The Curmudgeon


Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Anti-social,adj. Anyone who has the bad taste not to spend their every waking minute in continual solicitation of your inestimable companionship.

Bully,n. Educational tool for the socialisation of eccentrics and the assistance of the weak and sensitive towards a more realistic apprehension of their place in the world.

Character,n. That which is possessed by aged buildings in lieu of water, electricity, light, heat, plastering, half the floorboards and assorted sections of roof.
My house often quakes with strange humming;
And sometimes with noises like drumming;
And sometimes with shrieks
And crepuscular creaks -
I trust it is only the plumbing.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Edible,adj. Capable of being ingested, masticated, swallowed and digested without immediate harm to the organism, e.g. concentrates, extracts, artificial colouring, artificial flavouring, emulsifiers, preservatives and monosodium glutamate.

Humour,n. The sense which is most commonly deaf, blind, unfeeling and tasteless.

Muliebrity,n. The condition of being female. The derivation is from the Latin muliebris, meaning womanly, and has nothing whatever to do with attributes befitting a beast of burden. Lexicography, like all the sciences, is full of these little disappointments.

Pructid,n. An instance of that preliminary heaving of the gullet which constitutes the monochrome prelude to a Technicolor Yawn.
Halfway to the bathroom he was once more struck with the pructids and very nearly ruined the carpet.
Gungler Fitzboodle

Rosary,n. Abacus for adding up prayers to a God who seems to prefer quantity to quality in most things. He made Man.

Zoo,n. A place to which animals are removed from predators, poachers and other dangers of the wild, in order to enjoy the more civilised perils of boredom, confinement and public exhibition.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Courtly Manners and their Evolution

It was during the sixty-second month of the antepenultimate phase of the Second Great Outward Grope that the court of Cudgelwimsey the Irritating was mortally struck with the Muswellian pructids and forced to withdraw behind the previous winter's line. The complaint spread rapidly, owing to defective firkins and unregulated pestling by Cudgelwimsey's troops, which resulted in the near-dehydration of all the tussocks between Mumbelminster and Gleetwick; an environmental calamity for which the price is arguably still being paid today. Cudgelwimsey himself, whose previous good health had been legendary, to the extent that it was said he could pull out his own teeth with his bare hands and no ill effects beyond a slight improvement in temper, had suffered considerably on the march towards the Hurlingbonian front, and was eventually so far incapacitated as to have his favourite lavatory brought to him on a litter carried by four highly trained Privy Councillors. The lavatory, like all bathroom fixtures during that phase of the Second Great Outward Grope, was made to order; in this case the craftsman was the great Schankes of Flushing, whose invention six years previously of the porcelain armitage had almost resulted in his being arrested for heresy. The lavatory of Cudgelwimsey unfortunately did not survive its owner, being first chipped by his over-elaborate lower grommets during the Third Battle of Gleetwick and later completely destroyed when it was accidentally hurled from the battlements during the victory celebrations at Glottal. Cudgelwimsey, who by this time had begun to recover from the illness which had laid him low, was so angered by the loss that he had the drunken culprits thoroughly fossicked and brindled before sending them off to Peterborough in disgrace. It is unlikely, however, that the loss of his prized possession was the sole influence on Cudgelwimsey's decision to draw up a permanent Code of Hygiene for his household, since at that time the incidence of Muswellian pructids had not been scientifically connected with the insalubrious conditions pertaining at court. In fact, from the time of Cudgelwimsey's grandfather, Piffelsteed the Malodorous, the decline of royal manners had been noted and lamented by the official chroniclers. By the time of Cudgelwimsey it is arguable that decades of war and indigestion had taken their ultimate toll, so that nothing was thought of blacking a lady's eye during dinner, and the use of unconsecrated trenchers was virtually a daily practice. The eventual scouring of court custom, and the consequent revolution in manners throughout the kingdom, would be the work of Cudgelwimsey's grandson, Squilbeam the Antiseptic, whose notorious decree banning the use of fur gloves by cattle-filleters was, despite its gory failure at the time, a primitive precursor of modern health and safety considerations.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Workman is Worthy of his Meat

Church of England plc released a reassuring report on its financial state yesterday. Besides its large holdings of land in various cathedral cities, where land is presumably less worldly than elsewhere, the church has invested in industrial estates in such spiritual centres as Swindon and Waltham Cross, and in non-materialistic shopping centres such as the no doubt supremely ascetic Cribbs Causeway Centre in Bristol. Last year the church made room for the still, small voice of carbon monoxide asphyxiation and a purely incidental profit of nineteen million pounds from selling 99-year leases on garage space in London; and it holds a ten per cent interest and associated land in Europe's largest, and therefore most heavenly, shopping and leisure centre. As one would expect, this consecrated ground is called the MetroCentre and provides "shoppertainment", with an eleven-screen cinema and shops which close a whole two hours early on Sunday.

This is all very comforting, as it bodes well for the church's future investments in education. It is to be hoped that C of E plc will broadcast this report as widely as possible, so as to alleviate worries about schoolchildren being indoctrinated with Christian dogma, since it now seems entirely possible that the Church of England's interest in our schools will, after all, be purely financial and geared to profit alone.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Health Fascists

Yesterday the secretary of state for health service privatisation, Patricia Hewitt, suffered at the hands of the Royal College of Nursing what many of us have wanted to give her, and one or two of her predecessors, for some years. Now that the NHS is officially having its best time ever, with cheap nursing staff flooding in from the Third World and investment in personnel managers at a level unprecedented since the days of Asclepius, Hackitt was able to make a constructive suggestion about reorganising rotas "to make better use of permanent staff". A little later, after the unruly nurses had cut short her statistics-powered flow of ever-onward-ever-upwardness, a neonatal practitioner was uncouth enough to ask about understaffing, with "one qualified nurse and one auxiliary having to care for 14 premature babies." The health secretary's advice on how the two of them could reorganise their rotas was unfortunately drowned in antisocial behaviour. Chopitt's parting shot was a virtual potted history of New Labour rhetoric, starting with the 1997 touchy-feely "I know you are angry with me", continuing through the 2003 damage-limitation-oriented "You disapprove of some of the answers I have given", and concluding with the present-day rhetoric of democratisation through difficulty: "the more nurses are involved in the difficult decisions that have to be made, the better". In Standard English, this might be rendered: "the more nurses agree with our decisions and accept the difficulties we are imposing, the better". A source in the unenviable position of being close to Ms Cutitt said she was "annoyed" at not being allowed to finish the sermon, and described the protests as "a political stunt", something a speech by a New Labour minister could never be.

Today, addressing a congregation of 1200 personnel managers who have been tasked with the implementation of the Department of Health's various difficulties and the reduction of staffing costs, the health secretary experienced "her first smooth ride of the week".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Baby,n. A silencer-free engine for emptying the heads of adults and filling nappies with processed advertising.

Claim,n.(Journalese) The self-evidently false assertion of an official enemy, as contrasted with the statements, beliefs, considerations and contentions of those who concoct the official press release.

Diet,n. The means whereby our digestive organs are tried in the fire of heartburn. In some societies, the word can also refer to a type of parliament, from which the rigours of dyspepsia are doubtless banished in favour of constructive debate and mutual co-operation.
Mr Gock lived on beefsteak so tough
That one day, having suffered enough,
His salivary glands
Fled to far distant lands
And his stomach walked out in a huff.
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Fate,n. Superstitious name for the gravity which powers our decline and downfall.

Hidden,adj. Not unsightly.

Public Transport,n. The judicious alternation of inefficiency and immobility.

Quoppicle,n. Any article, such as a coffee mug, which can be placed over the mouth and sucked on hard so that it appears to the simple-minded to defy gravity.
"My love," expostulated Marmaduke, "let us fly on wings of passion; let our lips make of each other four delicious, beetroot-coloured quoppicles!"
Clytemnestra Vodge

Restraint,n.(Obsolete) The artistic virtue of discretion or forbearance, now superseded by the commercial virtue of adequate attention to budgetary considerations.

Theology,n. One of the few branches of literary criticism to be regularly utilised as a pretext for murder.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

A Young Men's Christian Association gym had a rather special visitor today as the Vicar of Downing Street was "put through his paces on a rowing machine". He was helping his public health minister, Caroline Flint, to launch another of New Labour's verbless church appeals. This one is called Small Changes: Big Difference, which is a very fine title for a New Labour church appeal to have. Consider, for example, the sentence "What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons" and the difference that would be made through the small change involved in placing the word not between the seventh and eighth words. It can hardly be denied that going from fib to fact in three letters is about as big a difference, and from as small a change, as one could reasonably hope for.

Unfortunately, the Flint spearhead has nothing of the sort in mind. Small changes in lifestyle, she said, "like quitting smoking, eating fruit and taking small amounts of exercise could add years on to a person's life." It is to be hoped that Ms Flint has consulted Gordon Brown about the possible effects on any future pensions crisis. Presumably, since Tony chose to back her up with his turn on the rowing machine, she has not.

After his government's little spat with the more poisonous sectors of the British press, his reverence was careful to cast his pearls before a more temperate and appreciative breed of grunter. In a podcast interview, he informed the Sun that he is drinking glasses of water with his coffee and tea. Hopefully this means the forthcoming legal ban on caffeine will not be rushed through Parliament for another year or two.

The Reverend emerged "slightly puffed" from his bout on the rowing machine. In his words, it "just got the cardio going". If only something could do the same for the cerebro while slowing the laryngo, we might commence to relocationalise.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cry God for Tony, Texas and St George

As might be expected on St George's Day, the Vicar of Downing Street has been waxing messianic on that most Anglo-American of all subjects, the curtailment of civil liberties. Tony's democratic desire to enter into debate with his subjects before imposing his will upon them has manifested itself in a "passionate public exchange of emails" with Henry Porter, one of the Observer's more sensible columnists.

Tony notes that the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and some of the Labour party disagree with him, but sweeps aside such petty parliamentary pettifogging: "I truly believe they are out of touch with their own voters." They are not the voice of the people; Tony is the voice of the people. From which it follows naturally that "the practical effect of following the course [such people] set out is a loss of civil liberties for the majority" whom Tony, through his mystical communion with the national spirit, represents.

Tony outlines a number of new battle-fronts in the war on red tape, including a license for police to mug suspected drug dealers and "draconian new restrictions" on the movements of suspected mafiosi. Suspected persons could also be banned from associating with certain other persons, in order that Tony's crusade against human trafficking may cleanse our land more efficiently. Tony would "widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in... I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country." Due process, right to trial, presumption of innocence; these things are so not what George would do.

This agenda is apparently to be "fleshed out in a major debate" (or, in Oldspeak, rushed through the Commons and ping-ponged past the Lords) after the local council losses in May. Tomorrow, Charles Clarke will inform the London School of Economics that "freedom is alive and kicking" and that the idea that Labour has assumed police state powers is a "myth". Well, I feel better already.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

News 2020

Collateral detrimentations really do hurt less, study finds

Collateral detrimentations from Allied peacekeeping forces really do hurt less than deaths and injuries from terrorist violence, according to a new study by media expert Dr Bradley Ichneumon.

Dr Ichneumon's new book, It Only Hurts If You Keep Mentioning It: Grief, Pain and Democracy in the Media Age, argues that media coverage of troop deaths and civilian personnel disintegration phenomena has exercised a "democratising influence" on the quality and quantity of grief and agony being experienced.

"Basically, I start from the premise that deaths and other fatalities, from whatever cause, which are covered in the media will provoke an emotional reaction in the particular advertising target group which that media reaches," Dr Ichneumon said today at a press conference and book-signing.

"Therefore, besides the 'direct pain' of the soldier or potential terrorist who is engaged in being detrimentised, there is an additional 'indirect pain' for the audience which hears about it," Dr Ichneumon said.

However, since troop deaths are generally reported on individually, while civilian detrimentations are seen largely as numbers, the "indirect pain" of the media audiences is correspondingly less in the case of civilians, he continued.

"More and more people feeling less and less pain - this is the essence of pain attenuation through a democratic media," said Dr Ichneumon, who is also the author of Islamo-Stalinism: the Liberal Retreat from Enlightenment Values.

"Of course, the tribal structure of Muslim society and its emphasis on the extended family rather than the individual means that direct pain and grief are less individuo-fragmentalised," he continued.

"On the other hand, the mass media in the Muslim world is far less advanced than in the West, so that news of a given death and the resultant indirect pain and grief end up reaching far fewer people even when the Muslim news agencies aren't being bombed."

Dr Ichneumon's book has been praised by ex-BBC director general Andrew Marr as "an invaluable contribution to journalistic self-esteem", and by ex-Guardian editor Allan Fusbudget as "timely, provocative and superbly formatted."

Friday, April 21, 2006

Creative Science

An Australian geologist, John Mackay, who claims to be engaged in finding scientific proof that creationism is true, is to be let loose on various British educational establishments. Among the beneficiaries of his guidance will be a secondary school in Lancashire, which is hiding its light under a bushel "to protect staff and pupils from unwelcome attention", education no longer being a matter of public concern in Britain. According to Mackay's UK spokesman, the charmingly named Randall Hardy, Mackay "was converted by reading a book on geology written by an atheist which made particular fun of the biblical position. From this, he started reading the Bible and was totally convinced by it." This delight in clear thinking shows in Mr Hardy's demolition of the evolutionary arguments of the evil atheists, which "do not come from pure science but from their interpretation of the evidence in order to back their beliefs." Mackay's organisation, Creation Research, steers clear of any such intellectual sleight of hand. "FLOOD DEPOSITED TRICERATOPS FOR SURE", its Research Dinosaur Page proclaims, "as we find fossil figs, and sequoia leaves, plus fossil trees mostly laid down NW-SE" garnishing the remains of a Triceratops dinosaur discovered in Montana. "Figs and sequoia don’t grow together today, so it indicates the water which deposited the material has collected across a wide area," the page argues, which certainly seems to settle the matter. Not only that, but "Since figs and sequoia are still here, the evidence is no help to evolution either", the logic of which is, I fear, too subtle for me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

News 2020

Special relationship will continue, PM assured

A development of potentially significant potential significance to the British government erupted today when the US Commander-in-Chief announced that his press secretary would be given up as a burnt offering to appease the God of Justice.

The announcement caused concern in Whitehall until it was clarificated that the Commander-in-Chief was referring to the White House's chief press secretary, Scoot McLummox, and not to the Prime Minister as had been feared.

Speaking to journalists personally from the Oval Bunker via terror-shielded digital link, the Commander-in-Chief said he was "regrettable at Scoot's departurising."

The Commander-in-Chief continued, "Scoot has been an inspiration to us all and he will be missed. I know you news guys will miss his happy and helpful press release interface sessions. We are actively initiativising successor throughput."

Mr McLummox, who has been under a cloud for some time due to the perception that he is more expendable than some people, will be sacrificed on Mount Rushmore this Sunday.

The ceremony will be performed by the Secretary of State for Deity Propitiation, the Reverend Cootie Swaggard, who was described as "a close personal friend of Scoot's and real handy with a knife".

The White House has not yet announced whether press and television coverage of the ceremony will be permitted. The Prime Minister is not expected to attend.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Filigree Factionalism in Perspective

While it is undoubtedly true that the question of the ecclesiastical filigrees was a significant factor in the upheavals of the late two-hundred-and-ninety-fours, it is also a fact that many other causes and controversies were involved. Not the least of these was precipitated by the sudden death of Pope Imperturbable LXXXIII from a pancreatic arpeggio while he was engaged in stuffing a catamite with encyclicals in preparation for the paschal saponifications. The incident was shocking enough to contemporary observers to inspire a host of works in both the artistic and the popular spheres. Among the former, Belshazzar de Pottes' Flux in G Major for strings is still frequently performed, and is considered a pinnacle in Pottes' repertoire of chamber music. On a less exalted note, bands of travelling players were notorious at the time for giving unlicensed performances of the dead Pope's homilies, something the Council were much criticised for allowing but which it was, in all fairness, virtually powerless to prevent, since its chairman and three of its seven members were in the pay of the ubiquitous Imbelsqueeze the Bloody-minded. Imbelsqueeze, illustrious daughter of Pringle the Proportionately-Forcible and his second wife Ramphorhynchia, had been married off at the age of fourteen to Borgor the Execrable because of his vast wealth and fanatical antifiligritism; by the time of the Pope's demise, Imbelsqueeze was twenty-nine and the universally acknowledged power behind the throne of her second husband, Frickloon the Fallacious. Ranged against her calculating ambition and untrammelled lack of dress-sense were the supporters of Lepstrode the Glutinous, whose faction contrived a parade of seven thousand people through the streets of Avignon, with six brass bands, a chorus of two hundred castrati and a general mobilisation of the militia, following which the notorious Lepstrode was hurriedly proclaimed Pope Modest LVII. Imbelsqueeze reacted with characteristic decisiveness. Using the filigree controversy as a feint, she hastened to engineer the Council's downfall by, among other things, the dextrous use of blackmail over a macerated porringer, which led indirectly to the suicide of Baldachin the Pox-ridden and the imprisonment and gizzard-skirling of his best friend Harold. With the Council thus reduced, it was a simple matter for Imbelsqueeze to manoeuvre Frickloon into supreme temporal power and to proclaim Lepstrode's deadly rival, Chancroid the Overbearing, as the genuine successor to the late Pope. While the question of ecclesiastical filigrees, and the related theological problem of crenellated tonsuring for selected members, may have held some importance to the seminary-educated Chancroid, any interest which Imbelsqueeze took in such matters was purely expedient, as amply demonstrated twelve years later by her ruthless volte-face on the bishop of Crumley's ottoman.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Brilliant,adj. In standard English, incandescent, luminous, outstanding. In demotic English, competent without being irksome.

Denazification,n. The process whereby, at the end of the Second World War, the short crop was introduced into French hairdressing while selected portions of the Nazi menace were amicably converted into a bulwark against Bolshevism.

Easter,n. Consumption of chocolate eggs in memory of a debatably failed execution.
A man hanging nailed to a cross
Cried, "This proves that Jehovah's the boss;
So do as I say,
And each year on this day,
Guzzling sweets shall ye mourn for My loss."
Rev. Wibley Beamish

Irrelevance,n. Any fact which ends up on the cutting-room floor during the business of editing truth into argument.

Narrow-minded,adj. Insufficiently attentive to your lengthier spiritual, ontological and epistemological discourses.

Personality,n. A particular person's faults, considered in a body; or, in the entertainment industry, a particular fault embodied in a person.

Tragedy,n. In ancient Greece, a sacred art form offering purgation through pity and terror. In modern Britain, any real-life soap opera reported by the tabloids and involving a death over which gloating is not considered socially acceptable.

Wrunk,n. A clout with something heavy and metallic.
Seizing the wrench she delivered him a wrunk fit to fell a rhino.
Breeley Snurge

Monday, April 17, 2006

Increasing Alertness, Clarifying Transparency

Ever concerned for our safety, parliament's intelligence and security committee is expected to recommend a "transparent official public warning system for the threat posed by terrorist attacks" in its annual report next month. The issue is "at the heart of an intense debate ... in the wake of the attacks on London" a mere nine months ago.

As one might expect from such quick thinking on our behalf, the intelligence and security committee are recommending the usual panacea: we ought to copy the Americans. The US system is colour-coded, which may be why the intelligence and security committee has waited a little before recommending it. The association of terrorism with vital elements of the chromatic spectrum could be construed as glorification. One hates to think of a respectable cross-party committee stuck in a secret prison having its Britishness forcibly enhanced, when all it was trying to do was help.

At the moment, there are two separate reckonings. One is the "threat" level, which is determined by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and ranges from "moderate" (we haven't detected anything, what are they up to?) through "substantial" (something might be about to happen but then again it might not) and "severe general" (something is about to happen but we don't know what it is) right up to the dreaded "severe specific" (oh my God, he's a Brazilian). The other is the "alert" level, which is set "on the advice of MI5" and ranges from black (lowest) to red (highest). This is all "deeply confusing" to the Conservative spokesman on homeland security (national security having presumably been jettisoned as not in keeping with the new Cameronian cuddliness), who thinks the threat levels ought to be published.

However, the security and intelligence agencies "are concerned that if the threat levels are published they could be misinterpreted", while unpublished threat levels will merely be speculated upon by pundits, worried about by paranoiacs, fictionalised by tabloids, forgotten about by the public, and questioned anew the next time a bomb goes off. It's the age-old security dilemma of generalised dissemination of restricted data versus the bleeding obvious. The Home Office, under the guidance of intellectual firebucket Charles Clarke, is "grappling with the problem". I'm sure I wish them luck.

Officially, the US system has five levels: low, guarded, elevated, high, and severe. In practice, it has two levels: elevated for ordinary days, and high for when the Bush administration wishes to instil fear into the populace, whether to distract them from almost-opposing views, as in August 2004; or, as on the first anniversary of 9/11, simply to remind them who stands like a colossus of freedom, separating the world from Islamic apocalypse with every cluster bomb dropped. In New York, the threat level is set permanently at high, perhaps to give some credibility to Condi's famous mushroom cloud. This is certainly transparent.

As in Britain, the specific criteria which determine each threat level have not been revealed to the public. This gives the system a tremendous advantage: "it is impossible to know when raising it is justified - or, indeed, whether the lack of an actual terrorist strike on each such occasion so far shows that it works, or that it is pointless." That at least is encouraging. Here in the land of faith schools, ID cards and the 2012 Olympics, something which cannot be shown to be pointless would come as a refreshing change.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

His Charitable Soul

A Moral Tale

There can be few occupations so tedious, and at the same time so troublesome, as the dissection of fully-conscious patients. I recall one in particular who made the most disgraceful fuss, which was all the more inconvenient as he was fairly strong; the straps which held him to the dissecting-table finished up quite badly stretched. He thrashed about so much that, more than once, just when I thought I had at last found what I was looking for (somewhere between the stomach and the genitals, according to all the latest theories), he would make some sudden and unexpected movement, and I would be forced to start all over again. After several hours without progress this became truly galling; especially as, thanks to the perpetual shortage of scalpels around the place (I am personally convinced that people filch them to use in the staff canteen, where of course they then get hopelessly mixed in with all the other cutlery), I had been put to the trouble of growing my fingernails for some weeks on end.

"Pardon me, my man," I said to him at last, in as conciliatory a tone as my annoyance would permit; "but might I ask you to keep still for a minute or two? It's hard enough in there as it is, with all that muscle getting in the way, without you shifting it about all the time and making matters worse. I'm only doing my job, you know."

He did not reply to this until he had succeeded in expelling, with a loud and irreverent plop, my right hand from the lukewarm spaghetti of his smaller intestine. I inferred from this that my arguments had not made a great impression upon him.

"I sympathise of course," he said; "but you must understand that this kind of thing doesn't happen to me very often, and that consequently I'm a little worried about any possible side effects. I'm not even absolutely certain this operation is going to be of much benefit to me. Are you listening when I talk to you?"

"Quiet! I'm looking for something very important." I spoke quite snappishly, for with all his bellyaching he had managed to break the nail on my right index finger; the point was lost forever among his writhing entrails, and all that was left on the finger itself was an uneven, jagged edge which would not only be somewhat imprecise as an instrument, but would also present problems when I eventually got round to cleaning it.

"But look," he persisted. "You've opened me up from the bottom of my ribs to the top of my pelvis, you've peeled back the skin on both sides and pinned it neatly out of the way beneath the table, and you've been rummaging round in my guts for half the morning. And not very respectfully, at that, to judge by the front of your coat. What have I got that's so important you can't search for it in a civilised fashion, with X-rays and things?"

"X-rays wouldn't show it," I said with irritation; I was beginning to lose all patience, not only with him but with the whole enterprise.
"Wouldn't show what?"
"Your soul, of course," I said. "Don't you understand anything? People have been searching for the location of the soul ever since they began to imagine they had one, but so far all efforts in that direction have failed. This is what started everyone thinking there might not be such things as souls at all, and it's made a lot of people very unhappy. So now I'm trying to solve the question once and for all. Excuse me, please."

And rather to his consternation, as he was still doing his best to digest all I had said, I shoved my hand into his entrails again. I probed and poked about a bit, and thought for a moment I had found it - a soft, flabby, rounded thing which, even with my remaining long nails, was damnably difficult to get hold of. The moment I wrenched it out I suspected something was wrong, for it burst and sprayed a foul liquid over me; later inspection of the remnants revealed that it had been his bladder.

"That hurt," he said, with resentment; my fingers, already digging assiduously for richer prizes, skidded off target once more.

"Please have the kindness not to talk," I told him. "It interferes with the whole rhythm of your breathing and throws everything off balance. It would all be far less complicated if you were dead."
"Well, why aren't I?" he whined, completely ignoring my polite request for silence. "Isn't it customary for examinations of this degree of intimacy to be conducted on corpses rather than living people?"
"It used to be," I said, "before modern technology enabled us to take the same liberties with the living as used to be taken with the dead. The permissive age, I suppose. And in any case, you must admit that looking for a soul in a dead body is rather a pointless exercise, since the very nature of a dead body is that the soul, if it ever had one, has already fled it."

Using my talk to distract him, I had been prodding and probing away all this time, my hands making a sound not unlike the jaws of a child with bad table manners. Still I could find nothing, and I was feeling most discouraged.
"Are you really that sure there's one in there?" he inquired at last.
"There certainly doesn't seem to be, does there?" I grumbled.
"There doesn't?"

He sounded quite scandalised. My complaint appeared to shock him even more than the considerable discomfort he had already endured through my morning's research. He filled his lungs with a gigantic gasp; his diaphragm twanged like a guitar string and my hands popped out of him yet again. He began thrashing about on the table, his colon jiggling dangerously, and then on top of it all he started yelling: "I want a soul! I want a soul! You're supposed to be a doctor, for Christ's sake find me a soul!"

I tried to calm him, saying that of course I would find him a soul, that even if they didn't exist naturally they could surely be manufactured artificially, if only someone were willing to try, and that there must be hundreds of respectable business establishments which would simply leap at the chance. I even told him I would go and fetch a needle and thread, and sew him up then and there if he could just pull himself together; but none of it did any good, and I was wondering whether to leave him alone and let him shake himself to pieces, which I could then check over later without these constant interruptions, when quite suddenly, and for no reason that I could see, he became still and totally silent, staring down at himself so intently that I thought his antics had killed him, and I turned my eyes to his exposed depths, half expecting to see the soul rising out of them.

And then, rather to my surprise, I really did see something. It ascended, a tiny, glinting sliver, out of the steaming stew of his abdomen, to float delicately on the slimy surface like a strangely-shaped globule of fat. Both of us gazed at this tiny, blood-soaked shard, with its sharp point at one end and its jagged, uneven edge at the bottom; and with a sudden leap of joy I recognized my lost fingernail. I was about to reclaim it when the fool began to scream again.

"Don't you touch it! Don't you dare touch it! It's mine, do you hear me, it's my soul and mine alone! You've seen it now, haven't you? You know it's there now, don't you? Well, bloody well leave it where it is then!"

I did my best to reason with him, to convince him that what he was pleased to call his soul was neither a soul nor his, since it was in fact a fingernail and belonged in actuality to me; but he chose not to listen, and furthermore he threatened me with a lawsuit for breach of promise unless I kept my somewhat indiscreet promise about the needle and thread. So I had to pack all his insides back where they belonged, neatly and tidily - a task beside which the search for the human soul pales into insignificance. When one has twenty feet or so of intestine to replace, there is little profit to be made from merely dumping it all down at random and hoping it will somehow settle in. It was the middle of the afternoon by the time I got the last of those slippery loops and folds back exactly the way they had been before; nevertheless, I am proud to be able to say that this same patient of mine is alive and walking the earth to this very day.

I received a letter from him quite recently. He has gained two hundred and fifty pounds in weight, and is making a comfortable living by murdering young children to be tinned as quality dog food. He has never, he writes, felt better in his life, either in body or in spirit, now he knows for an absolute truth that he really does have an immortal soul inside him. (And immortal it may very well be, for all I know; fingernails are durable little things.) He can now, he asserts, live out his life happily, in the certain knowledge that, were he to swerve in the smallest degree from the path of righteousness, the angry soul would burn inside him with a dreadful and all-consuming pain; while in fact the sensation it gives him at present is as far from such agonising torment as can possibly be imagined - namely a mild, occasionally rather scratchy, but always friendly tickling, located just below the region of his belly-button.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Judas Priest

At this supreme point in the Christian calendar, it is only natural that the Pope should be trying to combat efforts to rehabilitate modern Catholicism's most hated villain after Martin Luther, Galileo Galilei and Pope John XXIII. "The money was more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love," said the successor of the frugal Medici and the incorruptible Borgia. He was referring to Judas Iscariot, whose role in the redemption of certain obedient sections of humanity has recently come under scrutiny. However, the infallible one is having none of it. "He evaluated Jesus in terms of power and success," said Pope Benedict, whose entire priesthood has been spent labouring in sackcloth and ashes for the betterment of humanity and the glory of the Inquisition. "For him, only power and success were real. Love didn't count." One would think that Pope Benedict, among all God's humble, would know that love can make people do strange things at times - calling one's fellow Christians "deficient" and "intrinsically disordered" when it seems expedient to do so, for example.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Omdubom the Crafty

During the early seventy-fives, the antagonism between the rival houses of Ungulum and Glisterbean threatened to break out in full fury when Grumbo the Importunate, a scion of Ungulum, broke into the Abbey at Gluttonward and fetlocked the monks with a brace of cummerbunds. This rapacious and impious act shocked even the Muttocks of Gluttonward, who were themselves no conventional respecters of clerical sensibilities. Indeed, it was young Falchion Muttock, the seventeenth Earl of Gluttonward, who eighty years earlier had seized forty monks of that very same Abbey, and ordered them "dangeld bye theyre pious unwrinkel'd Scrotes from the Gargoyles of yonder church". Nevertheless, local loyalties prevailed, and a delegation of monks and Muttocks was dispatched with all speed to Mumbelminster to demand that Grumbo answer for his actions. Meanwhile the clan of Glisterbean, under the leadership of the wily Omdubom, took advantage of the general uncertainty by laying siege to the Great Hummock at Addleborough and, famously, taking it after three days "with no thynge more thanne twenty Knyghtes and some Shoutynge", as one contemporary chronicler put it. Having once secured the Hummock, Omdubom made his peace with the Ungulums, placating the Muttocks by having Grumbo the Importunate varnished and displayed for seven days and nights on the battlements of Mumbelminster Minster, and in turn pacifying the Ungulums by promising them his aid in their ongoing dispute with the Bulgroynes of Catteldrop - a purely temporary and indeed Machiavellian expedient, as Omdubom was simultaneously planning to marry Malbronchia, the second least ineligible and third most intelligible daughter of Spurling de Bulgroyne, that very Easter. Still, the reign of Omdubom was largely a stable one, aside from the Hambone Riots when a large piece of salted meat was discovered among the common people, resulting in a hue and cry that lasted several weekends; and his rule was noted by later chroniclers for its contrast with the chaos and confusion which were to follow. Today, Omdubom is noted mainly for his enclosure of the badger setts at Throttlesham (unprecedented at the time) and his deathbed threat to turn all Scotland into a park for the cultivation of mangelwurzels. He died, ironically, of an infection resulting from a mortified fetlock, and was succeeded by his second son, Piggleswade the Disastrous.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

In an encouraging sign of the successful and continuing rollback of the intrusive nanny state, a domestic violence victim has been discovered dead in her London flat after being opportunified to stand on her own two feet by just about everyone who might have taken an interest in her. She seems to have died of natural causes, but that was in early 2003, and her body was only discovered on 25 January this year. Her television was switched on, but obviously not loudly enough to disturb anybody. Although she had relatives who attended the inquest, the only reason her body was found at all was because her landlords wanted to dun her for the rent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We Don't Want Your Kind in This Club

The suit which serves Tony Blair for a foreign secretary has exuded "serious concern" about Iran's announcement that it has enriched uranium. "It is contrary to repeated requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency board and now by the [UN] security council that Iran resume full and sustained suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, including research and development," the grey thing said, with its usual slick flow of pith. The demand that Iran start again, in a full and sustained fashion, to stop, is particularly brilliant, to my mind.

The suit also demanded that the Iranian government "demonstrate that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons", on pain of "further diplomatic measures". The impossibility of demonstrating a negative, let alone a future negative (Iran is supposed to show not only that it has no weapons of mass destruction, but that it never will) seems to be proving as useful in the run-up to the liberation of Iran as it did before the democratisation of Iraq (the weapons inspectors couldn't prove they hadn't missed that warhead destined to be Condi's New York mushroom cloud) and the deburqatisation of Afghanistan (the Taliban couldn't prove they weren't sheltering Osama bin Laden, and even committed the indiscretion of asking the US to provide evidence that they were).

The "hardline Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad" who, unlike some, has a military record involving actual combat and seems to have been elected in accordance with the laws of his own country, made an evilly gloating announcement yesterday that "Dear Iran has joined the club of nuclear countries." This means, of course, that Britain and the US - both paragons of international legal adhesiveness and armed only with purely defensive nuclear weapons - are surrounded by hostile nuclear powers, while Iran, which has invaded almost as many countries as Haiti, labours frenziedly to wipe us all off the map. President Ahmadinejad made his nefarious ambition all too clear with his announcement that "All our activities have been carried out under the gaze of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, and we would like to carry on under their eyes." The fiend.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

News 2020

Long-term vision helps enlighten a new generation

Almost fifteen years after Lord Blair of Belmarsh's historic third-term government pledged a historic £8.5bn (Old Style) in aid for schooling in developing countries, the first generation of graduates is emerging from the former wilderness of ignorance and anti-globalisation that was Africa.

Thanks to the historic commitment to fund primary education over ten years, millions of young Africans have received a schooling which rivals the best that the state system in Britain can offer.

In addition to the basic aid package, the Belmarsh government provided incentives for British business to give the world's less fortunate folk a leg-up to the table at the international feast of reason.

As a result of Lord Blair's foresight and the generosity of British companies, millions of young Africans have learned to view their national and tribal traditions with a more objective eye, and to let go of some of the prejudices which caused so much hardship to their ancestors' generation.

"Thanks to this initiative, almost a third of Africa's children now have a thorough understanding of the benefits of water privatisation," commented Fillery Mimber, a spokesperson for the Africa Regional Improvement Delegation.

ARID, which incorporates the Learners' Organisation for Child Utilisation and Social Training (LOCUST), has been spreading the light of knowledge into what was formerly known as the "Dark Continent" for over a decade.

The organisation teaches basic literacy and numeracy skills, but also attempts to give Africans a cultural background by informing them about their continent's history, including the native migrations to America before the abolition of the slave trade and the arguably only partly successful British attempts to introduce democracy in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Basically we teach them that no matter your birth or background, every child in every part of the world should have the chance to realise their potential, to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become," Mr Mimber said.

"It's about time we stopped apologising for the British Empire and started building on some of its great achievements," he continued. "Just ask those boys we've taught. Idi Amin started in the King's African Rifles, and look what happened to him."

Monday, April 10, 2006

News 2020

Millions stranded as dependents wait and hope

Millions of commuters across the country suffered unscheduled rapidity disfacilitation as striking transport operatives staged a one-day wildcat stoppage.

The strike action, which caused inconvenience to millions of commuters, was indulged in as a protest against proposed Government proposals which union organisers claim will mean financial losses to workers.

Commuters, millions of whom had families and children to feed, stood for hours on railway platforms waiting for the skeleton service which journey facilitation companies provided to cope with the emergency.

Transport Minister Hester Prigley-Maunder condemned the stoppage, calling it an attempt to "return to the dark winter days of fifty years ago when the unions left bodies unburied in the streets while miners' leaders were feted by Islamist dictators".

Squads of the Community Labour Arbitration Police were dispatched from their central base in Westminster to provide community protection to communities affected by the wildbeast action across the country.

Union leaders are demanding that the Government abandon its plans to introduce means testing for salaries three times the minimum wage or less.

A compromise possibility was raised last week that the measure could be voluntary at first and become compulsory only when new contracts were applied for or at the discretion of employers or relevant ministers, but the compromise was rejected by union leaders before members were balloted.

Ms Prigley-Maunder said today that "disruptifying the lifestyles of millions of working people,their children and grandchildren and helpless, elderly parents, is a very bad substitute for talking round the negotiating table."

The minister continued, "It may be easier to try to blackmail the Government and the public with the threat of bodies hurled down the mines through violent mobs of secondary pickets, but the Government will be ready to talk as soon as there is any indication of a greater degree of attitudinal constructivity."

The Government has stated that it cannot abandon the means test for salaries with low investment potential as it was a manifesto pledge and a vital strategic initiative in the approaching post-apocalyptic phase of the war on worker irresponsibility.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Incompetence, Not Malice

That dedicated campaigner, Ann Clwyd, who in better days helped propagandise for the assault on Iraq, has noticed that things are not altogether as they should be in the new, liberated nation which now adorns the Middle East. The Vicar of Downing Street's special envoy on selected human rights is "very unhappy" with the number of people being held in detention, and has called on the sovereign, independent Iraqi government to publish a report.

There was a time when Ms Clwyd was very unhappy about the number of people being held in detention under Saddam Hussein, although to the best of my knowledge she was never quite unhappy enough to oppose Britain's trade links with the Abu Ghraib funhouse's previous owner and operator. Now that the new sovereign, independent Iraqi government is receiving more direct help, she suspects "incompetence, not malice, in the disappearances." Ms Clwyd cites the case of an elderly woman who had been arrested and who was eventually freed thanks to Ms Clwyd's personal intervention. "She had, according to Clwyd who interviewed her afterwards, been abused in custody: as a Muslim, the shame was such that she would not be identified." Incompetence leading to abuse is one thing - anyone can be tempted by a rubber hose, after all - but it's clear that what haunts Ms Clwyd is the terrible spectacle of that enforced Muslim discretion: "She was obviously very unsure of herself, emotional, confused: she was frightened. She wanted to put it all behind her", draw a line under it, so to speak.

In another case, an elderly man disappeared in 2004 and was reported seen in an American prison. His son, like the relatives of the elderly woman, was a British resident, and thus able to call on Ms Clwyd's indefatigable moral fervour. She raised the matter in Washington, but so far there has been no trace of the elderly man. Ms Clwyd is worried: "You did feel that people were disappearing into black holes and it's very difficult", though presumably not as difficult as it would have been under Saddam Hussein. We have, after all, improved matters.

Ms Clwyd lectures the Americans on taking such cases of incompetence more seriously. "If they had followed it up harder at the time" - the abuses are all in the past, apparently - "I think it might have avoided some of the allegations - and proof - of abuse that took place." As usual, the emphasis is on public relations. Had our impetuous co-special-relationshippers but taken a moment's thought, unfavourable allegations and their subsequent proofs might have been comfortably dodged. "Mistakes were being made," she said. "People were being scooped up - [although] that was all at a time when they were still looking for some of the most wanted", a practice which has since been discontinued.

Tony, of course, is the usual tower of rectitude: "I know, in conversations he has with the people of influence in the US, he doesn't pull his punches. He pushes them, sometimes with direct results." Perhaps a punch or two has been pushed Ms Clwyd's way, with direct results: "She has spoken out amid growing criticism of Britain's failure to stop abuses in Iraq."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Satanic Supplement

Angel,n. A native of the Kingdom of Heaven, who may inhabit either that celestial realm or, if fallen, another more southerly place. There is a rigid hierarchy among the angels, in which Angels and Archangels are the two lowest ranks. Perhaps for this reason, they are the ones generally entrusted with diplomatic missions to the material plane: for example, the Angel of Death, who famously negotiated for the ancient Hebrews a way around the rigorous Egyptian restrictions on emigration; and the Archangel Gabriel, who announced the Virgin Birth and then, some half a dozen centuries later, dictated to Muhammad a document which denied the Crucifixion. It is possibly this latter indiscretion which has led to Gabriel’s removal from the celestial diplomatic corps, with the lamentable result that no earthly being with appropriate credentials has heard from him since.

Civic,adj. Relating to the systematic waste of tax money.

Ejaculation,n. An emission, usually uncontrolled and rarely of any use, from either the larynx or the loins.

Fairness,n. The correct distribution of inequity.

Harsh,adj. Criticism which lacks the virtue of invalidity and is moving with excessive forthrightness in a selfward direction.

Laudatory,adj. Inaccurate.

Pavement,n. A highly uneven and frequently excavated surface, designed by municipal authorities to encourage road travel instead of untaxable pedestrianism.

Rhetoric,n. The lever with which, granted the fulcrum of stupidity, a feather's weight can move the world.

Sphooplid,adj. Congenitally incapable of tying shoelaces so that they stay tied.
Where human relationships were concerned, he was earnest but sphooplid.
Hocker Whiffle

Wedding,n. An instance of the joining together of two people and an optional quantity of in-laws in the sacred bond of acrimony.

Friday, April 07, 2006

We Never Talk to Terrorists

The American ambassador in Iraq has spared the sovereign, independent Iraqi government the stigma of doing something civilised people never do; he has negotiated with terrorists. It is to be hoped that this action, presumably carried out in the name of the greatest country in the world, does not count as a glorification, especially as the American ambassador in Iraq is really only an Afghan. The ambassador has taken the sensible precaution of ruling out talks with Saddamists or those who seek a war on civilisation, and is concentrating his diplomatic offensive upon "people who are willing to accept this new Iraq, to lay down their arms, to co-operate in the fight against terrorists". No doubt some of the insurgents in Iraq belong to this mild-mannered breed, but I would not care to guess at how many. Still, the discussions are apparently bearing fruit: according to the ambassador, after a mere thirty-five months attempting to restore order, "last month was the second lowest month of attacks against the coalition". If this is true, it would appear that many of the vicissitudes which have afflicted the occupation have been the fault of people who are willing to accept the new Iraq and co-operate in the fight against terrorists. Those natives are a paradoxical lot, to be sure; doubtless something to do with their past, when "Sunni Muslims ... have historically dominated the country in political terms despite making up a minority of the population" - a situation the British empire, for which Gordon Brown recently encouraged us to stop apologising, must have done its very best to ameliorate.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Oh, the Stringency

On the day a viciously anti-Semitic jury ruled that only trigger-happy thugs perished in the Holocaust, and the Righteous State was forced to arrest the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs for desecrating an Israeli identity card by attempting to carry it among the two-legged beasts on the West Bank, the British Foreign Office has been showcasing its own modest contribution towards peace on earth and goodwill among nations. Licenses for British arms sales to Israel have almost doubled compared with last year's, and are at their highest since 1999.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade says that, over the past year, Britain "licensed military equipment sales to 14 of the 17 countries involved in major armed conflict" and "10 countries at the bottom third of the UN human development index". Apparently CAAT believe there is something not altogether free-markety about selling weapons to those who might want to use them, whether in major armed conflict or, like the British themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq, in encouraging human development. The Foreign Office responded that "The bottom line is that no piece of kit is used for external aggression or internal repression"; one of the lines above the bottom one being, as usual, that the British government does not approve of aggression or repression, and that anything the British government condones or engages in cannot thereby constitute either of those two sinful practices.

The Foreign Office also believes that the Government's arms export licensing system is stringent and transparent. For example, what passes for our Foreign Secretary has "sought assurances from Israel that equipment supplied by the UK was not being used against civilians and in the occupied territories", and in 2002 the Government announced that it was "tightening controls" on arms exports to Israel after finding that these assurances had been breached. This no doubt explains why we are selling Israel "armoured vehicles and missile components", neither of which could be used in the occupied territories or against people in civilian uniform. Oh, the stringency of it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Brave Boys and Petty Legalisms

The Secretary of State for Defence and area of outstanding natural fatuity, John Reid, has declared himself dissatisfied with the current state of international law. Such dissatisfaction is not uncommon among war criminals - both Saddam Hussein and the late lamented Slobodan Milosevic were discourteous enough to express doubts as to the legitimacy of their trials - but Reid is unusual in that he has not waited for the indictment before making his reservations known. This is, of course, an encouraging continuation of the Blairite tradition of applied foresight, which has so thoroughly protected us from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and may shortly help rescue civilisation from the Iranian nuclear deterrent.

Reid claimed that the UK and its allies are being "hamstrung" in three areas: "the treatment of prisoners, when to mount a pre-emptive strike, and when to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis". The last of the three is easily the most convincing, since the UK and its allies have never, in fact, intervened to stop a humanitarian crisis. They have managed to exacerbate one or two, notably in Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor; paradoxically enough, the Government's scrupulous adherence to the outmoded conventions of international law does not seem to have inhibited the progress of these disasters. The reason for this is clear: according to Reid, the conventions were created over fifty years ago "when the world was almost unrecognisable".

"We are finding an enemy which obeys no rules whatsoever", he said, referring to what he called "barbaric terrorism". In the 1950s, Britain's only experience of terrorists had been with the likes of Irgun and the Mau Mau, both of which obeyed the rules and were non-barbaric. In the face of the changes which the last half-century has wrought, "serious questions" must be asked about whether we should change international law or simply keep on circumventing the laws we already have. On the question of whether people should be detained indefinitely without trial or removed to countries where they can be tortured, Reid oozed impassioned moralism: he said that it is not "sufficient just to say [Guantánamo] is wrong".

Reid noted that "terrorist groups were trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction", though it is not clear whether he expressed any support for a tightening of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the introduction of restrictions on arms sales. He also noted that other threats might develop: "Not al-Qaida. Not Muslim extremism. Something none of us are thinking about at the moment." This is, obviously, the natural next stage for New Labour foreign policy. From illegally pre-empting the nonexistent but conceivable, we must progress to legislating against the perilous but unimaginable. Only then will the world be reasonably safe to continue confidently in the knowledge that the war about civilisation may potentially have been brought within measurable distance of its next victory against the forces of reaction.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Toppling Hitler was the Right Thing to Do

Sad to say, it seems that even in the glory days of victory in the last great war for civilisation, the great British barrel had its rotten apples. Photographs have been released showing men who had been subjected to "months of starvation, sleep deprivation, beatings and extreme cold" - nothing Condi would disapprove of - at a British interrogation centre in occupied Germany. The rotten apple - a Royal Navy officer with an inadequate grasp of the British virtue of discretion -took some snapshots. "A few" of the inmates - how few is apparently either not declassified or not significant - "were starved or beaten to death, while British soldiers are alleged to have tortured some victims with thumb screws and shin screws" requisitioned from the Gestapo, perhaps courtesy of Allied personnel like Klaus Barbie. "The men in the photographs are not Nazis, however". However?

Despite the allegations that British soldiers used Gestapo toys on the men, the men are, however, "suspected communists, arrested in 1946 because they were thought to support the Soviet Union". The beginning of the Cold War was a little more prompt than that of the War on Terror, you see. In the latter case we had to wait more than ten years after the demise of the previous Great Satan; in the former case, barely as many months. The War Office was "seeking information about Russian military and intelligence methods", while doubtless reminding its starved, sleepless, beaten and frozen inmates that the Lubyanka would be a lot less fun. They did this "apparently believing that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable", which is of course the only conceivable explanation for such behaviour. Nothing but a definite belief in the imminent outbreak of war could possibly cause the British War Office - later, let us not forget, to become our glorious Ministry of Defence - to countenance the utilisation of such ill-mannered information-gathering techniques.

Asked to apologise and pay compensation to the survivors, our glorious Ministry of Defence said that "questions about the interrogation centres were a matter for the Foreign Office". The Foreign Office had been holding onto the file, from which the photographs had been removed at the request of our glorious Ministry of Defence. Documents about a similar interrogation centre which was open for business in central London between 1945 and 1948 are still unavailable because our glorious Ministry of Defence is concerned about the health of potential readers; the files have been contaminated with asbestos. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary might be persuaded to intervene when he comes back from his honeymoon with Condi - always assuming that he isn't too busy mending punctures on his bicycle and that the dog doesn't eat all the files while his back is turned.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Narrative Surprises

The Home Office has compiled what it calls a narrative - less comprehensive than an inquiry, less true than a report - detailing those circumstances surrounding the July bombings which the Home Office feels comfortable in telling us about. A mere nine months after the atrocity, the Home Office has discovered that the British government's slightly more well-meaning atrocity in Iraq was a key "contributory factor" in the radicalisation of the bombers. Other contributory factors include "economic deprivation, social exclusion and a disaffection with society in general, as well as community elders", doubtless not necessarily in that order. The Observer states that "the findings will prove highly embarrassing to Tony Blair" which, in light of the Reverend's past record, seems a little over-optimistic.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Open Society and its Enemies

Tony Blair, whose word is his bond, has assured his fellow Members of Parliament that their telephones will not be tapped by MI5, MI6, GCHQ or the police. Tony was apparently advised by the Right Honourable Sir Swinton Thomas, Interception of Communications Commissioner, that the "Wilson doctrine" of not bugging the phones of Westminster club members should be scrapped. As so often these days, the new and unique terrorist threat has changed the rules of the game, while "recent laws introducing a system of safeguards" have made the doctrine redundant. At the moment, Britain's various political police forces have to apply to ministers for a warrant before intercepting private communications; the safeguards referred to are no doubt the ones which prevent ministers refusing such warrants except in circumstances where it is absolutely expedient to do so. Principled as ever, Tony has rejected the Right Honourable Sir Swinton Thomas' advice, on the grounds that officially disowning the Wilson doctrine would provoke "an unnecessary row".