The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cleaning Up Britain

Daveybloke's barmy old cat lady is announcing new measures to halt the immigrant hordes. The Bullingdon Club and its chums are apparently feeling a bit hard done by because they have to employ so many foreign domestic staff, so the servants' rights to settle here after five years will be removed, and domestic workers from outside Europe will only be permitted to work for other foreigners. The Home Office also plans to kick out any migrant worker who earns less than £35,000 a year after five years, on the grounds that those who have lots of money are ipso facto the brightest and the best. This will serve to show, if we didn't know it before, that in order to earn Daveybloke's favour you have to be made of rather sterner financial stuff than the kind of people who work, pay taxes and stay within the law. It is as yet unclear how much the requisite migrant monitoring, dawn raids and deportation flights will benefit those pure-blooded British taxpayers who remain.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Moral Choice

St Paul's Cathedral and the City banks,
All preachers to the faithful British nation,
Were happily indulging their vocation
For making money and for giving thanks.

St Paul's Cathedral's yard was overrun
By angry mobs, the poor and the unclean,
The simple, alcoholic, mad and mean:
"Oh, deary me! Now, what would Christ have done?"

St Paul's Cathedral gave a little cough
And meditated on its holy cares,
Then shouted: "Here's some dirt upon our stairs!
Police! Police! Make haste and wipe it off!"

Rev. Sorbus Malbarb

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blowing It Again

Well, here's a thing: the commitment of the greenest government ever to renewable energy appears to have gone much the same way as its commitment to the NHS and everyone paying their share. Wind energy companies are complaining that the Government is leaving too much to the free market: "The most important issue that our customers have is a long-term policy framework," blasphemed one chief executive with a foreign name, while others had the temerity to call for a planned economy based on something other than the hard-headed common sense of a few City gamblers and asset-strippers. One would think that a party which contained Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Sayeeda Warsi might have a certain enthusiasm for wind; but Daveybloke and his special nuncio to Belize, Willem den Haag, apparently believe they've struck oil in Somalia, so everything's on hold until the fuzzy-wuzzies can be helped to an appropriate perspective on who that belongs to.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taking Down

An extract

After Gates, and again after Morton, there had been any number of contracts: some large, most small, none particularly notable. Even the few that went wrong, that resulted in a fight or in Cromer having to get him out of jail, made little impression on Solosy's memory except in the most general way. Incidents occurred and then faded into murk, building up the anonymous bulk of his past like bodies rotting into loam. A few he recalled: the fossilised imprint of Portman, who had thrown money at him to distract his eye; the protruding bones of Layton, who had hidden behind one of his girls and suffered a fatal loss of aim when she trod on his foot with a stiletto heel; the discreet mound covering Earles, who had died repeating "no hard feelings" like an incantation.

Morton's death had been simpler than any of these. Unlike Randall and Gates, he had not been a personal acquaintance; and, again unlike Randall and Gates, he had barely had time to register his danger before Solosy killed him. There was little or no reason that Solosy could see why Morton, a minor journalist with muckraking aspirations whose removal was partly a favour to one of Cromer's friends and partly an example to other crusaders, should have joined Randall and Gates in haunting him permanently.

Morton wasn't even a professional milestone to the extent of being the first assignment he received from Cromer personally. Greeley had introduced him to Cromer a month after the death of Gates, and Cromer had made time for them to meet alone on several occasions after that. Cromer had asked him how he liked working for Greeley, how it compared with life in the institute, and how his health was bearing up. After a couple of these talks, Cromer had given him names and locations and told him to keep an eye out whenever he had the time or happened to be in the neighbourhood. Every so often, Cromer would ask what might happen if one of the people Solosy was watching should chance to disappear, or to appear one day with holes in him; and later some of those people were indeed removed or perforated, although Solosy was not assigned to the work. "You don't send a qualified surgeon to clear out the dustbins," Cromer said.

Morton was a reporter for a local newspaper which had caused one of Cromer's friends a degree of inconvenience by insinuating that his financial dealings were not entirely above board. Since Cromer's friend's largesse had won him a prominent place among the favourites of various political climbers, Cromer's friend did not care for the possibility that their embarrassment might affect the value of his investments. Morton's editor received a friendly warning which he passed on to Morton, and Morton and two of his colleagues resigned from the local newspaper and took their story to a national one. Cromer's friend received a short but acutely embarrassing prison sentence, and requested Cromer to ensure, for the sake of everyone's future prosperity, that his friendly warnings had not been issued in vain.

A number of options came under consideration. Faking a suicide would be relatively easy but would lack the force of example; blowing up Morton's office, or even having him executed there, might cause undue repercussions in the national press; having him dredged up from a river-bed with no fingernails would involve rather more risk and effort than Cromer's generosity could encompass. Eventually Cromer decided on a simple drive-by shooting: Morton was going abroad on holiday, would be among strangers in unfamiliar surroundings, and those for whom his example was intended would be able to draw the appropriate lessons.
Hence, two weeks later Solosy found himself dispatched to a warmer climate, following Morton's car in the company of a driver and guide who had been watching Morton for three days and who seemed to have developed a fascination with him that went slightly beyond the professional.

Waiting at Morton's hotel, the driver provided Solosy with almost an hour's worth of what he apparently considered vital background information about Morton's movements during the past seventy-two hours (sluggish), his command of the local language (rudimentary), his sleeping schedule (irregular), his eating habits (regular), drinking habits (regular and copious), the sights he had seen and the manifold disadvantages of the make and model of car he had rented for his demise.
"Is this relevant?" asked Solosy when he could get a word in.
"You never know," said the driver. "If something goes wrong and I get killed, you never know what you might need to finish the job."
"If something goes wrong and you get killed, I'll let him drive off into the sunset until I'm sure it's safe to try again. That's the only information I need. Whether it's safe to try."
"Couldn't be safer," the driver said cheerily. "He's driving out of town today in that crapmobile of his to see some ruins on a hill. There's plenty of empty road between here and there."

Morton came out of the hotel, accompanied by a girl. Both of them were carrying bags, and Morton was lugging what looked like a good-sized food hamper.
"Going for a picnic," the driver imparted.
"Who's the girl?"
"Just a body he picked up. I've seen him with her before."
"You never mentioned it."
"I didn't know she'd be coming along today, did I?" Morton and the girl got into their car, and Solosy's driver started his engine. "Anyway, what difference does it make? Her being there might even help. A screaming, blood-covered witness can give a certain kind of warning no end of credibility."
"Shut up," Solosy said.

The drive was long and warm. The car's air conditioning was as voluble as the driver and nearly as productive of air that wasn't cool. They followed Morton's car at a respectable distance, three or four cars back while they were in town and further away as the traffic decreased. From the driver's chronicle of his behaviour it did not appear that Morton suspected anything, unless his heavy drinking were an emotional rather than an occupational symptom. Nevertheless, Solosy's driver proceeded with due caution: by the time the road had emptied almost completely, Morton's car was barely more than an intermittent glint on the horizon.

On both sides of the road were jagged hills, dusty weeds and trees bowed with exhaustion. The only visible signs of civilisation were the pylons and the barrier, which changed constantly between rusted metal and painted wood and seemed to contain a disconcerting number of breaks, though they were travelling too fast to see whether the breaks were planned or not.

The road began to curve gently, and Solosy's driver accelerated so as not to lose sight of the target. "Where is this place he's going to?" Solosy asked.
"It's just a pile of rocks on one of those hills," the driver said. "Used to be a castle, they say, but there isn't enough left of it to attract many tourists."
"I asked where it is, not what it is."
The driver sighed. "At the rate he's going, it's about half an hour's drive followed by another half hour's fairly bracing walk. But we'll catch up to him before then."

The road acquired more curves and an uphill gradient which the driver used to his advantage, maintaining speed as Morton slowed and gradually catching up while staying discreetly behind the latest bend. In the space of perhaps ten minutes two vehicles, a car and a small truck laden with fruit, passed them in the opposite direction.

"All clear," the driver said when the road straightened out again. By the time Solosy had picked up the shotgun from the floor in front of him and checked the load and taken off the safety, they were close enough to read the number plate on Morton's car. Solosy wound his window all the way down. Except for his hands, he felt cold.
"Now," he said.

The driver accelerated. Solosy aimed out of the window. The car's reflection, centred on the black hole of the shotgun barrel, slid along the rear of Morton's car, flexing like a tentacle. Morton's window was down. He was wearing sunglasses and a shapeless white hat; he had a round face with a blunt nose and dark stubble on the cheeks and chin. Solosy could see the girl's profile next to him.

Morton turned his head towards Solosy, and Solosy waited about three fifths of a second so he'd know and then fired the shotgun into Morton's face. He had a momentary, probably part imagined, image of the face exploding into fragments of red and grey and the girl blinking and gasping and starting to turn and see, and then Solosy's driver accelerated again and overtook. Solosy watched Morton's car in the mirror as it bumped against the barrier and gradually scraped itself to a stop, and then they were away.

Buy the book

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Still Not Terminated

Since Nadine Dorries' proposals for taxpayer-subsidised anti-abortion propaganda were defeated in Parliament last year, the Government has naturally been plotting to impose them anyway. Anne Milton, the health minister famed for trying to enhance the health of infant resources with a Milk Snatcher Redux scheme, set up a cross-party group after September's vote, apparently with the sole object of determining how best to undermine it. The Dorries option of preventing the British Pregnancy Advice Service from providing pregnancy advice is on the table, but the honourable members have also been given a triangulation option whereby anti-abortion groups will be allowed to spread their gospel provided that they register first. Understandably, debate is still raging about whether such groups would be pestered to make their ethical stance clear to clients or whether they might be permitted to take the Dorries road of presenting arrant garbage as fact.

Friday, February 24, 2012

All the Difference

In the face of fears that Wee Nicky may be about to give them the treatment he has hitherto reserved for his voters, Daveybloke and his pet Twizzler have been prophesying apocalyptic consequences should the anti-NHS bill be further interfered with. Doom was invoked in a briefing document which Daveybloke and the Twizzler prepared for the occasion of a rah-rah of Conservative MPs at Portcullis House. Between admiring the taxpayer-funded fig trees, drooling over the plump dealings and brazen avarice of the new Cherie Booth and giving the Twizzler all the rapturous applause which is due a chap who may soon make way for one's own ministerial ambitions, the boys and their tokenettes were told of "chaos" if the bill should be changed. It would certainly be a Bad Thing for the NHS if chaos were to supplant the clarity and harmony we have now. If this encouraging trend continues, the Conservatives may soon start worrying about the chaos that might one day occur if we don't invade Iraq.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Regrettable Judgement

A Pakistani man who was handed over to the Americans by our brave boys in the SAS and unlawfully detained at Bagram will, for all the appeal court has to say about it, just have to stay there and rot. The court ordered a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Yunus Rahmatullah in December, but has now ruled that its powers do not extend to the US military authorities in Afghanistan; nor, inconveniently enough, does anyone seem to have any powers to deal with those who originally handed Rahmatullah over to a criminal régime. Britain has agreed "memoranda of understanding" with the US over the treatment of detainees, just as it did with Libya in order to ensure that Tony's chum Colonel Gaddafi would welcome deportees with an appropriate measure of humanitarianism. However, such agreements appear to make about as much difference as the Geneva conventions or the special relationship; particularly as, in Washington's considered opinion, Rahmatullah is "properly detained by the United States consistent with the international law of armed conflict". Well, aren't they all?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Veering Off-Planet

The Pontiff of Paedophilia's chief henchman in England and Wales is doing his best to triangulate between the Scylla of Vatican intransigence and the Charybdis of British hypocrisy, and seems unsurprisingly to have got into a bit of a tangle. Archbishop Vincent Nichols is Pharisee enough to wish to avoid being seen in the company of moral and intellectual publicans of the stripe of Baroness Warsi and Lord Carey of Blathering-in-the-Dotage; but his attempt to distance himself from the lunatic fringe while retaining his own commitment to gay-bashing and Catholic supremacy leaves the reverend gentleman looking rather like a Labour health minister trying to work out an alternative to NHS privatisation that walks, talks and steals like privatisation but doesn't look like it.

Nichols refers to the prohibition of discrimination against gay parents as "an act of intolerance" on the grounds that Catholic adoption agencies should be allowed to commit acts of intolerance, because they take orders from the Vatican rather than from the law of the land. As a matter of fact, most Catholic adoption agencies have managed to resign themselves to operating within the law, although the Church is considering an appeal, since it has nothing better on which to spend the small part of its wealth which is left over from all that poverty, chastity and humility.

Asked about the Vatican's description of homosexuality as a "tendency towards an objective moral evil", Nichols said it was a "philosophical construct" not aimed at any individual. Catholic teaching about sex is "based on the idea that it leads to babies, and this must be its highest good". On an overcrowded planet, this is certainly a sensible start. "The trouble is that when Catholic priests explain the purposes of sexuality they sound too often like a Martian at a football match." Well, hardly. The trouble is that a Catholic priest lecturing on sex is either speaking whereof he has little or no experience, or else speaking whereof he has illicit experience and counselling others to do as he says and not as he does. He is either a hoarder giving investment advice or a hypocrite mouthing empty words.

"One talks about objective moral evil, you might say today, that's racism. No matter what's intended or understood, that, objectively, is wrong", in the subjective opinion of today's anti-racists. "In a similar way, you can say, in every sphere of life there is objective moral evil". You can say it, certainly; whether you would make much sense in doing so is a different matter. "But that does not imply subjective moral guilt. That does not imply guilt on an individual." Presumably, then, an individual who performs an act which is an objective moral evil is not, as an individual, guilty of that act even though he really ought to stop doing it at once. I wonder if Archbishop Nichols' reasoning might not be a little disordered, objectively speaking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gove Gibbers On

The guff that keeps on goving has taken time out from imposing his Murdoch leader-writer's moral perspective on the country's schoolchildren in order to lecture journalists on their lack of assertiveness. Apparently the controversy over whether or not gay-bashing is an appropriate subject for the national curriculum has got Gove in a bit of a lather over freedom of speech. Gove is worried that the Leveson inquiry, by having the temerity to investigate various alleged wrongdoings by the Murdoch press among others, is emanating a chilly atmosphere around the warm cuddly sofa of free speech which is the Conservative Party's natural habitat. "There are laws against the interception of messages," gibbered Gove. "There are laws against bribery. There are laws which prevent journalists - like any other profession - going rogue." Self-evidently, this means that everything's all right: "Those laws should be vigorously upheld and vigorously policed", and the Leveson inquiry should be ashamed of itself for asking why they weren't.

Gove, who likes to keep his ministerial emails private, gibbered further that journalists have not been sufficiently forthright in making the case for press freedom: "We have nothing to gain and everything to lose from fettering the press, which has helped keep us honest in the past and ensured that the standards of debate are higher in this country than in other jurisdictions." Well, this no doubt is why Gove's colleague Jeremy C Hunt was ready to hand over to Murdoch even more of the country's media than he owns already. The poor chap simply wanted to be kept honest and to ensure that our standards of debate remain higher than those of the wogs.

Finally, Gove made a quick but doubtless sincere genuflection in the direction of Murdoch's Sunday Sun, which is to rise from the News of the World's grave like bowel gas from the drowned corpse of decency, or whatever. Perhaps Gove has heard some uncomfortable hints about his day job; after the way in which the Daveybloke dagger disposed of our former defence minister, Adam Werritty, nobody of Gove's calibre can be free of a slight dorsal itch. "I want to concentrate on the big picture," Gove said; and the big picture is, of course, a jolly handy thing to concentrate on. It doesn't matter so much if a bit gets chopped off or the details are wrong or the focus is a bit blurry, which can be quite an important consideration if one has the misfortune to be Michael Gove.

Me at Poetry-24
Unnatural Acts

Monday, February 20, 2012

Neck and Neck in the Race to the Bottom

Granted all the usual caveats and saline soupçons, the latest Guardian/ICM opinion poll on Twizzler Lansley's anti-NHS bill provides a handy index to the Brownite ineptitude and cowardice of the present Labour leadership. Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have lost four points, the Deputy Conservatives two; but the disillusioned dupes have not for the most part transferred their affections to the Wannabe Conservatives. Instead, they are looking favourably at the smaller parties, despite being reminded that the NHS has already been partially privatised under the PFI scam originated by some snack of Edwina Currie's, whose name escapes me at the moment, and brought to glorious fruition under the Reverend Tony and his Glorious Successor. Amazingly, the Deputy Conservatives are now trusted on the NHS approximately as much as the proper Conservatives, despite all the concessions they have wrung from the latter. These concessions, it will be remembed, included permitting the Deputy Conservatives to tear up the coalition agreement in order to help the Twizzler get his bill through. It appears that, like the proper Conservatives, the Deputy Conservatives still have a bit of a job on hand in persuading an ungrateful public of the awesome nobility of their motives.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Contra Nequitiam et Insidias Diaboli

Britain's best argument in favour of entomophagy has been waggling his mandibles again. The general secretary of the TUC (not, you will note, anyone from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition or the formerly human-rights-friendly Deputy Conservatives) has expressed concern about a booklet distributed by an American preacher to pupils at some Catholic schools in Lancashire. The booklet suggests that a male's homosexuality may "stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse", though presumably not when the latter has the benefit of clergy. Of course this is all fully in accordance with the pronouncements of the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak, as is the pamphlet's claim that homosexual acts are "disordered".

However, the Equality Act of 2010 prohibits discrimination against individuals on the grounds of sexual orientation, so Gove has been forced to choose between civilised tolerance of other people's private behaviour and the demented prejudices of a megalomaniacal Bronze Age djinn. As one would expect, Gove has chosen the better path, claiming that the Equality Act does not apply to the school curriculum. A spokesbeing for the Department for Faith Schools, who evidently lacks the Gove vision, said that "any school engaging in the promotion of homophobic material would be acting unlawfully", but Gove has the gibberings of Baroness Warsi echoing in his ears and he is, in all fairness, only a Michael Gove. And after all, what better way to eradicate bigotry than to ensure that it is properly ingrained in the first place?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Towards A New Quagmire

Various apparatchiki in the Obama administration have been "expressing fears" about Iran, so Daveybloke's Minister for Wogs, Frogs and Huns has been talking up the advantages of a nice Werritty's War. "If they obtain nuclear weapons capability," Willem den Haag told the Torygraph, "then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons", Iran being the role model the whole Middle East has been looking for thanks to the absence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan, India, France, China, Russia, the United States and somewhere or other else. An Iranian bomb would lead to "the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented", which would, surprisingly enough, be a Bad Thing, despite several of the weapons of mass destruction listed above having kept the peace in Europe for forty years. The Middle East, you see, has "destabilising effects" which would not be stabilised by the addition of another independent nuclear deterrent, and yet which have not been further destabilised by the likely presence of nuclear weapons in Israel. Allowing Iran to develop its (eminently rational, though quite possibly fictitious) nuclear weapons programme would be, said den Haag, a "disaster in world affairs", as self-evidently our little adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have not.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Supportive Measures

Plans are being drawn up by the Department of Workfare and Punishment to compel people to undertake "work experience" for charities, public bodies and, most importantly, high-street retailers. Those eligible for such helpful treatment include accident and stroke victims, some sufferers from mental illness, and those with terminal cancer who have more than six months to live. There are no plans to limit the amount of labour that can be extracted, although benefits will be cut in cases of people who disagree with the Idleness Police about what sort of work is suitable for their personal circumstances.

A spokesbeing was duly extruded, and threw up a superb, smelly clot of New Labour goodspeak: "It is clear that some groups wish to label people with a variety of illnesses and conditions as unable to work. This is not only wrong, it is unfair to those individuals who despite their illness want to keep working." That must be why, according to officials, "ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility", thereby ensuring that everybody knows what is right and fair for them.

The DWP said that although there was nothing to prevent terminal cancer patients from being financially penalised, it would be "absurd" for job centre managers to apply sanctions just because they're not forbidden to do so. At the risk of sounding all relativist and multicultural, absurdity tends to be in the eye of the beholder. Some of us might think it absurd that entire economies should be placed at the unconditional disposal of those who have previously wrecked them; or that a senior politician should get up before her party conference and regurgitate a discredited non-story from the Daily Mail; or that Tony Blair should be outside a prison cell; or that Iain Duncan Smith should be running a government department instead of a hosepipe or two; yet here we are.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Putting Down the Rebels

Britain's Head Boy has once more been doing his bit for the cause of Scottish independence. In the course of a burble to Scottish business leaders, Daveybloke threatened them with the loss of America's second permanent seat on the United Nations security council, and appealed to their blood-and-soil instincts by waving the pound and the armed forces at them and proclaiming that Scotland would find it difficult to combat terrorism without the help of people who can start wars and torture Muslims properly. Apparently the reasoning is that the first actions of an independent Scotland would be to join the euro and thereby become the new Greece, and then to secede from any and all mutual defence and international law enforcement treaties, thus also becoming the new Westminster.

In order that Scots should not feel patronised or demeaned, Daveybloke insisted that a question about further devolution short of independence cannot appear on the ballot paper because it would confuse the natives. Daveybloke did offer to consider doing something or other about further devolution if the Scots would vote against independence first; but on the question of what exactly was on offer he came over all coy. Evidently the miserable saga of the anti-NHS bill, to say nothing of prolonged and intimate association with Liberal Democrats, has taught him the danger of making cast-iron pledges; even so, his speech-writers were tactless enough to leave in a good word for the national welfare state which his government is busily demolishing. Daveybloke did, however, burble affectingly about his personal stake in not being seen as the prime minister who let another chunk of the Empire slip away: he is "ready for the fight for our country's life". Daveybloke burbled that the battle involves his "head, heart and soul": jolly reassuring given that the first is in the nineteen-fifties, the second's very existence is of doubtful attestation and the third is in Lord Ashcroft's pocket.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hacked Off

Even a heart as small and black as mine has its cockles, and this has warmed them rather nicely. Unless and until Iain Duncan Smith is forced to claim housing benefit or a de-secularised Britain shows its respect for Christian tradition by burning Baroness Warsi at the stake, I doubt there will be much to match it for pure, glowing satisfaction. Journalists at the country's most prominent right-wing scumbag sheet after the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Hansard are rushing to join a trade union and consult a human rights lawyer. Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of the excellent The Case of the Pope, has published a column in the Sun's sty-mate, the Murdoch Times, suggesting that a ruling by the European court of human rights may have some sort of relevance. Fortunately for the journalists, this ruling predates the Human Rights Act; otherwise the cognitive dissonance would be screeching around Wapping breaking windows like a Penderecki lullaby. Of course, I have every sympathy with efforts by journalists, even scumbag press journalists, to protect their sources and thwart their repulsive employer; but it's a smug sympathy nevertheless.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making Sacrifices

In spite of its president's Nobel peace prize (remember that, hopers 'n' dreamers?), the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave and World Cop by the grace of God may soon fall behind in yet another of its major industries, leaving the premier league to less harried moralists in China, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Texas, which is to judicial murder what Wall Street is to corporate theft, is running low on one of the three drugs which protocol decrees are necessary to administer a lethal injection. The manufacturers, Lundbeck, have restricted the drug's distribution to the kind of death-panel Democrats who think it should be used to keep people alive; so Texas only has enough left for 6.75 executions, while Georgia has only enough for four. It is as yet unclear whether the authorities intend to allow themselves to be forced unto the un-American and un-Christian expedient of a moratorium, or whether they plan to become drug smugglers instead. Perhaps the Obama administration would care to step in and relax the rules: a temporary dispensation in favour of executing minors would at least ensure that the 0.75 would not be wasted, and it is after all an election year.

Me at Poetry-24
Palliative Care

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wizard Wheeze

Thanks to the Government's firm response to the culture of rewarding failure in the banking sector (said response being a finely judged combination of wagging finger, blind eye and mugging of the proles), the banking sector has again failed to live up to its obligations. Stephen Hester, whose life has a bonus-shaped gap which appears to have filled up alarmingly fast with moral flatus, castigated the unappreciative taxpayers for expecting an institution which they own to perform according to agreement: "There is no bank in this country coming close to punching above their weight in the way we are." To Hester's credit, this comes quite close to the Standard English version, which is approximately "Well, they didn't do even more of their homework!" Hester then ordered his employers simply to ignore the terms of the contract: "Forget Project Merlin and how it's defined" because, whatever may have been promised in return for mere money, doing slightly less badly than other people is "damn impressive".

For its own part, the Government said that it would "take some time for things to return to normal" after the economy's recent reduction to the Bullingdon Club's idea of a safe haven.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Happy Compromise

Now that the voters, the National Health Service and the Liberal Democrat rank and file have been dealt with, the deputy Deputy Prime Minister has discovered a new and delightful target for the party leadership's addiction to stabbing people in the back. Rather than arguing that Twizzler Lansley's anti-NHS bill should be torn up and Lansley himself used for medical experiments (as is now being argued one way or another by most of the medical profession, much of the public, some of the Conservative Party and a few Liberal Democrats), Simon Hughes has hit upon the ideal Cleggite compromise: retain the bill, but fire the Twizzler anyway. Aside from sending the Government's approval ratings roaring through the stratosphere, this would send to other ministers a clear and unequivocal signal regarding their status as public servants: do your job and be well punished for it has been the Government's message to public sector personnel ever since the Conservatives and Deputy Conservatives signed that coalition agreement through which the Deputy Conservatives have so obligingly driven a coach and horses on the Twizzler's behalf. However, although it is true that Daveybloke has proclaimed his Full Support, which had such calamitous consequences for the former Foreign Secretary, Adam Werritty, it is not yet clear whether Daveybloke is prepared to bestow upon the Twizzler a form of favour which, in the natural order of things, should fall exclusively on lesser mortals.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dropped In

Some little tick at the Treasury has had a squeak in the Daily Torygraph, all about how he's going to tell the big boys that fair is fair, and that responsibility comes with privilege, and that it might be rather jolly to have his head taken out of the toilet bowl before the Bullingdon Club starts its weekly championship game of "Bombs Away", if the seniors wouldn't mind awfully. Labour is claiming that the Government plans to take £4000 a year off people on low incomes through cuts in tax credits, so the Deputy Conservatives have dropped the Chancellor's fag into the spotlight in the hopes of generating a rival headline. Accordingly, Danny Alexander (for it was nobody much else) said that he might possibly be willing to support a motion at the next Deputy Conservative conference, even though it is consistent with the party's election manifesto.

Friday, February 10, 2012

As the Hypocrites Are

A judge has inflicted another setback on those Christians whose reading of the Gospels dictates that they must not only flaunt their disgusting superstitions in public, but must needs inflict them on the rest of us. Possibly half of Britain's councils hold prayer sessions as part of their formal meetings, apparently under the impression that the Deity needs to be prodded into taking a greater interest in local affairs. A councillor in Devon, supported by the National Secular Society, took his own council to court, and the judge has ruled that the practice is discriminatory.

The bishop of Exeter issued the usual self-pitying squeal on the BBC: "No one is compelled to participate in these activities," he blathered, presumably unaware that the Devon council's supplications were minuted as part of the meetings. "If they get their way it will have enormous implications for prayers in parliament, Remembrance Day, the jubilee celebrations, even the singing of the national anthem", all matters of vast and overwhelming significance to the kind of people who are still arguing about whether or not women and gays are proper human beings.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Northern Dims

Daveybloke, whose Cuddly Coalition has done so much to unite Britain against itself, has had a bit of a burble about the "pensions apartheid" which may result unless public-sector employees are treated with appropriate contempt. People in the private sector, where they do everything right, "have this flexible ethic, they go on working, they change the way they work"; in the public sector, of course, flexible ethics are as rare as non-deniable benefits claims, while going on working belongs solely in strange dreams of other days. This is because "in the public sector, we have quite a cut-off and a very expensive public sector pensions system"; from which it follows, as bonus follows balls-up, that pensions apartheid is a Very Bad Thing, despite the assiduous support of Daveybloke's spiritual godmother for the racial variety.

The occasion of Daveybloke's burble was a visit to the Northern Future Forum, a gathering of governments from eight Nordic and Baltic countries and the mainland. Wee Nicky was apparently left at home, doubtless trusting Daveybloke not to veto the North Sea and just a teeny bit disappointed at missing the chance to stop off in Norway and pay his respects at Quisling's grave. Daveybloke had a bit of a gush about the Norwegian pension system, which allows people to choose their retirement age and pays more to those who wait longest. In Britain this would no doubt translate into a system under which those who could not afford to retire early would be vilified for keeping younger people from being worked to death in their place. Naturally, the system for gearing tens of millions of individual pensions to tens of millions of individual retirement ages would be privatised, making the transition a paragon of fairness and simplicity; and naturally, the IT side of things would all be sorted out in a jiffy. Our department of work and pensions is, after all, run by the brilliant Iain Duncan Smith.

As an afterthought, Daveybloke had a bit of a burble about women in the boardroom. This is not just about equality, but also about effectiveness. Heaven forfend that Daveybloke should consider equality between the sexes as an end in itself; and in any case, Daveybloke and his cuddly chums have just discovered that the lack of women in boardrooms is the latest thing to be holding back Britain's economic recovery, before the snow's turn comes up again next month.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

It's All For Little Ivan

Daveybloke's staff have been "privately angered" by some remarks of Lord Owen's about one of the more endearing aspects of the anti-NHS bill; namely Daveybloke's use of his own dead and disabled child as a propaganda weapon. With something of an excess of tact, Owen wrote that "most of those who work in the health service were aware of his own late son's illness" rather than noting, as he might have done, that Daveybloke shoved the poor kid under our noses at every opportunity: this was how Daveybloke knew nurses and teachers might have their uses, this was why Daveybloke thought social services were necessary, this, this, this was why Daveybloke would cut the deficit and not the NHS. Look upon me, proles, and see yourselves writ noble! Go on, smell the family values!

What the boy's mother must have thought of her husband at such moments is difficult to imagine; now that the promises for which her dead son stood surety have been so casually and contemptuously broken, her admiration must know no bounds.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

So Streamlined You Can't See the Point

Two strong supporters of Twizzler Lansley's anti-NHS bill have restructured their support in much the same way as the Twizzler has been restructuring the NHS; namely, by unceremoniously removing it. The Twizzler, as part of a government which promised no more disruptive, cumbersome top-down reorganisations of the NHS, also promised to put power into the hands of general practitioners, who have been simply itching to work as part-time accountants and bureaucrats ever since the sixty-year error was implemented. Freed of government interference, the Twizzler proclaimed, GPs could judge what was best for their own patients while managing their own budgets and balancing private and public services for the benefit of just about everyone who mattered. However, the Twizzler has now decided that the GPs' commissioning will be controlled by a National Commissioning Board, a new layer of bureaucracy which has been imposed as part of the Twizzler's attempt to get rid of bureaucracy. According to the back of the Department for Health Privatisation's latest envelope, the new, streamlined, localised NHS will be run through the same fifty local offices which ran the old primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, plus four sector outposts, all using a single operating model. A spokesbeing clarified that the Board would "provide national standards", but that doctors and nurses would be free to make decisions about their patients and organisations within the parameters of whatever degree of micro-management was deemed appropriate by the Twizzler's chums in the private healthcare, pharmaceutical and processed-food industries.

Monday, February 06, 2012

There's No Such Word As Can't

An obscure but doubtless upcoming nasty has been applying Gove mathematics to the workfare situation, and has assured us that there is no shortage of jobs because "there's 400,000 jobs at any one point in jobcentres". Evidently the 2.68 million people who are chasing them - soon to exceed nine million when the Government officially abolishes every legal reason for not seeking work - originate at a different point, inexcusably removed from Planet Duncan Smith.

Duncan Smith's henchbeing, Maria "The Motivator" Miller, whose stints as an advertising executive and marketing manager have served well in preparing her for the Daveybloke style - school assembly meets corporate pep talk, with the Bullingdon kick in the groin for wimps - proclaimed that the country's unemployed are letting the side down on two counts: first, they don't know where the jobs are; and second, even in the face of an occupational locality detectability incidence, there is "a lack of appetite". Though anxious to ensure that employment is "not just a choice", Miller was careful to deny that the Government is punishing people for being workshy: "I think it's not so much workshy as have people got the right skills? Can we overcome their fear of the risk of going into work, or indeed, some of the fear of the problems that it will create for the rest of their family." So there you have it: this is not a political witch-hunt and the Government is not punishing people for scrounging. The Government is punishing people for lacking skills and for being afraid to uproot their family in pursuit of a flexible three-week shelf-stacking contract fifty miles away.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Good Old Blackout

After only six and a half years of preparation for the Tony Olympics, the Cabinet Office has suddenly discovered that, when the Blanched Pachyderm finally starts trumpeting, rather a lot of people may start using the internet thingy; and that the country's telecom systems, which belong to a more innocent age, may not be able to cope. Market forces have inexplicably failed to deal with the matter; but, the Olympics being the acceptable face of war, the Cabinet Office has decided that rationing may be a solution. The Government also claims, or "believes" as the Observer's resident psychic hath it, that the capital may be prevented from seizing up completely if businesses allow staff to work from different locations or from home, or to vary their hours. This may well be the case; but, as so often, it is unclear whether the Government intends to do very much beyond exhorting everyone to do their bit for Big School. The Department for Traffic has launched one pilot programme, and has another quivering in the stalls, whereby many staff will work from home; it is hoped that this will result in a "permanent revolution", possibly because both pilot programmes have code names reminiscent of US military operations. As one would expect given Whitehall's long, acrimonious and taxpayer-funded relationship with the world of IT, the pilot which was completed last August resulted in connection problems even though it took place a full year before the real chaos is expected.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Ending of Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is a fine piece of psychological horror whose frequent Grand Guignol flourishes are balanced by subtler touches. Indeed, at least one of the flourishes is itself a subtle touch, namely the build-up of sinister music as US Marshal Daniels enters the eponymous mental hospital: Daniels has every reason to be apprehensive, but not the reasons he or most first-time viewers probably think he has. The ending is similarly multi-layered, although I am far from sure whether the director who, in Paul Schrader's phrase, imposed salvation on Jake LaMotta by fiat, would approve of my interpretation.

Just before giving himself up for lobotomisation, Andrew Laeddis wonders which would be worse: living as a monster or dying as a good man. The implication (which, since it remains an implication and not a moral explained in voice-over, appears to have baffled a sizeable section of the film's audience) is that Laeddis has been cured of his delusions but is unable to live with the truth from which those delusions were protecting him, and that he is in effect committing suicide by psychiatrist.

Laeddis' decision is particularly poignant given his straight-cop reaction to Dr Cawley's opinions on the moral fusion of law and order with clinical care: "These are all violent offenders ... personally, Doctor, I'd have to say screw their sense of calm." The elaborate role-play therapy in which Cawley has enmeshed Laeddis has wider implications than Laeddis' own treatment: it is a test case in a long-standing argument between those who believe the criminally insane should be treated with a measure of compassion and those who prefer a more final solution. Cawley has told Laeddis about this controversy; so, by faking his own relapse, Laeddis knowingly hands the lobotomisers a victory by showing that Cawley's more humane modes of treatment have no lasting effect. Because of Laeddis' inability to live without his own "sense of calm", unknown numbers of other people will be turned into zombies.

The rule of four: living as a monster and dying as a good man are not the only choices open to Laeddis. Rather than try to live as a better man than he was before, he chooses to die and, in dying, to provide aid and comfort for the advocates of cruel and unusual punishment. Redemption can be more complicated than it looks.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Decent Chaps Doing Helpful Things

The chair of Royal Bank of Scotland has put in his few millions' worth about Stephen Hester. The substance of the message appears to be that Hester is a truly sterling chap who was just trying to help, and it is not actually very helpful to kick a chap when the chap's only trying to help himself. Sir Philip Hampton also said that the Government, in accordance with its principles but contrary to ministers' statements, had not intervened to keep Hester's bonus below the psychologically magical million-pound figure; and that therefore, since there was no threat of the Government intervening, there had been no threat by the board to resign over the intervention. It was all just decent chaps trying to be helpful.

Hampton admitted that the chaps had assumed they would be selling off shares by this year, but that this was a miscalculation. The taxpayer's reward for bailing out RBS is that the taxpayer is still twenty to twenty-five thousand million pounds in the hole, thanks to George the Progressively Regressive's assiduous digging, with a bit of help from the helpful chaps. In an impressive display of tact during the week when the Government voted to cap benefits and come down harder on cancer patients, Hampton offered reassurances that the number of millionaires employed by the bank might be slightly reduced this year.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

We Must Harness the Awesome Power of the Atom

Well, here's a thing: not forty-eight hours after the unfortunate reaction of a cross-party committee to another exposure of ministers' faith-based energy policy, Professor David Mackay, the chief theologian at the Department for Energy Corporation Coddlement, has spontaneously confirmed that a new generation of reactors could turn Britain's nuclear waste stockpile into enough low-carbon electricity to maintain current supplies for five hundred years or so. It sounds just like the opening scene of This Island Earth, in which the hero speculates about harnessing the power of the atom to provide cheap energy for ever, only to find himself conscripted into an interplanetary war against ruthless surrogate commies and/or proto-Iranians. Certainly, in light of the actual achievements of the terrestrial nuclear industry, there is room for speculation as to Professor David Mackay's planet of origin.

However, Daveybloke's family values to the contrary, we are no longer in the nineteen-fifties, so that even the promises of the nuclear industry are subject to one or two caveats. First, a sufficient number of reactors have to be built, since each one produces only the equivalent of a quarter of a conventional nuclear hazard, or about as much as could be generated by covering the lawns at Buckingham Palace with wind turbines and then allowing Michael Gove to talk at them. Second, there are all sorts of other issues which, in David Mackay's opinion, reduce the prospect of satisfying current demand for five hundred years to merely "a reasonable starting point." As so often when dealing with matters other than health, education and helping the vulnerable, therefore, the problem essentially boils down to how much money the Government is prepared to throw at whoever makes the biggest promises and provides the most lucrative kickbacks.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Fury at Argie Flight Inconvenience Plot

Some anonymous but considerate diplomats have done their best for Britain by exuding some ominous rumblings about Argentina's intentions towards the Falklands. It is always advisable to have some beastly foreigners on hand when the other hand is in the public's pocket, and it is doubly advisable when the latter hand is engaged in purloining money from the disabled and the chronically unwell. Daveybloke has already ordered a gunboat to the South Atlantic, despite the Royal Navy's present financial straits and despite being apparently all gung-ho for Werritty's War some few miles away in the other direction. For its part, Argentina is threatening to "review" the weekly flights which are the islands' only air link with South America. Although it is not entirely clear whether Cristina Fernández de Kirchner uses the word review as a synonym for abolish, the way it is used in the British Empire, the anonymous diplomats are loudly but considerately talking up the possibility of an economic blockade. Since it is clearly the Bullingdon Club's vocation to show us what real hardship is, doubtless it's only a matter of time before all those cancer cheats and wheelchair scroungers are conscripted into the armed forces and sent to defend Britain's right not to negotiate with foreigners.