The Curmudgeon


Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Bureaucracy,n. A means of protecting the public from any fair or reasonable measures which may inadvertently have been allowed to creep into a law.

Death,n. Permanent cessation of all life functions save exploitability.

Flobbular,adj. Tending to bulge out of any restraint like a beer-belly over a belt.
Her sharp teeth caught at her succulent lower lip, which then slid slowly from between them with flobbular voluptuousness.
Randy Wrangler

Grief,n. Condition sometimes occurring in the agonised interval which follows a bereavement and precedes the insurance payout.

Idolatry,n. The blasphemous and utterly irrational urge to put faith in something one can actually see.

Megalomania,n. Delusions of adequacy.

Ouija,n. Wooden board, which can carry messages to those whose heads have the good fortune to be of similar construction.

Patriot,n. Admirable organism whose generous affections are capable of embracing sections of continental shelf in preference to members of the human race. Not to be confused with the estate agent, which stands in the same relation to the patriot as the gigolo does to the sex killer.

Rump,n. The longest lived part of a political organisation, being the part best adapted for the emission of wind.

Spine-chiller,n.(Merchandising) Publisher's term for any book with a black cover lettered in dripping red. Should a nubile female in salaciously clawed undergarments also appear, the words macabre classic may be duly applied.

Traitor,n. A benighted individual who perceives an illusory distinction between serving his nation and abetting the criminals who govern it.

Virile,adj. Energetic and fast-breeding, like a virus.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mennear Up Close and Personal

In a particularly depressing twist to a thoroughly dispiriting election campaign, I have received, within a single twenty-four-hour period, an email from John O'Farrell and a leaflet from Andrew Mennear. Andrew, as you may recall, is the Conservative candidate for the constituency of Finchley and Golders Green, and this is the third mailing he has bestowed upon me.

In contrast to the previous instalment of what I devoutly hope is a trilogy, this new leaflet is a normally shaped, normally sized sheet of A4 paper. Possibly this is an effort to reflect the real, normal people Andrew wishes to represent. Under the blue headline "Taxes Hit Middle Classes - Official", I am informed that:

People earning more than 27,000 pounds suffered a one per cent fall in their income last year. A couple with two earners and two children on 60,000 pounds would have lost even more as Labour's tax increases, including the rise in national insurance, freezes on personal allowances and expenditure forced on councils by Gordon Brown began to bite.

Clearly, this is too bad. The Conservatives plan to help these poor unfortunates by increasing government spending by four per cent a year, while at the same time they will "give four billion pounds back to taxpayers, including council tax rebates for over-65s." They will pay for this by efficientiating it out of twelve billion pounds' worth of Government waste which they have identified. A picture of a blond toddler who has either come last in a race, or is racing by himself, completes this conjuring of a Mennearean paradise. The caption to the picture is "It's time for a change", with quotation marks in the original.

Other pieces cover yet further aspects of Labour's iniquity. "Our Pensioners," bluely trumpets another headline, "Betrayed by Tony Blair".

People who have paid their National Insurance over a lifetime now face a retirement of dependent on benefits. Since 1997, Labour has removed five billion pounds a year from private pension funds. A quarter of all pensioners live below the poverty line.

This is certainly cause for concern. A retirement of dependent on benefits must be nearly as awful to live through as it is to read. I am not sure how many of those pensioners who are stuck below the poverty line got there because of Labour's pillaging of private pension funds, but I suppose we may hope that Andrew's researchers are more careful than his proofreaders. Andrew's concern about private pension fund utilisation potential is illustrated by a nightmare picture of Andrew and three old ladies sitting around a table. They all have mugs in front of them, but nobody is drinking. Andrew looks as if he is trying to listen, but unfortunately nobody is speaking, either. Everything in the room - walls, table and tea mugs - is a blinding, terrifying shade of yellow, suggesting a malignant paint-job by incontinent Liberal Democrats. Thankfully, there is no caption, but some very small print at the bottom of this section informs me that the leaflet was printed in Swindon. To his credit, Andrew has never claimed to support local business.

Under the blue headline, "Childcare that suits you, not Tony Blair", I am informed that the Conservatives will make it "easier for grandparents to qualify as childminders". I cannot claim to be well informed about either the childminder situation or the qualifications necessary for grandparenting in the early twenty-first century; but I was not aware that it was possible for grandparents not to qualify as childminders. Indeed, my understanding is that once you become a grandparent, an honorary doctorate in childminding is virtually impossible to avoid.

The Conservatives will also be "involving voluntary and commercial sectors in Children's Centres" - a commercial system for real people's children (see above, 27,000 et seq.) and charity for the rest. Presumably, if one's grandparents qualify as childminders, they will then have the opportunity to enter the commercial sector and beef up their private pension schemes - an opportunity ruthlessly denied under Labour, I have no doubt. The picture here is of a blond child looking at a picture book, interestingly titled The Robot. The caption is "Parents, not Government, know what's best for their children". The quote marks are again present in the original, although it is not made clear whether the quote is from The Robot or from the child.

"Tony Blair said climate change is 'the single most important issue that we face'," fulminates another blueness nearby. To show how far Andrew agrees with this assessment of the issue's importance, the piece is located in the bottom right-hand corner of the page and, counting the eight-word headline ("Just Hot Air From Blair On Climate Change"), is forty-nine words long. One of the words is "incentivise". The Conservatives will "use microgeneration, develop renewable energy and make it cheaper to buy greener cars". The picture shows Andrew's profile, smiling into the ear of someone who is looking into the camera.

There are, in fact, nine pictures on this mailing. Seven of them feature Andrew, and the remaining two are of children, apparently his own. In the section "Fighting For You", Andrew is shown in two pictures, once smiling over a microphone and once laying a wreath outside a post office. In the text it is noted that he has been called "sparky" by the Independent and "a rottweiler" by the Camden New Journal, but it is not clear which incarnation is represented by which picture.

Finally, there is a riveting biographical section, conveniently located next to the pensioners and just above the warming waves of the Tory Torch of Destiny. It is accompanied by a picture of Andrew with his wife and children: just another hard-working family being bravely bled dry by asylum seekers. The caption - like all the rest, an apparent quotation sans discernible source or, for that matter, full stop at the end - is "Government should not control how we live our lives". Not including the headline "Andrew Mennear" or the enclosed campaign promise ("I believe in standing up for the silent majority and will regularly highlight the concerns of Finchley and Golders Green residents at Westminster"), Andrew's biographical snippet is sixty-seven words long. Andrew is thirty-eight and married with two sons under five - definitely a real human being (see above, 27,000 et seq.) - and is an advisor to British Petroleum on "renewable energy issues". Presumably this explains the importance Andrew attaches to the issue of climate change, and his vocation to help a Conservative government stay out of his life.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hollywood Tales

...teeth clenched, his eyes bloodshot and protruding, he was carried out in a basket and never heard of again.

Meanwhile, back at Elasmobranch Studios, the notorious Samuel P Grumbarger had ousted his father Phineas as Acting Vice-Chairman of Creative Processes, thanks to a hideous scandal involving several dozen oysters and the starlet Mercedes Bent.* Young Samuel immediately commissioned several pet projects which he had been hoarding for decades beneath the floorboards of the broom cupboard to which his father had relegated him in 1896. Among these projects was, of course, an early fifty-seventh draft of what was eventually to become the musical Vlad the Impaler.

At this point the project had not reached the script stage, existing solely as a "treatment" or rough summary which was sketched out in stick figures and isolated camera movements on the inside front flap of a dismembered cornflakes packet. The writer, Mircea Mutilescu, was a chronic alcoholic and cornflake addict who died of cereal haemorrhage seven years before shooting began. His contribution to the finished product was, in any event, negligible.

Further delays ensued from the continued interference of the elder Grumbarger, who had not only been removed from his powerful self-created post, but had been further humiliated by being assigned a broom cupboard not even at the studios, but in a small pizza parlour some nine blocks down the road. Many Elasmobranch executives felt that this was something of a political error by Samuel P Grumbarger, especially when the embittered and violent Phineas took to appearing at the studio gates armed with a brace of anchovies with which he threatened anyone who got in his way.

In order to work Mutilescu's treatment into a proper screenplay, Samuel Grumbarger hired the famous husband-and-dog team of Molesworth and Murgatroyd, who at that time were fresh from their success with the silent film Deaf in Venice. Regrettably, owing to the decay of the original film stock, almost nothing survives of this extremely successful film apart from a few publicity stills and the second-best trousers of one of the extras. Interestingly enough, this same extra went on to work as a waldolly grip configuration bestgaff puller on several hundred productions for Elasmobranch's great rival, Stickweed Studios.

Molesworth and Murgatroyd had first come to prominence as Hollywood's most successful husband-and-dog writing team almost fifteen years earlier, with their four hundred and nineteenth collaboration, Is That a Panavision Lens or Are You Just Pleased To See Me, which anticipated not only what Foucault was later to call the Postmodern Self-Referential Bullshit Boom, but the invention of the Panavision lens itself. After the resounding success of this film, which caused the most awful...

* The story is of course extremely well known. What is less generally known is that Mercedes Bent was actually a pseudonym, the lady's original name being Minnie Cooper.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

News 2020

Emergency hotlines to be re-outsourced

North Korea could soon be the new India, according to planners from Call Centre Central Incorporated, the company which the Government has contracted to run the new privatised hotlines for emergency services.

The company plans to re-outsource the hotline answering service from India to North Korea within the next six months. The tiny Far Eastern country is on the brink of a massive humanitarian catastrophe and contains only three people who can speak English, two of whom disappeared during the last months of the Communist regime and are thought to have been shot.

"We have an obligation to the British taxpayer to provide the most economic service possible," said CCCI executive Wimsey Blaghard. "Call centre staff in North Korea, who have no qualifications whatsoever for the job, are by virtue of that fact far cheaper to hire than those in India."

The Department of Strength through Choice has denied that the introduction of private contractors to operate the special semi-off-peak-rate 0898-999 lines is the first step in a "creeping privatisation" of the police, health service and fire brigade.

"The contracting out of telecommunicative operations is a vital and integral factor in the continuing efficientisation of the emergency response industry," said health minister Vomer Gussett yesterday.

Eventually, the Government hopes to outsource further aspects of the emergency service provision industry, with police cars and ambulances being gradually phased out in favour of Korean paratroop units which will be based near the call centres for maximum rapidity of response. The units could be flown to the site of any emergency in Britain on normally scheduled American military flights and be dropped by parachute with almost maximal precision, according to Government think-tanks.

The Chair of the National Police Executive, Mustela Nivalis, has joined the Government in welcoming the announcement from Call Centre Central.

Ms Nivalis rose to national prominence eighteen months ago, when she authorised the use of NPE water-cannon to facilitate the controversial lock-out of combustion minimalisation personnel during the summer pay dispute. Although several dozen firefighters were injured during clashes with police and over 400 people died in twelve million pounds' worth of burning buildings, Ms Nivalis won praise for her refusal to utilise the water cannon for putting out fires.

"The upward enhancement of service intercommunicativity will certainly facilitate workforce versatilification," said Ms Nivalis today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Asprunt,adj. Sprouting out insanely in all directions.
Thanks to his breakdown his marriage went awry, his daughter went away, his son went astray and his garden and beard went utterly asprunt.
Journal of Amateur Psychiatry

Cynical,adj. Unable to see any significant distinction between the process of being robbed and murdered for someone else's profit, and the obviously quite different process of being robbed and murdered for one's own good.

Electorate,n. Powerful clique with the ability to vote a political party out of power, though usually by the less than satisfactory expedient of voting another one in.

Foolproof,adj. Immune to any stupidity other than the designer's.

Gutter,n. Endlessly fecund stream which has spawned many of our most colourful forms of wildlife, notably the Yellow Press Journalist and the True Blue Patriot which, despite their divergent hues, share similar cries and the characteristic fragrance of their place of origin.

Humus,n. Future tense of human.

Kin, Relatives, in bulk. Presumably derived from kine, an archaic word for cattle.

Mediocracy,n. Theoretical form of government, never yet put into practice, whereby power is concentrated in the hands of the mediocre. Most experts consider this system decidedly inferior to the forms of government already in place around the world (chiefly autocracy, democracy, and the various other types of hypocracy), in which power devolves automatically to those most competent to abuse it.

Ossify,v.i. To turn into bone, after the fashion of the air within the skull of a religious convert.

Practical,adj. An approach to the misfortunes of others which involves carrying on exactly as normal, thus providing immeasurable comfort to those in need by showing that their difficulty is having no adverse effect on your profit.

Stillbirth,n. Worm's-veal.

Monday, April 25, 2005

News 2020

Opposition accuses PM over war

The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, exchanged heated exchanges today as Mr Johnson accused the Government of failing to tell the whole truth about the reasons behind the timing of the revelation of the revision of the dossier about the testimony of the intelligence services' sources in a previous phase of the war on terror.

"Nobody agrees more than I do that the war on terror should be won and must be won," said Mr Johnson at a NuConLib meeting in the Northamptonshire town of Frognal Bunting; "but that is no excuse for the Prime Minister's questionable veracity in promulgating it to the country."

The Prime Minister responded with claims that the opposition is trying to exploit the bravery of British troops in the interests of scoring "cheap political points".

"What matters is that the war on terror should be won and is being won, and that it should be won and is being won by, with, through and because of this Government and this Government's determination that our brave boys should, can, will and may not be let down by the cheap electioneering of an opposition which lacks the maturity to draw a line under something under which a line can, must and should be drawn if the country is to proceed forward rather than backward into the new decade," the Prime Minister told journalists.

On the alleged discrepancies in the Government's account of the sequence of events leading to the intelligence services' claims, the Prime Minister said that the question would be decided "by the electorate, not the media".

"A prime minister is above all else a shepherd of his country," the Prime Minister concluded. "A good prime minister is a good shepherd, as was my illustrious predecessor, Lord Blair of Belmarsh. But even the best of shepherds cannot always afford to sit down with his sheep and draw them an Ordnance Survey map of the location of the pen. Sometimes, when the wolf is at the door, it is necessary to risk crucifixion and allow the dogs of war to guide the sheep into port."

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, is the story of Milo, a bored child who "because nobody bothered to explain otherwise ... regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all." So depressed is Milo with his lot that on the very first page he heaves a sigh which causes a passing house sparrow such distress that he stops singing and rushes home to be with his family.

Milo is rescued by a peculiar package from a mysterious benefactor. When unpacked and assembled, the contents of the package turn out to be ONE GENUINE (and purple) TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH. Milo, who has a small electric car, drives through the booth and finds himself in a very strange land indeed. The first person he meets is the Whether Man ("I'm the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it's much more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), and then he gets stuck in the Doldrums, where "laughter is frowned upon and smiling is permitted only on alternate Thursdays." The Doldrums are inhabited by small, transparent and devastatingly lazy creatures called Lethargarians, whose rigorous daily routine involves dawdling, delaying, lingering, loitering and taking naps, all strictly according to timetable.

Juster brilliantly evokes his fantasy world out of words, numbers, cliches and puns. The tollbooth has led Milo into the former kingdom of Wisdom, on the shores of the Sea of Knowledge. The country's rulership is split between two rival cities run by a pair of quarrelsome brothers. Dictionopolis, the city of words, is the realm of King Azaz the Unabridged. Words grow on trees and the king's five identical ministers talk like a thesaurus running out of control and travel in a carriage in which you have to be very quiet, "for it goes without saying". Digitopolis, the city of numbers, is ruled by Azaz' brother, the Mathemagician, who mines digits from the earth and serves Milo and his friends "subtraction stew", which makes you hungrier the more you eat. The brothers have imprisoned their adoptive sisters, the Princess of Pure Reason and the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, in a Castle in the Air surrounded by evil demons, because they refused to take sides in an idiotic squabble over whether words or numbers are superior.

On his way to rescue the princesses, Milo runs into all sorts of interesting people. There is a very short policeman called Shrift; a perfectly sane doctor named Discord who specialises in unpleasant noises; a conductor named Chroma whose orchestra makes visual music; and approximately half of a child (0.58 to be exact) who is part of the average family: two parents and 2.58 children. This is better than it sounds, apparently, since the average family also has 1.27 automobiles, "and since I'm the only one who can drive three tenths of a car, I have the sole use of it." Milo and his friends also take an unscheduled trip to the island of Conclusions, which looks very pleasant from a distance but less so once one has involuntarily jumped there. If you do jump to Conclusions, you have to face a long hard swim in the Sea of Knowledge to get back to where you were.

The demons surrounding the Castle in the Air are an intimidating lot. There is the Official Senses Taker, an ink-spattered bureaucrat who delays the heroes with form-filling; the Terrible Trivium, a monster of habit; the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, a large and extremely soiled bird who twists everything said to it ("I come from a place called Context, but it's so unpleasant there I spend all my time out of it"); the Horrible Hopping Hindsight, who doesn't care where he's going as long as he knows why he shouldn't have been where he was; and the Triple Demons of Compromise: one short and fat, one tall and thin, and the third just like the other two.

If you have never read The Phantom Tollbooth, you are deprived and poverty-stricken. If your children have never read it, you are guilty of neglect.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Bored,adj. Subjected to sustained and ongoing good advice.

Delirious,adj. In a state of advanced truthfulness.

Free,adj.(Merchandising) Worth less than nothing.

Heritage,n. Sum total of a country's tourist attractions.

Jostle,v.t. To inflict grievous bodily harm with impunity, as on public transport.

Mospidor,n. A moth used as a cuspidor.
Big Harry's phlegm could reduce any member of the order Lepidoptera to a leg-twitching moist mospidor at twenty paces and in half a second flat.
Magot Q. Prulge

Motherland,n. Same as fatherland. This inbreeding doubtless accounts for the regrettable mental capacity of so many ardent patriots.

Obscure,adj. Insufficiently tailored to an audience's powers of stupidity.

Roman Catholic Church,n. Literally, the Universal Roman Church, intended for all mankind; thus its teachings are adhered to by everyone except for Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Protestants, Buddhists, animists, atheists, agnostics and numerous Popes.

Starvation,n. Something Asians and Africans die of so that Europeans can die of heart disease.

Week,n. Standard unit of measurement for the time a political situation takes to worsen.

Friday, April 22, 2005


It is of course untrue that supermarket cashiers are the least intelligent life form in the known universe. To take merely one example, there is no reliable evidence that any member of the Royal Family of Great Britain has ever been near a supermarket, let alone worked in one. The supermarket cashier does, however, present certain features of interest which are available for all to observe without undue risk, and which thus make this organism a fruitful subject for the enthusiastic idiotologist.

Again contrary to popular myth, not all supermarket cashiers are female. This should be obvious, given that supermarket cashiers are not known to reproduce by fission, budding or any of the other methods utilised by life forms of a similarly protozoan intellect. It is true, however, that it is rarely possible for the lay student to distinguish the male cashier from the female unless the mating season is not in progress - the lack of sexual distinctions during the mating season being one more symptom of this organism's famed stupidity.

The cashier shares with related species (the supermarket manager and so forth) an attitude towards supermarket patrons which goes beyond its natural incompetence and enters the realms of actual malice. No supermarket cashier can tolerate the presence of a superior intelligence, which it detects by means of a small gland located at the base of its organ of mathematical inability. As soon as a higher organism (i.e. anything that can drool without having to think about it too much) comes within a dozen yards of the cashier, this gland starts pumping out a hideous array of chemicals, leading to any or all of the numerous activities for which supermarket cashiers are so justly famed and reviled. At best, the creature may bang a wrong button on the cash register and have to start the transaction all over again; at worst, particularly if the queue is a long one, it may warble its battle cry, Penelopaaaaay, kyde tew-ooooooooo, over the intercom, and then sit for the next half hour recovering from the mental strain of having been forced to whine and chew gum at the same time.

The creatures' relationship with their cash registers is a matter which has occupied many of the most respected minds in the field of idiotology. In general it is true to say that the supermarket cashier has decreased in intelligence as the cash register has increased. Most cash registers nowadays are capable not only of adding up bills, but of identifying goods via bar codes, weighing and wrapping them, dispensing change, bleeping and infringing the blasphemy laws. At this very moment, a new model is at the development stage, which when operational should include the useful capacity to beat old ladies about the back of the head if they fail to unload their trolleys fast enough.

This ever-increasing complexity of cash registers means that the cashiers have to occupy more and more of their dismally limited intelligence in trying to operate them correctly. From being relatively simple machines with ten number keys plus one for TOTAL, one for NO SALE and one to send the cash drawer flying across the room, cash registers have evolved almost into computerised cashiers, lacking only the ability to reproduce themselves and the characteristic semi-infuriating drone. This means in effect that each cashier is having to work a machine very nearly as complicated as itself, and infinitely less fallible. However dimly realised (and there is some debate on this point), the situation in their view cannot be altogether pleasant.

Partly for this reason, a number of schemes have been suggested, mostly along the lines of automating all aspects of supermarket shopping while giving the cashiers early retirement, or preferably death. In a purely practical sense, such ideas have much to recommend them, but it would still be a pity to see this fascinating species of imbecile disappear from our country's shopscape. Tabloid readers, though common in every sense and nearly as intelligent, have a regrettable tendency to aggression which makes them unfit for study except by those equipped to deal with the physical and intestinal risks involved.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

News 2020

Opposition unveils human resource maturation policy

The shadow Education and Economic Utility Readiness secretary, Hester Primpling, today unveiled the opposition's radical new generational preparation measures.

The proposals include corporal punishment vouchers whereby parents can invest in the various implements used to discipline unruly children. "We think it's only fair that parents should have some say in the way in which their children are instilled with civilised values," Ms Primpling said.

Malvern Quinsy, the Government spokesperson for Education and the Manufacture of Non-Benefit-Claiming Taxpayers responded to the opposition's announcement with derision. "These ideas are absurd, ridiculous, unworkable and anyway we're going to put them into practice ourselves next year," he said.

A NuConLib government would also flexibilitise the laws on class sizes and staff distribution to "ensure no child will ever again fall victim to tired left-wing platitudes," Ms Primpling continued.

"Once we have placed proper authority back in the hands of responsible adults, there will be no excuse for teachers refusing to take on larger classes," she said.

Accordingly, within seventeen minutes of being elected to office, a NuLibCon government would place on the statute books a law empowering head teachers to administer corporal punishment to teachers who failed to achieve their targets.

Additionally, the new government would re-organise the curriculum to provide "a more citizenship-oriented education industry," Ms Primpling said.

"Britain did not become great by teaching its children that everyone has rights and that violence is a bad thing," she told a group of cheering parents in the small Berkshire town of Squidgey Hamlets.

"It is absurd to imagine that our juvenile socialisation programme would result in a two-tier system," Ms Primpling concluded. "All we wish to do is make the best of British education available to everyone who can benefit from it. With Boris Johnson in Downing Street, every school in the country will have a chance to be like the institutions that made English education famous the world over, although we shall rein in the sodomy, of course."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Alive,adj. Engaged in repeating, with few significant variations, the follies of the dead.

Conservation,n. A politician planting one tree before reading a speech printed on the mortal remains of five more.

F.D.,abbr. Fidei Defensor, or Defender of the Faith. This title was conferred upon King Henry VIII of England for services rendered to the Catholic Church - which, oddly enough, did not include his leaving it. When he did eventually leave it, in order to form his own Church with himself as pope and England's coffers, rather than the Vatican's, as God, Henry retained the title. Consequently, with the sense of honour which lesser nations have come to expect of the British, all subsequent English monarchs since Henry have been both head of the Church of England and Defender of the Catholic faith. There is nothing an Englishman hates more than a hypocrite.

Grouse,n. A flying creature bred at vast expense on very private land purely for the pleasure of having it shot down. Distinct from the fighter aircraft in that the grouse has greater nutritional value.

Irony,n. The steel in the backbone of wit.

Martyr,n. Saint who has atoned for a lifetime of tedious virtue by undergoing a moderately entertaining death.

Nubitrund,adj. In the process of becoming buxom.
Though her grandmother was moribund, Norah was indubitably nubitrund.
Dingley Feemo

Retch,v.i. To make an intelligent critical response to a television mini-series.

Soldier,n. Hired assassin on the lowest rung of that honourable profession's scale of pay, generally acquired in bulk and spent in a not dissimilar fashion.

Vermiform,adj. Resembling a junior minister.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Miracle of Birth

A Dialogue for Protozoa

Warning: Explicit Reproductive Fission Scene


Oh, hello! Didn't see you there. How've you been?

Not bad. How about you?

Oh, fine, fine.

Have you seen Millie lately?

You mean you haven't heard?

Heard what?

About Millie.

Well, what about her?

She split.

Really? Where did she go?

No, I mean she split. You know - the fission thing?

What - Millie?

Yes, Millie.

We can't be talking about the same one.


The Millie with the contractile vacuole?


I don't believe it.

It's a fact.

You just never know, do you?

Miracle of birth and all that.

Amazing really.



One minute there's one, and the next there's another.

So now there's two Millies?

Well, it's sort of hard to tell.

They look a lot alike, I suppose.

Well, they have the same mother and everything.

Must be practically impossible to tell them apart.

Easier now that they've split up.

I can imagine.

And of course, they're quite similar temperamentally, too.

Well, Millie always was.

That's what I always said.

Ever thought of doing it yourself?

Fission, you mean? No, never.

Not once?

Absolutely not. Makes me queasy just thinking about it.

Queasy? It's the most natural thing in the world.

I suppose.

You take it from me. Cellular fission is as much a part of life as protein synthesis in the ribosomes.

Yes, but all the diseases you can get nowadays...

It's perfectly safe if you take precautions.

What precautions?

Well, if you're doing it in someone's intestine, make sure they're not gay or promiscuous.

That's disgusting.

Not at all. We must learn to control our excess of population. Too many amoebae spoil the chyme.

Anyway, I'm a Catholic.

I've often thought of doing it myself.

Oh, for heaven's sake...

I feel a meiosis coming on.

Arthur - you stop that right now.


Oh God...

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh! (splits in two)

Well, I hope you're pleased with yourself.


Monday, April 18, 2005

News 2020

Top journalist calls for more deference

John Flake, the winner of the prestigious British Union of Newscasters and Commentators' award for Most Consistently Cheerful Necktie During the Past Year, has criticised the media's tendency to be "disrespectful" towards politicians and other interviewees.

"There's a lot of cynicism in our society these days and I think this is partly the fault of media attitudes," Mr Flake said in his acceptance speech at the BUNC award ceremony.

"Some journalists have to realise that they cannot be impartial and at the same time make cynical assumptions about the motives of those they are interviewing," Mr Flake continued.

Although he mentioned no names, it is assumed that Mr Flake was referring mainly to the BBC's "attack rottweiler", Jiminy Peacemiel, who anchors the channel's flagship current affairs programme Newsnugget.

Mr Peacemiel is known for his aggressive interview style, which often involves asking politicians to state firmly whether or not they are telling the whole truth. Some ministers have taken exception to this, particularly when Mr Peacemiel has seemed to imply the possibility of error on the Government's part.

Mr Flake went on to say that a more polite and deferential attitude on the part of journalists might well lead to greater public contentment with the job politicians were doing, and hence to a happier nation.

"Receiving this award has helped me see that politicians bear a heavy responsibility," he said. "It's a lonely life at the top, and more people in our profession should learn to make allowances for that."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The World Without Humanity

Some little time ago, a zoologist named Dougal Dixon produced a book called After Man, a portrait of life on earth fifty million years after the extinction of the human race. Starting with a map of the continents, as altered over that period by the shifting of tectonic plates, Dixon proceeded to apply evolutionary principles with prodigious but highly disciplined imagination.

Species which had been dependent on humanity, such as dogs, horses and so forth, naturally joined Homo sapiens in the oblivion to which that insanely destructive species consigned itself and so many others. However, the ecosphere rapidly recovered from the chaotic blip of human history, and the gaps left by extinct species were quickly filled by others.

Rats, a highly efficient species, evolved into the main carnivores, their bodies growing doglike in size and shape. A huge creature called a vortex, which developed, as I recall, from penguins, appeared to fill the ecological gap left by the exterminated whales. A marsh-dwelling herbivore called a reedstilt has loose fronds of skin on its lower legs; as it stands in shallow water and hunts fish, the camouflaging fronds wave gently in the current like the leaves of underwater plants.

Some of Dixon's new species seem to have evolved with their tongue in their cheek. A type of rodent bears its young high up in the mountains; when the young mature, they find more plentiful food supplies by jumping off the mountains and slowing their descent with a thick parasol of hairs at the end of their tails; naturally, the name of the species is parashrew. The archipelago of Batavia is dominated by animals which have evolved from bats, including the delightful night stalker, a huge, flightless, eyeless predator which walks on its forelimbs and tears its prey to pieces with elongated hind limbs that reach forward over its shoulders.

A few years after After Man, Dixon produced a second, equally brilliant book, set in the present day. However, the premise of The New Dinosaurs is that the dinosaurs' extinction did not take place, and that the great lizards have continued to evolve through the sixty-five million years which separate them from the present. Since, in these circumstances, the mammals do not evolve beyond the tree-shrew stage, humanity has no place in this world, either; although at the end Dixon speculates on the possibility of a humanoid creature evolving among the dinosaurs.

Both After Man and The New Dinosaurs are beautifully presented and stunningly illustrated with colour pictures of their remarkable protagonists; all species are equipped with Latin names and their evolutionary peculiarities are clearly delineated in careful line diagrams. These books are two of the most extraordinary works of science fiction ever produced.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Satanic Supplement

Aborigines, First inhabitants of a country to be thrown out of it.

Backbone,n.(Military) Desirable quality for new recruits; an internal prop of sufficient strength to keep aloft a skull of solid wood.

Cannon,n. The intermediate stage in the food chain between the patriot and the maggot.

Date,n. Fruit which one bites into with relish for its delicious flavour, only to break one's teeth on the hidden stone inside. Consequently the word also signifies a romantic assignation.

Education,n. Replacement of childhood ignorance with adult bigotry.

Fan,n. Device for creating a current of air by means of rapidly moving parts, e.g. rotating blades, flapping arms, bawling larynxes, etc.

Ground,n. One of the few things in life which are unlikely in the immediate future to collapse on top of us.

Human,n. The best-used prefix to the word error.

Intimacy,n. Intervening stage between infatuation and disgust.

Legal,adj. Not illegal, as yet.

Mass,n. Scientific measurement of the extent to which an object is capable of getting in the way.

Nymphomaniac,n. A woman addicted to disappointment.

Papal,adj. Relating to the dispensation of pap.

Repent,v.i. Sincerely to regret the unprofitability of one's sins.

Soul-search,v.i. To look for a credit card.

Tobacco,n. Method of committing suicide, through burning the dried leaves of the plant and inhaling the corrosive smoke. Slightly quicker, but less reliable, than breathing ordinary air.

Veaplet,n. The strip of cloth that covers the zip on a pair of trousers.
His suit must be more than twenty years old; nobody nowadays wore veaplets that wide.
Gockler Zump

Win,v.i. Future tense of cheat.

X,symbol. Indicates an unknown quantity; used on ballot papers to signify the candidate who has revealed the fewest facts.

Friday, April 15, 2005

News 2020

Kilroy-Silk launches manifesto

The British Exit Europe Party (BEEP) today launched its manifesto for the new voting season. The party's leader, Robert Kilroy-Silk, emphasised that the British Exit Europe Party is not a "one-issue party".

"We have a great many policies besides getting out of Europe," Mr Kilroy-Silk told a press conference today. "We also intend to cut immigration and end the dictatorship of liberal fascists over our country."

The manifesto, Out with Wogs, Down with Frogs, was published today in a striking orange and white cover. Besides cutting immigration and getting out of Europe, the party ultimately intends to abolish the game of cricket and repatriate all non-Celts to their country of origin, the document claims.

"The very term cricket is a corruption of the French word for goal-post," Mr Kilroy-Silk writes in a "Personal Address to the Reader" at the front of the manifesto.

"It is thus clear that this game is nothing more than a feeble European attempt to undermine British sporting supremacy by introducing wooden implements and undersized, Brussels-standardised balls into the game of football," Mr Kilroy-Silk continues.

It is believed that the manifesto's position on repatriation has caused some division inside the party. One radical faction insists that even the Celts, or their ancestors, must originally have entered Britain from France, and therefore true purity of Englishness will only be achieved when the country has been completely depopulated apart from members of the BEEP.

Mr Kilroy-Silk and others, however, have rejected the "total repatriation option" on the grounds that the argument behind it "takes so-called scientific evolutionism to an unreasonable extreme."

The other parties have greeted the manifesto with scepticism, although the Prime Minister conceded that Mr Kilroy-Silk might have hit on a convincing explanation for repeated World Cup wins by European countries, as against England's sole victory in 1966.

The NuLabLib manifesto, which was published earlier this week, has already aroused controversy owing to its cover, which shows Lord Blair of Belmarsh raising the spirit of democracy from the dead in Baghdad. The Government is pledged to reduce immigration if it is voted back into office.

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, who has promised to reduce immigration if the voting season concludes in his favour, condemned the illustration as "a tasteless and inaccurate portrayal of events," and said that all political leaders who had supported the war against terrorism should have been given due pictorial recognition.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

News 2020

London terror bomb terror plot foiled

Al-Qaeda, the shadowy extreme fundamentalist Islamic anti-American terrorist organisation which plunged the world into a prolongued and desperate war on terror after its terror attacks on America on 11 September 2001, has been prevented from carrying out a terror attack in London similar to the attack on America on 11 September 2001 during which terrorists attacked America, security forces said today.

Crack anti-terror units were deployed against the terrorists, who were prevented from launching a potential terror strike against targets thought to be in London with possibly considerable loss of life and probable property damage thought to be likely to run into billions of pounds.

The potential attack is all the more chilling for having failed to take place on the very same day as the Government issued its manifesto for the new voting season.

Despite continued voter apathy towards the war on terror, which experts believe is due to the complacency induced by the efficacy of anti-terror security operations and the lack of normal wartime penalties for sympathising with the enemy, the Government has continued to make the war on terror an important centre plank of the pillar supporting its political platform.

Of the 117 separate bills promised by the NuLabLib Coalition for the first parliament of its new term, almost half are dedicated to improving national security and preventing terrorist attacks such as the one perpetrated by the shadowy fundamentalist Islamic group al-Qaeda in the USA on 11 September 2001.

The only pages of the manifesto which do not mention the war on terror are those setting out the Government's new ethical foreign policy, and those detailing the proposed measures for dealing with Britain's ever more serious fuel shortages.

The manifesto also contains a personal plea by the Prime Minister for "advance not retreat" in the war on terror and a reminder to voters that "caving in to terrorists is the surest possible way to make freedom and democracy less doable."

The Arab terror bomb terror group, al-Qaeda's terror tactics famously terrorised the terrified Spaniards into voting out the anti-terror government of Jose Maria Anzac in the early years of this century. Terror experts have been saying ever since that it is only a matter of time before the terrorist organisation makes a terroristic attempt to repeat its terror triumph.

Commenting on today's incident, the Prime Minister said, "This terrorist attempt to terrorise the electorate is probably the most serious of many terrorist attacks which have not occurred since the appalling attack on the United States nearly twenty years ago."

He praised the vigilance of the anti-terrorist security services and reiterated that it was the duty of all citizens to call the police if they saw anyone dressed like a terrorist or carrying overly non-suspicious identity papers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

News 2020

Party leaders condemn "moral self-indulgence"

The Prime Minister today warned electors not to be tempted to vote against the Government simply because of disagreements with its policy.

His remarks came at the unveiling of a new series of ethical policies aimed at solving the problems of the Third World while retaining Britain's pre-eminence as an economic player in the globalised market of the democratised future.

The policies, which include free mineral water for all African under-fives and a pledge to investigate possible solutions to the Palestinian problem, have been called "a squeegee for the electoral conscience" by the Prime Minister's personal aide, Mr Campbelson Mandell.

But the Prime Minister took the opportunity to make clear his opposition to voter irresponsibility. "A democratic voting season is not the time to play political games," he said. "Voting is a serious responsibility and should not be undertaken simply as a means of showing disapproval for a particular political programme."

The leader of the opposition, Boris Johnson, said that the Government's new proposals on aid and ethical land mine sales would end up "costing the British taxpayer an arm and a leg."

However, Mr Johnson echoed the Prime Minister's remarks about voter responsibility. "There can be no conceivable purpose in voting for a minority party or a party which is certain not to win," he said. "A wasted vote is a waste of the lives and liberties of those who have sacrificed so much to make Britain's democracy one which is the envy and wonder of the whole civilised world, apart from America of course which could jolly well teach us a thing or two."

Mr Johnson called on the Government to take firmer measures against the "moral self-indulgence" of voters who supported "issue parties and glorified pressure groups" which preyed on people's emotions but failed to win seats.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Common Marligan

The origins of the common marligan, like much else about these elusive creatures, remain shrouded in mystery. What is certain is that, by the time it reaches its natural habitat in the domestic cistern, the common marligan is fully versed in every possible register of voice; from the bass cluncherings of its territorial call, through the baritone quabargles and the tenor gackling with which it whiles away the night, up to the high-pitched whifficking which signals the urge to mate and causes insomniac householders to run amok with kitchen utensils. It is thought that some species of marligan are also capable of ultrasonic emissions; but this has never been satisfactorily proved.

A prominent source of confusion when studying the marligan is the volume and variety of noises it can make. Even most experts, when deprived of special equipment, are unable to tell the difference between the whifficks and quabargles of the nightly song cycle, and the subtly different strains of a distracted marligan simply banging itself against the inside of the cistern. The call of a marligan travelling south for bathtime is often similarly confused with the wheezing and whining of an airlock in the pipes, although the two sets of sounds are easily distinguishable to the experienced ear.

On the subject of ears, it is almost certainly untrue that infant marligans can cause tinnitus by escaping into the bath water and insinuating themselves into bathers' aural canals. In the first place, marligans are neither ethereal nor insubstantial; and although nobody has ever seen one, even the smallest juvenile would be easily detectable if it got into a bath. In the second place, marligans have a marked aversion towards physical contact with human beings. The best possible proof of this is the fact that no single zoologist who has looked in a cistern for marligans has ever come away with more than a wet head.

Concerning the origins of the marligan, still stranger myths abound. Some say the creatures are formed from the last breaths of opera singers, drowned in decaying sewers by their maddened, cloaked Svengalis. Tenor and baritone, alto and soprano, the bubbles formed by their last submarine screams are borne along beneath the rushing water as it is cleaned, recycled and sent through the pipes anew. Forced into ever narrower spaces, crushed together by pressure and speed, the bubbles merge at last into a single sphere of air, which vibrates with inarticulate noise: tenor and baritone, alto and soprano; the egg of the marligan. But this is, of course, a poetic legend merely; a romantic fairy-tale of dreamy plumbers.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Highly Imaginative Eccentric

At times, in the interests of accuracy, it may be preferable to talk about a feral bushy-tailed canine whose reputation typically involves craft and cunning; but most of us prefer to stick to fox, nonetheless. "Charles Albert Browning," says Geoff Andrew in The Film Handbook, "is often viewed primarily as a horror director, but he is more accurately seen as a highly imaginative eccentric whose best work is typified by his continuing fascination with the grotesque and macabre."

Charles Albert Browning was born in 1880 and spent his early years working in the circus. One of his jobs during his youth was burial alive as the Hypnotic Living Corpse: placed in a "trance" by an Actual Genuine Mesmerist, Browning would be put in a coffin, lowered into a hole in the ground, and the coffin covered up. The Hypnotic Living Corpse might have to stay buried for up to two days (often Friday to Sunday, in memory of a more famous conjuring trick), breathing through an extensible tube built into one of the coffin's walls. Later his publicity would claim that he had also served a turn as Bosco the Snake Eater.

Browning was involved, as director, writer or producer, in many silent films between 1915 and 1925, including such titles as The Slave Girl, The Living Death, The Burned Hand, The Deadly Glass of Beer, A Love Sublime, White Tiger and The Dangerous Flirt. He was also an assistant director on the "Modern Story" sequence of D W Griffith's Intolerance.

On the night of 16 July 1915, during his off hours from working for Griffith, Browning was driving a car at high speed and suffered a collision in which he lost his teeth. The actor seated next to him was killed. Browning had to wear full dentures for the rest of his life, and he complained about the discomfort they caused him.

Browning's first notable film as director was The Unholy Three (1925), a rather unorthodox crime story about three erstwhile circus personnel - a midget, a strongman and a ventriloquist - who run a pet shop as a front to rob their wealthy customers. The ventriloquist is able to fake the voices of the parrots sold in the shop (as the film was silent, comic-strip balloons were used to indicate the birds' dialogue); the parrots' abrupt loss of voice when removed from the shop provides a handy pretext for the fiendish criminals (ventriloquist and midget disguised as a harmless old lady and child) to visit the owners and case their houses.

The Unholy Three was a major box-office success and made enough of a name for itself to merit a talkie remake some years later. Equally significantly in terms of Browning's career, it starred Lon Chaney, who had just made The Phantom of the Opera. Browning and Chaney made seven more films together, with Chaney usually playing doubled, disguised or physically deformed characters. The best remembered of these films is The Unknown (1927).

In The Unknown, Chaney plays a fugitive hiding out in a circus by posing as Alonzo the Armless Wonder. His arms are taped to his sides, and he impresses the audience with feats of dental and metatarsal dexterity. Alonzo is indiscreet enough to fall for Estrellita (Joan Crawford), who is the decorative part of the knife-thrower's act. Estrellita cannot bear the touch of men; in order to win her, Alonzo has his own arms surgically removed only to find his beloved in those of Malabar, the strongman. "A visit to the dissecting room in a hospital would be quite as pleasant," gushed the New York Evening Post, "and at the same time more instructive."

The films for which Browning is best known and most notorious are, respectively, Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932). The first is notable for Bela Lugosi's performance and for the atmospheric early sequences showing the visit of Renfield (Dwight Frye) to the vampire's castle; but for the most part it is stagey, tedious and badly dated, with a static camera and a storyline less plotted than plodded.

Freaks is another matter entirely. It was based on a story called "Spurs" by the British writer Tod Robbins, who had also written the original novel The Unholy Three. "Spurs" tells of a French circus midget who falls for a beautiful trapeze artist. Because he has come into a great deal of money, she condescends to marry him, but at their wedding she gets drunk and humiliates him by picking him up and declaring, "I could carry my little ape from one end of France to the other." The midget works out the distance involved and, using the eponymous spurs as an incentive, forces her to do just that. At the end of the tale, a ragged, worn-out wreck, she has a little more than half the distance to go.

The adaptation makes Hans the midget German and benign, and somewhat changes the character of the other circus freaks. Those in Robbins' story are a crowd of noisy egotists, each one convinced that he or she is the star of the show. (Ironically enough, the real-life freaks Browning used as actors in his film were apparently much the same.) The characters in the film are a comradely bunch who, at the wedding, pay the trapeze artist their highest compliment by acclaiming her as "one of us". She takes this as a deadly insult, throwing their loving-cup back in their faces and cursing them as "filthy, slimy freaks!"

The first half of the film is largely comic, displaying various scenes from the everyday life of a circus and including the marital problems of a man married to a Siamese twin (he can't get rid of his argumentative sister-in-law). Pinheads, dwarfs and a young man without legs are introduced in lyrical long-shot, having a picnic with their motherly guardian. Everyone is happy when the bearded lady gives birth to a healthy baby girl who may, it is observed, one day grow a beard of her own. However, there are also some darker scenes showing the humiliation of the gallant but undersized Hans by the gold-digging trapeze artist and her strongman lover. After she insults his friends at the wedding, and not content with poisoning his champagne, she humiliates him further by pretending to treat him as a baby.

Some of the humour in Freaks is now dated and cloying, and the acting is often rather wooden; but on the whole, particularly from the wedding-feast onwards, it holds up very well, and the climax is riveting. Hans, who has been feigning sickness from the poison, suddenly sits up in bed and, ironically echoing his "baby" role, demands the drug from his poisoner: "Bottle." As the circus drives off in a violent thunderstorm, the strongman sets out to murder his ex-girlfriend, who knows too much about the plot to kill Hans. One of the wagons crashes and overturns, and out leap half a dozen of the freaks, armed with knives. A man, impressively muscular but entirely without limbs, wriggles implacably through the mud, a knife between his clenched teeth. The freaks, who have a strict code of mutual aid to protect themselves from the world of normal people, exact rough but highly poetic justice.

Despite being cut from ninety minutes to sixty-four, Freaks caused an uproar when it was released; the British censor, with typical lack of English sang-froid, banned it for thirty years. One woman tried to sue the studio, claiming the film had induced a miscarriage. The studio, MGM, removed Freaks from circulation, and Browning directed only four more films, of which only one is now generally remembered.

Still, The Devil Doll (1936) is eminently memorable. The screenwriters included Erich Von Stroheim and Guy Endore, author of the great horror novel, The Werewolf of Paris and translator of Hanns Heinz Ewers' Alraune. The film starred Lionel Barrymore as a man unjustly imprisoned on Devil's Island, who returns to wreak vengeance on the partners who swindled him. He escapes in the company of a well-meaning but slightly unhinged scientist, who has discovered a method of miniaturising human beings and wishes to use the technique to solve humanity's overpopulation problems. The scientist's equally well-meaning but even less hinged wife shares his idealistic dream, and there are inevitable disagreements. The minds of the miniaturised persons are wiped out during the shrinking process, so they can be controlled by telepathy and can carry poisoned stilettos to do the avenger's will. Posing as a harmless old lady, Barrymore sets up a toy shop as a cover for manufacturing the creatures, and uses them to divest his enemies of their ill-gotten gains and to extort their confessions so he can prove his own innocence to his daughter.

The Devil Doll is still thoroughly enjoyable, and the miniaturisation special effects (achieved by the simple expedient of building gigantic sets on MGM's biggest sound-stage) have aged very well. Unfortunately, the profits it made were not large enough to redeem Browning in the studio's eyes, and after one more film in 1939 (a comedy, Miracles for Sale) he did not direct again.

A lifelong baseball fanatic, Browning died in October 1962, with the World Series tied at one-all. The name "Charles Albert Browning" never passed before a projector lamp; the name he used was Tod Browning. Tod is German for death, and Scots for a fox or a trickster. There is a biography by David Skal and Elias Savada, aptly titled Dark Carnival.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Introduction to Felosophy

The existential thought of cats (felosophy) is by and large far too subtle for the human understanding, but it rests on an extremely simple premise. This is that the phenomenological world is divisible into three distinct types (categories), namely Cat, Not-Cat, and Food.

The first category is by far the most important. It incorporates all phenomena known specifically to be cats, including lynx, panthers, leopards, lions, tigers and all species of domestic feline including women. Whether all human beings can be included in this category is a matter of some debate, especially on rooftops in the middle of the night where all the most advanced felosophical discussions take place.

Most cats are prepared to recognise human beings as intelligent creatures, i.e. cats of some sort, albeit physically rather odd and intellectually somewhat retarded. Such recognition rests mainly on the fact that human beings invented central heating and can sometimes be trained to open tins at convenient intervals. However, many felosophers, particularly the outdoor school including lions, tigers, wildcats and so forth, consider these achievements to have been blown out of all proportion by the domestic school. The outdoor school of felosophers tends to feel that human beings should be relegated to the third category, Food. All in all, this whole debate is still extremely lively and fruitful, as can be heard between about three and four o'clock any morning of the week.

The second category, Not-Cat, includes all non-feline and/or inanimate objects which cannot be eaten, such as computers, washing machines, inexpensive clothing, dogs and the various other items of detritus with which even the best-trained human beings like to surround themselves. Again, there is some disagreement as to the boundaries of this category, given that almost anything can be eaten by a cat who is determined to try hard enough; not to mention the equal and opposite fact that many things which in theory are edible cannot possibly be eaten for the simple reason that a human being is determined to feed them to a cat. Pills are a good example, as is any brand of cat food which has previously been eaten on a day D and is then thoughtlessly purchased by a human being on a different day D1 in the complacent expectation that the cat will eat it again. This question has been tentatively resolved by the postulate that certain phenomena can traverse between categories, rather like a cat traversing between neighbourhood dinner bowls; but the matter is far from being categorically settled.

The third category, Food, includes all animate and inanimate objects which can be eaten, notably meat (whether tinned or laid out on the table from which a meddlesome human being may try to remove the enterprising felosopher), fish, bird, rodent, furball and possibly such tempting but elusive chewables as human fingers and toes. Very few felosophers disagree about the contents of this category, although now and then a small question can arise as to whether that which is Food for the cat who caught it may or may not be Food for a bigger cat instead.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

6610 and all that: Extracts from a future history

Of Neoliberals, Neocons and the Perils of Speculation

...of which almost nothing is known. It is undoubtedly the case that the final phase of the Precatastrophic was dominated by the Neocons, but gaining any clue as to the substance of their beliefs is difficult in the extreme; a difficulty which has only been exacerbated by the penchant for irresponsible speculation amongst various fashionable but historiographically inexperienced schools of Antegnostication.

For example, the wholly unsubstantiated hypothesis of Antegnosticator Vlurge, that "Neocon" was an abbreviated form of "Neoconservative" is based upon nothing more than the habitual opposition of "Neocon" to "Neoliberal" in the so-called Peenack Fragments. Vlurge drew an analogy between this opposition and the ancient ideologies of "libertarianism" and "conservationism" which, while apparently all too neat, is vitiated by lack of evidence in its favour and by its adherents' inability to explain precisely what differences existed between the Neocons as defined by Vlurge and their supposed opponents.

In fact, it is likely that the Neoconservationists gained power during the very last phase of the Precatastrophic, when it was finally borne in upon the populations of the Benighted State and its colonies that their "civilisation" in its present form could no longer be sustained. The Neoliberals, who had ruled the world under various names and guises since the First Proto-industrial three or four centuries prior to the Precatastrophic, abdicated or were removed from power during the widespread disorder and lawlessness which followed from the shortages and hardships which resulted from the changes which the planet's climate was undergoing at the time.

The Neoconservationists presumably held some allegiance to the idea of "conserving" or preserving as much of society as was possible under the circumstances, although Antegnosticator Vling has warned against the over-utilisation of factional names as a guide to their policies. There is, for example, evidence of several political factions across the world at that time which called themselves "Labour" parties, yet not a single one of them diverged in any significant way from the prevalent Neoliberal philosophy of the time; a truth which is very simply substantiated by the fact that most of these "Labour" parties managed to hold office at some time or another.

What is clear is that the policies of the Neoconservationists had little or no mitigating effect upon the destructiveness of the Catastrophic era, and probably failed even to postpone it. Indeed, there is little or no indication in the records that Neocon policies differed substantially from those of the Neoliberals or Neolibertarians whom they replaced. Antegnosticator Vlurge's romantic hypothesis of a "popular movement" opposed to both factions remains simply a hypothesis, unsubstantiated by mention in any of the documents which remain to us...

Friday, April 08, 2005

Mennear Mails Again

I have been privileged to receive another mailing from my Conservative candidate, Andrew Mennear, who is less patronising than John O'Farrell but also more illiterate. In anticipation of the election campaign as a whole, the leaflet is long, narrow and folded in upon itself. The front cover recycles the Young Conservatives' ladies' room graffiti from Michael Howard's poster campaign:

The law should protect me, not burglars!
It's not racist to impose limits on immigration.
I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?

Beneath these somewhat sub-Rochefoucauldian maxims there is a small rectangular peep-hole through which can be discerned, in robust blue print, the inevitable, rhetorical but all too answerable "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"

Along the seal are the Conservatives' five promises:

Cleaner Hospitals
Controlled Immigration
More Police
Lower Taxes
School Discipline

"Accountability", which was mentioned in a previous mailing, seems to have gone by the board this time; but to compensate, when you break the seal, a handy photograph beneath each promise provides a useful visual correlative for those unable to cope with slogans more than one word long. Beneath "Cleaner Hospitals" is a picture of a surgeon, who is decked out in cap and gown, presumably in the interests of hygiene. Apparently the Conservatives plan to make such togs compulsory, which would be a Good Thing, I am sure. Beneath "Controlled Immigration" is a picture of a British passport; beneath "More Police" a picture of two policemen; beneath "Lower Taxes" part of a twenty-pound note incorporating the Queen's right eye and the word "England"; and beneath "School Discipline" a picture of a child with one hand in the air. Perhaps he has been strung up by the thumb, for discipline's sake.

Discipline is getting to be something of a fetish in the Conservative campaign. Teenage burglars should be disciplined with a shotgun blast between the shoulder blades; asylum seekers should be disciplined by whatever methods seem appropriate in their country of origin; discipline must be "restored to Britain's classrooms" by giving head teachers "the power to expel disruptive pupils". Plans for this measure, it appears, will be set out on the first day of a Conservative government. When the pupils have been expelled, they will of course surge out, an anarchic mob of apocalyptic, householder-burgling, pensioner-buggering destructiveness, onto the streets. The Conservatives, bless them, have thought of that, too. "We will recruit an extra 5,000 police officers each year. This will help restore discipline and respect to our society." Andrew personally "would fight for substantially more police ... and less political correctness". He doesn't mention bringing back National Service, the death penalty or penal servitude with hard labour; but I'm sure that, given time and discipline, these blessings would be restored.

Inside the leaflet is a new and different picture of Andrew Mennear, who is still grinning but no longer wears a suit. As often happens when politicians try to pose as real human beings, Andrew looks a little harassed. His eyes are sunken in, and he has a definite five o'clock penumbra; and there are still five more weeks of campaigning to go. Possibly Andrew has recently been disciplined by Michael Howard; true, there are no visible marks, but those could probably have been Photoshopped away even on Finchley and Golders Green Conservatives' evidently rather threadbare budget.

Another part of the leaflet is largely red and dares me to "Imagine another four more years of Mr Blair". It appears that discipline in Andrew Mennear's English class was not all it should have been. In case I cannot imagine another four years of Mr Blair, the consequences are set out in a stark bullet-pointed list. Average council tax two thousand pounds; violent crime out of control; unlimited immigration; poor discipline in schools; more waste and higher taxes. Iraq is not mentioned, even under "violent crime"; but there is some compensation this time as pot plants are not mentioned either.

And, under the heading "And..." I am warned of two further perils. One is "More power handed over to Brussels". Will nothing keep those meddling Belgian paws off our potato crisp standards? Michael can do it. The other peril is "More rules and regulations telling us how to live our lives". I cannot recall offhand the Conservatives' position on consensual non-heterosexual relationships, but I believe it falls a little short of absolute deregulation.

Towards the bottom of the page, the red transforms itself subtly into orange and yellow as Andrew proclaims, "Liberal Democrats have the wrong priorities..." As might be expected, most of these wrong priorities are concerned with discipline. The Lib Dems "would abolish mandatory life sentences for murder and for a second violent or sexual crime" and "They think first-time burglars should not go to prison" and "They think prison is 'a complete and utter waste of time'." At any rate the Lib Dems appear to be consistent, provided of course that you don't mention the war. (Andrew doesn't.)

There is a quotation from Michael Howard: "You have a clear choice at this election, four more years of Mr Blair's talk or a Conservative government that will take action on the things that really matter." Andrew has wisely adopted the widespread tactic of local Labour organisations and has not put a picture of his Leader on the leaflet. It's still a far cry from the glory days of Saatchi and Saatchi, however.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Before Your Very Eyes

When you turn on a light, as everyone knows, the darkness is collected by a small black creature, about one-tenth the size of your pupil at its smallest, who instead of eyes has a pair of trumpet-shaped suckers protruding from his face, through which he can inhale every bit of darkness in the room before your own sluggish human eyes can possibly see where it is going. When he has taken in as much as he can hold without bursting, he stops and spits it into a sack he holds open before him. When not working he keeps the sack within easy reach, neatly folded into the niche between your eyeball and your eyelid. This is why you must never rub your eyes too much, for fear of rupturing the sack.

The creature, your Exactor Tenebrarum or Personal Tenebriphage, may sometimes squeeze in beside his sack while not on the job, so as to relax but be on hand if required. Sometimes, if you look straight at the light and then close your eyes, you will catch him unawares and see him as a bright, jumping blob, or even several, as he leaps about frantically at incredible speed, trying to escape, for his pay will be docked if he ever lets himself be seen. According to the terms of his contract, he is not supposed to sit behind your eyelid with his sack, but should spend all his time outside, clinging to one of your eyelashes, usually the third or fourth counting outward from your nose, eternally vigilant and on the lookout for darkness to collect.

Regrettably, almost no Exactors adhere to the strict official conditions of their employment; as far back as anyone can remember there has been an ancient and honourable tradition of skiving and corner-cutting. For example, your Exactor is supposed to collect all the darkness in the room the moment the light is switched on; but very few can be bothered to do this properly, and some have even taken up the filthy habit of rolling up flakes of dead skin and smoking them through their suckers, and consequently lack the requisite lung capacity to take all the darkness in at once without promptly coughing it up again. The usual dodge is to leave as much darkness in the room as possible, though most Exactors still retain enough professional pride to leave this residue behind wardrobes or under beds, where it is less likely to be noticed.

Even the best Exactors are not faultless, and even those who do not smoke will occasionally become a little careless and lose their grip on your eyelid. When this happens they fall into your eye, which to them resembles a warm, shallow pool of salt water with an improbably shaped glass bottom. They find dips in this pool very refreshing, and have been known to drop in on purpose, despite the fact that they tend to have considerable difficulty getting out again; some even drown, which means that their counterparts, the Exactors Lucis, have to do double duty until a replacement can be found. For this reason, and because of the irritation their splashing about can cause the customer (what you refer to as "something in the eye" is nearly always an Exactor of one kind or another), the practice of eye-diving is strictly forbidden.

The only worse crime is consistent failure to maintain the upkeep of the sack, but sadly this too is widespread, and means that when you switch the light on, and the Exactor sucks up the darkness and spits it into his sack, the sack immediately bursts and lets it all out again. When this happens, the Exactor has no other choice but to let go your eyelash, leap up to the ceiling or wherever the light happens to be, and break the bulb, usually by biting through the filament. The time it takes you to replace the bulb will give him ample time to do some impromptu patching of his sack, though if the sack is in a really bad way he may have to resort to sabotaging the fuse-box.

The Exactor Tenebrarum has a partner, the Exactor Lucis, who is of similar size and shape but completely transparent, and who normally lives on the left eyelid, while his colleague inhabits the right. The Exactor Lucis also has a pair of trumpetlike suckers and a sack to spit into; his job is to collect the light when you turn the lamp off, and he is generally not on speaking terms with the Exactor Tenebrarum, whom he regards as an idle slob. It is only fair to say that this is not altogether a bad thing, since whenever the two types of Exactor do start talking to each other, they can dream up some truly lunatic schemes. These usually involve tricks such as job-swapping, or one of them stopping work altogether so that light or darkness piles up in a room and begins to upset the crockery; or alternatively both Exactors may start emptying their sacks in the same place, so that the contents become hopelessly mixed. It is thought that a prank of this nature, when an Exactor Tenebrarum emptied his sack into the customer's left ear while the Exactor Lucis emptied his into the right ear, was the beginning of human consciousness as we know it today.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

News 2020

Media pundits declare electoral favourites

With the latest voting season well under way in Britain's mother of democracies, media professionals and pundits have begun declaring their preferences in accordance with time-honoured tradition.

Aside from the BBC, which is completely independent and thus does whatever the incumbent tells it, all of Britain's major news agencies are expected to declare support for one or other of the political parties within a week or two of the voting season's opening.

Unlike most British electoral rituals, such as the banging of Black Rod and the making of crosses on pieces of paper, media professionals' declarations serve a discernible and democratofavourable purpose by reassuring potential voters that, in taking part in the electoral process through the utilisation of their domestically installed Diebechtel voting machines, they can help to ensure that the party governing their country either changes or stays the same.

Among the first to declare were the conservative tabloids, the Sun and the Daily Maul. Both papers published editorials sharply criticising the NuLabLib coalition for failing to maintain the asylum seeker/immigrant arrest (ASIA) quotient at a satisfactory level.

Arrests of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants have continued to increase under the present government, but the rate of increase has slowed markedly in the past three years. The Government claims this is a sign that its measures are working, but the tabloids agreed with Opposition leader Boris Johnson's assessment that "this swamping must cease".

Among the quality papers, the Nearly Independent and Upper Middle-Class Advertiser said forthrightly that a vote for the opposition might well be interpreted as a wish to see the opposition in power, and that those who did not wish to see the opposition in power should vote for the Government even if they did not particularly care for it.

Although her newspaper has yet to make up its mind officially, veteran Guardian columnist Tynee Pollyp commented forthrightly today that voters who were disillusioned with NuLibLab's policies should put their qualms behind them and hope that the coalition would change direction once it gained another mandate.

Interviewed by a foreign newspaper, former Guardian editor Allan Fusbudget said forthrightly that voting for someone other than the Government or the official opposition was "clearly an option", although not altogether an option from which it could unequivocally be said that possibly unforeseen results might not perhaps emerge.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Very Special Message

Now that the election has been well and truly called, even the brilliance of John O'Farrell no longer suffices to rally the faithful. I have just received the following very special message from a very special person, who like John O'Farrell has designated me a Labour supporter and potential volunteer. In the spirit of New Labour's well-known talent for giving documents a helping hand, I present the message herewith, complete and unexpurgated. The parts in italics are victims of "sexing-down" by the intelligence services, which duty has compelled me to restore.

If you have been keeping up with the news, you may already know that I went to the Palace a few minutes ago to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. By arrangement with my friend God, I postponed the announcement twenty-four hours as a mark of respect to the late Pope and a precautionary measure to ensure adequate media coverage.

I wanted to get this message out to you straight away about what's at stake at the election and how you can help. This will be a tough campaign and we will have to fight for every seat and every vote, since there are so few people nowadays who can tell the difference between one business-friendly firmness on immigration and another.

We're going to need the help of every New Labour supporter - to distribute the leaflets, to talk to voters on the doorsteps and get on those phones. Our salaried telecommunicative campaigning resources have been outsourced to Calcutta, but if we can find a few thousand more people to cold-call potential voters and hear the happy laughter on the other end of the line, so much the better for everyone.

If you've never volunteered to help New Labour's campaign before, please make this your first time. If you're an old hand, we need you now more than ever.

For what's at stake on May 5 is the future direction of our country - whether it goes forward or back. Those are, of course, the only possible options. Labour hasn't, by any means, achieved all we want yet. For example, there are still people walking the streets who think Peter Goldsmith lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. And until we can get an appropriate bill through the Lords, you may not agree with every decision I have made. But there's been real progress in several communities up and down the land. Thanks to our terrorist prevention measures, our identity card scheme, our privatisations, our refusal to harm innocent corporations just because they kill people, our flexible attitude to international law and my personal inspiration for the congestion charge in London, our country is fairer, more modern and successful than it was eight years ago.

And May 5 will decide whether we can build on - and accelerate - the progress made in spreading opportunity and prosperity ever thicker on the ever richer. Or whether the Tories can succeed in taking Britain back to the failed and risky policies of cuts, charges and economic mismanagement which we in the Labour party have adapted so successfully to our own ends.

Over the next five weeks, I will be out and about across the country spelling out that choice in words of one syllable with very few verbs. And so will all my colleagues.

If you have no awkward questions, I hope to see you on the campaign trail. But if you have a question for me, you can visit the website and let me know.

In the spirit of New Labour's policies of caring efficientiation, you will receive some sort of answer within a specified time limit. I can't promise to answer them all, especially if they fail to begin, "Does the Prime Minister not agree...". But I'll answer as many as I can throughout the campaign. It's less than five weeks now to polling day. Five weeks in which the future of our country is in our hands, rather than in the hands of politicians, who occasionally make mistakes.

We have a good story to tell. Let's go out and tell it. Sex it up if you have to, but keep it simple and don't be any more inconsistent than you think you can get away with.

Yours as sincerely as I can manage without fatal systemic shock,

Tony Blair
(now and forever, amen)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Invention's Deadly Daughter

A new plague is abroad upon the streets of London, beyond the perennial pandemic of pink jowls, glottal stops and sonically explicit spearmint mastication. The symptoms may be seen clustered on either side of the road wherever said road is painted with those peculiar black and white stripes. If there are two tall stripey orange-topped lollipops with electric boxes attached, so much the better. I have a theory that the electric boxes are the cause of the problem. The way they work is very simple; or in other words, if you happen to be a delta-grade semi-moron or less, rather complicated; but I shall do my poor best to explain.

One of the boxes, which is situated at elbow height, essentially consists of a button, a light-bulb and a cutout of the word WAIT. The other box, which is situated high up on the other side of the road, contains two light-bulbs, one on top of the other. The top light-bulb, which is usually switched on, is behind a cutout of a stationary red person; and the bottom light-bulb, which is usually switched off, is behind a cutout of an ambulatory green person.

Now, this is where it starts to get difficult. In theory, you press the button on the appropriate box, i.e. the one that can be reached without the use of a ladder. The light-bulb inside goes on, assuming it has not been removed, and the word WAIT appears in luminous yellow letters which should be more or less discernible behind the dirt. After a fairly long but not usually terminal period of time, the stationary red person across the road disappears and the ambulatory green one appears, to the accompaniment of a high-pitched bleeping noise reminiscent of a Kylie Minogue CD which has jammed while playing. This means that the traffic lights, which are in a box at right angles to the box with the two light-bulbs, have changed to signal drivers to stop their vehicles. Once the vehicles have stopped, it is usually possible to cross the road, over the black and white stripes, without making an interesting new dent in anyone's fender.

That's the theory. The problem arises when the various jowls, glottal stops and spearmint exhalation units which congregate at these "pedestrian crossings", or "zebra crossings" as they are often called in deference to the benign vegetarianism of the urban jungle, are completely incapable of operating the fucking things.

A new plague is abroad upon the streets of London; a plague of delta-grade semi-morons and their inferiors who lack the intelligence, education, training or conditioning to press a button and wait. One expects this standard of efficiency from, say, a British Telecom engineer or a Jehovah's Witness in whom realism has almost conquered duty; but the sheer size of the congregations at zebra crossings clearly rules out the possibility that these crowds are composed of such creatures exclusively. At almost every crossing one comes upon these days, there are liable to be up to a dozen pairs of jowls, of every age and gender, hovering with various degrees of annoyance or resignation at either end of the stripey bit, wondering why they cannot cross; and in almost every case, the button which would enable them to cross has not been pressed.

Of course, there are a few - generally young, male and unafraid of sudden and violent physical contact with fragile strangers - who will watch for a gap in the traffic and leap straight into it, green light and bleeps or no green light and bleeps. If not run over by the traffic, these builders of the future will blithely trample whatever bleary-eyed pensioner is standing opposite them on the other side of the road, and continue triumphantly upon their way. I have not yet seen one of these adventurous types hit by a moving vehicle, but the possibility of doing so one day gives me a little extra something to live for.

For the rest, as I say, I blame those electric boxes. Invention is invariably deadly, in that the lack of necessity is the mother of sloth. Give a delta-grade semi-moron food, and he will eat until he blimps. Give him leisure, and he will spend it complaining of boredom. Give him rapid and convenient transport, and he will lose the ability to walk. Give him enough rope, and he will forget how to tie a hangman's noose. And if you give him safe passage across a busy road at the push of a button, he will forget how to push a button. It's a good thing for the delta-grades that we're running out of breathable air, or they'd all be suffocating by now.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Burbligonian Carpet Moth

The Burbligonian carpet moth (Solumpolvinatus burbligoniensis) is rapidly making a name for itself as the most inconvenient and destructive domestic pest since the invention of children. Its natural habitat for most of its life cycle is, as its name indicates, the ordinary household carpet, which it can infiltrate in a variety of ways, most often by simply flying in through the door or window and landing unnoticed on the rug, but occasionally by clinging to the underside of a resident's shoe or boot, which is also a favourite place for the moth to lay its eggs.

The female usually deposits the eggs at the point where the arch of the shoe meets with the heel, as this is the best position for her offspring to travel in safety to their destination, usually the doormat. When the wearer of the shoe goes into a house and wipes his or her feet, the eggs drop down between the fibres of the doormat, where the hatchlings, usually three hundred or so in number, can feed on the abundant small organisms which are wiped off people's shoes along with the dust and dirt from the street. Indeed, juvenile Burbligonian carpet moths can actually be quite beneficial to the carpet, since they remove from deep between the fibres a great deal of grime and many multi-legged undesirables which would escape the attention of the most assiduous vacuum cleaner. Certain businessmen have not been slow to cash in on this aspect of the moth's life cycle, usually without mentioning to the gullible customer the kind of havoc which can be wreaked by an adult insect.

The caterpillar takes several months to mature as far as the pupating stage, and during this time it eats continually, shedding its skin at frequent intervals. As it is rare for nature to waste anything, the discarded skins are generally eaten almost before they have become fully detached from the body which, by the time the caterpillar begins to approach pupation, has usually attained a length of four to five inches combined with a girth of quite disgusting magnitude. At this point in its life, when it is obviously far too big to conceal itself effectively in any but the deepest pile carpets, the caterpillar instinctively seeks out dark and dusty places such as exist behind wardrobes, beneath beds and inside unused cupboards; it is thought that this behaviour goes a long way towards explaining why most people dislike cleaning such places. Their very dislike, of course, causes more dust to pile up, and consequently perpetuates the cycle.

When the time for pupation arrives, the caterpillar simply sheds its skin once more, but without, as on previous occasions, having grown a new skin beneath the old. It then rolls about in the plentiful dust, which clings to its sticky flesh and turns it into an object outwardly bearing a passing resemblance to the severed and somewhat matured genitalia of a cat. Inside this the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis, assured of complete safety from interference as very few householders, if they were to find the chrysalis, would go within yards of the thing thereafter, let alone attempt to touch it. The only possible hazard from the caterpillar's point of view is if the dust with which it has coated itself contains mites, or other tiny creatures left over from the caterpillar's dietary excesses. These little animals have been known to devour a caterpillar in its voluminous entirety as it lay inside the chrysalis; if, however, their numbers are insufficient for such a feat, the caterpillar will at least suffer a considerable and chronic itch for the duration of its interment.

The adult moth as it emerges from the pupa cannot be distinguished from other species, as its camouflage is among the best in the animal kingdom, and enables it to disguise itself as anything from a common lampshade-flutterer to a scrap of yellowed paper lying on the floor. It is here that its nuisance value mainly resides; for if swatted like a normal insect, or interfered with in any way, the Burbligonian carpet moth will give out a piercing shriek and start to bite large chunks out of the wall. Those whose homes have suffered infiltration by Burbligonian carpet moths can be distinguished by their tendency to behave in a similar fashion.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Lurve, Lurve, Lurve

Lurve - which is more accurately rendered LURVE, but there are headaches enough in the world - was invented in the United States as one of the standard excuses for exerting power over people. Other such excuses include Freedom, Democracy, the American Dream and National Security, but all these are underpinned by, and in some ways are offshoots of, Lurve.

Lurve is embodied in the smiles of evangelists and politicians, where the blinding gleam of teeth eclipses the glitter of slitted little eye. The language of Lurve is advertising; the poetry of Lurve is sermonising; the embrace of Lurve is a sweaty, sleepless, droning and deafening dedication to Duty. A society ruled by Lurve is a lynch mob with a sanctimonious streak: "We could string you up right now and God would smile upon us, but our duty is to be merciful. Go not upon your way, for then you will sin again; join with us in Lurve, and we will keep you pure."

Lurve is a textbook example of erroneous naming. The resemblance of the word to love is not accidental, but at the same time it is about as accurate as flying fox for fruit bat, slow-worm for legless lizard, or united kingdom for the United Kingdom. Love is an emotional response to a human being; Lurve is a fanatical sense of obligation towards an abstract. Love is irrational, ludicrous, unthinking, distracting, humiliating and usually poisonous; Lurve too is all these, but less fun. Love can occur between two people or fewer; Lurve requires a crowd. Lurve conquers all.

Lurve is the sacrifice of the self on the altar of "doing good", where Good is an eternal graven image, unassailable and unchanging. The "good" that is done for Lurve need be of no benefit to anyone, and certainly it need take no account of choice on the part of the recipient. For maximum efficacy and goodness, indeed, the offerings of Lurve should cause discomfort or actual pain, in order that the admixture of Duty, which is an essential of Lurve, be not forgotten.

Lurve is the offspring of Puritan Christianity, fathered on the flower children of the sixties via the sweet-talk of psychobabble and the dildo of junior Republicanism. Lurve is the province of gospel-huckstering fellatio fiends and southern-fried tub-thumpers; Lurve is the blood and bones of soap opera; Lurve is the Viagra engorging the emotional pornography of chat shows where Real People discuss their Real Problems, abasing themselves before millions to gain the absolution of the mob. Lurve is a sounding gong and a clashing cymbal; so long as we have not Lurve, we speak with tongues of men or angels.