The Curmudgeon


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Retreating Ragbag Ducks Separation

A minority report from a parliamentary committee reviewing the role of the attorney general has accused the Minister of Incarceration and Deportation of a "ragbag of retreats". Imagine that.

The committee was set up in part because of Lord Goldsmith's performance as New Labour apparatchik, attorney general and chum of Tony, not necessarily in that order. Goldsmith it was who memorably decided that Operation Iraqi Liberation would probably be illegal unless Tony thought otherwise, and that the Serious Fraud Office would do better not to investigate any cases which might cause the House of Saud to stop sharing its values with us. A few malcontents have used these matters as a pretext to call for the attorney general's role to be "depoliticised"; in other words, that New New Labour should kowtow to Parliament and the public even when New New Labour knows it is right.

Perish the thought. The majority of the committee concluded that the malcontents are wrong, and that the attorney general should retain "the nuclear option" of telling the Prime Minister whatever he wishes to hear, particularly in matters of national security, viz. just about every matter on which the Government is determined to get its own way. After all, one never knows when Parliament might decide to misuse its authority and release some terrorist suspect after only forty-one days' internment.

The minority concluded that the Glorious Successor's "ambition to reinvigorate our democracy", such as it is given his less than spectacular mandate, "will never be realised by the ragbag of retreats embodied in his constitutional renewal bill." The bill "will fail to rekindle public confidence in the sullied office of attorney general since it ducks the opportunity to separate [the] legal and political functions." Imagine that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not All Doom and Gloom

British Gas has announced more price rises, of nine per cent for electricity and thirty-five per cent for gas, blaming rises in wholesale prices, recalcitrant foreigners, unfavourable astrological conjunctions, the monklike poverty of Britain's top executives, and the fact that they can get away with it. Competition and consumer choice being the life-blood and lymph nodes of the free market, other suppliers will doubtless follow suit. The business minister, energy minister and other public servants dedicated to the welfare of hard-working families do not appear to have had much to say upon the matter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Restlessness for Change

The Upper Miliband is considered a leader in waiting. The Upper Miliband believes in change. The Upper Miliband believes that New New Labour should not debate personalities, but should adjust its public relations to cope with voter ignorance. The Upper Miliband believes that, with hindsight, the privatisation of the NHS should have been carried further and faster. The Upper Miliband believes that, with hindsight, a bit of planning might not have gone amiss before we followed the Bush administration into Iraq. The Upper Miliband does not say whether he believes that this would have made the war less illegal. The Upper Miliband believes in a clearer drive towards a uranium economy. The Upper Miliband believes in change. The Upper Miliband believes that this makes New New Labour different from Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives. The Upper Miliband believes that Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have occasionally disagreed with the Government. The Upper Miliband does not believe that Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have a restlessness for change, whether change is necessary or not. The Upper Miliband believes that a radical new phase of New New Labour is required. Gosh. Another one. The Upper Miliband believes in change. The Upper Miliband believes that New New New Labour should choicify belongitude and regulate while facilitating. The Upper Miliband believes New New New Labour should protect from the downturn while preparing for the upturn. The Upper Miliband is considered a leader in waiting. Gosh. Another one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

News 2012

The only cheap thing about the London Olympics

Air quality stable as Government denies new wheeze
The Government has denied that "emergency measures" are required to reduce pollution in London in advance of the Olympic Games, a Government spokesbloke said on behalf of the Government.

Over the past few months, the Prime Minister, London mayor Boris Johnson and Olympic organiser Baroness Jowell of Lombardy have all supported measures designed to ensure that the casualty rate among athletes due to air-quality related disrespiration issues is at least 20% less than the average for Londoners.

Although the Prime Minister and the mayor vetoed the idea of cutting the city's traffic during the summer, they have both been active in trying to persuade Londoners to breathe less deeply during July and August, thus leaving more oxygen in the air for the athletes.

An aide of Mr Johnson's who said "if these muscle-bound foreigners don't like our air quality they can go and breathe elsewhere" was quickly taken out of context in order to spend more time with his directorships.

The mayor himself blamed the city's pollution levels on "bike-stealing idlers and congestion charge jihadists who don't even have the Britishness to get on one and look for a job".

The air quality would be much worse if the four or five most recent tunnel collapses in the Underground system had not occurred, Mr Johnson said, particularly given that the trains involved "were full to the brim with lungs".

The Prime Minister said today that the Olympics would be "an event in British history to rank with Lady Thatcher's funeral and the Millennium Dome", while Baroness Jowell said that the gold, silver and bronze content of some of the medals would be "absolutely guaranteed".

London's air quality is the fifth worst in the world, after Beijing, Calcutta, New York and Michael Winner.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It Serves You Right

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is having a high-energy week. Having reported on New New Labour's efforts to keep nuclear energy profitable no matter what the cost to the taxpayer, the Department has now discovered that those who follow Government advice on cutting fuel bills end up paying more. It is possible that this comes as a surprise.

A spokesbeing said that if people just upped and followed Government advice without looking carefully at the choices with which the advice was intended to help them, they deserved all they got.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Men in Black

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor was heaping coals at Lambeth yesterday, having dropped in to make his own inimitable contribution to the cosmic debate over whether anyone other than a heterosexual male should be permitted to wear the bishop's frock. "Our church takes no pleasure at all to see the current strains in your communion", O'Connor said, in case there had been doubts. "We have committed ourselves to a journey towards unity, so new tensions only slow the progress." The Vatican has hitherto condoned homosexuality in the priesthood only when one partner is under-age and non-consenting.

The Lambeth mumblers are doing their bit for unity by proposing "an Anglican version of the Holy Office". The Vatican's Holy Office is formally known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was formerly known as the Inquisition. Thanks to the rise of militant secularism, humanist relativism and other evils, it is unlikely that the Anglican Inquisition will be permitted the use of the strappado, the screws or the stake, though the image of burning faggots may well appeal to some. The Archbishop of Canterbury has so far descended to the vernacular as to describe the proposal as "a flag raised to see who salutes it"; although given that there is also "quite a head of steam behind [it]", the flag may well end up too waterlogged to do much more than drip on those beneath. According to the Archbishop, there is "a strong feeling we need another structure that would be a clearing house for some of these issues"; though since the church appears incapable of deciding what its doctrine on some of these issues actually is, the Anglican Inquisition may well have its work cut out trying to impress them on the weak and backsliding.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lessons Learned

After the bloody nose at Crewe and Nantwich and the kick in the groin at Henley, the Glorious Successor has responded to the amputation at Glasgow East in his usual glorious manner. He feels our pain, but other countries in the world are suffering too. We are invited to bask in his sympathy while thinking of the poor children in Africa and resolving, perhaps, not to be quite so nasty next time. "Coming from ordinary families as we do and have done, we know what it is like when people go to the supermarket and find that the price of milk, and the price of bread, and the price of eggs have gone up dramatically in recent months," Gordon said, adding a Bushian touch of grammatical inanity ("as we do and have done"?) to his usual rhetorical trademarks of irrelevance, pomposity and disingenuity. With equal fluency and, no doubt, equal candour, he promised that "we will see in housing and in gas and electricity bills and in energy, us doing more to help the hard-working families of this country". Gordon approves of hard-working families, especially the ones in this country. "We know that our role when facing global economic challenges is to be on the side of hard-working families, on the side of the people of Britain." The real people of Britain, that is; none of whom are single, childless, or lacking in employment opportunification. "We will do whatever is necessary over the next few months to help hard-working families through these difficult times"; but if you live alone or are unemployed or are studying or are struggling on a pension or are employed in the public sector and hence, by definition, not working hard enough, then help will probably be found to be unnecessary after all. Gordon also warned, accurately enough, that Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives would rule on behalf of "the fewest and the richest and the wealthiest people of this country at the expense of cutting the public services of this country". The difference, apparently, is that when Gordon does it it's cute.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Radiating Competence

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform reports that the body nominally charged with clearing up after New New Labour's commitment to clean energy has undergone budgetary problems "exacerbated by misunderstandings, unminuted meetings and lack of sufficiently trained staff". The situation as a whole shows up several rather good examples of the barriers to investment - accountability, good business practice, environmental concerns, gratuitous obligations to get the occasional sum right - which New New Labour generally likes to see removed.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's estimate of the cost of clearing up after John Hutton has risen by thirteen and a half per cent over the past year: virtually an Olympic achievement. The Authority's finance staff are to be re-trained, presumably at the taxpayer's expense. The NDA also lost a few millions by relying on "volatile commercial income"; private enterprise being more efficient than public ownership, the NDA is making good its losses by seeking more cash from the Government. The problems apparently arose from the fact that "the NDA and the Treasury were at cross purposes over some aspects of the clean-up agency's budget and decisions taken at a vital meeting as far back as February 2006 were misunderstood". Since the Treasury in February 2006 was in the famously safe hands of Gordon Brown, there is of course "no formal record of that meeting, nor was there subsequently any correspondence that confirmed what those present believed to have been agreed". Hence, fortuitously, nobody can be shown to have lied, cheated or been incompetent in the discharge of their radioactive duty. Even more fortuitously, there is money which was "meant to support low carbon and renewable technologies" - money just lying around doing nothing, in other words - which can now be used to clear up nuclear waste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Radiating Confidence

The Minister for Corporate Pandering has pointed out the necessity of doing "everything we can to remove any remaining barriers and open up the UK as the most attractive place in the world to invest in nuclear power". Barriers include the designation of sites as being at risk of flooding or "environmentally protected"; fortunately, the Minister believes that such petty obstacles could be circumvented should the nuclear industry find it convenient to do so. Nuclear power is "an essential part of our future energy mix" because "it will help wean us off our dependency on oil", thanks to the virtually unlimited stocks of clean, safe uranium in the British Isles, "and protect us against the politicisation of energy supplies"; a fanatical belief in the necessity of private profit through public subsidy and enthusiastic poisoning being self-evidently not a political position.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chocolate Men Go Home

Well, here's a thing: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has produced a report which claims that measures in which New New Labour has no interest, such as "tackling deprivation and boosting social interaction", would be more effective ways of helping immigrants integrate than attempting to implant "a fixed notion of Britishness and British values". Fears about the effects of immigration are more pronounced in "areas people perceived as homogeneous and settled", such as Westminster, where the three main political parties have long since settled into a monochromatic suit-grey mulch. Tensions rise when "poverty and lack of opportunities undermine social cohesion", particularly when abetted by exhortations to Muslims to hunt out the terror within or by attempts to steal the BNP's clothes with such slogans as "British jobs for British workers". How fortunate, given all this, that New New Labour has as much interest in helping immigrants integrate as it does in helping the poor, bringing peace to the Middle East or ameliorating the effects of climate change.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ursine Sylvan Defecation Shock

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has noticed that the United States occasionally resorts to enhanced interrogation techniques and that the Bush administration sometimes practises economy with the truth if not with the US economy. The Committee has apparently noticed this "in the light of the CIA admitting it used 'waterboarding'"; in other words, now that the US has admitted the use of torture it is safe for the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to believe it. The Committee is concerned because "the UK has signed the UN convention which bars sending individuals to nations where they are at risk of being tortured" and, despite the reassurances of Agent Smith and Colonel Gadafi, the Committee seems to think we might be approaching the possibility of not being absolutely adhesive to a strict interpretation of the letter of the convention. This would never do, of course.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not Angels, But Anglicans

It appears that the Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing once again to prove himself worthy of the Prime Minister who appointed him. Like the Vicar of Downing Street, Rowan Williams likes to deal with controversies by triangulating; or, in Oldspeak, lurching to the right while passing occasional rhetorical comfort to any liberals foolish enough to stay in bed with him. Regarding the issue of homosexual clergy, Williams made clear his towering commitment to principle about the time the Vicar was starting to save Iraq for democracy. Having appointed a non-practising gay man as Bishop of Reading, Williams heard the squeals of horror from the bible-bashers, asked himself what Christ would have done, and hastily fired his appointee. Having spent the intervening five years doing his best to be all things to both sides, the Archbishop is now faced with the possibility of a schism in the church, thanks to the nice people at Gafcon. Although the Anglican church owes its existence to a schism in the Catholic church, which owes its existence to a schism in the Jewish faith, which owes its existence to a Chaldean heretic, it seems this would be a Bad Thing. As a result, Williams is doing what he does best and taking something "perceived as a slightly more conservative line ... with regards to women bishops and sexuality". This approach is "finding favour" with the misogynists and gay-bashers, at least until next time. Meanwhile, Dr Williams hopes to distract attention from the beam in his church's eye by focusing the Lambeth conference on "issues such as the plight of persecuted minorities in Sudan".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Just Keep Banging Away

The Metropolitan Police Authority reports that Scotland Yard is still unable to give an adequate explanation of the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes three years ago. Despite the continued non-resignation of Sir Ian Blair, despite the promotion of Cressida Dick, and despite a criminal trial resulting in a fine which, thanks to the taxpayer, has left comparatively few firearms officers in fuel poverty this year, the Metropolitan Police remains complacent, overly sensitive to criticism, and disinclined to make a detailed analysis of the events which led to the killing. After all, the officers involved had thirty-six hours to agree on their story and write their accounts, a practice which the Authority says with charming understatement "is open to misinterpretation". The Authority also claims that there is "on the one hand a recognition that undertaking a comprehensive debrief is important and that lessons need to be learnt, and on the other hand a complacent acceptance that, in this case, it has not happened and is unlikely to in the future". Fortunately, a spokesbeing from the Metropolitan Police was on hand to counter this vile slander: "All the officers involved were doing their best to handle the terrible threat facing London on that day: a race against time to find the failed suicide bombers of the day before", which, as usual, serves as both explanation and expiation of the fact that they instantly and utterly shot an innocent man and then sat back and let the press defame him. The usual "range of measures" has also been implemented "to minimise the risk of a similar tragedy repeating itself", as, despite the sterling efforts of our boys in blue, similar tragedies are so inconsiderately prone to do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fee at the Point of Use

The former Minister of Unfitness for Purpose, Charles Clarke, has given vent to a discharge about what's wrong with our public services. The problem, apparently, is that the Government isn't making enough money out of them. Clarke, whose most famous contribution to fiscal efficiency is probably this, suggests "user charges" as an alternative to privatisation, since "the assumption, made by many, that what currently exists provides the best solution from the point of view of equity is not true". I am sure Charles Clarke, with his copious natural charm, has any number of friends from every possible social stratum; but I do find myself wondering who these many might be. After eleven years of privatising, outsourcing, tinkering, footling, blathering and occasional boondoggles like the Private Finance Initiative, the assumption that what are currently termed public services provide the best solution from any point of view is made, in the real world, mostly by those who do not have to use them.

As examples of the miracle of user charges Clarke cites tuition fees, which he introduced, breaking a New Labour manifesto pledge, on the principle that a highly-educated prole is a waste of time and money; and the London congestion charge, which was not a New Labour policy. He suggests extending charges to "tutorial support or doorkeepers for tenants in social housing", many of whom are presumably on low incomes and thus do not concern the Labour party overmuch. The measures would be "very politically controversial", but would increase Government revenue at a time when taxpayers are selfishly demanding healthcare and education rather than queueing up to help the City with its gambling debts or passing the hat round for Son of Trident, or even forking out willingly for the miracle of biometric identificality.

Clarke also had a dose of salts for the Glorious Successor's wounds. Gordon is "on the right path", namely the one leading towards ignominious defeat. The answer to Gordon's difficulties is "to do what he's doing", which has certainly been working like a charm so far. Gordon should also eliminate mistakes and establish a long term vision provided that a long-term vision is available for establishment. "And he's certainly said that's what he wants to do," said Clarke, making evident the extent of his belief in the identity of what Gordon says and what Gordon does.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Scope for Improvement

Having found itself in yet another hole, the Government has decided, against the habit of a lifetime, to stop digging and leave the taxpayers to make good the damage. A "multimillion pound project designed to improve Britain's security" (which by now must surely qualify as the most overworked comedy opening since an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walked into a pub) has been shelved because of reasons which are "believed to be both financial and technical". In Oldspeak, presumably, this means that the reasons are those staunch Whitehall natives, corruption and incompetence. As one would expect, the project (christened SCOPE, perhaps because somebody could spell it) was "due to be up and running three years ago", at which point Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee expressed mild concern. Two years after that, the first phase was launched. The idea was to "speed up communications between the UK's intelligence agencies as well as with four other government departments"; naturally, the result was "a serious process failure". In Oldspeak, the information which was supposed to be communicated ended up being erased instead. The Intelligence and Security Committee offered the minor comfort that, in its estimation, the Cabinet Office wouldn't have been able to staff the project anyway. For some reason, the Government appears disinclined to inform the taxpayers how much has been spent. Imagine that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Matter of Context

Robert Mugabe, the ruthless, election-stealing ruler of Zimbabwe, with whom we share few if any values, is utilising civilian contractors in his attempts to intimidate his people into appropriate political positions. This is a Bad Thing, as comparatively few of the contractors work for Blackwater Security. The foreign fighters carry Russian-made guns. This is also a Bad Thing, as Russian-made guns are not generally sold to the profit of British arms dealers and do not carry moral health warnings forbidding their use in "internal oppression, external aggression, or regional tensions" such as Britain and the Allies have rigorously avoided in Iraq. Thank heavens we share so few values with Robert Mugabe.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Signifying Nothing Much

Edwina Currie's little friend, who apparently was something in the Government during the tedious period between Thatcher's removal from power and the first consecration of the Vicar of Downing Street, has been on television, ruling out a return to public life during the forthcoming Daveybloke administration. Now I know why I didn't feel the world tremble.

As one interregnum to the other, the insignificance claimed it had "human sympathy" for the Glorious Successor, who is "doing an extremely difficult job ... in extremely difficult circumstances", just like our boys in Iraq, or even those who shoot to protect us at home. The circumstances "may be partially of his making but nonetheless it's not helpful to the country or anyone else to have some of the comment about him that there has been and I regret that"; which proves, if nothing else, that the years have managed neither to burden the Currie-spicer with cogency nor to stiffen its moral sinew.

The interregnum, who served as one of Britain's least successful chancellors before becoming one of its least successful prime ministers, helped the country by noting that "Fear is toxic and it is spreading, and that toxic element, that fear element, is very serious", and probably spreading too, to an extent that is very considerably so indeed. Doubtless that is why the hole in the troposphere did its best to pour oil on the troubled economic waters before casually lighting a match and standing well back: "I would say inflation is probably double the RPI [Retail Prices Index] figure, so we're between 8 and 10 per cent. ... We're going to be very close to recession, if not technically in recession - two quarters of negative growth. I think that's entirely possible." It was observed by someone or other that "loss of confidence in the nation's economic health would have a knock-on effect on jobs and business". It is reassuring to see that the less fortunate consequences of economic downturn have finally obtruded themselves upon the intelligence of the political vacuum who whined about "doom and gloom merchants" during its own little negative growth period.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two for the Price of One

The necessity and nobility of any upcoming military attack on Iran have been gifted with enhanced prodigality by the revelation that any such crusade would not only be another glorious chapter in the War Against Terror, but would also be another glorious chapter in the War On Drugs. The Allies, led by the glorious Royal Navy, have intercepted more than eight hundred million pounds worth of smuggled narcotics from "a small number of Iranian ports"; but Tehran "strenuously denies being involved". If any illegal drugs were being smuggled through British or American ports, you wouldn't find that sort of sinister, treacherous evasiveness in London or Washington, no indeed. "The scourge of illegal drugs," said the Commander of the Royal Navy in the Gulf, quoting any number of glorious 1950s public information films, "is one of the gravest threats to the long-term security of Afghanistan". And just when everything was going so well there, too. The Commander continued: "By seizing these drugs we have dealt a significant blow to the illegal trade. News of these successes has been kept quiet for operational reasons"; perhaps so that they could be revealed "amid growing fears of an attack on Iran by the US or Israel" and ensure that we would be duly awarenessed of the necessity and nobility of any such attack.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Perpetual Motion

Anger causes hatred.
Hatred causes violence.
Violence causes headlines.
Headlines cause hysteria.
Hysteria causes fear.
Fear causes plans.
Plans cause measures.
Measures cause actions.
Actions cause reactions.
Reactions cause confusion.
Confusion causes trouble.
Trouble causes problems.
Problems cause annoyance.
Annoyance causes anger.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thomas M Disch

I do not recall my first encounter with the work of Thomas M Disch; which is strange, given that all his books are so very distinctive, not only from those of other writers but from one another as well. When I say "all his books", I mean all those that I have read, which is to say several volumes of science fiction and three of the satirical horror novels he produced from the mid-1980s onwards. Disch also wrote poetry, children's books, a computer game, and collaborated with his fellow science fiction writer John Sladek on a non-SF novel, Black Alice, under the campy pseudonym Thom Demijohn.

It's possible that the first I knew of him was the entry in the Penguin Encyclopaedia of Horror and the Supernatural, in which his novel The Businessman: A Tale of Terror is highly recommended. The Businessman is the story of Robert Glandier, an executive whose corporate sycophancy extends to deliberately ruining his own health so he can join his superiors in their ulcerated Olympia. Glandier has murdered his wife, whose ghost begins to haunt him from his own hypothalamus.

Then again, perhaps my first Disch book was the brilliantly titled, brilliantly executed Camp Concentration, in which a US government of the near future (led by a President McNamara), searching for fresh approaches to World War III, attempts to manufacture genius by producing a mutation of the syphilis germ and testing it on a motley collection of military and political prisoners. The finale is unconvincing, and owes far too much to a certain episode of the television series The Prisoner, for which Disch also wrote a tie-in novel; but for the most part Camp Concentration shows Disch at his formidable best. Narrated by poet, glutton, semi-lapsed Catholic and conscientious objector Louis Sacchetti, it also manages to be highly literate and allusive - references to Faust, Thomas Aquinas and the psychological theories of Arthur Koestler - without descending to pretentiousness or self-parody.

Others of his books had less impact. The M.D.: A Horror Story was another Faustian story, this time with reference to the AIDS epidemic; but it does not seem to have left much of an impression. I read 334, about the residents of a city apartment block in the 2020s, when I was about nineteen, and grew impatient with what then seemed the soap-opera mediocrity of the characters. That, of course, was the whole point, or part of it anyway; like Philip K Dick, but without Dick's indiscipline and pulp conventions, Disch chronicles the future's losers and failures. I shall have to give 334 another try.

A bit more like normal science fiction was the end-of-the-world novel The Genocides, in which the entire Earth is utilised by technologically advanced extraterrestrials for the purposes of efficient agricultural production. But for all the conventionality of the premise, the story remains Disch's own, and retains his customary tight focus on human weakness and insignificance. The ecosystem is transformed to make way for the aliens' produce, with human beings and all their concerns reduced to the status of, at best, minor garden pests. The aliens themselves are never seen; the few remaining people have more than enough to do coping with the invaders' agronomics. There are no mercies, no great discoveries about the aliens' vulnerabilities, and no fresh starts. A shorter, maniacal variant on the same basic premise is the story "Fun With Your New Head", a hilarious alien sales pitch for a highly amusing product.

Disch wrote other tales with just as much bite. "Linda and Daniel and Spike" is a charming tale of motherhood and family values which draws parallels between childbirth and cancer. In "Casablanca", the catastrophic end of American power is seen through the eyes of two American tourists whose lives collapse once their credit cards are worthless. "Thesis on Social Forms and Social Controls in the USA" details a psychopathic utopia worthy of J G Ballard, but instead of Ballard's visionary hyperbole Disch presents an academic paper by "a third-year Administrative Trainee". In "Moondust, the Smell of Hay, and Dialectical Materialism" a stranded Russian cosmonaut waits for his oxygen to run out and tries to make sense of his death; at the end, the narrative states that "though he did not know it, there is never a good reason for dying". Disch committed suicide on 4 July.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Empowering Communitisation, Communitising Empowerability

The Government has announced a new community empowermentisation package to put a stop to all the nasty cynicism about politics. "There is a lot of cynicism about politics but it is through politics that we bring about change for the better", blathered the Minister for Britishness Enforcement; the we is rather fine, particularly as it emerges from the very same cloaca that dropped this little treasure seven months ago. The Government white paper, titled with vintage Blairite bleareality Communities in Control, Real People, Real Power, proposes "civic champions" - council staff or former councillors who have nothing better to do - who will "go out into the community and work with residents and community groups" to lift the pall of ignorance and raise people's awareness of their civic responsibilities, "whether that's volunteering, standing as a governor, a councillor or becoming a magistrate". It appears that the cure for our cynicism is to provide unpaid labour or else work to enforce the laws which have done so much to keep the cynicism going. There will also be a "Community Builders Fund" which will not have an apostrophe but which will help "strong community groups" to run local services such as street markets which haven't been bought up by Tesco, swimming pools which leisure companies find unprofitable, or community centres which nobody wants to turn into office blocks. The Community Builders Fund will run to seventy million pounds, or slightly less than New New Labour considers necessary to rectify the errors of the free market. I trust the Minister for Britishness Enforcement will forgive me if my cynicism doesn't crumble all at once.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Crisis, What Crisis?

The Glorious Successor has informed us that all will be well, and that, since the economy has been in his charge for the past decade, it is well placed to come through the present "difficult economic circumstances". This is certainly reassuring. Gordon acknowledged that people were suffering "pressures on their standard of living" - nothing so direct as a falling standard of living - because of "rising food and fuel prices and credit crunch"; though fortunately not inflation, since the wages of those who don't matter very much have been kept properly low. As a result, Britain enjoys "high employment, low inflation and companies in good financial health"; the financial health of mere individuals being at best a secondary concern.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Twisted Values

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has renewed his pledge to do away with Punch and Judy politics. Faced with the Glorious Successor's moralising, finger-wagging, it's-all-your-own-fault attitude to the public, Daveybloke has done what he generally does on matters of importance - war, privatisation and the like - and agreed wholeheartedly with New New Labour. Our society, which imposes exams on children, throws the mentally ill into prison and deports asylum seekers back to Iraq and Darfur, has "been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people's feelings, to avoid appearing judgmental, we have failed to say what needs to be said"; for example, that those "at risk of poverty, or social exclusion" should get on their bikes and look for a job. Daveybloke deplored the "decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, of deferring gratification instead of instant gratification"; apparently it's all the fault of fat people and the poor. Daveybloke would like a "mandate to call time on the twisted values that have eaten away at our social fabric" and, presumably, get back to British values for British people. Society "should not be afraid to say what was right and what wrong", unless what is wrong should happen to be something like war, privatisation, cooking the planet for profit, deportation of asylum seekers, keeping the Westminster gravy train going, or one of the other things on which Daveybloke and the Glorious Successor happen to be in principled agreement.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Firm But Fair

The bonus culture is a wonderful thing. When everything is going swimmingly, bonuses are paid to the wealthy for doing such a splendid job. When the economy is half-way down to Digby Jones' locker, bonuses are paid to the wealthy in order to encourage them to do better. Naturally, New New Labour paid its biggest bonuses this year to civil servants in the Ministry for War and the Colonies and the Department of Wage-cuts and Pensions Crisis; both of which have shown such exemplary dedication to placing the needs of poor people in an appropriate perspective. Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives, who this week seem to be waving their social-responsibility credentials to compensate for having waived their green ones, waxed indignant about the "something for nothing culture" which has always been so abhorrent to the party of hereditary wealth and tax cuts for the rich.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dragon Under the Hill

In 1972, about the time when the former actor Thomas Tryon produced two of the best horror novels of the twentieth century, former ITN newscaster Gordon Honeycombe published Dragon Under the Hill. A young historian, Edmund Wardlaw, moves with his Norwegian wife and their son into a cottage on the island of Lindisfarne, site of St Cuthbert's pre-Norman priory and scene of possibly the first Viking raids on Britain when, in the eighth century, a Norse king was killed by a ruthless English nobleman, and the king's son swore revenge.

The supernatural is introduced very quietly, with the sight of an apparently one-eyed man with a walking-stick on the Wednesday after the family's arrival; and if I had remembered Roger Lancelyn Green's Myths of the Norsemen, which was among my favourite childhood reading, or even Wagner's Ring cycle, I would have known who he was well before little Erik drew him astride his eight-legged horse, accompanied by the ravens Hugin and Munin. The boy's discovery of an ancient burial mound, and the haunted treasures within, coincides with increasingly odd behaviour and increasing dislike between Erik and his father, culminating in a terrifying visitation which Edmund does his best to dismiss as poltergeist phenomena.

Edmund's heroic good looks, his self-centred, mercurial character and his inability to get along with his offspring conjure up echoes of King Arthur; a Merlin figure also appears, in the shape of an elderly academic who has discovered a fragment of an ancient chronicle mentioning the Norse king's death. But for all his arcane knowledge of language and history, and his insight into the Wardlaw parents ("They had apparent faults of character - of self, of pride and possessiveness. But nothing seemed subconscious, all was known"), this Merlin is no magician; even when "all is known", the knowledge counts for very little as the ghastly ancient vendetta is played out through the Wardlaw family.

Reflecting the interpenetration of ancient and modern, Honeycombe adroitly varies his style, moving between the matter-of-fact and the near-incantatory without any jolting transitions. In its themes, and in the deftness of its execution, Dragon Under the Hill brings to mind some of Alan Garner's work, most obviously The Owl Service and perhaps Thursbitch; although Garner's endings are never quite so merciless as this book's.

The novel is beautifully structured, without a wasted word or a superfluous detail. There are some highly effective supernatural signs, notably the drawing by Erik's mother which he alters in a particularly unsettling fashion; but one of the book's many virtues is the way perfectly ordinary details, which less subtle hands would have used as mere background or local colour, are made to serve as portents equally grim. Edmund's casual jokes about returning to his roots and coming into his rightful inheritance, his chafing at the restraints placed on him by civilised life (he seems to have become a historian as a substitute for making history), and even his eccentric fondness for pigs, all take on new meaning as the story unfolds, just as the hatreds and resentments of everyday domestic life take on ever deeper and more sinister significance.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wind Energy

In another radical divergence from Blairite policy, the Glorious Successor is ignoring his problems at home - and, less importantly, the problems of those British workers whose British jobs don't earn them six-figure salaries - in favour of spouting platitudes on the world stage. "The world is suffering a triple challenge: of higher fuel prices, higher food prices and a credit crunch," he lectured his fellow G8 senior management personnel. With his usual verbal adroitness, he vouchsafed the solution: "instead of sidelining climate change and the development agenda, the present economic crisis means that instead of relaxing our efforts we have got to accelerate them". Anyone who lives near Heathrow is only too well aware of Gordon's commitment to accelerating climate change. As to the development agenda, Gordon has noticed that "Africa needs help to develop its agriculture", and has also deduced that "if we don't produce enough agriculture, we are going to have food shortages", our diet being apparently rather rich in agriculture. Gordon also observed that "we can't solve the problems of food and fuel shortages unless developing countries are involved", because we need their land to produce biofuels. Gordon feels that "there are good and bad biofuels"; presumably the good ones are those produced where people have the Britishness to starve quietly. Gordon also believes that, doubtless thanks to his own contribution, Britain has "the potential to become the world leader in wind energy".

Friday, July 04, 2008

Britannia Rules the Waves

The part-time Secretary for Supporting Our Boys, Des Browne, has made the rather remarkable claim that the four thousand million pounds paid by the Government for two new aircraft carriers will not be "at the expense of other areas". Apparently wealth can now be spent on one three-hundred-metre, sixty-five-thousand-tonne thing without affecting the Government's ability to spend it on something else. This is certainly reassuring, particularly in the present economic climate when all of us, even ministers, are having to tighten our belts. The aircraft carriers will "provide our forces with world-class capabilities", once an additional few thousand million have been spent on the American aircraft which they are meant to carry. According to the chief of the air staff, the ships will "provide additional options for projecting offensive air power at a time and place of our choosing"; or, as translated by the part-time defence secretary, "they will support peacekeeping and conflict prevention, as well as our strategic operational priorities"; our strategic and operational priorities being, of course, different from, though not incompatible with, peacekeeping and conflict prevention. The carriers will be called HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, after a couple of other, equally worthwhile investments.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sanitary Measures

Enthusiasts of the Archbishop of Canterbury's moral fibre, social insight and intellectual gravitas will doubtless remember this, where he argued that, since the Government's aim is to restrict real education to the children of those who can pay for it while leaving the dregs to churches and charities, "it simply cannot be said that [faith] schools somehow have a policy of sanitising or segregating". It seems likely that he meant only Church of England schools, since these presumably practise a higher and deeper level of non-exclusivity than those of inferior religions; still, this does not appear to bode well. A state-maintained Jewish school in north-west London has rejected a boy for being the wrong sort of Jew, and the high court has ruled that it had every right under the law to do so. The policy, said Mr Justice Munby, is not materially different from Muslim schools favouring Muslims or Catholic schools favouring Catholics. Schools are required to "try to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good race relations"; but religious discrimination - viz. a policy of sanitising or segregating on the part of faith schools - is not unlawful.

Oh, I almost forgot. I told you so.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Matthew Weaver reports, in Britain's leading liberal newspaper, that today's bulldozer attack in Israel, which killed three or four people, marks a rise in violence. In February, for example, a woman was killed and eleven people injured in Dimona. There were no Palestinian deaths worth mentioning in February. In March, eight students were killed by a gunman; it was "the worst incident inside Israel since April 2006". No incidents worth mentioning occurred outside Israel. In May, a rocket attack on a shopping mall caused injury to ninety real people. There were probably no Palestinian deaths worth mentioning in May. Last year there was only one fatal attack inside Israel, which killed three people. There were no fatal attacks on Palestinians worth mentioning. "The decrease in violence", according to the diligent Mr Weaver, "has been attributed to the effectiveness of the West Bank barrier in restricting access for Palestinians"; but he does not find the source of the attribution worth mentioning either.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I Told You So

The head of the Anglican church's hypocritical wing, having apparently spent the last couple of days getting his ruminations translated into English, has warned the bigoted wing that "demolishing existing structures" is not the answer to their concerns. Certainly it is not something Jesus would have done, or Henry VIII for that matter. As befits an appointee of Triangulating Tony, the Archbishop of Canterbury has spent most of his tenure treating homosexuals like second-class citizens, in order to throw a sop to those who might split the church. Naturally, the queer-bashers and male supremacists, having got their angel voices heard (and, incidentally, having the Bible and a couple of millennia of Judaeo-Christian tradition solidly on their side), have continued to push their agenda, and now feel powerful enough to set up a new Protestant sect, a church within the church, or a return to Genuine Anglicanism, depending on whom one believes. The Archbishop plans to "urge those who have outlined these [proposals] to think very carefully about the risks entailed". With splendid timing, the male supremacist wing chose today to deliver a letter from over 1300 clergy and eleven bishops, saying that the prospect of baby-factories turning bishop has left them "thinking very hard about the way ahead". Although they do not write "in a spirit of making threats or throwing down gauntlets", they do manage to hint that they'll take up their cassocks and walk unless the Church of England remembers what century it belongs in (Hint: the number of the century does not begin with a 2).

In my prophetic days, I did occasionally intimate that this sort of thing might happen; but even in these times of enhanced and government-sponsored Britishness, there are some without honour in their own country.