The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's Good to Talk

The Iranian government has given a guarded welcome to the "neighbours' meeting" proposed by the sovereign, independent Iraqi government and supported by the United States, to which staff and agencies refer as "an apparent U-turn on Mr Bush's strategy towards the Middle East". Well, hardly. The sovereign, independent Iraqi government, with the Bush administration's consent, has limited the agenda to "questions of Iraqi security"; and although it is the US, rather than the sovereign, independent Iraqi government, which has accused Iran and Syria of supporting the insurgency, the US and Iran will not be negotiating directly with one another.

Despite this manifest lack of interest in a Whole Middle East Peace Plan (remember that?), the Bush administration's little helper has welcomed the talks, but has noted sternly that "In terms of Iran and Syria, the issue is not contact," since Iran at least has expressed an interest in negotiations; "the issue is what their response is and whether they engage properly and whether we see a constructive attitude" or, in Standard English, whether those damned natives will do as they are told: "what we want to see is hard, concrete results - that's on the ground in Iraq, that's on the ground in Lebanon, that's on the ground in terms of influence used in Palestine as well."

So the sovereign, independent Iraqi government will tell Iran and Syria to stop their shit, and unless this results in US officials ceasing to throw accusations about, no doubt all options will remain open.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Silentium Dei

ITV News has been rebuked for implying that the Vicar of Downing Street was influenced by God when he decided to join George W Bush's crusade in Iraq. His reverence initially said that he "didn't want to go into" the question, which might be an indication of moral qualms had the speaker been anyone other than his reverence. Then again, his moral sensitivity may simply have provided him with an awareness of the political embarrassment such a confession could cause, at least until the faith schools are permitted to start mass-producing true believers. In any case, it appears that people have written to Ofcom claiming that ITV's interpretation of his reverence's "rambling" and "indeterminate" comments could be "inflammatory and provoke racial and religious tensions". After all, what could be more provocative, unnatural and just plain malicious as to assert that a devout Christian might have been influenced by his chosen superstition when taking a decision that - as even his reverence must have realised at the time - could have profound implications both for his political career and for his personal standing?

Monday, February 26, 2007

News 2020

Leaders attack "attack" attacks

The Prime Minister today joined the US Commander-in-Chief in condemning commentators who refer to the ongoing Middle East liberation project as an "attack".

Several journalists and some writers have persistently utilised the word "attack" to refer to coalition democratisation activities in Persian-occupied Iran, and even in the former Iraq, despite numerous press releases to the contrary, the Prime Minister said.

In a surprise move, the Prime Minster echoed the words of the US Commander-in-Chief, who said yesterday that using the word "attack" with regard to recent centrifuge-busting actions was "inaccurate, misleading, false, fake and not true" and "had a potentially appreciable factor of deceptivity".

Under the Homeland Constitution, deceptivity in the political sphere is a serious offence, which can result in the loss of White House bunker and transcription privileges for the offending journalist.

The Prime Minister added that the assurances of the US Secretary of State, who last week gave a presentation to the United Nations Security Council, "should be enough to satisfy even the most ardent conspiracy theorist".

The Secretary of State's presentation showed pictures of US aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines engaging in peaceful activities near Iran's southern coast.

General Claiborne P Minuteman, Commander-under-God of liberating forces in the Middle East, also stated explicitly today that recent American nuclear detonations in Iran were "undertaken in a spirit of pure preventativity" and that "all regrettable damage was purely collateral."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Family Problems

As Daveybloke tacks rightwards, blaming guns, gangs and general godlessness on the absence of a firm paternal presence, Tony and his chums are debating whether, as the party in power, they would do better to argue with the opposition or to emulate it. Daveybloke has promised tax breaks for married couples, on the grounds that "We need to encourage a culture that says the family is the most important part of society, sticking together is really important, commitment is important and dads have responsibilities". However, the Secretary of State for Faith Schools, Alan Johnson, will inform a conference next week that "not all children from married couples fare well, and other family structures are not irretrievably doomed to fail". Nevertheless, "strong relationships represent the key to successful parenting. And marriage represents the pinnacle of a strong relationship"; which would seem to indicate that, despite not in the least agreeing with Daveybloke, Johnson more or less agrees with Daveybloke. Still, Johnson is not in favour of tax breaks, which may precipitate a Cabinet split over whether the Government should "champion marriage"; or, in Standard English, discriminate against single parents. According to the Observer, the issue is "incendiary because it strikes at the heart of politicians' private lives", the private lives of Tony's subjects being a matter of lesser concern. Tony is "famed for one of the strongest marriages in politics" and is "said to be concerned that the Conservative leader's argument has resonance", which presumably means he agrees with it. Could it be that the whole lamentable New Labour story, with its criminal wars abroad and its police-state tactics at home, its privatisation of everything from the NHS through the honours system to the probation service, its lying and spying and abject failure to get the trains running on time, is due to Tony's having failed to achieve a proper work-life balance, and spent too much time with his family?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

When is a Ban Not a Ban?

Much to everyone's surprise, Britain is sort of supporting a kind of ban on cluster bombs, more or less. Cluster bombs consist of hundreds of small bombs packed into shells, which scatter them over large areas in what is sometimes known as a "precision strike". A fair number of the bombs fail to explode on impact and can sit around for years waiting to be discovered, in what is sometimes known as "humanitarian intervention". They are often brightly coloured and innocuous-looking, which makes them particularly attractive to children: an effective measure for preventing the latter being "groomed" for terrorism. Doubtless the Righteous State appreciated this when it dropped four million cluster bombs on Lebanon last summer, of which the UN estimates up to forty per cent (one million, six hundred thousand) may have survived to continue the good work.

The declaration, agreed by forty-six countries, though not by the US, Russia, China or the Righteous State, calls for the conclusion by next year of a legally binding treaty prohibiting "the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians". The Ministry of Lesser Breeds has been quick to deny that this amounts to supporting a blanket ban; and since any harm caused to civilians by British cluster bombs is by definition acceptable, it does not appear that this new commitment will convulse the bombing community unduly.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Labour Online: Let's Get Deep and Meaningful

I am in receipt of another communication from the Labour Supporters Network (no apostrophe), whose logo consists of the words "Labour Supporters Network" with the three letters O hollowed out and joined together. Regrettably, the image of three mutually interpenetrating zeroes with very thin outlines is by far the most cogent and pertinent political comment in the entire message.

The message is signed (personally, I have no doubt) by Peter Watt, the Labour Party General Secretary. Peter Watt is a chubby young skinhead with a lilac shirt and a bruise-coloured tie to match the bags under his eyes. The blinds are down behind him. He urges me to personalise my Labour Supporters Network profile, on the grounds that if I haven't I could be missing out on getting "up to date information on a wide range of issues. To personalise you profile click here." First the apostrophes go, then the hyphens, and finally the genitive case. Peter Watt certainly looks young enough to have had a New Labour education.

Peter Watt has sent me this communication because he wishes to invite me to get involved. "Our Spring 2007 programme has allowed more people than ever to get involved in discussions on a range of issues and challenges facing women, youth and local government," he writes. Events are being organised up and down the country, and thanks to accompanying online activities I can ask my questions to ministers about the big issues of the day. Ministers will obviously be far more forthcoming to me, as a Labour Supporters Networker, than they would be to the House of Commons or in the departmental press release.

I am also invited to get involved with Let's talk: online. Let's talk: online allows me to discuss Labour's policies and the key issues of the day with other members and supporters. All of my comments will feed into the Partnership in Power, Labour's dehyphenated policy making process. As so often in the past, my contributions will help build a stronger Party and help shape its campaigning priorities for the future.

I am also invited to vote in one of Labour's regular "let's talk: you vote" polls. The current question is "Should Labour do more to empower patients?", no doubt to be followed by "Should Labour do more to help business combat climate change?" and perhaps even "Was ousting Saddam Hussein a good thing or what?"

Peter Watt is not the only one doing the inviting, however. Tony Blair has invited people that met him on the 1997 general election campaign trail to submit their stories through the Labour Party's website. Selected people will be invited to Westminster to discuss how things have changed, "for better or worse", with the Prime Minister. Peter Watt hopes that these online initiatives will help me play a more active role in the Party's activities. Peter Watt and his colleagues really want to hear what I think so I am invited to have my say "using the many interactive features or find a spring event near you!"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Demons of the Mind

Peter Sykes 1972

Despite Hammer Films' terminal decline during the 1970s, in which their output veered between the dull (Countess Dracula, To the Devil a Daughter), the inept (Lust for a Vampire, Creatures the World Forgot) and the embarrassingly would-be-trendy (Dracula AD 1972), the studio did manage to produce several films which rank among their very best. Seth Holt's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) is an intelligent update of Bram Stoker's novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, Terence Fisher's Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973) a magnificent Grand Guignol finale to Peter Cushing's career as the persistent Baron; and Demons of the Mind a strange, bleak tale of abnormal psychology in which Hammer's characteristic period settings and horror-film clichés such as the raging mob are, for once, used with imagination.

After the opening credits, which appear over sepia prints of the Zorn family and their estate, to Harry Robinson's melancholy music - about as far from a conventional blood-and-thunder beginning as one could hope to get - Demons of the Mind starts in time-honoured fashion with a coach and four hurtling along a forest path. From the coach's barred window a young woman's hand emerges, only to be pulled back inside by her older companion, whose role as psychiatric nurse is confirmed when she utters reassurances while forcing drugs down the girl's throat. The girl is Elisabeth Zorn (Gillian Hills); the older woman is her aunt Hilda (Yvonne Mitchell), who has kidnapped her from a romantic idyll in the forest with Carl (Paul Jones), a sometime medical student who spends the rest of the film trying to rescue her.

Elisabeth is the daughter of Baron Friedrich Zorn (Robert Hardy), a man obsessed with gruesome family legends of incest and violence. Hoping to prevent the taint in his blood from corrupting his children, Zorn keeps Elisabeth and her brother Emil (Shane Briant) locked up in their rooms at his castle, under conditions which have evidently caused Emil in particular to break down; he is pasty-faced, barely rational and obsessed with the sister whom he's forbidden to contact. Elisabeth is marginally more healthy as a result of having been sent away to a sanatorium, from which she escaped. Zorn, of course, sees the siblings' need for each other in the face of his well-meaning tyranny as further proof of the evil inside them.

Hammer's horror films are frequently accused, with justice, of uncritically endorsing Victorian patriarchal values, frequently in the form of crucifix-waving, stake-pounding, prophetically righteous Van Helsing figures; but by the late sixties occasional cracks were showing. In Peter Sasdy's intermittently impressive Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), for instance, there is no Van Helsing and all the father-figures are venal hypocrites. In Demons of the Mind, the Van Helsing role is split between two characters, a wandering priest (Michael Hordern) and a Dr Falkenberg (Patrick Magee). In contrast to Van Helsing, whose scientific accomplishments added credence to his pronouncements on vampire lore, the priest is a gibbering lunatic whose theosophical ideas run to chopping off hands, impaling people on flaming crosses and personal conversations with God; while the scientist, Falkenberg, is an ambitious charlatan whose streak of genuine psychological insight is undercut by his maundering about "universal fluids" and his elaborate device for the treatment of Baron Zorn, which appears to consist of a revolving candle above an array of water-filled test tubes. One of the film's few laughs (and a black one, at that) comes when Zorn briskly disposes of Falkenberg with a musket shot and the line, "The world will be a better place without me - and it won't even know that you died."

Christopher Wicking's superb script even manages to inject new life into the hoary device of the superstitious villagers, largely by the use of an extended sequence (in an 86-minute film) showing one of their communal rituals, involving the burning-in-effigy of Death himself; which, as witnessed by Carl, carries more sinister implication than any oracular warnings in a roadside inn could hope to do. Arthur Grant's colour cinematography avoids excessive reliance on Hammer's traditionally horrible day-for-night shots, and at times achieves considerable beauty.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Honest John Hutton's Handy Collapsible Pension Package

The high court has once again demonstrated its dangerous irrelevance to life in Tony's Choice Emporium by ruling that the Department of Work and Pensions Crisis acted unlawfully in dismissing out of hand a report by the parliamentary ombudsman. The report concerned people who had lost money because of the collapse of pension schemes in which they had been careless enough to invest; and, as is only too fashionable nowadays, the parliamentary ombudsman found that the Government was to blame, for giving out information that was "sometimes inaccurate, often incomplete, largely inconsistent and therefore potentially misleading". Imagine that. Apparently this constitutes "maladministration", even in Tony's Choice Emporium, where the Department of Work and Pensions Crisis has been known to put forward schemes for bribing city councils to reduce benefit claims, as well as for bribing doctors to keep sick people working. Imagine that.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Encouraging Research, Rewarding Innovation

With National Health Service debts set to hit one thousand, three hundred million and the Vicar of Downing Street suggesting that staff work through the night, presumably for free, while taking time off during the copious "quieter periods" which are the bane of every doctor's life, a report by the Office of Fair Trading gives optimistic evidence that the NHS is continuing to fulfil at least one of its primary functions; namely its duty of care towards the major pharmaceutical companies. Over a third of the NHS debt is the result of spending money on brand names and packaging, rather than generic drugs which, because they may cost as little as one-tenth the price of the real ones, could represent an imminent danger to vital research and development if the NHS were so spendthrift as to use them. The Department of Health Privatisation has responded to the report with characteristic forthrightness, saying that it would, of course, be jolly nice to have "fair prices which give value for money to the taxpayer", but that, nevertheless, "we recognise the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to healthcare and the development of medical advances". The shadow health privatisation spokesman agreed: a revised pricing scheme, as opposed to the current voluntary arrangement whereby drug companies can profit by up to almost thirty per cent on branded products, is "potentially welcome", but on the other hand there are "other vital objectives in promoting UK-based research and development, and exports". And let us not forget those NHS staff who, inspired by the Vicar of Downing Street's moral fervour, will be working through the night four nights a week. Surely, for the sake of health service consumer safety, we must maximise both alertness and morale by ensuring that medicines are labelled distinctively rather than generically and in bright, friendly colours chosen by the very best marketing personnel the drug companies can afford.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Even the Minister of Control Orders can exercise clemency sometimes, if you are prepared to wait ninety years. Three hundred soldiers who were executed for "cowardice" and "desertion" during the War for Belgian Liberation have had their names cleared thanks to an amendment in the Armed Forces Bill, and two of them will now receive official existence by getting their names carved on the Wealdstone war memorial. "I cannot believe that his name is now going to be remembered for future years," said the daughter of one of the men, "proving that he wasn't a coward but a very brave soldier". There will, presumably, be nothing on the Wealdstone war memorial to say that the brave soldier was killed by his own side through direct intervention rather than, as was more usual, military incompetence; nor anything about the credit to Western civilisation that was the Great War to End War (wars on terror excepted), other than that those who died in it, whether by participating or by refusing to participate, deserve our thanks and our emulation. Cannon fodder is always praiseworthy; so much so that, given a decade or nine, it can even be forgiven for trying to escape its proper station. Now those killed in battle and those killed for trying to avoid it can all be dead together, and take due pride and comfort in the lump of stone which informs the world they did not die in bed.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Road Phish

From: "RevTonyBlair"
Date: Sun Feb 18, 2007 1:00pm Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: drive while ohters pay!!!!

To Mottorist dear

Allow me to introduce msyelf i am Tony PM of Country adn repsonsible member of the interminantional Community. I have Got 2012 olympics and abolish Slavery snince 1807. i am Tony PM. am Listnening I wnat to help you.

You Mottorist hvae signed a Petitiononon on my webspace. thids is a Good thing as i wlelcome debate because it premits me to explain why I am right. i am Tony PM. You Mottorist are Worryed about Roading prices charges i am Not a control freak because I Premit you disaggree with Me i AM tony pm. I wnant to hlep you.

You Mottirist need not Worry. i Beleieve road Charging is the Answre and i am Tony PM. let us be sesnible about this paymentss wlil be Purley Voluntary and may be redistirtubted to YOU even when not. You Motorsit are TAxplayer not mere Pubic Transport Passegner and i Wanttttto hlep You.

pelaese acep[t my presonal thanks for openng Up debate. i weclome debate vbecause I Am tony PM.

Wram Regards

Tony (PM)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It's Your Choice

A high court judge has ruled that the Vicar of Downing Street's consultation over the radioactive-waste part of his legacy was "misleading" and "seriously flawed". And in Tony's Choice Emporium, too. Imagine that.

As usual, mere legalisms are not to be permitted to affect his reverence's actions: "This won't affect the policy at all," the Vicar said, while the Secretary of State for Bending Over for the CBI said that he would "put it right and consult properly", so that public opinion would have a chance to enable the Government to "make sure we can get the process back on track".

The CBI's little Darling noted that, because of climate change, the country was in "a race against time" to reduce dependency on oil and gas, which are increasingly rare and which cause pollution. Hence the importance of the change to nuclear power, which will increase dependence on cheap, clean and plentiful uranium, with which the planet is, of course, overflowing.

"On a matter so important as climate change," the dear one lectured the BBC, carelessly throwing aside such encumbrances as relevance to the subject at hand, "it just isn't possible to stand back and say: 'We don't have any views'". The Government's view is that the country's future energy supplies should be forty per cent nuclear and, above all, profitable to private investors. Nevertheless, according to Mr Justice Sullivan, the consultation document issued thirteen months ago "contained no information of any substance on any of the issues identified as being of crucial importance" and "was not merely inadequate but it was also misleading." Imagine that.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bang Up To Date

The New Labour solution to traffic congestion is to turn more of the country into road. The New Labour solution to the energy problem is to switch from dependence on oil and gas, which are not very common, to dependence on uranium, which is even less common. Accordingly, the Minister of Unfitness for Purpose has announced that the prisons crisis is to be dealt with by building more prisons, thus providing an extra 1300 prison spaces (or, in Standard English, presumably about 400 cells) which will solve the problem until the spaces are filled up, whereupon more prisons will be built, with a view to housing another eight thousand correctees by 2012, which will solve the problem until the spaces are filled up or until some private contractor wants to put a road through a site designated for incarceration. At the moment, fortunately, no such clash of priorities exists: "Hospital wards ... are being refurbished to house adult male offenders". It appears that the health service has its uses after all.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Moral Rearmament

The chief of the British general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, has written a foreword to a collection of essays on the tradition of "just war", in which he reveals that the "key challenge" for the military leadership is to educate ground-level troops about their moral responsibilities. The American military came up with a similar public relations effort some months ago; but of course this is not the only advantage. "The swords have not become ploughshares but in an innovative way more akin to pruning hooks," Sir Richard says. The pruning hooks "are being used to try to contribute to prosperity and stability and not merely to threaten or destroy"; apparently it is inconceivable to Sir Richard that the prosperity and stability of some persons might be eminently compatible with, or might even depend upon, the threatening and destruction of others. Anyway, when politicians decide to "send a military force on a discretionary intervention there is a conscious or subconscious acceptance that in deploying to a less fortunate part of the world, we do so having publicly adopted a position on the moral high ground," something that does not happen in real wars, and certainly not in those conducted by foreigners. Hence, "when officers or soldiers act in a way contrary to our traditional values and standards and fail to respect the human rights of those they have gone to help, then we risk falling from the high ground to the valley, often in a very public way." As we know, abuse of human rights by those with different traditions to our own projects the perpetrators instantly into the abyss; we ourselves, thanks to our values and standards, merely risk an embarrassing descent. Sir Richard helpfully provides a list of the said values: "selfless commitment, ... discipline, ... loyalty and respect for others" or, as they used to be called, "obeying orders"; and "courage" and "integrity" insofar as these are compatible with the foregoing. Since every war is a just war to those who start it, and every army in history has boasted of the self-same traditional values and standards before, during and after the butchery it was paid to perform, it is a little hard to see what difference will be made by a few ethical pep-talks in the New Labour style.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Let's Think of the Children One More Time

The United Nations has at last made official what so many of us already know: Britain's children are miserable little beasts. Unicef assessed child welfare according to six sets of criteria: material wellbeing, or lack of spiritual values; health and safety, or lack of British adventurosity; educational wellbeing, or lack of namby-pamby social-scientistic teaching programmes; family and peer relationships, or lack of British emotional control; behaviours and risks, or lack of electronic tagging devices; and the young people's own perceptions of their wellbeing. The last of these was assessed, in part, by asking whether children find their peers to be "kind and helpful"; presumably because few of them are literate enough to answer the question "Do you live in the real world or in an Enid Blyton story?" Another factor was "how many say they eat the main meal of the day with their parents more than once a week"; it is not clear whether participants were asked whether the banquet was Walkman-optional, or whether the table-talk was up to the same level as can be heard on the street: "fackin eat it", for example.

Britain has the largest percentage, "by a considerable distance", of young people who smoke, drink, take drugs and are sexually ignorant and/or pregnant. Even the United States, it seems, cannot match our performance in these regards. The Government responded with the usual seven hundred thousand unprecedented investment recent improvements continuing proportion and so forth. Apparently the data used by Unicef is several years old - circa 2000-2003 vintage, long before Tony and his chums had any influence over the well-being of Britain's children, and certainly before such brilliant ideas as faith schools or Government-enforced neglect were placed on the agenda.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Forefront Is Not Where We Thought

Given Tony's recent rhetorical orgasms over the charms of Mother Earth and his personal determination to stand shoulder to shoulder at the forefront of the battle to preserve them for posterity, it should surprise nobody that, when it comes to being at the heart of Europe on renewable energy, Britain leads from the rectum. The European commission proposes to compel states to generate a fifth of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. The policies so far introduced by Tony's government would achieve perhaps a quarter of that target; hence Tony's government is demonstrating its sense of social responsibility by arguing that "member states should have the flexibility to deliver their own energy mix". Surely it should be obvious, even to the most anti-social European commissioner, that climate change would be far more efficiently dealt with if everyone were permitted to go their own way, and set targets of ten per cent, five per cent, or aim at doing nothing at all, while we wait for the Blair Foundation to discover that burying nuclear waste in landfills is actually rather beneficial.

Monday, February 12, 2007

News 2020

Health terror opt-out terrorist potential terrorism terror

Fanatical British-resident Islamofundamentalist sympatisuspects may be utilising the remnants of health industry confidentiality to further their schemes for a "car-bomb caliphate" extending from Lisbon to Pyongyang, officials said today.

A "definite percentage" of health industry consumers who opt out of database representation benefits are potential Islamo-terrorists and single mothers, according to a survey by Government health contractor Hallibechtel Confidential.

Hallibechtel Confidential, a division of biochemical cluster bomb manufacturers Hallibechtel Humanitarian Industries, Inc., is the company contracted by the Government to maintain the seventeen separate databases which make up the Self-Perpetuating Incapacity Network (SPIN).

The SPIN, which has been fully operational for a total of almost eighteen months since it first came online during Lord Blair of Belmarsh's historic third term as Prime Minister, includes details of mental inadequacy and pharmaceutical market banding for all health industry customers who are still failing to purchase private insurance.

Three minutes and forty-seven seconds after the publication of the Hallibechtel survey, the Home Secretary announced new measures which he said would ensure potential terrorists "would not be permitted to cower in hospital gowns while nurturing a murderous scalpel in the country which has freedomised them".

The measures, which will be finalised at next week's CBI jamboree by national health czar and investment banker Nigel Feasting-Piranha, are expected to include a new compulsory database for storing the records of those who take unfair advantage of the non-compulsory nature of other databases.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Moral Decision

Despite its flexible concern for human beings, the British government has no hesitation in protecting animal rights, provided that the animals are sufficiently far away and those who profit from them sufficiently foreign. Britain has made a "moral decision" to support a European boycott of seal products, much to the irritation of the Canadian government, which has committed itself to keeping the seal populations above "the estimated 'safe' level". There is some disagreement over whether the creatures are being bludgeoned to death in an "acceptably humane manner", and European MPs have ordered another review of the matter. Britain, Belgium, Italy and Mexico are in favour of an all-out ban, since the biggest markets for seal furs are Russia and China. The United States is also in favour of such a ban, which is what makes it a moral decision.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

News 2020

Britain going swimmingly despite moisture, minister says

Motorists and lesser Britons continued to suffer chaos today owing to the effects of enhanced temperaturisation on the frozen "water" which settled over much of the country during the past few days.

Much of the "water" has now undergone a defrosting effect similar to the process of taking a turkey out of the freezer to be burned by men in protective suits.

This has caused large amounts of "water" to appear across the country in a liquid state. Scientists say that the excess moisturisation being experienced in certain areas is probably a result of this process.

Environment minister Davey Jones denied that large parts of the country were "flooded" just because they incorporated a higher proportion of moisturality than was usual for the time of year.

He also urged people to resist the temptation to indulge in blame-shedding, and to increase their personal buoyancy by whatever legal means were available.

But he said the Government was confident that Britain's private moisture distribution contractors would result in an equitable resolution to any problems caused. "For example, private enterprise has ensured that Britain's drains are in an appropriate condition to burst under present conditions," he said.

"But private enterprise has also ensured that Britain's roads are in an appropriate condition to collapse into the drains under the weight of traffic, thus opportunifying enhanced quantities of moisture to be disinconvenientised."

In other parts of the country, the "water" remains frozen, causing rail delays and increased skidding of taxpayers.

Friday, February 09, 2007

We Are Not Worthy

As the shadows begin to fall, a normal impulse is to look back on one's career and, even in the most successful cases, to regret what one did wrong and consider how it might have been done better. Analysing the deplorable outcome of his own career, Hitler regretted that he had permitted the Jews to force him prematurely into war, and blamed the German people for not being good enough for him. Given the present interminable farewell to Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher might be forgiven for regretting that she resigned so soon, besides her more obvious oversights of being too soft on the unions and too accommodating towards Brussels.

In a similar ruthless spirit of self-castigating intellectual honesty, the Vicar of Downing Street has deplored the effect of the soundbite on political culture - much as, in his whimsical fashion, Vlad the Impaler may occasionally have wondered whether anal penetration with a sharp stake was really as much fun for the recipient as it obviously was for him. "Politics is about communicating things to people, you want to communicate one thing but you lapse into humour or irony," his reverence informed fellow comedian Stephen Fry. "And never try to do irony - I have tried it once or twice and it has never worked," his reverence continues, modestly omitting from mention such famous satiric gems as "foreign policy with an ethical dimension".

His reverence also notes that the round-the-clock news media places "enormous stress and strain" on public debate and prohibits reasoned policy argument, which must be the reason for all those dinners with Rupert Murdoch and reasoned press releases like Forty-five Minutes from Doom. "The 30 seconds that people see of you on the evening news is what you have done that day so far as they are concerned. So if you make a remark that is maybe a bit off-line and that is there, then you might have launched a new education initiative, tackled a particularly knotty crime problem, you know, done whatever you have done for peacemaking or otherwise in the world, but actually that is the 30 seconds that they see." Peacemaking or otherwise is another fine touch; but seriously, what can you say about a nation whose idea of work-life balance has room for only thirty seconds a day of Tony Blair?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

News 2020

Disruption non-terroristic in origin, ministers claim

Britain was largely crippled today when frozen crystals of what scientists have termed "water" fell from the sky in many parts of the country.

The adverse weather conditions caused delays in transport, school closures and disruptions to public services valued at only slightly more than the cost of privatising them all to make them more efficient.

National Security Minister Fluston Beezer issued a statement this afternoon saying that terrorists were probably not responsible for the problems, even though "such disruption to the normal lives of ordinary people is, of course, just what the extremists want."

Some local authorities sent out workers to scatter grit on the pavements, resulting in small piles of grit surrounded by square yards of solid ice.

"We are not claiming it will be a joy to walk upon, but at least the variation in colour will prevent blindness occurring," a local government spokesperson said.

In the capital, public transport was at a standstill for most of the day owing to service provider surprise.

"Admissibly there have been precedents of cold weather during the winter months which would be anticipated as having an anti-positive temperaturisation effect on certain equipment items," said London Underground spokesperson Layton Standing.

"However, we would emphatically hesitate to encourage hindsight in this regard as it can cause undue customer demoralisation," he said.

The Ministry of Britishness said that Britons had a long tradition of stoical coping with adverse weather conditions, and expressed confidence that "people would not be deterred from business as usual just because a few services are out and may be some time."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hearts, Minds, Balls

The Sectarian of State for Rooting Out Enemies of the People, Ruth Kelly, has announced a five-million-pound initiative to battle for hearts and minds in the battle to win the battle against warlike Muslim extremists. Local councils will bid for the money, she said; in other words, it appears, local councils are going to have to compete for the privilege of "stopping the grooming of young Islamists" and preventing a repeat of the July 2005 bombings. It is not yet clear whether, as with other public health measures, they will have to do so at a profit. "We need a new, strengthened partnership and unity of purpose to isolate those who seek to divide us," Ruth Kelly said; or, in Standard English, Do as you're told. "In the past, government has relied too much on engagement with traditional leadership organisations," Ruth Kelly said; or, in Standard English, You have the wrong leaders; let us give you new and better ones. "The battle for hearts and minds is more important than ever, as is the need for closer working together," Ruth Kelly said; or, in Standard English, Do as you're told, just in case it wasn't clear the first time.

The Vicar of Downing Street, too, has been speaking of winning hearts and minds. "Hearts and minds" is an interesting phrase in itself. Its most famous use, if not its first, was by American officials during the glorious crusade to liberate South-east Asia from its peoples. Then as now, there were some who apparently believed that the purpose of the war was to acquaint the natives with the wonders of civilisation, and who felt that the American case might come across better if the napalm was dropped on indigenous persons rather than on gooks. Indigenous fired the little yellow belly with pro-US patriotism, as opposed to anti-civilised nationalism; persons engaged the subtle Oriental intellect with the concept of individuality, from which in due course there would be progress to Enlightenment values, the Rights of Man, and eventual full democracy under the tutelage of that sublime statesman, Ngo Dinh Diem. There was also the slogan attributed to Nixon's henchman Charles Colson: "When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow". Hearts and minds, in short, are prizes to be won from enemies.

Possibly this helps explain his reverence's attitude. "Winning hearts and minds is not just about reaching out to people," he said. "It is also sometimes about standing up to them and saying, 'Your value system is a value system that is wrong'." One can imagine the hearts and minds swooning into Tony's arms at this approach. Nevertheless, the generational crusade against extremism must be prepared to assert itself at all costs: "We won't win this hearts and minds issue unless we are prepared to be proud of the values that we have and realise they are basic human values, they are not western values." Those who do not share Tony's values, then, are something other than basically human; how fortunate that he is not an extremist himself.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Point of Principle

The Vicar of Downing Street's legacy of global human rights enhancement continues to prosper in the form of British opposition to an Italian attempt to get United Nations backing for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment. According to diplomats, Britain "opposes the death penalty", and is therefore hampering the chances of getting a resolution through the UN because Britain is "sceptical about getting a resolution through the UN". Just because something might be difficult, that doesn't mean it ought to be attempted, even in defence of global British values.

"I don't think that Tony Blair is against abolishing the death penalty," said a campaigning Italian MEP, with the reckless optimism of one whose government has been all too recently deberlusconified. He thinks Britain's attitude is the result of "the wish for a good relationship" with the US, and with the enthusiastic executioner who claims to be chief executive there.

This is, of course, a desperate Latin oversimplification. It is true that his reverence's reaction to Saddam Hussein's execution was a bit more muted than one might have expected from such a champion of human rights, particularly the rights of military aggressors; but his reverence was, after all, rather busy at the time. Indeed, it is a tragic irony that, occupied as he was with Bee Gees and international statesmanship, his reverence may have been too busy to provide George W Bush with the calming, restraining influence which has been seen to such devastating effect in the Crusade Against Terror as a whole. Left to his own devices, with no still, small voice to lend his ear a healthy dose of British phlegm, Bush hailed the execution as "an important milestone", and it was left to Margaret Beckett, his reverence's Minister for Lesser Breeds, to stress that it was the Iraqis' own responsibility, rather than that of the American guards who handed Saddam over, or even that of the American government which runs the Iraqi government.

When one is used to playing with cruise missiles and tanks, at the cost of thousands of lives, a single detrimentation at the end of an ordinary rope may hardly seem worth the bother; but it was a distasteful spectacle. Hence, "discussions within the EU on how to proceed are still under way"; which is a diplomatic way of saying it is virtually almost certain that, when not gambolling about Washington being a faithful little ally, and having his tummy tickled, Tony Blair is probably not altogether opposed to doing something very definite about the death penalty, once the appropriate prioritisation mechanisms are in place.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Worth Going To Your Grave For

Alan Bennett performed two memorable monologues in the immortal revue Beyond the Fringe, which also launched the careers of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller. One was a gloriously pointless Church of England sermon ("'But my brother Esau is an hairy man and I am a smooth man' - words very meaningful end significant for arse - hyaah - togethaah - tonight"); while the other took as its subject the English way of death - quiet, modest and, where possible, cheap. The monologue incorporates several moving anecdotes, notably that of an aunt who wanted her ashes scattered at the sea-front on August Bank Holiday Monday ("'yer bloody mad,' I said; 'council won't want all them smuts blowing about - it's a smokeless zone'"); but the one which best represented those great English virtues of quiet, modesty and economy was perhaps the story of Mrs Passmore, who had her husband's ashes put into an egg timer: "She said, 'He's never done a stroke of work while he was alive - I'll be right glad to watch him now.' Of course, that's a bit unconventional."

Beyond the Fringe was written at the beginning of the sixties, with the austerities of the Second World War a recent memory. So recently faded were the glories of Empire that even some of Britain's communications media were still owned by British citizens. Britain still had more corner shops than supermarkets, the vitamins in any given piece of fruit tended to outnumber the poisons, and the Heath Service was a national embarrassment less because of financial difficulties than because it was considered by some to be a symptom of creeping Socialism. Times have changed, and the thought of putting people's ashes into egg-timers is probably not one that would occur to many of us, not least because most egg-timers nowadays are electronic and, if their internal workings are topped up with carbonised loved ones, might be prone to malfunction.

Accordingly, a Swiss company has come up with a new, very shiny and somewhat expensive method of aiding the bereaved in their refusal to let go of the past. Human ashes, when subjected to appropriate degrees of heat and pressure, will behave like most other bits of carbon and emerge as diamonds, and the company, Algordanza, charges between two and a half thousand and ten thousand pounds to perform the operation upon suitably valued relatives. A widow horrified at the idea of "the cemetery niche, the worms" has had her husband's ashes turned into a pair of heart-shaped diamond earrings. "This way I will always have him near me," she said. Now, having escaped the niche and the worms, and however pressurised he might be, he can always be certain of her sympathetic ear. A man has had his mother's ashes turned into a bluish diamond inscribed with the words Omnia mea mecum porto ("All that is mine I carry with me"), presumably so that he can carry her with him. "Having her like this, as a precious stone," he said, "has something of a relic mystical, symbolic, eternal to it." Or something of the dentist's drill, depending on one's mood.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Good Cop, Bad Cop

In another fierce and deeply courageous attack on police-state tactics, one of the Vicar of Downing Street's most senior chums has poured scorn on the infallibility of the best police force in the world, implied that police investigators have some obligation to inform suspects in advance how long their work will take, and called the affair "a blight on all politics" - the sort of corrosive, insidious blight beside which the mere offering for sale of chunks of British democracy pales into insignificance. It appears that, under certain circumstances, the rights of suspects count for something after all.

In contrast, the Vicar of Downing Street himself has urged patience and forbearance, noting that a historic fourth election victory "will not be decided by current events, but it will be about whether we have the dynamism, the energy, the vision and above all clear, well thought out policies for the future of our country" - quite unlike the previous three historic election victories, which were decided by the fact that the main opposition party was in an even more laughable state of Ruritanian disarray than the Vicar's own. If there is one thing British democracy's good for, it is forging ahead with privatisations and drawing lines under debates; hence the historic fourth election victory "will be about changes that endure, not controversies that pass".

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Atmospheric Pressure

One of the Vicar of Downing Street's senior chums has voiced concern that the Crown Prosecution Service may be suffering impartiality erosion from the "fevered atmosphere" surrounding his reverence's unofficial privatisation of the honours trade. There is particular concern over the tactics of Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who has apparently put two of his reverence's foundlings under intimidatory pressure. John McTernan, his reverence's political secretary, was "put under particular pressure during a police interview", according to Sources. The tactless treatment of Ruth Turner, who was visited by the best police force in the world at six-thirty in the morning, for all the world like a failed asylum seeker, has also raised constitutional hackles. "We do not live in a banana republic, whatever Assistant Commissioner Yates believes," said one Labour official. The Labour official is certainly correct. We do, after all, have a Queen.

In this atmosphere of dawn arrests and tip-offs to the press by anonymous sources and anonymous Labour officials, Tony's anonymous senior chum is rightly concerned that British justice may not be altogether properly served: "Whichever barrister is landed with this job is going to have to stand up to the political, police and media pressure to launch a prosecution," the senior chum said. Meanwhile, in the absence of any means of exerting pressure on its own account, poor Downing Street has little choice but to wait the matter out.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Troubled Waters

A report by American government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, those notorious enemies of all that is good, virtuous, hard-working and profitable in global pollution, says that the Exxon Valdez disaster, "the worst single incident of pollution in US history" before some fool introduced George W Bush to the English language, is still causing pollution after eighteen years. There are still over twenty-six thousand gallons of oil below the water's surface at Prince William Sound, which Exxon Mobil spokesbeing Mark Boudreaux paraphrased as "some small amounts of residual oil in Prince William Sound on about two-tenths of 1% of the shore of the sound". Despite some imprudent but anonymous souls having predicted that the pollution from the 1989 oil spill "would have disappeared by now", Boudreaux said that the presence of these few drops of residual oil "is not a surprise, is not disputed and was fully anticipated". According to Boudreaux, "Exxon has supported more than 350 independent studies whose scientists have found no evidence of significant long-term impact". Just who the studies were independent of is, alas, not made entirely clear.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Big Phish

From: "Dr.JohnReid"
Date: Thu Feb 1, 2007 1:00pm Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: its Not L_0_N_G enough

Dear Freind!!!!!!

I am Doctor John Reid (Dr.) i am minitser of Judge Judy and Executioner in a major small potentialy Thrid Wrold leader of the internatnal community. I have recently suferred Tragic loss of potency owing to potential splits in my departmemts and so therefor I appeal to You as gnenerous Doner for continuence of wroth while living on My part both and the prat of others.

I Have recently udnergone Extension to two times (2xx) original Length but still fnid Problems with inadequate hardness and too mnany leaks for appropriate level of Staticfaction. also there is a large difficulty of cellular accomodation because to of much lots extra Volume (upto 80000) with out due expnansion in recieving Holes. Selfevidentally this is not a disirable Sitation and thus i am aproaching You sir or Madam for hlep me to estabish Consensually by force if necessary the appropprtiate way for me to gain proper dgreee of Potent.

This will be done by Fruther extention of my questionable whioch have agreement of Police cheifs who thnik this Right and Proper as the scale of operations is increasing sequentially also they know where you live and will be abel to thnak you right and proper for the good exorcise of your Conscients in this Matter.

Ypur corporation in this here thing wlil be most apreciative.

yoursVery sincereley

Doctor JOHN REID (Dr.)