Friday, 18 April 2008

They will call these the Bad Old Days

There’s a story about a tyrannical king, in what historians call ‘olden days’, who sentenced one of his subjects to death.

When he was asked if he had any last request, the prisoner replied: “Yes, your Grace,” – I’m paraphrasing here, obviously – “I ask only that you postpone my execution for one year, and in that time give me access to any horse in your Grace’s stables so that I may attempt to teach it to talk. If at the end of that time I have failed in my aim, let the execution go ahead as planned. If, however, I have succeeded, I ask that you let me live, and I shall be your Grace’s most loyal servant to the end of my days.”
There may have been a few more ‘untos’ and ‘prithees’ than I have remembered, but you get the gist.
The king, who was a betting man, and knew a halfwit when he saw one, accepted the wager.
A little later, one of the prisoner’s friends asked him why he had made such an absurd request, merely to postpone an inevitable death by just one year.
“Because,” the prisoner replied, “a lot can happen in a year. The king might die, and by custom I will be freed. Or I might die, serenely, of natural causes, in my bed. Or…” – and he paused here before delivering the sucker punch – “… the horse might talk.”
The moral of the story is: stay optimistic. You never know what’s around the corner.
But there is of course another way of looking at it, which is: let’s hope the king does die, mate. Because you've got more chance of handcuffing a ghost than getting a horse to talk.
Optimism is considered healthy, correct, sensible. Defeatism is low, easy, cowardly. But still, there are times when blind optimism starts to look like insanity, and hitching all your hopes on the prospect of teaching a horse to talk may well be one of them. (This was long before Mr Ed, of course.)
For instance, today, with a loaf of bread coming in at £9.99 and petrol so expensive that garages are giving away free cars with purchases of five gallons or over, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1929 all over again.
Or is it 1936, what with a nation of genocidal totalitarian sadists once again being allowed to hoist aloft the Olympic torch of fellowship and freedom?
Did you see Konnie Huq bearing the torch through London surrounded by those sinister, unsmiling goons from the Chinese People’s Armed Police in blue shell-suits? Now, I think as highly of Konnie as you do, and probably more often, but you had to laugh at her analysis of the day, because you can sense realisation slowly dawning even as the quote progresses:
“The men in blue perplexed everyone. Nobody seemed to know who they were. They were very robotic, full-on, and I noticed them having skirmishes with our own police and the Olympic authorities… They were barking orders at me like “Run! Stop!”, and I was like,“Who are these people?” They kept pushing my hand higher when I was holding the torch, so they were...interesting.”
That’s right, Kon. You were stooging for monsters.
So is it 1929 or 1936?
No, you’re both wrong – it’s 1938. Or possibly 1939. Or perhaps even both. It might even be 1929, 1936, 1938 and 1939 all rolled into one, which would be a good joke on all of us. (Sorry, but I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Benchley lately.)
Why 1938, or possibly 1939? Do you really need me to tell you? Okay, then, here we go again.
If the Communist subjugation of internal dissidents, the invasion of Tibet and the horrors of Chinese wildlife parks and zoos are not enough to dampen your interest in watching the world’s sporty types running up and down, jumping and throwing things over great distances, how about reflecting on the current state of things down Iran-way?
A nation under the rule of genocidal fascist thugs pursuing illegal weapons-building in direct defiance of international law, safe in the knowledge that the West’s threats are empty air, and that appeasement is the inevitable response to each new provocation? Ring a bell?
On April 15th this month, on the pretence of civic renovation, the authorities of Tehran burned seven ancient synagogues to the ground in what may perhaps be termed ‘the night of the long beards’. The PMOI, dedicated to ridding their country of these monstrosities, are officially deemed a terrorist organisation in Europe, and forbidden from fundraising. Full diplomatic relations continue between Britain and Iran.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a catastrophe engulfing the world and the course of history being changed beyond imagining in the next five to ten years.
It will go something like this…
Correctly guessing that the West’s ability to take decisive action is now thoroughly strangled by the craven yet absolute authority of its ignorantly pacifist media class, Iran will achieve its aim of developing nuclear weapons. They will then either threaten the world or, such are the depths of their insanity, simply fire them straight at Israel. The West will either capitulate or strike back, and World War 3 will begin. At this moment, Iranian-funded and instructed sleeper cells will rise in America and every European country and inflict massive death and destruction, destabilising and demoralising, and just possibly winning the war.
Or, just possibly, there is option 2: George Bush will see out his presidency with a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s missile development centres, which may or may not be decoys. This may or may not temporarily derail their progress, but only temporarily, and then, just as George Galloway is organising the first Try-Bush-For-War-Crimes marches in London, the sleeper cells will activate and the scenario will continue pretty much as before. Either way it doesn’t look good for us.
I suppose, in the interests of showing all sides, I should note that there is a third, less pessimistic option. The horse might talk. But failing that we’re shafted.
Actually, there are perhaps two chances of escape. One is to aid and encourage a revolt from within Iran – but we think the PMOI is a terrorist organisation, so that’s that one out. The other is to remember that inter-factional rivalry will always conspire against a truly united Middle East, and hope that Iran will piss off one of its neighbours and they’ll get bogged down slaughtering each other again. (There’s an old Iranian proverb: “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, kill a bunch of innocent people.”)
I mean, it’s not as if they aren’t making their intentions plain. In a speech just last week, President Ahmadinejad explained: “Our objective is to annihilate all corrupt powers that dominate our planet today.” He instructed the West to repent, “otherwise Iranians will hoist their flag on the roof of their buildings.”
This man is many things: cagey is not one of them.
Here’s where my commercial comes in. It’s going to be pretty chaotic and hellish when it does all go down, so I hope you will find a moment to stop and remember whose fault it all was.
Recall that some of us did see it coming, and did warn you, but you chose to mock or defame us instead of taking us seriously. (You little scallywags, you.) Remember what you did and said, and above all remember why, and on whose recommendation.
That’s the bit that’s going to sting the most.
Because it is we who have allowed this to happen. We who could have acted decisively and saved millions of lives, but chose to be ironic instead of heroic.
It is we who choose to ignore, even defend, the brutality, tyranny and unreason of other nations, while satisfying our own sense of childish intellectual anarchism by pretending that it is our own nations and leaders who are abhorrent.
It is we who refuse to defend, or even acknowledge, the values for which our grandparents fought and died, choosing instead to wallow in a debased popular culture that is bestial, brutalising and socially divisive. We who sit content at the heart of a flabby, flatulent and debauched society, obsessed with consumer frippery and the pursuit of illusory social freedoms.
It is we who treat as impartial the information fed us by the BBC, chief propaganda outlet of the corrupt ruling elite, the British media class, which exists to discredit the values and bonds it once celebrated, and is obsessed with loathing for the old institutions of sobriety, civility and respect. That above all is consumed with so unreasoning a hatred of Israel and the USA that it blatantly lies, apologises, and lies again, safe in the knowledge that for every one who hears the apology, a thousand will hear the lies.
It is we who have invented technologies that simultaneously enslave us with their lazy sensations and empower those who would destroy us.
It is we who have engineered a society, through direct and planned intervention, that no longer works, where over half of all schoolchildren leave secondary education without 5 good GCSE’s and over 30000 a year leave without any at all, where anyone is allowed to do anything they want lest they be deemed oppressed, where unreason rules and is never checked, for similar reasons, where we pay idiots to eat live animals on television, where an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust is all-pervasive, where offence is always on the verge of being taken, where nobody is accountable for anything except the dupes preyed upon by those blood-curdling tv injury-lawyers, where triviality is deemed authentic and an aspirational culture elitist and therefore beyond the pale, where words are twisted to mean whatever the culturally dominant want them to mean, where reasoned argument is ignored if its conclusions are unpalatable and absurdities upheld if they reinforce fashionable prejudice, where injustice is blatant and proud, sometimes for its own sake, sometimes as grotesque corrective to long-dead injustices which at least had the decency to be covert and ashamed of themselves. Where a free conscience and the right to voice it are, unbelievably, but nonetheless unquestionably, dead.
It is we who have elected governments committed to stoking our internal resentments while insisting, with full force of law, upon an absurdly idealistic view of others. Who do nothing to deter aggressors yet intrude into every private corner of our lives, who intrude everywhere, in fact, except where they are needed and called for. Who have failed in the most fundamental condition of the right to govern, enshrined since Arthur: to defend the law-abiding and gentle against the savage and base, to maintain order, to keep kind people safe.
It is we who are obsessed with climate change, with plastic bags, with television, with banning smoking, with the enforcement of ever more petty and resentful minority ‘rights’, with vindictive litigation, with the indulgence of every imaginable grievance, with pop culture and grunting cretin celebrities… with anything, really, other than the clear and imminent threat of a global fascist ideology operating via a handful of nation states and a worldwide web of underground cells.
It’s achievement, of sorts. It has taken us less than fifty years to end up like this. Do blame the media. Do blame the government. But most of all, blame yourself.
Blame yourself for the fact that we can’t deport that chap whose name I can’t be bothered to find out, but you know who I mean: the little tinker who is wanted for mass-terrorism in Pakistan but whose human rights will be infringed if we let him go back there, so we’re letting him stay here.
True, you did not vote for such madness. True, you do not agree with such madness. Yet here it is, enacted in your name, putting your safety at absurd risk. So somewhere along the line you must have been guilty of something – even if only of negligence – to let these creepy fools seize your power from you.
So there is no excuse for not rebelling, and if everybody did they would fall. But we do not. So for what is about to happen, blame yourself above all.
Men like whatsisname hate the West; they say we are corrupt and evil and exhausted and bankrupt. They are, of course, right. And the fact that the world they want to make for us instead is, by and large, vastly worse does not alter the fact that they are right. The West is scarcely worth saving. Certainly if it continues on its present course it is doomed anyway. It might be easier for the Islamists to just sit and wait for – how long? Fifty years? Twenty? Ten?
Remember that trial a few months back, where the bloke’s defence was that he did not stab some woman to death and rape her; he just happened to come along, by sheer chance encountered her dead body, and opportunistically had sex with it. That’s all, Guv, honest. That was his defence! And on this the court deliberated, so moronically postmodern, so illogically and unfairly fair, are we. And even the most savvy of us said little more than, pull the other one, does he expect us to believe that? But really! Even if it were true, what the hell kind of a defence is that? Surely a man who will have sex with a savagely murdered corpse he happens to chance upon is, if anything, a far greater risk, a far worse criminal, than the one who commits the murder? Even if it were not so insultingly absurd, how can this possibly be a defence?
Such is our obsession with sexual gratification, the pursuit and indulgence of which trumps every other obligation or consideration. We don’t even question it any more. Everything here points to imminent collapse: the crime itself least importantly of all. We have allowed the crime, by supporting the surrounding ethos. So arrogantly sure are we that ours is the first generation ever to get it right, we see the fact that our attitudes are not just different but antithetical to those of just a few generations ago not as occasion for pause but as a badge of pride.
So do blame the murderers and the madmen. But most of all, blame yourself.
Meanwhile, America looks poised to elect to its highest office a bona fide Forrest Gump, a simpleton who speaks to an electorate for whom mere slogans suffice as policy, and attitudes suffice as arguments, a man whose aims and insights are so trivial, naïve and yet far-reachingly dangerous that his investiture will surely be the last sign Iran needs to light the touch paper.
So on we go, marching into oblivion, some of us blindly sleepwalking, others eyes open and proud, many of us wearing t-shirts with a picture of George Bush and the caption “World’s Number One Terrorist” written beneath. (Those are the ones you see a lot of on the telly.)
It is 11:59 and the clock is ticking. We are all of us directly responsible for what lies around the next corner. We have brought it on ourselves, and all things considered, we will deserve it.
Future generations (if the horse talks and there are any): do not stand at our graves and weep. Stand at our graves, shudder, spit, and move on.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Grand National 2008: The results are in!

Did fortune smile on you this year?
Now's your chance to find out!.
Here's where they fell:
2nd fence: Black Apalachi, Backbeat, L'Ami
4th: Ardaghey, Fundamentalist
6th: No Full
8th: Madison Du Berlais, Philson Run
11th: Contraband, Kelami
20th: Joaaci
22nd: Butler's Cabin
25th: Turko, Knowhere
27th: D'Argent

Not a bad tally, but if you had your money riding on multiple slaughter it was a rather disappointing year for the world's greatest horse race, with just a single horse ending up in one of the world's greatest black rubber bags. That was McKelvey, which was destroyed (to use the picturesque racing lingo) after it crashed - exhausted, bewildered and riderless - into the twentieth fence. Better luck next year, pile-up fans.
The horse which got to the end first without dying this year was the ironically named Comply Or Die, ridden by a jockey fresh out of prison for molesting a stewardess while drunk on a flight from Tokyo to London.
27 horses have died during the Grand National in the last ten years. In that time, there has been only one year without fatalities. Around 420 horses are raced to death on British courses every year. About 38 per cent die on racecourses, while the others are destroyed as a result of training injuries, or are killed because they are no longer commercially viable. Since March 2007, 171 horses have died during British races. (Source:

Some of us bet on the Grand National. Some of us can look at our own faces in the mirror.
I am interested in those that can do both.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Were the French Resistance terrorists?

Hmmm… Not, on the face of it, the most difficult question in the world. Fairly cut and dried. Certainly not up there in the same league as ‘how big is the universe?’ or ‘how long is a piece of string?’ or ‘does the grinning face of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad look more stupid than evil or more evil than stupid?’
But if it is true that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ – which is to say in so many words that any man’s opinion, however foolish, carries as much weight as any other’s – then it must follow that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
And so, yes, from the perspective of, say, the Vichy collaborationists, the French Resistance were terrorists.
I ask in reference to the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) who, as you may not know if you get your news from the BBC, have been campaigning in London to overturn the EU decision to keep the group on a list of organisations ‘involved in terrorist acts’. Until this perverse decision is corrected, their funds are frozen and they are unable to legally campaign in Europe.
What are they campaigning for? They want to overthrow the fascist theocracy that seized control of Iran in 1979. They want to get shot of a regime that hangs homsexuals and teenage girls in public, that is virulently anti-Semitic and calls openly for genocide, and which funds and inspires terrorisim against British military and civilian targets. Then - and this is the really inspired bit - they want to replace them with one that doesn’t do those kinds of things.
Now, what would be your opinion of an organisation such as this?
If you are British, you may be as interested as I was to learn that the opinion both of your elected government and of your unelected government, is that they are terrorists.
So while Britain maintains full diplomatic relations with Iran, despite an endless series of provocations, not least the illegal detention and worldwide humiliation of British military personnel in an unacknowledged act of war, it will not recognise its natural allies within Iran trying to put things right.
True, like the French Resistance, and indeed the Allies during the Second World War, the PMOI have not stuck solely to diplomacy, and you may well question the supposed necessity that they should. But nonetheless, being the good guys, they renounced violence in 2001, disarmed completely in 2003, have never operated outside Iran and have never, ever targeted civilians.
All they want to do is kick out of power a bunch of evil fascists that are loathed by the majority of ordinary Iranians every bit as much as they are, in the West, by all civilised, decent people, a handful of politicians and the odd BBC employee.
Sounds like freedom fighters to me.
Our refusal to acknowledge them, then, is not just morally contemptible: it’s suicidal. Here is a chance to help people within Iran who have a very real chance of hammering the world’s most appalling and dangerous regime before it starts waving nuclear bombs at Israel, thus opening up the very real possibility of avoiding military strikes. Here is an opportunity to aid a popular movement pressing for democracy and the overthrow of a corrupt and tyrannical junta. Exactly the kind of thing we are supposed to be into...
As always with our inscrutable leaders, it is genuinely impossible to guess precisely why logic has not, as usual, prevailed. Cowardice? Apathy? Stupidity? Wickedness? Madness? Money? Your guess is as good as mine, and it says much about the political class we have allowed to take our freedoms from us - with so little return - that any one of those options really is as likely as any other.
But since the future of the world hinges on this kind of stuff, it might be an idea to get to the bottom of it. Take my word for it: this is more important than recycling.
By the way, here is a good rule of thumb for settling that terrorist/freedom fighter conundrum. The more just the cause, the less likely its advocates will be to resort to indiscriminate violence. Just causes tend to attract just-minded people. They are the freedom fighters. Evil and stupid causes recruit the evil and stupid. They are the terrorists. So if you are dealing with a campaign of systematic, centrally-organised and sanctioned acts of indiscriminate, pitiless slaughter in the name of some cause or other, you can probably junk the cause as surely as the filth responsible. It sounds trite and simplistic, but the more you think about it, the more you will find that it applies virtually across the board.
A warning to Ken and George and others of the far-right left, however: you may not like the home truths this thought experiment can reveal about some of your favourite terrorists. A few posters may have to come down, a few t-shirts taken off. It’s going to be a wrench, ladies.