28 December 2007

Merry Blogmass

In a shameless piece of promotion, I have included a puff for Hofflimits on recent Christmas greetings to friends and family. Nothing by way of explanation, but I shall be interested to see if my visitor figures go up, in the absence of any other promotional activity by me.

Since the round-robin formatted letter that carried the URL is mostly for consumption by my American relatives, I shall keep an eye open for any spike in the site visitors logging on from over the pond. And if you are one of those mystified relatives, welcome to my world, or a part of it - mostly the part that deals in fatuous opinions and lazy assertions.

There are only two rules that govern content for Hofflimits - it must be about the external world rather than self-obsessed, self-referential solipsism, and the opinions must be my own, rather than received wit published elsewhere.

And if you are logging on from the States, here's a quick guide to some of the characters: Gordon Brown is our Prime Minister, like Tony Blair but fatter; football is almost certainly what you would call soccer; the House of Commons is the equivalent of the Senate; and Anne Widdecombe is a society beauty known for her devastating put-downs and an unbroken series of number one records.

And this blog is one of the most influential sources of opinion in the UK that can bring down governments at a stroke.

Those in-between days

This time of year is an odd one to go to work. Deserted car parks, half-empty trains and, when you get in, no-one actually calls. And on the train today, the bloke opposite me was clearly letting his hair down between Christmas and New Year as he was wearing socks with ‘Thursday’ embroidered across them. On a Friday. It really is a mixed-up world these days.


The depressing assassination of Benazir Bhutto yesterday provided the media jackals with a much-needed, juicy news story, having been fed on religious scraps this last week. The poor things have had to make do with taking seriously whatever the Archbishop of Canterbury said and, of course, other “faith leaders” in the interest of balance.

In such a vacuum, the conversion of Tony Blair to Roman Catholicism took on monstrous proportions – leading the BBC Ten O’clock news on the day it broke. People who claimed to be serious journalists were actually debating the event as though a) Tony Blair were still Prime Minister and b) it actually mattered.

Anne Widdecombe was wheeled on first to provide her usual semi-detached interpretation of reality. This was presumably because she publicly, and very ostentatiously, converted to Roman Catholicism after the Anglicans allowed women to train for the Priesthood in the 1990s. As understanding voice of reason for a fellow-traveller, she was all for a public recantation of all areas of New Labour that didn’t coincide with Catholic doctrine, presumably with some sort of self-flagellation involved.

Blair claimed to be many things, but I don’t remember him invoking the Divine Right of Kings at any point in defence of his actions. So I’m guessing the reason Blair’s voting record on so-called “Catholic issues” – such as abortion, stem cell research etc – were because he felt we lived in a modern, liberal democracy that allows people to make choices, rather than a 17th century theocracy.

I’d be interested how Widdecombe would vote if a bill were ever put forward outlawing all forms of contraception in the UK. Presumably she’d be happy to take those sorts of moral decisions on behalf of the rest of us who are clearly too weak and stupid to think for ourselves.

14 December 2007

It's not dull, it's 'classic'

Ham, Cheese & Pickle; BLT; Prawn Mayo - three ordinary sandwiches. But they come together with the magic of Marks and Spencer to form a 'classic selection' sandwich, to give me the lunch equivalent of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

Here 'classic' has come to mean 'safe'. Much as you like to think of yourself as broad-minded, adventurous, always chasing new sensations - you still can't bring yourself to risk sandwich disappointment on a felafal and tabbouleh bagel.
Here's where the marketing man can help - he rebrands your lack of adventure. You may have thought you had chosen a boring sandwich, but no; in fact, congratulations, you've actually bought a "classic".

06 December 2007

Think of a number

7,90,28, 56, 58 - not next week's winning lottery numbers but the various numbers of days suggested that the police can incarcerate people without charge in the UK. This week's bonus ball is 42 - the new compromise number being nudged up from the present 28, in an indecently hasty attempt to get Labour party funding off the front pages.

The new number is being smoothed through Parliament by the promise that the House of Commons will have some part in authorising the 'occasional' use of 42 days. Home Secretary Jaqui Smith said: "To emphasise that the higher limit is exceptional, it must be approved by Parliament within 30 days."

What happens when someone is detained and we get to day 27? Plod asks Home Secretary for permission to extend this to 42 days, who then has to ask Parliament's consent to validate it. Within 30 days.

In 2005-06 Parliament sat for a grand total of 283 days. And when they did bother to turn up, each day lasted an average of 7 hours and 33 minutes. Given government legislation often fails to get through because of a lack of parliamentary time, it seems to be putting an awful lot of faith in getting the rubber stamp applied within this 30-day window.

But let's assume the MPs can be roused from one of the many subsidised bars of the Commons to approve an extension by 14 days. Suppose it takes them the full 30 days to get around to it? By which time our suspect would have languished 57 days already - if they approve it, does he have to do the additional 14 days still, taking the total up to 71?

But let's be charitable and assume not. If the Old Bill wants to get his extension - and he knows it could take up to 30 days - he can't assume it will be granted. If he's allowed to hold someone for 28 days, this gives him minus two days to apply for the extension to get it granted in time. In other words he'll have to apply for the extension two days before the original arrest is made. In which case will Mystic Meg be joining the Met?

Talking with the lawman about poetry

The first woman prosecuted under the Terrorism Act 2000 has escaped jail. It seems she came to the attention of authorities while publishing verse under her pseudonym The Lyrical Terrorist (it's got quite a ring to it).

It seems a sensible decision - after all, if you locked up every person who wrote bad poetry and had dodgy reading habits, the universities of England would be empty.

04 December 2007

Please murder responsibly

Alcohol, in case you were unaware, can make you drunk. Under some circumstances it is unwise to drink a lot of it. If you drink a lot over a sustained period of time, it may give you quite a hurty tummy. But I know this because I am "drinkaware" (www.drinkaware.co.uk).

This website is a 'get out of jail free' card for the drinks industry, and you may have noticed it adorning some of the most creative advertising this country produces. Creative not through choice, but through necessity - according to the law, booze ads cannot "suggest that any alcoholic drink has therapeutic qualities (for example, stimulant or sedative qualities) or can change moods or enhance confidence, mental or physical capabilities or performance, popularity or sporting achievements...[they] must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness, masculinity or femininity." Given the usual subject matter of 95% of ads aimed at the under 40s, this rules out a heck of a lot.

Once upon a time you could advertise fags on telly more or less by suggesting the lower tar brand gave you a healthy chesty cough. As advertising has become more restrictive, and our reading of its messages more sophisticated, we are apparently in even greater need of protection from ourselves. In the information age there is a website to tell us how to enjoy Jack Daniel's "responsibly".

Jumping on this bandwagon, the newly-respectable world of online gambling similarly exhorts its gamers to "please gamble responsibly". They haven't yet got around to creating the fig leaf of a website yet - I expect they're just waiting for that next big win before they can afford to build it.

I may be missing a trick here, but I thought the idea of gambling was to be a little bit irresponsible. Like the idea of drinking was to get a little bit drunk. Not necessarily to excess - but similarly I don't expect a packet of cream cakes to tell me that eating them all may make me fat. The idea that sitting up until the wee hours playing cards with strangers for money can somehow be "responsible" seems a little at variance with my definition of the word.

I would suggest a new disclaimer instead to sit on the bottom of those ads for various pokertastic.com websites: "If you are the sort of person who needs a website to tell you what is and isn't responsible behaviour, then we suggest you don't visit this website. And stay away from sharp objects".