Archive for September, 2009

Stupid football museum bullshit

September 30, 2009

Travels With My Baby gets it right on the Urbis.

Manchester City Council wants to offload this particular financial burden onto the private sector by turning it into a fee-charging football museum. For a city that is so good in so many ways, that has finally started to ‘get’ culture by investing in things such as MIF, and that has recently put itself forward as one of the UK’s first cities of culture, it seems a strange decision. Why should it be one or the other – why pit culture against football? Why not have both?

I ponder on this as we wander back downstairs. And as we leave I wonder whether I will be coming back here quite so much when Milo is a bigger boy; whether the Council’s grand plan will simply reinforce Manchester’s shopping-and-football stereotype, and whether or not the newest, edgiest art and cultural commentary won’t be found in this so-called original and modern city but elsewhere. Further south.

The Urbis wasn’t a venue you’d go to every single weekend but I’ve enjoyed fantastic debates, galleries and spoken word nights there. And now this. There’s no evidence that people who will go to a football game will go to a museum about football. Preston don’t want to lose the museum. So what’s the point? Idiots.


City of Manchester: Primark and football and absolutely nothing else

Ultimate Insult to Ultimate Injury

September 29, 2009

The Vatican has responded to the Ryan report. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, its observer to the UN, issued a statement yesterday. This would have been a good time for the head of the Catholic church to declare its crimes and ask what it could do to make amends.

Instead, it has chosen to defend the indefensible.

This, according to the Guardian, is the thrust of its statement:

1) Only 1.5% to 5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child abuse. So that’s only around x million child abusers.

2) Child abuse goes on in other religions too, which makes it okay.

3) And, in fact, there are loads of paedophiles who are not ministers of any religion.

4) Anyway, the Catholic priests who abused children aren’t paedos, they just have a thing for teenage boys: ‘Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17.’

This is the conclusion:

As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it.

Other institutions and authorities? Can you imagine the head of a business responding to proven allegations about his employees in this way? Would Gordon Brown excuse the crimes of a Labour Party paedo ring by saying: ‘Well, most of them are just gays so it’s okay?’

It really is beyond me how anyone can remain a member of an organisation whose leaders say such stupid, ugly, callous things. 

All the Vatican could do was apologise and promise to make amends. And it couldn’t even do that. What disgusting, irredeemable, subhuman scum.

(Via Ophelia; more from the NSS)

The Believers

September 29, 2009

thebelieversJust finished this new one by Zoe Heller, an impressive decline novel about an Anglo-New York pseudo-left family. The prologue is set in London in the early sixties where young activist Audrey Howard runs into handsome lawyer Joel Litvinoff. Even then, when things are full of promise, Heller plays on the clash between high ideals and brute reality: later on, Audrey’s current SWP-style boyfriend rants: ‘You know what you are… A fucking cocktease is what you are…’ after a rejected lunge.

Fast forward forty years. Audrey is now an embittered, abrasive tyrant, with nothing going for her apart from her marriage to Joel, who has made his name defending enemies of the state; a radical lawyer and quasi-celebrity, he is one of the book’s few sympathetic characters. But in an audacious coup, Heller fells him with a stroke as he is about to rise and defend a terror suspect, leaving Audrey as the monster who dominates the novel.

We only know Audrey as a brief eighteen-year-old and a crotchety demo vet pushing sixty. There must have been times when she was full of energy and laughter, and Heller clearly wants us to sympathise with her:

I read a review the other day that said, ‘Joel is the one charming character in the book, and we’re left with this pain in the neck.’ And in one sense that exactly expresses what she’s had to deal with all her life, being the less desirable companion to this charming, charismatic, fabulous man, who is also this gigantic egotist. It’s quite hard work living with that kind of star.

Still, knowing the roots of Audrey’s bullying doesn’t make her any easier to like and the reader often feels like she’s getting what she deserves. One of her final reflections:

It was true: she had often spoken of the accomplishments that might have been hers had she not dedicated her life to Joel. But she had never really believed what she was saying. Deep down, she had always known these aggrieved remarks for what they were – self-flattering delusions, face-saving fantasies. The truth was, Joel had held her back from nothing. He had saved her. Without Joel, she would still be typing in Camden Town, or living in some hellish suburb, married to a man like her sister’s husband, Colin.  

Heller captures the way in which Audrey’s former outgoing, no-bullshit charm has degenerated into rudeness for the sake of attention. Andrew Coates, reviewing The Believers for 3:AM, quotes this passage:

For decades now, she had been dragging about the same unwieldy burden of a priori convictions, believing herself honour-bound to protect them against destruction at all costs. No new intelligence, no rational argument, could cause her to falter from her mission. Not even the cataclysmic events of the previous September had put her off her stride for more than a couple of hours. By lunchtime on the day that the towers fell, when the rest of New York was still stumbling about in a daze, Audrey had already been celebrating the end of the myth of American exceptionalism and comparing the event to the American bombing of a Sudanese aspirin factory in 1998.

He also relays Audrey’s most telling line: ‘You want to know what I’d do if the truth revealed itself to me and it wasn’t the truth I wanted to find?… I’d reject it.’

There have been plenty of satires on the liberal left but they have always failed because they don’t get past the ‘politically correct’ diets and amusingly named acronyms – unbelievably, Zadie Smith gave herself four days off writing as a reward for thinking up the name ‘KEVIN’ for an Islamist group. Ultimately, satirists don’t see their targets as human. Philip Roth, in American Pastoral, went on an honest exploration into what attracts people to violent revolt. But I can’t think of any fiction writer this side of the Atlantic who has done the same, even though this is really ideal territory for fiction and there is so much going on with the UK left – enough material for an entire conference.

Heller’s novel is more about the impact of ideas on the individual. It’s devastating and scary. Audrey’s children have all to some extent been retarded by handed-down family dogma. Her adopted son, Lenny, regularly visits his birth mother, a Baader-style terrorist doing life: a link with far-left craziness of the past. Rosa has become disillusioned with Marxism and is trying to find new meaning in Orthodox Judaism.

This was one of Heller’s anxieties about the novel – ‘a leap of imagination, and at various points in the writing of it, I suspected that it was too large a leap for me’ – but she manages to convey, convincingly, what it would feel like to have faith (not that I speak from experience either). However, Rosa finds that doctrinaire Judaism is as much a dead end as doctrinaire Marxism: ‘the expression of some schoolgirlish masochism, some hysterical need for rules and restrictions, the pettier and more arduous, the better.’

It’s what Heller is driving at, the superstition hardwired into the human brain: what Douglas Coupland described as a need to need. ‘I’d read this article about scientists who were trying to locate the belief gene,’ Heller explained. ‘Whether or not such a gene exists, it struck me as a good metaphor’. There was recently some research that seemed to confirm the human need to believe: released to rapture and crowing, of course, from the same people who tell us that science can’t explain everything. It’s a surprise and a delight that Audrey’s other daughter, the miserable, put-upon Karla, is the only character to really break from her family’s expectations.

More Glossolalia with Andrew Brown

September 28, 2009

Andrew Brown continues his quest to turn the Guardian into ‘Thought for the Day’.

This time, he appears to be channeling Sarah Palin.

Educated atheism is of course an entirely middle-class phenomenon. If you turned off the soundtrack, it would be impossible to distinguish a meeting of the British Humanist Association from the Quakers or an Anglican discussion group. There is nothing like compulsory chapel to produce a superior atheist.

Subscribe to a set of pious hopes about reason and progress, read a few of the right books, and you have found a clear social identity. It offers a set of enemies who are both harmless (when they’re Christians) and sinister (when they’re Muslims). Obviously, it is no longer done to sneer at the working classes for being idle, brutish, smelly, and breeding too much. But it’s perfectly OK to sneer at ‘faith heads’ for all these things: that shows you’re enlightened. It’s pure coincidence that the despicable believers are for the most part lower class as well.

Andy contrasts the limp-wristed, latte-drinking atheism above with the working-class, street-fighting faithful:

Robert Runcie was the son of a ship’s hairdresser; George Carey was a secondary modern boy from Dagenham, and even Rowan Williams came from the less fashionable quarters of Swansea. But they all ended up in the House of Lords. For all of them, the Church was the essential means of social mobility and it has functioned that way for a surprising number of priests today.

And the church of England has far deeper and closer contacts with the poor than any other middle class institution. The parish system ensures that the vicar feels, or should feel responsibility for everyone in the community. It may prove unsustainable in the long run, but for the moment it is astonishingly efficient. If I want to know what is going on somewhere I will ask the parish priest before quizzing the trainee who is all the staff left on the local paper.

A few points. Andy provides no evidence for his cartoon idea of shallow, pampered heathens versus an earthy pro-faith proletariat. But then, you wouldn’t expect him to. 

Yet he does ignore UK-based thinkers and activists from the developing world, such as Maryam Namazie, who isn’t known for her wealth or social status.

In fact Andy commits the sin of snobbery himself in this para:

But in this country, unlike the US, the poor are not devout. They’re hardly atheist on principle; they just reckon that ‘it’s all rubbish’, along with every other system of organised thought.

Andy thinks that poor people can’t be atheists, because they’re too ignorant to understand what the word means.

It may astonish Andy to know that the poor now have access to cheap and free books and articles, via libraries and cheap broadband connections.

In fact, I even know some working-class people who have been to university!

Perhaps, like Sarah Palin, Andy perceives that once you have read a few books and formed a couple of independent opinions then you automatically become, whatever your background and income, a bourgeois intellectual.

Even if that’s true, I can’t help thinking it is something to be cherished, not mocked.

Update: This is a response from the New Humanist, which the Guardian apparently declined to print:

Ariane Sherine quite rightly lambasts Andrew Brown for his assertion that the ‘new atheism’ is a firmly middle class phenomenon (the poor, you see, simply think ‘it’s all rubbish’ – no snobbery apparent there), and suggests that atheism is a club open to all. By ‘atheists’ Ariane presumably means anyone from among the millions of Britons who don’t believe in some form of supernatural deity, so if they were in fact to come together as an organised ‘club’ we’d be looking at quite a varied coalition of people. Suffice to say, it’d be fairly impossible to characterise that club according to the old working/middle/upper class distinctions. So in this sense, the argument over whether British atheists are middle class or not is a fairly futile one.

However, if by British atheism Andrew Brown is referring to the intellectual tradition of secularism and free thought which arose in the 19th century in response to the cultural dominance of the Church, he should perhaps have brushed up on his history before declaring it to be an exclusively middle class concern. Fearless campaigners such as Annie Beasant and the National Secular Society’s founder Charles Bradlaugh (himself a working class boy from the East End) dedicated their lives to challenging the Anglican status-quo in Victorian England, and encouraging the working classes to look beyond the rigid teachings handed down to them by the Church. Beasant and Bradlaugh played a vital role in promoting the use of birth control, having realised the important role it could play in the emancipation of the poor, which earned them both jail sentences in the 1870s (although they were eventually successful in overturning the verdict).

At the same time Charles Watts, a London printer whose father Charles senior had been involved in the founding of the NSS, set about establishing Watts Literary Guide, a periodical dedicated to publishing “literary gossip” of interest to freethinkers. The publishing firm behind this, Watts & Co, would soon become the Rationalist Press Association, which continues today as the Rationalist Association (publisher of New Humanist magazine, the modern incarnation of the Literary Guide). From the end of the 19th century Watts expanded the activities of the RPA to include the publication of books and pamphlets, including the hugely successful and celebrated Thinkers’ Library, a series of cheap reprints which, as Jonathan Rée writes in this history of the RPA, ‘made the works of sceptical Victorians like Darwin, Huxley, Arnold and Mill available to working people at only sixpence a volume’. If the popularity of the Thinkers’ Library is anything to go by, we can at least surmise that Andrew Brown’s assertion that the poor think ‘it’s all rubbish’ did not apply to the working classes in 19th and 20th century Britain.

‘When I was a child, I had a fleeting glimpse’

September 23, 2009

chocolatewarBeen thinking for some reason about books I read as a kid. I got into reading early and became a Ben Hanscom trekking to the library in the Derry that I grew up in. I have an image of that library as a warm, silent beacon in the dark of the town. Silence is expensive. Noise is cheap.

I began reading books written specifically for kids before picking up a Stephen King book and getting on to the hard stuff of adulthood. Before that, I read all the classic children’s books, Enid Blyton, E Nesbitt and all that, Tintin and Asterix. Literary critics have remarked on the nastiness of bestselling children’s authors. King has said that it’s easy to upset little kids, easy to make them cry, and that the best children’s writers have always known this and fed on it. You remember Bluebeard’s room long after the happy ending – what was the happy ending, by the way?

True, a lot of the Blyton stuff was propaganda with a nasty edge, even I could see that at the time. The contemporary novels by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume were the same, in a different way – the story is built around an issue, like drugs and divorce, that the teenager can expect to face in real life. All very worthy and ticks the right boxes but kids are smarter and less kind than adults think, and they generally prefer story to sermon.

The best children’s authors I read during that time were Paul Zindel and Robert Cormier. Paul Zindel was a man who knew how to tell a story and did not talk down to his audience. As his wiki says, the books were very dark in places, but they were compulsively readable and, perhaps, educational in a way that Danziger, Blyton and Blume could never have been. The  novels taught you that you never really know people and that things don’t always work out. The elaborate titles and bizarre storylines conceal strange and gentle truths.

I remember crying over one of Zindel’s books. I don’t remember the title. It was about a kid who takes his friend on a road trip across America, looking for his dad, and all the way boasting of glamorous professions and situations that his dad is involved in. I wasn’t old enough to see the twist coming and it hit me hard. This was one of only three books I’ve ever wept over.

Robert Cormier was another writer who made a big impression on me. Like Zindel, Cormier dealt in hard truth. The Chocolate War is simply a modern classic. Anyone wanting to understand the hierarchies of adolescence and the reality of schools will come first and last to Cormier. I still remember a line, from another of his books (again, title forgotten): ‘Deep in his lair, the monster also cried.’

I don’t read many kids’ books these days. I love Phillip Pullman but his stuff transcends the genre. Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, which began as a story for his kids, is marvellous and rewards an adult reading. I like the Harry Potter books – Rowling is not a great writer, but she’s a good storyteller and you can understand why the series took off like it has.

She is nowhere near as good as Zindel or Cormier were, though. It strikes me that I should maybe reread their books. I wonder if anyone else remembers them.

Tindal Street 10

September 22, 2009

My review of the new Tindal Street Press anthology is now available at 3:AM.

‘We came unarmed (this time)’

September 22, 2009

Comrade Denham’s post got me thinking. A few months ago I wrote about Blinded by the Right, David Brock’s memoir about his time on the conservative attack machine in the 1990s. He wrote for a variety of conservative publications and worked with senior Republicans towards the goal of bringing Clinton down. He portrays an American right that was corrupt, conspiratorial and deranged.

Here are the examples I quoted; the second one refers to Clinton’s friend and associate Vince Foster, who committed suicide in 1993.

Of all the ‘Clinton crazies’ I would meet – the term was one that Ambrose [Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph correspondent] and many others openly embraced – Ambrose was the least cynical of the bunch, and perhaps the craziest… I visited Ambrose at his home in the Maryland suburbs to hear about his latest scoop. This one involved Clinton’s alleged abuse of the penal system in Arkansas, where Ambrose said that he compelled prison warders to make inmates available to him for his sexual gratification…. Ambrose drew the shades and asked if we had been followed. The CIA, he was sure, had tapped his phones, and he believed his house was under surveillance by the Clintons’ ‘death squads’. A few minutes into the conversation, it was apparent to me that poor Ambrose had lost his grip on reality.

As a mark of how effective disinformers like Ambrose were in drawing the leadership of the Republican Party into their conspiracy-mongering, the leader of the House inquiry, Dan Burton, became preoccupied with the notion that the position of [Foster’s] wounds showed that they could not have been self-inflicted. To test the theory, Burton, who publicly referred to Clinton as a ’scumbag’, reenacted the Foster death [at an official dinner] by firing a .38 caliber revolver into a watermelon.

Reading what I’ve already written, it’s clear I went wrong in describing Blinded by the Right as a period piece. It appears that whenever the American right is in opposition it descends into a state of paranoid frenzy. Brock is now the head of a watchdog, Media Matters for America, and he must be feeling like history’s repeating itself. The birth certificate thing is pure Evans-Pritchard. The frenzy is more intense because the crazies have more and better media outlets and organisational techniques. Plus, they have lost: and to a black man!

For as Jim said, and despite what Dan Hannan thinks, this is clearly a racist campaign. Check out the placards:


There are many more.

It’s a campaign of disbelief, of incredulous fury, and also denial. Johann Hari explains the psychological roots:

The election of Obama – a centre-left black man – as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right’s view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin. When this image was repudiated by a majority of Americans in a massive landslide, it simply didn’t compute. How could this have happened? How could the cry of ‘Drill, baby, drill’ have been beaten by a supposedly big government black guy? So a streak that has always been there in the American right’s world-view – to deny reality, and argue against a demonic phantasm of their own creation – has swollen. Now it is all they can see.

It’s been said in the comments that Obama will not highlight the racism. In fact he can’t highlight it. Political incorrectness means that a victim of racist taunts can’t point out the offence for fear of being accused of playing the race card.

Harry’s Place has a guest post from Andrew Murphy who appears to have taken a similar political journey to Brock’s. In his piece, ‘Why I am no longer a Republican’, Murphy explains his disillusionment with the GOP:

Additionally I become alarmed with the blog I was writing for when they started denouncing Obama as a National Socialist and began peddling the birther mythology that Obama was actually not a US citizen. (At first I was intrigued by the birther idea until I investigated it and found it hopelessly silly, in an Oliver Stone film sort of way). The comparisons of Obama to Hitler did not start with the health care debate. I saw it peddled even before Obama won the Democratic nomination. And shamefully, while I privately protested to the editorial staff of the blog, I did not resign nor was I allowed by the editor-in-chief to write an alternative editorial disputing the birther claims. That was the editorial line, love it or leave it.

Like Brock, Murphy came to feel that modern conservatism had betrayed the classic Republican ideals of personal responsibility, the rule of law and individual liberty. Being a conservative was no longer about intellect, reason, pragatism and honesty. It was about being a stupid, self-pitying, immature arsehole. 

American patriot Horatio Alger said that: ‘if you ever expect to do anything in the world, you must know something of books’. It’s a sentiment that would be shouted down on Fox News today.

From Murphy’s article:

Can you imagine Alexander Hamilton barking like a seal at a Sarah Palin rally as she explains that the only real Americans are rural and small-town Americans? The same Hamilton who was for an urban, manufacturing America?

Or John Adams, one of the champions of the American Philosophical Society, egging on the conservative movement’s war on science and its hostility toward the educated ‘elites’?

It is hard to imagine that Benjamin Disraeli, the author of Sybil, would be indifferent to the millions of Americans without health insurance.

This is a US phenomenon but you can detect similar aspects of self-pity, immaturity and conspiracism on the British right, particularly when it talks about immigration and multiculturalism.

It’s a pleasure to know that the Fox ghouls are on the losing side and that Obama probably doesn’t let the bastards bring him down.

Just Say Yes

September 20, 2009

An exasperated Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers said in the nineties that:

I get letters from [The Independent and Creation Records]  all the time saying (whiny voice): ‘Please sign this petition to legalise cannabis.’ Because we’re radical. It really annoys me that people associate it with left-wing radicalism. That’s not gonna cure all the ills of the world, is it?! That’s not gonna sort out the NHS! Sort out unemployment!

A decade later, the Observer has a round table discussion on the drugs issue. It tends to focus on cannabis. The prohibitionists hate weed because of its permissive sixties associations and because they see it as a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs. Liberals and libertarians concentrate their energies on cannabis because it’s seen as the softest illegal drug and if we can get that legalised then the rest will fall like dominoes.

I don’t think cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’. Many people like to smoke dope but would be appalled and terrified at the prospect of eating a pill or doing a line. They are in favour of legalising the drug while keeping a zero tolerance policy towards class As. And yet weed is arguably more dangerous. 

We used to laugh at the idea that marijuana caused mental illness – Ray Milland with the bugs coming out of the wall. Then it was established that, erm, and oh fuck, it does. Liberal parents who’d enjoyed a milder version of the herb in their youth looked on in horror as their children destroyed their lives with a nastier and more powerful strain. Dr Max Pemberton discusses a typical case:

I hear a noise from the bedroom across the landing and I make my way over to it. The door is ajar. I peer inside and am hit by the rank smell of urine and faeces. It is unbearably hot and stuffy in there, and I pull back for a few moments before entering.

‘Hello, Tom, are you in here?’ I ask softly into the darkness. I can hear a rustling sound. Slowly, as my eyes become accustomed to the dark, I realise that the patterns on the wall are in fact smeared excrement. The carpet is peppered with hundreds of cigarette burns, and pieces of torn newspaper cover the floor. I can just make out someone crouching in the darkness by the bed.

‘Hello. I’m one of the doctors,’ I say. ‘Your parents are very worried about you and have asked me to come and talk to you.’ Nothing, and then a sudden scream and something comes hurtling out of the darkness and smashes against the wall behind me. I leave and close the door just as something else is thrown and smashes. Then there is thumping and more screaming and a loud crash. Then there is silence again.

The wards where I work are littered with similar examples of lives wrecked, sometimes for a short time, sometimes permanently. Over the past few years, I have seen dozens of people who have become psychotic using cannabis. The number has increased recently, as skunk has become more widely available.

The libertarian in me thinks that people should be free to make choices about what they do to themselves, and this includes using cannabis. And then I remember people such as Tom. People can’t make informed decisions about the risks because few ever witness the true horrors of what it can do: the way it can fracture someone’s mind, strip someone of a future and devastate a family. The lives it ruins aren’t on display for everyone to see. They’re locked away in mental hospitals, or shut away in their rooms while their parents wring their hands downstairs and a doctor upstairs wonders when it all began to go wrong.

This isn’t an extreme case. There are loads like it – Julie Myerson’s is probably the most well known. I have seen regular caners develop habits of paranoia and aggression. The myth that the stuff isn’t addictive is just that. 

There is a night and day difference between the dope culture of today and the one our parents discovered in the 1970s. I think we on the liberal side of this argument tend to forget that cannabis is a stupid, boring, shitty drug, a drug for bores, criminals and arseholes, from which anyone with sense and style should keep a wise distance. I think we also ignore the harm that weed consumption and supply does to working-class communities.

This does not mean that I’m in favour of continued prohibition – after all, it clearly hasn’t worked. I would end the war on drugs and legalise all street drugs. Let’s tear up the piecemeal, softly-softly approach – it has to be all or nothing.

The benefits are obvious now. We could analyse and regulate drug content, preventing overdose and needless death. We could isolate any of the supposed medical benefits of cannabis that potheads are always going on about, and neutralise the long term damage suffered by regular users. Crime would plummet because smack addicts wouldn’t be committing opportunistic burglaries to feed their habits. We would free prison space occupied by people who have done nothing more than sell a few grams to their mates at the weekend. We could bring workers’ rights to the farmers, pickers and mules who from Afghanistan to Latin America are exploited by the drug trade. In turn, this would impact on the twenty-first century slavery of people trafficking. Gangsters keep immigrants in windowless rooms, indentured into prostitution by the spell of crack and the threat of violence. We could put these scum out of business. We would also raise badly needed tax revenue.

Detective blogger Nightjack was also in favour of decriminlisation, but he added the caveat that anyone caught with illegal drugs – that is, not obtained from the state or private companies – should be dealt with in the same way that the courts deal with firearms possession. I think this is a good idea. 

A question that occurs: having legalised all drugs, won’t we still have to deal with a black market that is just as big a problem? Instinctively I think not, because there isn’t a big trade in bootleg alcohol and cigarettes today. Still, the gangsters will not give up the source of so much enrichment so easily.

Legalisation would undoubtedly bring its own problems but I still say the best way to deal with the harm that the drug trade has caused is to get it out in the open, tax it and regulate it and dissect it. However, as so many jobs and votes and reputations are dependent on the war on drugs, I don’t think we will see political sense on the issue for a long time.


Labour appoints its new Drugs Czar 

The Only Game In Town

September 19, 2009

My review of Richard Dawkins‘s The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is now available at 3:AM.

To paint the world in red and white

September 19, 2009

The increasing silliness of the nascent prohibition movement – this time, a proposal to ban smoking in New York’s public parks – has sent Norm into flights of lyricism:

Smoking should be banned in parks and on beaches, and in streets and on pathways, and on the outdoor balconies and verandahs of private houses. It should be banned in gardens, into which and out of which the winds can blow and carry away exhaled smoke – to other gardens, and to parks and streets and pathways. It should be banned on top of mountains and in valleys, on plains and steppes, in deserts. It should be banned on highways and freeways and backroads. It should be banned on the open sea.

What if a non-smoker should get a whiff of some stray smoke? What if he hates the smell? What if she can’t stand the sight of a smoker smoking? What if either of them can’t stand the sight of a smoker, full stop? What if children are present?

Not only smoking should be banned. Pictures of smoking should be excised from every old book, censored from every old movie, cut from every TV programme. People who smoke should be howled at, mocked, have anti-smoking pamphlets glued to the bottoms of their shoes. Their clothes should be confiscated once a month and shredded and they should be the ones to have to bear the cost of buying new garments. Giant posters showing smokers as pariahs should fill the public squares. Sounds of smoking should be broadcast, followed by the noise of violent retching. Up and down the land, the great and the famous should be shown vomiting at the sight of a cigarette. People should weep over such folly, hide in corners, moan in their beds. They should cover their eyes, block their ears, invoke the names of Purity, Virtue, Light.

Hey, buddy, got a light?