The Curmudgeon


Monday, March 30, 2009

It May Not Be Saving the World, But It's Something

Doubtless in the same spirit of valedictory vindictiveness that prompted his spiritual predecessor to privatise the railways, the Glorious Successor has announced a pay freeze for ministers. It is not entirely clear whether this is a private sector pay freeze (i.e. a pay rise in line with inflation, so that spending power remains unaltered) or a public sector pay freeze (i.e. a freeze in the amount of money paid, so that spending power decreases in line with inflation). Members of Parliament have not been asked to follow suit, and no doubt those who really matter can claim the balance as expenses; but at least the Glorious Successor has ensured that Daveybloke and his Cuddly Conservatives will have to go without admitting to a pay rise during their first couple of years in office. At last he can feel he has achieved something.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not Much of a Future

A future edition of the Financial Times which drifted through a wormhole in central London yesterday was greeted with scepticism by present-day media. The Real FT praised the presentation, but a former columnist criticised the lack of authenticity in the content, although she admitted that the effect of spoofery was mitigated by headlines that were "particularly bad", and others lauded the contents as "fairly dry". The Guardian attributed one of its own misprints to the future newspaper's Jackson Streicher, misspelled the name of tradeaid correspondent Wimsey Potchot, and declined to comment on the quoted comments of retired Guardian editor Allan Fusbudget. Also in the Guardian, anti-lightbulb campaigner George Monbiot provoked one commenter into confusing humour with satire, and another into claiming that Jackson Streicher was more sober than Shakespeare. Someone else noted that the paper was not an onion.

Update And the Christian Science Monitor, of all things, said that the paper "oozed with snarky zeitgeist".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paper Tiger

The plot, after all that, would appear to be an obscure effort to induce regurgitation on the Clapham omnibus by means of publishing a newspaper. Although, for the discerning citizen, almost any ordinary newspaper would undoubtedly do the trick just as well, somebody or other has seen fit to disseminate one "from a print run far, far away, way into the future, in fact. From 2020, in fact". There is, of course, much proliferation these days of cosmic wormholes through which drop future first drafts of the history that is yet to come; I used to have one such in my own living room, as a glance at the earlier archives of this weblog will demonstrate. But it is one thing to derive harmless fun and profit from gambling on events that may or may not come to pass, and quite another to entice hard-working families, with a blatant promise of FREE BEER, into rising at dawn so that they may inflict emetic futures on the investors and infotainers who have done so much to make our country what it is today. Such guerrilla pamphleteering tactics are completely against the traditions of dissent and democracy in the country that produced John Lilburne, William Blake and William Hone, and jailed the first, neutered the second and forgot the third. Beware, beware.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Both Barrels

We have become intolerably tired of scolding the rogues and dunces of this village to no purpose. The more shrilly we clamor against them the more irreclaimable they become. It has just dawned on us in the light of a revelation, that mere verbal satire is a delusion and a cheat - that the battles of intellect are waged with stuffed clubs - that the pen is not only less mighty than the sword, but is even inferior to a well-wielded hand saw. In accordance with this new and wholly original view, we have decided upon a course of action designed, we prayerfully hope, to exterminate knavery and folly, in the brief period required for a complete oscillation in the tail of a lively lamb. Our abusive personalities will be continued for our own private delectation, but for the actual punishment of crime and stupidity we shall send round a man with a shotgun.
Ambrose Bierce

Now, this looks rather interesting. "Guys (and Gals), we have a crisis on our hands. Our only possible response? Satire." That's what I like to hear, although the suggestion of a newspaper about climate change called The Daily Planet tends to set my Lex Luthor complex tingling. Anyway, the author seems to be affiliated with this lot, who are clearly plotting something.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Conditionally Human

The empty suit which inhabits the Ministry of Dawn Raids and Deportations has stated that New New Labour "will not backtrack ... or repeal" the Human Rights Act as long as circumventing it is working so well. On the other hand, the suit does believe that "more could be done to bring out the responsibilities which accompany rights"; in other words, human rights should not be conditional upon anything so simplistic as merely being human, but should rest upon a firm and democratic foundation of doing as one is told. The suit hopes to "entrench progressive values for the long term" with a bill of rights which would lecture people on financial probity, environmental responsibility and obeying the law. In return for fulfilling these obligations, the citizenry may expect "social and economic rights, such as free healthcare", none of which would be enforceable in the courts.

Meanwhile, the Other Out With Wogs, Down With Frogs Party is pledged, as part of its disengagement from the sordid affairs of continental Europe, to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a "British bill of rights"; to which end Daveybloke's cuddly spokesbeing for the prison industry has promised "fewer rights, more wrongs", presumably because New Labour's impressive tariff of new criminal offences is not enough for him.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seditious Libel

A Liberal Democrat MP is trying to get the seventeenth-century law against seditious libel repealed; seditious libel being the life-sentence crime of writing something that brings into hatred or contempt the Queen, her heirs, the government, or the constitution and justice system. A few purely random examples of such heinous activity might be an Act of Parliament which outlawed peaceful protest; a plagiarised and badly edited internet document on the weapons capacity of a foreign country; a memorandum to a diplomat asserting the wonders of torture; any single example from a horrendous quantity of speeches claiming that the NHS has never had it so good and the BBC is safe in our hands and it's the end of boom and bust and bippety-boppety-boo; and doubtless this is one crime that New New Labour will be only too happy to see removed from the statute books.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tragedies, Statistics, Prices Worth Paying

It is six years since the invasion of Iraq, which makes the Iraq war approximately the same age as the late Ivan Cameron. Gordon Brown responded to Ivan Cameron's death with a tribute to three servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and went on to note that "every child is precious and irreplaceable, and the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure". He also said that "politics can sometimes divide us. But there's a common human bond that unites us in sympathy and compassion at times of trial and in support for each other at times of grief." Either someone else has been bankrolling our contribution to the Iraq war all this time, or some children are less precious and more replaceable than others.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On What Will Help All of Us

Gordon's little Darling has decided not to follow the Obama administration in limiting the salaries of executives at banks which the taxpayer is bailing out. Gordon's little Darling has stated that he was "never an advocate of light-touch regulation"; hence the fact that his light-touch regulation helped to wreck the economy is self-evidently someone else's fault: "there were many in the house who were" advocates of light-touch regulation, so that settled that. Such are the perils of an absolute parliamentary majority.

Gordon's little Darling believes that regulation needs to be "more intrusive", though perhaps not quite so intrusive as the regulation required by Agent Smith and James "We're Closing In" Purnell in keeping the idle poor under control. Gordon's little Darling believes that regulators need to ask questions of those they regulate. This sounds like a jolly good idea. Gordon's little Darling believes that regulators need to ask questions of those they regulate "because it is too important for them not to." Therefore, in a rapid ejaculation of prioritisational dynamism, Gordon's little Darling plans to "put forward measures to strengthen our regulatory regime and get back to economic recovery as soon as possible", because that "will help all of us", even those whose salaries have not been capped.

Gordon's little Darling would like to see the excesses in the banking sector curbed, but not if it means doing anything to curb the excesses in the banking sector. Gordon's little Darling has warned that a decline in bonuses for people who are greedy and incompetent would harm those public finances which are not already being pumped into the non-capped salaries and the non-curbed bonuses of the non-sacked executives of the non-lending banks for which the public finances are paying. "I expect the revenue from bonuses to fall although I do have to say that that is a double-edged thing," said Gordon's little Darling. After all, the Obama administration has over forty months to run, whereas Gordon's little Darling could be looking for a job in the profiteering sector within the year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Deniable Snoopery, Macrofraternal Listeninity

The Minister for Dawn Raids and Deportations has evidently been informed - perhaps by someone in the Obama administration - that certain aspects of the surveillance state make for bad public relations. The empty suit has announced that he has dropped plans to make the DNA data, tax records, medical files and miscellaneous other information about much of the population available to the police, Whitehall departments, the private companies which pay those who run the Whitehall departments, and miscellaneous public bodies. Of course, the fact that a New New Labour minister has announced the dropping of a measure can hardly be taken as indicating that it will in fact be dropped; but given New New Labour's abiding concern with operating inside the law at all times, and ensuring that ministers and the private companies which run them do likewise, I am sure somebody or other will be jolly reassured.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ababil Babble

The forces of freedomisation have claimed another brilliant victory in Iraq, detecting and shooting down an Iranian surveillance drone. The international community, which has probably bagged over a million Iraqis during the past six years, has frequently accused Iran of interfering militarily in Iraq. Drones of the same manufacture were apparently used by Hezbollah to carry explosives during the Righteous State's Lebanon rampage in 2006, in a chilling echo of Saddam Hussein's anti-semitic squibs during the first Gulf War, Hitler's V-weapons, the Holocaust, etc. It took two manned jets just over an hour to destroy the device, presumably because they first had to determine that it was neither capable of shooting back nor armed with the invisible weapons of mass destruction which are so common in that part of the world. The Americans also took the time to confirm that the thing did not belong to coalition forces, which indicates a new and welcome degree of circumspection. The head of military operations at the Iraqi defence ministry said that the drone was in Iraqi airspace by accident, while an American lieutenant somewhere in Baghdad said that it was not. It is as yet unclear which of them outranks the other.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Balanced Picture

The number of significant deaths in Afghanistan has risen to a hundred and fifty, according to the Ministry for War and the Colonies. A number with a zero on the end, of course, always has that little extra bit of significance, so the Ministry has decided to temper grief with joy by telling the Press Association an anecdote about a Royal Marine using a shoulder-launched missile to foil a roadside bomb plot and kill three "enemies of Afghanistan". According to the spokesbeing for the friends of Afghanistan, devices such as the one the nasties were trying to plant are "totally indiscriminate", quite unlike your average cluster bomb; "and it is highly likely that if it had detonated, it would have been innocent people from Sangin who would have been killed or injured", despite the fact that the locals were "avoiding the area".

Friday, March 13, 2009

History Men

Certain of history's first drafters appear depressingly behind the times. I learned in primary school in the 1970s that the Vikings were not all rapers and pillagers and that some of them settled in Britain and went native. About the same time I read in a Ladybird book about Alfred the Great, which was probably published in the early 1960s, that some of the Danes converted to Christianity. I knew by the time I was fifteen that the Vikings colonised Normandy, Russia, Greenland, America and points elsewhere and that the stereotype of savage invaders was nearly as idiotic as the idea of ethnically pure Britishness. All of this appears to be news to the Independent, however; which may help to explain why their deputy political editor regards as controversial the idea that the Vicar of Downing Street "'spun' Britain into war" on Iraq.

Update A Bookfinder search reminds me that the Ladybird book was written by one L du Garde Peach; a name I can scarcely believe I managed to forget. It came out in 1956, and thus ended with a panegyric on "English law and English justice", as opposed to British, being known and respected throughout the world.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Up Yours, Delors

Now that power is within their reach, Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have decided they can afford to drop the mask a bit more on the way to redefining their redefinition of their definition as the other Out with Wogs, Down with Frogs party. Their Europe spokesbeing, Mark Francois (I wonder if he pronounces it Frank-oyce, and if not, how long he can expect to last), and the shadow Minister for Lesser Breeds have been to Strasbourg in order to sever their formal connection with the mainstream right-wing bloc in the European parliament. Among the parties who are either too foreign or too left-wing for Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives is that of the Vicar of Downing Street's very dear chum, Silvio Berlusconi, which Britain's leading liberal newspaper refers to as "mainstream centre-right". Opponents of Hague's UDI policy see it as "a move voluntarily pushing the party to the fringes of European politics", as though the party had ever been, or had ever wished to be, anywhere else.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Though He Fleece Me, Yet I Will Trust In Him

Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring has once again demonstrated the New New Labour brand of open and accountable government by warning that any opposition to his plans to privatise the Post Office will mean the Government will make less money from the deal, and hence will not be able to bail out quite as many bankers as might otherwise have been hoped. Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring is embarrassed by the number of strikes at the Royal Mail, which he believes show a lack of trust. Among the strict criteria which Lord Mandelbrot plans to impose on potential profiteers is the ability to "manage stakeholders successfully, including relations with the workforce and unions"; self-evidently, such people will be able to cope with strikes and lack of trust, but "the shrill nature of some of the current debate" about a policy on which New New Labour has already decided is clearly a step too far. Other strict criteria include the ability to "help transform the letters business", or, in Standard English, help to turn a service into a business, with the kind of wondrous results we have already seen in the energy business, the water business, the rail business and so forth; the ability to "modernise Royal Mail's network", or, in Standard English, close any post offices whose continued operation fails to augment the financial security of the appropriate people; and "the financial terms they offer and their ability to finance it" which, it must be admitted, has not been much in evidence as a criterion for the profiteers of our rail, water and energy businesses.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Not Quite As Severe As Direct Pressure

Liberty, the Liberal Democrats and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition all think there should be a judicial inquiry into the possibility of collusion by Britain's Great Gamers in the torturing of Binyam Mohamed. Apparently a few slightly embarrassing love letters passed from MI5 to the CIA, wherein the Great Gamers begged the Global Cops for the chance to give of their inestimable wisdom: "We believe that our knowledge of the UK scene may provide contextual background useful during any continuing interview process. This may enable individual officers to identify any inconsistencies during discussions. This will place the detainee under more direct pressure and would seem to be the most effective way of obtaining intelligence on Mohamed's activities/plans concerning the UK," one memorandum oozed. MI5 claims that, despite its knowledge of the UK scene and useful contextual background, it did not know where the said detainee was or what sort of "direct pressure" was being applied because the CIA refused to say. It is not clear as yet whether this refusal was made on the CIA's own cognizance or requested by the British foreign secretary.

Andrew Dismore, the chair of the joint parliamentary committee on human rights, has said he will ask Agent Smith and the Upper Miliband to explain how Britain's policy against torture (or, in Standard English, Britain's policy in favour of torture) is being implemented. Given the degree of respect which Agent Smith and the Upper Miliband have shown for Andrew Dismore and the joint parliamentary commitee on human rights, it's no wonder that Britain's leading liberal newspaper believes all this qualifies as "severe pressure" on ministers.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Non-Isolational Identification, Cavity-Oriented Satiation

Since a change of policy is out of the question, the Government has decided on another significant change in "political strategy"; in Oldspeak, a nice new manicure for the wagging moral finger. The business secretary, Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring, and the Secretary for Worker Flexibility, John Denham, apparently decided six months ago that it might not be a bad idea for them to work together; half a year later, they have concluded, in Denham's words: "We need to be able to say what sort of country this is going to be." Well, there's a unique selling point if ever there was one. Denham also believes that, as far as the Parliamentary Labour Party is concerned, "the crucial thing is rebuilding confidence and getting some backbone into people again", so that they will stop listening to their constituents and rebelling against the whip.

What else do we need? Well, I'm jolly glad you asked. "We need a much more active and interventionist approach to building up Britain's economic strengths in the future. You cannot just hope it is going to happen", which is what everyone has been doing so far; "you have to align everything government does", by getting the business secretary and the skills secretary to speak to each other now and then, for purely random example; but also "including in the way you invest in research, in skills and the way you invest to build the areas of the economy like low carbon, the digital economy, nuclear power"; or, in Standard English, runways at Heathrow, the database state and radioactive incompetence. Denham noted that "At the moment, someone can produce a projection where we need 30,000 skilled engineers, and it's clear we are going to get 10,000", possibly because of the effectiveness of New Labour's engineer training programmes over the past decade or so; hence "No one necessarily steps forward to say: 'What about the other 20,000?'", which is something that might be considered a not altogether desirable omission under the circumstances. "So we are now saying we are going to have a much more interventionist role to make sure that the gaps are filled, and not just identified." Identifying gaps without filling them would be a bit like just hoping it is going to happen, you see.

Meanwhile the Glorious Successor has shown the merits of the active, interventionist approach by insisting that the banks alone are responsible for the recession; hence the financial rewards which he has been throwing at them while jobs disappear up and down the country. He also said that "banks and financial institutions needed to uphold traditional moral values of hard work and effort, enterprise and honesty", but does not appear to have specified which of our venerable financial institutions originated the said traditions.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Learning Experience

A mere eleven years after the event, Sussex police have issued a formal apology to the family of a man they shot dead in his own home. Quite apart from the fact that they were indiscreet enough to do it before 11 September 2001, when America was attacked by terrorists, they do seem to have made a bit of a mess of things. The victim was naked, unarmed and had nothing illegal in the place, and it has taken Sussex police eleven years to discover that there might have been one or two failures in the planning and (to put it tactfully) execution. The officer who did the deed claimed that he acted in self-defence against something or other; he was, as so often happens, acquitted of murder and manslaughter; and, according to the lawyer for the victim's family, the police "issued damaging and incorrect information at the time of the shooting". Imagine that. Fortunately, since nobody did anything wrong, much less got punished for it, "the force has learnt significant lessons from this tragic event".

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Silver Honey Bowl in the Shape of an Apple

A little knowledge makes for much charity. Those who laud John F Kennedy for opposing the Vietnam War can do so only thanks to their charitable ignorance of his enthusiasm in escalating it. Those who praise the Greatest Ever Number One Briton Ever, Winston Churchill, for opposing "appeasement", can do so only by charitably closing their eyes to his role in ensuring that Britain was not ready to fight a war earlier than 1939. The American foundation which has named the Glorious Successor World Statesman of the Year evidently suffers from the same kindly myopia, although conspiracy theorists will inevitably leap to the conclusion that it must have been helped by a Board of Trustees which includes George H W Bush. The founder and president, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, praised Gordon for his "courage in defending freedom and human rights", an aspect of the Glorious Successor's glorious career which many of us seem to have missed; and also his "key intellectual and compassionate leadership in these critical times, when financial upheavals raised societal tensions and international tensions". Charity is a wonderful thing. The quality of the foundation's previous recognised world savers says a good deal: they include the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard; the indirect cause and failed political profiteer of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, José María Aznar; and the President of the French Republic, Nicolas de Racaille, on whose behalf the Nobel Peace laureate Henry Kissinger gave a "poignant address". Charity is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Foundations of the Twenty-First Century

About a year and a half ago I wrote a novella on the possibly overworked subject of what it might be like to ride the London Underground if the Nazis had won the war. Historical allegiances, national renewal and the importance of taking responsibility for one's actions are among its other themes; but in mitigation I hope and believe that it is about as warm and romantic as it is patriotic and life-affirming. I hesitated a good deal about publishing it on its own, since I nurse an uncharitable suspicion that my personal bias in favour of short books - notably Ramsey Campbell's Needing Ghosts, J G Ballard's Running Wild, H G Wells' The Croquet Player and several by Lucius Shepard - may not be widely shared. My commercial sense and my vanity have been locked in deadly combat these past several months; being the larger by a fair order of magnitude, vanity has now won, and the result can be seen, partially perused and, if the mood takes you, bought here. Reviews, publicity and shameless flattery are all welcome, especially if you've actually read the whole thing; offers of interviews and hard cash will be given profound and favourable consideration.