The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Big Brother is Biting You

Given that we face a future of natural disasters and terrorist attacks, scientists at a Belgian university have been working on a new method of saving the difficulty and expense involved in identifying the victims. Dr Patrick Thevissen and his forensically odontological colleagues drilled a hole into a tooth and inserted an ID chip as they would a filling. Such a chip can hold personal information for direct readout or a code whereby a reader can link to a database. The advantage of this tag, said team member Guy Poelman, "is that it will allow swift identification of a decomposed body". It is always wise to take precautions in case one should decompose without the usual means of identification. The tag is an adaptation of one which veterinarians routinely inject into animals; in the scorched and mini-nuked New American Century which awaits us, corporations will naturally wish to keep track of their human resources. "We want to store it in the tooth because it's the strongest and longest lived body part," Dr Thevissen said. It has been known for teeth to survive for hundreds of thousands of years, as in the case of certain extinct primate species which were unacquainted with Coca-Cola. "When you put all identification data in one place in the body there can be no mistakes," claims Dr Thevissen, who for a forensic odontologist seems remarkably unaware of the processes known as "extraction" and "transplant", or the possibility that what one dentist has joined another may put asunder.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Liberty, Security, Modernity

The Vicar of Downing Street has managed to place a brief sermon in the Observer. It seems that a charge of authoritarianism (against, of all people, Tony) has been "crafted by parts of the right wing" and is now being "taken up by parts of the left". The reason for this is that "New Labour has eschewed traditional forms of leftist statism" - all that rubbish about governing from the centre by ministerial fiat, presumably.

"At one level," says Tony, "the charge is easy to debunk." Tony proceeds to do just that, citing the Human Rights Act which he has so happily circumvented, and the Freedom of Information Act which is, in Tony's lapidary phrasing, "the most open thing any British government has done since the Reform Acts of the 1830s". The Freedom of Information Act means we know more than ever about whatever the Government chooses to tell us; the Human Rights Act means that "for the first time, a citizen can challenge the power of the state solely on the basis of an infringement of human rights", so long as that citizen can afford the time and expense involved in taking the Government to court. "I have," Tony concludes, "given away more prime ministerial power than any predecessor for more than 100 years." Tony says it, so it must be true.

Tony continues: "As for parliament, I have spent proportionately more time answering questions than any predecessor" and "given more statements". He is also the only Prime Minister to give monthly press conferences. Authoritarians are, of course, well known for their pathological unwillingness to make their own views known to lesser mortals. Tony is "the only PM ever to agree to appear before the select committee chairs"; in an authoritarian state, of course, Tony would not have had the choice. And, lest we forget: from the perilous precipice of a hundred-plus House of Commons majority, "I gave a vote specifically on whether to go to war." One virtually swoons at the non-authoritarianism of it all.

Tony then proceeds to the issue of ID cards and "anti-terrorism" legislation. In these cases, it is not that Tony is attacking liberty, but that liberty is an irrelevance: "For me, this is not an issue of liberty but of modernity". Tony is "hard on behaviour, but soft on lifestyle"; a person's lifestyle and behaviour being two completely different things. Tony believes in "live and let live, except where your behaviour harms the freedom of others" to live in a way of which Tony would approve. Terrorism is a case in point: "while I completely condemn IRA terrorism, I believe it was different in nature and scale from the new global Islamic terrorism we face." Tony believes, so his measures must be right. If we believe in Tony, we shall be right also.

Similarly, "antisocial behaviour isn't susceptible to normal court process"; perhaps because Tony has removed the courts from the equation. "Organisations that support terrorism take enormous care to avoid infringing the strict letter of the law." Clearly, the strict letter of the law does not prohibit giving money, shelter or training to terrorists, otherwise we would not have had the July bombings last year. "People should be prevented from glorifying terrorism. You can say it is a breach of the right to free speech but in the real world, people get hurt when organisations encourage hatred" - far more people than get hurt when governments lie their countries into war. Tony's devolution of the police into a centralised agency will "make it difficult for criminals to do business", while on ID cards "there is a host of arguments, irrespective of security, why their time has come"; which appears to settle the matter. "And, contrary to what is said, it will not be an offence not to carry one", although since Tony believes the time has come, no doubt it will be increasingly inconvenient. After all, those parts of the right wing and their left-wing fellow travellers have an attitude to liberty which indicates "a refusal to understand the modern world". Since Tony's policies are actually "not destroying our liberties, but protecting them", perhaps it is time to consider whether such wilful backsliding can, in a modern democracy, be tolerated.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Forces of Darkness vs. British Pluck

As Britain's brave boys face the challenge of reclaiming the night from the Taliban, the Guardian's Declan Walsh grabs his Boys' Own Handbook of War Reportage and sets the clichés marching:

Midnight in Helmand, and the only sound is the crump of boots on the desert soil. A line of Royal Marines prowls through the night, their rifles trained on the inky darkness. Suddenly a rattle of gunfire shatters the quiet. The commandos drop to the ground, train their guns in the direction of the noise, and wait.

Length of paragraph, fifty-seven words; of which embedded chunks from the Boys' Own Handbook constitute twenty words, or thirty-five per cent. This is reasonable enough; it is, after all, the Guardian, not the Telegraph or the Mail. Thirty-five per cent in the first paragraph is just about right - it will summon up the readers' blood without directing too much of it towards their brains.

Distinguishing friend from foe can be difficult in Helmand, the lawless Afghan province that will soon be home to one of Britain's most ambitious - and perilous - deployments to Afghanistan since colonial times.

Ah yes, colonial times - those times when we invaded defenceless countries under the pretence of helping the natives improve themselves, declared their resources private property, set up unpopular puppet governments, and looted them for all they were worth. Thank goodness the world isn't like that any more. To prove it, the British army has even revealed its exit strategy - "a well trained, well led Afghan army". Of course, as one would expect, the raw material is a little substandard: "it may take British trainers some time to turn the army into a western-style fighting force, with a sense of national pride as well as fighting skills". The advantages of a western-style fighting force in a south central Asian country have been well documented since the bad old days of colonialism, the lessons of which we have undoubtedly learned.

As for national pride, one recruit said with a smile: "I like to fight for everyone ... Whichever government comes along, I will serve with it." Surely no British soldier could have said it better. Indeed, thanks to Tony and his chums, the national pride of British troops has been flexibilitised so that they can fight for Halliburton as well as for Whitehall.

This is perhaps the reason why the British "are keen to stress a difference in style from the departing American contingent," whose efforts, aided by its little helper, have turned Afghanistan from the Taliban-ravaged, burka-littered wasteland of 2001 into an efficient heroin factory. "Once darkness falls the Taliban rules." The fiends can't stomach the daylight.

"You won't see us turning up at some poor farmer's house, arresting him and chopping down his crops," said the British commander in Helmand's provincial capital. Hence, "By next May more than 3,300 British paratroopers, backed by Apache helicopters, Harrier warplanes and a phalanx of hi-tech artillery, will start pouring in". The paratroops and helicopters will "conduct week-long missions at Baramcha, a border town filled with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents". Of course this will bother no one who has not merited it. The mission is to "impose order and facilitate development", which, as we know from Iraq, is not at all the same thing as pacifying restless natives or profiteering at the point of a gun. The idea that an Apache helicopter could be used to destroy a poor man's livelihood, rather than to pinpoint and neutralise the guilty and backsliding in a provincial border town, is too absurd to contemplate.

British troops will avoid "busting down doors" or other search techniques used by US soldiers that have caused anger in the conservative south.

If only these people were less conservative, we could bust down their doors with impunity. Truly, civilisation is long overdue in this place.

Friday, February 24, 2006

J Sheridan Le Fanu

A digression by the International Rooksbyist puts me in mind of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, to whose ghost stories I shall soon, once again, have to return.

I first heard of Le Fanu because someone mentioned him on the radio. I don't know what the context was (it's possible they were trying to revive the novels, which seems to happen every now and then), but I was inspired to pick up a second-hand Sphere paperback called unimaginatively The Best Horror Stories. Besides the usual foreword by someone I had never heard of (one Alexis Lykiard), it contained four stories, all by Le Fanu; and I quickly found that the title was no overstatement.

The first story in the book, and presumably the first Le Fanu I ever read, was "Schalken the Painter", which purports to recount the circumstances which led to the composition of a particular "remarkable work of Schalken's". As a young man, the painter is apprenticed to the successful Gerard Douw, and is in love with Douw's niece and ward Rose Velderkaust; however, there appears one Mynheer Vanderhausen, whose flesh is of a "bluish leaden hue", whose eyes hold "a certain indefinable quality of insanity" and who has "something indescribably odd, even horrible, about all his motions ... it was as if the limbs were guided and directed by a spirit unused to the management of bodily machinery". He also does not ever remove his gloves. But this slightly eccentric suitor has lots of gold, so of course Douw sells him his niece in marriage. When Rose reappears, desperate, pleading starvation and begging not to be left alone for a moment, she is of course left alone, and her conjugal relations are resumed upon a more permanent basis. The story ends with a dream, or vision, in which Schalken is led by an archly smiling Rose into "what appeared to be an old-fashioned Dutch apartment, such as the pictures of Gerard Douw have served to immortalise" wherein he sees, seated bolt upright in the four-poster bed, "the livid and demoniac form of Vanderhausen". Schalken is found "lying in a cell of considerable size, which had not been disturbed for a long time, and he had fallen beside a large coffin, which was supported upon small pillars, a security against the attacks of vermin." The story's final paragraph refers again to Schalken's painting, "which is valuable as exhibiting not only the peculiarities which have made Schalken's pictures sought after, but even more so as presenting a portrait of his early love, Rose Velderkaust, whose mysterious fate must always remain a matter of speculation."

The story remains one of the most horrible things I have ever read; and none the less so for Le Fanu's elegance of diction and subtlety of touch. It offers no explanations, no exorcism, no punishment for the venal guardian, no redemption for the innocent Rose, no moral order whatever. Le Fanu died in 1873, and "Schalken the Painter" is not a late story; what the mid-Victorians must have thought of it, I cannot imagine.

The second story in the book was "Green Tea", one of Le Fanu's most famous works, and one of several stories featuring the physician and metaphysical pontificator, Dr Martin Hesselius. A harmless little clergyman, Mr Jennings, is persecuted by a demonic creature in the form of a small black monkey with glowing red eyes, which torments him by squatting on his bible during sermons, shrieking blasphemies when he tries to pray, and tempting him to commit evil acts (a temptation Jennings resists, with scant reward from heaven). The apparent cause of this persecution is nothing more than green tea, which Jennings had been in the habit of consuming while at work on a book. Hesselius, like Rose Velderkaust's menfolk, manages to be unavailable when needed the most, and Jennings is driven to suicide. The story ends with Hesselius' smug pronouncement that "if the patient do not array himself on the side of the disease, his cure is certain." Similarly, the hounded protagonist of the third story, "The Familiar", at one point seeks solace from his doctor, only to be advised that his digestion is at fault. When he consults a clergyman, the result is even worse: "My dear sir, this is fancy; you are your own tormentor." The idea of a vicar who doesn't believe in the supernatural has since been used by Kingsley Amis in The Green Man, as an instance of what Amis apparently thought of as penetrating social satire; but Le Fanu is uninterested either in comic relief or in scoring cheap points. His best stories are unmitigated nightmares, which grow more frightening the more one thinks about them. In "Mr Justice Harbottle", a vile hanging judge is horribly made away with by his victims; but since his victims are apparently damned, alternating between indescribable gloom and fiendish, mirthless laughter, they can hardly be considered agents of a virtuous divinity.

During his lifetime Le Fanu was famous less for his ghost stories than for his popular novels of mystery and suspense, some of which, as I have said, are periodically resurrected. Many years ago I read one called Guy Deverell, about a mysterious avenger who appears, after many years, in order to destroy a landowner who has wronged him: a plot device similar to some of the ghost stories, but in this case used towards a happy ending rather than a catastrophic one. Even today, some of the best horror writers, who have few scruples about ending short stories in devastating fashion, often seem reluctant to do the same in their novels; perhaps it is harder to destroy one's characters after three hundred pages than it is after twenty or thirty.

The most famous of Le Fanu's novels, which has never needed resurrection, is Uncle Silas, a superb though non-supernatural late Gothic whose young narrator, Maud Ruthyn, is made ward of her father's brother as a gesture of trust; Silas has an evil reputation, and Maud's father wishes to give him the opportunity of proving his innocence. Besides Le Fanu's atmospheric but intensely readable writing and a page-turning plot, Uncle Silas also boasts characters like Maud's kindly elder cousin, Monica Knollys; the feeble yet sinister Silas himself; and the best ever evil governess, Madame de la Rougierre.

Le Fanu was born in 1814 and lived in Dublin. After the untimely death of his wife in 1858 he became a recluse, writing at night between two and four, fuelled by strong tea; the bulk of his ghost stories date from this period. His greatest collection, In a Glass Darkly, which includes "Green Tea", "The Familiar", "Mr Justice Harbottle" and Carmilla, was published in the year before he died. Supposedly he suffered a recurring nightmare in which he was trapped beneath a collapsing house; when he was found dead of a heart attack, his doctor observed, "So the house has fallen at last."

The last of the four Best Horror Stories was the novella Carmilla, with which I am not nearly familiar enough. Although surprisingly explicit in its lesbian overtones, Carmilla is a far subtler and more sophisticated story of vampirism than Bram Stoker's epic of sanguinary sentimentality. It is also a bleaker one. Dracula and his victim, Lucy Westenra, are both seen to be at peace when they die; in Carmilla it is noted that "the vampire, on its expulsion from its amphibious existence, is projected into a far more horrible life". The ending, too, is far more delicate and poetically ambiguous than Stoker's emphatic epilogue, in which the forces of virtue all marry happily and settle down to breed. "It was long before the terror of events subsided," writes Laura, Carmilla's erstwhile friend and victim, "and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations - sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing-room door."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Relatively Impartial

The execution of Michael Morales has been postponed. The mother of the girl for whose rape and murder he was sentenced said that the news was "a blow in the stomach". She displayed scant concern for the right of Morales to be spared cruel and unusual punishment, as laid down in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. "Here our beautiful daughter lies murdered," she said; "and there they worry about the way this monster feels and if he'll feel any pain.'' A certain Steve Gray of San Diego, who had "waited in the cold to support the execution", also expressed disappointment: "I am not too worried about his feelings after the lethal injection, as he had absolutely no feelings for the 17-year-old girl he killed."

Such feelings are, of course, the reason why relatively civilised countries, like America before its constitution was abolished by the Bush gang, tend to be governed by laws rather than emotions. Laws exist in part so that deep and sincere grievances do not lead to vendettas and lynch mobs; which doubtless is one of the things the Texas fratboy and his pals have against the rule of law.

As above, so below. As the United States' representative in the European Court of Human Rights, the UK is introducing "victims' advocates" into homicide trials. Families who are not content with giving statements to the Press will be able to give statements in court, after the guilty verdict and before the sentencing, "detailing how the death and subsequent events had affected them". Legal Aid funding will be available to those who wish to hire a barrister but cannot afford to do so. It appears that the victims in homicide cases are now no longer the deceased, but those who remain behind to collect on the life insurance policy.

At present, this is a pilot project, to be maintained for a year at five crown courts including the Old Bailey. Aside from reducing the courts to the level of tabloid soap opera - a natural and predictable New Labour ambition - it is presumably intended to enhance the impartiality of judges as they consider what sentence to impose. Let's hope that not too many victims agitate for leniency.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

News 2020

Munich sprints ahead in Oscar race

The controversial Lucas Playhill thriller Munich has been nominated for seventeen Academy Awards™, despite the controversy surrounding its controversial release.

Described by Mr Playhill as "a prayer for peace in the Middle East" and "an inspiration to real events", the controversial film caused controversy with its controversial depiction of the aftermath of the 1936 Munich Olympics.

Controversially, the film portrays Lebanese militia leader Pierre Gemayel meeting notorious dictator Adolf Hitler at the Olympics and taking his advice on how to mould his own paramilitary organisation into a disciplined fighting unit.

The story then fast forwards to 1982, depicting the assassination by unknown forces of Gemayel's son Bashir and the alleged tactical blunders made by then Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon which resulted in the revenge detrimentation by Phalangist gunmen of several Palestinians in two lower-class Beirut hotels.

The detrimentations are seen through the eyes of a young Israeli soldier who has been ordered to allow the Phalange access to carry out their mission.

In the film's most famous line, a Palestinian child says to the soldier, "How can you let this happen? You're a Jew - you're supposed to be righteous." This inspires the soldier to rescue the child.

The film caused controversy in Israel because of its controversial depiction of Ariel Sharon as costing the lives of possibly innocent people. The film was also criticised for portraying American athlete Jesse Owens as a Red Indian.

The film's Academy Award™ nominations include Best Director for Lucas Playhill and Best Child Actress for Carolina Naffing as the Palestinian girl. Another nomination goes to Keanu Reeves for his CGI-gutted performance as "man of peace" Ariel Sharon, which critics have called one of the most convincing in his career.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Goodies and Baddies: Clarification

That renowned ethical philosopher, the Secretary of State for Invasive Humanitarianism, is scheduled to issue a dramatic plea for people to be slower to condemn foreign fighters in Iraq, just as long as said fighters are British. This is described by the Observer as "a dramatic fightback following allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners". Apparently allegation and condemnation are now one and the same and of course, whatever the evidence, equally unjustified. Reid will "make clear he is not condoning" the abuses which have caused the Coalition of the Illegal such embarassment and irritation.

Reid, who read history at university and has a doctorate in economic history, has worked as a Labour party research officer, as a political adviser to Neil Kinnock, as a trade union organiser, as an opposition spokesman for children and for defence, as minister of transport, minister without portfolio, party chair, Leader of the House of Commons, President of the Council, and minister of health. In his spare time he enjoys reading history and doing crossword puzzles. Obviously, this career has given him an intense and vivid insight into the Fronterlebnis of the humble squaddie: "Soldiers know, the hard way, the lengths they go to to conduct themselves within the law in exceptionally difficult and dangerous circumstances - circumstances which their critics will never experience or even begin to understand." About critics of those who, for no very good reason, send soldiers into those exceptionally difficult and dangerous circumstances, it appears Dr Reid has rather less to say.

Soldiers, you see, are "under an onslaught not just from the insurgency but from 24-hour media scrutiny, new human rights legislation and lawyers seeking out complaints of civilian mistreatment". The risk of being blown up is bad enough, but our boys in uniform are also in peril from embedded journalists and human rights lawyers sniffing about for malcontents. And then there's the new human rights legislation - a deathly and unnatural hazard, no doubt. Nevertheless, unlike our ministers of state, "our forces are subject to military law and, therefore, English criminal law. And they respect the Geneva Conventions." This is because "treating people fairly - even the enemy - is the bedrock of our society", whereas the Iraqis have languished for years under Saddam Hussein. That is why we know what's fair for Iraqis and they don't.

It follows that the insurgents, and presumably that majority of the Iraqi people who support them, are "an enemy who is completely unconstrained by any morality, any legal conventions, any human-rights standards and any scrutiny". Oh, they're a bad lot, all right. The British government is hampered on all sides - by the United Nations charter, by whatever human rights standards Condi Rice can live with and by the laser-eyed public scrutiny facilitated by the D notice, the Official Secrets Act and the Great British Journalist.

Accordingly, we must "be very slow to condemn, and very quick to defend and praise our soldiers", no matter what they do, "because they work in the most extremely difficult circumstances", quite unlike those Iraqi malcontents who bask in several hours' electricity a day while their oil is being privatised; and, of course, because doing what you're told and never volunteering is a "moral and deeply ethical profession".

Saturday, February 18, 2006

California Taxpayers Shoulder Burden of Wetback's Luxury Demise

The greatest country in the world is preparing to mete out more justice, Schwarzenegger style. One Michael Morales, who is on death row for the rape and murder of a white teenager committed a quarter of a century ago, and for the still greater sin of having less money spent on his case, is scheduled for maximal detrimentalisation on Tuesday. As one would expect from a Christian administration, which presumably believes that Morales will be damned for the rest of eternity, no effort has been spared to prevent cruel and unusual punishment. A judge, Jeremy Fogel, threatened to block the execution unless Morales was given a sedative to ensure that he is unconscious when the needles of justice penetrate. California's attorney general has ruled that an anaesthetist will be employed to ensure that Morales' sufferings are purely humane, usual, and fatal.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Humanitarian Intervention

The Vicar of Downing Street, who has been known to advocate detention without trial for up to three months, today took a firm moral stance on the public relations problem posed by Guatánamo Bay. "I have always said it is an anomaly, and sooner or later has to be dealt with," he said. The moral indignation was no doubt palpable, but it seems one had to be there.

In fact, the Reverend has one or two small grounds for comfort. The USA has one of the largest prison populations in the world, and is a well-known supporter and outsourcer of torture and assertive information-gathering techniques short of organ failure; so Guatánamo Bay may not be quite so anomalous as, to the innocent, it seems.

The Reverend was asked about Guatánamo because of some comments made by his chum, Peter Hain, in the wake of a United Nations report politely requesting the US government to refrain from "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment". Hain said that he would "prefer [Guantánamo Bay] was closed", and that the British government had always been "uncomfortable" with the camp's existence. "We've always said that Guantánamo Bay was something that should not have happened," he said; which is certainly more forthright than saying the Bush administration should not have set it up.

Still, it's all for somebody's own good, no doubt. Several British residents - some of whom have relatives here and thus could be interpreted in a sense as very nearly qualifying as genuine people - are still incarcerated; and, according to Labour MP Mike Gapes, "the British government was reluctant for a long time to make very strong public statements because we had British citizens still in there." Thus, when British citizens are kidnapped in Iraq, the British government never makes strong public statements condemning the practice.

However, now that no actual citizens are left in Guatánamo, Mike Gapes feels able to take a less equivocal moral stance: "I think anybody who reads this report will see that in many respects there are aspects of the Guantánamo regime that are very, very open to criticism," he said. In other respects, of course, some aspects of the Guatánamo regime are wonderful; the US administration itself has said that the UN's findings are "largely without merit". Even so, the frustrating ethical kernel of the problem remains. "It is not in America's own interests to maintain this place." Rice and Rummy must be trembling with contrition.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lack of Moral Fibre

No doubt by coincidence, in the wake of the latest images of British troops acting like lesser breeds, the Independent has discovered that Iraq has "forgotten victims".

These are not to be confused with the victims of sanctions, who are a price worth paying; or with the victims of coalition bombing, who are collateral damage; or with the victims of suicide bombers, who are tragic but useful; or with the victims of Abu Ghraib, who are intermittently embarrassing; or with the victims of abuse by coalition troops, who are propaganda for the forces of evil. The "forgotten victims" are British troops - "at least 1,333 servicemen and women - almost 1.5 per cent of those who served in the Iraq war" - who have returned with "serious psychiatric problems".

An unknown number of people in the remaining 98.5 per cent of those serving in Iraq, particularly reservists, have mental health problems which are not being recognised or treated by the Ministry of Defence. There have been suicides. The MoD said that "the problems faced by reservists were not being neglected but no solution had been found" except to inform the National Health Service that those returning to civilian life may face problems. Perhaps, now that everyone has stopped smoking, the National Health Service will have the resources to cope. Then again, perhaps the suicides are just more collateral damage. They're certainly cheaper than counselling, and much less indiscreet.

A certain Lance Corporal McGough of the Royal Army Medical Corps "served in Iraq for three months after the invasion during some of the fiercest fighting" and treated Iraqi civilians as well as military personnel. "Some of the children suffered from burns, others had shrapnel and bullet wounds. It was very distressing," he said. "When I was there I just carried on with what I was doing. We were working 14, 16 hours a day". When he got back he suffered blackouts and vomiting which, given the hours, seems natural enough.

Of the 1,333 servicemen and women diagnosed with mental health problems, 182 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, 601 with "combat stress", 237 with depression and 167 with "other forms of mental illness or substance misuse". The significance of these victims is evident from the precise terms in which their numbers are stated. The victims of coalition bombing can barely be calculated to the nearest fifty thousand; and to the extent that such figures are discussed, the prefix "at least" is generally considered bad form.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

News 2020

Digestive acts passed smoothly

Tough new measures in the war against unhealthiness are set to become law after Parliament voted in favour of the Government's bill outlawing obesity and restricting flatulence to private residences.

Although tourists will be permitted to indulge in various degrees of overweightness depending on the length of their stay, obesity in Britons will no longer be subject to the "fashionable tolerance levels which have been prevalent since the 1970s", the Prime Minister said.

"For far too long this country has groaned beneath the excess weight of those who are unwilling to control their appetites with the help of useful dietary aids such as the Hallibechtel Slimline programme," he continued.

Hallibechtel Slimline, the US-based nutritional conglomerate which is contracted to run the Corrective Catering programme for hunger-striking terror suspects, is believed to have been invited to tender for the contract to enforce the new obesity laws.

The anti-obesity bill joins the growing list of public health dynamicisation measures, which include last year's Sleepwell Act enforcing compulsory decaffeinisation, and the Road Traffic (Immobile) Public Fitness Act, under which all cars will be equipped with exercycles in place of their driver and passenger seats by the year 2040.

The British public would require ever greater capacity for exertion in the continuing war against evil, the Prime Minister warned.

"In these difficult times where the rules of the game are constantly changing, no one wishes to cause a panic in the public mind," he said. "But if they are not to be instantly and utterly destroyed at the terror-glorificatory promptings of anti-human imams, people may need to run for their lives at a moment's notice, and it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that they can do so without non-insurable risk of heart attack, stroke or other inducement to claim benefits."

A small sect of government rebels argued that the provisions confining flatulence to rooms in private residences where no other persons were present constituted an unnecessary restriction on civil liberties which in any case could be enforced under the Sleepwell Act.

However, the Home Secretary said that only new legislation would enable the Government to achieve an acceptable margin when missing its downrevised Kyoto emissions targets.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sacred Hearts and Fishy Scribblers

St Valentine is revered all over civilisation and Oxford Street as the patron saint of cards with hearts on them, chocolates in boxes with hearts on them, cuddly heart-shaped cushions bearing sticky little messages in squiggly little script with heart-shaped dots on the i’s, and all things shaped like, or decorated with, little red hearts; but the reasons for his exalted status are less generally known.

It seems that during the early days of Christendom, when the Romans were still offering a martyr’s death free with every circus ticket, the early Christians used to communicate with each other by a variety of secret codes, of which the most famous is of course the fish. Nobody knows exactly why they chose the fish as their symbol, and eventually, at the Council of Trent, the decision was made to abandon it once and for all in favour of the cross. The decision to adopt the sign of the cross was made in light of a new translation of the Gospels, by a certain Prophylactoid Sycophanticus of Byzantium, which among other things cleared up the piscatorial ambiguity in the verses stating that a Roman soldier pierced the Saviour’s side with a pike.

Be that as it may, St Valentine was one of a minor sect of Christians, bravely preaching universal love and tolerance for everyone except the worshippers of Osiris, Mithras, Jupiter, Marduk, Moloch, Baal and so forth, and calling down fire and brimstone in the usual fashion upon the heads of all the other Christian sects who were preaching love and tolerance in various perverse and blasphemous ways, all of them now largely indistinguishable.

This sect of St Valentine’s were known as the Valetudinarians. In fact, it is not known whether Valentine was actually the saint’s real name, or if posterity has simply re-christened him, so to speak, after the sect to which he belonged. They were known as the Valetudinarians because the constant brawling between all the different schools meant a high rate of invalidity even among those who escaped the circus. Indeed, one of the major reasons why Christianity survived the Roman persecutions is that the Christians tended to reduce each other to such a pitiful condition that the lions lost their appetite. Any Christian sent to the circus, on hearing the words pabulum contusus (bruised meat), would instantly breathe a sigh of regret (which to the uncharitable pagan observer often sounded deceptively like relief) at the untoward delay in his journey towards heavenly bliss.

In fact, members of the Valetudinarians and other sects were often in such a battered state, what with black eyes, broken fingers etc., that they were quite unable to draw their symbolic fish in the approved fashion, and instead resorted to a peculiar scrawl which evolved through many permutations to become the heart-symbol we all know and love. Of course, if you look very carefully, in the proper light and the correct state of faith, hope and gullible credulity, you will see that the heart-shaped symbol of St Valentine’s Day still resembles that age-old fish the early Christians used to draw. At least, it resembles a scrawled fish more than it ever did a real heart.

Not much is known about the life of St Valentine himself, except that he was apprehended one day in the act of drawing a heart on a wall; hence the phrase cardiac arrest, which is still commemorated in the cards and all the rest of the paraphernalia with which lovers try to paper over the cracks towards the middle of February.

Why St Valentine’s Day traditionally falls on the fourteenth of February is another intriguing question. The generally accepted answer is that the church fathers decided the calendar needed spicing up a bit in the dry season between Christmas and Easter, and thus were able to come to a happy arrangement with the calendar makers, who were all deeply perturbed at the way February used to leap from the thirteenth to the fifteenth every year. Thus, like many Christians, St Valentine helped to promote goodwill among men and harmony in the world, once he had been dead for a while.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Get Stiffed

As is well known all over the world, two inalienable attributes of the British anatomy are the upright posture and the stiff upper lip. However, owing to consistent erosion of our national character by foreign influxes, directives from Brussels and the minimum wage, over the past half-century there has been a detectable and potentially calamitous decline both in labial rigidity and spinal erectitude.

This unfortunate state of affairs can be blamed in part on the character of modern wars, in which comparatively few real people are killed. Nevertheless, the Government has judged it politically inexpedient to reintroduce conscription during the present Parliament, unless the outbreak of World War III can be arranged as compensation for the present shouldering of the white man's burden in the Middle East. At the same time, the consequences of labial lassitude and vertebral vacillation are considered by the Government to be avoided if possible.

It is therefore ordered that every person of certified Britishness shall undergo the necessary and largely painless process of labiospinal recycling. One (or, in particularly slovenly cases, two) lumbar vertebrae will be removed from the small of everyone's back and the bony matter thereby obtained will be duly processed and inserted between the gums and the upper lip with a view to the augmentation of labial fibre. The resultant ensmallification of the lumbar area will facilitate resumption of the traditional proud British posture of extruded chest and back-thrust shoulders.

The Government realises that under certain circumstances, such as chronic chest weakness or other symptoms of doubtful Britishness, this operation may cause postural difficulties. There is a small possibility of skin wrinkles in the area between the bottom ribs and the pelvis, and an even smaller possibility that a minority of beneficiaries will suffer a mild degree of kidney displacement. Those whose labial fibre is not adequate to the degree of agony they are suffering should apply for further augmentation.

If, having undergone the operation, you find the back of your head scraping the floor when you walk, a specially adapted roller skate may be applied for provided your income is sufficiently low. In order to prevent fraudulent roller skate claims by pseudo-British elements, you may also be required to undergo further augmentation of your labial fibre. While the bone matter used in such operations will be of the highest quality available, implants for non-fee-paying beneficiaries may be the produce of more than one country and/or species.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

More Serious Than Iraq Was Wrongly Claimed To Be

The former foreign secretary, former defence secretary and failed candidate for the leadership of the Conservative parliamentary rabble, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has given us the benefit of his wisdom on the forthcoming war with Iran. "This is far more serious than North Korea, or Iraq was claimed to be, wrongly, by the Americans some years ago," he said. Far more serious than the possibility of a mushroom cloud over New York; well gosh, that does sound serious. Still, the claim was made "a few years ago", and nobody much got hurt; doubtless the appropriate lessons have been learned.

Confirming this, Sir Malcolm said he would be "astonished" if the US and its Middle East attack dog were not looking at "limited military strikes against Iran". The reason the strikes would be limited is that "Everyone knows Israel would never contemplate using a nuclear weapon except to protect its very existence." Everyone knows it, even Sir Malcolm Rifkind; so it must be true. The thought might be more reassuring if Israel and its defenders were not in the habit of claiming "existential threat" as an excuse for every crime the Righteous State commits.

Nevertheless, a spark of self-interest is in there somewhere: "The idea that Israel would launch a nuclear war when it itself could be annihilated by a nuclear response is absurd." By contrast, in Iran there is "a disposition amongst Islamic extremists, a willingness to die as martyrs and be regardless as to whether they themselves suffer as well as their victims". Islamic extremists are like that, you see. You would never see American troops, much less British troops, dying and being regardless. As for western civilians, they are practically a byword for lack of regardlessness. It's a pity the Iranians are so different. I wonder how they got that way. Do you think they're altogether human?

Sir Malcolm concluded that there was a "genuine fear" (presumably in that "everyone" for whom he is mysteriously empowered to speak) because "many Islamic extremists are prepared to kill themselves in order to advance their political cause", including, apparently, the entire government of Iran. Because many Islamic extremists are suicide bombers, "that could happen potentially at the national level in a nuclear exchange". By contrast, the governments of America and Britain are homicide bombers, something which evidently could not happen potentially at the national level in a nuclear exchange.

The former foreign secretary, former defence secretary and failed leadership candidate cited President Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the map, saying it was "impossible to dismiss as 'pure rhetoric'". When a country full of Islamic extremists is "widely believed", at least by George Bush and Tony Blair, "to be preparing for nuclear weapon capability", you get, "in terms of the next five, ten years", according to Sir Malcolm, "a very combustible situation". The Middle East is a tinderbox, you see. The smallest spark could cause a catastrophic explosion in as little as five years. That must be why the US and Israel are preparing lightning strikes right now.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

If You Can't Stop It...

The British Government mentioned a crucial global warming "tipping point" last week; which presumably is what makes the matter worthy of notice by the Independent. The Independent's research "reveals that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has now crossed a threshold, set down by scientists from around the world at a conference in Britain last year, beyond which really dangerous climate change is likely to be unstoppable." This threshold is "a rise in global mean temperatures to 2 degrees above the level before the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century." At the present juncture, when the world's biggest polluter is just about capable of admitting that global warming is taking place, "global mean temperatures have risen to about 0.6 degrees above the pre-industrial era". A rise to two degrees will cause sea levels to rise by several metres and agricultural yields to fall, "putting up to 200 million more people at risk from hunger, and up to 2.8 billion additional people at risk of water shortages for both drinking and irrigation."

The implication of the Independent's research is that "some of global warming's worst predicted effects, from destruction of ecosystems to increased hunger and water shortages for billions of people, cannot now be avoided, whatever we do." More interestingly still, given that comparatively few of those billions will be readers of the Independent or consumers of its sponsors' products, is "the fact that the 'aerosol', or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming ... in the event of an industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, and then the effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together would suddenly be fully felt."

Not only is the destruction impossible to avert; a cut in industrial pollution might actually exacerbate it. Perhaps you should buy that new car after all; indeed, in the circumstances, any effort to reform your consumer habits would be a simple abrogation of your responsibilities towards the planet. And anyway, by tomorrow the Independent will have found something else to talk about.

Friday, February 10, 2006

News 2020

War on terror to enter critical new phase

The number of terrorist plots foiled in the mainland United States was slightly down from the average this month, prompting renewed fears that unfoiled Islamic extremist terrorists may be poised for a terrorist strike in a similar terrorist attack to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists.

Giving his regular accounting of all major terrorist plots foiled in the United States over the last month, the Commander-in-Chief said that the war on terror was entering a critical new phase.

According to figures collated by the Consolidated Homeland Intelligence Maximalisation Program, over 400 terrorist plots have been foiled in the past month, including 30 attempts to fly aircraft into buildings and 192 attempts to assassinate prominent public figures.

The most spectacular terrorist plot foiled was an attempt by a shadowy Islamic extremist fundamentalist terrorist group of terrorists to fly an airliner into the Palace of Fiscal Responsibility in Los Angeles.

The Palace, which was known as the Library Tower before the death of the last literate Republican, is one of the tallest buildings in the Homeland.

"Just because America has not been attacked for twenty years does not mean the terrorists have given up attemptification," the Commander-in-Chief warned.

Emphasising that the extremist fundamentalist Islamic shadowy terror plot terrorists were recruited in the Israeli-administered Arabian peninsula and trained in Afghanistan, the Commander-in-Chief said that America's policy of assertive deterrence against Iran had finally been vindicated.

The critical new phase of the war on terror, which is thought to be anticipated as necessitifying renewed homeland surveillance measures, is the third critical new phase which the war on terror has entered over the past year.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Moral Teachers

The Vicar of Downing Street held a coffee morning today for fifty organisations which he hopes to entrust with running our schools. They included Microsoft, an accountancy firm, and representatives from faith groups, and Tony took the opportunity to have a bit of a chat about the process of reform. "I know there will obviously be a lot of controversy," he said. "There always is when there is change. Any of you who have ever put through a change programme either in your business or in your organisation or your school knows that basically it's hell while it's happening."

Perhaps this is why some faith groups - notably a British minority cult headed by a Government appointee - find change so difficult. Credit where it's due, however: now that the twenty-first century is half a decade old, the Church at last feels able to consider stepping out of the nineteenth. Having largely opted out of the recent fashion for equal opportunities, the General Synod has now backed proposals which "could see women bishops brought in as early as 2012". The Archbishop of Canterbury said that "the status quo is not an option"; an adolescent spoke out against changing the status quo; and the Archbishop of Canterbury observed that "integrity need not mean absolute division". The debate, according to the Archdeacon of Lewisham, had a "profound theological significance". Between now and 2012, the Church will investigate the possibility of allowing parishes to opt out of the opt-out from the opt-out from the equal opportunity laws. It is easy to see why Tony believes that, once a change has been made, "afterwards people actually settle down and wonder what all the fuss was about".

In an equally thrilling development, the synod issued an apology for the Church's support for, and profit from, the slave trade, before the trade's official reinvention into what we now call "outsourcing". The motion for the apology was passed unanimously, but the synod "stopped short of endorsing a specific call for financial or other reparations". The Archbishop of Canterbury profundicised that "To speak here of repentance and apology is not words alone". By indulging in this atonement-free repentance-by-numbers, "we are actually discharging our responsibility to preach good news", the good news being, apparently, that Christian love means merely having to say you're sorry.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Asser, Arabs and Auntie

The leader of Hamas, which recently horrified the international community by winning an election without the aid of Diebold, has laid down conditions for a truce with Israel.

In what the BBC is pleased to call an "analysis", Martin Asser mentions a statement made in 2002 by Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi, to the effect that "We can't recognise Israel, but we can accept a truce with them and we can live side by side and refer the issue to coming generations". Asser notes al-Rantissi's assassination, but decorously omits to mention the Israeli helicopter gunship that carried it out.

In any case, Asser says, it has been suggested that Hamas "is ready to offer Israel a formal truce for a number of years, during which a peace deal can be negotiated ending in a two-state solution". Hamas' charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, could be re-written at the end of this process.

Now comes the wry twist.

There is also, Asser says, "a vastly different possible scenario - that Hamas dropped references to destroying Israel in the hope of securing diplomatic recognition and its chance to rebuild Palestinian society." This is not, of course, as innocent as it sounds. "Hamas could still be sticking to a long-term policy of non-recognition with the aim of ultimately overwhelming Israel through demography rather than military means." Arabs breed faster than Jews, you see.

To achieve its fiendish aim, "Hamas needs to avoid the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 territories" until about the year 2020, when "most predictions say the Palestinians will significantly outnumber Jews living in what is now Israel and the occupied territories." So the reason Hamas wants the 1967 territories is so that they can avoid establishing a sovereign Palestinian state there. The cunning dogs.

Asser continues: "Therefore, the Hamas argument goes, the existence of a democratic Jewish state is put at risk and the achievement of an Arab majority state becomes possible - a "one-state solution" to the Palestinian problem."

Asser quickly dispenses with the need for evidence that "the Hamas argument" is being argued by anyone but Martin Asser: "If the one-state solution remains Hamas' master plan, one can be fairly certain its leaders will not be saying so in precise terms." That settles that, then. The "existence of a democratic Jewish state" presents a few difficulties, though. If "Jewish" refers to the Jewish religion, then a Jewish state would be a theocracy, and therefore not democratic. If "Jewish" refers to the Jewish ethnicity, then a Jewish state would be racist, and therefore not democratic. Also, if the state is Jewish and therefore ruled, administered, policed and defended exclusively by Jews, a demographic majority of Arabs might not necessarily mean an Arab state. In apartheid South Africa, black people were in a large majority, but still encountered considerable difficulty in effecting a "one-state solution" to the Afrikaner problem.

"When Israel says that it ... will withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and grant the right of return, stop settlements and recognise the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, only then Hamas will be ready to take a serious step," Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the BBC today. In other words, Hamas will be ready to negotiate when Israel complies with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (withdrawal from the occupied territories), General Assembly Resolution 194 (right of return) and Security Council Resolution 446 (stopping the settlements).

The BBC notes, with regard to East Jerusalem: "Under international law the area is considered to be occupied territory", but otherwise refrains from wasting the reader's time and attention on petty legalisms.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Plain Talk for the Natives

Having received due permission from the Americans, the Vicar of Downing Street's humanitarian violence spokesman today gave the Foreign Press Association some clear indications about reductions in the number of British troops implicated in the ongoing war crime in Iraq. However, we do not intend to "cut and run". That would be the act of a petty criminal - a cutpurse, a pickpocket or perhaps a Muslim with a very small scimitar - and Britain is none of those things. "Our commitment to Iraq and its people is unchanged and we have made significant progress".

The minister for insurgency provocation went on, "I have already made plain the conditions under which we will hand over to the Iraqi government and security forces." Because the conditions were so plain, tonight he "set out in specific terms what those conditions are" and also "how Iraq will look when they are met." There is "confusion" on the issue, apparently. Not everyone can imagine paradise just like that.

The first condition is: "we need to see a manageable level of threat from insurgents, be they criminal or political." There was no threat from insurgents before the invasion; thirty-five months after the invasion the threat from insurgents is not manageable; and we have made significant progress.

The second condition is: "the Iraqi security forces must be more able to deal with this threat themselves". More able; now that's what I call specific - relatively speaking, of course.

The third condition is: "local government bodies need to be effective, while central government supports them", perhaps via the highly efficient infrastructure which the coalition destroyed and which the Americans recently gave up the pretence of trying to rebuild.

Finally, and most importantly, "we, ourselves, must be confident that we can provide support and backup to local forces if needed." In determining just how confident we, ourselves, have become, the views of the independent, sovereign Iraqi government will no doubt be taken into account. After all, "Our purpose has been to give Iraqis the tools to build the kind of nation they want", within reasonable limits, of course. "Our purpose in Iraq has never been to create a mirror-image of our own nation. That would never work," in fact it isn't working now, even in our own nation; and anyway, "it is not what Iraqis want". Iraqis' wants are easily comprehensible and, mirabile dictu, they are just the same as our wants: "we well understand their desire for us to leave just as soon as the conditions are right. We want that, too."

Still, the minister for armoured democratisation was forced to admit that Iraq would never "look like a western European country"; which is very likely true. There is, for example, "a different attitude to authority and allegiance", which perhaps explains why they have such a hard time adjusting to our benevolent guidance. There are also "strong and ancient family and tribal ties". This is an important difference, certainly. Our own ties are social and cultural; the last time they were tribal was when we liked painting ourselves blue and defecating in our civilisers' hypocausts.

Iraq's judicial system, too, will never look like Britain's. There will be "potential for abuse by officials", for one thing. For another, "where [official abuse] happens, the system will expose it not cover it up, and will strip offenders of their positions and jail them".

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sovereign States

A senior American general has been gracious enough to suggest that Britain could begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, and presumably sending them to Afghanistan, within the next four or five months. Once local security forces are prepared to take on the mantle, the coalition "would be happy to reduce troop numbers". Well, I'm glad they've all been asked. This being self-evidently a democratic exercise, naturally everyone gets a vote, from the big players like Italy and South Korea down to the weeny but well-meaning like Estonia, Macedonia and Kazakhstan. From all that one could see of this announcement in the tabloids, British sovereignty was not noticeably affected.

Meanwhile, Paul Keetch of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee noted the improvements in security that have been achieved since Mission Accomplished a few months back: "When I went two and a half years ago to Basra we could walk around with troops in berets and some security but basically free to move around," he said. "When we went there last week we would not leave the base, indeed walking from building to building in the base we had to put on full body-armour."

Brigadier James Everard, who will be leading the 20th Armoured Division into Iraq in May (Operation Pullout Accomplished, I take it), blamed the disorder on a "small rotten core" among the police. He advocated "a process of progressive disengagement as we feel there is a credible, capable Iraqi security force". As soon as we feel that, presumably, the sovereign, elected Iraqi government will do its part and ask us, very nicely, to leave.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Gas Leak

According to the Press Association "Consumer groups have reacted angrily to a claim that gas bills are about to leap by 25%". This is called democracy in action. A "senior British Gas source" is quoted in the Mail on Sunday rant-rag as saying the increase "would be between 22% and 25%, more than 10 times the rate of inflation". The increase is "thought to be the biggest single increase ever", British Gas being traditionally so competent with its figures that no one can tell for certain.

Energywatch, which is an energy watchdog, said that "if there were such an increase, it would expect consumers to leave British Gas". This is called consumer choice. However, "other power companies are certain to follow suit, and the rises will affect gas and electricity prices equally" because "all suppliers are buying their gas in the same market". This is called healthy competition.

Another possibility is that British Gas are frightening their poorer consumers with deniability-positive leaks about a 22% price hike ("we haven't said anything about timing or scale of an increase") so that an eventual hike of only seven or eight times the rate of inflation will be met with relief rather than outrage. This is called consumer relations.

Directors have "agonised about taking the decision because they know it is going to hurt everybody". This is called the human touch. "But the harsh reality is we have no choice." This is called taking responsibility. You think you've got troubles? Britain's boardrooms are filled with agonising directors. Next time you turn on your heating, just you think about that.

Age Concern warned that "rising fuel costs meant older people on fixed incomes would struggle more than ever to keep warm." Fortunately, older people on fixed incomes are not a particularly reliable source of revenue. Indeed, in many cases their incomes are provided by the Government, which is to say the taxpayer. Hence, the possibility that the price increase "could mean an increase in deaths" is presumably called something like disposable consumer attrition.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Very Special Sheep

Power has its perils. "Former ministers say they have a difficult time readjusting to public transport", which is not particularly surprising. Slightly more surprising are the Guardian's examples of public transport: the family car of a Conservative and the Rover 800 of Patricia Hewitt, neither of which seems likely to have the characteristic atmosphere of travel by bus, tube or rail, even if Hewitt's Rover did fail to start.

Fifteen years after the event, the sheep that slew Thatcher is still getting pampered at the public expense. Geoffrey Howe has an official car and driver at a cost of some sixty thousand pounds a year - a privilege normally reserved for ex-Prime Ministers. "What makes him so special?" asked the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Norman Baker. Well, the sheep that slew Thatcher must have some sort of resonance for the long-suffering British public. We can hardly expect such an achievement to pass unacknowledged. In his time, Lord Howe also served as deputy prime minister, a post so vital and responsible that it is now held by John Prescott.

The reason for Lord Howe's special treatment, according to the nonentity himself, is "a prolonged security risk". It is well known that Baroness Thatcher has powerful friends and malleable offspring; perhaps Mark has bankrolled an assassin or two to carry out due retribution once the penny-pinchers have forced Lord Howe back onto public transport.

Friday, February 03, 2006

General Doron Almog, And Others

The Government is considering "weakening laws designed to capture alleged war criminals and torturers who enter Britain". In light of recent indiscretions over Rumsfeldian rendition, not to mention emerging evidence of a conspiracy to wage aggressive war, this is hardly a surprise, though the case of Pinochet the Protected should give comfort to some.

Attack dogs are not supposed to turn on each other, and concern has been expressed by our Middle Eastern kennel-mate after an attempt to arrest one General Doron Almog, who is alleged to have ordered the destruction of fifty-nine civilian homes in reprisals for the deaths of Israeli soldiers. The warrant for Almog's arrest was issued last September by Bow Street magistrates in London, upon application from lawyers representing Palestinians who claim that they suffered because of illegal orders issued by the general. According to Almog, the Israeli attaché in London tipped him off; and, doubtless sceptical of his chances of a fair trial, he stayed on the plane and flew back home.

The warrant for Almog's arrest is "believed to be the first of its kind issued in Britain against an Israeli national over conduct in the Palestinian conflict", apparently because most Israeli nationals with responsibilities in the "Palestinian conflict" are discreet enough to avoid coming to Britain. Still, an unhealthy precedent had been set. The Israeli government complained to the Home Office and the Foreign Office; Jack Straw rolled onto his back and urinated over himself; and the warrant was duly withdrawn. For the Home Office, a spokesbeing announced that the Government is "currently considering a range of matters relating to the issuing of arrest warrants in international cases". The Israeli embassy has expressed a wish to find a solution to the unacceptable face of British law, which "has been used by people to promote their own agenda", something the Righteous State would never think of doing.

The British government, meanwhile, has denied that the Americans want the law changed, perhaps in the belief that they will have less trouble if they change it on behalf of the Israelis instead.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Camel's Back

It is a truth universally acknowledged among the enlightened, that rage and fury over petty things may occasionally reflect discontents which loom larger and run deeper. While Muslims cannot be expected to enjoy disrespectful representations of their Prophet, it seems doubtful that the protest would have been nearly so noisy were it not for one or two other matters with which we are mostly familiar. There is, for example, the ongoing subjugation of the Palestinians and the illegal occupation of their land, now headed merrily for its fortieth year. There is the illegal invasion, occupation and plundering of Iraq, which has driven yet more people to embrace both the dubious comforts of religion (since they have little or nothing else to comfort them) and the dubious ethics of terrorism (since it offers a chance to fight back). There is the West's support for democracy in Saudi Arabia, for the Kurds in Turkey, for nuclear non-proliferation in Israel and North Korea. Above all, there is the callous contempt of Israel and its backers in Washington - building prison walls on land which is not theirs; lecturing the Palestinians on renouncing terrorism while fighting stones with bullets and calling it the "peace process"; refusing the Palestinian people their own land, their own water, their own airspace and their own foreign policy and calling that an "offer". So while it is true that Muslims have no right to be protected against the free speech of others, it is also true that Muslims have reason to be discontented. Whatever the Koran may say, if the Danish government were to withdraw its troops from Iraq and its support from the Coalition of the Illegal, condemn the invasion and offer reparations, the staff of Jyllands-Posten might possibly sleep sounder.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

De-Hyping Detriments, Energising Accomplishability

The hundredth significant death in Iraq has caused the government some concern. A spokescreature for the Vicar of Downing Street said, "I do not think we should do the terrorists' job for them by in some way hyping this kind of incident". Apparently there is some moral equivalence to be drawn between discussing soldiers' deaths and actually blowing them up. Possibly this explains the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a "fallen" (or was he pushed?) soldier in Iraq. Ms Sheehan was removed in handcuffs from America's latest disaster site - that of George W Bush's State of the Union speech - apparently for a dress code violation.

Bush, as usual, mentioned freedom. He is in favour of it, apparently. He also thinks that the amount of vegetable matter on America's roads should be increased. He wants market forces to arrange for a practical and competitive kind of ethanol derived from wood chips or switch grass, which is also sometimes called panic grass. Imagine that. Bush also announced "another great goal: to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025", presumably by conquering South America.

Market forces are also expected to come up with "zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy", though it is not clear whether this will all happen before, during or after America's flight to Mars (announced last year), liberation of Iraq (announced every few months), liberation of Afghanistan (to be accomplished again soon), and vanquishment of terrorism (to be accomplished eventually). It's called the "Advanced Energy Initiative", or AEI, which hopefully will prove a less confusing sequence of vowels than the IAEA turned out to be.