The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Helping Business

Well, here's a thing: a British company has been found guilty of corruption. The use of leaded petrol is illegal in Europe and the US; but Octel, a stalwart British enterprise with the environmental consciousness of BP and the ethical scruples of BAE Systems, chose to maximise their cash flow by greasing officials in Iraq and Indonesia, who returned the favour by helping to poison their countries' citizens. The first suspicion that all was not entirely above board came in 2003 when, as Britain's leading liberal newspaper delicately puts it, "US troops invaded Iraq"; whereupon, as if by magic, "oil ministry files fell into their hands". Alcor, a subsidiary of Octel, had been shipping barrels of toxic chemicals "to Saddam" (in person?) from the company's factory at Ellesmere Port which, nevertheless, the Bush administration and our brave boys in the Royal Air Force somehow failed to bomb. Over the eleven years between 1998 and 2009, Octel's profits from exporting tetra ethyl lead to the Third World exceeded six hundred million dollars, which is about as much excuse as any corporation is likely to need; and, sure enough, the executives responsible have collected their millions and the company itself has been given a fine one-tenth the size of what could have been imposed. In a further effort by British and American prosecutors to show that there are no hard feelings (we are not, after all, speaking of welfare claimants), Octel was permitted to pay in instalments, and to operate under a new identity in case of reprisals by irate Iraqis who might have thought the effects of depleted uranium more than enough to cope with. Still, it is a great pity that the governments of Bush, Cheney, the Venerable Tony and Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring failed to exercise sufficient influence over the sovereign, independent Iraqi government and prevent all that underhanded conduct taking place.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Freedom Restored

Now that the right to protest peacefully has, by the grace of Daveybloke, been reintroduced to the glorious effulgence that is British democracy, the slightly less glorious effulgence that is the London Haystack has taken out a court order to remove peaceful protesters from Parliament Square, on the grounds that they are causing a degree of inconvenience to the nice people who are responsible for doing the sort of things that protesters tend to protest against. The protesters are so anti-social that they even include evidence of homeless persons, which belong outside the Borough of Westminster and not inside it, and of heavy drinking, which belongs inside the House of Commons and not outside it. The London Haystack, and some rather quieter champions of liberty such as David Davis, are perfectly happy for legitimate peaceful protest to take place, along with appropriately circumscribed free speech, provided that it does not interfere with the Government's legitimate business of warmongering, profiteering and poor-bashing. Parliament Square is a particularly illegitimate venue for legitimate protest because it "sits alongside a world heritage site and is a top tourist attraction that is visited by thousands of people and broadcast around the world each day"; and no protest can be called peaceful if it blatantly tries to cause trouble by making its cause known to others.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Anniversary

Yesterday was the ninety-sixth birthday of Robert Aickman, who unfortunately spent only sixty-six among us. Besides being a dedicated conservationist long before it became fashionable - he was a founding member of the Inland Waterways Association, which concerned itself with the then deplorable state of Britain's canals - Aickman wrote forty-eight "strange stories" of various lengths, but mainly and most effectively in the long story/novella range. Some of them, like "The Waiting Room", are routine; at least one, "Rosamund's Bower" is incomprehensible; but they are all beautifully written, and a good percentage of them are among the greatest weird tales of the twentieth century, combining delicately maintained atmosphere with startling imagery and psychological acuity. His most anthologised tale, "Ringing the Changes", is one of these, narrating with immense potency the story of a middle-aged man and his young bride, whose visit to an ancient port brings them a ghastly memento mori. A short fantasy novel set in pre-revolutionary Russia, The Model, was published after Aickman's death and is reasonably easy to come by; in 1964 he also published a novel called The Late Breakfasters, which Gary Crawford regards as central to his work but which is now virtually unobtainable. Somebody ought to do something about it.

My thanks to Thomas Tessier, himself no mean writer of weird tales, who notes the occasion and makes some very charitable remarks about my critical work on Aickman.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Come Friendly Bombs

Vincent Cable, the coalition's most senior Liberal Democrat (Nick who?), has cheerfully admitted that any pledges his party may have been so indiscreet as to make during the election campaign will be given credence at the voters' own risk. During the campaign, the Liberal Democrats warned of a "Tory VAT bombshell", to which weapon of mass incentivisation they duly lent their enthusiastic support once George the Progressively Osborne explained that it was a nice, discriminating bombshell which he had no intention at all of using against the little folk. Cable said that the campaign warning was an attempt "to score a point against the Conservatives, if you like", which should not be taken as having anything to do with actual Liberal Democrat intentions because "that was in the election. We have now moved past the election" and have to draw a line under the whole nasty business. Cable also noted that "all three parties used exactly the same language", although it is not yet clear whether the Liberal Democrats have changed their minds on this also and now agree with the two other neoliberal parties that a cosy little threesome is a Good Thing for British democracy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not a Retreat, So Much as a Redeployment

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has capitalised upon the occasion of the three-hundredth significant death in Afghanistan to put the little people in the picture concerning the state of the Great Game. Daveybloke would like Britain to have "a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, including helping to train their troops and their civil society" to know their place in future; but Daveybloke would also like to withdraw British troops from the country by the end of the present parliament. After all, given the likely effect of all those Osborne budgets, the Government is likely to have a significant and increasing need for crowd controllers, strike-breakers and armoured social workers, in order to keep the British people firmly in mind of just how far we're all in it together.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hot Air

As we all know, because Daveybloke has informed us of it, the modern Conservative party is a party of pretty straight sorts of chaps. Daveybloke believes in fairness and looking after the small folk, so Daveybloke has reduced his own salary and thereby sacrificed money he doesn't need in order to justify his next-door neighbour depriving people he doesn't care about of the money they do need. Daveybloke believes in economic efficiency, so Daveybloke has thrown what passes for his political weight behind a fiscal policy which risks pushing the country into a longer and deeper recession. As he recently reported back to Mike Freer, Daveybloke is vaguely in favour of keeping the planet habitable provided that adequate profits can be made from the enterprise; which is no doubt why Daveybloke's Cuddly Defra has stood up to its responsibilities by shunting the blame for London's atrocious air quality onto the London Haystack. The EU environment commissioner observed that air pollution "reduces human life expectancy by more than eight months on average and by more than two years in the most polluted cities and regions", thus neatly summarising the advantages of London's present conditions from the viewpoint of the pensions crisis. Naturally, New New Labour's pitiful efforts at greenwashing will quickly be axed by George the Progressively Osborne, partly as a gift to his party's chums in the oil, airport and nuclear industries and partly as a placatory offering to the Huntin', Shootin', Fishin' and Windmill-kickin' crowd on the back benches. As a pathfinder for Daveybloke's Big Society, where all good chaps do their bit without interference from Stalinist bureaucracy, the London Haystack has done so much for the greening of the city that Britain now faces unlimited fines for having breached EU safety rules; how reassuring that at least some of the money George is saving us will go in a good cause.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Conference

There's a Hole in my Budget, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
There's a Hole in my Budget, dear Vincent,
A Hole.

Then plug it, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Then plug it, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Plug it.

With What shall I plug it, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
With What shall I plug it, dear Vincent,
With What?

With Money, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
With Money, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,

The Coffers are Empty, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
The Coffers are Empty, dear Vincent,
Dash it.

Then borrow, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Then borrow, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,

From Whom shall I borrow, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
From Whom shall I borrow, dear Vincent,
From Whom?

From a Banker, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
From a Banker, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
A Banker.

The Bankers aren't lending, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
The Bankers aren't lending, dear Vincent,
Dash it.

Then tax them, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Then tax them, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Tax them.

But they are my Chumlies, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
But they are my Chumlies, dear Vincent,
Rah rah.

Cut Spending, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Cut Spending, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Cut it.

But Where shall I cut it, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
But Where shall I cut it, dear Vincent,
But Where?

Where needed, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Where needed, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Wake up.

But Where are Cuts needed, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
But Where are Cuts needed, dear Vincent,
But Where?

Just not from my Voters, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
Just not from my Voters, dear Georgie,
Old chap.

I'll take from the Poor Folk, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
I'll take from the Poor Folk, dear Vincent,
Rah rah.

I trust you'll be careful, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
I trust you'll be careful, dear Georgie,
Old pal.

The Sick can go Private, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
The Sick can go Private, dear Vincent,
Rah rah.

How fine our Compassion, dear Georgie, dear Georgie,
How fine our Compassion, dear Georgie,

Yes, let us have Drinkies, dear Vincent, dear Vincent,
Let's have lots of Drinkies, dear Vincent,
Rah rah.

There's a Hole in our Core Vote, dear Nicky, dear Nicky,
There's a Hole in our Core Vote, dear Nicky,
A Hole.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Decency in Dress

The Council of Europe has passed a rather sensible resolution against banning the burka: a ban which the French president, Nicolas de Racaille, has been itching to implement as part of his grand strategy of triangulation between the values of the Enlightenment and those of Jean-Marie Le Pen. "We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity," blathered de Racaille, apparently unable to distinguish between an individuality which does not exist and one which happens to be physically concealed from his personal view. The empty suit which served the Venerable Tony as Minister of Dawn Raids and Deportations registered similar concerns a while back, being apparently a bit worried that Muslim women should have the nerve to adopt a mode of apparel which was not specifically commanded by the Prophet. The lower chamber of the Belgian parliament, as a tentative preliminary to outlawing miscegenation between Flemings and Walloons, has actually voted through a ban. Apparently the idea is to teach Mrs-istan a thing or two about what Western gender equality and religious liberty really mean in practice. Meanwhile, undemocratic types such as myself are left to wonder if any of these dress-code fanatics has ever had the dubious pleasure of visiting London in high summer. The sight of the common or bulging English female gradually turning from its normal grilled-fish-eye complexion to the colour of Spam with extensive contusions is nearly as good an argument for covering up as it is for celibacy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Mysterious Circle

Two Independent Researchers, both Emeritus Without Qualification from respected online universities, were investigating a Mysterious Circle which had appeared in a field overnight.

The first Independent Researcher believed that the Mysterious Circle was proof positive of divine intervention in human affairs, which had previously included such comparatively minor conjuring tricks as fire from heaven, water from rock, parting of seas and resurrection of the dead.

The second Independent Researcher was convinced that the Mysterious Circle indicated that highly advanced extraterrestrials had drifted into the habit of visiting the earth, but that they were unable to think of a more effective means of communicating their highly advanced purposes to people outside the military-industrial complex, the monolithic effectiveness of whose cover-ups was universally notorious.

In fact, the Independent Researchers were both wrong. It was six weeks after a change of government, and the Mysterious Circle was merely an unusually well-rounded Electoral Promise which had been kicked into the long grass by a dribbling right winger.

with thanks to Michael Greenwell

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sumer is Icumen In

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing Bugger
Ængeland in breeches neat
Cuccus, and once again is beat
At tenys, fötball, rugger.

Murie sing Bugger!

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing Fucksake
Broileth fat and squalleth brat,
And after pram the purple dam
Coms woblynge in its wake.

Murie sing Fucksake!

Sing Bugger nu!
Sing Fucksake nu!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Uncivilised Tribes

The warnings of Patrick Mercer about the Bloody Sunday inquiry appear to be coming true. The Saville report exonerated the general in charge of any blame for deploying the trigger-happy thugs of the Parachute Regiment against a demonstration over civil rights, and concluded that the general "neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day". As so often happens when our brave boys are subjected to the indignity of having to account for their actions, some unsporting persons are now crying cover-up. A few months before Bloody Sunday, the same unit of paratroopers was among the soldiers deployed in the west Belfast estate of Ballymurphy, where eleven civilians were shot dead in August 1971. One man was shot fourteen times, mostly in the back to avoid unnecessary violence. The local priest was shot trying to help somebody else, a precaution bravely foregone by the Paras in Derry. Nevertheless, relatives of the detrimented are calling for yet another investigation. Daveybloke has, of course, anticipated the social upheaval his government intends to cause by calling for the military to be placed front and centre of our national Britishness; but this is unlikely to be quite what he had in mind.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friends in High Places

Unforgiving and demonically afflicted persons have attempted to cloud the purity of British justice in the case of the former Downing Street madonna, Cherie Booth. Doubtless inspired by the depredations of the homosexual Jewish press, someone has sent a letter to the National Secular Society implying that all was not entirely as it should have been in the announcement by the Office of Judicial Complaints that Booth had done nothing wrong in suspending a sentence on the grounds that the sentencee had an invisible playmate. It appears that, when the Office of Judicial Complaints said that Booth's actions "did not constitute judicial misconduct", what they meant was that the complaint against her had been partly upheld and that the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice had expressed concern; and when the Office of Judicial Complains said that no disciplinary action was necessary, what they meant was that Booth should perhaps be advised of one or two small points of law which have escaped her attention - for instance, of the fact that even after thirteen years beneath the yoke of Booth's husband and his chums, English law does not recognise that belief in a sky-daddy constitutes in itself a mitigating circumstance for breaking someone's jaw. The advice will of course be informal, as befits a public figure with criminal connections and a great deal of money.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Outside the Box

George the Progressively Osborne's credentials as a posturing little twit were substantially enhanced today when it was revealed that his staff had nagged and wheedled the National Archive into letting him follow the example of Gordon's little Darling and use a fragile museum piece while he posed for photographs. Osborne, who is preparing a swingeing attack on the public sector that will leave thousands out of work and quite possibly send the economy into a depression, and who doubtless considers himself a moderniser on that account, did not wish to be the first Conservative chancellor not to carry Gladstone's red box while bashing poor people. Treasury officials said that concerns over the state of the relic were justified, but that Osborne hoped it could be sellotaped together in time for him to use it when posing and grinning for further attacks over the next five years.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Herbert Thinks of the Children

A survey by the Home Office has found that nearly a quarter of children between ten and fifteen were technically victims of crime last year, although most of the reported incidents were "no more than" playground assaults (good clean fun) or family spats (parental discipline and/or sibling-induced existential perspective). As always, the findings have reinforced the Government's own opinion while also, by contrast, reinforcing the opinion of the opposition. Alan Johnson, who was the stop-gap Home Secretary between the disaster that was Agent Smith and the slightly less humiliating disaster that was electoral defeat, said that the survey had been New New Labour's idea all along and that it provided a further demonstration that crime including violent crime fell consistently under the previous government. No doubt this explains the previous government's much-noted courage and tenacity in facing down tabloid hysteria on the issue, rather than doing anything silly like rushing legislation through without working it out properly or allowing the Metropolitan Police to indulge in a bit of violent crime on their own account. Meanwhile, a Home Office Herbert noted his own long-standing belief that "to date crime measures have offered either a partial or confused picture about the level of offending" and made the radical assertion that "crime affecting young people is a serious problem which must be tackled". The pundits will certainly have a field day with that one. Despite its obvious taste for controversy, the Herbert regrettably failed to impart its opinion on the survey's implications for the sort of pampered opportunist who talks about "broken Britain" while preparing to cut the safety net from under the country's most vulnerable citizens.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hint, Hint

One of the major landmarks in the Christian state of Ohio, a sixty-two-foot statue of Jesus, has been incinerated by an act of God. The unexpectedly artistic miracle transformed the foam-and-fibreglass lump of Bible-kitsch into a superb pillar of fire on Monday night, and left only the steel frame behind. Natives of the area are already rescuing bits of the foam that fell into a nearby pond, where penitents will doubtless queue to be baptised from now on. Darlene Bishop, a co-pastor of the church who, as befits her surname, exhibits a healthy scepticism towards the Saviour's promises about the rewards of taking no thought for the morrow, says the idol will be rebuilt, "but this time we are going to try for something fireproof".

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pink Window-Dressing

It has long been known that the Conservative Party has nothing against homosexuals provided they are rich white neoliberal homosexuals; and Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, is about to massage the point home by inviting a few of the lesser sort of gay people into his big tent and telling them what a wonderful journey he has planned.

Daveybloke intends to "do more to allow headteachers to exclude homophobic bullies and give teachers the powers to stop violent incidents"; this is essentially a restatement of Conservative educational policy with the Gove-history component removed and the word homophobic strategically inserted. It amounts very nearly to an admission that homophobic bullying is in fact bullying and not just good clean fun; this is certainly progress, but many of us managed to make that leap some considerable time ago. Daveybloke further intends to offer a commitment that the Government will not deport any genuine refugees over their sexual orientation. It is as yet unclear whether the present Government, like the previous one, considers the term genuine refugee an oxymoron, but the signs so far are not especially encouraging. Finally, Daveybloke intends to repeal criminal convictions for gay sex prior to 1967, when Britain was still a Christian country as far as homosexuals were concerned. This means that any convictions for gay sex which are more than forty-three years old will not need to be disclosed when applying for a job or for a note from the Criminal Records Bureau certifying one's non-sex-beast status. Very generous, I'm sure.

In short, Daveybloke does not intend to offend his cuddly allies in Europe, the Gafcon wing of his own party or the Con-gaffe wing of the Anglican civil war by allowing gay people to marry or give blood as though they were actual human beings; but he is prepared to make as many of the right noises as are not inconsistent with an appropriately Blairite degree of commitment towards making as much of a gesture as may more or less properly be considered prudent in light of its electorally adjusted feasibility potential.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prompt, Impartial, Credible

The Righteous State has kindly agreed to investigate to its own satisfaction the question of whether the collective punishment of the people of Gaza and the assassination of foreign civilians in international waters is compatible with the interests of the Righteous State. No investigation will be made of the government's role in the raid, which doubtless is why Bibi the Righteous Yahoo is convinced that the inquiry will "prove that the goals and actions of the state of Israel and the Israeli military were appropriate defensive actions in accordance with the highest international standards" or, in Standard English, will be as effective a whitewash as is possible under the rather difficult circumstances. There will be two international observers without voting rights, one of whom is a member of the Friends of Israel project so as to forestall unnecessary risk of anti-semitic tendencies, and neither of whom is Turkish or in any other way susceptible to bias. "To have a defendant acting simultaneously as both prosecutor and judge is not compatible with any principle of law", griped the Turkish foreign minister, whose experience of independent government inquiries must be rather slight. However, the Righteous State's formula, according to Britain's leading liberal newspaper, was devised after calls by certain unspecified persons for an international inquiry were rejected by certain other unspecified persons whose word appears to have been final; and the White House in its zeal for justice is confident that the results will be prompt, impartial, credible and (which is where the White House and I agree) transparent. So that's all right.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Intensely Relaxed About Youths With Guns

A Conservative MP has warned that any attempt to prosecute British paratroopers for recruiting for the IRA would have dire consequences for the war on terror or, as Daveybloke has recently re-branded it, the war on not helping the Iraqi and Afghan governments with their security. Patrick Mercer, a former army officer and sometime Ireland correspondent, said that "the Taliban and al-Qaida are all too aware of the restriction on troops in the individual countries they come from", which doubtless explains the massive casualty rates among occupying troops as compared to the liberated populations. Mercer is worried that, if officers get no protection from the law when their men happen to kill the wrong people, "their soldierly instincts will be severely curtailed". This, of course, would result in a fatal and unmilitary emphasis on intelligence and planning rather than instinct, whereupon all our great victories from Basra to Helmand would be fatally undermined.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Troubled Waters

Having done his bit for the Eastern Question, Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative has turned the power of his statesmanship to the public-relations disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Daveybloke and his Cuddly Chancellor, George the Progressively Osborne, have had a bit of a chat with the chairman of BP and have urged all sides to find a constructive solution, which is a jolly progressive thing to urge since they'd certainly never have thought of that on their own. BP is going to suspend the dividend payout which was planned for next week until it becomes clear how far the Big Society's taxpayers can be relied upon to bail the company out of any financial difficulties resulting from cleaning up the damage and meeting (or, in Standard English, fighting) all legitimate claims for compensation.

Meanwhile, the London Haystack has done his populist (or, in Standard English, fatuous) bit for the special relationship by accusing the Obama administration of talking down a great British company and thereby taking money out of the mattresses of British pensioners. Apparently it is Obama's anti-British rhetoric which has caused BP's shares to lose value, rather than BP's little accident or BP's consistent underestimation of the scale of the problem or BP's continuing inability to bring the spillage under control. Presumably it was also Obama's anti-British rhetoric which deprived British pensioners of an adequate provision from the state, thus forcing the said pensioners to entrust their meagre resources to inadequately regulated private companies which placed them at the mercy of neurotic fluctuations in a highly unstable global market. Daveybloke will, no doubt, be appropriately robust and forthright in demanding that Obama explain these derelictions.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Front-Line Services, Essential and Otherwise

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has pledged to continue the Tory tradition of reverence for the arts of war as he poked a tentative toe or two into the Afghan quagmire and, in a radical break from New Labour's attempts to spin the war as one of choice and occupation, declared it a war of necessity and obligation instead. Daveybloke proclaimed that he and Our Boys were there to "help the Afghans take control of their security", whereupon Daveybloke and the boys can all go home together. Daveybloke received his baptism of inconvenience when his flight was diverted because somebody overheard somebody planning to kill somebody; this is what Britain's leading liberal newspaper calls "a taste of the threat from the Taliban". Daveybloke informed Our Boys that a terrorist attack on a foreign country nine years ago is the reason for Britain's military presence in Afghanistan, besides the necessity of being prepared to invade Pakistan at a moment's notice. Daveybloke buttered up the boys with a paraphrase of an American poet who proclaimed that "it's not the politician that brings the right to vote, it is the soldier, it is not the poet that brings free speech, it is the soldier, it is not the journalist that brings free expression, it is the soldier"; this accounts for the prevalence of democracy, free speech and free expression in military dictatorships across the world. Daveybloke also doubled the boys' pocket money and promised to ensure that the armed forces would receive the kind of support they enjoyed in Britain during the good old days of Hun-stomping and Argie-bashing. There is, in Daveybloke's estimation, "huge respect and support for what the military does", but Daveybloke solicited the boys' support in creating "a new atmosphere in our country, an atmosphere where we back and revere and support our military", whose services may soon be required in assertively restoring social harmony where the need for public spending cuts has not been sufficiently emphasised.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grounds for Mercy

The Office for Judicial Complaints has been looking into a comment made by the former Downing Street madonna, Cherie Booth, when she was sitting as a judge. Booth appeared to deviate from the Thatcher/Howard/Straw doctrine of lock-'em-up-or-kick-'em-out which has set the judicial standard for the past quarter century or so when she gave a man a suspended sentence for breaking somebody's jaw. She told the offender that he would be spared prison "based on the fact you are a religious person" - not based on mitigating circumstances or because his family would suffer hardship if he went to jail or because there was a smaller chance of his reoffending if he stayed out, but because he was a god-botherer. The Office for Judicial Complaints has decided that no disciplinary action is necessary, and the lord chancellor and lord chief justice agree. Booth, of course, is herself a very wealthy god-botherer with some not inconsiderable criminal connections of her own; but to imply that this had anything to do with the conclusions of the Office for Judicial Complaints would be to impugn British justice, and we all know what a magnificent thing British justice is these days.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

He Knows If You've Been Bad Or Good

Some followers of a minority religious cult have attracted unwelcome attention with a delightful bit of baby kitsch showing an ultrasound image of a foetus with a halo. The message is "He's on His way: Christmas starts with Christ" and, according to Mike Elms, the vice-chair of the evangelists formerly known as the Churches Advertising Network, is not in any way political. Rather, it is designed to convey the Christian belief that for Christians and according to Christian tradition, Christmas starts with Christ as far as Christians in their Christianity are concerned; which makes one wonder what the whole business is meant to achieve. Presumably most Christians are already aware of their church's doctrine on Christmas, and presumably most of the rest of us don't care. However, some Christians of the chastity-and-coathanger denomination have welcomed the campaign as an anti-abortion statement, apparently because it resembles their own pro-unwanted-pregnancy propaganda to the effect that a human foetus is the same thing as a human being. "This is not a cluster of cells but a human person and it just happens to be the God man Jesus. It is about the humanity of the unborn," gushed John Smeaton of the Society for the Production of Unwanted Children; "That is a very, very powerful statement that will strike a chord with the general population", or at any rate more of a chord than the Saviour's own statement that his followers should hate and abandon their families rather than buy them presents and pretend to enjoy living with them for one day of the year. Be that as it may, St Michael claims that the campaign is intended to convey "that this baby was on the way." This seems a rather radical message, even for a campaign supported by the Church of England; I was not aware that the Christian churches, even Protestant ones, believed their messiah is born anew year after year as though trapped in some sort of gynaecological Groundhog Day. Stunts of that kind are generally the province of those pagan sun gods whose winter festival was subjected to hostile Christian takeover about the fourth century CE (i.e. when Christmas actually started), the point at which Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire and thereby gave up once and for all any pretensions to meekness, humility, charity and love that it may ever have indulged.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Little Man, What Now?

Kindness to children of the wog persuasion (or do the Afghans count as fuzzy-wuzzies? I'm always mixing up my uncivilised tribes) is by no means the only thing Daveybloke's Cuddly Coalition has learned from New Labour. Daveybloke's Cuddly Chancellor has had a bit of a wheeze about holding a Big Conversation too, so that all the little chaps in the Big Society can tell their Head Boys just exactly where they want their Big Government dispensed with. Government departments will be brought before the Beaks and ordered to justify their spending decisions against such priorities as whether their activity is essential to meet the Government's priority of not having any more government, and whether the activity can be carried out more cheaply by sacking a few more proles, and whether the activity is one of that select but still not sufficiently exclusive set which have yet to be privatised or handed over to the God squad. "We do need to look to Canada, and their experiences in the 1990s when they too faced a massive budget deficit", Daveybloke's Cuddly Chancellor told the Commons, in a refreshing variation on New Labour's obsession with emulating North America. "They engaged the public in the choices that had to be made and they took the whole country with them", except presumably the people who didn't count. Daveybloke's Cuddly Chancellor also intends to solicit ideas from "the private sector, charities and the public", doubtless in that order, concerning which functions currently carried out by the government could be better performed by other bodies. Naturally, nobody is going to be asked for their ideas about which functions could do with heading in the other direction. If your transport system has been privatised from under you and your children's school wants to teach creationism and rehabilitate the slave trade, or even if you just think it would be nice if the Government could refrain from laundering your tax money for rich crooks under the rubrics of law and order, preserving front-line NHS services and kindness to children of the fuzzy-wuzzy persuasion, you will probably have to try a bit harder before you can claim the privilege of being counted as part of the whole country.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Rare Pleasure

A very long time ago I wrote an essay on the translation into English of Stanislaw Lem's short novel The Futurological Congress, a screwball science-fiction satire which relies for its humour almost entirely on wordplay. It helped me get my degree, but expanded my repertoire of foreign tongues only to the extent that I could discourse learnedly upon aspects of Slavonic verbs while remaining, as I still remain, unable to request the location of the bathroom in any language other than my native one.

Aside from the difficulties of rendering his verbal wit, the translation of Lem's books is notable for a couple of other reasons: first, the usual one that there's too little of it, with almost all his non-fiction, including major speculative works on the philosophy of technology and chance, still inaccessible to English readers; second, that the English translations of two of his books were not translated from the Polish at all. They were translated from other translations: from the German edition in the case of The Invincible, and in the case of his most popular book, Solaris, from the French. Solaris reads smoothly enough, although the author was understandably dissatisfied with the arrangement; but the English version of The Invincible, by one Wendayne Ackerman, is pure butchery. The very first paragraph, which in the original consists of a single sentence, in the translation is broken up into several single-clause sentences, which makes the man who wrote The Cyberiad and His Master's Voice look like a stylistic precursor of Dan Brown. Happily, most English translations of Lem's work are by the likes of Louis Iribarne and Michael Kandel; the latter's version of The Cyberiad, incorporating not only wordplay but rhymed comic verse as well, is outstanding.

All of which serves as a rather oblique introduction to Szczurek's site, whose purpose is to provide "observations about the Polish language and its extraordinary rendition into English", and whose most recent entry consists of some very charitable observations on a book review which I posted here some time ago. The writer even goes so far as to include an image of the book's cover which, considering its rarity, shows remarkable diligence.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Having A Go

The Secretary of State for Beer, Skittles and Justice, Kenneth Clarke, is considering whether to declare open season on burglars. The law already provides for use of "reasonable force" in deterring or apprehending criminals, but there appears to be some doubt as to the precise degree of reasonabilitude involved in shooting a teenager from behind or beating in a man's head with a cricket bat. Even the police, whose occasional indiscretions in a similar vein have not been entirely without government support, are worried that reform might lead to yet further unpleasantness. "We could start seeing people being dragged from the streets into houses or stories made up about them trying to break in," said the vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who believes the present law is adequate. He also implied, goodness knows why, that what has changed under New Labour might be the zeal of the Crown Prosecution Service in pressing charges against people. Nevertheless, like all politicians the Secretary for Beer, Skittles and Justice has a duty to balance society's needs against the expediencies of his party, and to ensure where possible that the latter weighs more heavily. A blank cheque for vigilantism might be just the thing to pacify the grouse-shooting and peasant-kicking lobby (besides the relevant sections of the white working class) until the Government gets around to lifting the ban on fox hunts.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

No Fouler Ghost

No fouler ghost than one's own to see,
No tongue more sharp than the once reviled.
No master worse than the slave set free,
No parent worse than the grown-up child.

Gumbo Malbot

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Question of Priorities

Capitalism favours the efficient, thanks to the dual incentives of competition and profit. Hence, the reason BP has done so well hitherto is because it has highly efficient competitors, such as Shell, to incentivise it towards ever cleaner and more useful profiteering; and also because it has shareholders, who will punish the management for any slackening of performance. This is why, now that Mother Nature has been so tactless as to allow BP's activities to afflict Americans instead of Africans, it makes perfect sense for BP's chief executive, the hapless Tony Hayward, to bribe his shareholders into keeping rather than selling their stake in the company. BP's shares have already lost more than a quarter of their value over the course of the public-relations problem in the Gulf, and it is not yet known how far politicians will be willing to pass the costs of cleaning things up on to the taxpayers. Accordingly, Hayward has decided to pay out thousands of millions of dollars in dividends in order to prevent share prices going down any further, because a fall in share prices would mean that BP is an inefficient company. The mere pumping into the Gulf of Mexico of a few million litres of toxic waste is, by comparison, little more than an indiscretion.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Funny Old Thing, Memory

The former Minister for Our Boys, Adam Ingram, has been questioned about his reactions to the torture and murder of Baha Mousa by some brave men doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. Ingram got off to a fine start shortly after the invasion of Iraq when the International Committee of the Red Cross complained to the British military about their practice of hooding and broiling prisoners in the sun. Two months after the complaint, Ingram was able to say that the Government had "worked very closely with the ICRC, who have expressed themselves content with the way we have treated prisoners and detainees throughout the conflict". Ingram cannot now remember being informed of the ICRC's complaint since he was, after all, merely the minister responsible.

On 15 September 2003 Mousa was beaten to death "on suspicion of being an insurgent", which in this context could mean anything from being discovered with a bomb strapped to his chest down to looking at his liberators in a funny way. Ingram was informed in subsequent memos that Mousa had been kept hooded for twenty-four hours out of thirty-six, that the affair "could be very messy" and that the minister responsible for dealing with the repercussions was a certain Adam Ingram. By 15 June 2004, an uncertain Adam Ingram was "not aware of any incidents in which UK interrogators are alleged to have used hooding as an interrogation technique", and ten days later a similar Adam Ingram sought to "make absolutely clear that hooding was only used during the transit of prisoners. It was not used as an interrogation technique". Ingram explained the discrepancy by saying that it certainly would not have been within his power to remember everything that he had been told in writing or verbally, particularly a case which he had been specifically warned was his problem and could be very messy; since he was, after all, merely the minister responsible.

Ingram stated that, as one would expect, "horrified" is a bit strong as a description of his reaction to the news about hooding. "I wouldn't have put a value judgment on it until I had established best information and ground truth," Ingram says; which may possibly explain Ingram's apparent lack of interest in establishing best information and ground truth, always assuming that these are ministerial synonyms for "the facts" and not some obscure Whitehall code for whatever Adam Ingram was interested in hearing. One fact of which Adam Ingram was unaware was the law regarding hooding and sleep deprivation, which had been banned by Edward Heath's government thirty years before the Iraq adventure. It is not clear whether, when the ban was brought to his attention, Ingram became any more horrified than he had been previously. He was, after all, merely the minister responsible.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Gravy Trains

Network Rail is due to publish its annual report and remunerate its executives for having achieved punctuality in ninety per cent of services at the cost of only three lives and a debt of twenty-two thousand million pounds. This debt is not part of the Government's balance sheet because the former transport secretary, Lord Adonis, did not wish to undermine the company's ability to do as it pleased with all the public money that was being thrown at it.

The Office of Rail Regulation calls Network Rail's performance "mixed" and has expressed the opinion that the remuneration committee needs to exercise its discretion "to recognise the full performance picture". The present secretary of state for transport, Philip Hammond, a multi-millionaire who likes to use taxpayers' money to pay for his newspapers and cutlery, has intimated to the company chairman that large bonuses make for bad public relations at the moment, but has hinted that he may be prepared to offer alternative opportunities for graft. These include longer franchise terms so that the incentive of competition may be restored to its proper place in the free market; greater control of timetables so that Network Rail may adapt its obligations to its efficiency levels; and the ability to cut services in areas where the public displays insufficient concern for the company's financial well-being.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Holy Crap, It's Cormac

The former archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, whose temperance, compassion and intellectual honesty have been noted with much appreciation by the present writer, has been appointed by the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak as an Apostolic Visitator to Ireland, in order to "explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims"; which may or may not involve discovering more efficient ways than the Church has heretofore practised of pinning the blame on atheists, homosexuals, the press and the Jews. As a fully accredited Visitating Apostoliser, Murphy-O'Connor will be empowered to interrogate hundreds of people in churches, seminaries, convents and other outlets of Vatican Incorporated, and to report back directly to the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak. Murphy-O'Connor is ideally qualified to take charge of such an enterprise, since he was himself involved, as bishop of Arundel and Brighton during the eighties, in sheltering a paedophile priest from the rigours of the secular arm, and can thus be relied upon to exercise Christian understanding wherever Vatican Incorporated deems it appropriate.