Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Result That Will Reverberate Around The Universe

It is certain Rangers will fight to remain in the Scottish Premier League. It is equally certain that they will face bitter opposition . That opposition, though, it seems to me, is not a united phalanx singing from the same hymn sheet. - Herald Sport, 19th June

Quail, ye mortals, before the might of legendary commentator Archie MacPherson's mixed metaphors and misguided analogies.  You won't find any bigger fish around the corner on the mean streets of, uh, football punditry.

It's a sensational piece, quite possibly the most confused analysis of anything at all that I've ever read.  I urge you to click the link and give the article a quick scan, so that you can appreciate it in its full grandeur.

Truly, Archie has hit the nail on the nose here, for the other SPL sides most definitely are not an ancient battle formation composed of spearmen in ordered ranks, simultaneously singing a number of different Christian devotional songs, behind the protection of a defensive shield wall. 

We should hope not, at a time when Sky Sports is watching their deliberations with interest - a "hovering presence" and yet not an "unethical intruder" - in the hope that Scottish football will be its "hod-carrier".   Archie cautions those who wish to play "hardball" with Sky to bring an alternative "business plan", and rightly so!

After all, who in their right mind would try to play baseball with a levitating broadcaster that wants our national game to carry bricks on its behalf, without a back-up entrepreneurial proposition?

Though if anyone should attempt it and succeed, such a person would surely be able to sell Sky Sports property in the failed 17th century Scottish colony of Darien.

Yet, there are those who fail to heed Archie's words of wisdom - incautious souls embarked upon a "Salem"-esque witchhunt not unlike the American "Tea Party" movement, which stops short of becoming Obama-hating "Birthers" yet closely resembles...

"...Storm-troopers who, like some disbelievers in the Australian public over the dingo/baby case even forty years hence, will steadfastly not believe a word coming out of Ibrox". 

...Thus proving that a "diverse army" composed of "battalions" of doubtful German WWI shock troops, is besieging the "proscenium arch" of Rangers' stadium by invoking the "Corinthian ideal", wherein new owner Charles Green "soliloquises" like Hamlet from "the ramparts of Elsinore".

All of which confuses our noble pundit, who is already struggling to keep track of the "chimera-like" shape-shifting of Rangers FC's corporate identity, which is very like "being asked to divine for water in the Sahara".

Seriously, read it - I'm barely exaggerating here.  On the way to his uncertain conclusion, Archie also manages to misunderstand F. Scott Fitzgerald's "No second acts in American life" quote and wrongly identify the chimera as a shape-shifter, rather than the traditional Lion-fronted, goat-bodied and snake-tailed conception of the mythical beast.

Everybody likes Archie, a senior statesman of the game, so I'm not going to put the boot in too brutally.  Nonetheless, since the main thrust of his piece is that a) the Rangers FC situation is very confusing and complicated and that b) we shouldn't rush to judgement, I'll just ask...

Did Archie's article leave you any further forward?

Okay, here, let me give you a recap, to clarify matters. 

Rangers FC are a rapidly and continually metamorphosising football club engaged in a play of many acts, owned by Hamlet in Denmark, and trying to work out what's going on within the theatre that is their stadium is like trying to find water in the desert.

MEANWHILE, people who are angry about Rangers FC's deeds are like battalions of ancient spear-carrying German storm-troopers who are singing motley Christian hymns and doubting historical Australian murder verdicts, while trying to play baseball with a powerful business entity that wants football to lug bricks but doesn't want to intrude. 

AND SO, if this witch-hunting army, marching under a banner of sporting integrity, fails to offer a plausible alternative sales package, then it seems very unlikely that Sarah Palin will be able to sell  land in 17th century Panama to Sky Sports.

Because there are many acts in Scottish football life.  You see?

Well, I'm quite willing to answer questions, if there are any parts that are still hazy.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Short-Range Weekend Forecast

Wind and shitty rain, everywhere, all the time.

You know what I blame for all this bad weather?  The collapse of the traditional work ethic, that's what.

You heard.

See if that Odin spent less time hanging off trees and rather more time practicising his monstrous-wolf-fighting skills, there'd be none of these gales and storms, I'll tell you that.

But just you try telling people that these days, and they'll call you a racist.  It's their culture, folk bleat at you, like that's some kind of excuse. 

How is getting stabbed with your own spear when you're supposed to be imparting strength to men "culture"?

Bloody laziness and wanting something for nothing, more like. 

Honestly, it's like bloody Fimbulwinter out there.  Those Norse gods want a right good kick up the arse, if you ask me.  It'll do them good in the long run.

But then, it's always the working man that suffers, nowadays.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rectaspection

Oh no!   Kids these day's don't know they're born!  Why, the shiftless little swines can't even hold down a job!

So it goes and always has, when it comes to The Youth Of Today.  We might well note that youth unemployment far outstrips demand for youths in the actual workplace, and that the geniuses responsible for that scenario didn't fritter away their adolescences guzzling Sunny Delight and melting their brains with The Only Way Is Essex.

Hell, the whip-smart intellectuals that brought us The Only Way Is Essex and Sunny D itself didn't grow up on that.

Out in the real world of work, the situation looks rather less black and white.  So broad a population can't be soundbitten, and the education system doesn't always produce the expected results, not even when it functions precisely as it's intended to.

Imagine you're four years old and on your way to school for the first time.  You're not a particularly bright kid, but you're quick on the uptake and you've been blessed with loving parents who take a keen interest in your education.  There's been academic success in the family, but it's mainly builders, mechanics and so on - practical people, good with useful, practical skills.

When you develop an aptitude for reading, Mum and Dad are delighted to shower you with books.  See Spot Run!   Stick in, behave, play nice.  Fantastic Mr Fox makes a daring getaway from mean Mr Bean's cider cellar.  Always believe in yourself.

Teachers are quick to notice.  You're a feather in their caps!  Even at that age, you know you're not that clever, but you've struck it lucky - the grown-ups love your little hobby.  They give you presents and gold stars and gush to each other - Such a bright little boy, so advanced. So... intense.

This isn't a sob story, by the way.  This is a tale of qualified success and moderate achievement.  The sad part is about the kids who banged their heads against Mr & Mrs Twit in silent frustration, trying fruitlessly to make sense of the jumble of letters, but this isn't about them.

School is fine.  You play football and collect conkers like everyone else.  Fingerpainting through rainy lunchtimes, milk at half-past ten.

Then something strange starts to happen - when you hit about nine or ten, your friends stop responding to your jokes and stories with laughs and daft insults.  They start saying things like That's weird and What does that mean? and eventually, the dreaded You think you're pretty fuckin clever, don't you? 

You wrack your brains trying to work out what changed, little knowing that every time you open your mouth, you might as well be speaking fluent Homosexualese.  Put down the Tolkien and eat a Pop Tart, Socrates.

High school.  Teachers hand you punishment exercises with weary regularity - I will not talk back in class, a hundred times, please.  Beloved aunties and uncles are warier - they think you're taking the piss.  Sometimes you are!  Most of the time, you don't have a clue what everyone's so damn touchy about.  People don't act like this in Grange Hill.

Caesar marches across Gaul and beseiges Alesia.  Decide for yourself, kid - don't let anyone tell you how to think.   The Culture destroys an Orbital to prevent it falling into Idiran hands.  Napoleon drives Snowball off the farm and has Boxer sent to the glue factory.  Be all you can be.

Later, in pubs and cafes, people are more receptive - they know what you're talking about, some of the time.  Those that don't are more polite - playful punch, You've got the strangest sense of humour. 

Yes, we're all individuals!  Marlowe's cigarette breaks the long darkness, for a moment.  Tell it like it is, call a spade a spade.  Saleem's grandfather busts his nose on his prayer mat.  You only get what you give.

You spend a few years away from home with various oddballs from all over the world and return to find that the people you knew are even harder to understand now than they were when you left.  You wonder if you've changed so much when really, you've just forgotten how to make small talk.  Films, football, girls - you know your stuff like the back of your hand, but it feels forced, and sounds it.

This isn't a tale of woe, you know.  The real crying shame is for all those kids who left school years before.  The lucky ones are still in the first job they managed to get - the unlucky ones aren't in any job at all.  In quite a few cases, they're in the ground.

Work - hard, menial work at that.  Lugging kegs and tables, keeping customers fed and watered.  You excel, because all that's required is basic savvy and enthusiasm, and you've got plenty of both.  Your paycheque gets a little thicker, year on year. 

Finally, the big pay-off comes - the career, the big one where you make your fortune.  Suddenly,  you find yourself surrounded by people who know exactly what you're talking about - hell, they've been talking the talk for years.  They've been raised in it, taken it for granted, middle-class kids from fee-paying schools.

All that crap that you thought was so damn special, that made you stand out and be different and kept you from running with the pack - that's the bedrock of these people's education.  That's the stuff they did for fun, before they started on their real studies.  They speak all the languages you do, dead and extant, from MeTooButBetterese to YeahAndWhoCaresish. 

But now, your problem is a lack of eloquence.  Where once you came off like Little Lord Fauntleroy, now you're more reminiscent of Rab C.  Ug, thwack, Mary Doll! 

Your witty, working class bluntness hits their cultured ears like the fat end of a baseball bat.  You've got the moves Kohai, but you still keep poking yourself in the eyeball, and I don't see no Sensei around here to iron out your errors.

And sure, there are plenty of folk from similar backgrounds to you - people who stuck in too, especially at the basics like staying focused, fitting in and shutting the hell up every now and then.  People who heard all that stuff about Being all you can be and Not letting anyone tell you how to think and realised it was a sales job, rather than a vocation.

And so there you are, after all that sticking in and working hard - too old to learn different, stranded without a fucking clue.  Too much of a posh, polysyllabic prick to go back, too thuggish and ill-disciplined to advance.  No direction home. 

Nobody wants a middle manager who can't talk through the personnel assessment plan without telegraphing his contempt for it.  Nobody wants to risk an important client on the wiseass kid who dresses like a dick and might go all tourettes any second.

This isn't a sob story.  This is a tale of striving and modest achievement, remember.  The national average wage is a feast of plenty, by world historical standards.  It's a feast of plenty by three-streets-over standards, if we're thinking of it like that.  We should be glad. 

Was there a point here?  Oh yes, education - Kids these days, and how The System Is Failing To Provide Business With Talent.  My. Heart. Bleeds.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can train a pony all you like.  You can put ribbons in its hair and teach it to prance and even to carry a rider, and it'll do its damnedest to please...   But it isn't going to turn into a horse.  If it started out as a pony, it'll probably stay a pony, no matter how many Equine exams it sits.

You know what I'm saying?

The Worst Type of Government, Except etc. etc.

And so it looks like the Egyptians, in their first-ever election, are going to install a parliament full of hard-faced, illiberal, judgemental reactionaries who have made it their mission to legislate public morality and to crack down upon non-conformity.

Men and women - though mostly men - given a mandate to stand athwart reality, yelling This far, and no further! 

To which I can only say - congratulations, Egyptians!  Welcome to the democratic club. 

From Plymouth Rock to the tank-shelled White House in Moscow and from the Long Parliament to the arse-end of south-eastern Australia, it's taken the democratic world thousands of years to reach the settlement that the Egyptians have plumped for in the space of only a year.

Now, that's what I call progress.

Monday, May 14, 2012

We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here

"The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, Britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set.  Who knows? - the Taleban wonder - it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home". 

Thus begins a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times today*, with the spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, whatever that vaguely-defined entity may have evolved into since last we looked.  It's a stunning piece, one that could've been churned out at any point in the last hundred years. 

Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war!  Why, the nerve of people in these democracies, I ask you.

So Britain, our Timesman continues, finds itself balancing grief with a deep gratitude for the sacrifice of two of its servicemen.  That's an interesting take, since I myself have noticed neither grief nor gratitude for some time now.  Whether any individual incident in the war in Afghanistan intrudes into the lives of the general public seems to depend upon whether it can be wedged sideways onto The X-Factor, or whether the story involves a cute springer spaniel.

Anyway, today's editorial is a rather stark tonal shift in the paper's sales job for the war.  Recall, the chronology of justification for our invasion and occuption of Afghanistan is as follows...

2001:  To smoke out those evildoing Al Qaeda scum that attacked America, especially that Osama Bin Laden, and show them that they cannot hide from American justice etc.

2002:  To mop up Taleban remnants.  And, to train the Afghan army.

2003:  Painting some schools, educating some little girls, training the Afghan army and encouraging an entirely organic liberal democracy to flourish spontaneously in a barren land run by heavily-armed warlords and clans, that kind of thing.  Oh, and mopping up Taleban remnants.

2006:  Mopping up the suddenly-resurgent Taleban, who may or may not be infested with Al Qaeda.  And painting schools.  And training the Afghan army.  And, bombing Pakistan, for some reason.  And also, liberal democracy, all that jazz.

2010:  Surging troop levels way past Soviet occupation numbers to really get that mopping-up job done once and for all.  Also, preventing the atrocities that are continuing to happen even now, while troop levels have surged way past Soviet occupation numbers.  Here, look at these pictures of atrocities, while we get busy training the Afghan army.

Well, here we are in 2012.  Osama is toast, his evil crew long since captured or incinerated and the US has been running high-profile victory laps around Al Qaeda's smoking corpse for about two years. 

So, why do we still have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan?  Here's the Times, today - our grief is laced with a resolve...

"...To make clear to Afghanistan's militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan". 

I'm unsure whether the Taleban only have to realise that we will dictate our withdrawal, or whether they have to agree that this is the case in a lawyer's letter.  After all, we can't leave now because of "the unreadiness of the Afghan forces to secure Kabul". 

Now, here's a lesson from American military history - if you've been training an army to defend its capital city for eleven years and it still isn't up to the task, it's probably not that interested in defending its capital city.

Bonus points too for the sunk-costs fallacy: "A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable". 

Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible.

As Kipling almost said - If they question why we died/Tell them because our fathers lied wanted to make clear to the enemy that the withdrawal of troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House.

Additionally, Barack Obama hopes that his recent agreement with the Afghan government will "persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave".  Diplomacy, after all, is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" while groping for a rock that doesn't exist, in a room full of ravenous timber wolves.

And that's it.  That's the sum total of their best case, their most convincing justification for British troops staying for the next two years. 

I've been saying since, oh, 2002? that if we want to show our gratitude for our soldiers, we could always repay them by bringing them back to Britain and buying them a round of drinks, rather than by forcing them to act as target practice for any passing Pashtun with a grudge.

After all, as an American politician once famously asked - How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The answer comes back firmly and confidently from the Times editorial board - On pain of court-martial. 

*As ever, it's paywalled.  I'll post the full thing in comments when I get a minute, so you can judge for yourselves.

Or The Kitten Gets It

My, my.  So, the official position of many administrators and supporters of the NHS is that, since the public's bad lifestyle choices are overburdening the system, we need to introduce a never-ending avalanche of tax penalties, incentives, bans and so forth in order to encourage them to put down the fags, the booze and the pies. 

I understand the motivation, politically - in an age lacking grand ideas, look to minor but concrete improvements for salvation.  We're so wonderful, we reduced the incidence of heart disease by two percent!  Hooray for us!

And yet.  To invoke a strained comparison, I recall the kerfuffle when the cops wanted to buy a load of pepper spray, and then more vociferously when they demanded tazers.  Don't let the cops have this stuff, those silly civil liberties types warned in their annoying, finger-waggy way.  They'll find excuses to use it on petty criminals and members of the public, all the time.  And what will they want next?  Military hardware? 

Now, we're celebrating the London Olympics by deploying missiles, warships and cutting-edge sonic crowd-control weaponry.  It's going to be one hell of a party!

When I hear about stuff like this enthusiastic game of Space Marines, I'm inclined to think that the nation's security services have maybe got a teensy-weensy bit gung-ho Modern Warfare 3 out of control mad as a box of frogs, and that maybe we need to think about reining them in a little.  Or alternatively, think about defunding their departments and firing as many of them as we possibly can, as quickly as is practicable.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this.  If you use the NHS's creaking resources as an excuse to create a complex system of pedantic, interfering, nagging, nudging horseshit to poke and prod the public into obeying your every whim...  Well yes, you may very well achieve better health outcomes and relieve the strain on public services. 

On the other hand, congratulations!  You've just given the man and woman in the street a whole series of very good, very personal reasons to vote for junking the entire NHS and getting themselves some health insurance that isn't basically an excuse to tell them how to live their damn lives. 

That's a hard trick to pull off, in a nation which regularly votes the health service as one of our greatest achievements.  Good work, ladies and gents.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

No Shit, Socrates (Contains SPOILERS)

"...The idea that a US Marine from small-town America might convert to Islam, even under such conditions: has this ever happened? Stockholm syndrome, if that’s what it is, is exceptionally unusual for men in uniform (at least volunteers), because their mindset upon capture is different to that of a civilian or reporter". - Ed West, Telegraph

What we have here is the perfect end product of the long backlash against liberalism, however we choose to define that much-maligned concept - a man explaining to his readers that popular entertainment does not always accurately reflect measurable reality, in tones that suggest he fully believes that he is imparting some essential, transcendent revelation.

Coming up next: Special Ed explains that Peppa Pig is cool for kids and all but that the common domestic swine, lacking opposable thumbs, cannot actually manipulate objects with such a high level of dexterity.  This, he will contend, is some kind of anthropomorphic, elitist plot to put us all off eating bacon.

Cashin' In

Why the media focus on race in the “child grooming” trial?, the Liberal Conspirators want to know.

Well, indeed. You didn’t see a lot of focus on race in this case from 2009, nor in this one from 2010, neither of which is any less horrifying than the one that ended in Bradford today. 

Evidence as presented by Ceops suggests that this kind of crime is more prevalent among Asian men, but you seldom hear angry demands that, say, alcohol-related violence be referred to as a white man's pastime.  After all, I live in Scotland - up here, I'd be surprised if ethnic minorities account for even one percent of violent and/or sexual offences.  That's one headline you never see in the Record.

I’ve written about this before and I'm going to have to repeat myself a bit here.  The long and short of it is this - race is presented so centrally in the Bradford trial because it has an attribute that the others lacked, i.e. an opportunity to pin the blame on an unpopular bugbear and then indulge in a bit of moral grandstanding.

From the get-go, every time this case has appeared in court, it’s been accompanied by a rash of articles and reports decrying an all-pervading political correctness that somehow prevents their authors talking about race and sexual abuse – even while their authors are explicitly talking about race and sexual abuse.  Linking race and sexual abuse is taboo, an unmentionable truth, a no-no, a sacred cow, the gorilla in the pantry or whatever, the hacks tell their readers and viewers, and then they…

...explicitly link race and sexual abuse.

In fact, there have been numerous reports about apparent links between crime and race, specifically relating to this case, in the Mail, the Times and the Guardian; on Channel Four news and its accompanying website; in the Telegraph and on vast array of other news websites.

There have been announcements made on child grooming as a specifically Asian problem by the Minister for Children; by the previous Home Secretary; by various Members of Parliament; by the police Child Protection Centre, all of whom laid out their opinions in the starkest possible fashion.

Elsewhere, it’s the hot topic on blogs, newspaper websites and nutter hangouts, with every crackpot in the land free to express his or her opinion as bluntly as he or she likes.  A five-minute Google search proves this beyond doubt.

So, whither the PC Brigade, when it can't even suppress such a sensational story?  Well, maybe that question contains its own logical answer.

I'd contend that the target of these pieces isn’t Asian men, as has been darkly hinted today.  Nor is it Muslims or any specific minority, and it isn't even child abusers as such. The target is the British public, and more specifically its perpetually offended reflex of victimhood, injustice and persecution, which is the vein you absolutely must hit if you want to sell newspapers.

In this, it’s no different at all to stories about women having a billion kids so they can claim council houses or Britain’s Got Talent contestants claiming disability allowance, both with the assistance of our overweening culture of soft-touch blah blah whatever. 

Both give the reader 1) indefensible villains to villify; 2) a context of your-money-funded villain-coddling to rail against and 3) a very personal sense of wounded outrage and resentment to nurse and stroke… thus bringing the reader back to buy the paper again the next day, to find out what else they are not allowed to hear about.  It's the Great British media business strategy, all on one page!

All-white child abuse rings can’t really be sold to this market and indeed, haven't been. They don’t trip the right switches or spark the same emotional response, although their crimes are equally heinous.

If a bunch of white men abuse a group of children, nobody can pretend that the abusers are somehow protected by a nebulous political correctness; nobody can credibly feign concern that they themselves could face a recriminations simply for raising the perpetrators' ethnicity as a negative. It’s just a depressing reminder that there are large numbers of evil fucks out there, and it’s hard to make money by depressing your readers and making them feel helpless.

Asian men abusing kids, though – that can easily be reconciled into a pre-existing freakout about PC Gone Mad/Overindulgence of criminals/Reluctance to criticise ethnic minorities/Discrimination against white people or any number of similarly retarded, tabloid-fodder stories. It stokes anger and indignation. Indignation sells bucketloads!

Summary: The targets here aren’t Asians, or criminal-coddling libruls or even sex offenders and really, you'd think it'd be the sex offenders part that is of primary importance.

The targets here are sales targets.  If that means making race a critical factor where its relevance is debatable and pretending to be terrified of some non-existent, never-occurring Vengeance Of Tha PC Brigade… Well then, that’s what it takes.  Ker-Ching!

Don’t imagine that everything you see and hear is about politics, folks. It isn’t.  Newspapers and politicians have motivations that supercede the need to push particular party lines.

Even the Express is first and foremost a business, and even the Mail would gladly tell its readers tomorrow that labour unions are awesome or that knife-wielding hoodies are lovely, if those stories sold better than fostering resentment does.

And hey, with the Sun and the Mail as the nation's most popular newspapers, I think we're past the point where we can doubt which business model shifts more units. 

As to whether cashing in on the public's perfectly justified outrage over organised sexual abuse of vulnerable children is a morally reprehensible behaviour or not... Well, I suppose that if they didn't do it, somebody else would, but let's leave that question for another day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

By The People, For The People

It was only a few short weeks ago that Chancellor George Osborne was mocked nationwide for his pasty tax proposal.  Oh, how we laughed - the moon-faced Tory gimp gabbling justifications for his attempt to impose a levy on unhealthy prole-fodder like he'd been caught spanking himself in a public toilet; the Prime Minister furiously declaring his love for pastry-based, high-fat snacks.

How we laughed!  Imagine, his detractors brayed - these public schoolboys trying to pretend that they shopped at Greggs!  How out of touch and elitist could politicians possibly be, to try taxing such an obviously working class snack?

And as I read all this on blogs and in broadsheets, I thought to myself...  Well, fair enough, but when was the last time any of these jokers washed down a steak bake and a fudge doughnut with a bottle of Irn-Bru?  And who, exactly, do all these critics imagine is buying twenty Regal King Size day in, day out, every day of the year, or guzzling all that lager?

Osborne whacked forty pence a throw on fags, and I can tell you that it isn't the Bullingdon set who are shuffling their budgets to work out how to cut that expense out of their weekly shopping.  Where are the cries of class war! when the Chancellor whaps another two quid onto ten Benson and eight cans of Carling, under an obviously fraudulent pretence of public health?

After all, there's a reason why heroin dealers sell junkies-to-be their first few hits at bargain rates, then jack up the price 300%, and it certainly isn't because they want to combat drug addiction.  Osborne knows full well that incremental tax rises on cigarettes don't affect smoking rates one bit - they continue to drop at the same rate, regardless.

Out here in reality, whacking great tax rises on fags lead directly to the following results - a big hit on the cash in low-earning smokers' pockets, and a booming black market in counterfeit cigs that are even worse for your health than the ordinarily ultratoxic kind.  They mean that the cops have to find extra cash for hit squads to crack down on a fresh class of newly-wealthy criminal.

Well friend, there was no prolier-than-thou outcry.  Nobody queued up to boot the Chancellor in the bollocks for exploiting those who are hooked on nicotine, a vast chunk of whom are on low incomes.  Nor will any notable public figure give it a concerted try, ever.

Here's the deal.  If the government seriously intended to tackle serious public health issues like tobacco, they'd say something like this...

Citizens of Great Britain, we can no longer continue to profit upon the wages of death.  The national coffers are stuffed with ill-gotten cash extracted from addicts.  It is immoral that our schools and pensions are propped up by exploiting users of a cancer-causing addictive substance.  Henceforth, all tobacco products are banned... 

We are under no illusions.  This measure will not stop people from smoking.  It will merely move underground, to the black market.  Nonetheless, at least our consciences will be clear and our hands will be clean - no longer will we pay our way with blood money.

Now, each and every one of you motherfuckers owes us three hundred quid extra, annually. 

Pay up immediately, or the sheriff officers are coming for your widescreen TVs.

I assure you that giraffes will whistle Rule Britannia in Paris before that day comes.

Don't believe me?  Consider today's proposal to sell cigarettes in plain packaging.  In theory, those wonderfully designed fag  packets are so alluring to kids that only a bland, olive-green packet can protect their fragile minds from their baleful influence.  Plain packaging will totally reduce smoking, big time.

We can conduct a thought experiment right now to see how this would work - what if they started selling beer in plain bottles?  Would kids swear off the demon drink for life, repulsed by these suddenly unfashionable beverages?  Would public drunkeness decline by a fraction?  Would it help our nation's alcohol problems?

Like. Hell. It. Would.

So.  The government knows damn fine its new policy is bullshit.  The journalists explaining their new policy know that it is bullshit.  You and I know that it is bullshit.  What's going to happen? 

It's going to sail through Parliament like a billion-pound yacht with a tail-wind.

You don't have to be Lieutenant Columbo to work out why.  Turn on your TV tonight and tune in to the first Poke The Fat Fuckers show you find.  You know the ones I mean - Supersize vs Superskinny; Half-Ton Son; Fat fighters and so on.  There are entire channels dedicated to this kind of reality telly.

Here's an iron rule of broadcasting - sensitive documentaries about serious public health issues don't feature the subject waddling up some stairs, gasping for breath, while a tuba plays a comedy Oompa-Oompa-Oompa tune in the background.  Shows about people born with horrible afflictions, unlike fat-fucker-poking shows, don't strip their subjects to their pants and show you their symptoms in pornographic detail. 

These shows exist so that we can all laugh at the porkers and look down on their greed, their disgusting diets and their wobbling rolls of lard.  A nation that can support a massive magazine industry that's entirely dedicated to extreme-close-ups on celebrity cellulite is a nation with a multimillion pound market for contempt, snobbery and mockery.

Let's not kid ourselves about that pasty tax that the Chancellor was pushing, folks - if the shoe was on the other foot and a Labour government was pushing it, all that hilarity would be coming from the Tories and all these lefty websites would be furiously hunting down obesity statistics, angrily explaining that the scum classes need incentives to cut down on their junk food intake. 

Yes! the Comment is Free bloggers would shout in unison.  Stick it right to those booze-sodden, wheezing, lazy twats!  Those pie-eating fucks are a huge drain on the NHS!

Well.  Is there a point here?  I guess there is, and it's this - next time we find ourselves wondering how a nation of nice, congenial citizens such as the United Kingdom can elect a series of vicious, contemptuous, mean-as-fuck governments like the ones we've had this last three decades, maybe we should re-evaluate our assumptions.

If our governments are vicious and contemptuous, delighting in cracking down on and exploiting our weaknesses then just maybe, they're a reflection of ourselves. 

Hey, if that's the case, that would mean that we'd deserve to be ruled by mean-as-fuck snobs who hate our guts. 

Now, isn't that a thought?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Prime Minister riding a horse loaned by the Metropolitan Police to the editor of The Sun. Satirists, lay down your pens. Life wins.

So says this guy, but it was ever thus - the various mansion-dwellers of the Palatine compete to proclaim their ostentatious devotion to the grubby Aventine plebs, but forget their differences every night while they rut their way around the Subura.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Crimefare

You have to admire the grand strategy on the Tories.  It's really brilliant - if I was committed to producing an economy that can't even come close to employing everyone who needs work, I'd encourage young people to take up careers in crime too.

Put simply, firing everyone you possibly can and forcing them to compete for scarce jobs while cracking down on unemployment benefits is a masterstroke, if your aim is to crush all hope out of your opponents' electoral base and empower your own.  If you force people to stand on each others' faces by keeping employment opportunities massively below demand, it creates a self-reinforcing cycle of impoverishment, lowered wages and public resentment, setting everyone at each other's throats rather than your own.

So their new workfare wheeze is a devastating victory.  I mean, I've had some terrible jobs in shops, bars and restaurants.  The first job I ever had paid £1.52 an hour in 1995; I've scrubbed urinals, hauled tables and kegs, mopped up more barf than I care to recall, scrubbed a bajillion ashtrays, hosed down bins and worked in pubs where you have a genuine fear that one of the punters might assault you at any second.  Of course, I'd go back to any of them in a flash rather than try to subsist on the dole, which is what makes Workfare so wonderfully vicious.

Since the saving grace of crap jobs is a barely-adequate wage and the possibility of advancement, why not remove even these motivations?  They carry the serious possibility of encouraging optimism and self-respect, and a workforce that possesses these traits might want to unionise, or something.  They've got to go!  Hence, workfare - all the shitty labour and none of the recompense.

So now, we have millions of kids spilling out of school looking for their first job.  Realistically, they know those jobs are going to be dire and drudgerous for the first few years, but at least they pay.  Confront these kids with bullshit like workfare instead of a respectable start to an actual career, and they're going to instantly clock that the British workplace is an exploitative scam designed explicitly to immiserate them for the benefit of others.

If I'd been put in that position at the age of eighteen, I might have started to notice that other acquaintances of mine were making good cash by cutting corners.  Drug dealers, for example, can make hundreds of pounds a week tax-free by sitting on their arses playing Playstation.  A skilled shoplifter can boost an acceptable wage from the High Street with only a couple of days' work a week.  Countless criminal behaviours offer a quick buck, even if the long-term prospects are grim beyond description.  Crime delivers  the kind of instant gratification that, not coincidentally, is usually only available to folk who work in the City.

And here's the genius part - once kids get into crime as a career, there's usually no way back out into the world of legitimate employment.  Tot up a couple of convictions - especially crimes of dishonesty like theft - and you can forget gainful employment, forever.  Not only that, but as a criminal you're now outside public sympathy.  Nobody feels sorry for burglars, and why should they?  Nobody should have to worry that some light-fingered little twat is ripping off their telly while they sleep.

This set-up creates all kinds of benefits, if you're an ideological fruitcake.  It divides working class people amongst themselves and creates a massive tranche of undeserving poor; it encourages great waves of public resentment for people on benefits, since it's easier to portray such people as layabouts and villains.  That justifies even nastier crackdowns; it creates a demand for the kind of gleaming prisons and coppers in space marine outfits that's guaranteed to get your law and order voter stiff as a rolling pin.  It distracts everyone from the plain fact that you are to blame for the mess our society is in, and sends flocks of furious electors to the polls to vote for more of the same.

It's really an impressive system, if you couldn't give a damn about whether Britain is a pleasant place to live or not.  If your ideal scenario is a country dotted by gated communities full of Croesus-rich suburbanites, surrounded by a great roiling ocean of resentful wage slaves and feral scumbags, then the present government's strategy is working like a charm.

Ho hum.  I'll say it again - I don't expect capitalism to be fair.  The clue is in the name, isn't it?

It just surprises me that our current model of capitalism - essentially, setting up a massive, heavily-rigged  scam for funneling as much of its rewards to a wealthy minority as possible while keeping the majority of people on the verge of bankruptcy - is now the accepted norm.  You'd think that people would look at that and say, hey, this all looks kind of unsustainable and destined for disaster, doesn't it?

Well, maybe that's the whole point - short-term gain for long-term... Who cares?  We'll burn that bridge when we come to it!  I certainly can't imagine another explanation for why seemingly intelligent people would foist this kind of hilariously obvious sting on the nation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baboons On The Loose



That from Jack of Kent yesterday, mounting his high horse alongside a string of hacks and activists to decry the villainy of someone, somewhere, about the current bloodbath in Syria.  John Rentoul wants to investigate the possibility of a no-fly zone; bomb-happy French interventionist Bernard Kouchner wants to arm the Syrian opposition.  Green councillor Rupert Reid sternly admonishes that our enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend and attacks a website for making dodgy alliances.

A stench of unreality and grandstanding hangs over this entire scenario.  We appear to have now reached the stage where many of these internet moralists are issuing denunciations to no-marks for opposing a military intervention that no serious political figure is even suggesting.

The reason why there are no Nato jets bombing Damascus is that there is, at present, no appetite for Nato jets bombing Damascus.  The Sino-Russian veto stands in here as a convenient excuse so that the American ambassador can issue a stern finger-wagging while noticeably doing nothing - had the Chinese and Russians acquiesced, the UN would've been resolved to agree that Syrian regime are a bunch of horrible criminals... and that's it.  Well, of course they are.  You'll notice that they're also a bunch of horrible criminals whom our government doesn't presently propose to remove by force.

Let's imagine that the United States suddenly decided to intercede.  The Chinese would definitely veto it, not least because of the way Nato exploited its Libya mandate to "protect civilians" into a generalised blank cheque to bomb whatever it liked, for as long as it liked.  Even if we could get round Sino-Russian objections, there is no worldwide consensus on this issue - you can bet right now that Brazil and India would strongly oppose it, while many other major countries would be extremely reluctant.  Imagine trying to sell yet another Middle Eastern adventure to South America, or South Africa, while the Americans are playing Who Blinks First with Iran and sending oil prices rocketing?

And even if we could get consent for, say, a no-fly zone as Rentoul suggests, well... You can't shoot down flying artillery batteries that don't exist, even with UN approval.

So even if there was an appetite for intervention, which there isn't, and even if we could get round the Chinese/Russian veto, which we can't, and even if we could convince a clear majority of countries to support military action, which we won't...  Syria is still an Iraq-sized country with a massive population, engaged in a really nasty civil war in which both sides have mass support.  That is, half the country would actively hate our guts if we stuck our noses in and would go out of their way to fight us off.

And arming the Syrian opposition?  Look Bernard, Syria is not Libya.  The Syrian regime has almost five thousand tanks, thousands of BMPs, armoured cars and artillery pieces and a 600,000-strong army.  Even if it could only call on a half - a third! - of that total, what are we going to arm the opposition with?  Nukes?  Would we be arming them so they can successfully defend themselves - which they clearly can't - or to make ourselves feel better about our own impotence?

This is before we get to Councillor Reid's admonition not to ally with dodgy characters out of convenience.  Point taken Rupe, but Jesus - this decade, the Good Guys have found themselves in loose alliance with Afghan warlords, mass-murdering Iraqi Sunni militia, Libyan torturers and psycho Iranian terrorist groups amongst many, many other despicable characters.  That being the case, who gives a shit whether a who-are-they-then website like Medialens says nice things about Vladimir Putin? I realise that there are people who fervently believe that some lefty professors being overly fond of Stalin was an issue of world-historical significance but really, history itself disagrees.

It's as clear as ever that when it comes to Godawful civil wars and murderous military campaigns, half the people commenting on them don't have the first idea about what wars and warmaking actually entail.  I'm all for getting into pissy Twitter arguments with people over foreign policy, but I object to being lectured on my fictional iniquity by fantasists over the awesome humanitarian military wheezes which exist only in their own damn brains.

Good God.  This kind of thing really makes me worry about the possibility that Walter Mitty characters of this genus might have the ear of the Prime Minister.  It's like if someone let a load of baboons loose in the nuclear launch control room - even the best-case scenario would have you chewing your fingernails up to your elbows in terror.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oh, God

Okay, hands up - who believes that Sayeeda Warsi is worried by the forces of "militant secularisation"?   Does she wake suddenly in the wee small hours from uneasy dreams of Commissars snatching crucifixes from the grasp of pleading children?   Do cackling blasphemers haunt her long dark nights of the soul?

I'm going to out on a limb here and suggest... not.

Britain certainly hasn't been a Christian country in anything but the loosest cultural sense for at least a century.  It's had its fads and great revivals, but ultimately the Puritans have always got the boot.  The effects of the Sharia lite of yesteryear are now seen largely in period dramas.  Invitees to weddings mouth the words to hymns, humming and hawing what they hope is an approximation of the melody, unless it doubles up as a football chant.   Religion, especially the in-your-face type, is pretty much social death these days.

Contrary to what yer Warsis might think, this is something that has happened naturally.  I put it down to a mixture of factors, myself.  The wars of religion, for a start - Britain has produced some world class fire and brimstone bellowers, with predictable results.  Plus, there's the typically British gut instinct that public acts of piousness are just that little bit undignified, something we expect from excitable Foreigns.

And there's also all that religion in state schools.  If I wanted to draw up a plan to sabotage what remains of public faith in one generation, mandated prayer and psalms in school assemblies would be right at the top of my list.

You'd think that a Conservative politician would readily grasp the causes for this irreligion.  Far from being the result of some wicked cultural Marxism, Britain's Godlessness is the natural outcome of a free market in belief.  Once social enforcement collapsed, most of the populace took a look at the product on offer from the major religions and said thanks, but no thanks.  We'll take consumerism instead, if that's okay with you - spend it now, rather than save for the future.  It's the British way.

The wisdom of crowds!  Maybe there is something to all that greed-happy Tory goobledigook, after all.

So, if there is no great threat from secularism - this is secularism!  You're looking at it! - what can have provoked the Baroness's ire?

Let's bear in mind that Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party, has hardly found her faith an impediment either to becoming a Baroness or to making co-chair of the Conservative Party. I think we should at least consider the possibility that this career politician is in fact playing politics.

It's hardly new.  The wingnutty social conservative wing of the Tory Party has spent much of the last few years slyly trying to import the wackier sections of American culture war politics, the cornerstone of which is that Ol' Time Religion.    Let's review how culture war works. 

Step One - make some lunatic proclamation. 

Step Two - wait for various urbane, polysyllabic, smartarsed ex-student types to take the piss out of you in a highly condescending manner. 

Step Three - Wail and rend your garments over said smartarses' mockery, thus eliciting sympathy and indignation from your supporters. 

Step Four - see Step One.

It's a fairly simple strategy, based around the simple formula Blame; Hate; Coalesce; Rinse and Repeat.  The issue at stake can be sexual morality, abortion, teenagers fucking, religion - anything really, provided it riles up the social conservatives and gets the metropolitan set's vitriol flowing.  Sarah Palin has made tens of millions off the back of this.

After all, the aim here isn't to win.  If an issue is clear-cut, it's worse than useless, because the whole point of culture war is to start an argument and keep it going indefinitely.  If anything, it's better if the issue is something irresolvable.  It's better if it's some indefensible foolishness that sends your supporters flocking into the wackier corners of the internet looking for better arguments.  There are hundreds of thousands of aggrieved, unhappy people out there, and lots of them have years of experience in stoking popular resentment over slights, both real and imagined. 

And it's not like you'll ever want for enemies.  Hell, there are hundreds of thousands of offensive, strident pricks out there who have hours to spend infuriating fledgeling wingnuts with their superior intellects and wondrous powers of reason.  I know, because... 

Well, I know.  Let's leave it at that.

Let battle commence!  Why not have an argument over who gets custody of the Nazis?  Abortion is literally genocide!  And don't go reading any headlines today about how the government is tanking the economy, thanks.

If I was Sayeeda Warsi, you're damn right I'd want a public debate on religion, a really feral and merciless one.  Take a look across the pond and you'll see why.  Every second that the suckers on both sides spend raging over piss-soaked crucifixes or the commandments in court is more time that they're not spending comparing the unemployment rate to the number of available jobs.

I guess it's up to you to decide how far you want to join in the ruckus.

Now, whose side are suicide bombers on?