The Curmudgeon


Friday, August 31, 2012

Bringing Service to Life

The nice people at Serco have so efficientised an out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall that visits to accident and emergency departments have risen by a dozen a day. Serco have efficientised the system with a combination of highly advanced call-centre techniques and unilateral adjustments to their legal obligations; in other words, they have replaced medically qualified staff with people who can read a series of questions off a list, and they have been breaking the law. Given successive governments' squeamishness about imposing any legal obligations at all on their favoured profiteers, for fear of a general exodus of thieves and recession-mongers, breaking the law in the privatised health-care racket is probably quite an achievement; but the nice people at Serco seem to have managed it rather nicely. Among other entrepreneurial measures, they have been faking results where targets were missed, and despite their use of cheap labour they have failed to maintain proper levels of personnel. Fortunately, all this is explained by the fact that the new system came in three months ago and has been subject to "teething problems". The nice people at Serco have now discovered the advisability of "working closely with other parts of the NHS to implement the new system of patient management as efficiently as possible", subject as always to shareholders' requirements and fluctuations in the level of acceptable chicanery.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Murder By Proximity

Two hundred and seventy South African miners have been charged with the murder of their colleagues who were shot by the police two weeks ago. The police fired on strikers who supposedly charged at them with clubs, machetes and "at least one gun", although it is as yet unclear whether the South African police can aspire to anything like the veracity of our own Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club. Thirty-four miners were killed in what Britain's leading liberal newspaper calls "violent strikes"; fortunately, despite the usual absence of violent policing, the forces of the law appear to have suffered no losses. Accordingly, the South African government has dug up an old common law which was used in the bad old days when apartheid was based on race rather than income and, doubtless to gasps of admiration in Whitehall and Scotland Yard, is attempting to enshrine survivor guilt as equivalent to murder. Now that the advent of digital video and citizen journalism has put so many policemen at risk of acquittal here on the mainland, our own Home Office and Ministry of Justice will be watching carefully for points to emulate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Out With the Old

Two care home workers have been caught meting out some rough justice to an eighty-nine-year-old dementia sufferer, perhaps for sitting around all day or for her contribution to the pensions crisis. The standard of care at the home was such that the woman's daughter had given up her job in order to do the big-societal thing and help the staff care for her mother. The daughter and her husband observed bruises, and began to suspect that the merchandise was being rather carelessly handled; the care home staff were so concerned that the husband was eventually driven to bug the room on his own initiative with a hidden camera. The level of neglect and abuse recorded will no doubt go to show why so many more experienced care staff need replacing with semi-trained casual labour, and why their supervision needs efficientising until it's hardly there at all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Posing Without a Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has withdrawn from a summit in Johannesburg because he considers it inappropriate to appear alongside the Reverend Blair. "Ultimately, the archbishop is of the view that Mr Blair's decision to support the United States' military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible," said Tutu's office, demonstrating a deplorable lack of that nuance which characterises the discourse of our own Retiring Vermiform Anglican. As usual, Tony's apostles were quick to invoke the Halabja massacre and the Iran-Iraq war, both of which took place some years before the Bush-Blair crusade and both of which involved chemical weapons that actually existed. Disagreements over whether régime change was a nice thing to do or not are, according to Tony's apostles, all part of a healthy democracy; the provisions of international law being mere piffle before the wind of righteousness. Remarkably enough, considering his reverence's well-known contempt for legal quibbles over such minor matters as blood and money, Tony's apostles were careful to point out that, even had Tutu attended the meeting, he and Tony would not actually have shared a platform. Besides Tony and his humility, a former chief executive of Tesco's is attending as well, so accommodation will clearly be limited.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Credibility Crunch

The Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think tank, has suddenly discovered what all those nasty Keynesians were preaching two years ago; namely that the economy's structural deficit will probably not be eliminated by the end of the present parliament, and the country's borrowing will very likely have risen. Of course, we all know that this is the fault of the last Labour administration, the Euro-wogs, the shirkers, the Olympics, the weather, the Queen and the cancer patients; but even Conservative MPs have to offer their constituents something more than scapegoats now and again. The Treasury has responded in much the same fashion as the Deputy Conservative leadership responded to the Lords reform fiasco, by saying that of course the centrepiece of its entire policy never really mattered awfully in the first place, and that it cannot quite understand why everyone is making so much fuss. Nevertheless, it seems that, even in the Not Particularly Bright Party, Daddy's money and a certain smirking sebacity will only get you so far.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Footprints on the Moon

A Moral Tale

Several millennia after the extinction of life on Earth, a ship gubbled down on the surface of the Moon. A landing had been attempted on the once-blue planet, but was aborted because of the danger from atmospheric pollution to the ship's delicate hull. The Moon, having no atmosphere to speak of, presented no such problem, and Captain Dzinn and his officers were able to make extensive explorations of the dusty surface. They quifed around for a long time, discovering much that pleased them, and considerably more that puzzled them.

Notable among the latter was a mark, apparently pressed into the dusty surface by artificial means. The mark was roughly oblong, but curved at the ends, with a pattern of striations criss-crossing it in a mysterious and sinister fashion. Second officer Gnukk was all for summoning the ship's janitor to sweep the blemish away, but the captain wished to hear from the science officer first.

The science officer quifed over and revolved, studying the mark, first through one optogoggle, then in stereo, and finally through all three at once. He noted the presence of other, similar marks, and of various apparently artificial bits of scrap metal scattered about the district. He took samples and ate them ruminatively, and then announced his conclusion.

"Someone, or something, has been here before us," he told the captain. "We have discovered impressions left by alien creatures as they travelled over the surface long ago."
"You mean," said the captain, slightly nauseated, "they travelled over the surface by touching it?"
"It seems so, Captain. These marks are the marks of pressure, repeated over and over again at irregular intervals. My theory is that this pressure is how the creatures propelled themselves along, utilising a crude system of small steps and giant leaps in order to seek out their sustenance."
"They didn't quife?"
"Not quife as we know it, Dzinn."

By now several others in the crew had noticed the peculiar marks, and some had even taken samples for themselves, although they knew little of the necessary technique and therefore suffered terribly from indigestion. Overruling the science officer's protests, the captain summoned the ship's janitor and ordered all the marks and alien artifacts cleared away, while second officer Gnukk looked on smugly. There are, the captain thought as he observed his belching crew, some things it is better not to know.

In Memoriam: Neil Armstrong

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Setting an Example

As with your welfare riches you're relaxing,
Or spending a nice weekend stacking shelves,
Just spare a thought, if it is not too taxing,
For those less lucky than your horrid selves.

Beneath our city bridges you're reclining;
You decadently dream of Portaloos,
While our Head Boy is dutifully dining -
A job no Bullingdon can well refuse.

While the Atlantic crashes like the markets,
He sits a while and slurps a pint of ale,
And meditates upon the next month's targets:
His chums' backsides, so chubby and so pale.

He wears his polo togs for scoffing mussels,
Because he knows it turns on all the dames,
And means that he can show off all the muscles
He got from jinxing athletes at the Games.

With praise for proles and peasants who are working,
He toddles Cornwall with his trophy wife,
And checks to see that nobody is shirking,
And wonders in whom best to stick the knife.

Why can you not do more, O idle nation,
To try and be more British, and maintain
The cringing worship worthy of your station
While Dave and his show-pony brave the rain?

Prisi Skidmore-Trussdom

Friday, August 24, 2012

Legal Judgement

An instrument of racial will
Who marked the Marxists down to die
Is quite as sane as those who kill
Because of Daddy in the sky.

Dom Marter

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Lower You Go, the Safer You Are

Since Nick Clegg is on record as opposing regional pay deals for NHS staff, at least one NHS consortium is naturally attempting to impose a regional pay deal on its staff. The South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium, which employs about seven per cent of what remains of the Health Service, has decided that the kind of people who did so much for little Ivan (remember him?) are best efficientised with pay cuts, longer hours and reduced leave. Somehow or other, this is supposed to safeguard up to six thousand jobs, although it is not entirely clear what prevents any particular human resource from being insecure as well as overworked and badly paid. Twizzler Lansley has huffed and puffed about it, but the Department of Health has bravely spoken up and regretted the trade union intransigence which - along with such perennial culprits as the weather, the Euro-wogs, the jubilee, the Olympics and the North Sea - has caused us all so much unnecessary trouble. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, is on holiday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

He Doesn't Bail Out Just Because the Plane Has Crashed

A poll by the Liberal Democrat Voice website indicates that only forty-six per cent of the membership think Wee Nicky should resign. Even more surprisingly, there is no indication that the remaining fifty-four per cent think he should be dragged out of office by the yellow stripe down his back and forced, ATOS-like, into work more suited to his various incapacities. It appears, then, that a distinction still holds between Liberal Democrats (viz. slightly less than half the membership of the Liberal Democrat party) and the Deputy Conservatives (viz. the wobbly-sphinctered rabble of directionless sell-outs who constitute Daveybloke's Commons majority). Liberal Democrats believe in things like a new, open politics, constitutional reform, a more realistic relationship with Europe, dismantling the database state, preserving the NHS and lowering tuition fees. The Deputy Conservatives either believe the opposite, or else regard most of these policies as cheap electoral tokens, fit only to be given up in return for dogsbody posts in a few ministries. Whenever they have tried to act otherwise, as on Lords reform or vetoing the Continent, the Bullingdon Club has had little difficulty in slapping them down. Accordingly, Clegg extruded a spokesbeing to praise his virtues and to state that the poll was not representative, presumably since it asked only the little people and not the ones with red boxes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Innocent? Innocent of What?

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that police are routinely storing information about law-abiding people, just in case it should prove useful later on. The Metropolitan Firearms, Headbangers and Honey-trap Club, for instance, has details, including images, of protesters on demonstrations; of persons who have perpetrated relationships with criminals; and of alleged crimes which may or may not be fictitious. Most flexible of all, no doubt, is the category "persons of interest", which appears to mean anyone who has inconvenienced the Met by failing to be convicted of something.

The national database is managed by the Blairily-monickered National Police Improvement Agency, which extruded a spokesbeing to say that the Data Protection Act, while not actually protecting your personal data from the police, at least entitles you to find out whether they know where you live. The Deputy Conservatives, who once pretended some sort of interest in civil liberties, today joined bold, outspoken freedom fighters such as David Davis in a deafeningly discreet silence on the issue.

Monday, August 20, 2012

England Crash Out

And the tension is running high here at Blimsey Follocks Stadium as Crimpole's team badger up to the waffle end and start the preliminary dingbats, with Woofter looking supple despite the episode in Brighton. Borgle, of course, has been moved up the playing order to take advantage of his various infarctions which means Fimbley's on the benches and Ruttingpole is bringing up the tail-end chuffer. Blanchflower and Wrigley are cutting up a few practice tweaks while the opposition get their mobleys checked by the umpires, and it's looking like a fine day's sport as a packed audience does its level best to stay awake.

And they're off!

And Gumboyle makes a rousing start with an inbetweener up the cockles to Flotsam who wallops it through to Blasingob without a second's pansy. Murdibor for the opposition blimps the cradocks at silly womble and Cruttingen's lob is out with the hattenstones. Gumboyle pursues but Borgle furgles it at the boundary and Murdqvist pins him by the leftward gusset. Woofter tries to rankle the jimboes and...

...fails. And now the opposition are really getting into it, with Murdblint cadging a boss crumpet along the way. Blanchflower hunkers on the low-beam jaffacake but nobody squelches and Murdski's daisycutting leaves Badvole tainted in the slops. Woofter hobbles a middling badger-shaver, but Borgle is nowhere and it ends up at the wrong end of the crevice for Murdwart to blow away.

Still all to play for!

And Blanchflower is rampant despite the reticulating crampons which caused the side so much grief in Pennsylvania, and he fraggles a superb one to low badger before Wrigley gums it up. Cruttingen tries for a sliding flummox but Murdqvist gets his pongo in the way and that's seventeen up the widdecombe for our side. Woofter tries to muckle the slimbeam pollexfen for a quick double back poodle and...

...fails. Murdblint literally cascades along on three legs with all engines pounding and his eyes on the duffel, and many in the crowd have at least one eye partly open as Blasingob warbles for criminy. Murdowicz engages in some cynical cheese-paring and Flotsam bashes weed, but it all goes for nought as Borgle makes another tibia-trasher and virtually everyone on the field is temporarily applecrumbled. That'll be porridge at garter-time, or I'm much mistaken.

And now it's four days later but referee Sampson Hurlingbottom seems to have sorted things out and it's Grimsnatch in for Cruttingen and Flotsam off to midfield to cover the downward craggers. And Murdovic launches with a pillion-cruncher that would surely have fascicled Wrigley had Blasingob been less quick on the furgle. Gumboyle gets his warts off and snaffles a clary on the way, but Murdqvist herringbones him sideways and there's a bit of a barney in the off-wombat cuddlers. Woofter tries to haggle a touch from Grimsnatch and...

...fails. Still almost everything to play for as the opposition go thirty-one and two seventeenths ahead and the stadium is electric with rapid eye movement and occasional hypothermia.

And now the game is really porking away as Murdovic rams a great carping littlejohn slap into right field, but Crimpole gets a hand to it and it drops head-first into the trough for Ruttingpole to chase back into the off-length beezers. Murdenko boggles a quick one up to badger's fossick and it's Blanchflower who throttles it and whacks it off to posset. Flotsam whangs a gotcher down the visitors' oesophagus leaving Murdbørg looking rather surprised and Borgle's ratcheting up the privets while the sun shines and the crowd is getting to be quite well rested as Woofter attempts a boggust on the opposition's Bézier line and...

...fails. But Murdblint's right in there and finagles the boundary for another seventeen and two-fifths and the scoreboard is quite literally not a scoreboard any more.

And now the torsions are thoroughly northampton and Murdblint goes for a goolie, or possibly two, right up through the middle and curving across down the upper straight as Borgle wimples it for all he's worth and Blanchflower's there with a massive baxter and Murdwart gets to it but his socks are off-beam as Wrigley damps and tamps and the opposition dangle for a mighty dribble by Murdowicz as the final hooter goes and as the teams file out Murdski very sportingly exchanges shirts with Woofter who tries it on and...


Sunday, August 19, 2012


Nicolas de Racaille's sartorial censorship law has reaped magnificent dividends with the arrest of a handful of people on a demonstration outside the Russian consulate in Marseille. The demonstration was against the Pussy Riot trial, and those arrested were wearing face-covering balaclavas after the group's habit. It would, of course, be intolerably racist if Muslim headgear were illegal while anarcho-feminist punk headgear was allowed to remain on the streets; so the flics duly descended, and the protesters were carted off in a riot van. Should the case get as far as a judge, the latter can impose a fine, a citizenship course or both; it is to be hoped that the judge will have sufficient wit to order French citizens to go and learn how to be French citizens. The French government, like the British and American governments, called the sentence in the Pussy Riot trial "disproportionate", and a bit of Putinesque clowning could be just the thing to help patch up relations.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gove Does It Again

Britain's best argument in favour of entomophagy, Michael Gove, has been having trouble with his figures again. Now that he has successfully arranged for every state school to have a signed copy of the Bible, Gove sees no reason why non-private pupils should waste their time playing sports on spaces which could be put to better use by supermarkets and the like. Ministers at the Department for Juvenile Resource Preparation have approved the sale of thirty-one school pitches, and in five cases during the past fifteen months the approvals have been against the advice of Gove's own experts. Gove has not seen fit to explain why he knows best, which is perhaps a wise move for a supposed education secretary who doesn't know the difference between thirty-one and twenty-one.

Among the ten schools which were omitted from Gove's original disclosure was one which had hosted the Olympic flame and which is now selling off part of its land to Tesco; self-evidently, the reason for the omission was the technicality of the school's academy status, rather than news management or the mysteries of Govean calculus. "Playing fields are better protected under this government than at any time before," Gove told the BBC; which in Gove's own terms is no doubt perfectly true. A playing field with a Tesco's on top of it is about as protected as anyone could hope for, assuming one wished to protect it from being played on.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pussy Envy

Free world leaders mildly irritated at whims of fate

Three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot have been found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in a prison colony.

Leaders in the free world greeted the verdict with concern amounting to envy. President Obama, who can zap his own and anyone else's citizens with airborne explosive devices whenever the mood takes him, called the verdict "disproportionate".

"It's such a waste of precious energy resources to try giving the appearance of a fair trial when all you really want is for people to disappear," said White House spokesbeing Claiborne P Minuteman.

"America understands the need to protect religion and preserve the rule of law, but Russia should have learned that when preserving public morality, a drawn-out show trial is no match for the collateral damage from a drone bomb."

Across the Atlantic in Britain, the rest of the free world was equally concerned. Britain, which imposes sentences double the length of Pussy Riot's for posting messages on Facebook, and deports people for stealing ice cream during non-pussy riots, said the band's sentence was "disproportionate".

The British government, which continually complains about human rights getting in the way of profits, has called for Russia to protect "fundamental rights and freedoms" in the interests of a level playing field.

"The trouble is that Russia is so large compared with Britain, even on the old Mercator maps," said Alistair Brute of the Ministry of Wogs, Frogs and Huns.

"They put people in prison colonies because they've got the space, just as we used to have space in Australia. But in Britain now our prisons are already overcrowded and we don't have many playing fields left to sell either."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The New Argies

A year almost to the day since its unprovoked attack on the world's most vulnerable oil companies, Ecuador has taken another fateful step towards becoming the new Argies by offering political asylum to Julian Assange. The issue was apparently in doubt yesterday, as the foreign minister said that asylum had been granted only for the president to deny it. However, the situation was resoundingly disambiguated when Daveybloke's special nuncio to Belize and Minister for Wogs, Frogs and Dagoes leapt in with a bit of hobnailed diplomacy. Willem den Haag, or one of his gofers, hinted in no uncertain terms that the British might enter the embassy in London and remove Assange with or without the consent of the sovereign nation of Ecuador. It was another superb post-imperial eructation from the government which vetoed Europe; unfortunately for the Olympic spirit, an SAS raid on the embassy seems less likely than another series of drawn-out court proceedings. The British government has now de-purpled itself a little and is making noises about its "binding obligation" to extradite Assange; so whatever else he may have done, Assange can take pride in having re-awakened Whitehall's long-dormant interest in international law.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

But Some Are More Sacrificed Than Others

Unemployed persons, northerners and others not wanted on Daveybloke's wonderful journey are finally taking the hint. Debts, pay cuts, rising rents, unemployment and, no doubt, the continuing blare of propaganda about scroungers and shirkers, are causing more and more people to do their bit for the Big Society thingy by removing themselves from existence. Although many of the aforementioned self-disposal incentives are due to extraneous factors, such as the weather and the Euro-wogs, the Government has also done its part by simultaneously cutting mental health services, just to ensure that no-one is left in doubt as to the available options. It is to be hoped that the beneficiaries are duly grateful for the honour of being permitted to give their all in the war on fiscal turpitude; although it is as yet unclear how many have bothered to thank Daveybloke and his chums in their suicide notes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Buckles Squad

I am sure we all remember G4S, the private security company headed by the macerated Keith Chegwin lookalike Nicky Buckles. With the help of some friends in the Home Office, G4S made such a mess of its job providing security at the Olympics that the army had to be brought in to help, and Adam Werritty's replacement at the Ministry of War and Order has been moved to "think again" about the use of private contractors. Even the Minister for Murdoch, Jeremy C Hunt, has been having second thoughts; so naturally G4S is being allowed to recruit staff for Warwickshire police. The Warwickshire force is the smallest in England and Wales, so of course it has been cut by twenty per cent since 2008 and is required to save a further ten million over the next three years. The helpful people at G4S are advertising for "civilian investigators" whose duties will include dealing with "sensitive high-profile cases under limited supervision", which appears to mean that somebody thinks cases which are reported in the Press could do with a bit of amateur sleuthing. The Government has said that it will not be privatising "core policing" tasks during the present parliament, although evidently such peripheral fripperies as criminal investigation are up for grabs: successful applicants for the Buckles Squad will "investigate crime, gather evidence, seize and view evidential material, take statements from victims and witnesses, undertake house-to-house inquiries, prepare files for the Crown Prosecution Services, attend court hearings and give evidence, and identify and trace offenders". This will free up more real police to do the really important work, like clearing up the mess.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Not A Shirker

Though crisis grip the country hard,
Your statesman never should be barred
From taking of decisions tough,
Ensuring that we pay enough
To help maintain the right amounts
In all his chums' offshore accounts.
But he is human, like us all;
Hence, nothing may be let to stall
His tough decision, come what may,
To bugger off on holiday.
Since working till your back is broke
Is strictly for the little folk,
His duty now is but to show
Dave isn't just a prole, you know.

Porphyrius Fatneck

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A New Politics

Some of the few dozen remaining activists in the Deputy Conservative Party have demonstrated a grasp of reality that would do credit to the most barking quasi-UKIP publicity pimp on Daveybloke's own back benches. Understandably, many members are absolutely fizzing about the Lords reform débâcle; less understandably, they appear to think they've been stiffed without the active collaboration of their party's leadership. Some local remnants are talking about breaking up the coalition; elsewhere "at the very least they want Nick to start playing hardball", despite the inconvenient dearth of evidence that Nick has balls to play with.

There is a certain New Labour logic to the Deputy Conservatives' policy: first betray the voters, then spurn the activists, and finally put the members in their place so that the leadership can have its fun in peace and quiet. A spokesbeing sneered, with vintage Blairite contempt, at those who "would prefer to be in opposition but not get things done", although it is at least arguable that a Daveybloke minority government would be able to do considerably less damage than the Deputy Conservatives have facilitated since 2010. As an example of what the Deputy Conservatives are getting in return for abandoning everything they claimed to want, the spokesbeing dredged up some tax relief which has doubtless been more than cancelled out thanks to George the Progressively Regressive and his little orange helper. Meanwhile, a Deputy Conservative MP did his bit by noting that "strains in the coalition will only become seriously problematic if sharp differences on economic policy emerge", and pushing the party leadership's new line about constitutional reform never having mattered awfully in any case.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Off With Her Laurels

A fortnight's sport and blah blah blah
Doth now approach the last hurrah.
To this occasion Duffy rose,
With trendy fractured humdrum prose.
She dropped clichés, a name or two,
Into a bland unheated stew,
And made some statements - quite a lot -
To which the answer's No, we're not.
Although the Games could have been worse,
We cannot say so of her verse:
When, Carol Ann, you spout such blether,
We're not in it to-fucking-gether.

Byron McGonagall

Friday, August 10, 2012

Indian Give and Take

An Indian minister for public works has been forced to use the "taken out of context" defence after being caught on camera in an apparent attempt to keep Indian levels of corruption at a modest and civilised level. "If you work hard, and put your heart and soul into it ... then you are allowed to steal some," he told a mess of bureaucrats in Uttar Pradesh. "But don't be a bandit." Even if the context changed nothing, it is difficult to find fault with this advice; certainly the ruling wing of the British Neoliberal Party might benefit from a prime minister who had better things to do than posturing as an armchair athlete while his chums busy themselves stealing from the public.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Source Code

Duncan Jones 2011

Three years ago, Duncan Jones directed a very serviceable science-fiction film called Moon. It does have one baffling plot-hole (the evil corporation which is exploiting and deceiving the hero has also considerately programmed the station computer so it can help him find out the truth); but since corporations are rarely monolithic and often stupid, the anomaly is irritating rather than disastrous. For the most part, Moon is intriguing, engaging and - rarest of all in modern science fiction cinema - unpretentious.

Despite the frankly incomprehensible critical acclaim which greeted it, Jones' follow-up has none of these handicaps. Instead, it takes the well-worn route of Hollywood sci-fi from Minority Report through Children of Men to Inception and no doubt beyond: it spends ten minutes setting up an interesting premise, and then uses that premise as an excuse for a feature-length action chase spiced up with sentiment and lots of explosions (or, in this particular case, with the same explosion repeated lots of times). I hope that Source Code doesn't mean Duncan Jones is about to take the Christopher Nolan path, which led from tricksy, character-driven work like Memento and The Prestige to dumbed-down remakes and pompously inflated comic-books; but the signs are not good.

Like almost all modern science fiction films, Source Code gives great concept and very little else; and much of what it does give turns out, upon analysis, to be rather distasteful. A snide scientist (black, of course, and on crutches too; I'm amazed he didn't have braces on his teeth) has developed a means of investigating a terrorist bombing by downloading a soldier's consciousness into that of one of the casualties. The soldier can go back to the bombed train many times, learning more each time; but he only has the eight minutes preceding the explosion in which to work.

Almost everyone in the train carriage, including the bomber, is given more attention than the poor devil whose mind is usurped. In Charles Band's Trancers (1985), which uses the same mind-transfer premise to far better effect, the victims whose bodies have been borrowed are clearly differentiated from their supplanters; indeed, the hero is unable to inflict physical harm on the villain precisely because that would mean harming an innocent man. All we hear of the supplanted soul in Source Code is his name, his job (a teacher - well, how expendable can you get?) and the heroine's opinion that he's "a keeper". Fortunately, our hero turns out to be a keeper too, thanks to the multiverse ex machina at the end; meanwhile, the teacher is simply used, thrown away and forgotten, alike by the film-makers and by their saintly GI dybbuk.

The hero and heroine of Source Code are well-acted, well-scripted, good-looking, emotionally generous robots after the Hollywood template. Rather more interesting as characters are the scientist who developed the process and the female military officer who is the isolated hero's main contact with the outside world. If the film had been made from their point of view, it could have been considerably better. As it is, Source Code is just another saccharine enema of the kind prescribed and administered by legions of Hollywood script doctors from time immemorial. The message is simple: you can have it both ways. You can die honourably saving your buddies and you'll still be able to go home, do a bit of dadbonding and get the girl. Heroism need not mean sacrifice. None of this makes for good science fiction, or for good fiction of any other kind. What it makes for, not to put too fine a point on it, is yet another chunk of fast-paced, professionally-made, CGI-spectacular garbage.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Criminality Pure and Simple

In keeping with its resolution to control Britain's feral youth, Daveybloke's Cuddly Coalition has drawn up some jolly strict criteria to make sure that only the right sort of people can run for police and crime commissioner. Despite the Government's relaxed attitude to police officers who take kickbacks from Rupert Murdoch or who declare open season on middle-aged news vendors, the Home Office has, for the purposes of the police commissioner's recruitment, abolished the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and declared that a petty juvenile offence nearly half a century ago constitutes a permanent and irrevocable stain on the character. As might be expected from the party of Straw, Blunkett, Clarke and Agent Smith, Labour did not oppose this "high standard" of lunacy; and now Daveybloke's mad old cat lady is climbing the walls and biting the furniture because the only remaining candidates are likely to be people whose energy and force of character is such that they failed to get into trouble during adolescence.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also

A mere year after it became apparent that News Corporation's ethics were not altogether of the cleanest, the religious wing of the Corporation of London has decided to sell its shares. The Church of England, which had almost two million pounds invested in the holy empire of Fox News and Page 3, did some huffing and puffing when the phone-hacking scandal broke; however, no notice appears to have been taken, doubtless to the vast surprise and disappointment of the entire Anglican civil war. Still, it is fortunate that a genuine moral question was involved, viz. something to do with money. Had it been merely a question of who gets to be a second-order human being, the haggling over whether to disinvest partly or entirely, or whether to create a special quasi-separate sub-church which could invest or disinvest according to the vagaries of its fiscal conscience, might have gone on into the middle of the century.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

It may, I suppose, be possible to feel a twinge of pity for Nick Clegg over his latest, and arguably greatest, humiliation at the hands of the Bullingdon Club. Now that Daveybloke has reneged on his promise of support for the Deputy Conservatives' pet project of constitutional reform, Wee Nicky has at last felt obliged to impose sanctions: "Clearly I cannot permit a situation where Conservative rebels can pick and choose the parts of the contract they like," he said, "while Liberal Democrat MPs are bound to the entire agreement."

In the reality-based world, of course, the Deputy Conservatives have felt themselves no more bound by the coalition agreement than the most demented of Daveybloke's backwoodsmen. The coalition agreement promised to restore the right to protest, and the right to protest has not been restored; the Deputy Conservatives have happily gone along. The coalition agreement promised to repair the economy, and the economy is in worse shape than ever; the Deputy Conservatives are going along. The coalition agreement promised to stop the disruptive top-down reorganisations of the NHS which had done so much damage to patient care; Wee Nicky himself, with puppyish enthusiasm, personally tore that one up so that Twizzler Lansley's feelings wouldn't be hurt; the NHS has been subjected to a chaotic top-down reorganisation, patient care is being damaged, and the Deputy Conservatives have grumbled a bit and continued to warm the Government benches. What is a mere scrap of paper compared with all those nice red boxes?

Nevertheless, Wee Nicky has decided that his present abjection may be more than even the Deputy Conservatives can comfortably sit through; so he is ordering them to vote against the planned Great Daveymander, thus wrecking all possibility of any major constitutional reform during the present parliament. "Coalition works on mutual respect," he quipped sadly, then went on: "it is a reciprocal arrangement, a two-way street." Apparently Wee Nicky is unaware that when both parties are driving hard right with all the speed they can muster, the concept of a two-way street becomes a little redundant. It may, I suppose, be possible to feel a twinge of pity; but only in softer hearts than mine.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

It Makes You Proud

The bearer of civilised values and World Cop by the grace of God is sending some mixed signals on the subject of capital punishment. The Christian state of Texas is gearing up to execute a man with a tested IQ of sixty-one. Although the Supreme Court has banned executions of people with mental retardation, it has left states some leeway for interpretation, and the Christian state of Texas has decided that this means it can define mental retardation according to the supposed deserts of a fictitious character. The beneficiary, one Marvin Wilson, is black - a purely incidental detail, no doubt.

Meanwhile, the Christian state of Oregon is dithering about whether to execute a man who is presumably in his right mind and purely incidentally white. Gary Haugen wishes to overrule his reprieve by the state governor and proceed with the death penalty. A judge has ruled in Haugen's favour, but the governor's legal team is going to appeal.

A similar situation to Haugen's exists in our own increasingly civilised justice system, where Ian Brady is apparently being kept alive against his will. Brady has been detained in a psychiatric hospital for a quarter of a century, and has been making legal representations to be transferred to a prison instead. If he were transferred to a prison, he would be able to commit suicide by starvation, because sane prisoners are not force-fed.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Why Do They Think Up Stories That Link My Name With Yours?

Sometimes life gets it right, and the filming of a quick knee-trembler between Rupert Murdoch and his flunkey Jeremy C Hunt is one such time. Hunt was aware of Murdoch's presence at the Olympics, courtesy of the same London Haystack who dismissed allegations of phone hacking as "codswallop"; but apparently the meeting took place purely by chance, as meetings between big-time crooks and their flunkeys often do. It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that the encounter was anything other than what Hunt's spokesbeing said it was - an "exchange in passing", as two lonely shits in the night - and certainly there is no way of proving how many of the very few words exchanged were "congrats!" Now that Hunt has noticed that media plurality issues can occasionally arise where NewsCorp is not involved, perhaps Murdoch is giving him a few useful tips; but probably not at the Olympics. Of course, after all he has been through, Hunt's sheer stupidity in not staying well away from Murdoch's radioactive old carcass bespeaks a lyrical, doglike devotion to rival that of Liam Fox for the former Minister for War, Adam Werritty; but the most poetic aspect of the tale is surely the fact that the tryst was filmed on a mobile phone.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Making A Difference

Well, here's a thing: Daveybloke is set to renege on reform of the Lords, partly in order to keep the nepotists and knuckle-scrapers on his back-benches happy, and partly no doubt because the serial humiliation of Nick Clegg is the one political process at which Daveybloke can still claim some measure of competence. It is even possible that Daveybloke will be able to compound Wee Nicky's abjection in the true Bullingdon manner, by forcing him to stand up in Big School and announce that in the second decade of the twenty-first century there is still no immediate prospect of dragging Parliament into the twentieth, even though all three parties claim to be in favour of doing so.

The fourteen days of parliamentary time which were set aside for the legislation will now be used for "jobs, jobs, jobs" or, in Standard English, for bashing the poor and blaming the last Labour government. The Deputy Conservatives have already delegated a damage limitation operative to say that constitutional reform was never terribly important anyway and that what voters want is more benefit cuts and more privatisation. Hence, assuming that the briefings from Conservative sources are not some sort of spin exercise (a possibility which cannot be discounted, even with a government as inept as this one), the Deputy Conservatives' great reform programme will end with Parliament in 2015 looking very much as it did in 2010, except of course that it will contain even fewer Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


Italy's highest appeals court has ruled that the phrase "you don't have the balls" is criminally offensive. The words were thrown by a native of a southern city called Potenza, which is arguably a case of reality taking things a little too far; and the target of the insult, a lawyer, has somehow been allowed to take the matter all the way to Rome without being laughed out of court. The judges have ruled that the phrase should be outlawed because it implies "lack of determination, competence and consistency", although it is unclear whether the phrase "you are lacking in determination, competence and consistency" or any of its numerous paraphrases, such as "Mr Clegg, I presume", are also to be cast into the legal wilderness.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thug Who Walked Free Offends Again

Given Labour's enthusiasm for surveillance, snoopery and Serco, it is difficult to repress a certain grim smugness at this latest misadventure of the former apparatchik and sometime bar brawler Eric Joyce. Having been electronically tagged as a result of his assault on some Conservatives and a Labour whip (fortunately, it appears no actual human beings were involved), Joyce last month took it upon himself to remove the tag with scissors in order to attend a charity boat race. "I didn't want to overshadow the charity's work," he said. "If I turned up wearing my tag, that's what all the papers' focus would be on." Equally plausibly, Joyce claimed that he was unaware that cutting off a legally imposed tagging device was a breach of his court order. It appears that the first he knew of it was when an electronic buzzer was triggered and he was contacted by Serco, the security firm, in which presumably Eric Joyce owns no significant stock.

During the last Labour government, Joyce was a serial PPS who drifted from ministry to ministry, working mainly in the second rank of governmental mediocrities and thugs. He worked for the second-rater's second-rater, John Hutton, in three separate ministries, but it is not clear whether this experience was taken into account by the justice system, either as aggravation or mitigation of his offence.