The Curmudgeon


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Economy of Scale

Without the risk of qualm or pity,
Push buttons to destroy a city -

But though the buttons make it very
Easy - are they necessary?

Twemlop Bunt

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Teabag Leaves

Larry Teabag has tamped his last pax and KO'd his last text. He's tied up his phooey and peed away his gee. His weblog has been languishing for a while, and rather than leave it lying around for incautious netizens to tread in, he has decided to terminate it altogether. Sic transit gloria blogi. Larry has, however, been considerate enough (from my point of view) or otherwise (from everyone else's) to send me the text of the very generous review of my novel Beelzebub which he posted in 2007. I don't get so many reviews that I can afford to see one lost to posterity, so here, whether you like it or not, it is.

The tone of Philip Challinor's debut novel Beelzebub is set from the flyleaf:

"The quotations attributed to Jesus are taken from the New English Bible. Those attributed to Vlad Dracula are taken from Dracula: Prince of Many Faces by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally."

The only other real person quoted in the book is Adolf Hitler.

Beelzebub is set four thousand years after The Rapture - the event at which (we assume) all good Christians were freed from death and reunited with their saviour, while the rest of humanity was, well, not. The novel is set within The Redoubt: a vast metal box enclosing a society of satanists, isolated from the outside world under the terms of their Pact with their master Beelzebub. The story is narrated by Vadol, a troubled (like everyone) but brilliant (unlike most) young sorcerer.

As the details of his life are fleshed out, we are treated to a succession of spectacular (and spectacularly nasty) psychedelic sequences involving familiars, prophetic dreams, homunculi, magical rites, and the doings of satanic sects. But it seems that in many ways life in the Redoubt is not so different from that in contemporary Britain:

"The pattern of lifetimes, even now, is to become conscious, grow dissatisfied, cast around at random for solutions, get nowhere, and die."

Beelzebub's author is of course best known around these parts for his blog The Curmudgeon. And despite the plentiful supply of phantasmagoria, the overwhelming atmosphere is indeed one of grouchy discontentment. Damnation, it seems, is neither fire nor brimstone but being trapped in a dysfunctional society of cynical individuals with nothing to do but indulge their meaningless political ambitions. To this extent, Beelzebub can certainly be read as social satire. (The idea of The Rapture as historical reality - particularly as penned by the author of blog-posts such as this - also had me smiling.)

A consequence of this is a curious juxtaposition between the events which befall Vadol, which become ever more imaginative in their outlandishness, and his reaction to them which, for the most part, is one of eyeball-rolling irritation.

The agent responsible for the decay of everything in The Redoubt is The Syndrome: over time and for reasons unknown, the food loses its nutrition, and the people become ever more apathetic and incapable of anything very much. But there might be an answer, if the biological schemers of the Genesis Faculty are to be believed, and Vadol may be more closely involved than he realises. He gradually discovers his true identity through a series of dreams and events which are weird even by the high local standard.

Of course it's hard in such a context to fully appreciate which of the occult occurrences are important and which incidental; if I have a negative criticism of Beelzebub, it's that it's slowed down (especially towards the beginning) by dwelling on insignificant details, while the narrator insists on how tiresome it all is.

The picture that is painted of a magical but pathological society is wonderfully effective; despite the prominence of the Devil's spine, the occasional demon, and the numerous cloaked rituals, the magic is for the most part psychological in nature, and limited in scope, not of the near-omnipotent wands and broomsticks variety. Though the mind-probing and magical seals and so on are miraculous, they're nevertheless intuitive and require physical effort. Especially pleasing is the relationship between Vadol and his familiar Wheatley; they are mutually psychically dependent, but it's altogether a more bitter affair than the cosy symbiosis of (for instance) His Dark Materials:

"There was only raw pain, raw fear, raw servitude, and raw confusion at the condition of being half-alive; the so-called familiar condition."

This is a closed society constructed around evil, and Challinor doesn't shy away from addressing this head-on, without romanticising. Life is cheap in The Redoubt, and hence a general ambience of nastiness and distrust. Plus, of course, there are the references to Vlad and Adolf and their bloodbaths. Most of the characters have (and deserve) a fairly unpleasant time, at the hands of their self-centered peers.

Beyond any satire, this is a fictional account of a satanist society, whose priorities one does not and should not share. But this is no morality tale, the central character is intelligent and likeable, and his motives more or less understandable. So, as it nears its conclusion you may fail to notice that the triumphant meeting with destiny, for which the book's heroes ultimately wish, is not one which civilised people should welcome. Indeed, by taking the story slowly, and telling it from the perspective of a sympathetic character, Beelzebub left this reader, at least, cheering wholeheartedly for the Antichrist.

Beelzebub by Philip Challinor is published by Lulu, and can be bought online here. An extract can be found here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Does Bean Count?

One of the more disingenuous tricks in Margaret Thatcher's rhetorical handbag was her use of the language of household economics to illustrate points about Britain's domestic economy. When a nation is in debt, she said, it should let its children go hungry rather than spend more money, because that is what a responsible parent must do now that the Victorian poor laws have been emasculated by generations of interfering crypto-communists. Or is that an uncharitable summary? Anyway, some posturing nonentity whose name escapes me at the moment revived this idea quite recently: Britain's present situation, it said, is "the same as a family with earnings of £26,000 a year who are spending £32,000 a year. Even though they’re already £40,000 in debt". And that's why Philip Green wants your pension. It is one of the very few issues on which right-wing British governments (viz. British governments) are immune to the American influence: the Roosevelt administration spent its way out of economic trouble during the 1930s, while navigating that unaccountable gap in American history which stretches from the great nation's useful intervention in the British victory of 1918 until 1940, when the United States fought shoulder to shoulder with its junior partner in the Battle of England.

Now, however, the deputy governor of the Bank of England says that in the present situation, with household debt at famously unmanageable levels, "we want to see households not saving more but spending more". Banks and businesses have such faith in the Chopper Coalition's economic policy that neither is willing to risk the possibility of the next bail-out coming with inconvenient conditions about boardroom bonuses; therefore let the little man step forth and do his part. The deputy governor of the Bank of England thinks households ought to forget about living just off their income: "it may make sense for them to eat into their capital a bit", especially with jobs being so secure and benefits so generous these days. Or is that an uncharitable summary?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lord Ashcroft Thinks of the Children

The leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Ashcroft, has demonstrated the business ethic behind the rhetoric on family values which is so beloved of right-wingers from Thatcher through her acolyte Blair to Blair's copycat Daveybloke: he has used his children as a tax dodge. So as to leave us in no doubt as to his respect for the country he tried to buy a few months ago, Ashcroft transferred ownership of his main British company one day before the passing of legislation requiring all members of both the House of Donors and the House of Expenses Claimants to be registered in the UK for tax purposes. Had he waited, the inheritance tax would have been something over three million pounds: enough to help a hospital or two perhaps, if the Chopper Coalition had any interest in that sort of thing; or possibly to put up some school buildings, assuming (charitably) that three million pounds is a large enough sum for Michael Gove to avoid leaving in a taxi or feeding to Danny Alexander or one of the other little yellow hamsters scuttling about Whitehall these days.

These, at least, are the allegations of a BBC Panorama documentary, which "senior Conservatives are understood" to have ordered the BBC not to broadcast during the run-up to the general election. Naturally, the director general and the BBC Trust displayed their usual combination of investigative zeal and spinal fortitude, and caved in. Nevertheless, a spokesbeing for Ashcroft said that the BBC had made "a fundamental error", aside from its ongoing blunder of not being owned by people like Lord Ashcroft. The Panorama programme does in fact claim that the tax dodge was legal and broke no rules; and Ashcroft is apparently polishing up his knuckle-dusters to clarify matters tomorrow.

Update Well, well. According to the BBC, Lord Ashcroft, who has nothing to hide, was asked about his alleged share transfer two weeks ago and requested to respond by 24 September. His lawyers were so busy having nothing to hide that they responded a moment or two before the programme was due to go out, and the BBC duly pulled it from the schedule a second time. The shares which were transferred apparently represented an "indirect interest"; presumably they were a gift to Lord Ashcroft's children made by a total stranger without Lord Ashcroft's knowledge or consent, and certainly they can have had nothing to do with the tax affairs of which he has been so innocent all this time. Naturally, Lord Ashcroft is more saddened than angry that the BBC has wasted time and public money waiting for answers from the owner of a political party which has some small interest, if only an indirect one, in appearing to be democratically accountable. Lord Ashcroft regretted the "demise of journalistic standards" at the BBC, which certainly would not have taken place if the BBC, like the Sun, the Mail and the Murdoch Times, were owned by someone like Lord Ashcroft instead of by a lot of greasy little taxpayers.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Altar Sanctifieth the Gift

Some victims of the Orthodox delusion are annoyed because Westminster Abbey has on more or less public display a tabot, a religious artifact which was taken from northern Ethiopia in 1868 by some brave young men doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances. The relevant threat to Christian civilisation, Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide to avoid capture, whereupon his clothes were removed and his hair torn out by the glorious exemplars of the vigour of Victorian Anglicanism. According to Ethiopian custom, tabots are consecrated rather than buildings and their grounds as in the more enlightened western tradition, and nobody other than priests is supposed to look at them. The British Museum has thirteen tabots; rather than doing anything silly like returning them, it has agreed that they should never be handled by the curates or put on display, because the "material is integral to the museum's purpose, to tell the story of human cultural achievement". The Westminster Abbey tabot is inlaid at the rear of an altar constructed in 1870 and, in the words of a spokesbeing, has "never been made a great show of", although it is not clear whether its lack of prominence constitutes an entirely intentional show of tact. Faced with demands for the object's return, the Abbey has taken the Rowan Williams approach: the dean's office has proclaimed, "I don't think there will be any further developments. I'm sorry that this comes as a disappointment", while a spokesbeing has said, "We've never said we're not going to return it". According to the latter, the Abbey needs to take technical advice on whether the altar would be damaged by the tabot's removal, property values being so much more important than brotherly respect between Christians.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Christian Conscience

This month's state visit by the Dear Leader of Vatican Incorporated must have been rather galling for the Church of England; not only for the largely favourable coverage it received, but because of its main sectarian purpose, the beatification of the turncoat John Henry Newman by Benedict the Bigot-Rustler. Five days after the Pope's departure, the Archbishop of Canterbury has judged the atmosphere safe enough to risk discussing, once again, the great moral issue of the day, and to show once again that, whatever the Saviour may have said about lukewarmness in the first century, two thousand years have been quite enough to reconcile the sky-daddy with those who, in His name, blow neither hot nor cold.

As always, Williams triangulates between the liberals who have not read their Bible properly and the conservatives who deny evolution. He has "no problem" with gay bishops, provided they remain celibate, as befits the objectively disordered, while celibacy for heterosexuals remains optional. "To put it very simply, there's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop", although to put it very simply, there is one: "there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe". This is why, for example, the clergy eat only kosher food and are permitted to hold slaves. Hence, Williams does not feel he can endorse gay relationships for bishops and clergy because of the likely cost to the church; much as some other clergymen long ago did not feel they could endorse interfering with the free market in Jerusalem because of the likely cost to the Jews.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Twitter Terror Tweeter Trial Terror Trap

Last January, thanks to the snow, a trainee accountant named Paul Chambers was foiled in his fiendish plan to meet a woman. "Crap!" he posted on Twitter. "Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" A week later anti-terrorist officers came to his workplace and arrested him under a (rather surprisingly) pre-Blairite law which is meant to deal with hoaxers who make credible threats to blow things up. A district judge declared himself satisfied that the message was of a "menacing nature in the context of the times we live in", since nothing is more credible than that a terrorist would give a week's advance warning using his own identity, and fined Chambers a thousand pounds. At his appeal today, Chambers' lawyer said that the message was "obviously facetious" on the grounds that it contained the word crap and three exclamation marks. Indeed, so cunning was this disguise that the airport authorities regarded Chambers' message as "a non-credible threat" and took no action. The prosecution has pointed out that Chambers sent a similar message to the lady he was planning to meet, which contained no exclamation marks and was couched in altogether more sober language. Obviously, this makes any facetious intent much more difficult to prove - particularly to legal professionals who are required not only to implement each and every Act of bad comedy which is tossed out by the Home Office and script-doctored by Parliament, but to keep a straight face while doing so.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flaming Idiocy

Six men have been arrested on suspicion of emulating a very naughty boy. Supposedly they set fire to two copies of the Koran, then posted a video of the auto da fé on YouTube. It is not known whether any members of our own Government intervened in order to try and stop them; but since the incident took place in Gateshead, which is part of the prole-haunted wasteland between Greater London and the Scottish border, it seems unlikely that the present ruling class would have bothered. The charge, if there is one, will be incitement to racial hatred, although it is far from obvious precisely how much hatred a film of half a dozen twits playing with matches behind a pub might hope to incite. In fact, such was the skill of their director of photography that, while police have apparently been able to trace the men involved, it does not seem entirely certain that the Koran was involved at all. Since Britain is not yet a totalitarian state and is only nominally a Christian one, and since laws against crass stupidity are regrettably impracticable, perhaps these particular crusaders should simply have been allowed to have their fun; provided that the books were bought with their own money and were not unique or historically valuable copies, and provided that they could legally have burned copies of A Journey or The Da Vinci Code or some other waste paper in the same place.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Scene of the Crime

That paragon of British values, the Upper Miliband, appears to be suffering pangs of disturbed self-interest over the matter of torture. Of course, the Upper Miliband knows that torture is illegal and believes that it is morally unacceptable, and to suggest that he is inclined to put up with it for a moment is to perpetrate an unforgivable and baseless slander against a great statesman and a brilliant Foreign Secretary. That is what the Upper Miliband has told us, and given that he was a New Labour minister who had to go squeaking to the Americans for an alibi, his accusers have little choice but to fall silent. Unfortunately, it appears that the Upper Miliband is not as certain as he would like to be that the Labour Party respects his abilities sufficiently to make him the most vacuous managerial technocrat to become CEO since the last vacuous managerial technocrat who became CEO. In an effort to defeat the conspiracy theorists and forces of conservatism once and for all, the Upper Miliband today dropped by the Foreign Office to consult some files. The present Secretary for Wogs, Frogs and Huns, Willem den Haag, was no doubt busy leafing through Lord Ashcroft's book to see if he got a mention, and the Upper Miliband was able to prove to his own satisfaction that there was no evidence against himself and that, as was usual with New Labour ministers, he "always made the right call". Well, that settles that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let Them Use Ryanair

The Association of Train Operating Companies has come up with a brilliant idea for resolving the expensive chaos which has resulted from the breaking up and selling off of Britain's national railway system; namely, that the remnants of Britain's national railway system should be broken up and sold off, preferably to further the aggrandisement of the Association of Train Operating Companies. "There are many precedents in other utility sectors of national monopolies being commercialised and broken into standalone regional companies," glibs its proposal to the Secretary of State for the Motor Industry, Porker Hammond. No doubt there are many precedents for the commercialisation and dismemberment of such utilities resulting in lower prices and greater efficiency, although specific examples - water companies, energy companies, PFI hospitals - were apparently too numerous to mention. The Association also suggests "vertical integration", i.e. trains and tracks being operated by a single company, if only in certain places. There would be no need to worry about this making the network any speedier or safer, because ultimately these units could be broken up and sold off as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Paid Millions for This Party and it Doesn't Even Work Properly

The leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Ashcroft, has published a hundred-and-thirty-page hissy-fit about Daveybloke's failure to win an outright majority against an unpopular and discredited government. Ashcroft criticises Daveybloke's Cuddlies for "unnecessary and counterproductive attacks" on Labour, which seems a little harsh given that the Conservatives agreed with Labour on so many issues that any opportunity to make an actual attack must have come as a welcome break in the neoliberality. Ashcroft believes that Daveybloke's Cuddlies should instead have focused on persuading the electorate that the party had changed from the nasty, stupid, privatising, poor-bashing, child-imprisoning, immigrant-kicking party of yore into a nice, stupid, privatising, poor-bashing, child-imprisoning, immigrant-kicking party like New Labour. Apparently Daveybloke's failure to win an overall majority shows that the voters were unconvinced that this transformation had occurred. Ashcroft also thinks Daveybloke and the Minister for Belize, Willem den Haag, "could have mounted a more spirited defence" over the purchase of his peerage. That was certainly a wasted opportunity. If anything could have persuaded the voters that the Conservatives had changed for the better, a spirited defence of Lord Ashcroft's lily-white dealings might just have been it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Dead Swan

The dead swan lay in the stagnant pool.
It lay. It rotted. It turned
To the right occasionally.
Bits of flesh dropped off it from
Time to time.
And sank into the pool's mire.
It also smelt a great deal.

With apologies to Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings

Saturday, September 18, 2010

We Don't Need Your Kind Around Here

For the benefit of any stray left-wingers who may have failed to get the message, Daveybloke's orange muffler has provided a helpful hint. "The Lib Dems never were and aren't a receptacle for leftwing dissatisfaction with Labour", it said; "There is no future for that, there never was." On the other hand, a glorious and brilliant future demonstrably awaits the Lib Dems if they can only find the courage to continue in their new-found role as the Third Party of Thatcherism. The Conservative attack on the public sector is already devastatingly popular, and the Lib Dems' collaborationist zeal in sticking to their own values, instincts and (incidentally) ambitions has engorged their poll ratings to a glittering fourteen per cent. Nobody can predict what might happen to the Lib Dems after five years of more of the same; but it should at least be clear to everyone that there is no more room in their party for disaffected leftists than there is in Britain's other two main right-wing parties.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pope Pope Pope Pope Pope Pope Pope

Britain continued to be full of pope today as the pope's papal visit continued to fill Britain with the papacitous popeness of its papal popery.

The pope, who expects no crowds to greet him and consistently dresses in a modest and self-effacing manner, has warned against the culture of celebrity except as it applies to the likes of John Henry Newman and certain anatomical specimens.

The pope has also blamed the Holocaust on the atheistic urge to do away with God. Hitler, who was brought up a Catholic, forsook hundreds of years of Christian tradition in favour of persecuting Jews and dissidents while invoking Providence as his guide.

The pope is expected soon to blame the excesses of the mediaeval witch-hunts on militant secularism. Heretics were always handed over to the secular arm of the state for punishment, while the Church did nothing more than abstain from being its brother's keeper.

The pope's papal visit is the first papal visit by a papal pope since the previous papal visit by the previous papal pope during the papal popery of the previous pope's papacy.

The pope is visiting as the leader of a minority religious sect, but occasionally transubstantiates into a head of state for funding purposes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Symbolic Gestures

The chair of Daveybloke's Cuddlies, Lady Warsi, has been blathering at some bishops in Oxford. She accused New Labour of having acted as if religious faith were the preserve of "oddities, foreigners and minorities", and of being too suspicious of the potential of religious charity to provide an inexpensive dole for the proles without lecturing them too much. Leaving aside Tony's crusade against the infidels, New Labour's enthusiasm for faith schools, the Glorious Successor (he was the son of a preacher man) and his Rowan Williams-model moral compass, and one or two other minor matters, I suppose this might be considered a reasonable point of view; at least by anyone capable of believing in a sky-daddy who gives brownie points to good little grovellers and considers female ordination almost as forgivable as child-buggering. Lady Warsi has spent the week celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid and dining with the chief rabbi, and will be meeting the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak later on; she hopes that this will banish the myth that Daveybloke's Chopper Coalition does not "do God". Unfortunately, she did not specify whether the God which the coalition does is the Jewish, the Muslim or the Christian; and she was almost certainly too tactful to point out that the adherents of all three of these amiable faiths have a habit of going for one another's throats in places where a non-secular government explicitly favours any one of them. Yet still there are those who think of the Conservatives as the Stupid Party.

In other news, the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak has been praising America's co-crusader as an enormous force for good, and has made a symbolic gesture at the titular head of the Church of England. The gesture took the form of a ninth-century illuminated manuscript which was torn apart during the Thirty Years' War, when religion was being an enormous force for good in Germany. Half of the original is now in Romania, where Nicolae Ceausescu's Catholic attitude to family planning was such an enormous force for good; the other half is in the Vatican library. The version presented by the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak is a facsimile, doubtless prudently low-priced compared to the original fragments, and an apt symbol of Christendom as he would have it: reunited, whole, entire, and fake.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vested Interests

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, who spent the last election campaign burbling about "broken Britain", whose party is in hock to the restrained and rational Murdoch press, and whose orange muffler has been known to make rah-rah noises about out-Thatchering the old bag herself, has registered irritation at the "inflammatory arguments" being used by some people on the nasty, wastrel side of the war on the public sector. "Downing Street sources", with the possible exception of Honest Andy whose cosy relationship with the Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club rather disqualifies him from such uncouth conduct, criticised the Police Federation's warnings about "Christmas for criminals" as one example of the kind of irresponsible scaremongering of which Daveybloke disapproves now that he is in office. A spokesbeing said that Daveybloke would not be "bowing to vested interests", such as the sort of exploitative, taxpayer-fleecing fat cat who shamelessly uses public health, education or transport as an excuse for making a living. No doubt this self-imposed obeisance cap is jolly reassuring for some. If Daveybloke were to bow any lower to a certain silk-vested interest in Belize, for example, somebody might take it into their head to use his obsequiously wobbling gluteus as a springboard for getting in Lord Ashcroft's face.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

All That Body Armour Won't Come Cheap, You Know

When the Working Classes Bubble with Sedition (with sedition),
And Riotous Behaviour is at Hand (is at hand),
Then Jumps the British Bobby to his Mission (to his mission)
And, cased in Kevlar, Fights the Traitor Band (traitor band).

When a Budgetary Twit gets out his Chopper (out his chopper)
And Rubs his Hands at all the Cuts to Come (cuts to come),
Why, then the British Bobby comes a Cropper (comes a cropper)
And is Treated just like any Single Mum (single mum).

Taking one Consideration with Another (with another),
A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One (happy one).

The president of the Police Superintendents' Association is to convey "surprise and disappointment" that police forces have not been given the kind of immunity from George's little chopper which - presumably in order to facilitate the continuing profitability of the Private Finance Initiative - has been extended to parts of the NHS. "In an environment of cuts across the wider public sector, we face a period where disaffection, social and industrial tensions may well rise", and Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett intends to make certain the Home Secretary appreciates the importance of a happy and confident police force in ensuring that all the casualties are inflicted by the right side. In a marvellously convoluted sentence, he shrugs off the contributions of police community support officers, special constables and non-warranted police staff by lumping them in with journalists and politicians, and notes that when the inevitable disorder erupts (though "not because of this particular government", perish the thought), it will not be such people who have to go out and crack heads. "It will be our police officers", who now number a record hundred and forty thousand.

Barnett reinforces his point by reference to the Peterloo incident of 1819, in which about a dozen brave young men doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances were slaughtered and hundreds more injured by rampaging political protesters, according to the official pathologist's report. Barnett compares the massacre to "the current alcohol-related disorder", and says that history has taught him that "there will always be widespread threats to the public peace", much as history tends to teach generals that there will always be wars, and bankers that there will always be subsidies.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Childishly Simple

A Government-sponsored survey of children in care has found that a demented ideological adherence to "family values" is not always the best solution for an unprofitably maltreated infant resource. The survey found that, mirabile dictu, children who were abused or maltreated by people other than the immigration authorities, and who remained in state care, tended to do better than those who were returned to the tender mercies of their non-GCSE-qualified blood relatives. There does not seem to have been any mention of the actual purpose behind hustling out of care as many as possible of those who cannot be deported; which may be why the National Children's Bureau missed the point so spectacularly with talk of endorsing the value of the care system and warnings against premature returns to the hard-working home. When a child is in care, it is a burden on the taxpayer; when a child is in an abusive family, it is a reason to put somebody in prison. Very few governments, even Conservative governments, are faced very often with so beautifully simple a choice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Crucifixion

With apologies to Andrea Mantegna and Lyndon Hood

Click picture for full-size image

1. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, a ruler with no clothes positioned to the Saviour's right, looks away from the Saviour and invites his Adoring Public to contemplate his own heavenly perfection.

2. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, a politician with no clothes positioned to the Saviour's left, looks away from the Saviour in order to contemplate something or other.

3. Saint Peter, having disowned the Saviour three times and embodied himself in an elaborate Basilica to symbolise final abandonment of His teachings on poverty and modesty, lurks in the background awaiting his chance.

4. Under the flag of Caesar, an Imperial soldier informs a straying Palestinian of the wages of disobedience.

5. Lambeth Palace, a thin and somewhat dented façade, leans exhaustedly against the barren cliffs of superstition.

6. Saint Anthony, positioned to the right of Pope Benedict, gives voice to a profundity.

7. As the earth shakes and the rocks are rent, Saint Silvio comforts the female mourners because the Pope has better things to do.

8. Incentivised by a soldier of the Lord to become as little children, a pile of Heretics awaits penetration by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Schoolboy Humour

The Labour MP Frank Field, who has somehow got himself appointed as one of Daveybloke's court jesters, will soon be lightening the burden of leadership with a few little jokes about poverty. He will start with the old chestnut about helping working parents, many of whom will not be working for much longer once George the Progressively Regressive starts swinging his little chopper. "We should be responding to what parents want", he will say, cunningly conflating the terms parents and school fee-payers in a neat bit of wordplay which will certainly amuse the Bullingdon bloke whose idea of a jolly jape is saying "twat" on the radio or faking a German accent. Field will also propose the introduction of a GCSE in parenting: a subtly veiled skit on the ever-skittish Michael Gove. Presumably those who fail the GCSE in discipline and family values will not be prevented from becoming parents until they can pass it - much as those who cannot count are not prevented from becoming Secretary of State for Education. To end his routine, Field will recommend that mothers be advanced up to £25,000 in child benefit payments so that they can look after young children. That should bring the house down.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Heavenly Hiccups

Part of Vatican Incorporated's long and profitable success is undoubtedly due to the glibness of its doctrinaires in rationalising away the quirks of a complicated world and the more obtrusive lunacy of their own pronouncements; and the glorious occasion of the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak's visit to Britain has already provided at least one test of the modern church's talents in that regard. Arrayed no doubt in the usual paraphernalia symbolising the brand's noted humility, the Pontiff of Paedophilia will hold an open-air mass in Glasgow before an expected congregation of a hundred thousand people who will be required to stand for five hours in the Blessed Presence, without umbrellas. After all, since when does it rain in Glasgow in September? Apparently there are security concerns, despite the heavenly expectations of the beneficiaries and the presumed bodily presence of the Saviour at the event: faith is a mysterious thing. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, whose favourable view of overcrowding has been noted by your correspondent in the past, took the traditonal view that any discomfort endured by the lower orders would do their morals good, and that the cancellation of their transport was less a cock-up to be deplored than an opportunity to be savoured: "You're not sitting back at the beach relaxing: it's something serious and obviously there's something penitential," he said. "There is penance involved in it, just sacrifice; sacrificing of time, sacrificing of comfort, sacrificing of your energy and so on, to be involved in all that's going on. And I see great benefit from that as well." It is not entirely clear whether the cardinal plans to shed his robes for meaner cloth and mingle with the herd incognito after the fashion of the infidel Haroun al-Raschid; most likely he has less humble sacrifices to make.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Nice Con, Nasty Con

Speaking through an orange muffler, Daveybloke today had a bit of a waffle to inject some balancing cuddliness into the Chopper Coalition's hitherto more or less undisguised slicey-dicey glee. At one point, Daveybloke and his orange muffler strayed close to the more demented outposts of Patsy Hackitt territory, claiming that the removal of a quarter of the public sector should be mostly a matter of reorganising a few timetables rather than abolishing public watchdogs or cancelling school buildings, as Labour would undoubtedly have done. The message appears to be that the public has no cause for alarm because the cuts planned by George the Progressively Regressive are not dramatically different from those which were planned by Labour and which Daveybloke and his orange muffler denounced during the election campaign as pitifully lacking in testosterone. Labour's cuts would have been twenty per cent over four years, while the Conservatives' cuts are twenty-five per cent over four to five years; the crucial difference being that cutting over four to five years "takes place over time", while cutting over four years does not. Also, although Daveybloke and his orange muffler are anxious to quell public anxiety over the cuts, there are plenty of reasons for people to be anxious, because although no frontline services will be excessively devastated, there are some rather naughty "parts of the country that are very dependent on the public sector"; the private sector, for instance. It's all jolly reassuring, I can tell you.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burning Faith

A religious lunatic in Florida, with the appropriately Pythonesque name of Terry Jones, plans to lead his minions in a ceremonial burning of two hundred copies of the Koran, in order to mark the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks. "Instead of us backing down" in the face of radical Muslimity, as has been our habit from Gaza through Iraq to Iran and points east, "maybe it's time to stand up", Jones said. "Maybe it's time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour". It is not clear how well that message will be conveyed by the destruction of a few copies of a book which holds a certain importance not only for radical Muslims, but for the decent minority also. Lebanon's Daily Star, whose ideas of journalistic restraint appear encouragingly similar to those of its British namesake, hinted at "a fire of rage that could consume swathes of the globe", while a paper in the United Arab Emirates described the stunt as "rabid and insane"; so it is conceivable that Jones' call for a nicer, more civilised, more American Muslimity may fall on deaf ears.

Mainstream opinion, which in dealing with alien races tends to prefer robbery with violence to mere literary criticism, has condemned the auto da fé. Hillary Clinton, herself no mean provider of fuel for the fires of Islamic irritability, had a bit of a blather about reaching out, and about the common understanding and common respect which will inevitably burst forth in the coming months and years thanks to the Obama administration's near-seamless continuation of the Bush administration's Middle East policy. Christian and Jewish religious leaders stated that they were "appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text"; apparently none of them had the nerve to speak out against book-burning per se. Meanwhile Jones, in true Christian fashion, has declared that he and his followers are prepared to give their lives while confirming that he himself will be armed so as not to give his own unless absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tube Strike a Success

Government grateful for "useful snapshot"

The Government has thanked striking Tube workers for providing a "useful snapshot" of the future of public transport under the Chopper Coalition.

London haystack and serial bigot-hirer Boris Johnson said, "Thanks to more than two years of my rule, Londoners are a hardy bunch who certainly know better by now than to expect a cheap or efficient public transport system.

"No doubt people will find other ways of getting around, since there is nothing to prevent their employers docking their pay if they turn up late."

A city which had basked for so long in Transport for London's cheerful contempt would have little difficulty coping with industrial action, the mayor said.

Transport for London, which has managed to provoke strikes by two separate groups of workers over different issues in the same week, pronounced itself "deeply satisfied" with the expendability of its human resources.

"This bestial behaviour has only hardened our resolve," foamed a spokesbeing. "We remain crashingly determined to drag London Underground into the future and leave all outdated concepts such as 'staff' and 'safety' blinking in the dust of our fairly minimally delayed departure."

Transport Secretary Porker Hammond said, "This has been a useful snapshot of the future of public transport.

"The world we are preparing will be good for customers, good for business and good for London. Real people will use limousines or taxis and claim expenses. Little people will get up early, get close to one another in high-density wheel-based communities and take lots of exercise."

Monday, September 06, 2010

Consolations of History

From Hadean to Holocene
Is quite a little trip;
From Sumer to the present scene,
A blip within a blip.

Alas, when Monday comes again,
Perspective fails to salve the pain.

Bottery Gradger

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Just the Thing for a Monday Morning

As befits a statesman of such gravitas, the Ascended Incarnation of the Vicar of Downing Street will be pushing his book on early morning television tomorrow. The show is a new one, with the Nietzschean title Daybreak; one of the presenters, Adrian Chiles, has a jolly demeanour and has been accused of financial greed, so it seems there will be a reasonable basis for mutual understanding. I am sure that even the best-paid minions of ITV will not emulate the good people of Dublin, some of whom displayed blatant ingratitude for Tony's achievement in claiming personal credit for the outbreak of peace in Northern Ireland. One highlight of Tony's vaguely autobiographical bunker-buster (admirably filleted here by the Virtual Stoa) is the comparison Tony draws between himself and the sainted Princess of Wales, one of whose relatives will be facing the jolly demeanour and its colleague this Friday. The thought of a working week with Tube strike is made somehow bearable by the prospect of missing it all.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Night of Terror

Police hold foundations of civilisation steady as tabloid editor accused of falsehood

Foreign anarchists fuelled by drink and drugs mounted a violent attack on the heart of British democracy last night, according to the Metropolitan Police.

The trouble began yesterday, when allegations emerged that a Government public-relations officer might have said the thing that was not.

If true, the allegations would be the most devastating revelation about a Downing Street spin doctor since the last time a Downing Street spin doctor was caught telling an untruth.

Previous Downing Street spin doctors have included Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, who between them are largely responsible for the near-universal esteem in which their calling is held.

Downing Street dismissed the allegations with a light laugh. "We'll take the word of a Murdoch tabloid editor and the Metropolitan Police over the New York Times any day," a spokesbeing said.

The Minister for International Exploitation condemned the rioters, saying that they were seizing on the words of someone who thought something ought to be investigated.

A statement by the Metropolitan Police said that nobody had yet been shot, because some of the perpetrators were Americans and might shoot back.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Making it Clear

The BBC, which gave Tony Blair such a hard time over Iraq, is planning a season of programmes about George the Progressively Regressive and his spending cuts. Accordingly, in the interests of fairness, its senior management has been hobnobbing with Daveybloke's public relations staff. Helen Boaden, the news director, has been to lunch with the noted telecommunications researcher Andy Coulson; while Mark Thompson, the director general, has met with the Google sales representative Steve Hilton, who moonlights as Daveybloke's director of strategy.

A BBC spokesbeing ground out the usual story about the Blairite bean-counter Thompson squaring up to the minions of Gideon and his little chopper and informing them in no uncertain terms that the impartiality of the BBC is paramount. This is undoubtedly true, at least in the sense in which Thompson and his ilk understand impartiality: namely, the imparting to the public of the appropriate press releases without fear or favour. Thompson also sought sympathy for the Corporation's difficulty in covering Daveybloke in opposition: "It's easier to cover opposition politics when you've got an opposition with a clear leadership and clear agenda", he said. Since the Daveybloke agenda was essentially the same as New Labour's until the second week in May, when Nick Clegg joined him in pushing it sharply to the right, the BBC must have had quite a time of it when trying to show a difference. Anyway, Thompson assures us that, since the Hutton report firmly rebuked the BBC for being too easy on the ruling class, "impartiality is going up and up the agenda"; so it is only natural and healthy that the Corporation should be asking for tips from the likes of Andy Coulson.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Foreign Secretary Denies Wrongdoing

Emotiporn breakthrough as den Haag rebuts allegations of impropriety

England's Minister for Wogs, Frogs and Huns, Willem den Haag, has issued a statement denying any impropriety in the Conservative Party's relations with Lord Ashcroft.

Ashcroft, who frequently whisked den Haag away on whirlwind trips around the world, is alleged to have tumbled the party into bed with him as a tax dodge while claiming his intentions were honourable.

In his statement, den Haag condemned the "untrue and malicious allegations" and asked for the Conservative Party's privacy to be respected.

In what may be seen as a historic moment in the history of emotiporn, Den Haag took advantage of his press statement to wave half a dozen foetuses in the public eye.

Following on from Tony Blair and his Love Leo, Love Me jubilee mug campaign, both the current Prime Minister, Daveybloke Cameron, and the previous one, Gordon Brown, have used dead children for political advantage.

Cameron used his dead son, Ivan, to imply that he had some sort of interest in preserving the National Health Service, while Brown used his dead daughter, Jennifer Jane, to imply that whatever mess he made, we were all in it together.

Den Haag is thought to be the first to use miscarried offspring for similar purposes.

Since 1997, the Conservative Party has been trying for fertility but has undergone several abortions, including Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and den Haag himself.

Despite being kept by Lord Ashcroft and several other men of mature years, the party failed to deliver the expected rampancy at the last general election and was reduced to cottaging with the S&M wing of the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Journey

(Alternative Route)

Dear Jesus: it's Tony, your chum.
Regards to your virginal mum.
I've written a book;
Would you care for a look?
By all means ask Daddy to come.

Though John Prescott often was drippy
And with female staff could be nippy,
What teamwork we made!
You could say that he played
A Bungle to my Lord High Zippy.

George Bush isn't stupid at all:
An idealist, fine, strong and tall.
I felt I was born
To stand on his lawn
And drool till he threw me a ball.

The less said about Gordon Brown
The better; the chap got me down.
I knew he'd do badly,
And that's why I gladly
Bequeathed him my mantle and crown.

About Daveybloke I'll not bitch;
He's smooth and he has a good pitch.
I would say that I feel
That the chap has some steel;
And of course, best of all, he is rich.

On Iraq I would say I'll be brief:
I do not regret all the grief
Or the blood or the tears,
Because, over the years,
I have always believed my belief.