The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

News 2020

Blair continues to spread legacy

Lord Blair of Belmarsh was reported to be in a stable condition last night after another attempt to reform his bathchair.

The mishap was the second in less than a month, but spokespersons have denied that the 67-year-old ex-Prime Minister's health is deteriorating.

"He's just the same as he was in his great days," said Nurse Patsy Chopitt of the Ronald Macdonald Supersize Rest Home, where Lord Blair spends much of the media's time.

The armour-plated bathchair, a personal gift from the late George W Bush, is equipped with a Mk 2000 Homeland Honcho™ internal combustion engine and a king-size heat-seeking colostomy bag.

Details of the accident have not been forthcoming, but political commentator Bradley Ichneumon said today that Lord Blair's past passion for reform may hold some clues.

In the absence of opportunities for official military action, the ex-Prime Minister will probably have fallen back on basic political techniques, Dr Ichneumon said.

"Going on his past record, it seems very likely that the lower-paid medical staff, and any lower-paid patients who were in the vicinity, will have undergone a certain degree of humanitarian copro-immersion," Dr Ichneumon said.

Lord Blair has been concerned about his legacy for the past decade and a half. He is also thought to have grown increasingly more morose over the past two years, ever since his 18-year-old son Leo put himself up for adoption by a Batman-caped member of one of Britain's many illegal organisations.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Holocaust Revisionism

As the celibate Benedict XVI lectures us on eros, and the politician Joseph Ratzinger "stresses the importance of charity", an erstwhile colleague of theirs in the re-branded Holy Inquisition has had a sudden attack of moral relativism. The Very Reverend Joseph Augustine Di Noia, under-secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has deigned to be interviewed for an American television documentary which is based, "at least in part" on research done among the Vatican's own archives. "It is a mistake to torture people," Di Noia told the film-makers, though he was quick to make clear that, as practised by the Inquisition, torturing people is not the sort of error that has no rights. "Torture was regarded as a perfectly justified, legitimate way of producing evidence and it was therefore legally justified", man's law, in the Very Reverend's view, taking clear precedence over God's. "Killing people over ideas, generally speaking," - there are exceptions, then - "seems to us not to be a very good idea after 2,000 years of history"; the Mosaic prohibition being, presumably, either more flexible or more recent than is generally believed. Generally speaking, "we disapprove deeply of this kind of purgation" - the torture of heretics, the robbery of their families, the murder of Jews: it was not a crime, much less a sin; it was merely a purgation, the removal of poison from the body politic; only it was done in a terribly clumsy, primitive way, of which nowadays, generally, we tend to disapprove. Nevertheless, it seems to the Very Reverend that "it is possible to understand it within the context of its times and also to understand it within the sociology of religion, how communities react to threats which they regard to be dire or fatal." The moral liberalisation of the Church has come a long way, it appears.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The State of the Art in Soluble Teeth

Tired of those insipid incisors, corny canines and mundane molars? Fed up with your enamels, but too busy with your full, rich life to change them more than a couple of times a year?

Your problems are over, thanks to new SoluDentz™, the new soluble teeth solution from Prulge and Huxter. We're all familiar with the advantages of soluble teeth. They're clean, convenient, don't need brushing and can always be replaced. But we at Prulge and Huxter never stop snapping at the heels of progress in disposable dentition.

New SoluDentz™, the state of the art in soluble teeth, are easily fixable with minimal agony and will remain pristine for a full, guaranteed 24 hours before they fade away.

New SoluDentz™ from Prulge and Huxter dissolve easily and leave your mouth tingly fresh with one of seventeen freshly tingular flavours!

New SoluDentz™ from Prulge and Huxter come in sets of twelve (six upper, six lower) and can be fixed in minutes so that, even in the unlikely event of an unforeseen dental dissolvement, all you need to do is grab another set from the pack!

New SoluDentz™ from Prulge and Huxter are available in three handy sizes: BigMouth™ for that important meeting, PearliWhyte™ for that candle-lit brunch, and milk-soluble, anti-choking KiddiDent™ for the little ones.

New from Prulge and Huxter.

Coming soon from Prulge and Huxter: Let the wit and wisdom of the ages emerge from your very own mouth! New Wisdom Teeth™ with semi-digestible micro-playback unit. Just bite down and one of 20,000 pre-recorded maxims, epigrams and one-liners will be randomly played to entertain and edify your companions.

Another great innovation from Prulge and Huxter PLC. You pay us to take it in your mouth.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

News 2020

Iran remarks condemned

The US Commander-in-Chief has condemned the Iranian government-in-exile for making "disingenuous and disreasonable demands" while claiming to want peace.

The Iranians said last week that America must "renounce violence" before what they called "constructive negotiations" could proceed as to the future of the region's future.

Speaking from his radiation-proof pulpit in the Oval Bunker, the Commander-in-Chief said that the Iranian remarks were "an insult to all Americans who have been detrimentalised for the freedomisation of others".

However, experts on the Arab world have been puzzling over the possible meaning of the Iranians' remarks. According to some, it is possible that the Iranians may find it difficult to comprehend the difference between "violence" and pre-emptive humanitarian intervention because of inherent limitations in their language.

A similar difficulty arises in the case of "torture" versus maximally assertive info-extraction techniques excluding death or massive organ damage.

The British Foreign Secretary said today that he hoped the Iranians had been "tactless rather than malicious", and reiterated that the peace process between Persian-occupied Iran and the Necessary International Communitisation Enforcement (NICE) personnel in Tehran would continue.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tagged by a Teabag

I have been tagged by a teabag. Had to happen one day, I suppose.

Seven things to do before I die:
Write seven good books.

Seven things I cannot do:
Care about anything on television
Find people delightful
Read Henry James
Exude easy charm
Stop buying books
Eat tomatoes

Seven things that attract me to my CD player:
The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Red Roses For Me by the Pogues
Akhnaten by Philip Glass
Symphony No.2 by Gustav Mahler
Finlandia by Jean Sibelius
Heaven and Hell by Vangelis
Compact Disc by Public Image Limited

Seven things I say:
I don't know.
I don't think so.
I doubt it.
You pigfucker.

Seven books I love:
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman
In a Glass Darkly by J Sheridan Le Fanu
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Seven films I love:
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg 1982)
The Keep (Michael Mann 1983)
Céline and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette 1974)
Martin (George A Romero 1976)
Heathers (Michael Lehmann 1988)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone 1966)

Seven people to tag:
Ball Bag
Oscar Wildebeest
Any three of the Blunt Cogs crew. Let 'em fight it out amongst themselves.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Modest Values

David Cameron, having no more important divergences with New Labour, is going to attack Gordon Brown over his attitude to Britishness. Patriotism in David Cameron's book is now like neoliberal economics, in that no single party can claim a monopoly upon it, though presumably each party is still permitted to claim that it alone can manage the matter effectively.

In his capacity as vision-thing-in-waiting, the Chancellor recently said that Britain did not have an equivalent of the Fourth of July or Bastille Day. It is possible that Britain's history and traditions might have something to do with this, hence the lack is presumably a perfect example of pristine, unadulterated Britishness; but the Chancellor seems to think otherwise. Cameron does not oppose the idea of a "Britishness day" to "celebrate all that is best about Britain", but he believes that New Labour's approach "focuses on the superficial rather than the values that underpin Britishness."

What values? Well, Britishness "is not about government. It's about Britons". That certainly narrows it down. "So many of Britain's values aren't really for parade", perhaps the ones we share with George W Bush. In any case, this modesty as to British values certainly explains why Cameron is in favour of a day being set aside to celebrate them.

Still, Cameron's speechwriters have prepared a small lapse into near-coherence. He will point to the British reaction over the Asian tsunami and to the "business as usual" slogans which various Britons who were not about government spouted in the wake of the July bombings. "In both cases we got clear glimpses of our national character"; the Asian tsunami went unnoticed by the rest of the world, and of course no one in any non-British city would have the slightest inclination to work for a living if a bomb or two went off. That's probably why Iraq and Afghanistan are in such a mess. Those people are just not British enough to cope with the values which we haven't put on parade.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2001

The premise of Intacto is simple. Luck is not a mere matter of chance, but a quantity inherent in human beings, like blood or stupidity; and, as vampires do with blood and lovers with stupidity, certain people are able to take the luck of others and use it for their own purposes. The victims are called captives; their photographs and their stolen luck form the stakes in gambling games played between those who have the stealing talent.

One such is Federico (Eusebio Poncela), who has spent seven years looking for someone to be his protégé. He has a contact in the insurance business who points him towards likely candidates; by this means Federico is brought into contact with Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia). Tomás is the sole survivor of an air crash which has killed more than two hundred others; he is also a criminal, with policewoman Sara (Mónica López) in pursuit. Federico offers Tomás a means of escape and disappearance, and inducts him into the strange subculture of those who can steal people's luck.

It is the stages of this induction, more than the rather contrived thriller element resulting from Sara's pursuit, that form the fascination of Intacto. A man blindfolds himself and runs towards Federico through speeding motorway traffic. A group of people, their hair slicked with molasses, sit in the dark waiting for a mantis to alight. Half a dozen captives sit behind a glass wall; each is chosen by one of the talented ones, who then take the captives' luck with a touch, an embrace, a kiss. Later, in the car, Tomás asks what will happen to the girl he chose. "She'll probably die of a cold," replies Federico casually. Tomás and a few others run blindfolded, at full speed, through a forest; the winner, the luckiest, is the one who doesn't collide with a tree.

The winner of that particular game wins the right to play against the greatest of all the luck thieves, who lives beneath a casino in the middle of a desolate, volcanic landscape. He is The Jew, a Holocaust survivor, and the number of his captives runs to whole filing cabinets filled with photographs. The game he plays is Russian roulette with one empty chamber and five bullets; his opponent gets the first shot, and his opponent always loses. The Jew is played by Max Von Sydow, who is allowed to speak English rather than being dubbed over in Spanish, and who delivers a haunting monologue about his childhood experience of the death camp and the beginning of his life's run of luck. Federico was The Jew's protégé, until he tried to leave, whereupon The Jew took from him all the luck he had accumulated. Federico has been grooming Tomás to be lucky enough to take revenge on Federico's behalf, but matters do not turn out quite as planned.

In spite of a sense that she's been shoehorned into the plot (a sense which does not occur while actually viewing Intacto, such is its pace, its atmosphere and the sharpness of its hooks), Sara is in some ways the most interesting character in the film, having lost her husband and child in a car accident. Of course, at the moment of the crash she reached out for them; Sara too is one of the talented, and saved herself from death by unconsciously draining the luck of her loved ones. "You don't deserve your gift," a fellow vampire tells her after her stalking of Tomás has invalidated one of their games.

In view of their shared survivor guilt, it's a pity that Sara and The Jew never get to have a conversation. The Jew is seen mostly in the bare bunker, like a condemned cell, where he meets his opponents; and he meets them wearing a black hood over his head like a man about to be hanged. At the end, the winner runs endlessly across the parched, scrubby landscape; but whether he is running back to the world or fleeing further away, his own fathomless isolation has clearly just begun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't Just Sit There - Go Nuclear

Fuel prices are on the rise and the UK is becoming an importer of oil and gas; but nobody has noticed this, because the Secretary for the Welfare of CBI Members, Alan Johnson, has just issued a wake-up call to galvanise us out of our flabby complacency. The time has come, it seems, to decide what forms of energy to promote. Like every other decision made by the Blair government - the invasion of Iraq, the privatisation of the health service, the commercialisation of education - this will be a decision for the ages; it will, according to some of our more clairvoyant ministers, "shape energy policy for the next 60 years". Doing nothing, Alan Johnson lectured, is not an option. I suppose we could do with getting it right, then.

To this end, the Government has launched a three-month review - sixty days to plan for the next sixty years. Wagging his finger further, the minister said that by 2020 "coal and nuclear power plants currently generating almost a third of the UK's electricity were expected to be closed", and that "Companies will need to decide how this capacity should be replaced." The private sector must make the decision, putting, as is customary, the country's interests over the next sixty years well before any quick-fix, short-term profit option; and then the Government will do its part by providing "a clear framework" to implement what has been decided. It is certainly reassuring to see the kind of democracy that is working so well in Iraq being practised closer to home.

The review has been condemned by green activists as a "spin operation in favour of nuclear" and welcomed by industry leaders on approximately the same grounds. Nuclear, say the latter, has "the potential to deliver secure, reliable, carbon-free energy". The nuclear industry is "keen to build new plants in the UK without being held up by lengthy planning inquiries", which certainly should do wonders for the safety margins; and once the coal, oil and gas run out, of course Britain's ever-reliable natural reserves of uranium will come into their own as a cheap, clean source of fuel. Best of all, even assuming it made a difference, most of those who will have to do the clearing up are not yet old enough to vote.

Monday, January 23, 2006

America's Newest Talk Show Host

After only six years in office, the handlers of George W Bush have gained sufficient confidence in his rhetoricality skills to let him take unscripted questions from his audiences. A certain Nedra Pickler, of the Associated Press, is utterly delighted at the thought, from her opening "Move over, Oprah", right through the "revelations - both personal and political" in which this strategy has resultified, to the final casual note about the Homeland Wiretapping Programme.

"President Bush," continues Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press, "is making himself into television's newest talk show host by featuring audience participation in his appearances." Democracy with audience participation - honestly now, can human freedom get any freer?

Apparently not. The White House says that audiences have not been pre-screened "even though the sessions are limited to invited groups". Doubtless the White House ensures that a representative number of dissidents and sceptics are invited to these affairs. It knows where they live, after all. However that may be, it is clear that the requisite quota of vegetables is being faithfully maintained: "'It's always good to have a plant in every audience,' Bush joked last week in Sterling, Va., after a woman rose and said she was proud of him."

Still, "he has gotten some tough questions, too". A woman in Philadelphia asked about the administration's claim that the Iraq adventure had some connection to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, in which America was attacked by terrorists. "Bush said Saddam Hussein was a threat and at the time was widely believed to have weapons of mass destruction", which, like many non-answers, only goes to show what a tough question that really was.

Someone else in Philadelphia prompted Bush to "publicly put a number on the high toll Iraqis have paid for freedom", in the words of Nedra Pickler and the Associated Press. With journalism this objective, it's a wonder the White House still has to send out invitations; surely a few National Guardsmen incentivising random citizens on the street with cattle prods and free bumper stickers would do just as well.

On the personal side, Bush has spoken about "exposing his daughters to public scrutiny", which is "one of the worst things about being president". Perhaps they make him look bad. In the same riveting vein, Bush has spoken about one of the best things about being president, which is "impressing his childhood friends with dinner at the White House". According to Bush, this is "a great honor, pretty awe-inspiring deal". Gosh.

In keeping with his policy of civil rights rollback, Bush "ruled out any future run for office by his wife". He also revealed that the First Lady designed the rug in the Oval Office according to his own specifications. He wanted the rug to say "optimistic person comes here to work every day", except those days when he's on holiday or sheltering from Cindy Sheehan. That was the strategic thought for the rug. Mrs Bush figured out the colours for the rug. The rug looks like a sun, with nice open colours that Mrs Bush figured out for the rug.

All of which, in the opinion of Nedra Pickler and the Associated Press, is much more important than the Homeland Wiretapping Programme. The most recent invited-but-unscripted audience participation event has eventuated in Manhattan, Kansas, home to some of Philip Marlowe's less appealing acquaintances (see The Little Sister for details). Bush was talking about the war on the abstract noun and "making a point of defending his secret domestic eavesdropping program".

Nevertheless, despite Bush's newly-unfettered rhetoricality, presidential adviser Dan Bartlett has been precautionarily wheeled out to insist that the Homeland Wiretapping Programme does not bypass the law. "In fact, we're interpreting the law correctly". The administration has nothing to hide, hence "It would be our choice not to have to talk about this at all," Bartlett said on Good Morning America. The optimistic person whose wife designed the rug is "resigned to congressional hearings" on the matter "as long as they don't aid the enemy", a very sensible qualification, which Congress may well find it not entirely inadvisable to consider taking on board.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Hutton Prescription

The Department of Human Resource Efficientiation is taking an interest in medicine. Tuesday will see the launch of a green paper by the Work and Pension-cuts Secretary, John Hutton, proposing financial rewards for doctors who "encourage" sick patients back to work. This is called "plans to reform the welfare state".

A source at the Ministry said that "As we are going to be starting employment advisers in surgeries, that is going to create much stronger links between the world of work and GPs", doctors not having much to do with the world of work at the moment. John Hutton is expected to argue that "it is crucial to the well-being of the long-term sick that they are offered opportunities to work if they can".

Naturally, whether or not people are capable of availing themselves of these opportunities can hardly be determined by the people themselves. "Private firms could run the programmes locally", employed by fiscally incentivised general practitioners and "city leaders told they can keep part of any savings made from getting lone parents or the long-term sick back to work".

Everybody knows that "single mothers on benefits" are a sickness, so they will be expected "to seek work once their children reach secondary school age" - which is to say that single mothers will have to seek work when their youngest child reaches the age of eleven. "They will have to attend work-focused interviews, but will not be forced to take jobs"; if they do not wish to face work, they can always "face having their payments cut" instead. If they haven't got a man about the house, that's their problem.

The savings from these noble enterprises will be "channelled back to local councils to spend on other services", doubtless including those private firms who will run the programmes locally. Given their proven ineptitude with trains and timetables, perhaps the artists formerly known as Railtrack might care to try their skills in the field of human resource motivation.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Civilian Dies in Iraq

You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs; and now, regrettably, the struggle for Iraqi freedom has claimed the life of a civilian. The civilian was working, as a civilian, for "a US-based military operation", which presumably makes him an "occupying noncombatant", or something of the sort. The civilian belonged to the British paratroop regiment for nine years, and "served", or in Oldspeak, participated in the ongoing crime of international aggression, in Iraq. The civilian left the paratroop regiment at the end of last year, but continued to work in Iraq, as a civilian, apparently for the US military. The civilian's mother said that he felt safer working as a civilian. This is hardly surprising. Wearing a British military uniform in Iraq can get you mistaken for a foreign invader.

Despite the reluctance of the forces of freedom to do body counts, the following facts about the civilian have all been faithfully recorded by the Press Association: the civilian's name, his age, the day of his death, the names of his parents, their declaration of pride in their son, the name of the civilian's girlfriend, the length of his assocation with his girlfriend, the region where the civilian lived, the length of his family's residence in the region, the name of the school the civilian attended, and the nature of the civilian's initial vocational training before joining the paratroopers.

The civilian was killed by an explosive. No terrorists are thought to have been taken out in the incident, which was not a case of collateral damage.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Missed Opportunity

A reporter for the scumbag tabloid News of the World "is understood to have applied for a job as a housekeeping assistant" at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, the pioneering journalist, one Bethany Usher, has been arrested on suspicion of "attempting to obtain pecuniary advantage by deception"; this being something that falls outside her remit as a journalist, apparently.

This is clearly to be regretted. If the entire staff at Buckingham Palace consisted of reporters, the advantages to all parties would be tremendous. Given proper training under appropriately mediaeval conditions, the journalists could soon stand in for the various maids, grooms, chauffeurs, cooks, ladies-in-waiting, footmen, bodyguards, button-fasteners, corgi-walkers, equine maintenance officials, shoelace connectivity operatives, and even perhaps fools, without which our royal family (gawblessemall) would be unable to fulfil its various invaluable functions.

Full-time work at Buckingham Palace would afford endless opportunities for reporters to see how the Windsors (gawblessemall) really live; to obtain in the fullest possible detail the essence of every precious moment that passed within those awesome halls and chambers, wherein the British royal family (gawblessemall) continues to embody all those things in the British national character which are dignified, historical, and of interest to readers of scumbag tabloids.

Meanwhile, the Windsors (gawblessemall), while proceeding about the embodiment process, would have the chance to confront face to face those intrusive rascals who have so shamelessly abused their privacy all these years. In their position as employers, the royal family (gawblessemall) would be able to exercise a considerable degree of control over the journalists' working days, besides having the chance to show how misunderstood, misrepresented and misquoted the Windsors (gawblessemall) have always been in the past.

Think of it: for the journalists, a continual and unrelenting eye upon the nation's biggest and most eternally interesting story; for the Royals (gawblessemall), a continual and unrelenting eye upon the journalists. Furthermore, if the Windsors (gawblessemall) and the tabloids could come to some such private symbiosis, perhaps the rest of us might at last be left to ourselves, on an island made more pleasant by their permanent confinement within the walls of the Buckingham Public Zoo.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Shit Happens

A report by a government strategy group has warned that the 2012 Olympics are at risk from London's drainage system. The Olympics site is "close to the biggest sewage overflow pumping station in London", a notion which pleases me no end. I can't imagine why.

In order that this particular white elephant remain pristine and unmuddied, the strategy group has "recommended that the government build a £1.7bn 'super sewer' under the Thames, stretching 22 miles from Hammersmith to Barking". The strategy group has stated, with devastating optimism, that "work would have to start on the super sewer early this year in order to be ready in time for the Olympics". The water regulator, Ofwat, has pronounced this a "risky project" which would cost an extra £45 a year on the water bills of Londoners, Presumably the costs of the half-dozen annual droughts which separate the Olympic year from the present one must also be taken into account.

The strategy group "warned last November that there was currently a 100% chance of sewage overflows in the area between May and October". In Oldspeak, this means that, unless something changes, an overflow will certainly take place. It has happened before. In August 2004, a storm caused "billions of gallons of sewage to be pumped into the river Thames, killing thousands of fish" and, no doubt, several million beer cans and plastic bags. In the event of a "moderate summer storm" during the Olympics, the drains would overflow and millions of gallons of sewage would be swept up the river Lee. The sight and smell, according to the report, could cause the games to be "ruined". That is a point of view, of course. There's no accounting for taste.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Small Group of People

World oil consumption has doubled since 1970 and will continue to increase until the stuff runs out. According to one of the Independent's inside pages, a small group of people has met in London to consider when this might happen. The Independent does not wish to start a panic. After all, even though some people believe that oil production is about to peak or has peaked already, there are others who believe it will not happen for a while, and yet others who believe that science, and the free market which doesn't invest in it, will save us all. Geologists fit into the first camp, while the second - who would have thought it? - consists of "economists, political scientists and the oil majors".

Oil, we are told, is "essential to almost everything we do", from 90% of the world's transport to 99% of "our food", whoever "we" may be; and "in many cases, oil is not easily replaceable. There are no realistic alternatives to oil ... without massive investments in technology such as hydrogen", which is, of course, why massive investment does not and will not occur. In a free market, after all, from the seller's point of view there is no such thing as a shortage, or even a famine. There are only increased sales opportunities - ever-higher bids for ever more valuable merchandise. George W Bush and the men who run him are oil men. One of the first places in Iraq to be gloriously liberated was the oil ministry, in case there were weapons of mass destruction in the filing cabinets. Should peak oil really be just around the corner, this particular instance of benign bumbling might just benefit George W Bush and the men who run him in a manner not entirely to do with their inevitable reward in Heaven. Imagine that.

But is peak oil really upon us? One of the "biggest sceptics" at this small conference was a certain Mike Lynch, an "adviser to the US government who runs his own energy and economic research consultancy". The study of peak oil (viz. geology) is, according to Mike Lynch, not a science. "It is true that oil is finite but since 1989 people have repeatedly predicted the peak too soon and have had to keep on increasing their estimate of reserves. Just because a country's output has peaked and gone into decline, it doesn't mean that production can't rise again." So there. Just because a resource is finite doesn't mean it will run out, and pessimistic predictions from the past automatically invalidate those being made at present.

Perhaps because the story of this small conference is tucked away under "business analysis", the Independent is able to admit that "when peak oil does happen, its impact on the world economy - and the consumer lifestyles so many of us take for granted - will be profound". If we're set to lose nine-tenths of our transport and ninety-nine per cent of our food, I should say it will. According to the editor of the Energy Institute's Petroleum Review, in two or three years from now the world will move into "a land without maps where we are all likely to be poorer", except possibly those who control the oil ministries in Baghdad, Tehran and perhaps one or two other places as well.

And finally, "Mr Lynch is one of the few pundits who forecasts that oil prices will begin to ease, but as even he jokes: 'I have predicted nine of the last two price decreases.'" Civilisation may fall, but the Independent lives to advertise another day, and Mr Lynch has a sense of humour. That's all right, then.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

News 2020

Homeland thinks of victims as execution goes ahead

A man who ordered two murders while in jail for a third was executed today in the USA after spending two and a half years on death row.

The man, who under US copyright law cannot be named until the state governor publishes his memoirs, suffered the longest wait between sentence and execution for nearly ten years.

Under the Homeland Constitution, extended delays in carrying out the death sentence are designated "cruel and unusual punishment", and therefore unnecessary for the guilty and undignified for the innocent.

The executionee was elderly and in frail health, factors which also influenced the state governor in his decision to green-light the electrocution, officials said.

"About six months ago he had a stroke and almost died," said spokesperson Judson Hudson. "Specialists had to be brought in to get him into a fit state to be executed. It's a good thing they did, though. It might not have been legal if we'd left it up to God. We must think of the victims."

The Homeland Justice Department issued a brief statement endorsing the governor's decision. "The fact that two of this man's murders were ordered from inside prison vindicates the Commander-in-Chief's stance on criminal behaviour," the statement said. "We must think of the victims," it continued.

The Commander-in-Chief is known to disbelieve in the power of prison to produce "reformed characters", citing as evidence the number of ex-prisoners who re-offend and the number people in prison who are actual criminals.

The US Government is considering an extension to homeland criminals of the State Department's policy of "preventive execution", which is presently applicable only to potential terrorists in foreign countries in circumstances where the Vice-Commander-in-Chief has full deniability.

"We must think of the victims," the Commander-in-Chief said last week when announcing the policy review. "It is they whose memory is cleansed and transcendified through the execution of Christian justice. No one has the right to take that comfort away from them."

In symbolic acknowledgement of this, under the new provisions relatives of the victims of executionees will be given free pennants to attach to their loved ones' graves, reading THEY GOT THE BASTARD, or for devout families, THEY GOT THE BASTARD AND WE FORGIVE HIM.

Today's execution was the two hundred and nineteenth in the US this year, not counting several enemy combatants held in US territory who died of assertive hunger strike relief.

Monday, January 16, 2006

News 2020

Protesters turn out to protest collateral take-outs

Angry protesters filled the streets of the Third World city of Bradford today to condemn the recent American air strike aimed at controversial Muslim cleric Aywan Azapasiti.

The high-tech taking-out operation was conducted by a remote control McDonnell-Douglas K-1999 "Kosovar" aircraft, which is believed to have fired missiles at houses in the city.

US intelligence sources had suggested that Mr Azapasiti, who has been designated a "preacher of hate" by both the Metropolitan Police and the National Britishness Commission, would be somewhere in the city at some point during the week.

Mr Azapasiti is married to a woman who was born in Bradford, which are predominant in the Bradford area. However, sources today said there was no indication that Mr Azapasiti had been at the scene.

Reports suggest that up to 18 people have been killed, including female and juvenile potential terrorists. Owing to the highly Muslim demographics of the city, the degree of Britishness of the casualties has not yet been determined.

US senator Murlong P. Hadgland yesterday defended the air strike. "We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out whether they're there or not," he said.

The senator expressed sympathy with the anger in Bradford. "I feel your pain," he said, "but, however painful it might be to me and even to you, I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."

Speaking at a press conference during the official opening of Britain's new independent spiderhole-busting flexible-response cruise missile battlefield attack deterrent, the Prime Minister said that the death of innocents, if it had occurred, was "regrettable", and commended the US military for its restraint.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Guardians of Power

The Myth of the Liberal Media

Corporations are legally obliged to consider the financial bottom line before all other priorities. Newspapers and broadcast media are run by corporations. It follows, then, that newspapers and broadcast media, when faced with a choice between reporting awkward facts and furthering the corporate agenda, will tend to choose the path of greater profit.

In Britain, where a large proportion of the news is delivered courtesy of Rupert Murdoch, one expects a certain amount of scepticism about the candour of the right-wing press. About the "liberal" press - the Guardian and the Independent - and especially about the BBC, there is perhaps rather less scepticism, even though both newspapers are heavily dependent on advertising revenue and the hallowed BBC is funded by the government.

Since 2001, Media Lens has been fomenting scepticism about the British press, and particularly about those parts of it which many consider reliable. Subscribers to Media Lens receive irregular but frequent "media alerts" highlighting the inadequacies of reporting on particular issues, providing facts which the mainstream media tend to avoid, and supplying contact details so that concerned members of the public can take issue with journalists. The editors of Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell, have now produced their first book, which in two hundred devastating pages provides more genuinely useful information about the way the world is run than a year's subscription to any British newspaper you care to name, Sunday colour supplements and lifestyle pages included.

Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media begins with a chapter examining the idea of "media objectivity" - the professional doctrine of "impartiality" which, in the real world, translates as reporting the words of the powerful with minimal dissent. There follow three chapters on Iraq, dealing with the sanctions, the weapons inspections and the war; and then chapters on Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor and Haiti. In each case, media reporting of western crimes and atrocities, and their consequences for people in the Third World, is minimal to nonexistent, while comparable or lesser crimes committed by official enemies can never get too many column inches. Examples are numerous and well documented. Iraqi atrocities against the Kurds, Pol Pot's atrocities in Cambodia, Serbian atrocities in Kosovo are all matters of grave media concern; Turkish atrocities against the Kurds, Suharto's atrocities against Indonesians and Timorese, US-sponsored atrocities in Nicaragua and Haiti, and the consequences of US-British bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq, are far less worthy of attention.

Perhaps the most nauseating chapter is the one dealing with the British media's treatment of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom oversaw (or in Reagan's case overslept) some astounding feats of destruction and immiseration in the name of profit. Reagan "made America feel good about itself"; the horrors of the contra war were collateral damage in "the proxy war fought between the two superpowers"; Clinton, whose administration's abuse of the sanctions regime in Iraq caused the death of perhaps a million people "was hailed, even by his enemies, as the most gifted politician of the post-war era". All those quotes are from the Guardian, Britain's leading liberal newspaper.

The Independent's performance was similarly dismal, and that of the BBC was, if anything, worse. Interviewing Clinton, the renowned BBC presenter David Dimbleby did not challenge the ex-president's claim that the purpose of NATO bombing was "to save Kosovo", or the similarly veracity-limited claim that Saddam Hussein kicked out the weapons inspectors, or the idea that the Rwanda genocide, happily condoned by the US and its little helper, was permitted to occur solely because Clinton was preoccupied with philanthropic intervention in Haiti. In a revealing instance of BBC journalistic penetration, however, Dimbleby did find ample time to discuss the Lewinsky affair.

The final, and perhaps the most serious, example of the consequences of market-determined media impartiality is the coverage of climate change. To be sure, climate change is discussed in the newspapers, and we are frequently given useful advice about planting trees, adjusting thermostats and placing things in our cisterns; rather less in evidence is coverage of the contribution of transnational corporations not only to climate change itself, but to the sabotage of any efforts to control it. When three-quarters of your company's revenue depends on advertisements for cars and cheap holiday flights, it is imprudent to take too much interest in the dire results of burning fossil fuels.

The book concludes with three chapters summing up what is wrong and setting out what can be done. Edwards and Cromwell argue that, far from supplying a "balance" to the likes of Murdoch and the Daily Mail, the occasional dissident voices which do appear in the liberal media act as a kind of inoculation against the possibility that journalists are not as free or as outspoken as they and their readers might like to believe. "As a result, the atrocious performance of these media in failing to challenge even the most banal government deceptions goes unnoticed. The public may heap blame on governments, but the pivotal role of the media is ignored."

Challenging professional journalists on points of fact does sometimes lead to positive results, but the main aim of Media Lens has always been to inform the public of the mainstream media's inadequacies and to help bring about a new mass media based on compassion rather than profit. The authors note that the internet revolution has enormously improved the prospects for dissident reporting, and they provide a ten-page index of already available internet resources for alternative news, analysis and commentary. Besides burying the myth of the liberal media, Guardians of Power is an admirable piece of spadework for the foundations of its compassionate successor.

Guardians of Power is published by Pluto Press and can be ordered direct from the publisher or via the Media Lens website.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Hot Spot For Your Summer Break

There are many beautiful people to be seen on the London Underground, provided only that one avoids looking at the staff or the passengers. Every weekday when I travel home from work, as I wait on the platform, a beautiful young woman across the track stares right into my eyes. She is sun-tanned, bare-shouldered and wet; her beautiful eyes sparkle, and her beautiful face is perhaps fifty inches from cheekbone to beautiful cheekbone. She is immersed in water up to her beautiful shoulders, and somewhere behind her lurks a masculine silhouette for optimists to identify with and pessimists to envy.

The lady is, of course, a postertute: one who sells her body to a salesman so that he may use it to sell something else. The merchandise for which this beautiful lady is the sucker-bait is a beautiful tourist resort called Eilat, which has no natural features worth setting against those of the aforementioned beautiful female and which is in a country under existential threat.

Perhaps I am merely perverse, but I find this rather strange. I don't recall being enticed in this fashion to Lebanon, formerly the playground of the Middle East, when Israel, Syria and the PLO were playing there after 1978. East Timor had many pressing concerns during its quarter-century occupation by our ally and business partner, Suharto's Indonesia; but I doubt that the tourist trade was high on the list. When Hitler and Stalin carved Poland up between them in 1939, more civilians tried to leave than tried to get in, despite that country's immense cultural riches.

Indeed, I cannot help feeling that the British foreign office, or whoever is responsible for these matters, has neglected its duty in this case. Why have British tourists received no warning that travel to Israel is dangerous? Why is the Israeli tourist industry permitted to display its propaganda without even the hint of a warning that the whole country might at any moment be subsumed by stone-throwing fanatics or incinerated by nuclear weapons of near-existential ontological status? Why are no tanks or soldiers pictured on that poster; why is there not so much as a single reassuring fallout shelter to show Israel's beautiful humanitarian concern for the lives of its foreign guests?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Diplomatic Logic

In a reassuring turn of events, George W Bush has declared the UN security council relevant once more, saying it is "logical" to refer Iran. "I'm not going to prejudge what the United Nations security council should do," he said, "but I recognise that it's logical that a country which has rejected diplomatic entreaties be sent to the United Nations security council." The diplomacy was carried out by Europeans so, logically enough, entreaties were permitted.

Bush also said that he "wanted a peaceful resolution to the crisis", although apparently he failed to specify whether it would be the peace in which several tens of thousands of Iraqis are now resting. He and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, spent some time "talking about the Iranian issue and the desire to solve this issue diplomatically by working together." The desire does exist, then; logically, Bush would hardly waste his time talking at length about something that wasn't there. A chat with the German chancellor is hardly the same thing as a State of the Union address, after all.

Meanwhile, the Vicar of Downing Street's foreign affairs spokesman said that military action against Iran was "inconceivable" for the present because "Iran is not Iraq". That may well be true. However, military action against Iran does not seem altogether inconceivable to some people; perhaps Jack Straw should be told. Straw also said he had a "strong suspicion", but no evidence, that Iran wanted to build a nuclear bomb. Since Iran is not Iraq, perhaps we are to deduce logically that Straw had no strong suspicions, as well as no evidence, about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

For her own part, Angela Merkel declared that the US and Europe, with their thousands of nuclear missiles, "would not be intimidated" by Iran, which has yet to build any. This certainly shows a logical perspective on the matter. She also made clear that President Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel are "totally unacceptable". After the US, Germany is Israel's biggest supplier of arms, and one cannot have the customers insulted.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

News 2020

Anti-generositisation elements hamper British charitability, report finds

Charitable donations by the British public are at an all-time low despite unprecedented levels of wage efficientisation, a Government report revealed today.

The Department of Overseas Opportunification and Maintenance called the figures "disappointing" and said that they were "no reflection on the generosity of the British public, but rather the work of an eternally disaffected, anti-charitable minority".

The decline in charitability as a quintessentially British character trait could have "serious consequences" for little brown people all over the non-globalised parts of the globe, according to the Minister for Overseas Opportunification, Claire Kurtz.

"We all know that Britain's armed forces are dedicated to the war on poverty in Afghanistan," Ms Kurtz said today. "I think there are some people at home who could do with remembering the kind of sacrifices our troops have to make."

The number of refugee camps in the country had been halved over the last two years, thanks in no small part to humanitarian bombing by the RAF, she said.

But bombing, even with state-of-the-art bunker-busting "earthworm cruncher" mini-smart-nukes, could only achieve so much, Ms Kurtz continued.

"Those leaving the refugee camps often lack sufficient knowledge of market forces to survive in a modern democracy and so they slip back into poverty and risk becoming talibanised or even turning into asylum seekers," she said.

"In their culture this would be seen as a tragedy, so under the Government's public-private partnership initiative, individuals in Britain have a unique opportunity to incentivise the private sector to do more to help the semi-globalised world."

The initiative, which is seen as the Government's latest bunker-busting battle front in the war against poverty, allows businesses to count private donations by employees as part of their own charitable contributions.

The Home Office is expected to announce new initiatives to combat anti-charitability within the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Motes, Beams and Fallout

A violent religious megalomaniac is on the warpath again. President Ahmadinejad of Iran has declared that "with strength and prudence, Iran will pave the way to achieving peaceful nuclear energy. The Iranian nation is not frightened by the powers and their noise". The Bush administration, which claimed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, "suspects that Tehran wants to create atomic weapons", which naturally means that Tony suspects it too. Of course, the Vicar of Downing Street is the last man to underestimate the advantages of a nuclear deterrent; but because Ahmadinejad has previously called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", there is self-evidently a "malign intention on the part of the Iranian regime", which has caused "real and serious alarm right across the world", i.e. in Washington, in London and chez Berlusconi. The Vicar of Downing Street, whose previous concerns about weapons of mass destruction have led to such interesting results across Iran's western border, has threatened Iran with referral to the security council he helped to circumvent. Our American allies have designated Iran part of an "axis of evil"; and, while of course no malignancy was intentioned, have given ample indication of what happens to countries so designated when said countries do not have nuclear weapons at their disposal. "We obviously are discussing this closely, as well, with our American allies," the Reverend informed the House of Commons. Perhaps it was intended as reassurance. Recently the Reverend himself was forced to retract some rumours spread by his stooges about Iranian complicity in blowing up our boys; and while of course no intention could have been further from the malign, the fact that the rumours were started without the advantage of "evidence, or even reliable intelligence" might possibly have given Tehran pause about Britain's credentials as an honest broker; as might the Reverend's apparently straight-faced declaration that "There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Playing Both Sides

David Cameron has written another article for the Guardian to show, once again, that when it comes to being Tony Blair he has studied with the best. The very first sentence includes the famous Tony-quote, "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", and the assertion that Tony was right. But Tony "has had nearly nine years in power" and in all that time he has "been neither tough on crime, nor its causes". It seems a little unfair to accuse Tony of not being the causes of crime in the same breath as reproaching him for not being tough on it; perhaps Cameron is confused. After all, "We've had 30 criminal justice acts since 1997; just nine in education", and even if Tony had passed more education acts, getting new laws onto the statute books in the teeth of opposition thanks to a massive overall majority is "often a sign of defeat." Perhaps Cameron is confused.

Still, Cameron it is who has the "real respect agenda". He it is who will be truly tough on crime and, no doubt, truly the causes of crime besides. "In every community there are fantastic social entrepreneurs and volunteers who have found solutions to these problems" - solutions so effective that "almost all the key long-term indicators - family breakdown, hard drug use, binge drinking, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy - are heading the wrong way". The reason for this is not hard for Cameron to see - it stems from "the chancellor's obsession with state solutions, and his belief that only the government can deliver fairness". The Blairite mastery of abstract nouns shines through this diagnosis like teeth on a talk show.

The Conservatives, by contrast, would "create a level playing field for the voluntary sector and social enterprises so they can win more contracts to deliver more community and public services"; presumably enabling charities to compete on the same terms as Railtrack and other luminaries of the service economy, and perhaps even enabling businesses to gain this newly flexible charitable status and waste still less money on wages than at present.

And, of course, "we have to recognise that we're in this together". It's all very well to turn to David Cameron for inspiration, but everyone in the country has "a shared responsibility to build respect", whatever that may mean. To this end Cameron, and his chums at the Prince's Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, are mapping out a wonderful journey towards "a National School Leaver Programme to offer every young person the chance to participate in community activity at home and abroad after leaving school", which sounds like a jolly route around the problem of minimum wage by way of cheap unskilled labour.

The title of Cameron's article is "An end to polarisation" and, as one would expect from a Tony in waiting, he ends it by polarising the debate, with himself at the "consensus" end and those who oppose him as "caricatures". Cameron believes that "we need to work on both sides of the equation", building respect to win contracts on a level playing field, understanding even as we punish, and stringing up with a limp wrist.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mental Strife

Even Britishness is not enough for some people. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has launched a project specifically for England, to "find and celebrate the nation's cultural treasures". As one might expect in a society that lumps culture in with media and sport, pretension and ignorance vie with irrelevance to lay their offerings at the feet of Britannia.

The project is called Icons - A Portrait of England, which gives pretension a formidable head start. A traditional Italian puppet show about a murderous wife-beater; a painting by a German artist of a violent and gluttonous Welsh tyrant; and a Scots-sponsored rendering into archaic Albionesque of sixty-two chunks of unreliable Hebrew history, do duty for the "quintessentially English" in popular culture, art and literature.

The SS Empire Windrush, without which we might never have had Enoch Powell or the BNP, reminds us that our national tolerance of alien hordes remains undefiled by the Government's increasingly desperate attempts to define what our nationality might be. The good ship's presence is balanced with that of the Spitfire, which reminds us, once again, of the single overarching inescapable fact of English life, namely that we won the war. The imperial cup of tea, and the money-grubbing FA Cup, remind us why we had to.

Naturally, members of the public are invited to visit the project's website and make their own nominations, of which a new dozen will be announced every three months. Nominations so far include the recently-disappeared Routemaster bus, the black cab, Big Ben, the Tower and the Tube map. That insignificant percentage of the country which does not constitute London is represented by the English pub (saturated by quintessentially English game-shows blaring on widescreen Japanese blatherware) and fish and chips.

Most depressing of all, perhaps, is the inclusion of William Blake's Jerusalem, a text which exudes facile patriotism much as Tony Blair exudes Fabian socialism, but which nonetheless was hijacked by solemn philistines for the glory of the First World War, pressed into ill-suited service as the official anthem of the aforementioned British National Party, and is mob-bellowed annually on the Last Night of the Proms amid waving Union Jacks and suffocating self-complacency.

The project is being developed by ICONS, which is, presumably by design, a non-profit organisation. According to the About Us page on the website, ICONS is "being incubated by pioneering new media company Cognitive Applications" which, handily for incubators of the English quintessence, has offices in Washington DC.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Trouble With Gas

Energy consumers - which is to say, anyone foolish enough to turn on a light, warm themselves in winter or prefer cooked food to raw - are to have their gas bills hiked by twenty-five per cent. Wholesale gas prices are due to rise by seventy per cent, according to the managing director of British Gas - not because of the recent spat between Russia and the Ukraine, but because of "a combination of factors including lack of import infrastructure, lower than expected imports through the interconnector pipeline with Belgium and high demand caused by the cold winter". Anyone who has lived through the train-stopping, boiler-buggering inefficiency of a British winter knows better than to expect adequate preparations for any cold that may happen to occur. "Last year, chemicals companies Ineos Chlor and Terra Nitrogen shut down capacity in response to price rises during the late-November cold snap", cold in late November being one of the many chance circumstances for which British industry is too efficiently managed to plan in advance. Still, I don't remember lack of import infrastructure turning up as an excuse before. The reason for this seems obvious enough: last year, while the lack of import infrastructure was presumably being rigorously implemented, British Gas' parent company announced half-year profits of one and a half billion pounds. The profits for supplying gas to people's homes, however, were down to a piddling hundred and sixty-five million, causing consternation in the boardrooms. The CBI, whose squeals of outrage at any hint of regulation for its members' profiteering are the sonar by which 11 Downing Street steers, have uttered dire warnings that sustained price rises "could have a downward effect on the economy". On the other hand, a rise in the shareholders' contribution to society would be impracticable even if it were thinkable. Such are the dilemmas for which our top executives are paid so highly to pass on the financial cost. "I don't think the supply industry has the capacity to absorb very much of these increases," sobs the managing director of British Gas.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Hollow Drone

I knew it. When I saw the words "unmanned drone" in this report, it was obvious that a member of the British government was at large in Iraq. The drone in question had discovered some men digging a hole. Members of the British government are attracted to holes. Indeed, many of their best friends are holes, and some high-ranking ministers bid fair to be holes themselves.

However, it isn't the Prime Minister but his foreign secretary who is in Iraq, "meeting Iraqi political leaders to press them to form a broad-based unity government". Tony, George and some other nice people have decided that a broad-based unity government is what Iraq needs. Furthermore, according to the grey suit, "All Iraqi politicians know in their head, if not quite in their heart yet, this has to be the future for Iraq." That's why the foreign secretary is in Baghdad, you see, to guide the natives' hearts into unison with their minds and ensure that there is no backsliding.

"It is very difficult," the Foreign Office vacancy told the BBC. Nevertheless, "At the same time, and this is not contradictory, I'm struck by the continued optimism I meet in most Iraqi politicians with whom I have discussions." If he is talking to Ahmad Chalabi, currently acting minister for oil profiteering, this may not be as surprising as it sounds.

The sovereign, independent, elected Iraqi leaders "expressed their determination to see the Iraqi security forces continue to be strengthened, to fight this terrorism themselves," according to the nonentity. Thanks to our benign guidance - after all, "there is now very great day-to-day, hour-to-hour, co-operation between the coalition commanders and Iraqi commanders in very many of provinces" - the real fight for peace, freedom and petroleum can begin. Now the real Iraqis can at last start dealing with the people Tony and George don't like.

The lack also noted that Iraqi leaders had "pointed out that the terrorists were now targeting all sections of their divided society." Apparently this too proves that there are grounds for optimism, perhaps because the broad-based nationalist unity of the terrorists may one day facilitate the formation of a broad-based government of national unity.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Fairly Average Day

The Independent reports that " More than 120 people were killed in one of the bloodiest days of the Iraq conflict yesterday".

The Iraq conflict began on 20 March 2003, one thousand and twenty-three days ago. A statistical survey in the Lancet reported in October 2004 that civilian casualties probably numbered about 100,000. Clearly, with fourteen months of occupation, insurgency and precision munition deployment separating then from now, this figure is badly out of date; but since the good guys don't do body counts it is, unfortunately, the best I can do. One hundred thousand civilians divided between one thousand and twenty-three days makes ninety-seven and three-quarters civilians. Since the hundred thousand figure is an underestimate, it seems quite possible that, far from being one of the war's bloodiest days, yesterday was just a little bit above average.

Of course, it depends what you mean by conflict, as well. The forces of freedom invaded on 20 March 2003, but as a precautionary measure they softened Iraq up with the 1990 turkey shoot and the sanctions, which were imposed when Saddam Hussein allowed April Glaspie to seduce him into Kuwait and were systematically used by the United States and the United States' little helper as an excuse for starving and depriving the Iraqi people. Between 1990 and 1998, according to the former UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, about 600,000 children died from malnutrition as a result of the turkey shoot and the sanctions.

Eight years is two thousand nine hundred and twenty-two days. Six hundred thousand potential terrorists over two thousand nine hundred and twenty-two days is a little over two hundred and five potential terrorists per day. That's if you only count the children.

So it seems that critics are being unduly pessimistic when they claim that "Yesterday's death toll ... shows the state of near anarchy in Iraq in stark contrast to repeated claims by President George Bush and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that the security situation is improving." The security situation may not be up to much, but the humanitarian situation - and this quagmire is, we have been informed, a deeply humanitarian quagmire - is better now than before the invasion. Surely we should be proud. It's enough to make you wonder why those insurgents would bother blowing anyone up.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Blood and Sheep

The undisputed heavyweight captain of George W Bush's main Middle East missile base is "unlikely to return to work", according to the doctors treating him for the severe stroke he suffered yesterday. It is doubtful whether Mr Sharon has as much blood in his brain as he has on his hands, but his condition has still, according to his deputy, placed Israel in "a difficult situation that we are not accustomed to". Presumably the difficult situation will, until further notice, be the standard excuse for any shootings, flattenings, arrests or illegal fence-building which may happen to impinge upon the tender Western conscience.

George W Bush kept to his usual semantic standards by calling Mr Sharon "a man of courage and peace", while the grey thing that serves Britain in place of a foreign secretary was quick to roll out a glowing pre-mortem obituary on BBC radio. "This man is a man not only of great political courage but of astonishing physical courage and resilience as well," Straw gushed during a visit to the city of Sabra and Shatila. Praising the "extraordinarily courageous and imaginative steps" Mr Sharon has taken to "withdraw Israel unilaterally" from territories to which Israel has no right, the stuffed suit said that "the effect he's already had is astonishing and I think it will be long-lasting, whenever it comes to an end." But George and Laura Bush are praying, so it seems unlikely the end will come any time soon.

Mr Sharon has "earned respect from all sides of the political spectrum", thanks to his "groundbreaking plan" for a Palestinian bantustan whose borders, airspace, foreign policy and water would be under the control of Israel. Those infra-red leftists and ultra-violent Arabs who find such a policy contemptible are, of course, not part of the political spectrum; but someone towards the blue end told the Murdoch Times: "Even though he did difficult things, the people love him ... I don’t know what will happen now. ... It will be very difficult for people without a shepherd." It will be especially difficult for those who cannot distinguish a shepherd from a butcher.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


According to the interior ministry of the independent, sovereign, elected Iraqi government, over 4,000 civilians were "killed in violence" last year. The report does not make clear whether, in their view, this kind of thing counts as violence.

The US 101st Airborne Division is in no doubt. Quite apart from its being a high-minded counterinsurgency democratisation manouevre, the operation was an employment of precision guided munitions on a structure. Violence is something that happens when houses are bombed and people are killed. In this case, some "individuals" were "assessed as posing a threat to Iraqi civilians and coalition forces". Three men were subsequently precision-munitionised, with the inevitable collateral damage that is always a price worth paying as long as the customer is foreign.

The threat which had been detected (by an unmanned drone - is Tony sneaking another visit?) consisted of the aforementioned three men, digging a hole. The pattern in which they were digging the hole suggested roadside bomb emplacement potential. The gallant US 101st Airborne Division, having employed precision guided munitions on the building into which the three retired, did not deign to say whether they had found a roadside bomb. Perhaps their minds were just too high.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

News 2020

PM blows away underground cobwebs of hot air on Africa

The Prime Minister has refuted the claims of "conspiracy theorists" who claim that the invasion of the African failed nation of Kikuganda was motivated by commercial motivations.

The failed state, a former British colony which declared its independence in the 1960s, suffered severe human resource depletion during the early 2000s because of the AIDS epidemic and civil war which came about after it declared its independence.

Britain expressed concern when the Kikugandan government suspended labour mobility rights, claiming that the country was becoming depopulated.

The Government aims to make Britain a net importer of economically viable human resources by 2035, as the biomassification of the economy shifts into high gear.

It is estimated that more than three million human resources will be needed to decommission Britain's last generation of nuclear reactors by burying them under twenty feet of soil and assorted rubble, in accordance with the Government's revised safety standards.

The rubble will be readily available owing to the involuntary decommissioning of several of Britain's second to last generation of nuclear reactors, but the fuel crisis means that transportation and excavation facilities will be de-mechanised.

The Prime Minister was quick to refute allegations that Britain's military presence in Africa had any connection to the domestic energy situation, however.

"Anyone who thinks that Britain has liberated Kikuganda as a means of securing some sort of slave labour is living in a non-veracious conspiracy-theory dreamland with no resemblance to reality," he refuted.

"Whenever great events are afoot, there is always a noisy minority who try to blame everything on the Government," the Prime Minister continued refuting.

"Lord Blair of Belmarsh suffered the same underground rumours when he embarked on the War of Arab Liberation, and later those same conspiracy theorists were spouting hot air about the fight to protect Russia from itself having something to do with natural gas."

Britain's military action in Kikuganda was "about people," the Prime Minister concluded his refutation firmly.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Good News

The Independent newspaper, which is as independent of advertising revenue as most other newspapers, today offers the lucky consumer one of those periodic lectures on good environmental behaviour which pass for Britain's eco-conscience.

The perennial favourite, "Plant a tree" is there, while those concerned about the new Heathrow extension are advised to try Bournemouth instead of New York for their holidays. If you are worried about Britain's approaching failure to meet the pitifully inadequate Kyoto targets, worry no longer. All you need do is put a plastic bottle in your cistern, lower your thermostat by one degree, write on both sides of the paper and buy the locally produced, organic food that is so plentiful at your nearest WalMart equivalent.

You should also avoid driving if possible and use public transport, such as it is, if you can afford it. Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, has said that, regarding the costs of railway company profits, "we've got to strike a balance between the amount of money that the taxpayer puts in and the amount that the fare payer puts in as well". Apparently fare payers and taxpayers are two distinct groups, taxpayers being presumably those who drive cars.

Other good news: the Guardian has collated the statistics for 2005 and found that, despite the fact that "huge death tolls in natural disasters and war overshadowed the trials and tribulations of daily life", there were no deaths worth mentioning in Iraq.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Glad That's Over With

Now must we up and celebrate
With sundry kinds of fun,
The world's transporting our dead weight
Once more around the sun.

With resolutions firm and clear
We'll pledge our vice to tame;
And once again, this time next year,
We shall resolve the same.

Strange custom, joyously to greet
A foul year not yet past,
Ignoring thus our noble feat:
We have survived the last.
Prosper Gleet