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I blame the scapegoats, p.5

I blame the scapegoats, page 5

 

I blame the scapegoats
 


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  Such is their fury that they have announced they are taking the government to court. I can't wait. And when they lose and are ordered to pay the government's costs, no doubt they will look confused and say, 'Yes, I understand that we lost the case. But, erm, we still get a huge pay-out, don't we?'

  Shop for victory!

  20 October 2001

  Last week I was in a pub with some friends and after two pints realized I ought to be heading home. But then I thought about how tourism has been damaged by the current crisis, how the recession is starting to affect the leisure and catering sectors, and I thought, 'No - by not spending any more money in this pub I'd be doing exactly what those extremists wanted.' So I resolved to defy terrorism and have another pint. In fact I defied terrorism several more times after that, and then we all defied terrorism some more by going for a curry and eventually sharing a mini-cab home. It was expensive and time-consuming, but these are the sorts of sacrifices we should all be prepared to make in times of national crisis.

  In the United States, Weight Watchers have reported significant weight gains among its members as patriotic US citizens do their utmost to help the economy by trying every single pudding on the dessert trolley. Some analysts have attributed the increase to a renewed sense of perspective and a grim fatalism that makes counting calories seem irrelevant. But the reality is that people are always looking for an excuse to have whatever they want and if September 11th is the nearest justification to hand, then that'll do fine. In the Second World War people could not help but lose weight, but as we slide into the sequel, Mayor Giuliani is calling for more people to go to restaurants.

  It's time to loosen our belts. With a recession looming it has become our patriotic duty to spend as much we can on consumer goods and Tony Blair has been leading the way as he flies around the Middle East.

  'President Musharraf, the British Prime Minister just called. He's coming to see you again and asked if you wanted him to pick up any more duty free at the airport.'

  'Oh yes, two hundred Marlboro Lights please.'

  'Oh, but no more ciggies - he's used up his allocation getting a load of B&H for Sheik Said of Oman. How about a big Toblerone?'

  In fact, it's only Tony Blair's shuttle diplomacy that's keeping the airline companies afloat at the moment. Too many people remain anxious about flying, which is quite ridiculous. Statistics show that you are still far more likely to die at home following a terrorist chemical weapon attack. You've got less chance of being killed in an aeroplane than you have of being wiped out by the anthrax virus, so there's really nothing to worry about.

  Osama Bin Laden wanted this recession, so now we must all contribute to the war against terrorism by buying loads of stuff we don't need. 'Once more unto the Arndale Centre, dear friends, once more!' Carpet manufacturers would like us to do our bit by buying more carpets. Or maybe you could stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans by having a conservatory built onto the back of the house. If there is any capital outlay which you've been putting off, now's the time for getting yourself into debt and splashing out. 'That's one in the eye for the Al-Qaida network,' you can say to yourself as you unpack your new DVD player from Dixons.

  But although we must spend more, it is also our duty to expect less in our wage packet. One business group last month called for a cut in the minimum wage in order to stave off recession. And can you believe it, the unions were against this idea! How can these lefties be so insensitive at this hour as to break the prevailing sense of peace and unity by opposing this patriotic suggestion from our company directors? You'd think low-paid workers would be delighted to do their bit by slipping back below the poverty line, but no, even after all the suffering that we have seen, they are selfishly clinging on to their £4.10 an hour. Okay, so the recession started before September 11th, but anyone who claims it's the fault of anyone except Bin Laden must be on his side.

  The businessmen who try to use the current crisis to increase their profits are the corporate equivalent of those bereaved relatives who rush back from granny's funeral to be first to grab all the silver. 'It's what she would have wanted,' they say, as they flog off her best stuff at the car boot sale. In America, this syndrome has been dubbed 'hitch-hiking'; major corporations have been using the September 11th tragedy as an argument for lifting restrictions that were placed upon them by previous Democrat administrations. 'I think as a mark of respect we should be allowed to drill for oil in the National Park' or 'In order to send out a clear message about freedom we are asking for federal health and safety regulations to be abolished'. 'Business as usual' was the slogan that appeared outside bombed corner shops in the last war. 'Big business even more appalling than usual' is the axiom of this one.

  Pentagon seeks part-time helpers - no terrorists please

  27 October 2001

  On September 11th, soon after two jets were crashed into the World Trade Center causing the twin towers to collapse to the ground, an internet poll was set up by one of America's leading search engines. It said, 'This time have the terrorists gone too far?' Hmmm - a tricky one to call, but apparently most people voted 'yes'. Perhaps this was an elaborate surveillance scam by the CIA. They were waiting for someone to click on the little 'no' button, and then the marines could dash round in the hope that they'd finally located Osama Bin Laden.

  In fact the reality is not that different. This week the Pentagon publicly appealed for help in 'defeating difficult targets' - announcing a competition for ordinary Americans to come up with snappy ideas on ways of thwarting the terrorists. 'We're open to ideas from just about everybody,' said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood as the guys in the mail room went 'Oh terrific - another million strangely addressed envelopes to check out.'

  So far the only entrant to this competition is a man called G. W. Bush from Washington whose idea was to blow up the whole of Afghanistan. To be fair to the US military, they're doing their best to give due consideration to Afghan civilians. All the American planes have little stickers on the back saying 'How's my bombing?' and then there's an 0800 number that you can call if you think the US Air Force are blowing up any cities in a discourteous or aggressive manner.

  It doesn't exactly fill you with confidence that the moment the world's only superpower is faced with a military foe, they call a press conference and say to the world's media, 'Er - I don't suppose you guys have any ideas, do you?' In 1940 when France had fallen and Churchill broadcast to the nation to stiffen British resolve, he didn't say, 'Er - well, frankly we're a bit stuck about what to do at this end, so we thought we'd have a little competition. Answers on a postcard please. Send your entries to "Defeat the Nazis Competition, Ministry of War, Whitehall", and remember the lucky winner gets some book tokens and a seat at the Yalta conference to help decide the post-war settlement.'

  Our current Prime Minister may have got wind of the Pentagon's novelty competition for lateral ideas because I'm sure I heard him saying that Britain will be contributing our very own Ground Force. So the Americans are sending in thousands of highly armed marines and we're contributing a Channel 4 gardening programme. Mind you, once the senior clerics in the Taliban are confronted with the bra-less Charlie Dimmock jumping about, the regime will probably cave in overnight.

  Washington are so desperate for ideas that they have said that the contest is open to anyone and that the winner could be offered a Pentagon contract. The trouble is that there are housewives in the Midlands who make a living out of repeatedly winning competitions from Take a Break magazine and the back of cereal packets; they're bound to have a head start on the rest of us. When the invasion of Kabul goes horribly wrong we'll find out that this is because the assault was planned by a retired dinner lady from Droitwich.

  Meanwhile American defence chiefs are continuing their research into military operations in Afghanistan by watching Carry On Up the Khyber and they are gradually developing some sort of strategy. There was a setback when they found that their precision bombing was not quite as accur
ate as had been hoped. When the White House announced that they'd be using their famous smart bombs in Afghanistan, workers rebuilding the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade three thousand miles away said, 'Oh no - but we'd nearly finished it,' before dashing off to the bomb shelter. So then the Americans had the idea of dropping food supplies to the victims of the Taliban, the logic being that if these were aimed really carefully at the fleeing refugees they would miss so comprehensively that you could be sure they'd land right on top of Osama Bin Laden, instantly crushing him to death. Okay, so it's an outside chance, but the Pentagon policy competition has only been going a few days.

  PC Plod goes to PC World

  3 November 2001

  This week it was announced that Britain's police officers are to be issued with portable computers to help protect the public against crime. The thought is that so many people have been mugged for their laptops that now the police are going to walk round with them as well to try to spread it about a bit. As a whole string of technological accessories was announced for our law enforcers, the futuristic fantasy of Robocop finally came true. Or maybe it's more Dixon of Dock Green with a pager.

  PC Plod is being taken to PC World to save him having to spend hours back at the police station filling out endless forms and statements. So as the armed gang screech away from the bank heist, police officers will now rush to the scene and, instead of producing a little black notebook, will whip out their laptop computers.

  'So you say you saw the getaway car?'

  'Yes, I memorized the number plate and everything. Quick, get it down before I forget it.'

  'Okay, hold on . . . Press "file", then "open", then "enter". Hmmm . . . "Windows file path invalid . . ."'

  'It was a red Nissan, registration X148 . . .'

  'Hang on, hang on - "File not configured . . ." Look, you don't know anything about computers, do you?'

  'Registration X418, no - erm, try pressing "Help". I think it's Fl.' 'Ah yes, let's see . . . "Specify font when converting files" - hmmm. Can we borrow your computer, sir?' 'Sorry - it's just been stolen.'

  Even if the police computers crash as often as their cars, I suppose they'll still have their uses. To protect all that complex micro-technology, laptops now have a tough titanium alloy casing - so they could always use them to whack someone over the head when they've forgotten their truncheons.

  The introduction of pagers is another clever New Labour step forward. At the last Police Federation conference, Jack Straw was nearly booed off the stage. Next time the Home Secretary speaks, all the officers in the audience will get messages on their pagers saying Applaud now!' 'Cheer!' and 'Standing Ovation!' Another innovation will see video identity parades replacing the traditional police station line-up. For the witness, this will remove the fear of coming face to face with your assailant, making it just like watching an ordinary video. So before you get to the main feature there will be an endless string of over-long trailers: 'Coming soon from Scotland Yard Pictures,' says the deep American voice-over, 'a story of six men, and the criminal who lurked among them. From the director of Identity Parade 5 - a thrilling story of one man's search for justice.' And then there'll probably be a trailer for The Perfect Storm and Meet the Parents because there always is, and the witness will shout, 'That's him! That's the one who did it . . . I'd recognize him anywhere!' 'No, madam, that's Robert De Niro.' All this is presuming that the officer in charge didn't record over the tape by mistake, replacing essential footage of the chief suspects with last night's edition of Top Gear.

  However, giving policemen camcorders also brings new risks of facilitating miscarriages of justice. Will all participants in the identity-parade be filmed in the same neutral manner? Or when they get to the bloke they want to see banged up, will they zoom violently in and out and then use the caption facility to type in 'GUILTY!' in big letters across the screen? Maybe the best judicial cock-ups could appear on their own video clips TV show called You've Been Framed.

  Like all tools in the fight against crime, modern technology can be used for good or ill. There's always a civil liberties issue, but no point would be served by holding the police back and saying that they were only allowed to use blue phone boxes and whistles. The use of modern technology really took off with the spread of CCTV cameras, which, though they helped reduce crime, also had a down side as we were forced to endure endless newspaper articles about the realization of Orwell's nightmarish vision. I used to be against CCTV, but earlier this year my wife's handbag was stolen in a coffee shop and there was the culprit caught red-handed on camera. Then he tried to buy petrol with her credit card and there he was again, number plate and all. Fantastic! Obviously nothing was ever done to follow any of this up, trace his car or bring any charges, but you can't expect everything.

  So we should welcome any technology that assists the police in their vital work and it is clearly much easier to alter a defendant's statement on a computer than it is on a handwritten sheet of A4. And we should not be deterred from proceeding to the next stage by the expense of buying our policemen new laptops, pagers, palmtops and camcorders. As it happens, the fight against crime will not cost as much as you might expect. Apparently there's a bloke down the pub who can get all this stuff for them half price, no questions asked.

  Goal not dole

  10 November 2001

  Over the past few weeks, Britain's footballers have been voting on whether they should take industrial action. Fabien Barthez was handed his ballot paper and then dropped it. Andy Cole went to pop his voting slip into the ballot box, but at the last minute lost his footing and missed completely. Paul Gascoigne walked across to the polling booth but pulled a calf muscle and was led away in tears. But for those players who did manage to put a cross into the box (which was a first for Leicester's midfield this season), a huge majority voted in favour and now we can expect to see the first ever industrial action in the history of league football.

  Strikers' support groups are already springing up around the country, shaking buckets outside the factory gates to try to collect the £20,000 a week that the average Premiership player needs to make sure he has a DVD player in every car. Food convoys are ferrying lager and kebabs to impoverished strikers. Shop stewards wearing badges saying 'Goal Not Dole' are asking other sports workers to come out in sympathy. The England cricket team are expected to be out in no time.

  Under Britain's draconian industrial law, it would be illegal for England's Premiership players actually to refuse to turn out onto the football pitch, although a small picket would be permitted on the edge of the penalty area. So Michael Owen will rush up towards the goal-mouth with the ball at his feet only to be met by five footballers in duffel coats and flat caps standing around a brazier.

  'This is an official strike by the PFA and we're asking you not to cross this picket line.'

  'Look, I dunno anything about no strike. I've just been told to deliver this football into that net over there.'

  'Listen, lad, I've got striking players on this picket line who don't know where their next mansion in Essex is coming from . . .'

  'But if I don't make sure this ball gets over that goal-line, my boss says I won't get my ten grand bonus this week . . .'

  It's heart-breaking stuff. Of course, if they argue for too long, the referee then moves the picket line back ten yards. At this point tempers become frayed and the police step in to calm things down. An officer puts a gentle hand on Ginola's shoulder and he falls to the floor in agony, rolling about clutching his injury.

  Highlights of all this would have appeared on the Sky Sports Strike Action Channel except that it's the televising of football that has caused this dispute. The PFA want a modest 5 per cent of the money that comes from transmitting the beautiful game to fund its various welfare schemes and to assist ex-players who've fallen on hard times. 'We want to benefit from the enormous popularity of televised football,' they say, as ITV moves its Premiership programme to a later slot due to lack of viewers. Obviously the Premi
ership chairmen believe there are more important things to do with all that money, like spending £10 million on a midfielder and then selling him for half the price the following season. But the players' union is right to ask for this money and the players are right to vote for a strike. Footballers are always being criticized for being poor role models, but here they are setting a great example: the greatest ever turn-out in a strike ballot, and the greatest majority prepared to take strike action. They are prepared to risk confrontation with their own clubs in order to help players less fortunate than themselves. At last England might have some decent left-wingers.

  The next stage looks set to be fought out in the courts, which could take several years while the judge is having the offside law repeatedly explained to him. With all their millions, the Premier League will have an unfair advantage in the law courts, even if the public gallery is packed out with fans singing 'Who's the bastard in the wig?' This is one dispute where there is already a much clearer mechanism for finding a winner. The PFA should challenge all the club chairmen to a game of footy. What a match that would be. Mohamed Al Fayed as captain of the Chairmen's XI would lose the toss and claim this was the result of a conspiracy by MI5 and the Duke of Edinburgh. Elton John would spend £50,000 on his outfit, thereby seriously undercutting the Manchester United club shop. Instead of half-time oranges, Delia Smith from the board of Norwich FC would serve up Roasted Summer Vegetables, and Ken Bates would be made to sit on the subs bench (tickets start at £75). Finally, Mohamed Al Fayed would score and in the celebration whip off his shirt, revealing his naked torso right in front of the TV cameras. And at a stroke the dispute would be completely irrelevant. Nobody would watch televised football ever again.

 
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