Virgin on Disaster

From the archives: This article was first published in The Free Radical in 2003. The Virgin Cove resort was wrecked in the 2009 Samoan tsunami but the disaster I wrote about here was entirely man-made.

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Our driver (also our cook), his kitchen-hand, and the petrol station attendant were all crouched in a pool of petrol, poking and pointing up behind the back wheel arch of our Isuzu four-wheel drive. The aim was to discover why we had flooded the station forecourt while trying to fill the tank. Continue reading “Virgin on Disaster”

The Todger Screening Administration

To celebrate Dunedin Airport being sold some body scanners, here’s something I wrote years ago. This article first appeared on Not PC in 2010.

The latest weapon against airborne terrorism is nudie pictures, with backscatter x-ray machines being installed at airports across America.

Normal x-rays machines use radiation that passes through an object and can detect dense things like guns, femurs, and the various household objects that people waddle into A&E having “accidentally” sat on.

Backscatter x-ray machines, however, measure reflected x-rays. While fabrics appear invisible the radiation is scattered by most other things, like guns, explosives, and penises.

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The Fiqh Council of North America has issued a fatwa stating that the nudie-scope is un-Islamic for its violation of modesty. Save your breath guys. Strip searches without warrants or probable cause are un-American, too, but nobody’s listening.

Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.’” Those were simpler times. That statement has mutated into, “I’m from the government and I’m here to take photos of your cock.”

All this is in response to the attempt to blow up a plane last Christmas by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a.k.a. “Smokin’” Umar, the underpants bomber. Abdulmutallab’s plot raised many questions, chief among them: How do you explain to the seventy-two virgins, who’ve been eagerly waiting for you their whole afterlives, that you’ve just blown your todger off?

The second question was: What’s happened to al Qaeda? 9/11 was simple, ingenious, and devastating. The underpants plot was so bad it would’ve been rejected by ‘Allo ‘Allo.

The third question was: What’s the dimmest knee-jerk reaction we can have to our hopeless security lapse?

After 9/11 the instant response was to ban anything sharper than an Oscar Wilde story from aircraft cabins. (In New Zealand the Aviation Security Service was formed so hastily that they forgot to check that it’s acronym wasn’t ASS.)

After Richard Reid’s shoe bombs (again, WTF al Qaeda?) passengers had to remove their shoes at the security gate. Clearly, getting everyone to remove their pants for x-raying was too dumb even for the Department of Homeland Security so the nudie-scope it had to be.

Passengers who don’t want to be photographed by the nudie-scope can opt out and have a good old-fashioned groping instead. As Ben Franklin once said, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will end up getting its bollocks gripped by the government.”

Protesters recommend the groping because it slows down the queue to the point of impracticality and requires the government flunky to molest you face-to-face (or hand to bollock as the case may be) in the hopes that this is embarrassing for him too. November 24th has been designated National Wear A Kilt To The Airport Day.

What Ben Franklin actually said was, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” He is backed up by Rafi Sela, former head of security at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, a man who knows about fending off murderous nutters. He says that Israel hasn’t bothered with body scanning technology because the machines are “useless.” “I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.”

I assume he’s talking about the old cocaine smugglers’ trick. If the machine maps the outside of a passenger’s body in exquisite detail, carry the explosives on the inside. Come on al Qaeda – let’s see how big your arsenal really is.

The truth is that all this remove-your-laptop-battery, take-off-your-shoes, drop-your-pants nonsense, known as “security theatre,” won’t stop terrorists but it will make life unpleasant for the rest of us. You are now assumed to be a criminal the moment you walk into an American airport.

Security expert Bruce Schneier believes that security theatre does nothing to protect us. What he claims will protect us is intelligence gathering, understanding terror organisations, diligent police work, and having the sort of society where people don’t want to become terrorists.

Notwithstanding the horror and drama of 9/11, bringing down an airliner won’t destroy our way of life. A hyperbolic and misguided response to the threat just might. It’s time American air travellers told their government to stop taking liberties.

Methode Glaswegienne

“Scottish cuisine” is not a phrase that fills you with hope. It doesn’t suggest the sophistication of French, the urgent, exotic freshness of Thai, or the “what the hell did that used to be?” of Chinese. Well, maybe the last. No, “Scottish cuisine” makes you think of mashed up sheep’s organs stuffed into a different, unmashed-up sheep’s organ.

Haggis

Nonetheless, Scottish nationalists have reacted with outrage and denial at the discovery that haggis may have originated in the south of England rather than in Caledonia. Food historian Catherine Brown has made news with her claim that a haggis recipe published in 1615 in The English Hus-Wife predates any Scottish mention by a hundred years.

The claims have been rebutted by a representative of the Scottish Institute for Arts and Sciences who said, “If yer repeat that again I’ll fuckin’ nut yer, yer little gobshite.”

However, the claim rings true. English cuisine is shaped by England’s climate. That is, it’s crap. Traditional English dishes are, by-and-large, horrible – jellied eels, damp chips with mushy peas, and vegetables boiled until they’re grey. Things have changed a bit recently with the now-widespread addition of Jamie Oliver’s frothing spittle.

So haggis will fit right in in England. With its loss, the only item remaining on the traditional Scottish menu is the deep-fried Mars bar. While this sounds disgusting, and is enough to give everyone at the Heart Foundation a stroke, it is in fact a work of genius. But you will only ever appreciate this if you consume one when you’re pisseder than a tankful of ill-disciplined newts. I discovered this while living in the Edinburgh of the South.

The unlikely saviour of Scotland’s culinary tradition could be chicken tikka masala. Ali Ahmed Aslam, founder of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow, lays claim to inventing the dish. With the help of his local MP, he has applied to the European Union for “Protected Designation of Origin” status.

Protected Designation of Origin status is what’s responsible for rules like the one saying that fizzy wine that doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France has to go by the clumsy appellation of “Methode Champenoise.” Likewise Parma ham that’s not from Parma, Newcastle Brown Ale that’s not from Newcastle, and Stilton cheese that’s not from some rigorously defined bit of the English Midlands. (It’s illegal to make Stilton cheese in Stilton, which is near Cambridge, but you don’t need all those acres of bureaucrats to come up with rules that are simple.)

Unlike these products though, chicken tikka masala doesn’t have the word “Glasgow” in its name so I’m not sure what they’re trying to protect. My Hindi’s not that great (although it’s better than my Glaswegian) but I think “chicken tikka masala” means something like “chicken lump mixture.” Presumably, under the proposed rules, restaurants outside Glasgow’s West End would have to refer to the dish as “Glaswegian-style chicken lump mixture” – an advertiser’s dream.

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The EU’s meddling would at least clear up any confusion that the dish might be of Indian origin. A tin of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup is not a traditional ingredient in the Punjab. England, however, looks likely to get stuck with the haggis unless they can pass the blame on to the Vikings.


This article first appeared on Not PC many years ago. It is almost as true and relevant as the day it was written. Make of that what you will.