Fishy Tales

23 September 2008


I'm unsure how much readers should attribute my long-term absence to abject laziness and how much to my being totally and utterly dispirited by the rise (and even the fall) of the loathsome Brown, and the continuing and shameful decline of almost everything I love about my country.

Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself inspired by Nick Clegg's speech to the recent Lib Dem conference.

I commend it to you.

One of those "If only" moments...

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06 June 2007

A New Restoration?

Well I have to get in a comment to wish a bloody good riddance to Tony Blair. Sadly I think the damage has been done, and this country is no longer the place it was. A certain special individuality, bloody-mindedness and (by the same token) tolerance has been lost by us allowing ourselves to be infantilised. Aspects of the loss may well be permanent, enforced as part of the 'war against terror'. As a consequence I am less free than ever before in my life, and our children are likely to have to live with the UK electorate's collective failure to get off its arse.


However, there are glimmers of something positive in the inevitable backlash against Blair's style of government. The huge loss of trust in politicians, and even more obvious loss of interest in politics, can't be ignored forever, after all.

So Gordon Brown is talking about introducing a written constitution and is implying several other significant changes to the way Government works.

And the Tories' Democracy Taskforce is turning out some very well-considered ideas, some of which are almost identical to Brown's, making them very likely to materialise. Its current paper, An End to Sofa Government is well worth a read in my opinion.

The only problem with all this is that to realise the significance of what is being changed, I've had to do some serious Wikipedia research into stuff like Parliament, the Royal Prerogative, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet etc etc, with an occasional detailed foray into stuff like the Fundamental Laws of England. How many people are likely to do the same, and therefore have a real opinion on what has been changed, and therefore an interest in what happens? And to how many people will it just be water off a duck's back?

I suppose we'll see.

For the record, I actually don't want a written constitution (as promised by Brown). This country operates, and has operated for hundreds of years, under an understanding of what our rights are, without them needing to be spelled out. That's about confidence, trust and common sense. Not only would a written constitution undermine all those good things further, it would undoubtedly leave plenty of loopholes and enable many legalised forms of abuse if instituted, as now, at a time when terrorist threats are all the rage.

Extreme accountability and Extreme devolvement of power are, however, things to which I most strongly subscribe. Whoever introduces both of those may well get my vote.

Well, unless it's Brown!

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02 March 2007

Panto Season

Happy 2007 to all readers - just a little belated!

But as a last furious gasp of the festivities that mark the transition from Winter to Spring, please do check out the Lewes Arms Dramatic Society's Panto, which is coming up on 6th-10th March. This is a unique, inventive and very funny, very adult offshoot of the Pantomime tradition, and comes highly recommended precisely because it doesn't take itself seriously. Though come to that, not many traditional pantomimes do, either.

But let's never forget that "amateurs" by definition do whatever they do out of love for it - all money raised goes to local good causes. This is LADS' 3oth year and panto, and as such they hope to add significantly to the £30,000+ so far raised for charity.

If you live anywhere near Lewes, then please do check out the link above, and I hope to see you there.
Book your tickets before the chance is Behind You!

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01 December 2006

Smoke Signals

As well as thinking beer is one of humanity's greatest creations, I greatly enjoy smoking.
Here in New (Labour) Britain I immediately feel inclined to apologise for that statement, which is indeed a pathetic state of affairs. But yes, I do enjoy smoking, as opposed to reluctantly cater for my nicotine addiction, hoping someone will help or force me to give up. I started smoking as an adult (19 years old if memory serves). I made an adult choice, and as an adult I continue to make that choice.

As of July 2007 I am to have that pleasure removed from me, and here's the rub - even in places like private clubs (let alone specifically licensed establishments), where everyone concerned is guaranteed to be of similar mind and prepared to accept the consequences. You don't have to look too far to see the implications of this. If the current Government decides that a pastime is high-risk, it is perfectly happy to ban it outright regardless of the fact that only consenting adults take part and that they endanger no-one but themselves. To how many pastimes could that principle be applied?

Jimbob McGinty summarises it excellently on the relevant BBC Have Your Say:

to paraphrase Martin Niemoller

When Nu-labour came for the huntsmen,
I remained silent;
I was not a huntsman.

When they locked up the demonstrators,
I remained silent;
I was not a demonstrator.

When they came for the smokers,
I did not speak out;
I was not a smoker.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


Along the same lines I reckon all concerned should read Joe Jackson's excellent article The Smoking Issue.
Many of his points are cogently summarised in the Daily Telegraph (incidentally, where were the Tories when this legislation was voted through?? Certainly they weren't remembering Martin Niemoller, except perhaps for Boris Johnson).

Let's not forget it's about facts and their abuse, as well as personal liberties. Dave Hitt is good on this, but also sharply points up the similarity between the current attitude and the actual historic Nicotine Nazis.

As Joe Jackson pithily puts it:
Smokers are now the only minority whose minority status is quoted as justification for abuse.
-which maybe reflects the fact that to be critical of almost any other group is illegal these days, and that we simply must have our scapegoats.

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick continues the theme from a cogent medical viewpoint in We have ways of making you stop smoking:

For the anti-smoking zealots, the loss of civil liberties resulting from their widening range of bans and proscriptions is justified by the anticipated health gain. Yet, as the great microbiologist Rene Dubos observed, health should not be considered an end in itself, but as 'the condition best suited to reach goals that each individual formulates for himself' [The Mirage of Health (1960)]. By curtailing the autonomy of the self-determining individual, authoritarian public health policies infantilise society, weaken democracy and diminish humanity.
[my emphasis]

I hope all this isn't prophetic about the near future. But it certainly reflects the direction in which this once proud and individualistic country is heading.
Pity us.

Alternatively you could take part in a little direct democracy, and sign an online petition at Number 10 :
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to cease the persecution of smokers and allow indoor smoking areas in private establishments.
Small but important steps in the right direction.

Incidentally, no-one should con themselves into thinking there is any scientific evidence that passive smoking harms anybody. Please do research this yourselves on the Web (obviously ensuring you take in both sides of the argument, e.g. ASH and FOREST, and try to locate original sources) because we need more people checking out facts for themselves. But a cogent summary is provided by Lorraine Mooney, a medical demographer, for the Wall Street Journal.

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13 November 2006

Bitter Words from Greene King

A fine example of the kind of doublespeak you get from governments and corporations these days is Greene King's statement that it wants to "provide its customers with greater choice" by removing the much-loved Lewes-brewed beer Harvey's Best from the much-loved Lewes local the Lewes Arms.

What Greedy King means by these words, of course, is that it wants to ignore an 80% Arms' customer choice and impose its own will by stocking its own choice of beers. It's very much dictatorship rather than democracy. Yes, we get thrown the sop that Harvey's may appear as a Guest Ale from time to time if we're good boys and girls, but that, too is a slimy political move that postpones protest until it's too late.

I dearly hope - as should Greede King - that the pub doesn't shed so many of its key regulars for enough of the time that its viability as a real community pub (which, incidentally, raises a great deal for local charities) is affected. But I have to note that my own winter attendance at the pub was reduced significantly by the loss of Harvey's Old soon after Greene King took over, and the fact is that the exceptionally good pint of Harvey's Best served at the Arms is inextricably tied up with my perceptions of the pub. It's also a bit relevant that I think Greene King's standard ales these days barely qualify as real ales in terms of character and interest. They've been homogenised for the mass market.

The whole grisly story is summarised by the superbly well-run Lewes Arms blog or, of course, the Lewes Arms website.

26 March 07:
I'm fairly pleased to note progress of the campaign to reinstate Harvey's at the Arms after a few months. There has been a boycott of the pub which has seriously impacted on sales there, but at the same time (and most importantly in my opinion) most of the pub's many activities are continuing "in exile". The Lewes Arms Community is alive, well and drinking Harvey's elsewhere until either Greene King sees the light on the road to Damascus or the Arms is passed on to more sensible owners.

Greene King is still receiving a constant trickle of negative publicity as a result of its inflexibility, capped recently by articles in the Guardian and the Publican. I also note that a Google for Greene King now produces a negative hit down the bottom of the first page of results. Also the situation at the Arms is summarised on Wikipedia's entry for Greene King which although completely verifiable and objective doesn't put GK in a good light.

Feet and guns come to mind. And even in a hard-nosed business sense Greene King's strategy up to now has proved a real loser. Time to reassess and regroup, which may be part of the thinking behind the Greene King restructure . Well, we can hope!

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28 July 2006

Learning from (bitter) experience

I'm very grateful to Jim Muir of the BBC for having summarised the current war in Lebanon so cogently in 2 articles:

He's saved me having to find words to capture my own incoherent and inchoate feelings on the matter, but more importantly he puts it in a historic context that makes the most likely consequences of current actions scarily apparent. I sincerely hope that - despite his wealth of experience and unarguable authority on such matters - he is completely wrong.

There's a simple question I'd like to put to all readers: out of the IDF and Hezbollah, which army is subjecting the greater number of innocent civilians to the most terror?

I imagine the response from pro-War Against Terror people would be along the lines of Hezbollah having caused the current war, and Hezbollah using "cowardly" tactics like hiding amongst civilians, therefore Hezbollah is responsible for all the suffering and death endured by innocent Lebanese civilians. But that's tantamount to saying Israel has no choice in the matter; in its exact response, its targets, the weapons it uses, the intensity of its attack.. everything, really. Which in turn means that Hezbollah effectively tells the IDF what to do. Doesn't really wash, does it?

I'm afraid that Israel increasingly makes me think of abusive parents that were once themselves abused children. Unsure exactly what role the US and (shamefully) the UK play according to that analogy. The UK would probably be a crap representative from Social Services who talks the talk but is too lily-livered to confront the abusive parent until the evidence of abuse is completely irrefutable, e.g. the child is mortally wounded. The US, perhaps, would be the recent male rape victim who wants the opportunity to exact a particularly slow, painful and nasty vengeance on the rapist when it finds him. Most people tell the US this vigilante action would be illegal and may well make it as bad as the rapist, but Israel slaps him on the back and says it's a damn fine idea.

Other answers on a postcard, please.

12 July 2006

Poetic justice for Iraq?

I always had a soft spot for Edward Lear's The Jumblies, so I'm bound to react well to a rewrite that says it all about Iraq:

The Godlies

Simultaneously very funny and very painful.