The Curmudgeon


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Donor Phish

Date: Sun May 31 2009 8:00am Europe/London
To: undisclosed-recipients::
Subject: free big wide open sweating government

Daer Lord oakeshottttttt

i am Daveybloke i am Reoform Bloke i am bloke of the pople i am Poples Bloke i am Netxt Prim eMinsiter Bloke rah rah. thnkank yuo fro yuor lettttter re Tax Statututs of the lawabidididinbg private cirtitiszen Lrod Aschroft. Lrod Ashcorft ius as you say Not a n0ok or crannny a&nd i am sure this is an appporporiate basisis for considerababale agreement bteweneen us Blokes for mutututal avdantage. we musust refform Graudually and domecarticallillyto ensure taht the Bathwatter is Not thrown out with the gordon Bastarrd brown. i am daveybloke. i am satitsfied by L4rod Ashcorft i am Statisfied Bloke. my Income and bckgrounnd are no Barrier to Attttaininaninbg demoncraptic offfice i am Popples Primster rah rah. Lord Ashcranny taxxes tats tatsusis is is a PIRVART MAtttter btween Him and teh Inlnand Rerevue. and fruthermore i Have no raeson to Dobt that his udnertaknigs are bieng Met. for i am daveyBloke reform bloke rah rah

rah rah



Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shoulder to Shoulder with the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has clearly learned lessons from the disastrous regime of Edwina Currie's intimate friend, whose name escapes me at the moment. It was during those seven squalid and depressing years that the Conservative party tore itself apart over the issue of Europe, dividing into mutually contemptuous camps comprising those who had some idea what century they were living in and those who did not know, and did not want to know, and did not want anyone else to know either. The Currie-spicer vacillated between both positions, horrified at the prospect of what the Little Englanders might do to him yet terrified at the idea of losing the support of such intellectual firebrands as Leon Brittan.

Much to the Conservatives' fury, Labour's foreign policy has consisted in sycophancy towards Washington, failure to live up to international agreements, and war, war, war - not really a recipe with which the Conservatives can disagree. This led to Daveybloke's famous abandonment of Punch and Judy politics, followed by Daveybloke's principled resumption of Punch and Judy politics; but on the issue of Europe New Labour and its successor, New New Labour, have given the Conservatives an easy ride. Aside from occasional healthy indications of xenophobia such as sending Neil Kinnock or Peter Mandelson across the Channel, Labour's policy on Europe has been largely to ignore it, as Labour ignores such inconveniences as human rights, carbon emissions and the law of the land; which means that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has been able to ignore it too.

Unfortunately, Daveybloke's new, dynamic, courageous, reformist People's Policy of unilateral independence from the mainstream European conservative bloc, so that he can leap into bed with heavy hitters like the Union of Polish Gay-Bashers and the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party, has re-opened some old wounds. Desperate to make the best use of the only area in which it is still possible to outflank New New Labour on the right while staying out of UKIP, Daveybloke will fight, if that is the word I want, the European elections as the most anti-European leader of a mainstream political party since Britain caught up with the bus it had missed and belatedly entered the EEC. Doubtless this will impress all the right people - Lord Tebbit, Rebekah Wade, the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party - and, of course, it says a good deal about the depth and effectiveness of Daveybloke's new, dynamic, courageous, reformist agenda. Indeed, it may say more than even Daveybloke would care to divulge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Language, Faith and Fiction

There are few better guarantees of a damn silly article than to let a journalist pontificate upon the subject of Rowan Williams. It appears that the Archbishop has decided to draw a line under the question of God's existence since, in the absence of rack, screw and stake, it "has never admitted of a final answer anyway". Instead, claims the Guardian's Mark Vernon, the question should be: "What would it be like to live in a world without God?" This is, of course, an entirely fatuous assertion. If God does not exist, then we already know what it is like to live in a world without God; and if God does exist, then the question is irrelevant, since His will is presumably being done whether we believe in it or not. A more interesting question might be: "What would it be like to live in a world without priestly authority?" or, to put it another way, "What is the point of the Archbishop of Canterbury?"

Vernon refers to the character Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov as an atheist. I am willing to be corrected on this, but I seem to recall Ivan saying something like "It isn't that I don't accept God, Alyosha; I simply return him the ticket." This sounds to me less like an atheist than like a Christian with moral doubts. Anyway, the consequences of Ivan's view, according to Williams as interpreted by Vernon, are dire; namely that "there is no longer any foundation for ethics, because there is no ultimate source of goodness". Evidently a non-ultimate foundation for ethics is beyond conception. This means that "Some people will choose to be good. But others will not; they will choose to be evil", which will be a Bad Thing. The question, therefore, is: "Who is going to decide what is good? Who is going to take responsibility when evil prevails?"

This rather crudely dodges the issues of what specific acts constitute good and evil, and whose ethics are supposed to proceed most authentically from the "ultimate source of goodness". According to Dostoyevsky, evil resides in Catholicism, westernisation, democracy, atheism and being French or Polish. The parable of the Grand Inquisitor is, among more elevated things, a long grumble about how Dostoyevsky's idea of Christ's message has been corrupted and tainted by those Christians with whom Dostoyevsky does not happen to agree. If Williams has a different list of evils from Dostoyevsky's - consumerism, disestablishment, indiscreet gay bishops and the lack of funding for hospital chaplains, perhaps - is that because the God who guides Williams is different to the one that guided Dostoyevsky, or because the God who guides Williams is better, or because either Williams or Dostoyevsky has wax in his ears when the ultimate source of goodness speaks? Is it because Williams is more qualified to speak of good and evil than Dostoyevsky, or because Williams is a professional theologian while Dostoyevsky was only an amateur, or because the doctrine of the Church of England is true and that of the Russian Orthodox church is not true? Or is it because ethics are relative and, like every other human attribute except stupidity, limited by time and circumstance?

The idea that evil things happen because people choose to do evil is also a very odd one. Do Williams or Vernon really believe that those who ran the Nazi camps, or the churchmen who supported them, did so because they believed they were doing evil and really rather liked it? What little evidence I have seen suggests that, on the contrary, they believed they were doing good - that the virtues of duty and patriotism outweighed the virtue of compassion towards those the regime wanted removed. Williams admits that "people will not be taught not to commit stupidities", but Vernon appears to think that this astounding discovery is strictly a post-Enlightenment one. Was the Inquisition an atheistic institution? Were the Crusades undertaken by infidels? Or is the idea supposed to be that Christian stupidities and evils are less deadly than other people's? Would you rather be burned as a witch by Christians or sacrificed to the sun by Aztecs? Is child-beating by Christian Brothers less harmful than child-beating by the non-ordained? Perhaps the schismatics are the problem. Would Tony's bombs have killed fewer Iraqis if he'd been a sincere Anglican rather than a closet Catholic?

The point of all this is not simply to "deliver knock-out blows", as Vernon phrases it. Knock-out blows have little effect on dead wood. I mean merely to point out, once again, that the Christian churches have not only failed to provide answers to those questions which have become relevant over the past couple of millennia, but have failed even to engage very deeply with those issues on which they claim to hold the highest possible human authority. At the end of The Brothers Karamazov, the saintly Alyosha's ultimate response to Ivan's devastating catalogue of tormented and murdered children is to choke back a tear, then go off and play guru to some living children. Christ's answer to the Grand Inquisitor is less insipid and a good deal more artistically successful, but just as futile. Nowadays, Benedict disdains and denounces while Williams flounders and tergiversates. Williams, like Dostoyevsky, tends to equate atheism with a "scientistic conception of human beings as gene-transmitting machines", or with regimes which seek to "turn human beings into automatons"; yet he has not the slightest idea of how to cope with our present ethical morass, beyond "Do as you're told".

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The People's Bloke

The People's Bloke is shallow blue,
With houses four, or maybe two.
No liar he, nor hypocrite;
He says so, and that settles it.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
Though Tories flinch and Labour fear,
He'll keep his hair-do wavy here.

In office he will trounce the Frogs
And kick the Krauts and bash the wogs.
In Washington his praise be sung
As rectums open to his tongue.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
With blood and sweat and toil and tears,
Our Head Boy talks away our fears.

Observe his squalling infant might,
Now all ahead seems dark as night.
With little deed and lots of vow,
He's ready for high office now.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
Lukewarm reform for peers and Blears
Should get him through the next few years.

He well recalls the triumphs past
Of Him whose spin was hard and fast.
With burble bright, with blather plain,
He'll steer us right and some will gain.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
Though foul corruption's head may rear,
The People's Bloke is in the clear.

The suits today are weak and base,
Their lobbied minds on pelf and place;
Glaze-eyed before the Murdoch frown,
Their arses up, their trousers down.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
With New New Labour bent and sere
It seems we're stuck with Davey dear.

With spewing bile and bitter gall,
We'll see him rise until he fall.
Our dungeons dark and gallows grim
Seem fairly well approved by him.

Then raise his living standard high;
To keep it up we live and die.
Though Tebbit wince, let Davey cheer;
He's onto quite a good thing here.

with apologies to The Red Flag

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Quality of Mercy is a Strain

The attorney general is going to ask the court of appeal to re-examine the sentences of those responsible for Baby P's death, presumably in the hope of a bit of leniency towards the Government in the scumbag press headlines for a day or two. The mother's boyfriend got twelve years for the baby's death and a life sentence for raping a two-year-old, although as yet it does not appear that any archbishops have stepped forth to praise the courage he has shown in condescending to stand trial. The mother and her lodger were given indefinite sentences, which means they will not be released until a parole board is satisfied that they are no longer dangerous. Translated into journalese, this means that the mother "could be released three years from now", because the judge imposed a five-year minimum sentence. Additionally, it is just possible that - even under the Daveybloke administration - parole boards will not have been entirely privatised in three years' time, and will therefore still have their hands muzzled and their teeth tied behind their backs thanks to the presence of overpaid, under-worked, benefits-claiming public service personnel who care more about the whims and day-trips of convicted criminals than about the market for moral pornography.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pile Up the Sandbags and Paint Your Windows White

The international community has reacted to North Korea's latest attempt to keep the peace in the Far East by condemning, denouncing, scrambling, huffing and puffing.

North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test is thought to have involved a bomb comparable to the one used on Hiroshima during the Japanese effort to surrender at the end of the Second World War.

The Hiroshima bomb, which was dropped by the USA in order to save lives, killed several more people than the North Korean test. The USA has condemned the test in chorus with other world leaders in disarmament including China.

President Obama referred to the test as a "blatant violation of international law", quite unlike anything that might have happened in Gaza recently.

Gordon Brown, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war who is in nominal charge of a minor part of America's North Atlantic disarmament activities, called the test "erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world".

The Home Secretary is thought to be preparing a public infotainment armaggedopackage advising hard-working families on how to protect themselves if approached by a North Korean.

Diplomats did not comment on whether the test showed that the long, hard search to find a Hitler for the second decade of the twenty-first century had finally reached a successful conclusion.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sacred Trust

There have been a hundred and forty reported security breaches in the NHS so far this year. Even the Government, including local authorities, has not been able to do better, although that might conceivably change if unreported breaches could be taken into account. The NHS is using all the time-honoured methods of British efficiency - leaving computers next to skips, downloading information onto laptops which are then stolen, encrypting disks and carefully taping the passwords onto them - all of which will no doubt send a clear and unequivocal message that anyone who can afford to do so should go private. There is a "cavalier attitude" to data protection, according to someone whom the Independent's political correspondent, Michael Savage (no relation, I take it), refers to as "the Information Commissioner's chief enforcer" - which conjures up some fairly painful if not strictly medical imagery, mostly involving kneecaps. The Commissioner himself has warned that "the sacred principle of doctor-patient confidentiality is being compromised", since NHS medical data is supposed to be available only to the police, the security services, and companies which are able to pay for it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Those Poor, Abused Barclay Boys

Lawyers acting for the thugs who own the Torygraph have jumped in with their hobnailed writs to shut down the weblog of Nadine Dorries, the wacky paragon of caring Conservatism who has compared the exposure of our MPs' expenses scam to the McCarthy witch-hunts in our greatest ally, and who has expressed concern that some of the more delicate flowers of the Westminster hothouse may yet be driven to suicide despite being innocent and therefore, presumably, fearing nothing but immigrants, terrorists, excessive BBC license fees and teenagers with knives. The Barclay brothers invoked "the acceptable user policy used by internet service providers to protect themselves against libel action provoked by comments on websites they host"; apparently the offending material consisted of some speculation by Dorries about the dark and devious motives behind the Torygraph's revelations. As Craig Murray points out, the material has not been found to be libellous in a court of law, even a British one, but has simply been censored at the behest of a couple of rich bullies. The only reason they were able to do it is because it was on a weblog rather than in Hansard, where parliamentary privilege (yes, another one) protects MPs against libel actions. A spokesbeing for the Torygraph apparently came over all coy when asked about the matter, perhaps having judged that a full and spontaneous reply would not be in the public interest.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Throw Physick to the Dogs

The New New Labour concept of public health care has been vigorously applied by NHS Tayside, which has used perhaps three million pounds of public money to pay a private clinic for little more than doctored papers and statistical massage. The clinic was paid for a minimum number of referrals per month, without regard to such minor matters as how many patients were actually referred and whether they received any treatment. "This contract shows the complex payment mechanism increases the risks and costs to the health boards", conclude two busybodies from Edinburgh University, who have demonstrated once again that the Freedom of Information Act holds perils for profiteers far beyond the Mother of Parliaments. Fortunately, the rules are different in England, so the risks and costs to the health boards are confidential, and somehow such sacred secrets don't seem to get left on trains quite as frequently as others.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Certain Latitude

Vicious anti-semites at the Advertising Standards Authority, backed up by terrorist sympathisers and self-hating Jews, are assessing the possibility of an investigation into an advertisement by the Righteous State's Tourism Office which wiped Palestine off the map. The poster, displayed by Lenin with typically orgasmic pro-Islamist fervour, includes a map which makes no distinction between the legally recognised state of Israel and the occupied territories; although in all fairness it must be said that the Righteous State's Tourism Office does not appear to have presented Gaza or the West Bank as particularly magnetic spots for holiday-makers, even in a recession. Even the embassy of Syria, not the most ethically attractive state in the world, has been able to climb on its high moral horse over the "outrageous falsification of the facts and a violation of international law" because the map on the poster includes the Golan Heights, which the Righteous State annexed "unilaterally" (as opposed, presumably, to annexing them bilaterally or multilaterally) fourteen years after seizing them in the 1967 war. The poster's act of cartographic Holocaust-memorialising is part of a campaign, Think Israel, which has run into this sort of trouble before; last year a magazine advertisement implied that Qumran was part of Legal Israel when in fact it is only part of Greater Israel.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I Will Send Wild Beasts Among You

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, successor to the well-known children's friend and Nazi-sniffer Cormac Murphy O'Connor, has responded to a five-volume, 2600-page Irish report on the wonders of faith schools by commending the courage of those who are forced to let their sins be concealed by the Roman Catholic Church rather than exposed and punished by an amoral secular state. Nichols also noted that "we shouldn't forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that [the various sadists and paedophiles] also did", though he does not appear to have gone into specifics. As a matter of fact, the report does mention that "a word of consideration or encouragement, or an act of sympathy or understanding, had a profound effect. Adults in their 60s and 70s recalled seemingly insignificant events that had remained with them all their lives ... Often the act of kindness, recalled in such a positive light, arose from the simple fact that the staff member had not given a beating when one was expected." Well, if such conduct did no harm at Nineveh, I suppose it can hardly have bothered a few thousand children "deemed to be petty thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families - a category that often included unmarried mothers". The report also concludes that the faith schools' "management did not listen to or believe children when they complained of the activities of some of the men who had responsibility for their care", and that inspections were carried out with due respect for the staunch and deeply held beliefs of the criminals whose activities they were supposed to be monitoring. In a similar spirit of charity and forgiveness, the report's findings will not be used for prosecutions, and victims of abuse will receive compensation from the Irish government only if they give up the right to sue the church.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Movie Annual

I don't usually indulge in this sort of thing, but what the hell.

1969 The Wild Bunch. Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece, in which some illegal immigrants get into trouble. Runner-up: David Cronenberg's Stereo, a fascinating early film in which many of his mature concerns are adumbrated in somewhat more concentrated form than in his commercial features.
1970 The Red Circle. Jean-Pierre Melville's late gangster film, with a superb cast including Delon, Volontè, Montand and Bourvil, and the brilliant set-piece jewel robbery.
1971 Macbeth. Roman Polanski's version was pilloried for cutting a third of the original dialogue and adding the cynical ending, but it remains one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever made, with fine widescreen cinematography and a convincing recreation of eleventh-century Scotland.
1972 Aguirre, Wrath of God. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski in their masterpiece. It starts with the representatives of civilisation carrying wheels on their backs and ends with a man lording it over a raft of monkeys.
1973 Don't Look Now. One of the cinema's best ghost stories. Nicolas Roeg's elliptical editing style is perfectly suited to the paranormal theme, and it also has Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie and a thoroughly nasty trick ending.
1974 Céline and Julie Go Boating. One of my five (or possibly three) favourite films ever: two beautiful heroines, a haunted house and a hugely imaginative, hilarious and beguiling fantasy in which the only special effects are the performances, the script and the editing.
1975 Death Race 2000. Cheap and cheery sci-fi satire in the best seventies tradition, directed by Paul Bartel and featuring Sylvester Stallone, who gets to deliver the line: "You know, Myra, some people might think you're cute. But me, I think you're one very large baked potato."
1976 The Man Who Fell to Earth. An astronaut lands on an alien planet in search of water, bearing technological gifts. The aliens take the gifts, seduce the astronaut and help him to destroy himself with alcohol and television. Runner-up: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, which I saw when I was about thirteen and which pleased me inordinately with its amoralism, elitism and Jodie Foster.
1977 Suspiria. When I was eight or nine, I saw a trailer for this in the cinema. I don't remember what the main feature was (it could have been Star Wars, or possibly even Grease), but the trailer was loud, spooky, weird and without the slightest hint of what the title meant or what the story was. Naturally, I was sold, but I had to wait twenty years to see it on video and another five or six to see it in its widescreen glory. A very close second for this nomination: George Romero's Martin. Honourable mention: Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which has its problems but also has James Coburn, James Mason, David Warner and an ending to rival that of The Wild Bunch.
1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Philip Kaufman's brilliant remake of Don Siegel's fine original. The words "brilliant remake" are pretty much an oxymoron these days, but it was not always so. Nicely characterised, beautifully acted and with another truly horrible ending. Honourable mentions to Eraserhead and Days of Heaven.
1979 Stalker. Tarkovsky's second greatest film, after the majestic Andrei Rublev. There are occasional longueurs, some over-explicit monologues and apparently the subtitles don't do the dialogue justice; but the sublime visuals, the unearthly music and the epic simplicity of the story blast all such quibbles to nothing. Runner-up: Cronenberg's The Brood, the last word on family values.
1980 Inferno. Argento's loose sequel to Suspiria, which bothers even less with plot and instead strings together a series of strange encounters and bloody murders. A girl's exploration of a flooded basement near the beginning of the film is one of the eeriest set-pieces I've ever seen, and Va, pensiero has never sounded quite the same since Leigh McCloskey's experience in the lecture hall and Eleonora Giorgi's taxi ride.
1981 Blind Chance. Kieslowski's famous film about three alternate lives experienced by a single protagonist. As always, the director does not rest satisfied with the High Concept and injects plenty of actual story and character for later ripoffs to ignore. Honourable mention to another film by a Polish director, Andrzej Zulawski's Possession.
1982 The Thing. John Carpenter's best film, and a far better one than Howard Hawks' 1951 production, of which it is supposedly a remake. In fact, The Thing largely ignores the Hawks film, being instead a rather faithful adaptation of the original John W Campbell story, "Who Goes There?" As with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there are plenty of special effects and a few in-jokes, but the wit, verve and craftsmanship are its own.
1983 Videodrome. Cronenberg's incomparable media satire, with a verbal wit to match its visual weirdness. "You'll excuse me if I don't stick around," says one corporate nasty to James Woods, whose head is encased in a luminous, pulsating electronic pod; "I just can't handle the freaky stuff." Runner-up: Michael Mann's dreamlike The Keep, which is just as strange, just as unique and even more criminally under-rated.
1984 Once Upon A Time in America. Sergio Leone's last, longest, bleakest, most moving film, and the best gangster movie ever made. An elderly ex-mobster returns home in response to a mysterious invitation, leading him to an unpalatable truth which, in true birth-of-a-nation, print-the-legend style, he chooses to ignore. Butchered by the studio on its original release, its complex associative structure dumbed into linearity for the mentally Hollywood, it lasts three hours and forty-five minutes and doesn't waste a single frame.
1985 Brazil. Terry Gilliam's manic variant of Nineteen Eighty-Four, with script input by Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown and with such visual and satiric verve that the studio couldn't understand it and wouldn't release it. An outstanding cast of British character actors, along with Robert De Niro and the under-used Kim Greist. Close seconds: Romero's Day of the Dead and Paul Schrader's Mishima.
1986 The Fly. The first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still impressive for its cute dialogue, depth of characterisation, and the hero's unconventional take on the business of undergoing horrible mutations. He does not say that his invention went wrong; he says that it turned into a different invention. Runner-up: Michael Mann's Manhunter, which treats of the perils of empathy and has Kim Greist again and Brian Cox as an impressive Hannibal Lecter.
1987 Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick in Vietnam. Rather than the horror, the horror (Apocalypse Now) or agonising about the awful, awful harm done to Americans by the Vietnamese (Platoon), Kubrick presents the war through the eyes of cheerful teenage killers who speak almost entirely in boot-camp clichés and leering sexual innuendoes. It makes a healthy change from the usual Vietnam-film drone of militant self-pity; and it's fascinating, too.
1988 Dead Ringers. "Two bodies. Two minds. One soul", ran the tagline, which for once has some relation to the film it's talking about. Twins played by Jeremy Irons find their life unbalanced by Geneviéve Bujold, who like most lovers only loves part of a person. In this case it's easier because the part has an entire body and mind of its own; nevertheless, it remains incomplete. Honourable mention: Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, again beautifully performed, particularly by the radiant Juliette Binoche.
1989 Heathers. The Internet Movie Database gives the year as 1988, but it was released in the US in 1989; lump it. The ultimate teen movie, with Winona Ryder as the heroine, Christian Slater as her amiably sociopathic boyfriend, Kim Walker as the incarnation of evil, and lines like "fuck me gently with a chainsaw".
1990 Henry and June. Kaufman's delightful film about the friendship between Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) and Henry and June Miller (Fred Ward and Uma Thurman) in 1930s Paris. Intelligent, urbane, and adult in the proper and all too rare sense of the word.
1991 Naked Lunch. Another film about a writer; this time William Burroughs, alias Lee, who in the opening shot knocks on the shadow of his own head and announces: "Exterminator". Cronenberg observed that a straight adaptation of Naked Lunch would cost billions and be banned everywhere in the world (even, possibly, Westminster), so the film is a surreal version of Burroughs' life between the accidental shooting death of his wife and the writing of the book that made him famous.
1992 Blade Runner. I know it came out in 1982, but that was the Producers' Cut, a very different and inferior film to the Director's Cut released ten years later. No voice-over, no illogical happy ending with out-takes from The Shining, and all the good stuff left in.
1993 Dust Devil. The posters for this one quoted somebody as comparing it to "Tarkovsky on speed". A riveting horror story by Richard Stanley who made Hardware in 1990; set in South Africa and Namibia, and featuring a demon, a woman and a burnt-out policeman.
1994 Death and the Maiden. Polanski's fine version of Ariel Dorfman's play: a three-hander with Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson. The encounter between a torture victim and a man she claims is the torturer leads to villain-victim role-swapping and power games in the best Polanski tradition.
1995 The Addiction. Abel Ferrara's concise black-and-white chiller is far and away the best among the 1990s slew of vampire films which also included Coppola's Dracula and Jordan's Interview with the Vampire. A young philosophy student is attacked by an elegant woman who tells her "look me in the face and tell me to go away". After making an attack of her own, the student coldly tells her victim: "It's not my actions but your incredulity that needs examination here". At her graduation party she says "I'd like to share a little of what I've learned" and savages the neck of the person standing next to her, turning the gathering into a vision of the Pit.
1996 Crash. Cronenberg's adaptation of J G Ballard's kit of desperate measures is less garish and more emotional than the book, but hardly less disturbing.
1997 Lost Highway. David Lynch's first foray into the theme of split and/or multiple identities which has been prominent in both of his subsequent features. Bill Pullman's nerve-jangling party encounter with Robert Blake is the bit I remember best, but none of it is terribly comfortable. Runner-up: L. A. Confidential.
1998 The Thin Red Line. Terrence Malick's war epic, with his usual glorious visuals and voice-overs which complement the action rather than just explaining the premise or filling in the plot-holes.
1999 Audition. I saw this because I saw the poster in London's Forbidden Planet - a delicate young Japanese woman in a plastic apron, her head lowered, holding a hypodermic at the ready. The film starts like a light romantic comedy - a middle-aged widower and his friend arrange a fake film audition so that the widower can meet a nice girl - but descends into horror as the man discovers, or possibly fantasises, what lies behind the demure exterior of the woman he chooses.
2000 Werckmeister Harmonies. Béla Tarr's tale of a tatty travelling show, featuring a man called the Prince and a dead whale, that precipitates chaos wherever it goes. Slow, mysterious, hypnotic, monochrome, eerie, and very, very peculiar.
2001 Mulholland Drive. David Lynch's dream of Hollywood, seen through the distorting lens of a mind trying desperately to get away from itself, featuring a great performance by Naomi Watts.
2002 Revengers Tragedy. Alex Cox's punk-sci-fi version of the Jacobean bloodbath, with Christopher Eccleston as the avenger and Eddie Izzard as his dupe.
2003 Memories of Murder. The factually-based story of a botched investigation by the corrupt and inept South Korean police into a still unsolved series of murders; directed by Bong Joon-Ho, who more recently made The Host.
2004 The Incredibles. The best superhero film ever made, featuring the diminutive genius Edna Mode, costume designer to the gods.
2005 The Proposition. Another blood-spattered birth of a nation; this time Australia, which Imperial lawman Ray Winstone is determined to civilise, whether by partaking of a traditional English Christmas dinner in the baking antipodean sun or by freeing the land of psychopathic gangster Danny Huston. The proposition is made by Winstone to Huston's brother, Guy Pearce: unless Pearce kills Huston, their mentally impaired younger brother will be executed. Things do not go smoothly, and the "civilisation" of the tough but uxorious Winstone is placed under a severe strain.
2006 Inland Empire. An extraordinary performance by Laura Dern (particularly in the course of a horrifying monologue addressed to a sordid private detective), and any number of extraordinary images by David Lynch. I can't begin to summarise it, but it scared the living daylights out of me the first time I saw it, and repeated viewings have hardly lessened the impact.
2007 There Will Be Blood. Visually stunning, with a splendid, partly atonal score and fine committed performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano as a megalomaniac tycoon and a smarmy preacher, this is Peak Oil's Apocalypse Now.
2008 I haven't yet seen anything made in 2008.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dirty Work

The board of directors at Shell has been subjected to the irritation of having the shareholders kick up a fuss at the annual meeting. The company was operating an "incentive scheme" whereby directors would be given shares to the value of twice their meagre salaries if Shell did better than three of its four main rivals. Although Shell failed to achieve this goal, the directors decided they deserved some of the reward they had been offered on condition of its not failing; but the shareholders, many of whom are doubtless down to their last two cars by now, do not seem to have seen things that way. The company is also facing trial over its activities in the Niger Delta, where there are allegations of collusion in human rights abuses - a minor matter of getting a few eco-terrorists strung up - and where oil spills have cost the shareholders money.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Because He's Worth It

The same delightful sense of humour which led an American foundation to refer to the Glorious Successor as a world statesman has now infected an Israeli university to the extent that it has thrown a million dollars at the Ascended and Transfigured Vicar of Downing Street. His reverence has been awarded the Dan David prize for "achievements having an outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social impact on our world"; fortunately, there seems to be no mention of whether the said impact should be positive or negative, thus leaving the prize open to such eligible contenders as nuclear weapons, global warming, the Black Death and Tony Blair. The effectiveness of his reverence as a peace envoy was thrown into welcome relief during the recent phase of the peace process which the Righteous State executed, if that is the word I want, in Gaza. About fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed, along with thirteen real people; but, as with the Iraq crusade, things would undoubtedly have been much worse if not for the activities of his reverence, who has "made progress in securing an important new mobile telephone frequency for the Palestinians".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Green Shoots

By some mysterious process, quite beyond the comprehension of the Observer's home affairs editor, the basic pay of leading bankers has defied the economic downturn. The basic pay of leading bankers is a remarkably cunning and elusive beast, which used to keep pace with similar beasts in the FTSE 100 phylum, but has overtaken them all during the past decade of intense relaxation about getting richer and filthier - or do I misquote? Anyway, some leading bankers are taking home more money now than before the Northern Rock fiasco; and this despite the vast amounts of public money which the Government has pumped into the banking system. In much the same way, foxes set to guard henhouses have been known to gain weight and emerge with bloodied feathers stuck to their faces despite their carnivorous appetites and the absence of any measures to deter them. It is all very mysterious indeed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Closing In

With his usual lightning perspicacity, the Glorious Successor has realised that it might be expedient to try and look as if he feels the public's pain about the expenses scam, at least to the extent that his own tokenism matches that of Daveybloke's Cuddly Claimants. Accordingly, he has decreed that, until such time as the Freedom of Information Act can be given appropriate dental treatment, any Labour MP who is found to have made improper claims "will be automatically deselected and barred from standing at the next general election". Improper claims being presumably those that are not merely excessive but are actually outside the parsimonious, Church of Scotland rules which MPs impose upon themselves, it is a little surprising that Gordon, or at least James Purnell, has not promised prosecutions, fines, community payback, tagging or custodial sentences for the miscreants in question. Surely they're not afraid of prejudicing whatever inquiries may be undertaken by the best police force in the world.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Isle of the Blessed

Some of God's elect have warned that, as usual, the other cheek will not be turned. The island of Lewis, in the Hebrides, is to receive a Sunday ferry service for the first time; and the Protestant community, which is "staunchly Calvinist" (Christians are staunch; Muslims, atheists and other undesirables are militant) in its belief that man was made for the Sabbath and not the Sabbath for man, is filled with holy wrath. Many staunch believers "refuse to work, play sports, watch television, read anything other than the Bible or even drive a car except to reach church" on Sundays; apparently a catalogue of murder, swindling, inanity and excessive begetting is less restful when viewed on the box than when read on the page. The staunch ones have warned that the ferry service will provoke angry protests, in accordance with Christ's legal ruling at Matthew 5 xl. "The Western Isles are unique and are a Christian bulwark," fulminated John Roberts, the staunch director of the Lord's Day Observance Society. "Sunday sailing will shatter the uniqueness of the islands and cause unnecessary work", particularly as, despite Sunday being a day of rest, the Lord's chosen "will not lie down if the company plans to put profit before the law of God and break the Sabbath".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To A Distinguished Film-Maker Upon His Sixty-Fifth Birthday

In other galaxy, in other age,
They dwell to whom thine opera appear
More deep than that great space from ear to ear
Within our younglings' skulls who call thee sage.
Thou tellest that the dark side does not pay,
And love is good; while hate, we find, is not.
In thirty years, and thirteen hours of plot,
Thou preachest: one should choose the good guys' way.

Hast moved a generation to its core
With magic light and noble fighting monks;
Hast branded all with plastic robot dreams.
O swish thy sabre; let us have yet more
Of dialogue that resonantly clunks
Betwixt the tinkling of thy laser beams.

Grimbole Pucker

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Give Us the Tools and We Will Bodge Something More or Less Together

The Minister for Bleached Quadrennial Pachyderms has assured fellow expenses claimants that "the public purse will receive substantial returns" from the Olympic village which said purse is now obliged to fund. A deal offered by a private company, Lend Lease, was rejected as not good enough; which, bearing in mind New New Labour's idea of a good deal, gives some indication of the kind of people whose sloppy seconds the taxpayer is expected to slurp up with a smile. The honest Mrs Mills has said that the Olympics building programme is helping to stimulate the economy; doubtless this is why the project has now been placed in the inefficient, over-paid, uncompetitive public sector rather than given to one of the many thrusting, can-do and, above all, honest private companies jostling for the opportunity to just employ the hell out of everybody once Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives have abolished that ghastly minimum wage which has been holding us back all these years. Once the international festival of advertising and jingoism is finished, the Olympic village will be converted into homes and shops, thirty per cent of the homes being "affordable" to someone or other, while the rest will be "sold on the open market". Presumably, the homes sold on the open market will be unaffordable; but since the economic recovery is inextricably linked to high house prices, this will obviously be a Good Thing. Someone has manufactured an "artist's impression" of how the urban paradise will look: the London sky in 2012 will be blue and unpolluted, and despite the apocalyptic terrorist threat there won't be a security camera in sight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dropped From My Black Spitfire to My Funeral Barge

Daveybloke's latest mirror trick seems to be clattering apart already. The Other Out With Wogs, Down With Frogs Party has never entirely reconciled itself to Britain's position on the periphery of Europe; many of its more upright members would much rather be outside it altogether, and it appears that Daveybloke has decided the best policy is to appease the neo-tebbits in case they retain their form of the past decade and a half and prove themselves the single factor capable of winning New New Labour the next election. Accordingly, Daveybloke has withdrawn the British Conservative party from the main right-wing bloc in Europe, in order to isolate himself in "a caucus of European Conservatives", which presumably will comprise all those European parties which do not believe in Europe, viz. the neo-tebbit wing of the British Conservative party. Daveybloke claims that the British Conservative party has "a positive vision of Europe" as a dumping ground for lesser breeds; but he and his party "profoundly believe the Lisbon treaty is wrong", possibly because it fails to guarantee us the Queen's head on our stamps and sovereignty in perpetuity over the Falkland Islands, but doubtless at least partly because New New Labour more or less believe the Lisbon treaty is not wrong. The price of this clear blue water is that Daveybloke's master stroke has annoyed the Swedes, alienated the Czechs, given the Upper Miliband his first good laugh in weeks and caused the German chancellor to state: "We refuse to extend our hand to those who reject the Lisbon treaty ... and who at the same time speak of enlargement"; or, in Anglo-Saxon, to call Daveybloke of Albion a two-faced, four-flushing little squit. Imagine that. Let's hope Daveybloke and some of his Cuddly Conservatives remember who won the war.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Britannia Hospital

The Royal College of Nursing has launched a petition in support of the nurse who was struck off the register for the heinous crime of blowing the whistle on the Royal Sussex Hospital's ill-treatment of elderly patients. The Nursing and Midwifery Council admitted that the problems were of an "exceptionally serious nature", but decided that their airing on the BBC's Panorama was a more serious problem still. The petition has attracted almost forty thousand signatures, more than two thirds of the number on the one asking the Glorious Successor to resign; not unlike the legislative body of which Gordon is the hollow head, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has "lost the confidence" of those whose behaviour it is supposed to regulate. Even the visionary Minister for Health Industry Privatisation, Ben Bradshaw, said that the penalty was "unduly harsh", which is at least a step on the path to the sanity-oriented viewpoint that no penalty should have been imposed. As one would expect, none of the managers at the Royal Sussex Hospital have been disciplined; presumably because any hint of sanctions would cause the brightest and best in our health service to flee abroad in search of less regulated shores.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Malicious Falsehood

The row over the expenses scam for Members of Parliament continues to highlight the fact that Britain can no longer afford the luxury of a Freedom of Information Act. The conduct of Jacqui Smith, our efficient and dignified Home Secretary, has been branded "near-fraudulent" by a former chair of the committee on standards in public life, on the grounds that "one has to be careful with the word 'fraudulent'". He might as well have let rip, since Agent Smith hit the roof anyway: "This is a malicious falsehood, and implies that Jacqui is lying," a spokesbeing said, in between threats of legal action. If successful, such legal action may one day be a useful source for the compensation and costs due Michael Savage. Elsewhere, a poll by the Maul on Sunday has shown that Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives "appear to be emerging unscathed as the controversy grows", presumably because shifting one's vote from one party to another over this issue makes about as much difference as shifting it over most other issues.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Civilisation Safeguarded Once More

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, whose film Ten is a small miracle achieved with only a car, a camera and a handful of actors, has fallen victim to the Border Agency's determination to ensure "that the UK continues to stay open and attractive to visitors". To this end, the British embassy in Tehran demanded paperwork, demanded fingerprints, granted a visa, withdrew the visa, demanded re-application, demanded fingerprints and pointed out that this was the sort of thing that had helped to catch five thousand criminals worldwide. The ambassador tried to intervene, but by then Kiarostami had decided that the privilege of working with the English National Opera during our present cultural renaissance was a bit more trouble than it was worth. "It would be tempting to brand [the actions of the embassy] Kafkaesque, yet to do so would be to imbue them with rather too much intelligence," he said. A spokesbeing for the Border Agency pointed out that, rather than intelligence, its staff were required to show "the utmost integrity and professionalism" and that it had "taken many steps to ensure that everyone - including foreign artists who make an important contribution to the UK - know about our tough rules, which include having a licensed sponsor". The opera which Kiarostami was to have directed will now be directed by his assistant, Elaine Tyler-Hall; so I suppose we must thank the British embassy in Tehran and the Border Agency for having safeguarded at least one British job for a British worker.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Alas, The World

Alas, the world is steeped in doom
And evil, nastiness and gloom.
I trudge each day my weary beat
On my downtrodden grudging feet,
Which, for no reason I can see,
Grow nails that pierce my hosiery
And, lacking better things to do,
Scrape at the inside of my shoe.
Alas, the world is full of pain -
I'm running out of socks again.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Rising Fall Into Tragic Cycle

The gap between the richest and poorest - or, as the Glorious Successor would put it, between hard-working families and those who don't play by the rules - has been increasing year by year since the last general election and is now at its widest since records began. The poorest fifth of households have lost two and a half per cent of their income, while the richest fifth have gained more than three per cent. Britain's leading think tank on tax and benefits has made the dazzling deduction that the increase in poverty "was due to weak income growth for those on low pay". Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives do not appear to have commented on the matter.

Despite the confidence of Gordon's little Darling that green shoots will begin to push their way out from the economic manure pile fairly soon, New New Labour has decided that one more broken promise will make very little difference, and has announced that it won't be lifting half of Britain's children out of poverty after all. "It is very difficult to model the impact of the recession on child poverty," said Beverley Hughes. Meeting the 2010 target is also "very difficult", although it appears that child poverty will be cut by half a million thanks to something or other which the Government has been doing since 2007 - dawn raids and data losses, presumably. Theresa May, the shadow Secretary for the Undeserving Poor, babbled that "it is a tragedy that the number of children falling into the poverty cycle is continuing to rise". Once the Daveybloke administration gets under way, we shall no doubt observe the rapid metamorphosis of that tragedy into a price worth paying.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

She's Got A Little List

Our charming and talented Secretary for the Prosecution of Extraneous Commoners and the Termination of Rebellious Entities has brought off another triumph, this time over her list of sixteen people who have been banned from entering the country, which she published so that people in Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and so forth "could better understand what sort of behaviour Britain was not prepared to tolerate". There is another list of six more people who have been banned from entering the country on the same grounds, but Agent Smith has decreed that publishing this list would not be in the public interest; perhaps because the prohibition helps to give the whole exercise its characteristic New New Labour bouquet of a foot being pointlessly shot at and then arbitrarily chewed.

Anyway, one of the names on Agent Smith's published list was that of Michael Savage, Michael Weiner, who has responded by calling Agent Smith a lunatic and threatening a lawsuit. Savage, who has the customary American difficulty in telling England apart from the United Kingdom, regards it as defamatory for Smith to lump him in with "skinheads who are killing people in Russia" and "mass murderers who kill Jews on buses"; though what he thought about being lumped in with solid American citizens like Fred Waldron Phelps and a former Great Sheety Conehead of the Ku Klux Klan is, regrettably, not recorded. Savage states that he has "never avowed violence"; which, if true, makes him one of the very few right-wingers to have refrained from supporting the Iraq mission at its most accomplished or the kind of mass murderers who kill Palestinians in schools and hospitals. This being the case, Agent Smith's characterisation of Savage as someone "who has fallen into the category of fomenting hatred, of such extreme views and expressing them in such a way that it is actually likely to cause inter-community tension or even violence" becomes immediately understandable.

Savage's lawsuit, if it goes ahead, could be a bountiful source of good clean fun over the months till Daveybloke takes over; but Savage is white, American and a public figure, not just another Pakistani student. Whether Agent Smith gets lost in a reshuffle or snatches a typical New New Labour victory by caving in and then lying about it, I fear the matter will not go far.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thou That Killest the Prophets

Thirty-five writers with variations of the Abrahamic delusion have urged the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak to be on his best behaviour when he visits Jerusalem next week. The writers are concerned that the Pope is sending "divided messages" on anti-semitism. Since the messages include support for the Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass and the proposed canonisation of the Venerable Pius the Unmartyred, it may be difficult for some to see where the divisions lie. Even a Catholic nun has observed that, as a former Grand Inquisitor whose organisation had a long and doubtless forgiving relationship with Williamson's splinter group, the Pope's claim of ignorance was "a bit disingenuous". She suggests that he go as a "penitent pilgrim", as one would expect from the heir of Alexander VI, Leo X, Urban VIII and the aforementioned Pius. While in the holy city, the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak will meet with Jewish religious leaders and war criminals, as well as Mahmoud Abbas and some suitably tame existential threats; doubtless he will lend the weight of his moral authority to the UN's demands that Israel account for some of the non-routine crimes committed during the late rampage in Gaza.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Bit Woolly, and Quite Dead

A baby mammoth which fell into "an ice age muddy river some 40,000 years ago" has been exhumed only to fall victim to the Holocene-age muddy prose of the Guardian's environment correspondent. The mammoth's body was almost perfectly preserved thanks to a "biological twist of fate"; namely the fact that it "became quickly wrapped in frozen sediment". A lesser scientist than the Guardian's environment correspondent, even assuming he was a fellow graduate of the Barbara Cartland school of audience disapathy solicitation, might have referred to this as a geological twist of fate. The Guardian's environment correspondent dismisses one theory about the reasons for the mammoths' extinction as "an echo of modern concerns about climate change", and appears to believe that another theory blames "early human hunters"; presumably Homo erectus, which became extinct only 190,000 years before the mammoths did. The Guardian's environment correspondent expends the last third of his allotted verbiage on the fact that the mammoth's "lost kin" are unlikely to be cloned "à la Dolly the sheep", or perhaps à la Dickie the ham in Stevie's famous velociturkey. One problem, apparently, is that this particular baby mammoth "took [the] secret" of the number of the species' chromosomes "to her freezing grave". The attempt by the Guardian's environment correspondent to inject a bit of Gothic atmosphere into the proceedings is certainly to be commended, as is his focus on the probable practical impossibility of achieving a theoretically possible futility, rather than on anything so tedious as the story of the discovery or even (may the gods of infotainment forfend) its significance to science.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Practicalitisatory Politicality, Publicalisatory Populatilicity

In a crisis, as everyone knows, the decent British thing is to gather round, pull together, lend a hand and muddle through. Presumably this explains why the Secretary for National Fragmentation and Under-funding has chosen this week - undoubtedly one of the Glorious Successor's least glorious, even with almost a hundred weeks of ignominy to choose from - to attack her Beloved Leader in print. According to a senior party figure quoted by the Observer, the Hazy Blah is "part of a very active right-wing faction within the party" which, despite being actively right-wing, seems to have some sort of disagreement with the Glorious Successor. Backed up by the brilliant Ruth Kelly, a sort of Geoff Hoon with Fallopian tubes, the Blah is adamant that the Government "has the right policies"; but, as one would expect of a Blairite, waxes discontented about the much more important issue of how those policies are presented. The Blah burbles about a "meta-narrative", which "needs to be supported by practical policies", hopefully including a policy of looking up "meta-narrative" in the dictionary. The Blah notes that New New Labour's approach to the Gurkha issue - a hundred thousand slant-eyed barbarians living on whatever tax money the bankers haven't got - was purely rational, and was defeated only by "a wave of emotion" from the instincts, fears and hopes of the unthinking British public which has voted New Labour to its three historic terms. As a staunch supporter of the Vicar of Downing Street and his policy of preventing interference in the democratic process by the public, the Labour party or the House of Commons, the Blah suggests that Gordon and his bunker-mates start knocking on doors and setting up stalls in town centres, so that they can hear and ignore public anger at first hand.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Constitutional Cross-Dressing

Beneficiaries of the Government's overspend on civil servants have been spying on campaigners against the Heathrow metastasis, much to the silence of civil liberties champions of the David Davis school. The Department for Carriage, Pumpage and Scrappage has a unit with the Stalinesque name of "comms directorate" whose brief is "to continually monitor protest groups and brief staff/police accordingly". A spokesbeing said that "the information gathered was readily available in the public domain and simply used to alert staff and the police to any disruption that was anticipated" at protests, or as the Department schoolmarmishly calls them, "public exhibitions". Evidently the gathering of readily available information is a task far beyond the capabilities of the police themselves.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Does Whitehall Have Enough Nuclear Power Stations?

The Sustainable Development Commission reports that the Government is going to miss its own pitifully inadequate targets for cutting carbon emissions. The Government's own figures, which are no doubt as reliable as any the Government has produced for civilian casualties in Iraq or green shoots in the economy, show a decrease in emissions of 6.3% in the past ten years. The target is twelve and a half per cent by 2011-2012. The Commission also noted that emissions could be cut by sixty-eight per cent, and the green technology and construction sectors helped, by an investment of slightly less than has already been spent on rewarding the causes of the current financial crisis. The Government's chief sustainability officer (sustainability being merely a single, vaguely desirable aspect of government, rather than an overriding concern of every department) said that the Government would be "revising targets and commitments", rather than changing its practice. There is a also a "national goal" of an eighty per cent cut in emissions by 2050; fortunately, this can be safely ignored as it lies beyond the lifetime of the present Parliament and is merely legally binding.