Thursday, June 28, 2007


There will be an intermission while Think of England recovers its identity.

Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Double Hitch ties Shirley up in knots

The Hitch is currently doing the rounds in Blighty, principally plugging his latest Dawkins-esque God-bashing book, but stopping last Thursday to appear on Question Time. Like Bryan Appleyard, I find QT almost unwatchable these days on account of the thicko audiences and their shameless manipulation by applause-triggering politicians). But this was a rare good one, with an all-star line up of the Hitch, his mad brother Peter and the always-enjoyable Boris Johnson.

The lot of them team up to give the crapulent Shirley Williams a well-deserved kicking for her craven criticism of Salman Rushdie's knighthood on the grounds that it causes offence to Muslims.

Nobody could possibly admire everything Chris Hitchens says - that is the point of him. But when he's good, he's very very good. (Note for bigots: watch to the end for a nice distinction between Islamist nuts and real Muslims. Peter Hitchens later makes the equally true observation that the 'protests' in Tehran - Union Jack burning etc - are entirely stage-managed, and if you pulled the camera back from the 'crowd' you would see it consisted of at most a dozen pillocks.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Talking of crazy Germans

The Berlin Wall may be long gone but communist East Germany lives on in the form of lovingly maintained Trabant cars and now an old-fashioned hotel.

"Ostel" takes its guests back to some time before 1989 - an era of ugly brown and orange wallpaper, spartan furnishings and Politburo portraits.

The hotel, which opened in Berlin in May, offers guests a choice of rooms in the style of the old eastern bloc.

The "Stasi Suite" is more expensive than the budget "Pioneer Camp".

The hotel is a former East German Plattenbauwohnung - the kind of mass-produced concrete apartment building that came to symbolise life in the communist bloc.

In the reception four clocks are another throwback to the "socialist" camp, showing the time in Moscow, Berlin, Havana and Beijing.

First as tragedy, then as postmodern irony.

Goodbye Lenin is a fantastic film about ‘Ostalgie’.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Alien nation

A lawyer who landed an out-of-this-world job defending people who have suffered at the hands of aliens has started his first major case.

Former industrial law specialist Jens Lorek announced last year he would defend those whose close encounters with outer space visitors left them physically and mentally shattered.

Now he has his first client - hotel chef Paul Hoffmann, 23, who claims he was kidnapped by aliens and has never been the same since.

… The chef closed his bank account, squatted in an empty property in Dresden and bathed nude - "as ordered by the aliens" - in a municipal fountain. When police caught him naked on a bike, he was sent to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital.

Lorek thinks that police acted wrongly and is demanding his client's release. He has brought a lawsuit against the city in which he places the blame for his client's behaviour on "things unknown".

.."The state is socially responsible, even for alien shamans, if they cannot protect them from abduction.Aliens stick needles in their victims' genitals and interfere with their organs. Since 1961 there have been tens of thousands of alien abductions."

This story has everything: crazy yanks Germans, improbable law suits and aliens.

So can anyone finally explain this one to me: what is it about Americans and alien abduction?

Are there any parallels for this sort of mass national delusion? Voodoo in West Africa? Socialism in France? The belief that the national football team can win something in England?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bernard Manning was a racist comedian

and now he's dead.

I think that about covers it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Out of the frying pan, into 60% of the national median

Around 600 illegal immigrants die every year in a bid to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to southern European coasts, said Malta’s Home Affairs and Justice Minister Tonio Borg while addressing European Union (EU) Interior Ministers conference on Tuesday.

The Minister pointed out that since the beginning of 2007, Malta has saved 315 shipwrecked immigrants attempting to enter Europe by sea, 250 of whom were taken on board Maltese ships in a fortnight.

While criticizing the present state of affairs, Dr Borg added that "It is unbelievable that on the doorstep of Europe we are having this tragic situation and not enough is being done."

Malta has urged the other 26 EU member states for the setting up of a burden-sharing system under which illegal migrants rescued or intercepted by EU ships outside of European waters would be taken in by the bloc's countries.

You have to wonder about these crazy Africans, packed like sardines into tiny fishing dinghies to make perilous journeys to Europe. Don't they know they're only going from the relative happiness of their absolute poverty, to the misery of the west's Relative Poverty? Really, we should be going the other way....

Men's needs

For the trendier, White Stripes-loving section of Think of England's readership, I was going to point to a simply corking new song by the British twin-based band The Cribs.

Men's Needs has been nagging away in my brain for a couple of weeks. But then I discovered that the video is an X-rated shocker with nudity, vegetables and decapitation. For goodness sake, don't watch this.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nailing relative poverty

Government strategy for tackling child poverty is penalising two-parent families, a think tank has suggested.

The study by Labour MP Frank Field for Reform says tax credits discriminate against working couples and discourage single parents from finding partners.

Nearly a quarter of children in two-parent families live in relative poverty - almost the same as when Labour came to power in 1997, he said.

There’s something rather satisfying about seeing New Labour hung on its own ‘relative poverty’ petard. Ever since that ridiculous Unicef report I have taken the trouble to give the concept of relative poverty a long hard stare, and have also read some pretty good attacks on it (such as Jamie Whyte’s ‘Bad Thoughts’ – recommended).

The Unicef debacle helped in that it came up with an obviously wrong conclusion: that children in Britain were ‘poorer’ than children in genuinely poor countries. So given that the conclusion was wrong, there must have been something wrong with the way the conclusion was reached.

Since then, it has come to my attention that New Labour came to power in 1997 promising to end child poverty, which they said affected one in four children. I don’t remember questioning this clearly absurd claim at the time, so let’s do so now, since Labour has apparently failed to reduce it.

What is ‘poverty’? To my mind, poverty is a word with a meaning. It has connotations. It conjures up an image of a level of hardship whereby such things as food, clothing and housing are difficult to come by. Children in poverty would probably be unhealthy and uneducated. They would have no access to luxuries such as all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. Cars, holidays, mobile phones, satellite television and extensive DVD collections would be but distant dreams.

Does this sorry state describe one in four British children? It does not. So New Labour’s ‘poverty’ must mean something different to my ‘poverty’. In fact, it turns out that a household is ‘poor’ if its income is less than 60% of the national median after housing costs are deducted.

One big, fat objection should begin screaming in the face of any intelligent person at this point. If this is how you define poverty and you are in it, then the Government could lift you out of it by actually decreasing your material wealth – so long as they also decreased the wealth of everyone richer than you by a sufficiently larger amount.

But even ignoring this, using household income in isolation as a measure of real poverty is stupid, especially for Britain. This is because we live in a state with considerable welfare benefits (it would be even more stupid in France and slightly less stupid, but still stupid, in the US).

In Britain, the state will pay for a ‘poor’ child’s education, health, housing, and give allowances for food, clothing and bills.

Suppose Peter is a ‘poor’ child because his household income is only 35% of the national median, and David is non-poor because his is 70%. Would this make David twice as well off as Peter?

Peter and David could live in the same street, go to the same school, the same dentist, wear the same jeans and eat at the same MacDonald’s. Their lives would be virtually identical, except perhaps David might go on slightly nicer holidays – to Benidorm instead of Bognor, perhaps. Yet Peter is adding to the ‘poverty’ stats and David is adding to the rich stats.

An analogy would be this: suppose Jeff gets £1 a week pocket money and Martin gets £2. If we only count this income, Martin is 100% richer than Jeff. Martin is a prince and Jeff is a pauper.

But both Martin and Jeff’s parents spend £100 per week on their schooling, clothes, food, doctor, tennis lessons and haircuts. So Martin’s real spending capacity is £102 and Jeff’s is £101 – a measly 1% difference. Clearly, it is absurd to call one a prince and the other a pauper just because Martin can buy an extra can of Irn Bru every week.

But this is just the logic on which the relative poverty merchants operate.So why do it? Why use the term ‘poverty’ for one in four children instead of ‘those who live in households where income in isolation of welfare and benefits is less than 60% of the national average after housing costs are deducted’?

Because ‘poverty’ is an emotive word with the kinds of connotations of shoeless street urchins I mentioned earlier.

I am a decent human being and if you ask me if I think we should do something to help end ‘poverty’ I will say yes. But if you ask me if I think we should do something to lower the number of people whose income is less than 60% of the national median, then I’ll have to think about that one. I might ask: can’t we just keep making everybody richer?

The BBC uses the word poverty in its relative sense because it provides nice headlines (“Poverty crisis!”); leftists use it to try to prove the failures of capitalism, and New Labour used it because they were idiots.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The current series of Dr Who has been a bit uneven - there was one pretty weak episode about Daleks and the Empire State Building - but this weekend's story, Blink, was perhaps the best I've seen.

It had a time travel story that was easy to follow, and the scariest baddies ever: they can only move when you can't see them, but when you blink, they move very quickly indeed...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yet another fundamental human right you never knew you had

The UK tops the list of wealthy nations who work excessive hours, according to the International Labour Organisation.

The ILO says that one-quarter of UK employees work more than 48 hours a week, more than any other rich nation.

More than 600 million people worldwide are working long hours each week, says the UN body concerned with work trends.

The ILO report into working hours in 50 countries says its ideal of a maximum 48-hour working week is a long way off for many nations.

Among developing countries, Peruvians tops the list of workers who put in more than 48 hours a week.

The ILO blames the growth of service industries, such as tourism and transport, plus an expansion in informal working arrangements, for the excess of global working hours.

Now let me say straight up that what I don’t know about the history and motives of the International Labour Organisation could fill the Grand Canyon, and I have developed a deep suspicion towards well-meaning international organisations generally, but that last sentence strikes me as very odd. ‘Blames’ the growth of service industries?

Why would you have a goal of a global maximum 48-hour week? Is it, in fact, the International anti-Labour Organisation?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Great Picnic Conspiracy

Robert Crampton on picnics:

Surely they're a prime example of something you think you should enjoy because you think everyone else enjoys them? But isn't the reality that really, truly, no one does enjoy a picnic? Parties and picnics: a sinister conspiracy of silence prevails.

I don't object to a nice bad-weather picnic, halfway up a mountain, horizontal rain, sodden cagoule, huddled in the lee of an inadequate rock, they're fine. And barbecues, I like them, mostly because I like setting stuff on fire, and so does my son, and it's important for a father and his boy to find things they can do together. And also I like burgers. And anyway you usually have barbecues in the evening when it's cooled down.

But your classic British summer picnic? Eating outside in direct sunlight? Prickle of sweat on your forehead? Shirt sticking to your back? Label chafing your neck? Having to reach up and rip it out with your bare hands? Tight shorts? Thighs cooking? Can't get comfortable? Itchy blanket? Dogs going after your sausage rolls? Leaning over awkwardly to reach the bread? Lukewarm white wine? Instantly drunk? Pounding head? Dry mouth? Talking to people in sunglasses? Height of bad manners? Plastic cutlery? Wickerwork everywhere? Balancing a beaker on tufty grass? Thistles? Nettles? Cowpats? Bursting for the loo? Nowhere in sight? Sun still beating down? Wind blowing everything away? Always having to pass things to other people? Unable to shovel down requisite calories rapidly enough? Pots of gloop from Tesco Metro? Fizzing in the heat? Shifting position? Sand and dust and dirt and nameless airborne crap getting in your eye? Leftovers? Can't chuck 'em, take them home, hassle city, end up throwing them away anyway? Ants? Flies? Wasps? Some old boy going, "Well, if this is global warming, it's all right by me, ha ha ha," as if it hasn't been said ten million times already?

As always, and in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson, we can't handle the truth.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ging gang cruelty

A red-haired family claims to have been driven from their Newcastle home because of abuse.

Why is the harassment of redheads dismissed as just harmless fun?

...Journalist Sharon Jaffa - also a red-head - says society must stop its ginger-baiting.

"Growing up as a redhead I was lucky enough to escape with just the occasional name-calling - having the surname Jaffa was no doubt a double-whammy. But attacking someone on the basis of their hair colour can be every bit as damaging as persecuting someone for their race or religion, and therefore, in some cases, needs to be taken just as seriously."

...Workplace psychologist Professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster University, says abuse can be "an unhealthy release valve for stress" and redheads, as a visible minority not protected by law, have become a target.

While other forms of the discrimination are the subject of marches, lobbying and education campaigns, redheads cannot expect the arrival of the politically correct cavalry anytime soon.

Actually, they probably can.

It's not complicated: children bully redhead children because children are nasty little bastards who crave acceptance and pick on any obvious difference to cement their place in opposition to tribal outsiders, and some children don't grow up into adults.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Icky thump

I freakin' well love The White Stripes. They're up there with Chopin, Beethoven and Winehouse on my playlist.

Jack White plays the guitar like a hero, sings like a fruity banshee and calls his new album 'Icky Thump' (a deliberate corruption of 'ecky thump!'). I know he's technically a yank, but I'm claiming him as a spiritual Brit.

Never content with merely presenting, that cheeky devil Jools Holland managed to wangle himself into the act yet again the other night, on My Doorbell:

Monday, June 04, 2007

But it's all so 2003, dahling

A drawing which depicts Tony and Cherie Blair naked on the steps of 10 Downing Street is the centrepiece of the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.

Artist and sculptor Michael Sandle, 71*, conceived the three-panel picture, Iraq Triptych, as a protest against the war.

"I suddenly felt overcome with anger at the way Blair has messed up," he told the Guardian newspaper.

Yes, suddenly he was overcome, poor man. No doubt destroying his previous work, "Horrors of the Saddam Regime Triptych" in his disgust.

*sic. Yes, I thought it should be 17 too.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Unreality TV

In today's Sunday Times Bryan Appleyard lays into reality TV in general, and Big Brother in particular - though his real target seems to be the reverse snobbery of a patronising cultural elite.

One aspect of Big Brother* he omits to mention, however, is the absolute moral rigidity of the format. That may sound counterintuitive, but if you think Big Brother is merely symptomatic of a culture where anything goes and appalling anti-social behaviour is rewarded, then you've not understood it at all.

Big Brother is, in essence, an opportunity for the British public to observe the inmates with God-like ominiscience and enforce moral judgements upon them. Every single time, without fail, the villains are evicted at the first opportunity, even though they provide the supposed 'entertainment'. The good guys always win.

The interesting thing is examining exactly what constitutes villainy. It has nothing to do with being foul-mouthed, short-tempered or sexually licentious. No, the biggest BB sin is deviousness. The British public just cannot seem to abide sneakiness, backstabbing and snake-in-the-grassity.

Further evidence of this can be seen in the ill-feeling bubbling away in water-cooler land towards The Apprentice's Katie - a classic two-facer who cuddles up to her fellow contestants, then crucifies them with brilliantly eloquent vitriol in the 'privacy' of the to-camera soliloquy.

Of course, in the real world, we much prefer people to insult and bitch behind our backs than directly to our faces. People who tell you to your face that they don't like you are just rude, friendless boors. Whereas we all gossip to some degree. Perhaps our guilt about this is why backstabbing is the biggest reality TV sin.

*With extraordinary and quite frightening prescience, I recently remarked casually to Mrs B something along the lines of: "Of course, if they really want to stir things up in Big Brother they should have an entire house of women and then stick in a male model."

This is exactly what they've done. Perhaps I should get a job as patronising cultural elitist.

Friday, June 01, 2007