Thursday, April 28, 2005

On Jury Service – Thoughts from Day One

Performing your civic duty requires great patience, because it might just mean sitting for hours on dust-speckled, 80s office furniture, suffocating on the silence broken only by the sound of newspapers turning, people slurping coffee, people snoring. The monotony is broken only by the frequent Tannoy announcements calling up the lucky ones selected by random to actually make up a jury. A novel idea, in a court of law.

I shouldn’t laugh, but it is amusing to hear the fifty-something jury officer announcing the names. When she started doing this job I expect everyone was called Brown, Smith, Jones and Bennett. But in 21st century inner London, every other name is barely pronounceable. It sounds like the roll call on a United Nations coach trip. Nor is it something she seems to get more skilled at as the day progresses, either.

After three hours of this I am finally called up in a group of fifteen and we are escorted to court 10 by a chirpy usher. No idea how anyone can stay cheerful here. He explains the oath, or, for those of us with no religious convictions, the affirmation, and we are moved into the court itself. Not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting there to be anybody inside, but there they all were: the judge, the clerks, the barristers, the defendant, people in the gallery. The atmosphere is purposefully, officially, stifling. Quiet and tense. It instils an immediate and arresting seriousness in you that is difficult to explain. Perhaps it’s only ever having seen this sort of thing on TV before, but the reality is quite intimidating. For a second I thought I was on trial. This is undoubtedly the effect they are after: We are the state! We are authority! It works.

Funny old country, the UK. Judges wear wigs and colourful gowns. Anywhere else they would face mirth and ridicule, but here it is required. I toy with the idea of wearing a wig myself on my second day. Perhaps a huge beehive number, or one of those “slaphead” ones that make you look bald. When in Rome, and all that.

From a group of 15, the 12 jury members are again selected by random. Defying all odds, and to my enormous relief, I’m one of the three not chosen. We watch all twelve individuals swear in, only one of which takes the affirmation. I consider it a duty to point out the ridiculous, and this is a great example. The eleven members who swear on the Bible hold the good book in their hands while they do so. OK. But the chap who chooses the lengthy, non-faith affirmation is told to hold his right hand up as he does so, showing his palm. Why? What does this achieve? Are his words rendered meaningless without this hand signal? What if he didn’t have any arms? Would he be considered an unreliable citizen? Perhaps he would have to lift up his right leg instead, or perhaps hop on the spot. Madness, these little symbolistic rituals that prop up our legal and judicial processes.

I’m making light of it all now, but I assure you this is only funny in retrospect. When you’re in that court, you feel guilty, even when you’re only on the jury. Borrowing a gulag tactic, there is no natural light in the court – only the unforgiving glare of institutional strip lighting, lest anyone be reminded that there is other life outside of that court room.

Anyway, the defendant can object to any of the twelve selected jurors for any reason before they are sworn in. So I make a mental note to dress as Hitler tomorrow and see what happens. . . .

Monday, April 25, 2005

‘When You’ve Got Nothing In Your Life to be Proud About, Be Proud Of Your Country’

Originally posted by The Realist

I had a wonderful St George’s day. I spent it in a way the Turk himself would have been, ahem, proud of. It was only the next day that I realised I had spent ‘England-day’:

Having a Jewish breakfast
Having a Turkish lunch
Watching an American version of a Japanese film
Going out for an Italian meal.

Like him, I travelled extensively, sampling many cultures. Without leaving zone 2.Nationalism really is an ugly little emotion – I just hope we can all grow up and move on from it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your dampness grow?

Sniff around and there’s always a news story to illustrate just how stupid and irrational human beings can be. Today, it’s got to be this one. We can probably expect a lot more of this nonsense in the coming weeks, what with there being a new pope and all: it’s probably pushed some over-active imaginations into hyperdrive. Apparently, to commemorate the passing of Pope John Paul II, the usually reclusive and enigmatic Virgin Mary has decided to appear in vision form as a message to Catholics everywhere. “But where?” I hear you ask. Not in the sky, where it would be visible to all, nor anywhere of any religious significance either. Nope, apparently the best place to materialise in such a way is a subway in Chicago, replete with graffiti and the requisite stench of urine, no doubt.

Thousands of idiots have visited this place so far, travelling all that way to look at a water stain on a wall of an underground walkway which, in certain conditions of light, if you tilt your head and squint slightly, if you’re wearing a blue shirt on a Tuesday evening at about 7 o’clock, has an outline approximating that of the Madonna. A “miracle” apparently.

Depressing, isn’t it, that in this age of technology and unfettered information, when the greatest intellectual achievements of mankind can be accessed at literally the touch of a button, there are still swathes of people prepared to waste their time (and police time – people are turning up in such numbers a police presence is required) visiting a blurry outline on a wall, under a leaky pipe, in a subway that stinks of piss and old tramps.

“We have faith, and we can see her face” said Elbia Tello. No. You can’t. You’re an idiot.

Meanwhile, “. . . I’m seeing a rosary which is a powerful prayer in our church,” says Frank DePaul. No. You’re not. You’re an idiot.

“These things don’t happen every day,” says Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. Actually, damp patches appear in billions of places every day throughout the world. So it’s not a miracle, it’s water meeting surface. Sometimes, this can make shapes that bear similarity to a 2D image! I saw a cloud once that was the shape of a dog. Was that a miracle too? Was it a message from St Francis of Assisi? Even more strange, there was a leak in my bathroom a couple of months ago which, heavens be praised, was the shape of a water stain. I didn’t get it repaired; I interpreted it as a message meant for me from Neptune, Roman god of water and the seas.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oooh! I’m all of a quiver!

Originally posted by The Realist

Will it be white smoke?!?!? Black smoke?!?? A liberal??!? A conservative?!? A European??!? An African?!?!!

Anyway you look at it, he’s going to be a fucking murdering cunt. A genocidal maniac, directly responsible for millions of deaths from backstreet abortions (and no, pro-lifers, I don’t mean the deaths of fuck-cell-clusters), HIV, syphilis, hepatitis in Argentina, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria – the whole world.

The only thing I take solace in is that your silly ideas are increasingly being rejected in Western societies. Surely we have a service to the developing world to limit the influence of this ‘infallible’ man in this, a very fallible world.

‘How can I have sex with you when I’m in love with Jesus?’

Originally posted by The Realist

A couple of days ago, through late-night-bleary eyes, I was watching a poor quality TV show which looked at those Americans who forgo pre-marital sex. Because Christians told them to. What it showed was examples of abstinence groups in action – on campuses and in the community. The slightly glazed looks and the steely determination with which they spoke reminded me of one thing and one thing only: Pre-war Nazi Germany.

It all came together in that moment – like some beautiful epiphany – the single-minded, indoctrinated, xenophobic, blind faith, oppressive, and most worryingly of all, evangelistic nature of it all is exactly like the blonde Nazi youth. Jesus, even the nationalism is thrown into the mix for good measure.

Of course, people who pledge themselves to abstinence are, statistically, just as likely to have sex before marriage yet (and this is the killer!) are less likely to use contraception. Another perfect example of puritanical nonsense!

I’m just glad that, much as I moan, England is never, ever going to be like that. Despite this nonsense today.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

And the winner of Pope Idol is. . .

Cardinals of the Catholic Church will convene at the Vatican on Monday 18th April to begin the selection/election process used to choose a new pope. The conclave meets behind closed doors, the procedures are strictly hush-hush and the whole thing could take more than a week. It all seems unnecessary to me. I thought the Pope was supposed to be infallible. In which case, why didn't he just select a successor while he was still alive and end the ambiguity? He couldn't make the wrong choice, could he? By definition he has to be correct and everyone has to agree. Perhaps this infallibility only stretches so far. On that point, whoever is selected will be also be deemed infallible. Does this begin with immediate effect upon appointment or is it backdated for the whole of the candidate's life? It seems to imply that a particular cardinal may have once been prone to error, but from the moment of selection will be correct on everything, and any prior mistakes are either now deemed to have been correct or simply didn't ever happen. Or, it could mean that whoever is selected has to have infallibility listed on his CV as one of the core requirements. In which case, everyone up for candidacy has always been infallible, otherwise they can't apply for the job.

But wait! It gets more confusing! The dogma of papal infallibility was only decreed in 1870. So does it mean that only popes since then have been infallible and anyone before was prone to making huge gaffes? In which case, there have been only ten (soon to be eleven) infallible popes and the previous 254 were all a bit rubbish. Or is it a backdated concept again? In which case popes were always infallible but it took the church nearly two thousand years to realise.

Illogical horseshit, whichever way you look at it.

It's the secret procedures that intrigue me the most though. What are the methods by which selection is decided? The mind boggles. I like to imagine 115 cardinals playing a huge game of musical chairs in the Sistine Chapel. Just picture the tense scene as the last two cardinals run around the only remaining seat to a soundtrack of the Benny Hill theme tune. Or a Vatican poker night maybe? Winner takes all. Perhaps not, for gambling is a sin (probably). KerPlunk! would be another option, or what about a round-robin tournament of Hungry Hippos? Cardinal darts? Volleyball? The possibilities are endless.

I'm still hoping that they'll elect me - I sent in my application for consideration last week. I can see it now: Pope Sane I.

Some thoughts about the general election

  1. Your vote won'’t change anything. For a number of reasons. Clearly, Labour will win whatever you do. For the Conservatives to produce a workable majority, they need a national swing of about 11%. That is never going to happen. Our arcane political system is actually stacked up against the Tories due to the continual migration of people to the (beautiful) south and the electoral commission not being able to redraw the constituency boundaries quickly enough. Therefore a Labour vote in the north is more valuable than a Tory vote in the south. Boo, and indeed, hoo. The Liberal Democrats aren'’t serious contenders and even they know it. In any case, the first-past-the-post system ensures that third parties are left as impotent as the UN Security Council. Voting for Veritas? UKIP? Respect? More fool you, they are all led by the vain, the pompous and the vile. (George Galloway is a cunt, by the way. No returns. Just as bad as Robert Kilroy Silk.)
  2. The agenda for the next parliamentary term is already set, regardless of who wins. Like it or not, the proposed spending plans of Labour and the Conservatives across the board are pretty much identical. By 2007-08, the tax burden under Labour will be 40.4% of GDP; under the Conservatives it would be 40.1%. They will both have to raise taxes one way or the other to avoid further borrowing (£34 billion in 2004-05, fact kids!). Not that either of them will admit to that - spineless, lying cocksuckers that they all are.
  3. On that note, the Labour Party’'s claim that a vote for the Tories is a vote for massive cuts to essential spending is massaging the truth somewhat. Like Labour, the Tories are committed to year-on-year increases, just not as much by 2008/09. They plan to reduce spending by cutting waste and improving efficiency - although haven't actually said how. But (and here'’s a controversial opinion for the left), there'’s nothing wrong with a government committing themselves to spending less of our money! Who wouldn'’t want to pay less tax if savings can be made elsewhere? The public sector is notoriously wasteful. Just look at the Child Support Agency revelations from earlier this week. Do we have any reason not to suppose that every government agency is just as badly run and poorly managed? No, I suspect we probably don’'t.
  4. The immigration issue is yet another opportunity for politicians to lie to us. Yes, immigration has gone up under Labour since 1997, but we need to distinguish between economic migrants and asylum seekers. Michael Howard wants you to believe that the country is overrun with Romanian gypsies who want to pimp out your daughter and poo in your laundry basket before picking up their welfare cheques. The fact is, there have been a large number of economic migrants entering the country since 1997, but they are not entering the country illegally. Often they are invited to do jobs that people in this country are either too fat, lazy or stupid to do, or to fill a skills gap in the market. Fact: the NHS would have collapsed without a steady stream of nurses, doctors, porters and cleaners from overseas. As for asylum seekers, well, take a look at the world since 1997. There have been a lot of countries to flee from: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe (notice how each of these countries either has historical links to Britain or, more recently, there' s a good likelihood that we’'ve been bombing them for one reason or another). So yes, there are many genuine asylum cases. What the Conservatives and their army of little Englander, jam-making, Daily Mail-reading plankton really mean when they express concern about rampant immigration (although they would never admit it), is that there are too many "“coloureds”" coming into the country for their liking. And there, at last, is a tangible difference between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.

Friday, April 08, 2005

“Longbridge and the whole of the West Midlands are becoming ghost towns”

Originally posted by The Realist

It’s not something to be happy about, but it’s true. The last, British-owned car manufacturers is going belly up. It’s going to devastate the region – believe me, it’s where I grew up and I know how reliant the area is on that factory. The irony of all of this is that here in London, I am begging talented people to work for my company – we have to have books about keeping people! It’s impossible and (oh, how the Daily Mail would love this!) we’re having to recruit abroad.

This irony has focussed my mind on the differences between London and the rest of this country. I’m feeling rather metropolitan and elitist today, so I’ll let you into a little secret. It’s something that we usually try to keep quiet and it’s something you won’t want to believe:

Everything that excels naturally gravitates towards London.

If you live in the provinces, your life will be meaningless. There is no exaggeration – it will be entirely meaningless. Made a big sale at your company today? Whoop-de-fucking-doo. Nothing you ever do will ever be recognised outside of your area and your only legacy will be the brats your provincial wives excrete. Oh, and I’ve seen your children – bouncing up and down on burnt out cars in Nottingham.

You hate London? Why is that? Let me guess - your perception of London is:

The West End
‘asylumants’
Posh types
‘Blacks’
Rude people
Gays
Cockney football fans

You’re wrong of course, but we don’t tell you too often, because we don’t want most of you here. So please, by all means, stay outside of Zone 4. You can expect at least some of the following:

Green areas
A house rather than a flat
A car
Children

If having a better Rover than the Rover of the people in the identikit house next to yours is the thing that makes you go to sleep with a smile on your face, good luck to you!

Also bear in mind that your only options are to work in the bloated public sector (which is going to be decimated whoever wins the election), a call centre, a foreign owned factory or the regional office of a proper company.

If, however, you excel at something, come and join the party.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Speaking of the Pope

I am sick and tired of being subjected to reports about what a great man the Pope was. There seems to be an unspoken consensus of opinion in the press which I find troubling and, above all, boring. Oh, he touched the lives of so many! Oh, he rejuvenated Catholicism! Oh, he played such a big role in ending the cold war! Really? Well, it took his death to bring that point up because I have never, not once, read an account of the collapse of the Communist regimes in Europe that mentions the Pope playing a part of much significance. Perhaps that's the liberal, atheist bias of academia at work. Maybe. Perhaps it's, you know, the truth?

Whatever. This endless stream of piffle about his papal magnificence is really irritating me now, so I think it's time to raise a couple of crucial points and stake some sort of claim for rationality before the whole world is swept away by this deluge of phoney grief. This is even more tedious than the guff we had to put up with when Princess Diana died in 1997.

We'll overlook the obvious historical crimes of the Catholic Church like the Inquisition, Galileo, Pope Pius IX's Syllabus Of Errors (which posited in the mid-19th century that liberalism, free speech and democracy were "evil"), and a certain, shall we say, relaxed attitude to Fascism in the 1930s and instead focus on two more recent phenomena.
  1. The contemporary Catholic Church continues to forbid contraception and, of course, abortion. Given that most Catholics now live outside of Europe, this stance exacerbates the cycle of poverty in the Third World. "Tough shit" say the Vatican. "If you want to have sex, then you have to create more unwanted children that you can't possibly support. HIV/AIDS rampant on your continent? Tough shit again. Contraception is a sin. We'd rather the disease was spread around even more than ever tolerate any man placing spermicide coated latex on his penis. In fact, just to be sure, we'll spread propaganda saying that condoms are, in fact, useless at preventing the spread of HIV." Oh yes, this is the church's "commitment to life" at work.
  2. In fact, the late Pope went as far to say that anyone who uses contraception is "wicked". As are homosexuals, of course. Funny then, that this intolerance of "deviants" does not extend to child abusers, isn't it? There were numerous allegations of systematic child abuse and molestation on John Paul's watch. What did he do about it? Fuck all. Did he instigate a purge of those accused? No, he did what the church does best of all - he swept the whole issue under the carpet. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, facing allegations of a child-sex racket in his diocese, was given a back room job at the Vatican to avoid taking the stand.
So let's just keep these in mind the next time we have to sit through an interview with someone who travelled from Sydney or wherever to stand in line with the other million or so people. This great man, this ex-Pope, that they have queued for so long to see in state, personally oversaw a Church that allows people in undeveloped nations to literally die of ignorance. He also supported and promoted priests accused of raping children.

Now why are these facts not being mentioned in the obituaries and retrospectives?

Other news while I was away

Apparently an octogenarian gentleman passed away in Rome.

Watching CNN (and, being in Spain, I had no other choice), you would think that nothing else had happened in the world. Ever. It was the sole news story for three days solid. Whilst recognising that this was A Big Event for a lot of people, it was also an irrelevance to a lot of others. Surely something else could have squeezed into the news schedule?

Still, the fact that our beloved Charles and Camilla have had to postpone their wedding because it clashes with the Pope's funeral brought a smile to my face. Talk about irony on a jaw-dropping scale. Even in death, John Paul II is blocking the re-marriage of two divorcees. Not just any old divorcees either: the future head of the Church of England and his wife to be. Hilarious! If you listen very carefully you can hear King Henry VIII turning in his grave. . . .

Some observations from Barcelona

  1. People in Barcelona like to smoke. A lot. It is their national sport (anyone else remember the Grand Smoking Tournament at Barcelona '92?). They smoke everywhere. On the subway, in shops, in taxis, even in schools and hospitals (probably). And the cigarettes are cheap: €Euro 2.80 for a pack of 20 Marlboro (approx £1.90/$3.60). I read somewhere (not sure how correct this is, but it's a pretty amazing statistic if true) that the Spanish government would love to hike up the tobacco duty to increase income and discourage the habit, but due to the sheer number of smokers in the country, doing so would put them in breach of their inflation targets. Smokers of Spain unite, you have nothing to lose but your lungs!
  2. People in Barcelona like dogs. There are almost as many dogs in Barcelona as there are dog-ends (see Point 1). Much to the pleasure of Citizeness Sane, we have never seen so many dogs being walked in a major city. Favourites seem to be Jack Russells and some other small hairy breed that would work well as a duster for wooden flooring if you could get some sort of pole up its back passage.
  3. Apartment living is where it's at. I don't think we saw an actual house until our third day when we took the bus further out of town to Gaudi Park.
  4. Public transport is cheap, quick, clean and safe. Any chance of the same in London, Mr Livingstone?
  5. If US authorities ever run low on torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay, I suggest they put their detainees on a long-haul flight with Iberian Air. The leg room they provide is in breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. Never been so uncomfortable. I'm about 6'2" but even shorter types were fidgeting. In fact, to my left was a circus midget saying "Jesus, not much leg room on here is there?". Thankfully the flight was less than two hours. Any longer and I would have committed some man-violence.
  6. Needing a caffeine boost on-the-go, we relented and went into Starbucks for a couple of lattes. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that Starbucks coffee in Barcelona is even worse than Starbucks coffee in London. Hot milk, with a slight coffee aftertaste, even with three shots of espresso in there. Dreadful, bland muck.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

56 Million British Non-Catholics Celebrate Death of Winter

Originally posted by The Realist

What a gorgeous, sunny day! I'm paying my respects to the weather by joining throngs of non-grieving people in Hyde Park. Enjoy!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Viva, erm, Catalonia

I'm off to Barcelona in the morning for a short break with Citizeness Sane, returning on Tuesday evening. So the blog will be solely in the hands of The Realist for the next four days or so.

I was looking forward to a few days in the sun but, wouldn't you just know it, the weather is actually going to be better here in London according to the BBC. Bastard typical.

Still, never mind. See you next Tuesday.