Thursday, October 27, 2005

Talking of global armageddon. . .

The victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Iranian presidential "elections" in June caused consternation amongst Iran watchers. An unashamed religious conservative, he represents a hardline antidote to reform and a blatant return to the (there is no other word for it) fascism favoured by the aged Islamic clerics who, in reality, hold all the true political power in the country.

Frightening enough in itself, given Iran's notorious belligerence. Scarier still, given their ambitions to become a nuclear power, were the comments Ahmadinejad made yesterday at a conference in Tehran called "The World Without Zionism":

"There is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world... As the Imam (Khomeini) said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

"Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury. Anybody who recognizes the Zionist regime is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world."

Yadda, yadda, yadda. At least we know where he stands.

Not a very smart move whichever way you look at it. Ahmadinejad cannot be ignorant of the fact that there are many neo-con hawks in Washington waiting for justification to launch a military offensive against his country, and here he is handing it to them on a plate. He may think that Iran has an "inalienable right" to pursue nuclear power (for peaceful means, of course. . . we're obviously not meant to draw a correlation between the desire to be nuclear and the desire to destroy Israel. Hmmm.) but there won't now be a government in the world prepared to defend such a course of action. Not openly anyway, and not outside of the Middle East.

Clearly he knows how to whip up hatred in his homeland, but knows next to nothing about garnering international favour. Then again, reading some of the nonsense on this comment board, maybe he won't meet much resistance after all:

"Iran has every right to develop its nuclear power and even its nuclear weapons if they wish, considering the pre-emptive aggressive nature of other nations in the world."
Phil, Dublin, Ireland

Okaaaay. But how many of them publicly endorse the annihilation of an entire state and race in advance? Are you saying we should sit back and wait on this one? Twat.

"America and Britain have provoked more wars than Iran and are trusted with nuclear power. The Iranian people gained the right to determine their own future in 1979 and America has no right to take it from them again."
Chris Potter, Melbourne, Australia

See above. Also, we are nuclear powers that adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A crucial difference, wouldn't you say? India and Pakistan managed to get through, but that doesn't mean we should relax and let Iran in the nuclear club as well. (Even worse, there's also North Korea to contend with.) And as for the "right to determine their own future", well. . . firstly, there are serious question marks over the legitimacy of the Iranian elections that were held in June, so who is determining what exactly? Secondly, following your "argument" to its conclusion, you must also think it acceptable for Iran to determine the future of Israel, the Middle East and the rest of the world too. Fuckwit.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

No smoke without ire

"I smoke. If this bothers anyone, I recommend you look around the world in which we live...and shut your fucking mouth."

Bill Hicks

Bill, of course, died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the tender age of 32. And oh, how he is still missed.

But now there's another kind of smoking bill for us to process and, this time, it's not celebrating the joys of inhaling tobacco fumes. Rather, this one wants to ban smoking in all working environments in England. Although it's currently in chaos as opinion is divided as to what extent this should be enforced. Total, outright ban? Banned wherever food is sold? Special rooms just for smokers?

Personally, I say let's go for the total ban. Let's get it over and done with and spare us the ambiguity. And I'm speaking here as a regular smoker. I've tried to quit on several occasions but, like everyone else, I fail once I've had a few drinks. My first proper drinking experiences were intertwined with smoking to the extent that having a beer is almost unimaginable without having a cigarette too. So on this occasion, and increasingly mindful of my own mortality, I'm happy for someone else to intervene and say "No! Sorry! You're not allowed to smoke here!" Because when I can't, I don't, and I cope with it. More importantly, none of my peers will be smoking around me either, so all temptation is removed. Unless we want to go outside of course which, in a British winter, is not a very tantalising prospect.

Yes, it will be difficult for a while and I suppose there will be a few frayed tempers while we adjust. But hopefully by the time the ban is introduced, the government will have stopped flapping over the licensing laws debacle so we can at least stay out past 11pm without being rushed home by the long arm of the nanny state. So we trade one pleasure for another. This will also cushion the blow for pubs worried about losing custom from pariah smokers.

So it’s a perfect compromise then. The government promises to allow bars to open later, and I’ll promise not to smoke inside them. Deal?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Panic on the streets of Birmingham

Originally posted by The Realist

The City of Birmingham (and its surrounding filth-moat, The West Midlands) is, for our American reader(s), like Detroit in a crack shortage. In the rain. It was memorably described as being like ‘Ceausescu’s Romania with fast food outlets’. You probably won’t have heard of it, despite it being the second most populated city in the UK. A sprawling metropolis of 3-4 million people, with no redeeming features. Whatsoever. It claims to have international status, which always makes me smile as Americans always remark ‘Alabama?!’ when I tell them where I’m from.

Well, despite being rude and annoying, the locals have now gone one stage further and turned on themselves. Despite protestations to the contrary, this is just an excuse for the impoverished to loot. But this is the funny part – they’re looting chip shops. I guess all those ‘99p kebab-meat-and-chips’ specials soon add up...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"It's just a flesh wound!"

As a rule-of-thumb, genocidal tyrants are not terribly amusing (see: Idi Amin's ill-advised stand-up tour of 1974). But the trial of Saddam Hussein yesterday made me chuckle if only because, resolute in the face of adversity, he reminded me so much of the Black Knight from Monty Python's Holy Grail. He who, despite being chopped down to a bloody, limbless stump after losing both arms and legs in battle, refuses to admit defeat; refuses to accept that he is no longer the invincible keeper of the forest.

So when Saddam comes out with gems like the following:
"I am the president of Iraq. . . I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect to its people, and I retain my constitutional right as the president of Iraq."
I experience two emotions. Firstly, I kind of admire the sheer balls of the man for trying to keep up this façade in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Secondly, I picture the defeated knight, beaten in every way, continuing to battle his assailant:

BLACK KNIGHT: Come 'ere!
ARTHUR: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
BLACK KNIGHT: I'm invincible!
ARTHUR: You're a loony.
BLACK KNIGHT: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you! Come on then.
[ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's other leg off]
BLACK KNIGHT: All right, we'll call it a draw.
ARTHUR: Come, Patsy.
BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!

Methinks this trial could prove very interesting. . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Please don’t let it all go to pot

Originally posted by The Realist

Ah, the smell of Tories arguing– it is, as Hard-Fi would exclaim, hard to beat. A week is a long time and all that, but the next three days are going to be particularly drawn out and intriguing. Can’t help feeling a tad sorry for Clarke, while at the same time looking forward to belly-laughing when anti-choice, send-em-home, god-bothering Dr Fox resigns to join UKIP. Or whatever.

It will be interesting to see how the party reacts to the (probable) Cameron-Davis dogfight. The members surely must be, ahem, realists and comprehend that they can’t elect ‘another Duncan-Smith’ and must hold their noses and vote for Cameron, despite the drugs ‘scandal’.

Which brings me on to the main point about what the party need to do. Citizen Sane had it absolutely spot on when he stated that the party needs ‘their Clause IV moment’ – a step away from social conservatism – this ‘my drugs hell’ incident may well kick start that. Or, conversely, it may result in party meetings as I previously predicted.

Drug use in youth is an amusing paradox. Most people in the UK do the graduate-grass thing – it’s really not a big deal. In British public life though, it can be someone’s downfall. In France it’s boasted about, in Germany it’s practically mandatory!

For the political future of the country, I hope Druggy-Dave wins. For any healthy democracy, at least two plausible parties need to exist. Sans Cameron, we are in danger of becoming a perpetual one-party state.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Just say no

Or, if you're David Cameron, when asked "have you ever taken hard drugs?", refuse to answer one way or the other.

This is a particularly petty witch-hunt isn't it? Who cares if he has or not? What difference does it make right now whether he smoked cannabis or snorted cocaine once, twice or even a dozen times in his younger years? I hope he did. I wish we lived in a political culture sophisticated enough to accommodate the fact that, like many millions of other citizens of the UK, he may have used recreational drugs, quite possibly enjoyed them, and is still a normal person as a consequence. It doesn't make him any less fit to stand for office, and it's of no consequence to me one way or the other.

It's a shame that he can't just release a statement along the lines of "In my youth, like many people in this country, I used some drugs on a recreational basis. Whilst it was fun at the time, it was a long time ago and bears no relevance to my life anymore. Now that we've got that cleared up, please can we move onto the real issues at stake here?" Just release that and kill the issue cold. Perhaps then we could finally engage in an intelligent conversation and free debate about drugs that doesn't immediately degenerate into a cacophony of hypocritical bluster at the very mention of the word.

But, of course, he can't do this. It would be suicide for his political ambitions, and the other three candidates are revelling in the fact that they can state unequivocally that they have never touched an illegal substance in their life (although Ken Clarke is an ambassador for BAT - what's worse?).

And who's behind this dirt digging anyway? Why, none other than our friends at Associated Newspapers. Of course, tabloid journalists! Those clean living, teetotal paragons of virtue! The sheer hypocrisy of it all makes me retch.

Four years ago, the Conservatives were unable to support a candidate who admitted to a homosexual encounter in his university days, so ended up with the unelectable Iain Duncan Smith instead. Now it looks like they may ditch one because of alleged drug use in his youth. And so beats the dark heart of the Tories. Congratulations - you're setting yourself up for the unelectable David Davis or, even worse, Liam Fox. What's that popping sound? That would be Gordon Brown opening the champagne.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Time to panic?

Yet more confirmation that the H5N1 strain of bird flu is making an inevitable foray into Europe. Should we be overly worried? Is it time to panic, or is this going to be another Y2K doomsday scenario: something that just fizzes out rather than becoming the apocalyptic cataclysm widely predicted by the "experts"?

Beats me.

But I'll be taking the flu jab at work and stocking up on Berocca.

Just in case.

P.S. Has anyone else read The Stand by Stephen King? If this does develop into a pandemic, look out for a charismatic fella wearing cowboy boots. . .

Monday, October 10, 2005

I’m so sickened. I am so sickened now

Originally posted by The Realist

Mr. Sane, fear not – I have some good news. After a long, hard campaign, I have reversed my company’s policy on religious advertising. Let me explain: I work for Europe’s richest company – a huge monster of an organisation. Everything is very nice here, including the coffee, but imagine my abject horror upon getting said cup of coffee two weeks ago only to be bombarded by posters about Jesus. And how we should love him. No, really! At my place of work!

Picture, if you will, the look on my face.

Cue a concerted campaign by me to have the holy-posters removed and to be allowed the freedom to work in an environment devoid of superstition, fear and nonsense.

Despite the temptations of scrawling ‘Danger: Religious fundamentalists at work’ all over the offending items, I didn’t. Someone (not me) scratched the posters at the end of last week, however it took a meeting of the equal ops people – where I was able to express my objections – to do anything about it formally.

Picture, if you will, the look on my face (again) this morning when I discovered that the offending items had been removed! The Realist 1: Christ’s ones 0.

The Realist moves in mysterious ways.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Don't Feel Fine)

"The world's gone mad!"
Citizeness Sane, on many occasions
Is it me, or does the whole world seem to be imploding? I'm usually quite rational when it comes to the craziness that passes for everyday existence on this troubled planet, such that when Ms Sane does utter the above statement (which is often), I usually retort that the world is probably no more troubled, chaotic and dangerous than it has ever been: it just feels that way because we're getting older, and every passing year heaps another deluge of trauma and tragedy on us all. Plus, there are now myriad ways for the news to reach and impact us in some way. You'd have to be a hermit lacking all five senses to avoid the media in this day and age. It seems like every week there's a new method to drive home the message to us all: the planet is fucked and we're all going to die.

And it's becoming increasingly difficult to think otherwise.

Just look at this year alone. It started with 200,000 people dead from the tsunami. Later we all saw hurricanes Katrina and Rita cause devastation in the US. Last night we watched harrowing footage of Malawi, where up to five million people are on the brink of starvation and one in seven of the population has HIV/AIDS. In the more general region twelve million people could die of hunger this winter. Then this morning we woke up to the news that another earthquake has hit South East Asia overnight, with the death count 1,000 and rising. Oh, and Asian bird flu has reached Europe. In other news, Iraq continues to teeter on the edge of utter chaos, London has been bombed by bearded fantasists twice and something very similar is feared in New York. Meanwhile, the ice caps are melting, Iran may soon be a nuclear power, Chelsea look unstoppable and Ronnie Barker is dead. Oh, and it is alleged that the most powerful man in the world believes that God advises him directly. Personally, I don't think we should trust the source of this revelation wholeheartedly. But it still wouldn't surprise me if it was true.

So, anyone heard any good news lately?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The definition of nonsense

This is how defines it:

noun 1. words that make no sense 2. foolish or unacceptable behaviour 3. an absurd or unthinkable scheme, situation, etc.

But today, the European Court of Human Rights came up with a new interpretation by decreeing that the UK law that excludes prisoners from voting is, yes, you guessed it: a breach of their human rights.

Now I’m not someone who believes prisoners have it easy, that prison is more like a hotel: cable television in every cell, three course breakfasts, king sized mattresses with Egyptian cotton bedding, etc. I don’t doubt that it’s a dreadful, soul destroying experience where, if you’re not bored out of your mind from being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, you’re worried about becoming Mr. Big’s new “wife”. But it seems to me that while they are serving their sentence, repaying their debt to society, whatever you want to call it, they should also be excluded from the benefits of being part of that society. Voting is one of those privileges. Why should someone who has committed a crime have a say in how society functions in the meantime? When they’ve been released, yes, absolutely they can have their vote back but while they’re in prison? No. It defies sense. It’s the sort of frilly proposition you’d see raised and carried at a Liberal Democrat convention. “Oh, those poor prisoners, serving their time and they don’t have political representation.” Well, you make your own choices don’t you?

How long before the European Court of Human Rights decides that being kept in prison violates the rights of prisoners, so they should all be released? And what should we do if somebody is in prison for vote-rigging?

Anyway. Enough of this brief Daily Mail-esque interlude.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Thinking the unthinkable?

"By the time we're thirty five we'll all be voting Conservative anyway."
The Realist, some bar or other, University of Manchester, 1994(ish)

Thus did The Realist drop this devastating bon mot into a lively conversation we were having about . . . something or other. Five or six of us, all lefty/liberal students, doing what lefty/liberal students in the early to mid-1990s were wont to do: sit around drinking beer, smoking fags and talking about politics (or music). That is, when we weren’t getting stoned and watching Going For Gold studying really hard at John Rylands Library. Not sure about students today though. They’re probably all on the game or selling their kidneys to pay off their tuition fees. Hey, it’s a hard life.

Of course none of us were prepared to countenance the idea of voting Tory at the time (in humanities student circles in the early 90s, having sexual yearnings for the dead was probably less of a faux pas than admitting to being a Conservative voter), but I’m sure we were all aware of the following adage (usually attributed to Winston Churchill, although its actual origins are disputed):

If a man is not a socialist when he is twenty, he has no heart.
If a man is not a conservative when he is forty, he has no brain.

A gross simplification but, as with all clichés, an element of truth lies therein. I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself to be a socialist, though I’ve certainly always veered towards the left on most issues. But, over time (I’m currently in the mid-point of the above age range), I’ve come to believe certain things that, in my late teens, I would have considered “right wing”.

For instance: privatisation was necessary - state managed economies simply don’t work (see: the former USSR, North Korea, Cuba, France); capitalism isn’t “evil” - it’s just a question of degree; the welfare state, while an inherently good idea, is abused by a sizeable number of people; the trade unions did need to be taken on; further integration into Europe would not improve democracy in this country; US military power, far from being “hegemonic”, ensured freedom, peace and prosperity for all of Western Europe for fifty years (please, spare me the revisionist arguments).

And several others.

One of the many confusing features of getting older (and perhaps wiser) is that nothing is clear cut any more. The Realist and I have discussed this on several occasions. Back then, in those carefree student days, it was simple: the Tories were a bunch of bastards and as soon as Labour got into power things would be much better. Blue was bad and Red was good. And that was the end of the matter. But I don’t know anyone (well, maybe a couple of people) who can now say this with any certainty. In any case, at the last election, apart from some half-hearted Tory bluster about reducing public spending (but not reducing taxes?) and that old party favourite, immigration, both parties were virtually indistinguishable.

So my point is this: if I’m no longer driven by ideological conviction, if I’m no longer party aligned, could I {whisper it} become a Conservative voter at some point in the future? It’s a good time to wonder. It’s conference season, there’s a leadership election imminent: the very soul of the party is up for debate in a way that it hasn’t been for nearly thirty years. Bruised and browbeaten from three consecutive election defeats, they are in desperate need of a new leader, a new image and a new direction.

So, how could you Conservatives win my vote? Here are a few suggestions that might just make me consider you next time.
  1. Try to elect a leader that doesn’t make me gag. You’ve got Ken Clarke or David Cameron, and that’s it. Davis, Fox or Rifkind would be terrible choices.
  2. Flat tax: it’s an interesting idea that needs investigation and a proper debate. The arguments for it are intriguing indeed and if you advocated this, while also selling the idea that it does not have to amount to tax cuts for the rich coupled with deflated treasury budgets, you could guarantee several million more votes in one hit.
  3. Do a "Clause IV": Blair saw the ditching of Clause IV – which theoretically committed the Labour Party to nationalisation of all industry – as a major symbolic step, ditching irrelevant historical baggage. You should do the same with your own equivalent: social conservatism. This is what repels me from your party most of all – the sheer contradiction of promoting individual choice and personal freedom, but only in the economic realm. It’s all or nothing with me. The bottom line is this: you’re politicians, not moral arbiters. Be the party of low taxes, minimal government and individual freedoms.
  4. Draw from your Thatcherite legacy and take the notion of meritocracy one step further: reform the upper chamber and make the House of Lords elected. Scrap the royals too (well, we can but dream).
  5. The first past the post electoral system is stacked up against you these days - dare to reform it. Become a real agent of change and renewal.
  6. Restrain the extremists of your Europhobic wing. Forge a sensible policy towards the EU where we can be a strong influence. Talk of leaving the EU entirely is just silly.

There, just a few ideas that would get me interested. It won’t happen of course, but that’s fine – I’m happy to continue my lifelong boycott of your party until it does. In the meantime, the first party to incorporate the above has my attention.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Oh! The Turks!

Should Turkey be admitted to the EU? On balance, I would say yes. That is, to an EU based on a loose confederation of co-operating nations in a free trade environment. Not to a Leviathan EU super-state subject to the whims of French farmers. Or, indeed, the whims of Austria, who are the fiercest opponents of Turkish membership.

Hmmm. Austria. . .

Let’s quickly run through Austrian contributions to European prosperity shall we?

  • The Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • Prince Metternich
  • Adolf Hitler
  • "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco*

That’s about it. Even the Swiss have given us more – and they’re not even in the EU.

More recently, Austria came first in the “Who can come closest to electing a neo-Nazi in a western European democracy?” competition. (In second place? France.) So I think we should treat the wishes of the good people of Austria with a certain amount of suspicion on this, and indeed, any subject.

It seems to me that in this age of terrifying ideological divide between Western and Eastern cultures, admitting the one predominantly Muslim nation that has a secular democracy, that could perhaps bridge the gap between Europe and the Middle East, would be a good idea. There are issues to be resolved first – Turkey has to make concessions on certain human rights clauses, for example – but nothing that cannot be bridged in the next ten years. Spain did it. So did Greece. So why not Turkey?

*Added, 04/10/05