Friday, December 30, 2005

2005: Looking back. In anger.

It’s not easy, condensing 365 days and one second into a concise, readable post. But what the hell, I’ve got nothing going on this afternoon, so I’ll have a go. Here, for your enjoyment dear reader, are some of the key events of 2005. (Pithy comments added where applicable.) Enjoy, and Happy New January to you all. . . .

Yet again, the world failed to heed my suggestion that New Year’s Day be postponed until 1st March. Seriously, it would work out better for everyone this way. January and February - compositely known as ‘Helluary’ (© The Realist, 1999) – should be a period of mass hibernation for us all. Nobody’s got any money, everyone wants to lose weight and detox, the weather is shit, and there’s nothing much going on. A two month sleep would solve all of these problems. Until then, I guess we’re just stuck with it.

As a Londoner I expect I am not alone in singling out the bombings of 7/7 as the most prominent event of the year. It was strange in that, although it was always expected, it came out of the blue and on the back of a week of events that had actually lifted spirits around the capital. Live 8 had happened the weekend before and then, on 6th July, London won the 2012 Olympics (although the jury is out on whether or not this will be a good thing – especially as London residents will have to foot the bill for £625m, through our ever extortionate council tax bills). Maybe I’m imagining it but there was almost a sense of. . . optimism in London at the time. But this was soon replaced by horror as a group of home-grown Islamic fantasists killed themselves and others by detonating suicide bombs on the underground and a bus. A similar event occurred on 21/7, but it was a naff effort. Depressingly though, we can probably expect more – and worse – in 2006.

Having no real agenda and being prepared to die in the process stands in stark comparison to the terrorism inflicted on the mainland by the IRA in the 70s and 80s. It almost made one pine for the old provos – at least they (more often than not, anyway) gave a quick courtesy call in advance. And on that subject, in good news for the peace process, the IRA officially ceased hostilities in the very same month.

An interesting year for UK politics. May saw Labour returned to government for a historic (for them, anyway) third term, albeit with a much reduced majority. Tony Blair announced his intention to stand down before the next election (much to Gordon Brown’s relief) but refused to specify any particular time (much to Gordon Brown’s despair). Michael Howard stood down as leader of the Conservatives, leading to a six month pantomime as the Tories sought a new leader. In the end, they plumped for David Cameron: a youthful, centrist reformer. Hmmm, sounds familiar. Cameron faces an uphill struggle – despite Blair’s relative weakness, it is still going to take a swing of enormous proportions to get the Conservatives back in power. He’s already parked his tanks on New Labour’s lawn, now watch him try and steal clothes from the Liberal Democrats too.

George W. Bush continued to amuse. His lowest point was undoubtedly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, amid allegations of incompetence and indifference . Meanwhile, his decision (overturned in the end) to nominate his personal lawyer and lifelong friend Harriet Miers as a candidate for the Supreme Court was, quite frankly, surreal. Given the criticism he has faced for cronyism in the past, that he would have the balls to pursue such an aim was astonishing. His defence? “(Harriet was) the best person I could find”(!!) Coming up in 2006: Bush finally ditches Donald Rumsfeld and replaces him with his dentist.

Still, at least he’s refusing to bow to pressure to withdraw all the troops from Iraq in a hurry. The aftermath of the invasion was chaotic enough – to then leave before seeing the job through would be the blunder of the century. Oh yes, Iraq is a mess alright. No change there as we approach 2006. But there is still hope of a better future. In the Iraqi elections this year, the turnout has eclipsed levels seen in Western nations which proves, without doubt, that the majority of the population wants democracy in their region. All is not lost. Although there’s still that lunatic in Iran to contend with.

The Pope is dead. . . long live the Pope! John Paul II died in April and was replaced by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Controversially, the Vatican selected a white, elderly conservative to head their ever dwindling (in Europe, anyway) numbers. Seeing as he’s 78 years old, we can probably expect a repeat performance in a few years time. Consider him Pope Interim I.

So these were the biggies, at least to my memory. Other notable stories: the David Blunkett saga. Michael Jackson somehow found not guilty. Riots in France. The collapse of the European Constitution. George Galloway before the senate committee. The trial of Saddam Hussein. New licensing laws for the UK. Civil unions for gays. Oh, and Chelsea continue to bore their way to dominance in the Premiership, funded by suspect Russian petro-dollars. Bastards.


Notable deaths in 2005:
Arthur Miller. Hunter S. Thompson. Pope John Paul II. Sir John Mills. Richard Whiteley. Ted Heath. Robin Cook. Mo Mowlam. Simon Wiesenthal. Ronnie Barker. Rosa Parks. John Fowles. George Best. Richard Pryor.

Albums of the year, in no particular order:
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me, Satan
The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
Hard-Fi – Stars Of CCTV
Gorillaz – Demon Days
Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better
The Darkness – One Way Ticket To Hell. . . And Back
Coldplay – X&Y
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (EP)

Comedies of the year, in no particular order:
Peep Show
The Mighty Boosh
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Nighty Night

The “Sorry, I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about” award:
A dead heat between Little Britain and Kaiser Chiefs (like a bad Blur tribute band)

Liberal Elite Twat Of The Year:
George Galloway

So ends this review and so ends (well, nearly) 2005. See you in 2006.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

So this is Christmas. And what have you done?

It’s Christmas time. And, despite claims to the contrary, there are plenty of reasons to be afraid. But I’m not going to list them here - I’m sure we all have our own fears. Personally my biggest concern is that, if I carry on eating and drinking the way I have been then, come January 2006, I will look like the love child of Michael Moore and Michelle McManus – now that’s a lot of lard (and a lot of ‘m’s too).

Anyway, I’m going to be in Ireland for the jolly season. The Realist meanwhile will, I believe, be in his beloved Midlands. Watch this space for the Liberal Elite Year End Review – a rollercoaster ride through the chaos that was 2005.

If I can be bothered.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Trident tested

We have a late applicant for the prize of Most Pointless Legal Advice Ever Issued in the form of this news story from the Guardian today. The campaigning group Peace Rights have told the government, in no uncertain terms, that the use of a Trident nuclear missile, or its successor, would breach international law.

Hold that front page!

In news that certainly came as a shock to me, it appears that:
“A Trident warhead would be inherently indiscriminate. . . In light of the blast, heat and radioactive effects of a detonation of a Trident warhead, it is impossible to envisage how the intransgressible requirement of the principle of disctinction between combatants and non-combatants or the requirement of proportionality could be met.”
Truly, you learn something every day.

So glad to know that some of our finest minds are getting together to reach such conclusions. I never would have guessed that nuclear warheads make, shall we say, a bit of a mess.

We’ve been a nuclear power for over half a century and have never even come close to using one. In the event that we did it would be in retaliation to another nuclear device being used against us and, sorry lawyers, in such an eventuality, there would be no law, international or otherwise, to adhere to.

Now can you go and get on with something useful. Please?

The sun'll come out, Gomorrah!

Originally posted by The Realist

Well, despite threats to the contrary, the world hasn’t ended (although the weather outside is, admittedly, wretched) with the commencement of civil partnerships in the UK. This legislation is long, long overdue (as was the ending of the anti-man-on-man-love law in 1981! No, really, 1981!!!) I just cannot fathom the vile people who are turning up protesting at town halls. At the risk of sounding like a hippy, having a little bit more joy and love in the world can’t be a bad thing, surely? In fact, when you think about it, how can anyone be opposed to something which is only going to bring joy to people’s lives?

Some people think of this law as a threat to the their own, straight, marriages. What smug, resentful, perverse logic is that? Oh well, as of this week, you lose and the law will never be repealed, so perhaps now would be a good time to leave the UK and live somewhere more in line with your own views? The weather in Iran is far from wretched at this time of the year.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

That was the week that was

Yet another week flashes by. Oh, December 12th to December 18th! What news nuggets have you thrown up for me to digest?

The futility of the death penalty. Over in California, big Arnie, still somehow governor of California (well, they do say that the electorate get the officials they deserve) decided not to grant clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams who, having spent 24 years on death row, was executed by lethal injection. Stan, founder of the notorious "Crips" gang in Los Angeles. (not a very PC name is it? Is there another gang called the "Retards"? There should be.) was something of a reformed character, having written many books condemning the "gangsta" lifestyle and devoting his time to peace promotion. But to no avail - "Tookie" has instead joined the other 1,003 people killed by the death penalty in the USA since its reinstatement in 1976. The only other democracies still clinging to the death penalty are Taiwan, Japan and India; but in terms of total numbers executed, the USA falls only behind China, Iran and Vietnam. That's not very good company for a sophisticated democracy to find itself in.

Democracies don't torture. Speaking of democracies not behaving how they should, it was heartening this week to see the White House drop its opposition to the legislation proposed by Republican Senator John McCain that seeks to "prohibit the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation methods of US detainees in US custody around the world". Or, in layman's terms: the US government won't sanction torture. Now, there's a step forward. Depressing that this is even up for debate in the 21st century. Yes, there is a war going on. Yes, we are dealing with dangerous, murderous people. But one of the cornerstones of the war against Islamofascism has to be that we are not like those we are fighting. Ever. Full stop.

A steaming pile of CAP. Meanwhile, closer to home, Tony Blair has blown perhaps the best opportunity we have ever had of getting the hideous, murderous, common agricultural policy reformed. He should have absolutely refused to concede a single penny of our EU rebate without such assurance. Instead, we are committed to surrendering at least £1,000,000,000 a year on the premise that CAP reforms might be debated sometime. Maybe. In a few years. If there's time. Nice work, Tone. So who will be paying for this genorosity? Why, that would be us. Let me just get this straight: we have to pay yet more tax to prop up a vile and currupt protectionist monstrosity that rewards (mainly) French farmers for doing fuck all, while condemning millions of farmers in the developing world to extreme conditions of poverty? That's the "deal" is it? It makes me sick.

Doctor Who in anti-war shock. The Doctor Who Christmas special will contain a stark "anti-war" message this year. In the words of chief writer Russell T Davies: "It's Christmas Day, a day of peace. There is absolutely an anti-war message because that's what I think." Well, thanks for that. So glad we cleared that one up. Who isn't "anti-war"? What does it mean not to be "anti-war"? Who is out there thinking "Yes! War! Death! Mutilation"?

A glimmer of hope. Speaking of war, the turnout in the Iraqi elections this week was highly encouraging for those of us not routinely, manifestly opposed to the whole situation. When 70% of the electorate turn out to vote, it is an inarguable fact that there is a chance of progress in what is otherwise, for the most part, a complete quagmire. Iraq is a mess, the whole post-war operation was a shambles, and there is still a huge amount of work to be done to ensure political stability. Yet, for all this, the turnout percentage was better than the recent UK or USA elections and most people are embracing their new democratic freedoms, even risking death to cast their vote in some areas.

IslamoNazi. Elsewhere in the region, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be moved to Europe (what, literally? How would that work?) and, again, claimed that the Holocaust was a fallacy. I've devised a quick formula to establish how we should deal with Iran diplomatically: Holocaust denial + expressed intent to wipe Israel from the map = we should never, ever allow Iran to become a nuclear power. But it made me think of an article I read recently by socialist dinosaur Tony Benn, wherein he accused the US and the UK of "hypocrisy" for condemning Iranian nuclear ambition whilst furthering their own programme. Hmmm. It's a curious condition of the far left that they seem perfectly able to side with the most monstrous ideologies and dictators rather than ever be seen to side with their own governments: the Communist bloc, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Kosovo. . . the list goes on and on. The hard left were wrong on every single one of these issues and now they are wrong about Iran.

Right, got to go. Early Christmas lunch and fine wines await. . .

Sunday, December 11, 2005

So it's come to this. . . a Liberal Elite meme.

Today is my birthday and I have a hangover the size of Dorset, owing to the amount of booze imbibed here last night. I feel shocking. I feel like a troupe of gypsies have set up camp in my head and they're really making themselves at home. I feel like Lemmy from Motรถrhead has joined them, and he's running around banging two steel pipes together, shouting "Arse spanners! Arse spanners! Arse spanners!" at the top of his hoarse voice. I feel. . . rough.

Meanwhile, the explosions at that oil depot in Hemel Hempstead this morning have dispersed toxic black smoke all over the south of England, throwing a blanket of black cloud across a wintery sky, which has given the afternoon something on an apocalyptic feel.

So this is what it feels like to be 31.

Anyway, I figured that some light blogging might perk me up a bit, but seeing as my brains have turned to damp tea bags, I'm in no condition to put any sort of opinion across. So instead here's my first venture into meme territory (pinched from normblog).

1. My uncle once: lived in St. Albans. In fact, he still does.
2. Never in my life: have I eaten oysters. Or visited Paris.
3. When I was five: it was a very good year. . .
4. High School is: an Americanism that means very little to me.
5. My parents are: still young at heart.
6. I once met: James Nesbitt. And he’s a miserable fucker.
7. There's this girl I know who: can’t eat seafood.
8. Once, at a bar: I drank far too much.
9. Last night: I mixed champagne, Kronenbourg Blanc and tequila. Now, I’m paying the price.
10. Next time I go to church: it will be against my will.
11. When I turn my head left, I see: my reflection in the window.
12. When I turn my head right, I see: my bed.
13. How many days until my birthday?: Zero.
14. If I was a character written by Shakespeare I'd be: dead by now.
15. By this time next year: I will be 32. Christ.
16. A better name for me would be: Warren.
17. I have a hard time understanding: anything right now.
18. If I ever go back to school I: will scream.
19. You know I like you if: I talk to you.
20. If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: Citizeness Sane, because she always encourages me.
21. Take my advice: don’t listen to me.
22. My ideal breakfast is: a full English, of course. With coffee strong enough to stun an ox.
23. If you visit my hometown: you probably won’t want to stay.
24. Why won't someone: stop the pain?
25. If you spend the night at my house: be aware that the bathroom door doesn’t shut properly.
26. I'd stop my wedding: if, erm. I don’t know. If the building was falling down?
27. The world could do without: religious conflict.
28. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: drink any more alcohol right now.
29. Paper clips are more useful than: you might realise.
30. If I do anything well, it is: still unknown to me.
31. And by the way: oh, never mind.

Well, that passed some time. But I’m not feeling any better. I’m now going to lie down on the sofa, under a blanket, and flick through the torrent of shit that passes for entertainment on Sky TV.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cameron have a go if you think you're hard enough

So it's official: there is a new Captain of the Titanic (otherwise known as the Conservative Party).

The results of the party faithful have been counted and it has come as a great surprise to absolutely nobody that David Cameron defeated David 'A Bit Creepy' Davis by 134,446 votes to 64,398. So this should make things interesting. The Conservatives have finally selected someone arguably capable of making their party electable again just as the Labour government have suffered the toughest couple of months in their history. I've argued elsewhere that Cameron probably isn't ready to take on Blair just yet, but he's got plenty of time to learn. In the meantime, he can take consolation from the fact that Labour's backbenchers are doing a pretty good job of keeping their leader's ambition in check by themselves. Meanwhile Gordon Brown, who is almost certain to be Cameron's opponent in the next general election, has had a bad couple of days after having been forced to admit that his sums haven't quite added up as he'd hoped. Economic growth, predicted to be 3-3.5% this year, has turned out to be more like 1.75%. In addition, he's been forced to go to the capital markets to plug the resultant spending gap, pushing UK government borrowing up to £37 billion. A real embarrassment for the man who prides himself on having steered the British economy so skilfully.

So Cameron certainly won't be short of ammunition on his first day in charge. The next Prime Minister's question time should make interesting viewing.

For Aslan's sake

I'm not exactly her biggest fan anyway, but I was irritated by this article written by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, wittering on about the Christian conspiracy (in her head, at least) that is the new film version of The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the latest money-spinning serial franchise from Disney.

In what was, I think, supposed to be a review of the popular children's story, she instead proceeds to spin out a really rather pointless polemic about the religious overtones in what is, famously, a Christian allegory. "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion" she bleats. Really? You think that's as bad as religion gets? What about suicide bombers, mandatory female circumcision, the Spanish Inquisition and ethnic cleansing? I'd say they are all slightly more hateful than a CS Lewis paperback.

Regular readers of this blog (all six of you) will know that I am not, by any means, a fan of religion. In fact, The Realist and I arguably bang on about it more than is healthy. But the fact is, we don't believe, and we enjoy berating it from time to time. Another fact is that we were both, in different ways, brought up with Biblical stories and prayers at school. We just chose to reject it all as the unfeasible nonsense it is. I am a non-theist, but I found Toynbee's commentary po-faced and churlish. She's really only giving those on the opposite end of the spectrum an opportunity to throw the epithet "loony left" at her. And with words such as these, it's almost understandable:
Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right.
Oh come on, you're being silly. I understand that there are Christian groups in America using the movie as a means of recruiting young members and, yes, that is a bit sinister. But these are the same groups who held book-burning ceremonies of Harry Potter novels because they "encouraged occultism". These people are fuckwits, ignore them - millions of fans of the boy wizard did, and countless millions will ignore you too. Children are no more likely to become blinkered acolytes of the Christian Right from watching this film than they are likely to sacrifice goats and hold ouija board sessions after watching The Goblet Of Fire. (In fact you could also argue that the Harry Potter books contain religious overtones: there is good and evil, sacrifice, you name it. Ditto the works of Tolkein.)

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is a much loved children's story. I read it myself as a kid and, when I have children of my own, it won't cause me any distress if they read it too. If they're anything like I was, they'll consider it a pretty good story, but not good enough to read the whole series. Although if they did, again, fine: I'd be happy just to see them reading. They can make up their own minds about the subtext some other time. Relax, Polly. They're man-made pieces of fiction, works of fantasy. Like the Bible itself.