Thursday 18 June 2009

Paramilitary group threatens to blow up exclusive golf resort

Tom at Freemania can rest easy. We are well on the way to neutralising the threat of rogue planets. Ostensibly, NASA's mission to bomb the fricking moon is merely an experiment to detect the presence of water. But it's fairly evident that it's really the first tentative step in developing our very own Death Star.

And to think there are people who question the wisdom of funding space research. Yes, yes. We could spend the money on curing dread diseases, or feeding the starving. But isn't it better to know that we're bringing shock and awe down on the Eloi?

Tuesday 16 June 2009

The secrets of a healthy marriage

A story that combined cancer with "gender issues" was only ever going to provoke the tabloids to new heights; thus the response to the news that men are 40% more likely to die of cancer. While the Mail went for a fairly straight-forward "NHS panders to women while leaving men to die in a corner" line, the Mirror kicked back, put "Wives And Lovers" on the old iPod and advised it's female readers to Cancer-proof your man.

As in insight into how far marriage has come as institution, it's eye-opening. First, the underlying premise - it's the woman's job to keep her man healthy. Sure, men live less healthy lives and are more reluctant to visit the doctor, but isn't really down to their wives to protect them from their stupid, grunting ways?

Secondly, it's soon clear that women (perhaps not being cut out to win rational arguments) have to resort to more delicate means to influence their husbands:

And if all else fails, refuse to kiss him if his mouth isn't clean and minty fresh…
Make your man feel guilty about the fact passive smoking increases your risk too…
And give him an incentive - stash away the money he's saving by not smoking. If he's a 20-a-day man, that's £170 a month - plenty for a naughty night away in a posh hotel…
Instead of arguing about skimmed milk, just fill the full-fat bottles with the skinny equivalent - he'll never know…

So: emotional blackmail, giving sex as reward, withholding sex as punishment, lying. These are the tools by which the modern women makes her views known to her man. Haven't we come a long, long way indeed?

Thursday 11 June 2009

Mainstream or Extreme?

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Unity has a crack at analysing the role of the media in fuelling support for the BNP. It's a typically painstaking attempt at getting to grips with a complex and nebulous problem.

I'm lazier. So here's a quick quiz. Using your skill and judgement, guess the source of the following headlines. The BNP website, or the Daily Mail?

  • The Curse of Cannabis Reaches Over Britain
  • Now EU Demands Total Control Over Britain's Immigration and Asylum Policy As Well
  • Exporting Terrorism: A New Dimension To Islamism In Britain
  • The Great White Backlash: Working Class Turns On Labour Over Immigration And Housing
  • Britons 'Lose Out On Jobs And Housing': Race Chief Inquiry Into Claims Of Bias Against Whites
  • The Great Lie: How Immigration Actually Costs Britain Money And Could Cause Huge Social Problems
  • Government Renames Islamic Terrorism As "Anti-Islamic Activity" To Woo Muslims
  • Crying "Racism" - Last Resort Of A Chancer

As a special bonus, can you spot the one Richard Littlejohn headline?

Monday 8 June 2009

Are we done yet?

For the past month or so, we've all colluded in making politics about palace intrigue rather than governing. In part, that was necessary - there was no way expenses scandals could simply be ignored - but in part it's been indulgent and narrow-minded. The Telegraph's glee in squeezing every last drop out of their windfall is one thing, but in general government, opposition and media have found it too easy to get caught up in the gossip of resignations and reshuffles rather than, for example, the nitty-gritty of industrial policy.

As a more or less direct result of politicians' and journalists' obsession with palace intrigue, the BNP now represent Britain at the European Parliament.

In some ways, Labour deserve the least blame for this. IF there is one group that has an excuse for devoting time and energy to question of whether Brown should lead the Labour party, it's the Labour party. But they do have to actually make a decision, and then stick by it. Either Brown stays and the rebels get back in line, or he goes and the new leader is given a mandate to change direction. Anything in between would be wallowing in their own effluent.

The media have been only to happy to keep talking about Westminster popularity contests. Partly because that's what their nameless briefers are talking about, and partly because, again, it's a lot easier to understand gossip about who's in and who's out or deconstruct the subtext of clothing accessories than it is to brief your viewers on the implications of economic policy. Besides, we the public lap up gossip while being easily bored by niche, technical issues like whether we'll be able to afford to bathe next year, so what's a poor editor to do?

The people who've suffered most needlessly through their relentless focus on Labour's internal strife are the Tories. Labour were portraying themselves as a shambles just fine on their own. This was the opportunity for the shadow front bench to make themselves look like a Cabinet in waiting. If they could only have wrested themselves from the spectacle of their opponents' slow-motion implosion, this was their chance to look like a serious, organised and prepared party of government. All they had to do was rise above the shoddy internal backbiting and demonstrate that not only did they know there were more serious problems facing the country, but that they had solutions to hand.

But they didn't. They settled for pointing and jeering and making sure everyone knew just how terrible Labour were. Understandable enough. But the end result was that, facing a never more unpopular government, they could barely shift their vote-share up from where it was five years ago. Mainstream voters stayed at home, having been given no alternative worth the name. And the BNP picked up two European seats - with fewer votes than they had last time.

There is, improbably, a glimmer of hope for Labour here. If they can get their act together and start talking about what they actually intend to do in government, they might start to look like people worth voting for. And if they can get people to focus on Tory policy rather than rhetoric, they might find it's a better basis for comparison than who looks good on YouTube.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Using your power for good, not evil

My colleague Anna is taking part in a sponsored tug-of-war, for MacMillan Cancer Support*. Not something I would ordinarily bother you with, but in this case she's also thrown down a gauntlet to online sponsors :

Give me your best curry-related pop song title. Something like 'Poppadom Preach' by Madonna, or 'Rice Rice Baby' by Vanilla Ice.
The prize for the best entry(as judged by me) is pride and glory. Extra bonus points if I can't already find it online. Minimum £2 per entry, put the song title as your 'comment' when you donate.

Puns are frequently considered anti-social - here's your chance to show how they can help the community. Please share them here as well.

*Not coincidentally, our employer. Consider my interest declared.


What would have happened if we'd reached this institutional political crisis at a time when we weren't due to hold ostensibly unrelated elections? I like to think we'd have seen some definitive action by this point, and that Westminster as a whole would have got itself past the relentless drip-feeding of individual scandals, one way or another. But as it is, everyone's waiting for the other boot to drop.

Which is just silly. There's no possible result for Labour which won't lead Cameron to make a red-faced demand for an immediate general election. That speech is already written. There isn't, in fact, a hard and fast rule about the performance in rural/local elections and the general. There isn't some known vote share at which it makes sense to say, "Above this, Brown should keep his job; below it, he's got to go." In any case, the elections have become as much a referendum on all politicians as a popularity test for the parties - anyone who claims to be able to tease out the distinction between an anti-Labour vote and an general protest vote is deluded or deluding. And yet we're still hanging on, waiting for this supposed moment of clarity.

A big part of the recent scandal has been MPs' apparent inability to exercise their own judgement instead of relying on rules or official guidance. We've got the same problem here. Labour's own problems, and the damage done by expenses revelations, have been clear to everyone for the past two weeks. But nothing's been done about them, as the people involve wait for someone else to tell them how bad things are. If they can't form a judgement on that question for themselves, if they can only respond but not act, then how are they going to govern when there's no conveniently timed election to tell them how good their policies are?