Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How much is that doggy out the window?

Originally posted by The Realist

Somehow, and I’m not entirely sure how, a group of people in Central London have, with the total knowledge of the police, been stealing from the Council. But (and here’s the rub, kids) it’s been going on for 30 years.

That’s right, no-one there has paid council tax in 30 years. Due to unforeseen circumstances (well, holidays), I didn’t pay my council tax for one month and was threatened with jail within a week.

Apparently, it’s London’s oldest squat? So fucking what? This isn’t some cultural centre for an oppressed minority we’re talking about here. I don’t see many blue plaques on the walls there proclaiming ‘Kermit the Hippy lived here in 1977’. I have no idea why people have sympathy with their ‘cause’ – even the most hardened crusty must surely have choked on their dreadlocks when they saw one of their comrades throwing his dog out of the window.

This is what it boils down to: squatters are a hideous throwback to a political concept from the 70s. In 2005, the ‘way of life’ or ‘like-minded community’ argument doesn’t, like them, wash.

Whilst it is shocking that houses are left empty while people are homeless, that is a very separate issue. This isn’t the tragic tale of a desperate family’s desire to fulfil the bottom rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – this is a community of people who have got away with living rent free and refusing to pay any part towards the upkeep of their community.

For which read theft.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ah, men. . .

Relax everyone. Just relax. The Catholic Church has been doing some very, very deep thinking indeed and has finally reported back on its policy regarding gay priests. “At last!” I hear you cry. Indeed, I feel your pain, because I haven’t been able to function properly either, I’ve been that tense.

But now we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief because the verdict is out and, well, to quote Frank Carson, it’s a cracker. Are you ready? Take a sedative and make yourself comfortable as we run through the gist of it.

Contrary to popular conception, and demonstrating the Church’s ever-present ability to fly in the face of reality, homosexuality has been deemed a “tendency” rather than an uncontrollable orientation. This makes sense, because who hasn’t woken up one morning and thought: “You know, I’m sick of the other sex. I just don’t find women attractive anymore. What I fancy today is broad shoulders and a big hairy arse. But only for a while.”? Sure we’ve all done it.

Anyway, it seems that the path to priesthood is open to anyone. As long as they’re male and have either left all that man-fiddling behind or have never succumbed. Strange, because I was under the impression that priests take a vow of celibacy anyway. So what difference does it make about their prior sexuality – they’re not going to be getting any either way are they? Oh, but there’s a caveat: if you have ever succumbed to man filth, you must not have indulged for three years (the minimum time for sin to heal, I guess) before you can enter the Church. So that’s clear then. Homosexuality is a “grave sin, unforgivable under any circumstances” (because it says so in the Bible. Somewhere in the middle.), but as long as you put it (ahem) behind you and don’t touch any man parts (except your own, but only if you’re going to the toilet, or if you touch it by accident in the shower or something – never for self-beastliness) for three years, and then vow never to have any sex with anyone ever again, then you can, in theory, train to be a priest.

Oh, nearly forgot. It’s not just practising homosexuals that are contraband: “supporters of gay culture” are also barred. Whatever that entails. Watching Will & Grace? Buying the new Madonna album? Going to the theatre? Taking a keen interest in home furnishings? What on earth is that supposed to mean?

But don’t get the wrong idea. They wouldn’t want you to think that they were prejudiced, not in this day and age. Heaven forbid! So they’ve stressed that the Church has deep respect for homosexuals and they shouldn’t be discriminated against. You couldn’t make this shit up could you? They haven’t got anything against them, they just don’t want them near their Churches.

God welcomes all His children. (Except bummers.)

Meanwhile, speaking of children, another abuse scandal has broken out, this time in Brazil – home to the largest population of Catholics in the world. But I’m sure this will be brushed under the carpet, like all the others. After all, the Vatican is too busy wasting time creating risible policies that result only in its further alienation from the rest of the rational world, hastening its own well publicised demise.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Random brain outpourings on a cold, dark Sunday afternoon

  • Johann Hari got there before me, and went into far more detail than I can be bothered with, but it needs to be said: Little Britain really isn't very funny. At first I thought it was amusing enough, if downright shameless in its blatant plagiarisation of The League Of Gentlemen in terms of both theme (the twisted underbelly of everyday British life) and characters (don't tell me that Marjorie Dawes, the sadistic weight loss support leader, isn't just a carbon copy of TLOG's Pauline Campbell-Jones, the sadistic restart officer at Royston Vasey's job centre). But now, the show has become a monster: the nation's favourite programme, a guaranteed ratings hit. Which is depressing, seeing as it's little more than a franchise for catchphrases - a real comedy basic. "I want that one"; "Eh eh eh"; "Yeahbutnobutyeah"; "I'm the only gay in the village". Yawn! Give me Extras, Peep Show, Nighty Night or Curb Your Enthusiasm any day. One of the new Little Britain 'characters' (an elderly woman with no control over her bladder - yep, pure comic gold) was criticised this week for making fun of incontinence and being 'offensive and in poor taste.' Being offensive and in poor taste actually often works in comedy. But not being funny? That's a definite no-no.
  • Well, the new licensing laws came into effect (although too late for poor George Best - RIP). Society is still intact. Shaky as ever, but intact.
  • The Vietnamese rule of law stipulates that, if found guilty of having sex with children, Gary Glitter could face death by firing squad. Oh well, don't let us stand in your way. So long, Gazza. Your legacy? A collection of shit glam rock and your name immortalised forever as cockney rhyming slang for a part of the human body that isn't mentioned at the dinner table.
  • Shocking news revealed today. Apparently, and this may shock many of you, some of the men in the Royal Marines don't spend their spare time playing chess and discussing the works of Schopenhauer. Incredible.
  • According to Site Meter, Liberal Elite today passed the 10,000 visits mark. Hurrah!
  • Brrrrrrrr. Fucking cold, innit?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fission for an answer

As North Sea reserves start to run dry, the UK is fast confronting the prospect of becoming a pure importer of oil and gas. The price of both seem to be on a never-ending upwards trajectory and the use of oil in particular is the main cause of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the increased tendency for people to a) live alone and b) live longer generally means there are more homes than ever to heat in this country. What to do about the need for ever more affordable fuel? Wind, tide and solar power are all great in theory but there is no evidence to suggest that they alone can produce anything like the amount of energy we need. In addition, they would be cripplingly expensive to implement. The only viable solution is to turn to nuclear power. So rather than being scared off by alarmist reports of three-eyed fish, we should instead cautiously welcome the idea of building more nuclear power stations. At this moment in time, nuclear energy is the most cost efficient and practical means of producing the amount of electricity that we require, if not right now then certainly over the next twenty years.

The alternative? A return to candles and oil lamps. Or, even worse, importing electricity from France - where around 80% of power needs are met by nuclear energy, sans controversy.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Good, but not good enough

Originally posted by The Realist

So, for those of you who have better things to do on a Thursday night and didn’t see it, Paxman grilled David Cameron on Newsnight last night. Besides out-Morrising Christ Morris, Paxman made some pertinent attacks on the young pretender. Cameron (finally, yawn) admitted to having taken coke in his youth. Bothered. Next.

He also admitted to being a big fan of Thatcher, which worried me slightly, as did his assertion that he was a man-of-god. In addition, he is a board member of a bar chain which he claims has an entirely responsible attitude, whilst simultaneously hawking ‘Pink Pussy’ cocktail jugs at da kids.

There was none of the social liberalism that I wanted to see and as for his economic policy, none of it came across as the least bit interesting or inspiring – ‘We will lower taxes if the economy allows’. Even Labour do that.

Although it wasn’t a killer blow, it was at least a good left jab when Paxman forced Cameron to admit that the public’s judgement of him as a decision maker is called into question as a result of him changing his mind on so many issues in the last year – tuition fees, licensing laws, etc. He had him on the ropes over that and Cameron buckled a little bit and regurgitated the ‘lots of tough decisions to make’ mantra. Minus 10 house points…

You just get the feeling that, despite his protestations, he is still old-school Tory. It’s going to take a lot more than a shiny face to make me ever consider voting for that lot .

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

At last, it seems we are on the cusp of having sensible drinking hours in this country. We don't need pubs to stay open 24 hours a day, and in 95% of cases I bet they won't anyway. But how nice that we will be able to go for a meal, or watch a film, then go for a drink afterwards without it being snatched out of our hands by 11.20pm. We might even - shock! horror! - be able to meet up with friends later in the evening and not have proceedings cut short by drinking laws that treat us all like children.

And maybe, just maybe, over time this nation will be weened off the idea that you have to down drinks as quickly as possible before being thrown out onto the streets at exactly the same time as hundreds of other people, all competing for the same train seats, buses and taxis. It's almost. . . civilised.

Moore is less

With the obvious exception of The Simpsons, most of Sky One’s output is an interminable shower of cack. Dream Team. Ross Kemp on Gangs. The Secret World of Airports. The Dog Whisperer (which, although it sounds like something Charlie Brooker might have come up with for the legendary TV Go Home, really does exist). Oh, the choices we are given in this brave new digital world!

But I did enjoy watching Michael Moore And Me last night. This programme saw Janet Street-Porter trying to hunt down the world’s richest ‘documentary’ maker, who has been conspicuous by his absence since. . . the re-election of George W. Bush, funnily enough. She never did get to meet the big man – it seems he’s none too forgiving when other people try to put him in front of a camera unprepared. Anyone who tries to snare him using his own techniques, in other words. Nonetheless, it did provide a few insights into this celebrated ‘man of the people’ and revealed, if anything, that he has more in common with his enemies than he might care to admit.

He’s certainly cavalier with the truth – something that has been well documented elsewhere on many occasions (my favourite of which is this decimating review of Fahrenheit 9/11 by Christopher Hitchens). Some of these blatant distortions of reality were highlighted on last night’s programme. The famous scene from Bowling For Columbine for example, where Charlton Heston addresses the NRA, proclaiming that gun control activists would only take away his weapon “from my cold, dead hands”. In the film, we are told that this was a speech made at a rally near to Columbine just days after the massacre. In fact, what we see in the film is two speeches, from two different rallies, about a year apart. The ‘cold dead hands’ segment was deliberately sliced in and used in a different context. Heston’s even wearing a different shirt and tie if you follow it closely. Even more skewed are the opening scenes of Fahrenheit 9/11 where he shows ‘real life’ in Baghdad before the invasion in 2003: children flying kites, happy market shoppers, a life of blissful tranquillity and normality. No mention of the brutal police state, or people being forced into the army, Kurds being gassed and enemies of the state beaten to death and left in the street. How strange.

Anyway, this is all old news.

Many on the left see Michael Moore as something of a hero, the flag carrier for their cause. In reality, they should be embarrassed to be associated with him. He only seems capable of viewing a subject from one perspective and is quite happy to pervert his sources to create a distorted picture, as long as it reinforces his viewpoint.

Not unlike the administration that he so despises, in fact.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Deranged old man hears 'voice of God'

The Realist beat me to this story already, but it’s the sort of thing that I’m compelled to comment on, whether I like it or not. Like The Blues Brothers, I’m on a mission. But not from God.

The whole “intelligent design” argument irritates me enormously. It isn’t intelligent, it’s just a lazy way of making creationism more credible (or should I say less incredible) by tacking on many years of empirically observed evolutionary theory, then passing it off as the work of a supernatural entity. This is vital for creationists because, now that the official line of even the Catholic Church holds that the Bible should not be taken literally, anyone still arguing that the earth was actually made on a Tuesday afternoon about 6,000 years ago would be pointed at and deafened by hoots of derision from anyone with an IQ above, say, 37. (Although, depressingly and predictably, such people do exist: check out Answers In Genesis: “Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse”. They’ve even got their own little creationist museum, depicting images of humans co-existing with dinosaurs. Yes, really. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry *.)

So advocates of “intelligent design” (from now on I’ll just refer to it as “design theory”, the “intelligent” prefix really sticks in my throat), feeling smug with their shiny new idea now that it’s been legitimised by a veneer of scientific theory, want it taught in schools. Which would be fair enough, I suppose, if we were talking about religious education – after all, science has no concrete answers about the origin of existence, so if you want a metaphysical argument, by all means talk about it in your RE classes. Even your philosophy classes if you must. But no, they want it taught on the science syllabus, as if the Enlightenment never happened. Meanwhile, George Bush endorses the teaching of design theory because “part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought”. Great. In that case, perhaps we should teach our kids that 7+7=139, in order to expose them to “different theories” of mathematics? Physics is presumably a point of conjecture now too, so I’d like to see more people making the case for the lesser known theory E=mc3. Why should we only learn about Einstein’s “opinion”?

The assault on reason gathers pace.

So well done to the residents of Dover, Pennsylvania, for ousting the local school board trying to stick design theory into their curriculum. In these depressing times, it’s encouraging to see supporters of rational thought stake a hard won victory against the forces of sheer ignorance and cretinism.

But watch out, Dover, because deranged Christian fantasist Pat Robertson has a dire warning for you all: “If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city”. Yikes! But wait, it gets worse. “God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in His eye forever. . . . If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.” Sorry, you lost me there. God is tolerant and loving. . . but?? I thought God’s love was unconditional? Where has this “but” come from all of a sudden? So you’re telling us that if, say, Dover was devastated by an earthquake (a God-created earthquake, of course: presumably tectonic plate movement is just a “theory”?), God would look the other way?

Actually, I’ve got to confess: I don’t rate God’s skills of disaster relief very highly. Not much evidence of them being deployed in New Orleans was there? Nor Pakistan. Nowhere to be seen after the tsunami either. So if we're grading God in this area, He gets a D-.

Although how Pat knows any of this is something of a mystery, too. Presumably God is "speaking" to him directly. Shouldn't Pat be put in a home for the ‘emotionally interesting’? This is what we usually do with people who claim to hear the voice of God in their head isn't it?

Scary fact of the day: Karl Rove consulted this doddering fuckwit about Supreme Court nominations.

Anyway, I’m going to go and have a lie down. Maybe read a good book. Not the Bible though.


* Decision made. I’ll cry.

The Friday Rant

Originally posted by The Realist

Please find below some interesting socially liberal news updates (some light hearted reading for a Friday).

1) Astonishingly, the 16 year old child of that Axon woman is pregnant! No, really. Now, the question I have is does the little girl (and that’s what she is) have any choice over what happens to this happy accident? Perhaps she thought ‘I don’t want a child – I’m a child myself! Fortunately, we are a humane, modern society and I’ve got choices. Phew’ No? No. Thought not. Perhaps she’ll get married to whichever 19 year old scally builder has impregnated her and they can raise the child as god (and her mother) sees fit? Well, either that or the (grand)mother can raise her sixth child.

2) Although this reads like an Onion headline, it’s actually true. One of America’s best loved (read: rabid, right-wing cunt) Jesus-talkers has put a holy curse on a whole town. Kapow! As far as I’m aware, the town is still standing however. Why would such a nice, old man do this you ask? Well, a school there is not teaching creationism (shut up, don’t split hairs) as science in its classrooms. Fortunately, the locals have taken a leaf from the book of The Realist and stopped this… this… this… this fucking nonsense.

3) It looks as if humanity has triumphed over superstition, with a test case resulting in a woman being allowed to die ‘peacefully and with dignity’. There needs to be a radical rethink of this whole area of law, with the grey areas sorted out once and for all. Doctors openly state that the current law is being flaunted on a daily basis, leaving members of the medical profession open to prosecution. Clarity please…

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Spam spam spam spam

I've switched on the Word Verification tool that Blogger provides. I am sick to death of getting spam messages along the lines of:
Hey! Great blog you've got here! Keep up the good work!

I have a blog about owl varnishing. Basically, it covers everything you need to know about varnishing owls.

Check it out!
. . . ten times a fucking day.

I don't want it to discourage people from commenting though so let me know what you think. If it's too unpopular I'll switch it off and carry on deleting the endless crap that spambots keep posting. Bastards.

Tone down?

One should always be open to new experiences. Tony Blair had one yesterday when, after eight and a half years of whip-managed, on-message, look-at-the-size-of-our-majority Parliamentary dominance, he was defeated in the House of Commons by a significant margin. The bill proposing to grant the police powers to hold terror suspects without charge for 90 days was struck down by 322 votes to 291. Instead, members opted for a 28 day maximum (doubling the current 14 day limit).

He'd been advised by senior cabinet members that he would probably lose this one but, driven by his own, seemingly endless self-confidence, he pushed for it anyway. And lost. Convincingly. Now everyone's saying this is The End. Charles Clark is trying to defuse the situation by running around telling anyone who will listen that he is to blame for this, that he misread the mood. Yeah, nice try Chas, and we appreciate you doing your whipping boy routine, but seeing as you were quite openly pushing for a compromise deal only last week, it's a bit difficult to believe.

Gordon Brown must be peeved too, having been ordered to cut short his visit to Israel literally the instant he landed to come home and rally support for the government cause. Not only did he fail to make any difference, he's also been given a glimpse of what awaits him when Big Tone finally steps down: an enfeebled executive with a modest majority, in danger of being held to ransom by the old lefty element of the party from time to time.

But as it happens, this was the best outcome. As I argued elsewhere, to be held for 90 days, without any charge being brought forward, is too much and not the sort of behaviour I would expect from our government or police force. Saudi Arabia's, sure. Ditto China. But I like to think we have slightly higher standards than theocratic regimes or quasi-communist totalitarian states. It will be a sad day for western liberal values when the free nations of the world surrender their sacred ideals and start behaving like the very thugs to whom we are supposed to be the antithesis.

(Just don't mention Guantanamo Bay.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mama don’t preach

Originally posted by The Realist

Let me start by pointing out that I’m not walking up to this topic lightly, I have a child who is fast approaching the age we’re talking about here, so this isn’t just me spouting an existential philosophical viewpoint. I just want to deal with the facts.

If you think Sue Axon is correct in her application to force doctors to inform children’s parents about their sexual health advice and treatment, then can you please tell me which of the following points you disagree with:

1) Having sex under 16 is stupid, psychologically damaging and illegal. No-one under 16 should be having sex.

2) Young teenagers are going to experiment with sex, regardless of point 1.

3) As a consequence of point 2, some girls will fall pregnant.

4) There has to be a sensible, pragmatic policy to deal with these pregnancies when they occur.

Oh, wait a moment, there is. It’s the current law:

Current guidance for doctors and health workers states that it is "good practice" for professionals to try to persuade a young person under 16 to inform a parent if they are seeking sexual health, contraception or abortion advice, but doctors must respect their right to confidentiality if they refuse. In the case of abortion, if a girl will not inform her parents, then a doctor should make "every effort" to help her to find another adult to provide support, for example a specialist youth worker

So why is Axon trying to change the law? A writer to the BBC’s online site argued: ‘This is one woman’s crusade to right her past. We should not 'all' be judged by this’. I wouldn’t go that far, however this one-woman campaign cannot be allowed to alter the current, humane and adequate public health policy. On the other side, some writers to the site asked ‘What kind of society are we living in?

The cruicial issue at stake is the removal of confidentiality, which has to remain intact no matter what. Ending this would inevitably lead to even more horrific consequences for some: teen suicide, backstreet abortion, "honour" killings and runaways.

What kind of society would we be living in then?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Habeas corpus and all that

A torrid week for the government. First there was the whole David Blunkett soap opera. Hot on the tails came rumblings of dissent and a very palpable prospect of a party revolt. Then today The Guardian began serialising DC Confidential, by Sir Christopher Meyer, ambassador to the United States from 1997-2003, which contains numerous nuggets of insider information about the role of Downing Street in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. Many embarrassing observations and anecdotes for the Prime Minister to play down there. (Fascinating stuff.)

Now, tonight, it looks like the government may finally compromise on the controversial and bitterly fought proposal that terror suspects be held for up to 90 days without charge.

This is a good thing. How many more of our hard earned and precious freedoms are to be eroded in pursuit of this mystical holy grail: the war against terror (or TWAT for short)?

I don't believe we should be soft on terrorists by any stretch of the imagination, but what evidence is there to suggest that such a length of detention would have any effect? Very little. When similar policies existed as part of anti-terror measures in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, it effectively became a marketing tool for the IRA: they couldn't have come up with a better way to recruit members. Holding young Muslims in detention for 90 days without charge would play right into the hands of the extremists recruiting for their suicidal death cults.

"But it's what the police want," comes the response. I don't doubt it, but that doesn't make it right does it? The sad fact is, if you grant extremely wide reaching powers to anyone, they will use them with impunity. If you want an obvious, but pertinent, example of this, then look no further than poor old Walter Wolfgang - evicted from the Labour Party conference in October and held under the Terrorism Act for the inflammatory action of shouting "nonsense!" at Jack Straw. (Doubtless many others could have thought of a few more colourful words - what might have happened to them?) So for every legitimate target there are bound to be many more abuses of the law.

I understand the arguments for a longer period of detainment, and support the idea in principle. But three months is extreme and goes against the grain of our judiciary tradition. No matter how deranged the enemy within, the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" is too precious to compromise. If there really is a good case against the suspect, then they can be charged with a lesser defence in the interim and held under that while further investigations are carried out.

When the likes of The Daily Telegraph and Michael Howard argue that a piece of legislation is too draconian, we really do have to sit up, slap ourselves hard across the face, and wonder just what the hell is going on.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Two Davids but no Goliath

The head-to-head between Conservative leadership contenders David Cameron and David Davis went ahead last night and, while it made interesting viewing, it didn't quite live up to the hype.

He’d never get my vote, but if I was a true-blue Conservative I would probably be backing Davis on the strength of last night’s performance. It was much more polished than his disastrous showing at the recent conference, and seemed to offer substance to his policies, compared to Cameron’s Blair-esque vagueness.

Cameron is likeable and draws a stark contrast to the usual stiffs that the Tories throw up. He could certainly appeal to a broader audience and pick up a number of disillusioned Labour voters but he doesn’t yet look like the finished article. At times last night he looked almost petrified, while his youthful, podgy face makes him look more like a sixth former at a college debating contest than a Prime Minister in waiting. Throw him in the pit against a Blair or a Brown and he’d be torn to pieces. I felt quite sorry for him when an audience member said something like: “You’re very good in your stage-managed comfort zone, but I wouldn’t trust you to run a bath”. Ouch. Though to be fair, he handled that one quite well.

Davis on the other hand embodies that “I know best”, patriarchal position that the Tories feel most at home with. He put forward his beliefs with clarity and stuck very much to the official Conservative script: tax cuts, the family, clawing back power from Europe, law and order. I bet the jam-making set in Berkshire were sucking it up like thirsty goats.

A real dilemma for the party then: a conviction leader with limited appeal (and a slightly sinister air, like a psychotic headmaster) or a fresh faced universalist lacking any real ideas or experience.

I look forward to round 2. . .

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Lies, damn lies and ballistics

Originally posted by The Realist

Sitting here in the City, rain bouncing off Liverpool Street Station, I’m feeling introspective today. I know that the London bombs affected the country and, to a degree, the world, but I was personally involved – being at Kings Cross when the bomb went off there. My reaction at the time was the classic ‘swallowing emotion’ tactic of The British and I’ve tried not to dwell on it, but those original, raw emotions came home to roost yesterday, on the occasion of the memorial service, which took place about a mile away from where I’m sitting now. It’s strange, I’ve not really thought too much about what happened that day, but I realise that it has really affected me.

So was Iraq a causal factor in the bombings? Would they have happened otherwise? We’ll never know.

But knowing, as we do now, that we went to war based on lies (by a man called Colin! Using a PowerPoint presentation!) makes me ashamed to be, by proxy, part of that ‘alliance’ and the terrible, terrible abyss it has thrown the world into.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A right royal carry on

A "shocking" Gallup poll conducted on behalf of USA Today revealed that 81% of those questioned were completely indifferent to the presence of Charles and Camilla, currently on a PR tour of the USA.

I say shocking, because that means a whopping 19% actually were interested: 19% more than I would have predicted. Indifference to the future king and his Rod Hull-lookalike missus probably runs at similar levels in the UK, so why would we expect Americans to feel any different?

Charles and Camilla must rank as the least popular British export since mad cow disease.