Notes From a Small Planet

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Far right and wrong

In July 1998, most of France was having a great big party. The soccer World Cup had just taken place in France, and the host nation had carried off the trophy, sweeping aside the usually mighty Brazil 3-0 in the final. A wonderfully skilful and exciting French team had thrilled sports fans the world over, and much of the French population was rightly proud.

However, one Frenchman flatly refused to join in the celebrations, declaring that it wasn't really a French success. He was Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his problem with the French football team was that it
contained several black players. He complained about the inclusion in the French team of the children of the immigrants he has always demonised when campaigning with his National Front party. To him, as a committed racist, the sight of black and white people celebrating a shared success was a symbol of everything he hoped to destroy.

At the time, Le Pen seemed less of an immediate threat than he does today, but the spite and malice of his mean-spirited reaction to his nation's sporting success came to mind as, with a growing feeling
of horror, I watched the news reports of his electoral success in the first round of the French presidential election last week.

In case you've been hitch-hiking the galaxy lately, or live in a part of the world where news from Europe rarely gets heard, Le Pen came second in the French poll, gaining 16.91 per cent of the votes
cast. He pushed the centre-left candidate Lionel Jospin into third place, and earned the chance to contest the second and final round of the presidential election against the centre-right candidate, and
incumbent president, Jacques Chirac.

Le Pen is a man who has described the Nazis' massacre of Jews and political opponents as 'a detail of history.' More than six million people died in that holocaust. But to Le Pen, because they
weren't his sort of people, so that's a mere detail.

Le Pen also supports the re-introduction to France of the death penalty. I must say that one small crumb of comfort in all the coverage in Britain's media of his alarming advance has been the way that this policy has generally been cited as evidence of his dangerous extremism. I do not wish to offend any of the Post's American readers, but I just hope you all realise how amazing, horrifying and bizarre your country's retention of this modern form of human sacrifice appears to most of us across the water.

Mercifully, there is very little chance of Le Pen becoming France's next president. Just about all of France's respectable political parties have advised their supporters to vote for Chirac on the perfectly correct grounds that while they may not like him much, the alternative is clearly much, much worse.

However, that certainly doesn't mean that Le Pen doesn't matter. The very fact that he's got this far is very worrying indeed. The second round of voting in France is on Sunday, and I'll be looking
out for the results pretty anxiously. While almost no-one expects Le Pen to win, some pundits have been predicting that he might get more than 30 per cent of the vote.

If that's the case, then it'll be very worrying for everyone who is trying to hang on to some semblance of faith in human decency and in the effectiveness of democracy. It'll give Le Pen the chance to pose as the true voice of the people, silenced by an establishment conspiracy. And it'll encourage those in other European countries with similar attitudes to that of Le Pen, of whom there are many.

All of this takes on a particular urgency for me, as a British voter, because on the day that this column appears I will be voting in the British local elections. The events in France have, quite rightly, led to fears that something comparable could happen here, especially given the presence at our elections of the odious British National Party, who support a Le Pen-like attitude of hostility to

The BNP have picked up a worrying degree of support in recent UK elections, and they're putting up candidates in selected areas around Britain where their message of intolerance has previously found an audience. The BNP have also been doing their damnedest to rebrand themselves as some sort of true people's party, taking up council tenants' complaints against local authorities and even, almost
unbelievably, attempting to pose as the true party of environmental concern by tacking some quasi-Green policies on to their core manifesto of hatred for anyone and anything foreign.

Thankfully, on this occasion, the British mainstream media has behaved with uncharacteristic responsibility. Just a little digging into the murky pasts of a number of prominent BNP members, including some of the candidates they're now offering for election, has revealed how many of them have convictions for violent crimes.

I am relieved to say that the BNP have kept themselves away from the area of Bradford in which I live, although one of their number is contesting the Eccleshill ward in my home city. Tonight, my local
newspaper carried pictures and brief profiles of all the candidates who will be standing for election to Bradford Metropolitan District Council tomorrow... except one, who the paper explained had failed to supply a photo, or any biographical information. Guess who?

Yes, it was the creature representing the BNP in Eccleshill. Oscar Wilde once wrote about 'the love that dare not speak its name.' In Eccleshill, it seems, voters are being asked to support the hate that dare not show its face.

Anyway, I'll certainly be turning out to vote tomorrow. In the face of frightening successes by forces that would love to destroy democracy, it seems like the only responsible thing to do. Unfortunately, I'm well aware that a great many of my fellow Britons don't agree, and can't see any point in participating in local democracy. The scary success of Le Pen has shaken a few people out of
their complacency, but I sadly suspect that when I watch the results tomorrow night, it'll be another sad tale of low turnout and voter apathy.

I could just about cope with that, depressing though it would be. What would be far, far harder to take would be another story of far-right electoral success.

So long, and here's lots of fish

On a somewhat lighter note, I was intrigued to read of a Canadian woman who lost her job and took a terrible revenge on her former employers... using fish.

According to reports, the woman (whose name has not been revealed) vowed revenge after being fired from the strikingly-named strip club Fanny's Cabaret in Ottawa. She left bags full of tuna fish on tables, chairs, next to walls and in coat and champagne rooms.

The 34-year-old woman went on to empty two small containers of pepper spray near the bar, causing considerable distress to some of her former colleagues and to some of the strip club's customers, who found themselves perspiring and gasping for air due to forms of stimulation other than those they might have been expecting in that venue. There were many complaints of burning eyes and upset stomachs at the club, but none of those concerned wanted to be taken to hospital for treatment - perhaps because they might have had to explain where they'd been?

Anyway, the culprit was arrested at the scene of the crime and charged with assault, theft, administering a noxious substance and possession of a prohibited weapon. Which does rather beg the
question of what the 'noxious substance' and 'prohibited weapon' actually were. Will she be prosecuted for assault with noxious seafood, or with unlawfully administering dangerous seasoning? I
await further developments with interest.

Repetitive Slurping Injury

Finally, a truly scary story for myself and, I suspect, many other h2g2 Researchers. Psychology student Matt Royle, from Clitheroe in Lancashire, has become the first person in Britain
to be diagnosed as suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury and then told that the main cause of the condition is excessive raising of his drinking arm.

Matt, an otherwise reasonably healthy 26-year-old, has been ordered to wear a wrist support on his right arm, and to hold his pints in his left hand. He freely admits to drinking six pints of beer four nights a week, and is now working on becoming match-fit so that he can enjoy a pint or six while watching soccer matches in the forthcoming World Cup.

Matt's physiotherapist Jan Davidson has commented:
'Matt is the first person I have seen with RSI caused by drinking beer, but I can't say I'm surprised. When one part of the body is used repeatedly to do one task, twinges and pains are very common.'

Matt himself has ruefully explained:
'My wrist had been hurting for about ten months, and I had no idea what it was. Everyone was laughing at me when I couldn't hold my pint properly because it was so painful. All my mates have been taking the mickey. I've been drinking since I was a teenager and never thought this could happen, but I suppose pint pots are quite heavy.'

It's an awful warning to us all - and to some of us, like me, in particular. In fact, it's so worrying that I think I need a drink. I'm off for a pint. See you soon!

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