The Curmudgeon


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Urgent Business Elsewhere

Two of Gordon's most delightful resources, Agent Smith of the Ministry of Unfitness for Purpose and the Upper Miliband of the Ministry for Lesser Breeds, have been requested to appear before Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. The request appears to have been a polite one: "We don't want to hang people out to dry, this isn't about pointing the finger, but we do want to get at the truth," said the chair of the committee, Andrew Dismore. Perhaps it was this wishy-washy tone, so non-New New Labour in its lack of punitive sanctimony, which persuaded Agent Smith and the Upper Miliband that, having nothing to hide and hence nothing to fear, they might as well also have nothing to say. According to Dismore, the committee intends no more than to "make recommendations about how this [sort of embarrassment] can be avoided in the future"; but since neither Agent Smith nor the Upper Miliband seems to have much capacity for embarrassment in any case, no doubt their time could be better spent. They must both have plenty more urgent business to deal with: hair to wash, punctures to mend, that sort of thing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Daily Mail: No Longer Cheap Enough

The Daily Mail no longer sets the Government's agenda, according to the former Minister of Infant Repatriation, Liam Byrne. "What we have witnessed is a drop of the sale of tabloid newspapers, who now sell 22m fewer copies than in 1997, while viewers on TV news channels have collapsed," Byrne informed the Commons public administration committee. Well, if tabloid sales are dropping, that would certainly explain New New Labour's difficulty in appealing to anyone very much these days. "The growth is in the new media, with 100 million [people] on Facebook, YouTube and freesheets like Metro," Byrne continued, "and it is these people the government has to reach to deliver its services"; public relations and service delivery being, as usual, inseparable in the accommodationally straitened New New Labour mind.

Anyway, we should all rejoice to learn that Liam Byrne is planning a radical change in the delivery of Whitehall services over the next decade, or at least over that smallish part of the next decade during which New New Labour will remain in office. "I am only hesitating about this now because of the changed situation where, for example, we have had to hire people for front line jobs at Jobcentre Plus," Byrne said. Heaven forfend that New New Labour should not hesitate to provide work for people who are unemployed. "We will have a smaller core at the centre and be able to deliver better services," Byrne continued. If there is one thing that guarantees better services, it is having a core at the centre. "We are going to move from consultation to conversation and collaboration," Byrne predicted. This is obviously reassuring, and jolly meaningful into the bargain. Byrne also predicted that "in future, ministers would have a bigger role because they would have to oversee the public delivery of services as well as implementing policies", policy implementation and service delivery having been totally separate matters until now. Byrne also revealed that, in his opinion, the amount of time ministers take to get the hang of their jobs depends on their previous experience.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Unhappy Rendering

Well, here's a thing: it turns out that, in denying that British forces were collaborating in kidnap and torture, the Government has said the thing that was not. According to the Minister of War and the Colonies, Hutton the Thrift, some rotten apples in the SAS handed over a couple of apparent Pakistanis to the Americans, who then took them to a prison in Afghanistan where, as is customary, they are being held in "humane conditions" with access to the Red Cross. Somebody or other has known about this since 2004, but unfortunately the matter was buried in "lengthy papers" received by the serving Minister for Lesser Breeds and Minister of Unfitness for Purpose. "It is clear that the context provided did not highlight its significance at that point to the ministers concerned," said Hutton. In Standard English, this means that the anonymoids who drew up the document failed to take sufficient account of the Ministers' respective attention spans - clearly a regrettable error, but I'm sure no malice was involved. The Ministers in question were John Reid and Jack Straw, the degree of whose respect for both humane values and the law of the land is a matter of extensive public record.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Signal Failure

The managing director of London Underground, "described", in the Journalistic Passive Omniscient, "as the capital's best public servant", has resigned; which, given the kind of people who get to retain their jobs these days, makes the Journalistic Passive Omniscient look slightly more convincing than usual. As one would expect in the case of so important a British job, Tim O'Toole is an American; and as an American he has clearly failed to comprehend the underlying logic of the Glorious Successor's transport policy. Asked about the Government's refusal to invest in the Tube, O'Toole made the preposterous claim that public transport is as worthy of financial rescue as the banking system. "No bank is going to get you home at night, so where do you want to put that money?" he asked, apparently unaware that any bank which can pay cash bonuses to incompetent executives can certainly afford to buy a limousine or two for an obliging minister.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not a Service, But a Force

Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has proposed that house arrest should be extended from terror suspects to teenagers; although Chris Graybeing, who replaced David Davis as shadow secretary for Snoopery and Incarceration when Davis undertook his bizarre publicity stunt last June, has at least specified a time limit for the detention. He does not seem to have specified whether the detention would be enforced by electronic tagging, by stationing a policeman at the teenager's bedroom door, or by preventing one or other of the parents from going out to work; but then Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have never really been detaily sorts of chaps. In his first significant squeak to the Local Government Association in London, Graybeing reduced a complicated social problem to "a simple fact in the lives of many young people"; namely that "there is nobody who really says no to them. So the misdemeanours of youth go unpunished. And so they get away with it, and do it again, and again", rather like David Blunkett.

With similar analytic brilliance, Daveybloke himself observed that, over the decade which has seen the introduction of the national database, ID cards, detention without trial, control orders, a vast swathe of custodial offences and the right of the Metropolitan Police to kill innocent people with impunity, "we have seen that vital single-minded focus on crime-fighting disastrously diluted, so the Home Office and the police too often see themselves as some kind of social service". Are the police and Home Office meant to be of service to society? "No. They are not a social service. They are a force. And with a Conservative government I want them to be a force to be respected and reckoned with. They are there to fight crime. That's it," concluded Daveybloke, in fine non-nasty-party form. Other proposals by Gordon's coalition partners include "a change in licensing laws to end 24-hour drinking", presumably by stationing a policeman outside every fridge in the country; "tougher sentences for 'serious offences'", which is something New New Labour evidently haven't thought of yet; and everybody's favourite, "putting more police on the streets".

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's The Wolf!

Possible powerful protest police panic potential

Britain may face a summer of rage, according to the head of the Metropolitan Police's demonstrator control division.

Superintendent David Hartshorn warned the country's leading liberal newspaper that the economic downturn could cause severe public anger despite the Government's attempts to save the people who matter.

Political activists "intent on coming on to the streets to create public disorder" would be able to provoke a dangerous degree of middle-class irritation in people who lost their jobs, homes or savings and would otherwise march onto workfare with a song in their hearts, Hartshorn implied.

Hartshorn also said that the spirit of many demonstrations had changed from waving banners to creating disorder, in spite of the consistently salutory effect which waving banners has had on Government policy.

He warned of hardcore green activists "joining forces" with Guardian readers and other potentially real people to form powerful coalitions which could cause police increasing difficulties in maintaining law and order.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nazi Gold of Mass Destruction

One of the oldest and crudest political tricks, and therefore a New New Labour favourite, is to distract attention from one's own little indiscretions by pointing out the derelictions of others. In reasonably civilised communities, such as offices, prisons and even families, it occasionally happens that such derelictions are real ones. In politics, particularly of the Thatcherite brand which has been with us these thirty years, no such tactful discernment is necessary. If there is an economic crisis, blame the immigrants. If there is unemployment, punish those who lose their jobs. If you're the chancellor of a corrupt, ineffective, unimaginative, authoritarian government which has done everything it can to demolish what little democratic accountability your country ever had, launch a tirade against Swiss banks.

Gordon's little Darling has unilaterally expelled Switzerland from the international community, seemingly because the Americans are investigating them and Gordon wants to be shoulder to shoulder. Gordon's little Darling, the colleague of Agent Smith and Jack Straw, thinks it's important that there is transparency. Gordon's little Darling, whose boss stood by and let the Reverend Blair lie us into war, observes with an eloquence matching his candour that "half the many problems we have got now is because people didn't know what was going on". Gordon's little Darling, whose government has stretched itself ever rightwards to protect rich corporations from the control or scrutiny of those whose lives they affect, suddenly finds it "unfair" that some people "can shelter their wealth from tax that's properly paid", because "It's unfair to those people who have got no choice but to pay". And it's all the fault of the Swiss.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Appropriately Gentle

Lord Carlile of Berriew, who was elevated to the House of Donors early in the Vicar of Downing Street's first ministry to the political Angles, who is in favour of control orders and detention without charge, and who is therefore described as an "independent reviewer of the terror laws", has observed that Binyam Mohamed "may launch legal action against the US or British authorities" over his sojourn at the Guantánomaly. Accordingly, given the ways in which governments generally treat those who cause them embarrassment, Lord Carlile expects "a light and gentle touch to be applied" by the authorities "to ensure that [Mohamed] is not harassed in any way by the authorities". The evidence which put Mohamed in the Guantánomaly in the first place is so strong that there is "now little prospect of any criminal action in the UK ... over his alleged involvement in terrorism", so any possibilities of his permanent British residence being undermined are purely "theoretical", for the moment at any rate. Hence Lord Carlile, independent reviewer and joined-up thinker that he is, "would be amazed if this case was not treated with an appropriately light touch". The Upper Miliband is feeling a bit fragile these days, so Mohamed - terror suspect, ex-jailbird and dusky non-citizen with considerable Muslimity risk - will almost certainly go easy if he knows what is good for him.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh, the Humanities

An independent review of primary education has found that four decades of "reform" are beginning to show favourable results, at least from a New New Labour point of view. Although as few children as ever can read, write or count, and although the Daily Mail and its fellow uglies have not been entirely placated, pupils are leaving school with less and less knowledge of the arts and humanities, so they are unlikely in later life to suffer overmuch from the cultural poverty which will follow from the present generation's ethical and intellectual poverty. Instead, children are spending nearly half the school week proving the success and/or failure of several generations of Back to Basics, absorbing multiplication tables in preparation for the great and glorious day when the world will once more be in need of stockbrokers. Inconvenient, complicated and unnecessary subjects which may lead to moral confusion and hatred of British values - art, music, drama, history, geography - are being efficientised out of the system. Nevertheless, the review rather naïvely suggests that "a curriculum that values knowledge and understanding as well as basic skills should be brought in", and that the compulsory act of religious indoctrination should be reviewed. Clearly these people have no idea what education, education, education is all about.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gordon's Wonderful Railway

The Government has reiterated its commitment to "sharing the cost of rail services fairly between taxpayers and passengers". The Department for Transport (for transport, but not of transport; vaguely in favour, but not unduly concerned) still continues to promulgate its bizarre theological distinction between taxpayers and fare-payers, as though commuters spend every minute of every hour they endure amidst the confusion, overcrowding, inefficiency and expense of the British railway non-system thanking Gordon, Tony, the best Edwina Currie could do and various cowboy contractors that their tax money will be spent on identity cards instead. Fares are, in fact, likely to go down soon; not because of any interest on the part of the rail companies in offering their victims a better bargain, but because of the deflationary consequences of the end to boom and bust. There will also be less demand for rail services because many people will feel less inclined to commute once they have been laid off; so those who are lucky enough to retain their jobs might also be able to get a seat next year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Confidence Man

We all know, because Gordon has told us, that Britain is uniquely well placed to ride out the global recession with only minimal and acceptable casualties among the people who really matter. For this reason, Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring has had occasion to bring his unique combination of rhetorical flair and intellectual gravitas to bear upon some comments made by one Howard Schultz. Lord Mandelbrot is Britain's business secretary. Howard Schultz, by contrast, has made a fortune from selling bad coffee to the kind of people who like to perch on hard plastic in the midst of loud noise. Schultz said he was concerned about "unemployment, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, particularly in the UK," and noted that "consumer confidence, particularly in the UK, is very, very poor". Lord Mandelbrot responded with various inquiries, mainly in words of one syllable, as to the grounds for Schultz's opinion, the specifics of Schultz's identity and the state of Schultz's business empire, and questioned the logical validity of utilising a single business concern as a snapshot of the British economy as a whole. Lord Mandelbrot also stated that Schultz's business was "in a great deal of trouble ... because of their over-expansion given the state of the market".

The profits from Schultz's business dropped by almost seventy per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, while the British economy only shrank by one and a half per cent. This may explain the statement by one of Schultz's minions that, despite Schultz's statements on the direness of the economic situation in the UK, there was "no intention of criticizing the economic situation in the UK".

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tortured Phish

Date: Mon Aug 17 2008 8:00am Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients::
Subject: Yuor Letter Could Save A Life!

Deaer Mr/Mrs/Ms Bush/Clinton/McCain/O'Bama:

i DO hpope yuo rememembamar me i am David milibland i Am birtish Foriegn Sectary fro to Grodon Bron yuor Freind and odlest Ally. i cretinly remembember You particularaliliy the Wit of mr or Mrs McCLintobama calling Sir Chirststopfer Meyer a rectlal polpypyp Ha ha ha I stlil lie awack at Nghght chuckckling. i am BRITISH forgin Sectrary we win wan won the wrar togther our idnependendant nucular Determent is very well Thnak you. I wold lik like totot ot ota ottake thsis opropnitnuty to thank You whoever yuou may be on bhalf of the Birititsh Poeopole fror your Long and Friutful, Allies adn to assssure You of our contitnude Satanding Sghoulder toto Soldier onwrads in yuor adn our various Wars. as yuo may know we hvave very Old jdudges here resulttng in n Freqeuent Miscarriage pls pls pls write lettter afirmirming Pubic Dicslosure of yuo know what is likley to resuelt in damage to yr Natnal Securitya dn nad adn wolud colud HARM exitsing sharigng relatonship. I KNow it yuo Know it butt we need it in wirting cots of potsage to be pAYd by biritish Forgine FFoice. thnaks i willll be Your betst budddy forevever.

stl chuckukiling ha ha

values, DUde!!!!!!!!


Monday, February 16, 2009

Not From Around Here

Evil South American pineapple god Hugo Chávez has ushered in a return of the "big man" syndrome of charismatic autocrats which has done so much harm to the little brown peoples of Latin America, the Caribbean and the United Fruit Company.

Venezuelans have voted in a referendum to abolish the limit on the number of terms elected officials can serve, thus making the country's electoral system more like Britain's. Chávez claimed that staying in office for more than a decade was not unusual, and cited US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but not British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Now that Chávez has gained a veneer of legality for his Islamo-Communist revolution, some analysts predict stagflation and devaluation of the currency - a situation Chávez is ill equipped to cope with as he is unlikely to be willing to throw money at banks just because they are unable to cope with the rigours of the free market.

Many Venezuelans blame Chávez for introducing such non-British reforms as free health care and food discounts. However, at least one Venezuelan credits Chávez with crumbling infrastructure, high crime and inflation, despite the presence of a political opposition which actually disagrees with his policies.

"Many who are worried about unlimited executive power will be dispirited by the results. The record of such indefinite re-election in the region has been very unhappy," said Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank, who is probably not British.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Limits of Debate

The Liberal Democrat spokesbeing for the Olympics, reality television and football has just discovered that heavy drinkers tend to suffer from liver problems, and that a larger percentage of liver transplants went to people with alcohol-related problems last year than the year before. The Observer calls the result "a furious row".

The chairman of the BMA's ethics committee said that surgeons can refuse to carry out transplants on alcoholics if they don't show that they are willing to look after themselves better. A parental rent-a-quote provided the simple solution in which those convenient entities specialise: "If there are two people side by side wanting a liver, and both have the right tissue match, and one is an alcoholic and one isn't, there's no contest - you take the one who's not an alcoholic, they are more entitled". The surgeon who gave George Best a new liver stated that "if you knew someone was going to be recidivist, you wouldn't take them on for a transplant", and a spokesbeing for the NHS authority which oversees transplants said that the patient's surgeon assesses whether the customer "is fit physically and is able to cope with the rigours of living after a transplant."

For a furious row, this all sounds jolly civilised. Nobody said, for instance, that alcoholics have as much right to transplants as anyone else who may happen to be first in the queue. Nobody said that dental treatment should be prioritised for those who, according to the relevant national database, brush twice a day and avoid sugar. Nobody said that organ donation to save lives ought to be a social duty, like driving carefully or living sustainably, whatever the peculiar scruples of those who believe their omnipotent Deity incapable of resurrecting a body that has been dissected rather than burned or eaten. Nobody mentioned that scientific research using human embryos might be of help. Nobody dared whisper that Britain's "binge drinking culture" might be related to any other aspect of British culture, including some that were quite respectable until recently. The Liberal Democrat spokesbeing for the Olympics, reality television and football thinks that "we have to look again at raising the price of the cheapest alcohol", which will do wonders thanks to the famous rationality of the typical drug addict in prioritising his expenses.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Call of Cthulhu

Andrew Leman 2005

Now that the development of modern special effects means his tentacled monstrosities can be represented in the most literal and lifelike fashion, there are only two real problems involved in filming the major works of H P Lovecraft. One of these problems is the film industry; the other is the major works of H P Lovecraft. However convincing the tentacles might be, no Hollywood producer and few genuine film-makers would be willing to tackle the main theme of Lovecraft's stories and the true source of their horror, namely the temporary and insignificant nature of humanity in a vast, indifferent and incomprehensible cosmos. Certainly, no script that faithfully reflected his stories' structural complexity and lack of soap-opera characters or Sunday-supplement moralities would ever be green-lighted for any adequately budgeted or properly distributed production.

The H P Lovecraft Historical Society (whose motto is Latin for "we thought it would be fun") has sidestepped these difficulties in appropriately antiquarian fashion by filming Lovecraft's 1926 novella The Call of Cthulhu in silent black-and-white, with intertitles and a "Rich Symphonic Score" - much as it might have been done if the film-makers of Lovecraft's time had possessed the imagination and intestinal fortitude which are so conspicuously lacking in the CGI-hacks and remake-hawkers of our own.

The film faithfully preserves the story's complex narrative structure, with its multiple narrators and shifts back and forth in time; but the makers have not confused fidelity with reverence, and have exercised considerable powers of imagination in turning the novella into a thoroughly watchable and chilling piece of cinema. The opening image - a nearly completed jigsaw of Van Gogh's Starry Night - is a fine example of their eye for resonant detail. The use of intertitles means that the portentous resonances of Lovecraft's written prose can be preserved without the need of a voice-over to translate for the intellectually Hollywood; and the story's beginning and ending are cleverly transposed so that the narrator's injunction to keep the horror secret comes first, while the novella's famous opening paragraphs ("The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents...") comprise the film's powerful epilogue.

Naturally, the special effects have an archaic look, particularly at the climax when Cthulhu rises from the sea; and there are some deliberately old-fashioned visuals such as the time-honoured map with busily progressing dotted lines to show the narrator's voyages around the world. Nevertheless, the episode of the police raid on the cultists' ceremony includes several images of violence and grue that would have been even less tolerable in 1926 than the grimly modern premise of a hostile and amoral universe. The alien geometry of Cthulhu's island is conveyed quite effectively, although inevitably it is here that the film's technical limitations are most evident. At least one brief but startling effect, when a man disappears into the angle between two stones, shows that simplicity can still be a virtue.

Lovecraft himself believed that a weird tale should supplement, rather than contradict, the known facts of science and history, and that it should therefore be constructed with the care and verisimilitude that one would devote to a good hoax. By that criterion, The Call of Cthulhu is unquestionably a Lovecraftian film; indeed, despite the adaptation of various minor tales by Stuart Gordon and his ilk, it may be the only genuinely Lovecraftian film yet made. Its status as a labour of love shines forth from every frame.

Friday, February 13, 2009


We all know, because the Government has told us, that New Labour and its Glorious Successor have spent more money on the National Health Service than any previous government, and possibly more than any government in history has ever before spent on just about anything. Here is where some of it went. The National Programme for IT, whose acronym spells out an appropriately inarticulate splutter, "aims to create a centralised medical records system for 50 million patients in England". The Government claims (or "believes", according to the Press Association's Journalistic Telepathy Unit) that "this will benefit patient care and could prove vital in an emergency". What it has actually done, at an overall cost of twelve thousand million pounds, is increase the workload of staff, reduce the number of patients who can be treated, and put the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead ten million out of pocket. "I had been led to believe it would all work," commented the hospital's hapless chief executive. A spokesbeing from the Department of Health Service Privatisation said that the Government was "learning lessons" from the fiasco, which lessons are expected "to help us improve further deployments". It must be a great comfort for all those patients to know that their non-treatment has contributed in some small way to the very real possibility that the next foul-up will be slightly more spectacular than the present one.

If any further consolation were needed, the Government also plans "an online booking system, e-prescriptions and fast computer network links between NHS organisations", with sharing of information between health professionals, pharmacists, hackers, selected passengers on public transport and the more socially responsible members of the business community.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bad Company

A member of the House of Donors, who defected from Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives because they didn't hate foreigners loudly enough, has invited Geert Wilders, a Dutch Muslim-baiter, into the country; Agent Smith, with her usual mix of cool-headness and political subtlety, has decreed that he "would pose a genuine, present and significantly serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society", and has ordered that he be kept out. This comes dangerously close to slander, as a previous Minister of Unfitness for Purpose used very similar terms while playing a delightful jest upon a Muslim prisoner at the Guantánomaly. We must hope for Agent Smith's sake that the unfortunate victim does not decide to interpret an implied comparison with Geert Wilders as an instance of religious hatred.

New New Labour, whose wish to speak peace unto nations is such that it has used anti-terrorism laws against a friendly government, wants to "stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country", unless they work for Rupert Murdoch or the extremism happens to be of the neoliberal, Zionist or Saudi variety. Wilders has made a film called Fitna, which is no doubt plastered all over the internet but which would threaten one of the fundamental interests of our society if it happened to be screened in the presence of Geert Wilders. The film apparently juxtaposes images of the attacks on the World Trade Centre with quotations from the Koran, thus proving in seventeen minutes that the Koran is a "fascist book". Meanwhile, Wilders' host Lord Pearson has urged the Government "to sponsor a conference into whether the Old Testament, New Testament and Qur'an contained justification for violence", or whether God was kidding.

Rather touchingly, Wilders, who has called for the Koran to be banned, invoked the right to free speech which both he and New New Labour believe should be granted only to the right people: "Even if you don't like me and don't like the things I say then you should let me in for freedom of speech. If you don't, you are looking like cowards." Fortunately for British democracy and Saudi values, looking like cowards is not an experience to which New New Labour are altogether unaccustomed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Care-Oriented Thrustingness, Trust-Friendly Cutworthiness

Now that the virtues of the free market have been demonstrated in such devastating fashion, the governing faction of the Business and Bankers' Party has decided that the scope for profiteering is still just not quite wide enough. Accordingly, the Minister for Compassion, Liam Byrne, has announced that he wants to see businesses running schools, health centres, youth clubs and children's centres. Apparently this is because Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring, whose post as business secretary gives him absolute jurisdiction over such enterprises as public health, education and children's welfare, has called for a summit on taking money away from the NHS and pumping it into innovative, businesslike and profit-making companies "while retaining an ethical mission". Byrne, who is a New New Labour minister and knows a thing or two about ethics (though evidently not the difference between ethics and ethos), has heard somewhere that "if people in business thought more about the benefit to the public of their work, rather than a personal bonus, then our country could have avoided a great deal of pain". Strangely, he does not appear to have said anything about removing the legal obligations upon people in business to make a profit above all else, or even about recanting the New New Labour doctrine that the footpad morals practised by the likes of Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Lord Mandelbrot himself are identical with "retaining an ethical mission".

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yes, But Is The Scrap Heap Cheap Enough?

Even today, some unlucky souls are sheltered enough to be shocked when it transpires that New New Labour have been cutting social care services for the elderly. Well before the Chancellor needed money to throw at the banks, but contemporaneously with the swingeing rises in food and heating costs, local authorities made a cut of just over one and a half per cent in spending on care for "vulnerable pensioners". I do not know whether vulnerable in this context is Standard English or New New Labour jargon; if the latter, it presumably designates those pensioners too frail to take advantage of the Ivan Lewis Work for Food and Stop Neighbourhood Murder scheme. The cut coincides with a four per cent increase in the number of people aged over eighty-five, whom research has shown display considerable obduracy when it comes to retraining and flexible working: almost as bad as Cabinet ministers. The chairman of the Local Government Association's "community wellbeing board", a title I can only wish I had made up, contrived to miss the point entirely by noting that "it is increasingly urgent that we address the issue of how the country will pay for the care of our ageing population". Our ageing population is increasingly numerous, but also physically vulnerable and not a major donor to either member of the governing coalition; the only urgency surrounding the issue is how to get away with bigger and better cuts.

The Glorious Successor's spokesbeing for social neglect, Phil Hope - in the circumstances, a name nearly as unfortunate as "community wellbeing board" - responded by pulling a number from his magical ministerial rectum and reiterating all the promises New Labour has been breaking for the past dozen years or so.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Meno male che Silvio c'è

We have known for a long time that, to the godly, a womb is worth more than a life; now, thanks to the technology that can keep people's organs working long after the spirit has departed, we can see that a womb is also worth more than a death. One of the Vicar of Downing Street's very best chums has precipitated a constitutional crisis in Italy by issuing an emergency decree to rescue the dead body of a woman from a decent funeral. The woman, Eluana Englaro, has been in a vegetative state since a car accident in 1992, and the neo-Nazi eugenicists who pervade the medical profession have assured her father that she will never regain consciousness. Fortunately, Silvio Berlusconi and his friends at the Vatican are not the sort of men to let their moral uprightness be tainted by the petty, materialistic distinction that holds between a living human being and a mechanically stimulated piece of dead flesh. "This is murder," Silvio pronounced of the ten-year effort by Englaro's father to have his daughter's remains left in peace. "I would be failing to rescue her. I'm not a Pontius Pilate." With a degree of tact and sensitivity that even the Vicar of Downing Street might struggle to emulate, Silvio also noted that the woman's body is "in the condition to have babies".

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bold Faces or Regular Types?

What on earth are this lot plotting, between the misquotes in which they appear to revel? "A one-off stunt of superlative ultra-stunningness" is a reasonable enough soft sell by internet standards, but it's regrettably vague when it comes to your actual profit and loss scenario vis-à-vis the money you're asked to part with. As taxpayers, and hence as shareholders in an ever-increasing number of major banks, we should probably treat such claims with the caution they deserve. "Spontaneous human cold fusion, joining all the dots and zapping neurons" sounds rather jolly, if you care for point-to-point brainfire in the Fleischmann-Pons style; but it all sounds a bit formidable to me. Even setting the government ablaze has its problems, of which the burble and squeak of sautéed Smith and shallow-fat-fried Hoon might well be the least and lightest. There is little enough security in life as it is; do we really want to sacrifice time and wherewithal that might be better spent in battening hatches and biting nails, for the sake of some hypothetical prank which may achieve little more than a bit of burning rubbish? Can we really wash away our maybes and still remain faithful to Enlightenment values? Is there a worse pun than "shift the powerdime"? I've spent money on stupider things than finding out.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Performance-Related Pay

Some toxic agents at HBOS have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds because, as a spokesbeing said, "it is a matter of law that employees at every level have a legal right to their contractual entitlements" unless breaking the law is cheaper. The contractual entitlements for HBOS' directors apparently amount to ten per cent of their shares' value at the time the shares were granted, rather than the somewhat crunched value at the time of the takeover by Lloyds. The chief executive, Andy Hornby, who refused some of his own entitlements, may have profited by a quarter of a million or so, or slightly less than the cost of a few inches of snow.

Speculation being such a demonstrably wonderful thing, there is "growing speculation in Westminster that the government will be forced to follow Barack Obama in the US and impose pay restrictions on bank executives who have sought bailouts". If the speculation proves true, it will doubtless be the first time New New Labour has followed White House policy because it was forced to. If bombs were involved, no doubt that would be a different matter.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Peers and Peepers

Once again, the health of our democracy is shown in its full pox-ridden skeletal horror as the House of Donors reports on New New Labour's surveillance state. Our Mother of Parliaments' upper chamber is unelected, unreliable, out of date and contains Peter Mandelson and a couple of dozen bishops; it is long overdue for reform, and no doubt within a few more years the entrepreneurial, cash-for-legislation process that makes headlines today will have become the normal and acceptable way of doing business. For the moment, however, the House of Donors remains a force of conservatism, pointing out that Britain "leads the world in the use of CCTV, with an estimated 4m cameras", some of which may well work some of the time; and that more than seven per cent of the population has already been entered on the national DNA database, some of it no doubt with a degree of accuracy that might reasonably be designated as relatively considerable. The Vicar of Downing Street's precautions against letting the terrorists change our way of life represent "one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the second world war", according to the report by the cross-party constitution committee, which questions the right of local authorities to mount covert surveillance operations and is even anti-British enough to claim that Agent Smith's pet database might be used for "malign purposes". Heaven knows what possibilities their foul, suspicious, geriatric minds may have conjured up; fortunately Agent Smith is working on a new and even more protective database "tracking everybody's emails, calls, texts and internet use", while the Minister of Profitable Prisons wishes "to lower barriers on the widespread sharing of personal data across the public sector" without going to the trouble of leaving it on public transport.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The World Is Now A Less Tortured Place

The Glorious Successor, as a member of the Government that shares its values with the House of Saud; the Glorious Successor, as a member of the Government that condoned Abu Ghraib, found the Guantánomaly to be a regrettable public-relations episode, connived at "extraordinary rendition" and thought that useful intelligence could be gained by allowing the Uzbekistan kleptarchy's thugs to extract information in their own special way; the Glorious Successor, whose Home Secretary happily deports people to Iran while advising them to be "discreet" about those aspects of their lives which might offend the Mad Mullahs; the Glorious Successor, before whose word as a New Labour chancellor and New New Labour prime minister we cannot help but genuflect, has stated that his "policy is not to support torture or to condone torture, and we support President Obama in his decision that the US will not use torture either". Well, that settles that, and no mistake. What a relief.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cave In, Cover Arse: The British Spirit Strikes Again

The Upper Miliband having brought his vast political clout and formidable strength of character to bear on the new American Secretary of State, it appears that the special relationship, with all the commitment to Saudi values thus implied, remains as gooey as ever it was. Thanks to a timely threat by the US that it will stop sharing intelligence with the Poodle Archipelago, no evidence about possible MI5 complicity in torture at the Guantánomaly can be released.

The reaction of the Upper Miliband when Hillary strapped on the dildo and bade him yield up his smooth-bore can, of course, only be imagined. Doubtless the Upper Miliband wrestled long and hard with whatever pastel-blue butterfly passes for his conscience before decisively rejecting the option of being the first British foreign secretary in sixty-five years to declare independence from Washington. As so often when the possibility of embarrassment to the Government is both genuine and ministerially manifest, national security has been deemed to be at stake. Given that the state of Britain's national security has hovered somewhere in the gibbering-insanity band of "very serious indeed" ever since July 2005, with comparatively few casualties beyond the reputation and credibility of the Metropolitan Police, I confess I find it difficult to muster much concern.

The depth and strength of any moral objections Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives may have to kidnapping and torture was evidenced in the deafening silence of the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who presumably had some more profitable use for his time. It was left to a back-bencher to demand a statement on the matter from the Government.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snow in Winter

Panic as North Atlantic island gets cold in February

Frozen flakes of crystallised water have fallen from the sky over Britain, plunging the country into crisis and causing billions of pounds to be lost by those firms foolish enough to employ British workers in British jobs.

Two-thirds of water consists of hydrogen atoms, isotopes of which are utilised in the manufacture of thermonuclear weapons.

The particles of non-privatised moisture, hardened by sub-zero temperatures into blinding white crystals of ice, fell from immense heights and in vast quantities on Sunday and Monday, disrupting public transport and frightening thousands into staying in bed.

The disaster is thought to have resulted from an unexpected lowering of temperature, which occurred without warning despite the winter season.

The Minister of Warmth-Sustainable Comfort said that the Government sympathised with the idle elderly, and advised those with high energy bills to seek accommodation in EU countries with higher cold weather payments.

Government spokesbeings have also blamed immigrants, terrorism, the Human Rights Act and the government and people of the Republic of Iceland. Her Majesty's Opposition has blamed immigrants, terrorism, the Human Rights Act, the minimum wage and the Government.

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has suspended all environmental measures in the capital until further notice, so that climate change may be combated by market forces unmolested by political correctness and bendy buses.

Conditions in the British capital are thought to be worse than at almost any time since the last time it snowed in February.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Let Not Poor Davey Starve

David Blunkett, the former Secretary for Human Resource Expendability, has once more disappointed those who look to New New Labour for examples of straight dealing, financial probity and hard-working families. There can't be many such people by now, of course; but we all know how important it is for the irrational beliefs of fanatical minorities to be coddled as much as possible.

Blunkett has just remembered to change his entry in the House of Commons register of interests to include a trip to South Africa courtesy of A4e, a human resource redistribution company which is hoping to profit from the Glorious Successor's flexible (or, in Standard English, privatised) welfare programme. The Commons public administration select committee recently said that, for the sake of appearances, ex-ministers should at least wait until they stopped drawing an MP's salary before starting to profiteer by the contacts they made while in government; Blunkett responded with a "forthright attack", criticising the rules for failing to measure up to his exacting standards of elasticity. He claimed that his failure to register the South Africa visit was "an honest mistake" - a line the minions of James "We're Closing In" Purnell have heard so many millions of times before - and noted that the price of compelling ministers to work for the taxpayer rather than themselves would be to "get people thinking very hard indeed as to whether they take ministerial office because they would be dead in the water afterwards". This would be a great pity, obviously.

Blunkett also noted that his present youthful vigour and alpha-male breeding capacity meant that he would have to continue "earning" (or, in Standard English, grafting) for at least the next ten or fifteen years. Here Blunkett briefly extricates his finger from the cookie jar and places it on one of the root causes of our present political difficulties; namely the dire psychological consequences of becoming a minister too early. Many, if not most, of our major political figures have spent their whole lives in politics without gaining any experience of the real world. Attlee worked with slum children and, like Macmillan, fought in the First World War; Wilson was an academic and statistician; Thatcher was a research chemist. Even Churchill, who had no particular interests in life beyond the aggrandisement of Winston Churchill, felt obliged to serve in India for a bit before allowing his mother to start his political career. Even Thatcher's universally undistinguished successor, whose name escapes me for the moment, managed to attain some brief real-world glory in insurance and garden ornaments.

By contrast, much like the deified Churchill, the Vicar of Downing Street made a perfunctory effort at contributing to society (as a rock music promoter and lawyer) before getting his father-in-law to inveigle him into the Labour party. Similarly, Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative went straight from Eton to the exalted position of parliamentary gofer for his parliamentary godfather, Tim Rathbone MP, with three months' youth opportunity training in Hong Kong; and thence to Oxford and the Conservative Research Department. This, plus a couple of decades maturing in the Westminster hothouse, will probably qualify Daveybloke for the post of prime minister before he is fifty, whereupon his most pressing wish will probably be to win more elections than the Vicar of Downing Street did, and the race for the Historic Fourth Term will shape the country's destiny thenceforward. Even if Daveybloke manages to cling on as Prime Minister for twenty years (which Beelzebub in his infinite mercy forfend), he will still only be in his mid-sixties when he is thrown out; while the age for compulsory retirement is likely to be somewhere in the mid-eighties if it still exists at all. Daveybloke will have much time, and possibly a mistress or two, on his hands. How else, other than by trading on contacts made in government, will poor little Davey survive? After all, despite thirteen years of New Labour and two decades of Cuddly Conservatism, it is entirely possible that by 2030 there may still be no effective re-training schemes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Fantastic: orcs destroyed by elves.
Children's: the good guys live and learn.
Historical: then came ourselves.
Sci-fi: we still have time to burn.
Postmodern: author, reader, gone.
Western: progress, guns and men.
War: they died, their hate lives on.
Romance: they never met again.

Fubley Gorbloze