Thursday, 19 March 2009

John Humphrys has been pissing me off for a while

but yesterday I was on his side. Surely I am not alone amongst Today listeners in thinking that at some point (I think about 35 months ago, perhaps longer), Humphrys's 'tough interview technique' tipped over into the dangerously spiteful naysaying of a Mailesque curmudgeon. But the last item on Thursday morning's programme (go to the last story at the bottom of the page and you can hear the bit as I did), when I thought it might all go horribly wrong, he pulled it out and gave a bloody good bashing to a very silly man.

The silly man in question was a Commander John Muxworthy of the National Defence Association. Yes, really. I thought it was a joke, too. Like something out of one of those... whathisname's books? You know the one. Commander Muxworthy (to give him his full title, not out of respect but simply for fun) was there apparently to threaten politicians and scare the rest of us into staying with the ludicrous £20 billion decision to replace the Trident nuclear sub deterrent. (That's £20,000,000,000.00, right?)

Now, I don't suspect the National Defence Association has an agenda (!!??!!), but far from the question that Humphrys posed -- not do we need it, but can we afford it in a recession -- Commander Muxworthy persisted with the very predictable line that we need the nuclear deterrent so much that we simply can't afford not to have it. History is repeating itself, it seems, because in the depression of the 1930s, one brave voice stood up and argued against all logic for re-armament. And of course Sir Winston Churchill was proved correct, so therefore, presumably not to be a bunch of namby-pamby Chamberlains -- and assuming nothing else has changed in global politics in the last 80 years -- we must heed those courageous voices that once again rise and call for the maintenance of Her Majesty's fleet. I think he means Elizabeth II. This is courageous, in case you were wondering, because it runs against all logic and most realistic, sane analysis of the twenty-first century defence needs.

Humphrys's moment of grace came in the face of Commander Muxworthy's claim that the deterrent has been working effectively for the last 80 years, and is therefore absolutely essential to maintain peace in the future. Cue Humphreys's scepticism, at least this time well-directed: 'It is quite difficult to make the claim that something is essential if it has never been proven', he begins, going back on his own promise to discuss the need for the deterrent, rather than its affordability, but never mind, this was going to be good.

Commander Muxworthy guffaws gamely at the naive commoner. 'That's the whole point!' he says, entirely missing the point. The deterrent has been there, he explains like only a man of irrational faith can, and we know it has worked because it has defended us all of these years.

But Humphreys was not to be fooled. 'We don't know that,' he says. 'It could be a thousand other things. It could be because one day someone said "It's because I put my trousers on left leg first". There is no way of proving that the deterrent has worked.'

The good Commander then complains that defence spending should be the first priority of every government, but that in modern Britain it isn't, it's seventh (good lord!), and that for the last 25 years money that should have been spent on defence (that's guns and shit) has been 'poured' (i.e. away, wasted) on the 'big budgets of health and education'. At this point, Humphreys cuts the militaristic lunatic off. 'So we should take money from hospitals and schools and all the rest of it and spend it on Trident, which we'll probably never use.' Humphreys then talks to his other guest, the much saner Defence economist Professor Ron Smith, having to smack down Commander Muxworthy's interuptions, before concluding with the cheeky check-matey, 'Commander, you've got 10 second to tell why we would unilaterally -- not under the American umbrella -- use a nuclear weapon.' And this is another good question, and one that the Commander has to avoid with burbling, empty threats of voter power (i.e. politicians better pay heed because defence is important to them), which if I recall is a very dishonest manipulation of some dodgy stats, but never mind for now. He was spanked.

And why I enjoyed this particularly, I suppose, beyond the fact that it restores some of my faith in the quarterback of the Today team, is that it exposes the nuclear deterrent for the religious, devotional irrationality that it really is. And that also has the advatnage of exposing the devotional irrationality of religion itself as, well, akin to the madness of putting faith in the nuclear deterrent. It's like John Humphreys has created a brand new, rational and entertaining, argument against the nuclear deterrent akin to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose Noodly Appendage has touched me on several occasions.

So here's what we need to do. We need to find this man that Humphreys has revealed to us -- the one who single handedly has prevented the Prussian invasion of these shores, who has held back the tides of Commie ICBMs, simply because one morning 60 years ago he decided to put on his left trouser leg first. And we offer him £10 billion pounds to ensure that he keeps putting on his left trouser leg first, every morning, to keep our British children safe from the threat of slavery or total annihilation. A snip at half the price of Trident, and just as likely to work! Who's with me?

Of course Commander Muxworthy reminds us, too, that the present President of the United Kingdom National Defence Association is none other than the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, Winston Churchill. No, that's not a type-o. Confusing, isn't it? Commander Muxworthy raises this as irrefutable proof that his argument is right. Which is even more ridiculous, because I would have thought that good sense dictates that being the nostalgically-monikered grandson of Sir Winston Churchill would have explicitly prohibited one from occupying the position of President of the United Kingdom National Defence Association. But then only in Britain can a direct descendent of a famous and morally ambivalent holder of public office rise to prominence in a field from which their ancestor's behaviour should, by law, exclude them. Oh well the US, too, I suppose. I forgot about that last president and all.

Of course in Canada we would never do such a thing. By all accounts, Pierre Trudeau's son would already be Prime Minister of Canada -- he's smart, charming, articulate -- if his father hadn't already held the job. From what I'm hearing, Canadians are looking at him, all aglow, and get all excited, all wet with happy nostalgia, and then feel guilty, like it's a pleasure that they know they shouldn't be allowed to indulge. So he'll have to wait. And Brian Mulroney's son, I am pleased to report, had followed his father into public service. As a game show host. He gives prizes and money to contestants, not corporations. A small but important difference. But that is all he will be allowed. (And, to be fair, he's good at it... weird, eh?)

Bush girls, your destiny beckons.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


So on my favourite toilet wall I see this one day:


written in big, confident capitals with blue marker. Which wasn't particularly interesting to me, a vegetarian. But then, beside it, a couple of weeks later, in a meek, fading black ballpoint, I see

Locke is better.

And suddenly it all makes sense. I have no idea if it's true, but I like the the idea of fans of seventeenth century English philosophers turning all tribal and nasty on each other, and using public toilets as the site of their vitriol. But then there's the matter-of-fact, scoffing tone of the response, like suddenly snarky teenagers are really into conceptions of reason and the social contract. Bless.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Today, I talked to a Communist.

He was on the University concourse, right out in broad daylight. He was a proper Communist, too, with a grizzled beard, bad posture and even a red, hammer-and-sickly adorned flag waving behind him, in case we couldn't guess from the rest. He called a friend 'Comrade'. Everything. They were setting up a table with photocopied papers on Marx and Mao folded into leaflets on sale for a pound. I sniggered at the 'Capitalism is Crap!' banner hung across the table -- partly because, as you know, I find anal and faecal imagery amusing, but also because I thought that this new Communist Manifesto, such as it is, barely begins to cover it. Still, probably looks good on Twitter.

He saw the red star, hammer and sickle pin on my man-bag and took me for a kindred spirit -- sort of. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I bought it off an impoverished ex-soldier in a park in Belgrade. (There's no greater statement, is there, of capitalism's victory over the Soviet Bloc than a Canadian lecturer buying a trinket that once stood at the front line of the Iron Curtain and wearing it, ironically, on a metro-sexual fashion accessory.)

But, you know what? He didn't sound at all crazy. Certainly not as blindly doctrinal as the Christians that too often parade up and down the concourse on most days, or as vacuous as the bankers' cheerleaders that used to set-up shop here, offering free MP3s downloads to students in exchange for a lifetime of debt and just a small piece of their souls.

It reminded me of what I found so exciting about reading The Communist Manifesto when I was 15 and Thatcher and Regan and Mulroney looked set to rule the world forever. Maybe time to tape the cover back on the copy of The Essential Marx and trim the facial hair into a less apologetic Che.

Global capitalism is collapsing, and I'm getting all nostalgic. It seems wrong, somehow.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Everyone can play! Don't spoil it.

Nice to see Plane Stupid getting into the whole throwing food thing.

Green custard thrown at Mandelson

I mean, the idea of throwing food at people you don't like was hardly a new idea, even in its heyday in the Middle Ages I suspect, but I really think this is the way forward, and don't mind taking some credit here. (And sometimes, I appreciate, the whole locking them in medieval torture devices before hand isn't possible, yes, ok, so this is fine with me.)

May I also applaud Ms Deen, 29, for her inspired choice. Green -- get it? -- custard. Not sure WHY custard, really, when there are plenty of other foodstuffs that are more naturally green, but then maybe that's the point.

And know what? I blow a big raspberry at anyone who calls it 'adolescent' (Mandy himself) or 'childish' (doubtless all the Usual Morons on BBC's HYS), because why the hell not? As Ms Deen, 29, herself says, 'When democracy is failing you have to resort to any means necessary as long as it is peaceful and does not harm other human beings.' And why shouldn't that involve non-toxic edible pudding toppings? Plus, IMHO, it is just really, really funny.

'But where is it all going to end?' I hear the outraged Daily Mail reader cry, 'What will become of us in Food Projectile Britain?!?' Frankly, I LOVE the idea of people walking around throwing food at each other. All the time. For whatever reason. Bring it on.

Though hold on. Now that I think about it, Human Nature would intervene and spoil the party, wouldn't it? I mean, you'd have some idiot, inevitably taking the whole thing too far, not knowing when to stop, driving by with bottles pointing out of car windows, spraying children at bus stops with cola, which is just cruel. Kids at high school would come to identify themselves with what they threw at each other, so it would just exacerbate those sad divisions that already exist: the jocks would pour protein drinks down the computer geeks' pants, who could only limply reply by inexpertly lobbing the firm bananas their moms packed in the lunch. The emo kids would clutch their useless porridge as the heavy-metal rockers sadistically whipped beef jerky strips at them (those things are sharp, you know!) Then you'd have class warfare playing itself out in the wider society: Little chav boys and girls would try to earn their asbo-badges by hurling around the most inappropriately covered chips (curry, mushy peas and gravy) while posh kids would toss osetra caviar from the windows of their chauffeur-driven Land Rovers... oh dear how the clich├ęs do pile up!

Is there no hope for Humanity? Can we not even indulge in this happy sport without succumbing to our basest, most primitive instincts?

(Me? I'd walk around slapping people with marinated tofu steaks. That's really no better, is it?)