First and Second World Wars by mortgaging ourselves to the Americans (who could afford us at the time); we survived the industrial revolution by stealing from brown people and subjecting our own people to vile factory conditions, draconian poor laws and the workhouse; we kept smiling through the Black Death by blaming it on Jews and witches: whitewashed with a minimal twenty-first-century gloss, these are all good, sound New Labour coping strategies.

Gordon also reassures us, in that semi-translated-human-resources-manual English of his, that "it will be my unwavering focus to make the right decisions to build a Britain of hope and opportunity in a world of danger and uncertainty". So far he has done passing well on the danger and uncertainty, but the hope and opportunity have been regrettably confined to world-savers like the nuclear industry, the airlines, and Peter Mandelson. Gordon also believes that "we can do - and we can, we must". This is certainly an improvement. Where Tony had an aversion to verbs, Gordon only hates the varieties with which one can form a complete sentence. "The stakes are too great with our planet in peril, for us to do anything less" than something or other.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Don't Call it Censorship or I'll Sue

The Secretary for Cultchah and area of outstanding natural fatuity, Andy "Randy" Burnham, whose last major contribution to the cultural well-being of the nation was the suggestion that public libraries should "be social places for people to meet and discuss, perhaps with coffee shops or internet cafes", perhaps sharing sites "with a swimming pool or GP’s surgery", has now decided to bring the full majesty of his intellect to the problem of inappropriate internet content. Since he has children, and is too busy to look after them, he is naturally worried that someone might leave them for two hours unregulated on the internet, because this "is not something you can do". Randy intends to impose age-range restrictions on websites, to compel removal of "offensive material" (offensive to whom?), and to make Britain's libel laws even more sensible so that it's "cheaper for people to sue publishers if they have been defamed online". The internet is "a very, very complex and quite dangerous world" because it "has been empowering and democratising in many ways"; yet worse, the people who created the internet "talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn't reach", which is hardly the sort of challenge New New Labour can be expected to resist.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Sweat of Their Brows

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, is doing his bit to keep unemployment down by allowing moonlighting by those members of the shadow cabinet who lack sufficient personal initiative to marry or inherit their money. Daveybloke had considered forcing shadow ministers to live off their parliamentary salaries, topped up with whatever little gifts their personal friends in the global kleptocracy or the Russian mafia may see fit to dispense; but it appears that many in the shadow cabinet do not feel this would be adequate to keep them in the manner to which they are accustomed. William Hague, for example, requires over a hundred thousand pounds a year from the after-dinner speaking circuit to maintain what the country's leading liberal newspaper calls a middle-class lifestyle; and Oliver Letwin "gets up at 5am to work at the bank before doing a full day's work at Westminster" so that Mrs Letwin and the little Letwins shall not starve. Several of Daveybloke's front-benchers are so dedicated to public service that they threatened to leave the shadow cabinet unless Daveybloke withdrew his threats against the sacred right to work. Accordingly, Daveybloke caved in, having decided that it doesn't really matter very much if the party is run as an afterthought by a few part-timers; particularly since, even as the Government remains on course to lose the next election, Conservative policy-making remains mostly the business of New New Labour.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Songs of Praise

O little banks of London town,
How much we've heard ye lie!
Thanks to your creed of gormless greed,
Our debts reach to the sky.
And in our dark streets shineth
This truth ye all must know:
'Twill be hard cheese when the Chinese
Collect on what we owe.

Away in a bank vault,
A safe for His bed,
The Little Lord Mammon
Laid down His fat head.
The Board of Directors
Looked down where He lay,
And gave themselves each one
An increase in pay.
I love Thee, Lord Mammon;
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me for ever;
Protect me, I pray.
Be near me, Lord Mammon
And stay by my side;
And fuck those poor bastards
Whose living has died.

Silent night, holy night!
None are calm, few are bright,
Round yon blubbering Treasury man
Screeching the only solution he can:
Spend in salary freeze!
Spend in salary freeze!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Put Asunder

The Local Government Association has registered increases in demand for debt counselling and relationship counselling, and predicts that there will be a larger than usual number of divorce proceedings in January. Divorce proceedings during January are sometimes as much as fifty per cent higher than in other months, presumably because of the many New Year resolutions about sloughing off bad habits; but this year's triple incentive of global economic ructions, corporate hysteria and New New Labour incompetence will, according to the Local Government Association, serve to make matters worse than ever. Family values, like Britishness and the free market, are not quite the bastion they used to be when faced with "the multiple pressures of Christmas, mortgage arrears and recession".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Leading By Example

A sixth of public and government buildings in England and Wales have received the lowest possible rating for energy efficiency in the latest audit. Among them is the head office of the Lower Miliband's Department of Being Polite to Energy Companies, which produces over thirteen hundred tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in addition to all that hot air; something the Guardian optimistically describes as "embarrassing" for a government that contains not only the Upper and Lower Milibands but Agent Smith, James Purnell and Gordon Brown. The Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together emitted "the equivalent of more than 14,000 people flying from London to New York". The problem, apparently, results from "ignorance among officials, inefficient equipment and poor energy management". Fancy that. Naturally, since the Government has set itself a target of a thirty per cent emissions cut from its own buildings by 2020, New New Labour has decided not to go ahead with plans for wind, wave and solar energy "after calculations that the investment needed would not result in quick-enough savings on energy bills". Instead, it has set up a "centre of expertise" which will no doubt inform departments such as the Lower Miliband's that they can do wonders towards the saving of the species if they turn down their thermostats by one degree and put a brick in the toilet tank.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Evocative and Inspiring

The Government may not give much of a toss about housing, except when the Daily Mail bellows forth that accommodation is not being kept expensive enough; but it hates to think of anybody having a dull and uninspiring address. A think tank (or possibly, in this case, a think jeep) has suggested that street names should constitute "miniature history lessons to inspire the young", and that roads should therefore be named after Olympic sportsbeings, David Beckham or J K Rowling. Such evocation of our most inspiring and profit-making citizens would "give a place or an area interest and focus, which just doesn't happen with the likes of Sycamore Grove or Fairfield View"; self-evidently, the interest and focus of an area consists entirely in what it is called, rather than in whatever deserted office block or derelict shopping mall may happen to grace and beautify it. Someone at the Department of Encroachment by Fat Ruthless Anonymities burbled that "it can only be good for local democracy and pride if people can name public spaces after those who are important to them"; much better than if they were permitted to participate in decisions about their own hospitals, post offices, transport systems, schools or pensions.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Man From Earth

Richard Schenkman 2007

The screenplay was the final work of Jerome Bixby, who is probably best known for his horror story "It's a Good Life", about a community tyrannised over by an infant with apocalyptic powers of telepathy and telekinesis. The tale was adapted - not by Bixby - into one of the most famous episodes of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, the only notable changes being that the child, Anthony, is a bit older in the TV episode, and his pranks more explicitly presented. In the story, Anthony "entertains" his subjects by making meaningless, undefined shapes appear on the television screen; in the TV episode, he treats them to a stop-motion dinosaur fight. At the climax of Bixby's story, when one of the adults incurs Anthony's wrath, the child transmogrifies him "into something nobody would ever have believed possible"; in the TV episode, the victim is turned into a rather unconvincing jack-in-the-box.

Happily for The Man From Earth and The Twilight Zone, and less happily for the oeuvres of Peter Jackson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Danny Boyle, Steven Spielberg and their ilk, it is easier for a good story to carry a bad special effect than it is for a spectacular special effect to substitute for a good story. David Cronenberg once summarised the plot of his film The Fly as "three people in a room talking": the gruesome visual effects are used with flair and imagination, but their effectiveness is augmented by the equivalent flair and imagination devoted to such cinematic luxuries as character and dialogue. Jacques Rivette's Céline and Julie Go Boating, one of the greatest and most beguiling fantasy films ever made, has no special effects at all beyond the writing, the performances and the editing. The Man From Earth also utilises no special effects, and its eighty-seven-minute plot consists almost entirely of eight people in a room talking.

The people are a group of academics gathered to bid farewell to their colleague, John Oldman (David Lee Smith), who has rather abruptly announced, after ten years, that he is upping stakes and moving on. One of his friends remarks on how little he has aged; another notices what seems to be an unknown work by Van Gogh among the possessions being piled into Oldman's pickup. After a drink or two, Oldman announces that he's going to let his friends in on a secret: when he was about thirty-five his body stopped ageing, and he reached his present biological age as a Cro-Magnon man, fourteen thousand years ago.

The resulting interrogation is as riveting as the best of Nigel Kneale, who might easily have come up with a similar scenario. As one of the characters points out, Oldman's claim is as impossible to refute as it is to prove, and the ambiguity is beautifully sustained with the help of some fine supporting performances ranging between the hopeful half-belief of Tony Todd's anthropologist to the aggressive scepticism of William Katt's cradle-snatching rationalist and Ellen Crawford's conservative Christian. Although he causes some theological difficulties, Oldman is unable to provide any earth-shattering revelations about the nature of man or the world, but then he never claims to be anything other than human: "I never said I was immortal," he answers quietly at one point; "just very old." Asked where he was during a particular year in the thirteenth century, Oldman parries with: "Where were you on this date a year ago?"

Despite one trite line about the need for people to take care of the environment, Oldman is never presented as either an all-wise moral superman or as a Faustian demonolater; which works greatly to the film's advantage. The possibility that he may be a lunatic is handled very well, through the character of a psychiatrist (Richard Riehle) whom one of the sceptics calls in when it becomes apparent that Oldman isn't joking. It's a pity that Bixby felt the need to use this character as a means to an over-emphatic dénouement in which the story's ambiguity is thrown aside in favour of a melodramatic twist - the only significant flaw in this minor masterpiece.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

AWE Shock

One of the many arguments for invading Iraq, you may recall, was that America's nuclear deterrent does not work. The Hitler of the Middle East and his weapons of mass destruction had us all forty-five minutes from doom, so that unless a bit of humanitarian shock and awe could be applied immediately, we might all wake up one morning and find a mushroom cloud over New York. Similar arguments have been used with regard to Iran's supposed nuclear weapons programme, which requires the setting up of batteries of missiles pointing at Russia. Although the deterrence dogma states categorically that nuclear weapons (or, more precisely, Britain's and America's nuclear weapons) have helped to keep the peace in Europe since 1945, the Israeli arsenal has signally failed to do the same for the Middle East, or even to protect the Righteous State from the existential threat posed by home-made rockets from Gaza.

In this context, it is a little difficult to understand the fuss being made about the sale of Britain's remaining stake in its nuclear warhead manufacturer at Aldermaston. A third of the business is already owned by Lockheed Martin, and another third by Serco, which runs the detention centre at Yarl's Wood with such exemplary humanity and efficiency. National institutions that don't work - from public transport to data protection - are the natural province of the private sector, which can at least ensure that the right people profit from the cock-ups.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sign of the Times

Agents: Cant & Floggit (Est. 1979, 1982, 1993 etc.)

Vacant Space Is Not Free Space

No Dealing
No Soliciting
No Squatting
No Sitting
No Loitering
No Running
No Sleeping
No Urinating
No Defecating
No Miscellaneous Bodily Functions
No Ball Games

Violators Will Be Shouted At, Mauled By Dogs, Beaten By Mercenaries and Indefinitely Incarcerated. Those Prosecuted Will Be The Lucky Ones.

Due to the Extended Availability of these Premises During the Present Economic Reintegration Process, Some Renovation May Be Required.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moral Lessons

The General Teaching Council for England has very generously proclaimed that teachers in the twenty-first century do not have to be exemplary citizens every second of every day. They are enjoined to "place the wellbeing, development and progress of children and young people at the heart of their professional practice"; professional practice being not only their activities during the time for which they are paid, but any other activities during whatever time the General Teaching Council for England sees fit to intrude upon. Teachers can, for example, face penalties for "omitting to raise the alarm if they suspect a pupil is being abused", their suspicions presumably being gauged by lie detectors of the sort soon to be deployed by the Idleness Police. As "part of a more integrated children's workforce", they are obliged to "consider their place in society"; and their behaviour, unlike that of politicians, bankers, corporate executives and armed police, can be monitored, judged and punished as "lawful but not acceptable".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Upon This Rock

The Archbishop of Canterbury has discovered that there is "a certain integrity" to a church which is separate from the state: an opinion he apparently held while a bishop in the Church of Wales before clarifying (or, in Standard English, reversing) his position when he became a candidate for the top office in the Church of England. There are, however, conditions: "I think the motives that would now drive disestablishment from the state side would be mostly to do with ... trying to push religion into the private sphere, and that's the point where I think I'd be bloody-minded and say, 'Well, not on that basis.'" The church's new-found integrity would evidently be horribly tarnished if the state had the wrong motives for agreeing to disestablish it; and, as someone or other makes clear in Matthew 6 i-xviii, it would certainly never do for Christian worship to be a private matter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Difficult Delivery

Well, here's a thing: yesterday, a spokesbeing for His Lordship the Third Incarnation of Mandelbloke said that the concern of the Secretary for Pandering, Plundering and Profiteering was "to save the Royal Mail and secure its future, not privatise it" during the present parliament. After all, New New Labour has been left with "a manifesto commitment to a publicly-owned Royal Mail"; and reneging on manifesto commitments carries consequences almost as serious for a government as trampling the law or tearing up the constitution. Nevertheless, today His Lordship announced that the Royal Mail will be partially sold off to a Dutch company "as part of a range of measures to protect its long-term future"; much as privatisation has ensured the long-term future of our transport, energy, water and health services. Anyway, the Government remains "firmly committed to the universal postal service", apparently because it's a Britishness enhancer: it "helps bind us together as a country" now that we no longer meet face to face, talk to each other or use the internet.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Flying Low

The Secretary of State for Talking about the Environment, Hilary Benn, has discovered that the building of a third runway at Heathrow might possibly affect Britain's ability to meet its obligations under European law. "You are then in trouble with the commission, you get infraction proceedings and then off you go - which is not something we can contemplate," he said. Presumably it will remain for the forthcoming Daveybloke administration, having seceded from Europe in accordance with the needs of British sovereignty, Atlanticist dogma and core-vote blimpishness, to tear up whatever treaties New New Labour may happen, in its flounderings, to have left unbreached.

Meanwhile, Bomber Hoon froths: "Reports that we are seeking to abrogate from our responsibilities in this area solely in order to promote expansion at Heathrow are completely and utterly wrong"; which proves, predictably enough, that Bomber Hoon does not know what the word abrogate means.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Testing Times

In its trumpeted concern for the education of Britain's future soldiers, stockbrokers, burger-fetchers and dole queue enhancers, the Government has, as always, kept its priorities straight. Teaching (or testing, in Standard English) is, like health care and public transport, a service whose efficient delivery is to be judged by the profit of private companies, rather than by anything so old-fashioned as the effect on people at the receiving end. Accordingly, the Government has contracted out the overseeing of some of the exams it imposes on eleven- and fourteen-year-olds to a company called ETS Europe, which is, as one would expect, based in the United States. Last summer, up to a hundred thousand pupils did not receive their results on time, and some still have not received them. An inquiry is expected to blame the National Assessment Agency, which is part of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, as well as ETS Europe; and the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, not being a politician or a policeman, has been persuaded to jump before he is pushed. As is well known, New New Labour dislikes the unpleasantness and acrimony surrounding your average resignation for incompetence; it much prefers to march on regardless, crunching the demands of good government beneath the clodhopping hobnails of party favour; not surprisingly, a "source close to the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls" said that the affair was "not their finest hour". On the other hand, they have had few finer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nice Little Island, Shame If It Got Broke

The abolition of feudalism on Sark has provoked an ugly reaction from a couple of local thugs. Although the Barclay brothers do not live on the island, did not stand in the recent election and had no vote, they published a list of nine candidates whom they wanted to win, and another list of twelve whom "they believed would be ruinous to the island". Two of the nine won, and three of the twelve lost; and, living by their beliefs, the Barclays have started ruining the island. More accurately, they have started ruining the people of the island, who have failed to repay the Barclays' investment by voting as they were told. The brothers' minion on Sark placed the responsibility squarely where it belongs by saying that the people had written the "longest commercial suicide note in history", much as a man commits suicide who refuses to obey orders when a gun is at his head: all the fault is with the man who dies, and all the glory is with the gunman.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The World Is Now A Cleaner Place

A man has been murdered with multiple stab wounds to the head, neck and chest. Fortunately for red-topped stunna Rebekah Wade, he wasn't a paediatrician. The Sun quoted a "police source" as saying that the victim (or pervert, in Sun-moralese) had suffered mutilation of the genitals. No doubt the Sun's police source is happy in the knowledge that it has done its bit for the public interest. The Sun also implied that the murder had been committed by a mob of vigilantes, and that the victim, who was on the sex offenders register, had been behaving as though he were under the protection of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor.

No Sun readers, writers or editors are known to have been harmed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Shield and a Safeguard

The Portuguese foreign minister has let the side down for Britain's oldest alliance by suggesting that European countries - possibly including the Poodle Archipelago - should offer asylum to nearly two hundred terrorist terror suspects who have no case to answer and are thus currently enjoying the status of guests at the Guantánomaly. Barack Obama has said he will close the site, and the Portuguese foreign minister seems to think that European countries should take some sort of interest in whether the ex-detainees are tortured further. He used the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to post an open letter to his counterparts in the EU and on the Portuguese government website.

Our own Glorious Successor, apparently unaware of the policies of Jack Straw, the pronouncements of Agent Smith or the pursuits of James Purnell, observed that "in a country like Britain with a strong tradition of democracy, it is all too easy to take our rights for granted", and claimed that the Human Rights Act, which his government has ignored or trampled at every opportunity, was "shield and a safeguard for us all". The Minister of Dawn Raids and Deportations celebrated the anniversary by pandering to the Daily Mail and deciding not to appoint a successor to Lord Lester, a "founding father of the Human Rights Act" who has finally taken the hint on New New Labour's attitude to human rights and walked out in disgust.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Or Else What?

A general election is less than eighteen months away; hence the Lower Miliband has decided to make a bit of a show of caring how many core voters freeze to death this winter. He has politely requested that utility companies pass on energy price cuts to their customers "as soon as possible". The Lower Miliband claimed to be in favour of "both dynamic markets", as in the banking sector, "and a strategic role for government" in greasing the dynamism with public money. The Lower Miliband did not threaten the directors with fines or the stockholders with lie detector tests. The Lower Miliband did not preach the end of a something-for-nothing welfare state for the rich. The Lower Miliband did not threaten legislation to separate corporate tax dodgers from their offshore accounts. The Lower Miliband said that, unless the energy companies got around to not overcharging people at some point in the future to be determined by the convenience and inclination of the energy companies, he would use his powers. The Lower Miliband is New New Labour's Energy and Climate Change Secretary, so his powers are no doubt fairly formidable as long as you don't shout, threaten or stare at them too hard.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Not Quite Bad Enough

At a high-level academic conference on global warming, half a year ago, a scientist pointed out that "carbon emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than anyone thought possible", despite efforts in the EU and here on the mainland to put off doing anything until 2020 or perhaps 2050; and that "the world needed to prepare for things to get very, very bad". The country's leading liberal newspaper got around to reporting it a few months later, under a subheading of a subheading - on the website, at least, not quite as significant as Chelsea v Cluj, and slightly less prominent than the advertisements for Shell and their avid search for new sources of greenhouse gas. The fate of the world is one thing, but people have their living to earn.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Plane Irresponsible

Some very irresponsible people have been arrested for trying to stop the emission of yet more greenhouse gases. This was an irresponsible thing to do because it was not a law-abiding protest. The protest inconvenienced a great many people who were on a well-earned holiday, but lacked sufficient consumer goods to spend the holiday at home. The protest also inconvenienced a lot of people who were travelling on business, owing to the chronic inability of modern technology to provide rapid means of communication. Inconveniencing such people is deeply irresponsible. There is nothing wrong with protest as long as it is law-abiding. A law-abiding protest would not have inconvenienced anybody, least of all the kind of people who make money from emitting greenhouse gases. It is not irresponsible to make money from emitting greenhouse gases. The people who make money from emitting greenhouse gases are in favour of tough debate. As far as they are concerned, we can have as tough a debate as we like until 2012, or perhaps 2020, and while we're debating they'll be metastasizing the airports yet further, and perhaps building Cloud-Boris-Land in the Thames Estuary too. Then we can have another tough debate about whether yet further airports are necessary, or whether the money should be spent on building more roads instead. It is very irresponsible not to engage in such debate, especially if one's non-participation is seen as some sort of excuse for taking direct action.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

With Clear Blue Water Between

Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives, as is well known, are opposed to New New Labour's erosion of privacy and its authoritarian measures to control the public, except on those occasions when they aren't. Chris Graybeing, who has the unenviable job of opposing James Purnell while adopting the policies of James Purnell, has announced plans for wholesale invasion of the life of any family which fails to satisfy the Daveybloke administration that its members are taking the best advantage of whatever life chances the said administration may happen to omit denying them. The Daveybloke Idleness Police "could examine children's school performance or problem behaviour, check whether the parents encouraged homework and school attendance, and intervene if necessary to stop children risking future unemployment". Quite how the risk of future unemployment is to be averted, except in cases of governmental precognition and omnipotence, is apparently not a matter with which the Graybeing cares to concern itself.

This latest round of Idleness Police pushery is being announced this week in order to take full advantage of the publicity attendant upon Karen Matthews' conviction for taking advantage of the publicity attendant upon the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. "The Shannon Matthews case was a horrendous extreme and in no way typical," Graybeing observed, before implying that, while in no way typical, it was actually rather typical: "it raises the curtain on a way of life in some of our most deprived estates, of entire households who have not had any productive life for generations", perhaps since as far back as the early 1990s, when an intimate friend of Edwina Currie was in charge of his own little economic recession.

Much as the Glorious Successor might accuse the Conservatives of economic incompetence, a spokesbeing for James Purnell accused Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives of "cynically chasing headlines".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Deserving Cases

The Ministry of Fitness for Purpose has discovered that the UK is home to suspected war criminals, who are immune to prosecution because of a legal loophole that New Labour has somehow, despite its reforming, re-writing, paradigm-shifting, kaleidoscope-jangling zeal in other areas, failed to slam shut. Even now, with Tony Blair doubtless beavering away in the Middle East so as to secure the pacific legacy of George W Bush, there are 1,863 people in the country who have been investigated over possible involvement in crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. About three hundred a year are recommended for "immigration action"; a slightly lower rate than the hundred and eighty a day of which the delightful Phil Woolas boasted this October. But of course, he was talking of civilians, cancer victims, indiscreet gay people and the like; not about real people like Margaret Thatcher's friend Augusto, or even Margaret Thatcher's friend Gordon.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Public Interest Broadcasting

The pre-privatisational corporate pusillanimity that is the post-Hutton BBC has given further assurance of its dedication to New Labour values with its statement on why it cancelled a scheduled programme at the last minute, in favour of some instant current affairs about the Shannon Matthews affair. There seems to have been no particular reason why a Panorama special on British family values could not have waited until a few days after the verdict, except that the BBC felt its viewers' attention span might not survive the delay. Nevertheless, "the conviction of Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan on December 4 was felt to be of huge public interest," according to a spokesbeing, translated with typical care by the country's leading liberal newspaper as "the BBC said it believed the Panorama programme ... was in the public interest." It is true that the real-life soap opera did gain better ratings than the Dickens adaptation which it replaced, thus justifying the BBC from every possible New Labour perspective.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fair Rules for Joyous Strengthening

The European Court of Human Rights has had yet another attack of bureaucratic bonkersness and ruled that the keeping of innocent people's DNA records on a criminal register breaches the Human Rights Convention. With her usual respect for law and order, Agent Smith has decreed that the illegal statutes will remain in force. The justification for this is that "the government mounted a robust defence before the court" and that Agent Smith strongly believes that "DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime and bringing people to justice". Given the number of new crimes New Labour has invented, perhaps her concern is understandable.

In other news, a non-ministerial resource has been found guilty of lying to the public, perverting the course of justice and imprisoning a child for reasons of high finance and personal convenience. No doubt she mounted a robust defence before the court and strongly believed her actions were justified.

Fortunately, the Glorious Successor has decreed that in this country there can never be one rule for some, and another rule for others. It just wouldn't be British.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Entirely A Matter For You

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Over the past ten weeks, you have heard from a hundred witnesses about this regrettable incident which took place so long ago.

Your hearts will go out to the alleged illegal immigrant's mother, whose insistence on pursuing this matter has led to your being stuck in this stuffy courtroom when you could be out safeguarding your jobs by doing your Christmas shopping and helping the economy recover. It is true, also, that Mrs De Menezes comes from a southern, tropical country with a large Hispanic population, where excessive emotionality is as much the norm as large families in which a child or so can hardly be missed, and where the absence of an extra mouth to feed can come as a positive relief. But these are emotional reactions, ladies and gentlemen, and you are charged with returning a verdict based on evidence.

After hearing the submissions the conclusion that I have come to is that the evidence in this case taken at its highest would not justify my leaving verdicts of unlawful killing to you. It is not unlawful for a policeman to shoot an innocent man seven times in the head as a result of institutional negligence. A previous inquiry has determined that public safety was put at risk, but the Metropolitan Police has paid its debt to society in the form of a fine of a hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds which was covered by the taxpayer. Divided between seven and a half million Londoners, this amounts to approximately two point three pence per taxpayer. I am sure all those civilians who were on the Underground train when the unfortunate incident took place will consider this a small enough price to pay for not being shot.

You have, therefore, a choice of two verdicts: lawful killing and an open verdict. De Menezes was lawfully killed if the person who instantly and utterly restrained him from detonating the bomb he might possibly have had under completely different circumstances used reasonable force in self-defence or defence of another person, or to prevent a crime, or to assist in lawful arrest. You are also at liberty to return an open verdict, indicating that your time and the taxpayers' money has been entirely wasted. That is entirely a matter for you.

You may also - if you feel you must - consider the possibility that some witnesses may be lying. You may, for example, consider the testimony of officer C12, who said he warned the alleged drug-user De Menezes with a shout of "armed police". You may consider the fact that this testimony was unanimously contradicted by a lot of bleary-eyed civilians with no specialist training that would render them capable of recognising such a warning in such highly unusual circumstances. That is entirely a matter for you. But you must also decide whether the person has lied or made an honest mistake. If you can prove that the witness has lied, by telepathy or other means, you should bear unemotionally in mind that people tell lies for a variety of reasons, not necessarily to put their own part. In the context of this case it might be to mitigate the impact of what might, in an emotional person, be considered a tragic mistake or to support others in explanations they may have put forward. And then you may find yourself considering the idea that members of the best police force in the world should not exercise tact, or that they should not be permitted to give one another a modicum of comradely aid in coming through this long and painful ordeal. That is entirely a matter for you.

Even if you do find that C12 lied, remember that it does not automatically follow that he could not have been engaging in justifiable homicide, or even meritorious detrimentation. It will be a sad day for the British legal system when a policeman who fired seven shots at point-blank range into a man's head and then told untruths about the incident can be accused of being in breach of the law.

with apologies to Peter Cook

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Condi Does Georgia

George W Bush's secretary of state has issued an oracular warning about co-operating with Russia. The Russian bear is "quite ill-tempered", as may be seen from its decision to recognise as independent two provinces which broke away from Georgia. This is because Georgia is not Serbia, and also because South Ossetians are not Turkish Kurds, and the fact that Russia is not America may have something to do with it as well. With the sturdy grip on reality that befits a member of the Bush administration, Condi also said that the Russian invasion had "turned out badly for Russia, very badly" because the Russians did not bring down the Georgian government. Possibly the Russians had observed someone else's attempt at regime change and decided it might not be worth the bother. They also "managed to increase international support for Georgia, not decrease it", the word international here having its usual White House connotation of US-plus-little-helper. In the interests of world peace, the US has called for Ukraine and Georgia to "modernise their armed forces" so that Russian security concerns can be properly addressed, and to "develop stronger democratic institutions", like Uzbekistan's, for instance.

Condi has tactfully decided to curtail the embarrassment of her fellow delegates at the NATO session, and to use the time for a trip to India, which is joining Pakistan in another demonstration of the peace-keeping power of a nuclear deterrent.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Partial Comfort

It appears that a catalogue of failures can still - provided one is not a prime minister who launched an unjustified invasion of a sovereign country, or the shyster posing as an attorney general who provided the legalese, or the chancellor who poured taxpayers' money into the criminal enterprise, or the chancellor who poured taxpayers' money into private-sector profiteering schemes which benefited nobody but his chums in the City, or the chancellor who boasted about the end of boom-and-bust economics while presiding over the incubation period for the mother of all busts, or the home secretary whose department has spent millions on IT schemes that don't work, or the home secretary whose department can't provide identity cards and scanners to read them at the same time, or the defence secretary who can't feed, arm and protect his own troops, or the police chief whose force shot two innocent men, killing one and defaming them both - be grounds for sacking from a government post.