The Curmudgeon


Saturday, July 31, 2010

That'll Teach Them

The Righteous State has responded to Daveybloke's recent characterisation of Gaza as a prison camp as the Righteous State responds to most things nowadays, namely with violence. Daveybloke's response to the response has not been reported, but it is unlikely that he will object; we all know how the Conservatives believe prisoners should be treated, unless they happen to be of the Jeffrey Archer, Ernest Saunders or Conrad Black variety. Britain's leading liberal newspaper has the poignant pictorial caption "A man carries a wounded young Palestinian to al-Shifa hospital after Israeli air strikes in Gaza City". The picture appears to show a man carrying a wounded child, so it's a jolly good thing the caption was put there to keep the image free of excessive emotivity.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Personal Apocalypses

During the 1980s, when the Reagan-Thatcher nightmare was at its proto-Blairite height, I entered my teens convinced beyond all doubt that Armageddon was just around the corner. I could not seriously believe that we would reach the new millennium without a nuclear war taking place either by accident or design. As an Air Force family, we lived close to an RAF barracks; once a siren went off there, sending me into a paralysed, sweating, stomach-jumping panic. Fortunately I was alone at the time, and did not have to face the scorn of my loved ones as well. On another occasion there was a minor but detectable earth tremor around breakfast time; I was able to conceal my terror (this time probably aided by indignation: my mother seemed to believe I was responsible for the quake, though I can't imagine how she thought I did it), but I spent most of the morning expecting news of catastrophe.

I distinctly remember seeing several TV programmes about what would happen in a nuclear war, most of which the family sat through in the same depressed but dutiful spirit as it sat through televised Remembrance Sunday ceremonies and royal weddings. The first, which probably had the greatest impact on me by virtue of being the first, was a Horizon documentary about the Protect and Survive propaganda which the Government used to try and persuade people that "civil defence" would be able to pick up the pieces and help the country briskly back onto its feet after V-USSR Day. Like every British schoolchild, I knew about the Second World War; I knew about the Luftwaffe raiding London (the bombing of lesser cities, other than Coventry, was rarely mentioned) and that people had to shelter underground, in specially built bunkers or in the Tube. Protect and Survive advised people to cope with the effects of weapons hundreds or thousands of times more destructive than those used in the Blitz by painting the window-panes white and making lean-to shelters out of household doors.

The second programme was a QED documentary called "A Guide to Armageddon". It postulated the detonation of a single, rather small nuclear weapon above St Paul's Cathedral and examined the likely effects. I saw this twice, once at home and once at school. It took a fairly forthright stance: the heat wave from the explosion was depicted with an endless, unbearably high screech, and the blast wave with shots of shattering windows and walls intercut with still photographs of human faces. One could tell that the idea of a nuclear detonation was not one the makers agreed with; at least not above St Paul's. There seemed (to me, at least) some doubt as to whether being Red would have been worse. The whole business was enough to put you off your Trident, and therefore would probably not be tolerated in today's peace-at-any-price culture at the BBC.

Some time later we weathered an atrocious American TV movie called The Day After, which presented World War III as neighbourhood soap opera. Those who die in the attack are shown turning into cartoon skeletons before disappearing cleanly into thin air, while the effects of radiation lead to a scene in which a pair of all-American lovers are touchingly reunited in mutual baldness. I read Nevil Shute's nauseating On the Beach, in which a community of Australian civilians, awaiting delayed doom from the terminally poisoned global weather system, plays more or less cordial host to its executioners in the shape of an American submarine crew. Everyone is just simply awfully civilised about it; the captain has a Brief Encounter with the heroine before sailing off into humanity's sunset, and good riddance to the lot of them.

Far more traumatic was a drama-documentary film called Threads, perceptively discussed here by the admirable Owen Hatherley. It depicts the effects of a global holocaust and the subsequent nuclear winter on the English city of Sheffield, from the point of view of two families and the city's chief executive officer. There is some black humour: the chief executive, having abandoned his wife to the fallout with the time-honoured excuse about picking up the pieces, ends up trapped with his colleagues under the ruins of the town hall. There is also some regrettable silliness: a decade and a half after a devastating nuclear war, we are shown a society where human ingenuity has resurrected the jolly traction engine and children gather to watch old videotapes. This latter scene is undeniably poignant (they see a recording of an infants' programme about skeletons which shows the structure of various animals; of course these children have never seen most of the animals, though they may well have seen human skeletons in, so to speak, the flesh); but in context it is quite ridiculous, as if the little available electricity in such a post-war society would be used for the edification of its mentally stunted serfs, or as if the worst things the BBC could imagine about a below-subsistence economy with mediaeval population levels were inefficient mechanisation and the lack of good quality VHS tape. For the most part, however, Threads is as relentless and harrowing a depiction of human myopia and degradation as you are likely to see, and by far the most frightening and depressing film I have ever forced myself to sit through, not excepting Pasolini's Salò. It was only on the third or fourth viewing (I think of it as a form of inoculation, an infrequent painful necessity) that I realised one of the statistics quoted - twenty million unburied corpses and too few slaves fit to dig - explained the genuine, eminently practical purpose of Protect and Survive. A few doors don't make an ideal grave, but they are better than nothing; particularly when a prospective corpse can be induced to bury itself before the unpleasantness starts.

Nobody rioted, and the BBC was thus emboldened to broadcast The War Game, which had been made by the brilliant Peter Watkins in the 1960s and promptly banned for making our weapons of mass destruction look like a Bad Thing. The War Game depicts the effects of a limited nuclear strike, pointing out that even this would require more than the whole emergency resources of the entire country to deal with. It also (through a mildly convoluted opening commentary) associates the catastrophe with US aggression in Asia, and even mentions the taboo possibility of a first strike by NATO forces, which doubtless contributed to the looseness of the BBC's corporate bowels. In Threads, as per the doctrinal requirements of the day, it is the evil Soviets who intervene in the Middle East, the evil Soviets who detonate the first nuclear weapon and, the commentary implies, the evil Soviets who are first to launch an all-out attack against the major population centres in the west.

It changed nothing, of course; the first broadcast of Threads was followed by a discussion during which a Protect and Survive enthusiast extolled it as an advertisement for the effectiveness of fallout shelters (a couple of teenage looters are shown being arrested and shot by police, who evidently cannot conceive of death in a fallout shelter being anything other than the result of a murderous hoodie attack), and no doubt a priest of deterrence was there to point out that the horror of nuclear weapons was exactly what was protecting our market forces from the evil Soviets and that was the Whole Point. All of which served to confirm, by the time I was fifteen, the initial revelation of that Horizon documentary: namely that the world I lived in was not only unfair and unpleasant, but insane. The nature of this insanity, of course, is the theme of the greatest of nuclear war movies, Dr Strangelove. It was a very long time before I could laugh at Kubrick's masterpiece, and I still have not learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Benedict's Book of Boys

The Pontiff of Paedophilia has published a tract for children, an action which rivals Tony Blair's appointment as a "peace envoy" and Margaret Thatcher's recording of the Gettysburg Address for sheer gold-plated leopardskin-covered good taste. The book includes a syrupy prologue by one Father Julian Carron, who is kind enough to warn the fastidious that the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak "takes us by the hand" when introducing us to the "small group of men who, one day two thousand years ago, met a young man who walked the roads of Galilee ... They were called Andrew and John, Peter, Matthew, Thomas"; it appears that all these people were recruited during that one day, contrary to the heretical implications of the Gospels that Matthew joined the cult somewhat later than the fishermen did. In addition, Carron audaciously overturns the tradition that the "young man" Jesus began his ministry at the age of thirty, which for a rural peasant in the first century CE meant maturity or early middle age. The book also treats of the Tarsus Inquisitor, who "became the greatest witness to Jesus" by largely ignoring his message and substituting fairy tales about his having risen from the dead. Of course, there is a perfectly good case for ignoring Jesus' message - most of it is quite repulsive, and its central tenet, the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God, was demonstrably and no doubt embarrassingly false even in Paul's time - but there is such a thing as making a bad idea worse. Since the book includes Paul, who never met him and had no interest whatever in his life or ministry, it is titled The Friends of Jesus; as one would expect, it studiedly omits to discuss Mary Magdalene. According to at least one gospel which the One True Church suppressed, Mary was so close a companion to Jesus that the other disciples asked him why he loved her more than them; and even according to the fairy tale she was first to see him risen, which would certainly not have been the case if they were friendly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thick and Rich

The education secretary has noted, in the endearingly crass phraseology which so many politicians seem to think makes them sound like real people, that "rich, thick kids do better than poor, clever children before they go to school". I suppose this must be a rather difficult insight to avoid in the Conservative Party, especially when one has to sit at a Cabinet table on a regular basis with the likes of Daveybloke and George the Progressively Osborne; but of course Gove has mentioned it for a reason. As with all Conservative insights into the nature of society, the reason is to propagandise against the state's prying into areas that are none of the state's business, such as the welfare of the country's own children. Gove has just rushed through a law which will allow those parents, teachers and charities which the Government considers non-extremist, such as Benedict's paedophile club, to set up their own schools in the name of what Gove referred to as "choices for children"; which, like David Davis, is alliterative but rather silly. Taking yet another leaf out of the now rather soiled and dilapidated New Labour book, Gove has also emulated the previous government's indiscriminate use of anti-terrorist legislation by pushing the law through Parliament using procedures normally reserved for national emergencies slightly larger than having Michael Gove as education secretary. Any stray Liberal Democrats who may have wandered into Gove's department do not appear to have been asked about their objections to this circumventing of the public's elected representatives; otherwise no doubt they would have been vociferous in their condemnation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Barrel of Laughs

Popular comedian and BP chief executive Tony Hayward confirmed his retirement today, bowing out with yet more of the sort of comments which have made his name a byword for tact and sensitivity in the land of George W Bush, Sarah Palin and Homer Simpson. Hayward had been "demonised", he said, despite being merely the man on whose watch BP induced one of the biggest environmental disasters in history. Nobody's perfect, after all. Hayward brushed off the idea that he might care to attend further hearings about the oil spill; he will, it seems, be too busy teaching Putin's Russia about corporate responsibility and managing his redundancy payment. It would be interesting to know if Hayward plans to invest any of his humble reward in the company whose present reputation he has done so much to help forge.

The party atmosphere resulting from Hayward's remarks was much enhanced by his no doubt deadpan statement that BP's response to the disaster had been "a model of good social corporate responsibility". The grounds for this statement were that BP "capped the well and cleaned up a hell of a lot of the oil", when they could have just refused to try capping the well and walked off in a huff. Since the human beings affected by the disaster were Americans and not Africans, BP has announced a compensation fund; it remains to be seen what BP will spend dragging its poorer victims through the courts so as to pay out only as much as befits a model of good social corporate responsibility.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Road

If you'll pardon the blasphemy, Cormac McCarthy's The Road is not a very good book. It is not an uncompromising vision of the Apocalypse; it is not a brutally realistic vision of the end of civilisation; it is not more frightening than the most frightening horror story; it is not more convincing than the best science fiction; and it is not a brilliant allegory of parenthood in the dangerous twenty-first century.

The Road, as everyone knows by now, is the story of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America roamed by gangs of cannibalistic marauders. The father is an evangelist of what he supposes to be basic human values; he constantly tells his son that the two of them are "the good guys" who are keeping the flame of virtue alight. When the father falls short of this ideal - by depriving a pathetic thief of his clothes, or by refusing food to a fellow wayfarer - the child is always ready to act as a conscience, whether by throwing away a carved flute or by tears and plaints at the plight of the underdog. The morally superior infant is a mainstay of sentimental literature and an efficient emetic from Little Lord Fauntleroy to innumerable works by Stephen King and plenty of others; but any pretence the device may have to realism can be dispensed with by ten minutes' observation of the fate of an unattractive weakling in the school playground of your choice. Children are brutal, opportunistic primitives with so clear an understanding of the realities of power and deprivation that entire political classes can be manufactured from those who never properly grow up. A child in a highly dangerous post-apocalyptic landscape, with only its father to rely on, would join its father in humiliating and murdering the thief, and give the corpse a good kick in the face to show it just how good the good guys can be.

There is some ethical tension as a result of the father's assumption that everyone is a potential enemy; various encounters along the way serve to show that this is not necessarily the case, and the book ends with an affirmation of trust in a stranger. However, the ethical and emotional impact of this scene is compromised by the way McCarthy insists on stacking the moral deck. The stranger, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to any of the various monsters and victims whose company the father and son have been trying to avoid for the past two hundred pages. Scarred but straight-talking, he is patently a far better risk than the slavers, cannibals, invalids, victims, starving wretches and non-positive-thinking wife/mothers who comprise the book's humanity in general. Appearing as he does, the stranger stinks of deus ex machina: fear not, keep the faith, and even should you lose your father, a new and better father will come along.

Even more aesthetically disastrous is the massive food cache which the father and son discover just in time to prevent their having to make a choice between losing their own lives and taking other people's. In this novel, something always comes along, be it a scarred stranger or an unclaimed larder. The father never has to choose between violating his moral code and losing his child. He never has to choose between joining a marauding gang and letting his son die. He never has to choose, as presumably some of those cannibals felt they had to choose, between watching his own child die and roasting someone else's child on a spit. As a picture of the world in general, this is neither realistic nor uncompromising; as an allegory of parenthood or God's will, it is complacent and contrived; as a vision of the future for which we are heading, it borders on the obscene. Family values triumphant: Papa vincit omnia!

The Road has some superb descriptions of the devastated landscapes our generation is likely to leave behind; but in terms of its characters and story it is as simplistic, soft-centred and morally timid as the blandest genre novel, and the ending comes perilously close to apocalypse à la Spielberg. A better book on the ethics of cannibalism is Shōhei Ōoka's Fires on the Plain, which was made into an excellent film by Kon Ichikawa. A better book on the end of the world is Thomas M Disch's The Genocides. A better story about post-apocalyptic survival and love is Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog". McCarthy's own outstanding Blood Meridian, despite taking place in the nineteenth century, is a far more convincing apocalypse than The Road: a good deal less compromised artistically and morally, and at least as impressive topographically.

Update Buck Theorem has posted an interesting and thoughtful (and flattering) response.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Drugs on the Market

The Minister for Health Service Privatisation has suddenly noticed that New Labour wasted hundreds of millions on the partial privatisation of the Health Service and, apparently with a straight face, has registered some disapproval. Andrew Lansley intends to promote Monitor, the body which now oversees foundation trusts, to economic regulator for all NHS care; doubtless its name will be changed to something more suitable, like Prefect or Head Boy. Lansley has also made the routine rhetorical eructations about level playing fields and value for money which Conservatives generally belch out when urging that rich and poor alike should be opportunified to pay as market forces decree. Still, no doubt he has a point. The dispensation of vast amounts of taxpayers' money in return for bad service or no service at all should, of course, be the exclusive province of the banking sector.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Five Get Forcibly Evolved

Since Enid Blyton's books have appealed to generation after generation of children, her publishers are "sensitively and carefully" altering them in case their appeal should be insufficient for the ignorance and incuriosity of modern readers. Hodder still sell more than half a million copies a year of the Famous Five books alone, but evidently this is not enough. Accordingly, the books will be made available in revised editions so that the kind of people for whose benefit "colorisation" was once inflicted on black-and-white films will not miss out. Readers who cannot understand exclamations such as "mercy me!", or words like "peculiar" and "fellow", will be pandered to with appropriate monosyllables; while outmoded expressions will be replaced with "timeless" ones in order to save children the trouble of realising that people used to think and speak differently from the way they do now. Andy Briggs, a bestselling children's author who is scrambling aboard the remake bandwagon over the corpse of Edgar Rice Burroughs, observed that "language just changes, it evolves", and claims that children are incapable of relating to characters who speak in an archaic fashion. Hence, if the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan are not updated, or at least deadened into some sort of amaranthine Volapük, they will fall out of print, as in the regrettable cases of Alice in Wonderland, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, Just So Stories and so forth.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Grants? But You're A Charity

Local charities are complaining already about the cuts in funding which they are expected to endure in order to facilitate our return to a philanthropic Big Society of socially active voluntaristicity. The chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations summed up the attitude problem: "Small scale community activity is fundamentally important to civil society. It depends on small grants, and if these are wiped out this will remove the very support structures that community groups depend on and undermine the big society." The idea that charities should depend on grants shows the fundamental misconception behind the epidemic of unpositive thinking that now afflicts the voluntary sector. In cash terms at least, charity is meant to be cost-free. That is why the Government likes it so much. To the Conservative mind, charity is something one does for no pay, in order to fill up the time between share dividends and keep up one's reputation with the little folk. As above, so below: in Daveybloke's classless society, there is no reason why the little folk shouldn't join in the great voluntaristic philanthro-activitude, in between job-hunting and family values. Throwing public money at charities instead of bankers merely makes the charities look like (shudder) public sector organisations, and we all know that Daveybloke's Big Society is nowhere near big enough for slackers of that kind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fair, Fearless, Effective

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that no charges will be brought against the Metropolitan Police officer who was filmed attacking Ian Tomlinson from behind. The initial investigation by the Institute for Police Connivance and Condonement was completed in four months (after a week's delay for the inevitable disinformation campaign by the Met) and the CPS said they would reach a decision on whether to prosecute by last Christmas. The additional delay of seven months means - no doubt coincidentally, but still rather conveniently - that a charge for criminal assault cannot be brought; given the uniform worn by the culprit a charge of manslaughter was always out of the question, but the excuse given by the CPS seems a remarkably feeble one given the time it took them to think it up: apparently when two post-mortem examinations diverge in their results this makes it impossible for a prosecutor to show beyond reasonable doubt that one set of evidence is more reliable than the other. The seven-month delay also means that the CPS has been able show its sensitivity to the feelings of all concerned by making its announcement on the fifth anniversary of Jean Charles de Menezes' public execution.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't Just Sit There Being Unemployed - Ask Your Bank For A Loan

George the Progressively Osborne and his pet Liberal Democrat (Nick who?) are going to spell out the dangers of the double-dip recession which they have done their best to precipitate. The Government is worried because banks are not lending money to businesses. The banks are not lending money to businesses because businesses are not asking the banks for loans. Businesses are not asking the banks for loans because they expect the banks to reject their applications or else charge too much. The banks are worried because the money they are not lending is coming to them as an emergency measure from the Bank of England, as the banks do not have enough money of their own to lend having pissed it all away while precipitating the first dip of the double-dip recession of which George the Progressively Osborne and his pet Liberal Democrat (Nick who?) are about to spell out the danger. The Government cannot force the banks to lend money to businesses at regulated rates because that would be a straitjacket on the banks, which are the backbone of our jellyfish prosperity. The Government cannot lend money to businesses on its own account because that would be a straitjacket on British entrepreneurialitude, and anyway businesses don't borrow from the Government when the Private Finance Initiative means they can have money thrown at them with no obligation to pay it back, or even to provide a proper service in exchange. "We have to acknowledge there is an issue," said George the Progressively Osborne's pet Liberal Democrat (Nick who?) as he prepared to do nothing much about it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Criminal Justice

Forces of societal non-bigness are massing to persecute Sir Peter Gibson, the judge whom Daveybloke has appointed to chair the Government's attempt to appear concerned over some waterboarding and the odd bit of genital mutilation. Gibson has been the intelligence services commissioner for the past four years, and during that time has thrice expressed the opinion that Britain's Great Gamers are "trustworthy, conscientious and dependable". A more pessimistic opinion, such as that expressed by Lord Neuberger this year, might have led the lesser breeds to imagine that Sir Peter Gibson was not earning his salary; which would have been patently unfair to a man who took on the onerous responsibility not only for doing his own job, but for supervising himself to make sure he did it properly. As such, Sir Peter Gibson is Daveybloke's ideal choice to determine, among other things, whether Sir Peter Gibson exercised an appropriate degree of rigour in his supervision of Sir Peter Gibson's work, and to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone who matters; but the legal charity Reprieve has butted in with an eleven-page cavil invoking, of all things, fairness to victims of torture. Daveybloke, as leader of a party which is the very definition of ruthless self-scrutiny, has responded by extruding a spokesbeing to say that Gibson has his full confidence; which ought to be enough for anyone. Certainly the Liberal Democrats, who were against torture and in favour of open government until about the middle of last May, do not appear to be complaining.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Big Society and its Enemies

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has had a bit of a burble about this Big Society thingy with which he hopes to liberate us all from the curse of Westminster micro-management. Daveybloke admitted that his Big Society thingy is "not a cover for anything", which is true enough. Indeed, Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a bit on the thin and transparent side even to qualify as a pretext.

In the great man's own words, Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is "the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street", who will need something to do when they are thrown out of work, otherwise they will just lounge around making a mess of the lawn. Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a thingy that will "foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action" or, in Standard English, rein in the sordid mercenary instincts of qualified workers in the hated public sector by forcing less qualified people to do their jobs for free. Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a thingy that will "get rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money and undermines morale" or, in Standard English, remove all those nasty regulations that enforce things like workplace safety at the expense of hard-working employers whose children are so often to be seen begging in our broken British streets. Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a thingy that will "create communities with oomph", provided the said oomph does not result in protest marches about the Government's attacks on the education system and the National Health Service or its donation of the BBC to the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Richard Desmond. Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a thingy that will create "neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny", and jolly interesting it will be the first time one of Daveybloke's chums decides that this particular neighbourhood's destiny is to be swept away to make room for a shopping mall, an airport or a PFI hyperclinic full of general practitioners turned part-time accountants. Daveybloke's Big Society thingy is a thingy that will make neighbourhoods feel that "if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them", short of actual parliamentary democracy, abolishing Trident or repairing the school roof. Among other thingies, Daveybloke's Big Society thingy appears to be a thingy that will replace hard-working families with Neighbourhoods of Destiny. It is not as yet clear whether this will be an improvement.

For Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Tessa Jowell, sometime associate of a beneficiary of Silvio Berlusconi's charity, responded to Daveybloke's flurry of euphemistic vacuities by asserting that Labour agreed with the whole programme and had already put most of it in place. The Lower Miliband has accused the Government of cynically dressing up its Thatcherite agenda in cuddly progressive language; this trick stopped working for New New Labour some time ago and the Lower Miliband does not see why it should be permitted to work for the Conservatives. He also made the bizarre assertion that "under the Tories the voluntary sector's role will be shrunk, not expanded". Well, hardly. A man who has fought his way to the top the way Daveybloke has - by having the intelligence, initiative and force of character to be born rich - is not likely to underestimate the value of the voluntary sector. Volunteering is useful, character-forming and gives the little woman something to do when she's finished dealing with the servants. If only more people volunteered, instead of wasting time and resources agitating for work which is better outsourced and wages which are better spent by Lord Ashcroft, the world would be a happier place. What will be shrunk is not the role of the voluntary sector, but the amount of money the voluntary sector receives in order to help it compensate for the holes George Osborne proposes to rip in the welfare safety net. Prayers, oomph and Neighbourhoods of Destiny will have to serve instead.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Distraction Techniques

Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear; so if, as the Ministry of Justice claims, "the use of restraint is always a last resort" when we decide to throw our children (our own British children, asylum seekers please note) in the clink, it is difficult to see why it has taken a five-year fight under the Freedom of Information Act for the almost wholly innocent details of the techniques used in such restraint to be made public. After all, what more effective means to teach that crime does not pay than to "use an inverted knuckle into the trainee's (sic) sternum and drive inward and upward"? How better to act in loco parentis than to "drive straight fingers into the young person's face, and then quickly drive the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person's groin area"? When an unarmed, defenceless and unsuspecting employee of a private prison company is lethally gripped by a violent twelve-year-old, what more acceptable method to protect the shareholders' interests than to "carry alternate elbow strikes to the young person's ribs until a release is achieved"? The ministerially approved manual in which these pedagogical techniques are listed is classified as a "restricted government document", doubtless as a result of what the likes of Polly Toynbee reproach as New Labour's excessive modesty about all the Good Things it has done while in office. At times, the manual veers perilously close to Health and Safety Gone Mad, as when it warns that some of the recommended teaching aids place trainees at risk of "fracture to the skull" or "temporary or permanent blindness caused by rupture to eyeball or detached retina", while warning that "if breathing is compromised the situation ceases to be a restraint and becomes a medical emergency". The details of what it would take before the situation becomes assault, grievous bodily harm or corporate manslaughter appear to have been omitted from the manual in order to spare the feelings of the child-care professionals involved.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


After the End - from man, monsters, or sun -
Upright, and firm in your morals, he strides
The Waste Photogenic, with good looks and gun.
Flawed and yet decent, he takes the right sides.

Over charred children and unlucky bones
He runs to a lover with more teeth than sores;
Enjoy all the fun as he fights and atones.
Some of those children, those cinders, are yours.

Volod Krulp

Friday, July 16, 2010

As Bad As That

The Roman Catholic church comprises over a thousand million people, but only a few hundred thousand - possibly only a few tens of thousands - have shaken its dust from their souls in disgust at the priestly privileges of sadism and rape and the failure of the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak to maintain the less discreet in the manner to which they are accustomed. Fortunately, the church's leaders have taken resolute and decisive action to facilitate a more widespread and principled exodus. In order to demonstrate how seriously it takes the moral aspect of the scandal, the Vatican has issued a revision of a decree on the procedure for defrocking priests. The revision allows for rapid and economical undressing in urgent cases; ranks abuse of the "mentally disabled" with that of minors; and forbids clergymen to acquire, possess or disclose pornography unless the models are fourteen years old or more. In case any doubt should remain as to the depth and sincerity of the Vatican's response to the paedophilia scandal, the document categorises sexual abuse of minors as an offence equivalent in gravity to the attempted ordination of women. A more graphic indication of the horror with which the Vatican would like to be seen as seeing child molestation can hardly be conceived. The question of whether the attempted ordination of women is the fault of secularists, Freemasons, journalists, homosexuals or the Jews will doubtless be investigated in due course.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

He Was A Parasite Too

Evil monster Raoul Moat asked for psychiatric help last summer, raising questions as to whether he should have been preventatively jailed or shot earlier and confirming the need for instant abolition of social services for the mentally unprofitable.

"I would like to have, erm, a psychiatrist, psychologist, have a word with me regularly, on a regular basis to see if there's somewhere underlying like where I have problem that I haven't seen," the vicious beast was recorded as saying.

"I would like a professional, you know, not a DIY thing you know? A professional thing for someone to come along and say look there's area for improvement here. This is a problem," the crazed brute gloated.

"If I'm at fault myself in any way I'm open to all kinds of suggestions but I refuse to spend the rest of my time fighting with social services," the callous killer claimed defiantly.

Newcastle city council, which dealt with the rabid fiend's case, said that it commissioned a report from a psychologist about whether it was safe for the mad dog to live with his two older children.

According to the council, the report recommended no treatment and concerned itself only with the safety and well-being of the children, expenditure of public funds on the well-being of violent, six-foot ex-bouncers being somewhat less defensible in the tabloids.

Prime Minister and professional sensitivity purveyor David Cameron yesterday condemned public sympathy for the callous murderer who sought psychiatric help from social services instead of going private as a real person would have done.

Sympathy should be directed towards Moat's victims, Cameron said, since sympathy, like everything else, is a limited commodity which decreases with expenditure and should not be wasted on those who cannot pay it back.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Numbers Game

The last in a long and distinguished line of Labour Ministers of Unfitness for Purpose, each of whom would sooner have under-claimed on an expenses form than distorted national crime figures for the sake of narrow political interests, has gone squealing to Whitehall's statistics watchdog. Last week, Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative claimed that violent crime and firearms offences had "nearly doubled" under the previous government; an assertion that the chair of the UK Statistics Authority says is not only false but "likely to damage public trust" in the crime figures. A spokesbeing has responded by denying flat out that the UK Statistics Authority has any knowledge of statistics (which, given the way Whitehall has been going for the past thirty years or so, is not an entirely implausible suggestion) and by promising a "review" or, in Standard English, a rapid conversion to an appropriately sober, Sun and Mail attitude of constructive friendliness towards Conservative propaganda, for the business of publishing crime figures. At the moment the figures show that violent crime - possibly even counting that substantial portion which was perpetrated by the Metropolitan Police - fell by more than forty per cent between 1997 and 2009. Given the nature of the Big Society that awaits us - longer hours for less pay and with fewer rights; the many who lose their jobs financially assaulted to help the City and morally humiliated to pacify the Mail - and the rise in all sorts of crime which will likely result, of course this will never do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some Seed Fell Among A Couple And Their Family, And Created the Right Ambience

The General Synod has clunk clunk sputtered magnificently to a close. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who in the past has urged his congregation to exercise tolerance in the face of heresy, compromise in the presence of sin, and sympathy in the doings of Tony Blair, asked his fellow worshippers of the Jewish apocalyptic preacher not to be too apocalyptic, and suggested that they remember "that we might have felt something of light, warmth and welcome from another"; presumably because remembering what one might possibly have done as a follower of Christ is a good deal more fun than remembering what one actually did.

The Anglican civil war continued to assert its moral relevance with a motion to relax rules on couples marrying in churches. "If we say no for whatever reason, we turn people away," worried an archdeacon who has witnessed queues of persons hoping to marry in hotels. "We have lost them because they have a hundred and one other places to go." On the other hand, "if we welcome them and their family and friends, and they have a magnificent day, then who knows where it will lead?" Long is the way and hard, that out of the Holiday Inn leads up to light.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bovine Spongiform Ideology

In line with the deregulatory dogma of every Conservative's favourite mad cow, Daveybloke's cuddly Minister for NHS Privatisation, Andrew Lansley, is making noises about abolishing the Food Standards Agency. Not only was the FSA "set up to protect consumers", which is certainly bad enough; it has also committed the indiscretion of asking food manufacturers to keep their customers informed about exactly what they are buying. Accordingly, Lansley's department says that the FSA is "under review", which is ministerial code for doomed even in a moderate government, let alone in a foam-flecked slash-and-burn administration such as the present one aspires to be. Those of the FSA's functions which do not offend the obesity promotion industry will be taken over by the Department of Health and Defra, which are doubtless pledged to refrain from imposing unnecessary regulation, whether for the sake of short-term political gain or for more sordid and disreputable reasons such as public health. Naturally, Lansley's proposals have caused some indignation among the wheatgerm-and-water Nazis, with some even claiming that the Government has caved in to big business. This is certainly unfair, particularly to the Conservative Party. One does not accuse a glove-puppet of caving in when the fingers waggle.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Creative Differences

A Brilliant Postmodernist, who had spent his life synthesising philosophical and pop-cultural motifs into Intertextual Metafictions to remind those who already knew it that a work of fiction is not necessarily true and has more than one possible interpretation, expired from a surfeit of abstract nouns and applied for admittance to Heaven. However, St Peter on checking the register discovered that the Brilliant Postmodernist was not listed among the creations of God and thus was ineligible to be granted entry.

"Shall I, then, return to earth?" asked the Brilliant Postmodernist, to whom the thought of resuming his successful and lucrative career was not altogether anathema. Furthermore, he was aware of his preference in this direction, and was also aware of his awareness.

"The earth has continued upon its contingent course," St Peter answered him, "and only those with appropriate family connections are permitted to return there after death."

The Brilliant Postmodernist was so annoyed that he almost forgot to maintain an ironic distance from his annoyance; but at that moment an ink-spattered apparition, from whose wings the quills had nearly all been plucked, approached St Peter and whispered in his ear.

"I have good news: your origins have been traced," the saint informed the Brilliant Postmodernist. "Our Recording Angel tells me that you are in fact the creation of a Curmudgeonly Satirist, who now resides in the other place. You had better look him up."

So the Brilliant Postmodernist made his way to Hell, where the Curmudgeonly Satirist was holding a riotous party. The bouncers there failed to recognise the existence of any relationship between the Brilliant Postmodernist and his creator; and they proceeded to dissect, deconstruct and permutate him into Ultimate Nothingness while an aspect of befuddled satisfaction struggled manfully over the Curmudgeonly Satirist's inebriated yet beautiful visage.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Police Apologise Over Botched Non-Assassination

Armed police have offered unreserved apologies over the self-administered shooting of a suspected criminal somewhere north of London this morning.

Despite having a name like that of the villainous mastermind on the last level of a shoot-'em-up game, former nightclub bouncer and certified non-darky Raoul Moat was "treated with wholly undue restraint", a spokesbeing conceded.

"Obviously the handling of this case was inappropriate given the calendrical proximity of the 7/7 anniversary celebrations," said Regional Superintendent Sir Brian Astroblaster.

He was referring to the London suicide bombings of July 2005, which were to blame for the open-verdict death of a deceptively innocent Brazilian and the shooting and subsequent defamation of a man with a beard by the Metropolitan Police.

Although families were unavailable for comment, representatives of various news media were reportedly "disgusted" at the anticlimax to the 6-hour standoff, which featured at least one implicit brain-splattering suicide threat on which Moat failed to make good.

As pinky-fingered dawn drew back the shades of night to lower the curtain on the tragic drama to which film rights have yet to be sold, representatives of various other news media were still lying exhausted from multiple orgasms and were thus unable to comment.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Gnats and Camels

The wonders of Christian love are once again in evidence in the ongoing farce that is the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury blames the petering out of John's second coming on the fact that his candidacy for the Southwark bishopric was leaked to the media, "enabling conservative clerics to stop the appointment". Evidently, if the leak had not taken place and John had been appointed, the lunatic fringe would have accepted his elevation as a sign of the Divine Will and gone quietly and modestly about the Lord's business until the time grew ripe for them to re-open the wound about female bishops.

I am not certain how much time, effort and noise has been expended over this earth-shaking moral question of whether or not women and homosexuals are second-order human beings and thereby fit only to be subordinate Christians. I am sure a good deal less noise emerged from the ranks of the Anglican civil war when the Archbishop of York proclaimed that he had nothing to say to make sense of the earthquake in Haiti - in other words, that the church's second most senior theologian is a self-confessed incompetent at justifying the more merciful ways of God to humanity.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

They Surely Won't Be Missed

A Conservative MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, plans to risk arrest by the forces of the London Haystack and lead a march on Downing Street in protest at Michael Gove's preliminary assault on the remains of our education system. Gove has had to make an "unreserved apology" in the House of Commons for leaving some of the wrong schools off his little list, and has even "vowed to apologise to every school affected by the blunder", although it is not clear whether this means he will be travelling in person to Derby, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Doncaster, Greenwich, Staffordshire, Wiltshire, Lancashire and Sandwell in the West Midlands to offer up his contrition at morning assembly. Even if Gove should choose the less effortful New Labour/scumbag press expedient of being "sorry if anyone should inexplicably have taken offence", Liddell-Grainger is unlikely to be mollified: "All our schools are very bad," he said. "They were built a long time ago. We were promised this because we are the only industrial town in the West Country. We need those schools so we can bring everything up to date so it all dovetails in to create the engineers we are going to need in the future." If he really believes that Conservative education policy has to do with forward planning or, perish the thought, an economy managed by something other than market forces, Liddell-Grainger must have a very strange idea of what his party has been about these thirty years. One does not need a lot of cumbersome, expensive new buildings to opportunify prole-parents in teaching their children how to spell WILL WORK FOR FOOD.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Guaranteed For Life

Once upon a time, the first father in the world set out looking for a gift to give his child. He fancied himself a hard bargainer, so the gift must be guaranteed for life.

He had travelled many days and miles, rejecting the wares of all sorts of entrepreneurs both honest and not so honest, when the Creator of the universe appeared to him in the guise of an old woman selling milk and apples.

"What are those?" the father asked.
"Health and beauty, strong bones and rosy cheeks for a fine young person," the old woman sang.
"Are they guaranteed?" the father asked.
"Indeed they are," cackled the old woman; "the milk will go sour and the apples will go brown; the bones will crack and the cheeks will go wrinkly; and in the end all will rot to nothing."
"Then they are not good enough for my child," the father said, and went on his way.

After the father had rejected many another bargain, some fairly good and some not so good and not a single one guaranteed for life, the Creator disguised himself once more, this time as a greasy young man with nothing but a flimsy paper book in his hand. Appearing before the father, he tore a ticket from the book and held it out temptingly.

"What is that?" the father asked.
"A chance to win the lottery. Wealth and prosperity for the child of a fine gentleman," the greasy young man grinned.
"Is it guaranteed?" the father asked, staring at the piece of paper on which the words SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY were printed in small, unimportant-looking letters.
"If wealth were guaranteed, it would no longer be wealth," said the greasy young man; "and prosperity could hardly exist if there were no competition."
"Then it is not good enough for my child," the father snapped, and went on his way.

After many more days and miles, for it never does to rush these things, the Creator put on the guise of a powerful god and appeared again before the father, who promptly fell flat on his face and began to grovel. "Take this," the Creator said, holding out a gleaming object.

The father took the object and nearly dropped it again, because it had cut his hand to the bone. It was a sword with two points, one towards the holder and one towards the world; it had neither hilt nor guard, and the blade was deadly sharp all round.

"What is this?" the father asked, wrapping it in his cloak.
"My gift," the Creator said. "With it your child will suffer, and will cause suffering to others."
"Is it guaranteed?" asked the father, because he fancied himself a hard bargainer.
"Indeed it is," said the Creator. "Guaranteed for life."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Respected Patriarch

A Respected Patriarch, whose eldest daughter had caused him much anxiety by running away in a manner which could not easily be explained to the neighbours, discovered her in flagrante delicto with an Evil Abortionist and his freshly greased coathanger.

"Cold-blooded murderer and accessory after the fact to my considerable inconvenience!" fulminated the Respected Patriarch. "Tell me, before the Lord strike you dead: what have you done to my child?"

"To which of your children are you referring?" asked the Evil Abortionist. "The eldest, on whom I have just performed a minor operation, is healthy enough; the youngest is mostly to be found in the metal bucket at your feet. As to your other children, by your current wife as well as the previous two: all I have done to them is the service of removing a competitor from their midst."

"You will be answerable for the suffering you have caused!" raged the Respected Patriarch.

"I am very happy to hear it," said the Evil Abortionist; "your eldest child is thoroughly sedated and, when she wakes up, will be thoroughly relieved; in the case of the bucket's inhabitant the nerves had no connection with the brain, and thus no suffering was inflicted. Of course," continued the Evil Abortionist, pulling the condoms off his fingers, "you yourself have been put to some small trouble and anxiety on your way here, but rest assured: the young lady came to me before going to the newspapers, and I was able to persuade her that your income would attract more journalistic humanitarianism than her difficulty. My work is, of course, its own reward; but a modest cash deposit in the kidney dish to the left of the exit door would be a commendable precaution as well as a suitable wedding present."

Monday, July 05, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Abstain from Lying with Mankind, as with Womankind

The endearing faction of a minority religious sect is crying to heaven once more over the tortured moral issue of whether a celibate Christian male should be disqualified from high office in the church if he happens to practise his celibacy with regard to other males rather than, as is proper, practising his celibacy in a fashion that would get him admitted to any bed-and-breakfast in the country. Seven years ago Dr Jeffrey John was appointed bishop of Reading, whereupon the same endearing faction of the Anglican church threatened to take its endearing qualities elsewhere. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as he usually does when faced with this sort of blackmail, asked himself what Christ would have done and, in a flurry of high-flown verbosity about tolerance and mutual understanding, made haste to fire John and appoint somebody else.

Now there is a vacancy in Southwark, for which two names must be presented by the Crown Nominations Commission to Daveybloke, who will present one, presumably the Saviour's personal choice, to the Queen - who will rubber-stamp it as she rubber-stamps everything that happens to be sufficiently ludicrous or insignificant for her constitutional role to encompass. A conservative evangelical group, which calls itself Reform in much the same spirit as one of our three parties of big business calls itself Labour, has already "warned the church could split" (or, in Standard English, threatened to split the church) should John be appointed. Someone called Chris Sugden, an experienced splitter in his own right, has told the BBC that clergy and parishes who feel defiled by John's authority will go off and find a real man to obey in Nigeria or somewhere. Someone called Ray Skinner gave mention to "North America, with its shrinking liberal Episcopal Church, and growing orthodox Anglican Church": a most relevant point given the Saviour's well-known democratic teaching that the more people agree with you, the righter you are.

Rather bizarrely, Britain's leading liberal newspaper reports all this mean-minded insularity under world news, presumably because somebody mentioned the United States. Although Reform, Chris Sugden and Ray Skinner are all quoted extensively, not a single voice was found to speak in John's favour. It is not clear whether this is due to Britain's leading liberal newspaper finding some comments more sacred than facts, or to the brand of moral courage practised by liberal Anglicans.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Subtle Distinction

The world, as we know, remains so resource-rich and bare of human beings that fertility treatments can be had on the National Health Service, which is itself in such topping financial form that it can afford to hand out such treatments with no adverse effect on the health of those of us who are already here. Accordingly, a New Labour acronym is considering a relaxation of its guidelines which would allow older women to undergo IVF, given the present universal dearth of living children without parental care. The distinction between public health (the prevention and cure of illness) and private wants (such as the wish for a family coupled with a reluctance to settle for second-hand) has got rather subtle, it appears; to the best of my knowledge a banker made unhappy by poverty is not yet allowed to claim financial therapy on the NHS, though some hospitals will pay for a well-fed chaplain to inform him of the vanity of worldly wealth.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

If You're Not Working, You Should Be Hurting

Daveybloke's cuddly Minister for Idleness Prevention, the dependably regrettable Iain Duncan Smith, has registered enthusiasm for a scheme whereby the idleness police at JobCentre Plus will be given lists of local charities where non-utilisable human resources may be sent in order to exchange vouchers for food. Presumably, in order to prevent waste, the obese and the immorally pregnant will be means-tested by tonnage beforehand. The Government is "keen the policy is seen as an attempt to bolster the voluntary sector, rather than the state abandoning people who fall through the welfare net", for the very good reason that the policy consists in the state, under the rubric of an attempt to bolster the voluntary sector, abandoning people who fall through the welfare net. The idea, if that is the word I want, is seen as a practical manifestation of Daveybloke's Big Society shtik, which consists essentially in the assertion that, except in cases of severe party donor hardship, the state should take little or no responsibility for the welfare of its own citizens. Duncan Smith therefore plans to cut a lot more holes in the welfare net and then punish and humiliate the people who fall through, in accordance with the tried and tested Thatcherite maxim that the best palliative for a kick in the teeth is a stomach-punch to incentivise clear enunciation.

A number of welfare recipients are already undergoing appropriate lifestyle adjustments because the Department of Idleness Prevention can take three weeks or more to assess a claim and will sometimes stop payments while doing so, in case the customer absconds to Belize or somewhere. However, a source close to Duncan Smith, which understandably found anonymity advisable in the circumstances, observed: "Particularly with food banks, we should be looking at the ability of staff in jobcentres to [direct claimaints to the charity], because it makes a difference to someone, and makes a difference to their lives." It is certainly reassuring that the difference between eating and starving has obtruded itself on the intellect of at least one of Duncan Smith's chums.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Infant History

For Level 1 Certificate of Pride in our Island's Story

Answer all questions. Faith-school pupils are excused from getting answers right owing to the indeterminacy of history and the distinction between sincerely held beliefs and mere legalistic facts. Fee-paying pupils should consult Table C for permitted cheating levels.

1. Stonehenge is one of Britain's most profitable neolithic sites. Discuss the role of market forces in its construction and the possibility that interference by a centralised government led to its present condition.

2. Was the Roman intervention in Britain (a) a humanitarian effort to spread the benefits of civilisation, (b) a rationally self-protective measure against Druidic extremism, or (c) an Italian defeat in the second round thanks to Scotland playing better than England?

3. Give an account of the spread of Anglicanism as promulgated by Augustine of Canterbury on the orders of Pope Gregory I.

4. Discuss perceptions of the Conquest of 1066 in terms of the effectiveness of Norman media relations, thereby having it both ways in terms of pro-English bias and might making right.

5. Show how Henry V's predilection for boiling alive those people he didn't agree with is a more or less minor quibble compared with the glory that was Agincourt.

6. Discuss either the East India Company or the Atlantic slave trade, accounting for the moderate and acceptable native casualties in terms of subcontinental railway networks or the rise of American democracy.

7. Write a 500-word counterfactual showing that the history of Ulster would have been incomparably more bloody if Cromwell and the English landlords had been soft on the Irish.

8. Write a 500-page counterfactual in the Phillip Blond tradition, showing what a great country Britain could be if we all lived in villages and knew our place.

9. Demonstrate the implacable malignancy of the Trade Union movement.

10. Who won the war, then?

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mundane Mutability, Expandable Strategicality

Daveybloke's Minister of Wogs, Frogs and Huns and special nuncio to Belize, Willem den Haag, has been quiet of late; presumably he has had more than enough to do in placating Lord Ashcroft over the Conservatives' failure to deliver Total Victory in May despite all the special help they received. Today den Haag was ejected onto the international stage amid a miasma of Blairite clichés about changing worlds, British interests and major reappraisals. With the usual degree of courage and honesty, den Haag blamed the previous Government for Britain's decline: "the latest figures show we export more to Ireland than we do to India, China and Russia put together", possibly because our manufacturing base has been in tatters for a quarter of a century or so while those who should be investing in new industries are invited to get rich quick by gambling in the City or having a wallow in the PFI money-pit. Now, I wonder whose government started all that? The name's on the tip of my tongue. Winston Churchill, perhaps? No, it's gone. Anyway, despite being intensely relaxed about the lack of representation in the British cabinet for anyone other than white male millionaires, den Haag also blames New Labour for the fact that Britain's presence among the Eurocrats is disproportionately small in terms of the our share of the continent's breeding capacity. "So the idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain's influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction"; while Conservative policy on Europe for the past couple of decades has been a judicious and constructive mix of tabloid xenophobia and civil war, culminating in Daveybloke's defection from the main centre-right bloc in order to join a motley gang of bigots and flat-earthers for whom Silvio Berlusconi is too much of a Socialist. Den Haag also "clarified" the issue of Afghanistan as it relates to Daveybloke's electioneering versus Liam Fox's publicly expressed wish not to be deprived of his toys; and he deigned to acknowledge the existence of India, Turkey and Indonesia, as well as that of Brazil, which is sufficiently close to Belize to be noticed on its own and just about big enough to be seen even by the man who failed to notice where Lord Ashcroft was paying his taxes.