...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, February 29, 2008

Day 2614 (again): Man of the Moment: the Full Interview Write-Up

Wednesday, continued…

You can't deny Mr Ed's passion for his job, that's for sure, and he is like a bubbling source of positive energy. He's certainly got the CHARISMA and he's already making waves, though he's never been afraid of being a BIG NOISE.

He DID insist that the SHENANIGANS with the Deputy Speaker were entirely SPONTANEOUS.

Certainly, other members of the Parliamentary Party had joined him in the chamber in order to lend their support, but it was not "planned" to the extent that he'd woken up that morning expecting to be kicked out of the House by teatime.

He and Mr David Howarth had worked HARD for the last six weeks, working with the House Clerks, to come up with an amendment that was acceptable. He GENUINELY thought that it had a good chance of being selected and so was GENUINELY fuming when it was rejected, seemingly out of hand, and wanted some answers.

Having been let back in to the House of Commons, he was clearly making up for lost time and voting in all the divisions on the Lisbon Treaty. This kept him busy until WAY after the time that we had set to meet, but he VERY GENEROUSLY more than made up for this by staying on late and answering lots of questions for us. He also took us to the House of Lords Club bar for refreshment – and, before we get accusations of UNDERAGE ELEPHANTS, I stuck to nibbling the PEANUTS (although there may have been something wrong with Mr Gavin's APPLE JUICE!).

I asked Mr James of Wigwam Blog to kick off, because of what he had written the day before about seizing the opportunity to put pressure on the government. We could threaten to change our vote and support a referendum on JUST the Lisbon Treaty, as a PRINCIPLED protest over being denied the debate on a PROPER referendum on EVERYTHING that would have been the Constitution.

Mr Ed interrupted to say that the government were seeming pretty CONFIDENT that they were the ones "holding all the shots" could get the Treaty passed without any help from us – looking at the number of Labour rebels at the Second Reading stage, there just weren't enough to make a difference even if we DID switch to supporting the Conservatories.

He then firmly rejected Mr James's approach, saying that it would make us look OPPORTUNIST.

His argument is that we have consistently said that we will support this Treaty, and that is because it is not CONSTITUTIONAL in nature, unlike the Maastricht Treaty when we DID say that there should be a referendum, but like the Nice and Amsterdam Treaties when we didn't.

Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon together are AMENDING Treaties that tweak the structures of the EU and so are different from Maastricht… and indeed from the Constitution (which would have bundled Maastricht up together with the others, and the Treaty of Rome and so should have a Referendum).

Mr James obviously disagrees, and has said so in his diary here.

Personally, I can see Mr James's point, but it would also be very GALLING to have to support the Conservatories when – apparently, allegedly – it is THEY who have been twisting the Speakers arm to drop our amendment because they don't want to have to support it.

And I think that Mr Ed is right that it would certainly look bad if we changed our stance now – having had to take all the PAIN of accusations that we went back on support for a referendum, it would be a bit silly to open ourselves to accusations that we went back on opposition to it too. WE would look all over the shop!

The next question was form Mr Jonny, who asked how we can balance respect for other cultures against our Liberal Principles like a belief in Universal Human Rights.

This, said Mr Ed, is the MOST difficult question for Liberals in Foreign policy, and we must always be questioning ourselves. We must strive to avoid the mistake of the past: imperialism, rolling in and taking over. Equally we must avoid the mistake of the Monkey-in-Chief: crusading around the place to impose ideas of what is "right".

Instead, we need to make the case as DEMOCRATS, arguing our cause from first principles.

And it can be very hard. Mr Ed talked of his own experiences at election time, going to the Kingston Mosque and holding an election meeting there. For most people it was an ordinary meeting, but there was a small group of, mostly, young men who refused to accept the whole business of the election. "You don't make our laws," they said, "Mr Allah makes our laws."

That is when it becomes difficult, making your case to people who refuse to listen at all.

Mr Gavin, who answered my open invitation on Lib Dem Voice to join our panel, asked about Human Rights too, in a way, talking about Uganda where the government has recently managed to make a peace deal with the Lord's Resistance Army, the conditions of which include war crimes only being tried in Uganda and not at the International Criminal Court. It appears that the ICC may not be willing to let the matter drop, though. Which, asked Mr Gavin, would you choose: justice or peace?

It's a difficult dilemma, admitted Mr Ed thoughtfully, before deciding that in the end you had to choose PEACE, because that led to a "greater" justice – the justice of FEWER people getting exploded in the first place.

There is much to be learned from successful transitions, like the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. International organisations have GOT to be SENSITIVE to what is happening "on the ground". The best solutions, the only solutions really, have to come from within.

These matters are never black and white, though. There are some people – naming no names – who have done some pretty UNSPEAKABLE things in the Ugandan conflict. Maybe, in due course, they should be brought to trial.

But then Mr Ed told us about the HARDEST thing that he has had to do as an MP which was to vote to grant AMNESTIES to IRA murderers – not "terrorists", he said, they ARE "murderers". But sometimes you have to swallow hard and think about that "greater justice".

After that, I took the opportunity to ask a LIGHTER question about the American Elections because they are jolly fun and hopefully involve less DEATH! How would things be different under a Barry O presidency or a Hillary-Billary presidency or even an Oven-Chip presidency, I asked? And what would our policy be to reflect that?

Encouraging us to read his piece in the New Statesperkin, Mr Ed told us that saw PROMISING SIGNS in America, and not just from the candidates still in the race, but also from the US ESTABLISHMENT. They have realised that the Monkey-in-Chief's era was a total disaster, and are ready to learn form that, he said.

All of the candidates are talking about the need to move away from UNILATERALISM, and towards the use of "soft power" – cooperation and agreements.

As Liberals we have GOT to welcome that.

He also risked SATIRE rolling over in its grave by mentioning a letter in the New York Times signed by Dr Henry "Strangelove" Kissinger (and Mr George Shultz and Mr Sam Nunn – not, said Mr Ed – the most notorious "doves" in American), saying that it was time to seek a vision of a nuclear-free future.

Liberal Democrats have got to say a big "Yes Please!" to a real prospect of disarmament. And Mr Ed was hoping to meet some of the people making the running on this at a conference in the near future.

He wasn't going to get carried away; America still isn't going to go far enough on tackling climate change; they're still not going to sign up to the International Criminal Court. (After all, it would be too too embarrassing to have the Monkey-in-Chief hauled away in chains… fun though.)

He touched briefly on the character of the lead candidates – and perhaps tellingly, it was about Senator Oven-Chip and Senator Barry O that he spoke. Sorry, Hillary-Billary!

On Mr Over-Chip (and here's a tip: Mr Ed is planning to make some rather more considered remarks later this year), he says that the jury is still out. He's a man of great experience, and not always in step with the, er, less forgiving wing of his party. But he's not always going to be on our side of the argument either, and let's face is he IS a Replutocrat.

Barry O, on the other fluffy foot, is NOT the messiah. We shouldn't get caught up in the great American LOVE-IN. But still, an American President who COULD go to Kenya… "…wouldn't that be great!" said Mr Ed.

Our next newcomer, Mr James Schneider, followed on by asking about world trade, and how both Mr Barry O and Ms Hillary-Billary have been getting more PROTECTIONIST.

Mr Ed talked about his trip to America – where, incidentally, he'd been to press the interests of his constituent still then caught in Guantanamo Bay – and how he'd talked to some of the policymakers on US trade. They were – disappointingly – not really bothered about the Dohar Round of World Trade talks; "incredibly uninterested" is how Mr Ed described them, instead being more concerned with bilateral agreements, e.g. with Korea and of course China.

He came away disappointed. From our point of view, the Dohar Round has the potential to be the "Development Round" and to really sort out the trade in agriculture. That requires the full engagement of the EU, he said, and that brought us back to more discussion of the Lisbon treaty which, Mr James reminded us, should – finally – let us sort out the Common Agricultural Policy.

Returning to America, Mr Ed explained that there are what he called "complicated cleavages" in the US electorate over trade. For example, the Christian Right – never normally fluffy bedfellows for us! – might be open to an appeal to help those in poverty.

He admitted to a sigh of relief that Mr John Edwards, the MOST protectionist candidate, was out of the race for the White House. Whatever his other qualities, he'd have been a DISASTER for trade.

The GOOD news, though, is that he doesn't see the remaining candidates as being nearly so bad, nor is it likely that the debate between them, or between them and Senator Oven-Chip, is likely to ratchet up the rhetoric. (Mr Schneider might disagree though, since he suggested that the candidates were competing to be toughest on NAFTA.)

Moving on to Ms Linda, she asked about the Middle East conflict and, in particular, about Israel and their treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. No other nation could get away with behaving like this, she suggested (cough cough, er, Russia in Chechnya): what risks would we take for peace in this region?

Mr Ed got serious. WE must be a campaigning party, it is true, he said, and he was one of the first to push the "we should be the 'anti-establishment party Party'" line.

But we have also got to be RESPONSIBLE. We have to behave like we are FIT to get into government, so that we WILL get into government. And we must take care not to make a bad situation worse.

"People on the other side of the planet would lack humility if they were to dictate what is right and what is wrong."

Ms Linda pressed the point that Israel has broken the convention on Human Rights, shouldn't we at least think about suspending their association with the European Union?

While certainly not ruling out looking at the issues, Mr Ed reminded us that Federal Conference passed a motion last year, a good and balanced motion supported by both Friends of Israel and Friends of Palestine, and that he intended to be guided by the party policy on this.

Our last fresh face, was Ms Merel Ece; she spoke to Mr Ed about Turkey, of where Martin Kettle recently said there is no more interesting country in Europe.

Why doesn’t the West give more recognition to how far Turkey has come, asked Ms Merel? Very kind! No mention of how much she treated Ed?

"Well, we would if we were asked more often," was Mr Ed's reply. He was fascinated by the recent suggestion of re-examining in a modern context the Muslim Hadith (the teachings of the words and deeds of the Prophet) and clearly enthusiastic about the idea for Turkey joining the EU, it would be "fantastic" he said.

He also talked about the hopes for a positive outcome from the elections in Cyprus, and renewed hopes for a lasting peace, hope that would be impossible without the support of Europe – and he mentioned how Union President Manuel Baroso was quick off the blocks to say "we're with you all the way" to the people of Cyprus.

We touched upon the Turkish army operations in Northern Iraq, and that people seemed satisfied to take the Turkish government's word that they were ONLY pursuing a "police action" and not mounting a full scale invasion! Mr Merel suggested that some of the media coverage has not been entirely impartial, but Mr Ed reminded her that when BOTH sides are calling the coverage biased, it probably means that the press are doing their job.

Having been once round the table, Mr James had another go, this time looking at one detail of the Lisbon treaty, which is that it gives the power to ratify the Commission President to the European Parliament for the first time. Wouldn't this mean that political groupings, the EPP say, might soon be campaigning on a "Presidential Platform" to support a particular candidate?

Now personally I think that Mr James is reading a bit TOO MUCH into this clause. As Mr Ed pointed out, the Parliament has the power to agree to, not to NONIMATE the President. Or more accurately ONE of the PRESIDENTS of Europe, since the Union has managed to give itself THREE.

But Mr Ed was strongly against any idea of making a "back-door elected President". If we want an elected President then we should TELL people that's what we want and go out and convince them of it. Not that Mr Ed HIMSELF was convinced!

And even if he wasn't against doing it on principle, why – he said – go out of your way to give ammunition to the "Euro Nutters". They almost never have a point; the danger is in making it look like they've actually got one?

Quickly, I jumped in, producing a "write-in" question from my Daddy Alex (who had given up his place this time to let new people have a go!). Daddy asked: how do we connect our foreign policy (where we are often seen as GOOD) to our campaigning which is the most localist of all Parties.

Mr Ed said it was a good question! (Go Daddy!)

He had TWO answers.

The first way is to find an issue that RESONATES, one that appeals to people across the board. The obvious example is of course the Iraq War, but we cannot – and don't plan to – trade on that forever.

That's why his team are working to bring forward new issues, for example a campaign for divestment from the government of Sudan (over the whole Darfur business). In fact he would have been hoping to sign off on a pack of campaigning material on that very issue if he hadn't been talking to us.

There is also the urgent menace of the totally unregulated private military security companies. Pop fact: Halliburton and other Iraq contractors employ the largest private army in the world.

These security firms are outside of almost anybody's laws and totally out of control.

Okay, you might not think those are quite the BIGGEST issues, but then he brought up the subject of worldwide disarmament that he had mentioned previously. Now THAT would be a good thing for us to get behind: working together to get rid of the threat of the BOMB is a GOOD ideal for a Liberal Party.

Mr Ed's second answer was also very Liberal. In most constituencies now there are large groups with a heritage in other countries and other parts of the world. We need to meet with those communities and take an interest in THEIR interest. We need to have the knowledge and the philosophical background to be able to talk to them, and we need to be BOTHERED to find out more about their concerns.

Ms Merel mentioned the Olympics in China, and Mr Ed said that just after Mr Spielberg made his announcement he'd had the luck to be at a conference where a speaker from Amnesty said that they would much rather there WASN'T any boycott of the games because it was going to be much easier to put PRESSURE for reform on China once all the cameras were right there pointing.

Our last question came from Mr Jonny: isn't it depressing that there has to be a Friends of Israel AND a Friends of Palestine; Britain, with good relations with both Jewish and Muslim communities, should be a good place to hold the debate, so isn't it depressing that that debate is so polarised?

These debates are polarised because of the pain and anguish that both sides have suffered, both sides have grievances, and it goes back a long long time.

But once you get over the first hurdle, once you have – and he DID say this – "Clinton-esque 'felt their pain'," then most people recognise a need for reconciliation.

Our job is to seize on that recognition, working from the bottom up as well as the top down, to find the language and make the pressure for change and understanding.

It is no good trying to impose a "this is the right thing" solution: it won't get anywhere. We'd only be serving our own selfish interests, to make ourselves feel "better".

It's frustrating, and it takes time, but it's what diplomats do day in day out, and it's the only way.

Finally, rather than finish on a sombre note, Ms Linda pulled out a SURPRISE PRESENT – yes, it was that "I'm Hot!" badge! It was her reward for his sticking to his guns in the chamber the day before. And she made him wear it for the group photo.

Over the interview, the themes of Mr Ed's foreign policy become clearer: pragmatic, cautious diplomacy, avoiding the imposed solution, but optimistic that there are many ways in which the world is getting better, and ways in which we can help that happen.

True, he is still learning on the job, and occasionally a little cautious of committing to anything in advance of thinking pretty hard about it. But that is what diplomacy is like.

As he said to us: "if peace was easy they'd have done it yesterday".

Good luck with the HARD QUESTIONS, Mr Ed!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Day 2614: Man of the Moment: Ed Davey meets Millennium Elephant (and some other people)


Unrepentant about yesterday; committed to Europe; pragmatic about peace; optimistic about America; even-handed on the Middle East; enthusiastic for Turkey to earn membership of the EU; keen to connect the international agenda to the local doorstep campaign… these are just some of the impressions of an evening my fluffy friends and I spent in the Houses of Parliament with Mr Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, a man who describes himself as "a natural radical, not a natural rebel".

I'll tell you all about it soon, but Daddy appears to be unconscious now, so here is a picture…

That badge says "I'm Hot!"... no, really, it DOES!
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Day 2607: TOYCHWUD (Three Ls and an H) Double Bill: Reset


Now, in order to do some CATCHING UP with my diary, I have made Daddy Richard make like the good BBC3 folk and bring you an EXTRA episode of Torchwood, straight after the last one!

The thing to say about Martha in Torchwood is how odd it seemed to be for a while until I realised that Freema Agyeman, marvellous in season three of Doctor Who, was still doing "Doctor Who acting". That isn't bad acting, it's just a bit larger than life, a bit left of reality, and a bit different to how they're playing it in Torchwood.

Having said that, she added a marvellous new spur to the proceedings, bouncing off all of the regulars and raising their game in various ways. Jack and Martha already share a bond, and John Barrowman and Freema are clearly mates too, which was great for a scene of them sharing their past, secret from the others. Lovely to see Martha wheedling Ianto out of his shell; his wariness towards her – she knows something of Jack that she doesn't – won over by her girly, conspiratorial sharing of her insight into his and Jack's "secret". And there was a nice "girls together"-ness to her fast friendship with Gwen. Gwen clearly hasn't had a "chum" in the Torchwood crew – Tosh is too distant, Owen too intimate, Jack too too much. Martha was clearly just the person Gwen needed.

Still, there has to be a plot, and this one involved a series of mystery assassinations with a medical twist. They need an undercover operative to go into research centre "the Pharm" to find out what's going on. (Minor in-joke alert, the cover name of "Samantha Jones" – even getting to be called "Sam" – is oh so coincidentally the name of the Eighth Doctor's long-running and infinitely irritating do-gooder companion in the BBC novels, so I'm sure someone is happy that it is now canon that the Doctor had a companion known as Sam Jones.) But the insider needs medical training and Owen has already shown his face. Why how handy that Doctor Jones should arrive… well, okay actually they had the fig-leaf of UNIT having sent Martha to join forces with Jack's team, but we're still being a little clunkingly obvious in the "this is the Martha episode" stakes.

And she is Doctor Jones now, which brings up the interesting question of passage of time.

The crucial questions to ask are when exactly did Jack leave the Hub when he ran off at the end of "End of Days", and when did he come back again at the start of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". Because the series seem to treat it as though the gap is at least months, and probably the entire span of time between the end of season one and the start of season two, which is more than a year.

But this is actually quite odd, because although Jack spent a year as the Master's prisoner aboard the Valiant, the time reversal at the end of Last of the Time Lords returned them to the minute after President Winters was killed by the Toclafane, i.e. 8.01 a.m. on the day after Harry Saxon won the General Election. Or the Friday after Martha first got into the TARDIS.

So if we were to assume that the Doctor didn't fold Martha's timeline back on itself by landing her in Cardiff before she left London with him (and that is the get-out clause, of course) then Jack can't have been away from the Hub for more than a week either.

It's still odd, even if you do allow the first scene of "Utopia" to take place paradoxically months before "Smith and Jones". Enough time has passed for Martha to pass her doctor's exams, and to be recruited by UNIT. So, you'd think that the seven-and-a-half to eight months from June (2008, obviously) to February (2009, one supposes) would be fine. But surely Jack went straight back to the Hub at the end of "Last of the Time Lords" (he was stood right outside the Millennium Stadium). So either the last six weeks of episodes cover a longer time span than is obvious, or Jack snuck off somewhere for a few months until he could dramatically surprise his team at an appropriate fishy climax.

Mind you, it's also odd that when they were pressing him with all the "where were you?" questions he never mentioned "hey, did you notice how the Prime Minister turned evil and then disappeared?" In fact it's quite odd that no one has mentioned that the Prime Minister did turn evil and assassinate the American President live on telly!

(And that's without even going into the whole Jack being declared public enemy number two-and-a-half, which some people might think worth mentioning and which internet-access-all-areas Toshiko would have spotted even if she was halfway up a Himalaya. Lucky they didn't shoot the "terrorist" Martha Jones on sight!)

Anyway, back to this week's drama.

A little lost in the mix was Owen's admiration for Professor Aaron Copley. There wasn't room for it in all the Martha malarkey, but there was a sigh of something interesting in that this man had clearly inspired Owen as a young doctor and here he was turned into the bad guy. As a hint it wasn't enough to make Copley more than a two-dimensional bad guy, a typical mad scientist. It's a shame, because he ought to have been more than that, and they seem to have lost his mobility along the way. Still, it was a crowded script.

And it is another clich̩ for the sexual tension between characters to be resolved in the episode where one of them is killed off. So obviously we were all saying "he's doomed" as soon as Owen (kinder gentler version) agreed to go on a "one date and we'll just see and I'm not stopping flirting Рwhich is so not the term he'd have used in season one" with Tosh. He's so dead and her heart is so broken, it could have been written in glowing letters in English and Welsh alongside "Within these walls stones sing".

And by an incredible coincidence they've got another medic to hand! Maybe Martha will be staying on… oh, go on.

Oh and the CGI Mayfly wasn't quite as beautiful as the creature everyone on the cast seemed to be reacting to. It was nicely done but… eeek! Have you guys not seen Wirrrn?

Next time… because in Torchwood bringing the dead back to life is always such a good idea… Owen Harper, going for the longest death scene in television history, is the "Dead Man Walking".

But before then, I shall be interviewing our own "Ed Man Walking"! More on that story later…

Day 2600: TOYCHWUD (Three Ls and an H) Double Bill: Adam


Torchwood has been doing PRETTY WELL* this year, proving that it deserves the "Heroes" slot on BBC2. Here is Daddy Richard's latest review:

This was a Valentine's Day episode to really mess with your head. Very much the hallmark of the excellent Catherine Tregana, writer of most of the actually good episodes of Torchwood season one.

The "stranger who everyone thinks has been part of the team all along" is an old old cliché in science fiction. What was good here was the way that that was used playfully to toy with the emerging Torchwood and Doctor Who mythologies.

On one superficial level, that means using old bits of Doctor Who in new ways: Adam is explicitly a refugee from the Void, the dark place between universes that the Doctor calls "hell" in "Army of Ghosts". He exists through memory, reminiscent of the hollow Eternals ("Enlightenment") who have also been linked to the Void, but also very like Lawrence Miles' conceptual entities the Celestis, who were also cast into the Void between universes (in "The Taking of Planet Five").

But then, it also means exploring Jack's undisclosed back-story. Knowing that he's going to live for five billion years, turn into a "big ol' head" and die saving New New York, backwards becomes more interesting to explore anyway, and we see young Jack on his Star Wars-esque home turf. Or indeed sand. Rather beautiful it was too – even more so when you see "Torchwood Declassified" and learn that it's all extrapolated from the back wall of a bar in Cardiff. Classic BBC Wales. It's a little strange to meet Jack's parents – not quite so bizarre as meeting Davros' mother in "I, Davros"; not quite [A: not anywhere near] so crass as having her called "Calcula" – and his little brother Gray. It's a pleasantly subtle way of clueing us in on the back-story from what presages to be this season's arc, if "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is any clue. And, for all that it leads to some slightly stilted dialogue, it was good that the creators had the smarts to avoid anyone calling young "Jack" by name.

But where this really twists the mythos (and plays with your head) is by taking the existing relationships that we are familiar with and ripping them apart: Gwen forgets her love of Rhys; Toshiko and Owen swap roles in their little dynamic; and – and it's Adam's undoing – Jack and Ianto's trust and love is all that is set against Adam's destruction of Ianto's personality. It is deeply disturbing to see all of these relationships that we have come to value broken and out of shape because of Adam, and even knowing that it'll all come right – because this is TV and it just will – even knowing, it is still unpleasant and warped. That's good, because it challenges the complacent assumptions of just watching the show, and because it is asking the big question: as Rhys asks, would Gwen love him if she started from here?

The acting, of course, is what makes this work, and it's honours all round, but especially Gareth David-Lloyd for screaming his guts out as Ianto goes though the wringer and to Kai Owen as long-suffering Rhys. It's an episode that could only work now that he knows about Torchwood, and knows who to pin the blame on straight away: hello Jack. John Barrowman is great – okay, a little too much of the messiah again, when he's taking away his team's memories, but plenty of the naughty boy too. His trust in Ianto, even over the alien tech he has at his disposal, and his ruthlessness to Adam at the end were powerful moments.

Next time… BBC3 pinches back first dibs as we see our first lady of Doctor Who cross over to the dark side of medical experimentation. Welcome Miss Martha Jones. Get ready for "Reset".

*PRETTY WELL means overnight ratings floating around the 3 million mark at the top of BBC2's most watched programmes of the week:

Week 1 (16th January) 3.7 million

Week 2 (23rd January) 3.4 million

Week 3 (30th January) 3.2 million

Week 4 (6th February) 2.9 million

Week 5 (13th February) 3.3 million

Week 6 (20th February) 2.8 million… hang on, see Daddy's next review!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Day 2606: The Terrible Tale of Master Max Gogarty's Going Away


You have probably heard this one already:

Young Max, a talented young writer™, was going on holiday, in order to have a GOOD time and meet LADIES.

Unfortunately, the Grauniad decided that it would by JOLLY LARKS to give all the readers of their CommentIsFreePublicity a chance to HEAP extra-special helpings of CHOICE SCORN upon the be-Aviatored young head of the eager adventurer.

For it turns out that Maxie hadn't so much written for Channel Four's drama "Skins" as written for their, er, WEBSITE; and that Maxie's dad hadn't so much not written for the Gruaniad as, er, HAD.

Quite soon, Max's daddy (who is a freelance journalist who only OCCASIONALLY works for the Grauniad… mostly he works for his own firm that, er, helps people make useful contacts in the media) was saying that Max wasn't going to be carrying on with his diary and he hoped everyone was happy now!

The Grauniad's travel editor issued an "apology" that amounted to rather more of a telling-off for the readership than an admission that he had allowed into print a piece of second-rate schoolboy prose that should have been sent back heavily marked with "must try harder".

And, of course, he ducked entirely the fact that much of the comment on the blog was criticism not directed at the boy, but at the paper (and the editor) that pasted up such cheap filler in place of some proper material.

Then the Grauniad commentators – the so-called commentariat – weighed in, and were soon denouncing the MOB with a cutting "ooh, you bullies" or sympathising with Maxie for "His Hate mail hell".

And I DO sympathise with poor Max. He is not MUCH older than me, and I know that I would be VERY UPSET if hundreds of people posted comments like those on MY fluffy diary.

On the other fluffy foot, I would try not be so THIN SKINNED about it either. And not JUST because I have elephant skin. Hundreds and thousands of people publish their diary on the Wibbly Wobbly Web every day: if you want to get it publicised by a big newspaper site – or even just the Grauniad – and ESPECIALLY if you get the feeling you are going to get paid REAL MONEY for it, then you have to be a CUT ABOVE the average. Otherwise a whole lot of those hundreds and thousands of people will have EVERY JUSTIFICATION in saying "Oi, that's no better than what I might write!" Which is what happened.

I am afraid that the bleating commentators of the Grauniad want SPECIAL TREATMENT for one of their own. Or at least the SON of one of their own. (NO, not necessarily a Grauniad writer, but a member of the same "chattering class".) And it's true that it can't have been very pleasant. But they are WRONG to call the responses "Undemocratic".

There isn't ANYTHING that is quite so DEMOCRATIC as a comments column in full flood: DEMOS KRATOS, the POWER of the MOB as the Ancient Greeks used to put it.

In our "democracy" we have the idea of protection of the minority, to make sure that all voices can be heard and to free people form conforming to the majority. But that doesn't mean giving the minority – or the individual – a free pass to do anything. That is called special privilege: the old divine right of the ruling class.

And it is funny and revealing (though not really unexpected) to see the Grauniadistas standing up for THAT!

Day 2605: The Changing of the Old Guard


The elections have taken place in Pakistan – and, in spite of the troublingly low turnout, they have passed off without major terrorism – and it looks like President Mustbehavingalaugh has been DEFEATED.

And in Cuba, the old rogue President Fidel Castrol GTX (Grey Thatch eXtreme) has bowed to the inevitable and admitted it is time that he retired to spend his remaining years with his remaining organs.

These unrelated world events are linked by the brief flowering of HOPE that they might offer a chance of a better way, before the crushing boot of CYNICISM stamps down saying "get real"!

Mr Jonathan's take on Pakistan is on the PESSIMISTIC side. And you can't blame him.

Circumstances may have changed in Pakistan, with the Pakistan People's Party of Ms Benazir Bhutto offering a coalition deal to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Mr Narwaz Shariff, leaving President Mustbehavingalaugh and his Pakistan Muslim League (Q) out in the cold, but by how much?

The REAL test for the new government will be whether they reinstate the JUDGES who President Mustbehavingalaugh deposed and had put under house arrest.

But you've got to worry when the election hasn't stopped the government there from deciding to BAN YouTube as BLASPHEMOUS. Worse still, the reason for getting their theological panties in a bunch was those Danish cartoons, surfacing again. And worst of all, they decided to tackle the perceived blasphemy by HIJACKING the entire site and bringing it down.

So, a victory for modern secularism?

Actually, for a glimpse of something more positive, the secular parties DID win in Pakistan's most religiously CONTROVERSIAL province: the border with Afghanistan where the Taleban roam like predatory WRAITHS!

Meanwhile, for all that absolutely EVERYONE in the American election declared universal joy and hope for Cuba, the likelihood of change there is SMALL, for although Mr Castrol's BROTHER – Rule Castrol! – has said he will hear the complaints of the people about food shortages and, er, lack of Internet access, the appointment of HARDLINER, Mr Jose Ramon Machado Ventura (Pet Detective), as his deputy does not suggest any early abandonment of the Cuban Communist project.

Elsewhere in the world, Britain and America (but NOT Russia) welcome the Earth's one-hundred-and-ninety-third country, as Kosovo declares independence from Serbia.

The Serbs, you might guess, ain't happy. And this is BAD news. Not because they managed to cause two major wars in Europe inside of a hundred years… though actually that IS worth worrying about… but because the recently elected pro-EU Serbian government now looks a bit STUPID and might fall back under the sway of President Vampire Putin, ruler (as of next weekend, from beyond the grave) of Russia.

And I have to say that, since I do not for example fancy SCOTLAND splitting off from Great Britain, nor Britain splitting off from Europe, I can't be ENTIRELY happy about this either.

While I wish the Kosovans nothing but success in their new country, it would be nice to see people trying to work TOGETHER a bit more, rather than just splitting apart all the time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 2604: Mr Frown on the Rock of Ages and Ages and Ages


So, the Northern Rock is to be nationalised.

Or, as Chancellor Sooty put it on the The Today Programme: "We're going to have to take the action that… you know; we'll bring it under the control of… well you understand; we're going to do… thingie!"

On the never-short-of-excellent "Boston Legal", Mr Brad Chase has a phobia of saying the word "lesbian". I wonder if Chancellor Sooty has the same problem.

After all, it is just as WORD! All together now:

"Lesbian, lesbian, lesbian! Nationalisation, nationalisation, nationalisation!"

That wasn't too hard, now was it?

The Conservatories, meanwhile, are being stupid.

Mr Balloon has, predictably, called for Sooty to go, and GROWN-UP Young Master Gideon Oboe has called him a "Dead Man Walking".

(In fact, Master Gideon has been ragging Sooty all week after he backed down over the taxing of the "non-doms"

"As Any FULE KNO, these plans is RUBBISH!" said Master Gideon " 'cos they was nicked from US! Er…")

But the REAL stupidity is their supporters, who are crowing that this is the Labour's BLACK WEDNESDAY. This is stupid because:

  1. it is Sunday
  2. it reminds everyone of the day when the Conservatories' entire economic policy imploded up Mr Norman Badger's BOTTOM!
  3. and that was with help from Mr Balloon.
But are they RIGHT?

Well, in CASH terms, probably NO.

In 2005, the FT used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that on "Black Wednesday" Mr Norman Badger spent BILLIONS from the foreign currency reserves buying pounds in order to try and prop up the value of sterling. At the end of the day he was left with twenty-seven billion pounds in pounds; unfortunately the foreign currency that he had spent to buy it was worth thirty billion pounds – an absolute loss to the tax payer of three billion quid.

Adjusting for fifteen year's inflation, that is like spending Forty Billion pounds to make a loss of FIVE BILLION pounds in today's money.

(RPI Jan 2008/Sept 1992 = 209.8/139.2)

Chancellor Sooty has loaned twenty-five billion pounds to the Rock. That money is at RISK because the bank might not ever be able to pay it back. But we haven't LOST it yet. We'll have to add to that any money that it is decided must be paid to the shareholders to compensate them for the loss of their shares. (Of course technically the shares are worthless. They only have ANY value so long as the bank is supported as a private concern by the government, and clearly the government have just said they aren't going to do that any longer.)

By nationalising, the Chancellor makes those loans less risky – because he has got his hands on the bank's ASSETS.

Now, most of those assets are the mortgages that the bank has loaned out to people.

Young Master Gideon talked about the Chancellor now being responsible for a hundred billion pounds of mortgages like this was a BAD THING. But that just shows that he doesn't have a CLUE what he's talking about. It is not a hundred billion that the bank OWES; it is a hundred billion that is owed TO the bank. Over time, the bank will get all of those advances turned back into cash with interest. Or they can sell bits of the mortgage book to other banks for (less) ready money now.

Yes, there is – again – risk involved in holding assets in the form of mortgages, but they are LESS risky than just ordinary loans (for the LENDER) because they are "secured" on your houses – if you don't pay up, then the bank can repossess.

(Though obviously that could LOOK bad if the government is taking people's homes away. Still, that didn't seem to bother Minister for Housing Ms Flint.)

So basically we now all own a bit of a bank, like we used to before the Conservatories flogged off the TSB.

Again, Master Gideon demonstrated his ignorance by saying "anyone who has read about the Seventies knows that nationalisation was EASY to get into and HARD to get out of." Well, anyone who has ever even HEARD of the Eighties will know just how EASY it was to privatise everything going, and it beggars belief that a Conservatory like Master Gideon has forgotten that!

The government now needs to let things CALM DOWN a bit, wait for the banking industry to get their knickers untwisted about the credit crunch crisis, and let the bank get on with sorting itself out so that it has a working business model, ideally one that does not involve endless borrowing from the magic money fairy. Then the bank can be floated again, and we can have another big privatisation gold rush. Whoo very hoo!

The alternative, if that is not working out, is to sell off the mortgage book as a whole to another bank or building society.

In either case, EVENTUALLY, the Treasury will get a nice little wedge of cash back. Whether that will be equal to or more than what the bank cost has yet to be determined. There's no reason why it SHOULDN'T be… other than that governments are notoriously RUBBISH at running ANYTHING.

That, of course, is the DANGER of nationalisation – that ministers cannot resist trying to tinker, and that unions think that they have bottomless reserves to draw on. (Master Gideon thinks that the danger of nationalisation is unfair competition, which shows he really HASN'T read anything about the Seventies!)


But, but, but, but, but….

The impact of Black Wednesday was far more in PERCEPTION than in actual CASH COST.

As it happens, the economy actually IMPROVED after Black Wednesday – but that really only added to the impression that the Conservatories had been totally wrong about EVERYTHING, that they'd nailed the pound to the EMU at way to high a rate just to prove how MACHO Mr Major-Minor was, and how we'd all be better off without them.

In 1992, the Conservatories only HAD one economic policy (and it was arguably their one foreign policy too): stay in the ERM at all costs. In contrast, the Labour's economic policy does NOT hang on the saving or failing of one bank. But it DOES hang on the idea that Mr Frown is a both DECISIVE and PRUDENT fellow, under whose stewardship the economy glides smooth and serene.

For the Conservatories, Black Wednesday was a TURNING POINT: everyone knew they were EVIL but at least they would make everyone RICH. Suddenly, it turned out they couldn't do that EITHER!

This isn't the Labour's Black Wednesday because they've already HAD their Black Wednesday!

It wasn't the decision to nationalise a bank. It wasn't the dither and delay that held up making that decision from last Autumn, when Dr Power Cable told the Prime Monster that he should grit his teeth and bear it.

It wasn't even the day when Mr Frown sank his own credibility by not calling a general election.

No, the TURNING POINT was the day he tried to use IRAQ for political purposes, on the first day of the Conservatory conference. It was shallow and it was selfish and it even a flak-jacket couldn't hide that the Emperor of Prudence was naked.

This latest humiliation is JUST the latest humiliation, heaped on the pile that includes losing half the country's personal data, arriving late to sign the Lisbon Treaty and Mr Peter Vain.

Day 2603: Millennium gets Primeval


Wahey! Giant Fluffyphant playing with CARS – does Mr Paul Cornell read my diary or WHAT?!

Mammoth pile-up
Posted by Picasa

Now that Dr Nick has sacked that useless waste of hair gel who hangs out with his bonkers ex-wife, I think there is a place for a Giant Fluffyphant on the TEAM – especially one who has saved the boss!

Day 2602: "If anything goes wrong, the mayor is responsible"


Those were Mr Mayor Ken's words to the London Assembly this week: "If anything goes wrong, the mayor is responsible."

Then he had Lee Jasper suspended.

"This casts serious doubt on Mr Ken's judgement," said Mr Brian, shocked at the escalation in the SCANDAL.

"This goes far beyond the allegations made by the Evening Standard, which simply suggested that Lee Jasper had broken the rules, not broken the law."

Is Mr Mayor Ken ACTUALLY going to take responsibility? Well, forgive me if I suspect NOT. He does have a history of saying one thing and then denying it later.

Promises not to remain INDEPENDENT and not rejoin the Labour, and to serve for no more than two terms seem to have been just slightly OVERLOOKED.

(Though do not try reminding him, as he tends to get a bit CROSS!)

Even in this current crisis he may have been caught in a BIT of an untruth.

It seems that he knew about the problem of the missing cash – because he'd been TOLD about it – but then denied there WAS any problem. It no doubt just slipped his mind.

Though if he is getting so FORGETFUL, perhaps it would be a kindness to give him a nice long VACATION, say from around about May of this year…

So it is BAD NEWS for Mr Jaspar, as he is under investigation, but will the STINK affect Mr Mayor Ken?

Mr Marty of Mayorwatch suggests that this is ACTUALLY a cunning win-win strategy for him.

If his opponents on the London Assembly go along with the plan, then he gets to kick this whole scandal into the LONG GRASS until after the election, by making the whole thing subject to a police investigation. If they DON'T then he can say they had the chance to put up so now they have to SHUT UP.

And do you know, I think Mr Marty might be RIGHT!

Speaking of people backed by the office of the Labour's Mayor, though, GOOD NEWS from Leyton where Local Labour's CHICKENS came home to roost when the Liberal Democrats recovered the council seat stolen by convicted liar, Ms Miranda Grell.

Pink News covers the same story and so does Lib Dem Voice, of course.

Let me add my FLUFFY CONGRATULATIONS to those of Ms Merel Ace, Mr Matt Davies, Mr Neil Woollcott and many others.

Hooray! Very well done!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Day 2601: I (Heart) Technology

Valentine's Day

I just LOVE new technology. For example Europe is getting ready to launch an exciting new SPACE TELESCOPE, called Herschel (named after the German born, British Astronomer who discovered Uranus), to work alongside the existing Hubble Telescope (named after the American astronomer who discovered galaxies beyond our own, and indeed that the Universe is EXPANDING).

Working in the INFRARED (unlike Hubble which sees the same light that WE do) it is hoped that Herschel will be able to see out to the EDGE of the KNOWN UNIVERSE. Which actually means looking BACKWARDS IN TIME to the Big Bang.

(Though I am sure that you KNEW that already!)

Things to see in SPACE include PLANETS, and there is more exciting news, because it seems that we have spotted a new solar system. I know that this is getting to be a bit OLD HAT, but the reason that this one is ESPECIALLY exciting is that it looks a lot more like OURS.

So far, a lot of the EXOPLANETS that we have spotted have been Gas Giants, like Jupiter or Saturn, but ones that orbit very CLOSE to their stars. A large object moving close to, and therefore very fast around, a star causes a more NOTICEABLE disturbance in the Force light that reaches our telescopes, so these are more OBVIOUS.

But it had made scientists wonder if MOST solar systems formed that way – with big gas giants close in. This would make OUR system seem rather UNUSUAL. In cosmic terms this is bad news because it would mean that all the things that we have learned about how OUR star system came to be like it is would not GENERALISE.

But now that we HAVE found another system that looks like it looks like ours – one that has two large gas giants further out, with the possibility of rocky iron-cored planets forming in the temperate zones, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief… and start concentrating our investigations there.

In the LONG RUN – and at six billion years away that is a VERY long run, at the moment – we will want to send explorers out there, and maybe even colonists!

In the meantime, though, we have not even started properly to explore our own back yard! The Americans, I know, are preparing to return to the Moon, with their next generation Orion space craft, but Great Britain has not even got a proper space programme. At least, not yet… but we are apparently THINKING about it.

I say it is time to call in Professor Quatermass and the British Rocket Group. Britain needs YOU, Professor Q!

Anyway, the BEST gadget of ALL is a genuine JAMES BOND car. And LOOK – here is one!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Day 2598: Cultural Revolution


Minister for Ruining our Childhoods, Mr "Total" Balls, and Minister for Spoiling our Fun, Mr "Crash and" Burnham, have got together as a PANTOMIME HORSE to inflict five hours a week of "quality culture" on kids.

So, we add the "Culture Hour" to the "Sport Hour", the "Literacy Hour" and the "Numeracy Hour" and… we'd better hope there are a few more TIME LORDS masquerading as teachers in our schools!

Art, theatre, music… these are things that you should DISCOVER for yourself, not have thrust down your throat like COUGH MIXTURE!

And anyway, isn't that what BBC4 is for?

What's that buzzing noise?

You should not underestimate the POWER and IMPORTANCE of the Dark Side Art and Culture like SPORT it has the power to move people, uniting them in feeling – after all, that is why China are so JOLLY CROSS about Mr Spielberg quitting their Olympic bash.

("Oh, nobody understands our policy in Darfur," yeah, yeah; tell it to the Archpillock of Canterbury!)

What IS that buzzing?!

Anyway £15 a year does NOT amount to a whole load of OPERA… unless you mean OPRAH, and we're back to sitting in front of the TELLY.

On the PLUS side, though, at least there are a whole load of opportunities in CREATIVE WRITING opening up again in America!

Can NO ONE else hear BUZZING???

Is there not some IRONY in us trying to find EXOTIC ways to keep our young people out of our hair with compulsory after-school culture club at the same time as installing the electronic midge and kiddie zapper?

Meanwhile, I am going to deal with that buzzing by calling GHOSTBUSTERS!

Apparently I can now get PSYCHIC EXORCISM paid for by the council (give me strength!)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Day 2596: DOCTOR WHO: Dead London


Returning for a "new series" are the stars of BBC7's Radio Series "Doctor Who", sadly only on Big Fish CD this year it would seem. Mr Paul McGann is "the Doctor", Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and Ms Sheridan Smith is his current chum, feisty Lucie Miller. It's great to have them back, but what a shame that BBC7 seems to have passed on the opportunity to bring them to a wider audience. I hope it is only because "Torchwood" has nicked the "between Christmas and Easter" slot!

Here is Daddy Richard's review of the new series debut:

For the start of the new series, Big Finish producer and part-time Dalek Nicholas Briggs tells us in the usual CD extra features, they had the choice of starting with something very traditional or going for something rather more out there. I ever so slightly wish that they'd chosen to go "trad" instead: after the rather intense farewells to first C'Rizz and then even more alarmingly Charlie Pollard (the amazing India Fisher, currently narrating Master Chef, lord help her!), it might have been a bit more reassuring to have a cosy reminder of the set up in this new TARDIS team before weighing in to the whacked-out psychedelia!

Having, by the end of last year, got to the stage of their relationship where the Doctor and Lucie were sparking off each other, it's a shame that this story splits them up before it starts and keeps them on separate tracks until a good two-thirds of the way in.

The Doctor instead finds himself in the dock with "Spring-heeled" Sophie (Clare Buckfield), a Seventeenth Century funambulist (that's tightrope walker – just the start of much fun to be had in the wordplay, and playful use of words, as in the Doctor translating for us the Seventeenth Century's catalogue of criminals to whom he is disfavourably compared). The Doctor and Sophie face off against "hanging" Judge Jeffries, while Lucie is stranded in the First World War during the blackouts.

Actually, it's not a bad opening, playing to the surreal nature of the Doctor's life rather well, and the Eighth Doctor's tired surprise to receive a sudden death sentence for a parking offence is reminiscent of the Ninth when confronted with Davinadroid.

As on television, this is followed by the crashing opening of the theme tune, and I do mean "crashing" as after seven years the floating tones of David Arnold's Eighth Doctor arrangement have been retired in favour of something a bit more like Murray Gold turned up to eleven. There's a lot of the original "TARDIS" theme as realised by Delia Derbyshire in there, but also the rising arpeggios of the Pertwee Era and the twanging electronica of the Tom Baker years. And probably Colin Baker playing the kitchen sink too. "Brash" doesn't begin to cover it. Not that it's bad, it's rather jolly, actually, it's just a handbrake turn from the old one.

Anyway, as you may have guessed by now, far from being "Dead" this is a London scrambled through time, with adjacent eras jostling for position along the banks of the intermittent River Fleet.

There is more than a slight flavour of the War Games involved, as the inhabitants are all kidnapped from their native time zones and, it would seem, the Doctor is unable to return them home at the end. You might also throw in a soupcon of "The Chase": in that story, the Doctor wrongly gets the idea that they may have landed inside someone's imagination (or perhaps the "collective imagination"). Writers have been trying to do that for real ever since, perhaps to suggest that the first Doctor wasn't just being a loon. So the neat twist here, tossed in at the end, is that rather than kidnapping people to his own planet, the villain has stuck them inside his own head. And of course we have seen "dreamscapes" that you can physically enter in a number of stories, most obviously the Time Lords' Matrix (as in "Trial of a Time Lord", though not as seen in "The Deadly Assassin" – the Doctor enters the APC net mentally in that story).

We don't really see enough of the "Londons" for it to be properly satisfactory – visiting only 2008, 1917, 1685, and 60 AD – and perhaps a longer story would have let us explore this interesting idea in the detail that is deserved. 1917 and 1685 are served very well, pitching a flavour of the times and tossing in interesting facts; 2008 though is just for the framing, and 60 AD is well, "sketched".

(I say 1685 as the Doctor addresses Jeffries as Lord Chief Justice – but then he also asks after his wife who had died in 1678… mind you he is trying to trick "Jeffries" at that point. Roman Londinium was razed by Boudicca in 60 or 61 AD, though there is no evidence that she staged a re-enactment of 1973's "The Wicker Man" while slaughtering the population.)

It's possible that the writer was thinking visually, rather than for the audio medium; and you might imagine how these jumbled time zones might be realised on the page if I tell you that the writer in question is Pat Mills – known as the godfather of British Comics for his 2000AD work. Think of a London that is as crowded with its own history as any view of Megacity One, and we might be getting there.

The link between all of these "Londons" is Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith both pre- and post-Slitheen on the telly – and yes, he's Lord Whatnot in "Heart in the Title" too) in a variety of amusing accents. Well of course he's actually an alien, the oily ophidian Sepulchre, a snake-like creature from the Planet Quaglook, but that hardly matters; it's more a justification for the special effect on his "real" voice than a source of motivation.

His motive is something that is hard to determine. Sepulchre appears to "feed" off the action in his re-enactment chambers, but if he does, then why is he killing off his human participants? One of his guises, serial-killing Blind Huw, aka "the Blackout Killer", intimates that they need "new blood" – is there, perhaps, a limit to how much energy he can get from one individual; is there a limit to how many individuals he can contain? If both of these are true, then it would go some way to making sense of what is going on: he can only get more sustenance by making room for more people to be drawn inside his world.

In the New Adventure "Conundrum" (and its sequel "Head Games") the process of turning people into fiction in the Land of Fiction (from "The Mind Robber") is said to kill you, so even though your persona carries on in the Land you cannot ever leave. Perhaps that is what is going on here, as people inside Sepulchre's head are drained of their "life force" until they are just avatars themselves and can no longer leave. This might also explain the unsettling ending where the Doctor and Lucie depart in the TARDIS and leave a great many humans stuck inside an alien's brain – more disturbing still, it you consider that Sepulchre might well age and die, which would end their world rather abruptly.

But never mind all that, Vansittart is super; he's clearly having a whale of a time, relishing the different character quirks that he can work into the different "avatars" of Sepulchre who police his domain. It's a full and fruity performance for each of them, but crossed with bluster, laconic amusement, whimsy or just malevolence to distinguish the different "turns".

The source of Sepulchre's power is a cosmic remote control hidden inside a "Cista Mystica" that Sophie has conveniently stolen from the Roman temple at the head of the Fleet. The Doctor briefly mentions that her toying with the controls may have caused the time slip that affected Lucie, or even the one that affected him (drawing him to her from the 2008 time zone – though that slip was as convenient for Sepulchre as it was for her). A little more explanation would have been good here, as you might think that Sophie's theft has in fact triggered the Doctor and Lucie arriving in the TARDIS and the unravelling of Sepulchre's whole plot. Otherwise it's all a big coincidence. (Like that never happens in Doctor Who!)

The Cista Mystica is, as the Doctor describes, a snake box, but in fact a box for carrying the sacred snakes of the Cult of Dionysus (not Mithras as here). Obviously there's a fertility thing going on there, but that's the Romans all over. Nevertheless, the inference is literally that this is a box that contains a god – and indeed possession of the box does give Sepulchre god-like powers to control the re-enactment chambers and to summon people to his realm. And of course there is the added irony at the end, when we learn that all these "Londons" are contained inside Sepulchre’s mind: he himself is a snake box and, god-like, contains this world.

It's a world built out of the history of London, and that's clever and good, because London is built on her history, it's what lies beneath the surface. And, of course, so is a sepulchre, which is a container for the dead. Hence Dead London.

It's a shame it has to come to an end, and the ending when it comes is rather abrupt and unbelievable. Having gone to some trouble to avoid putting his prime person in peril from the Doctor, Sepulchre makes that dreadful villain's-mistake of turning up to witness the Doctor's "inevitable death" (this time in the afore-mentioned Wicker Man). A quick wave of the sonic, and he's trapped, a victim in his own realm. What a shame, when we were looking forward to some epic derring-do to penetrate his sanctum before the final confrontation.

As with the paucity of "Londons", we feel we've been robbed of a missing episode of fun.

Next time… murder, mayhem and galactic war, brought to you live from the Sirius Inter-G Cruiser show, with your host Graeme Garden. Stand by for "Max Warp"!

Day 2595: Fire and Brimstone


Camden Market ablaze.

Archpillock of Canterbury.

You can make you own jokes up, frankly.

Day 2594: Carry On Columbus


News from space, as the American shuttle Atlantis lifts off to carry the new European space laboratory to the international space station.

The laboratory is called Columbus after the director of the Harry Potter films, and will be using Wingardium Leviosa to get into orbit.

No, sorry, I made that last bit up. ACTUALLY, hard-working 24-hour Polish plumber-nauts have now bolted the Columbus onto the rest of the space station and it is ready to begin its ten-year mission to boldly… oh, you know the drill.

Meanwhile, preparations are being made for the launch of the European Space programme's brand-new spaceship: the Jules Verne.

Not so elegant as the delta-winged, reusable (ish) Space Shuttle, the Jules Verne – or more prosaically ATV (Automatic Tin Vessel) – is basically a great big can of beans with a rocket on the back. It will provide all of the FOOD and FUEL for the International Space Station mission – hence can of beans. Plus there is room for water, oxygen and all-important air-freshener.

If successful – and it had better be! – the ATV will be taking up the slack in keeping the Space Station running once the shuttle fleet reaches the end of its working life and is retired in 2010.

Possibly a LITTLE bit disturbing is the news that the launch window has to be determined by the Shuttle missions: the ATV and the Shuttle cannot both be in space at the same time… because they use the same SAT NAV.

Why am I now expecting to hear that seven-and-a-half tonnes of beans and rocket fuel has ended up ditching in a canal near you?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Day 2592: TOYCHWUD: Meat


Mr Hilary Briss, the Demon Butcher of Royston Vasey, had to be getting his "special stuff" from somewhere – and they always swore blind that it wasn't "long pig". Could Torchwood have the answer?

Well, here is Daddy Richard's review to help us find out:
Torchwood appears to be having a pretty good first season for a fantasy drama series. It's just a pity that it's their second. A reasonably solid episode, this, that would have fitted in nicely as a development episode at the back end of last year, it does, however, rely on the inter-series reboot to function.

The episode plays heavily with the idea that Gwen is secretly – or not so secretly – attracted to Jack, and thank goodness for that, because the chemistry between Eve Miles and John Barrowman sparks off the screen, particularly in the charged moment at the conclusion where Gwen refuses to retcon Rhys's heroism away. Better yet is the moment when she's shown Rhys the Hub for the first time, and he worries about her working with "all these gorgeous men"; "there's only one gorgeous man I can see," she coos and they kiss… and her eyes flick over his shoulder to where Jack is watching… cue EastEnders drum-roll!

All this, of course, depends on Gwen's hideous ghastly affair with Weevil-boy Owen having been quietly steamed out of history. Last year she had no qualms about retconning Rhys until his head rattled so that she wouldn't have to face the consequences of him finding out – "Saaaay Yofffa Givmeeee" and all that. But now she won't take away his memories and is happily inviting him to an environment where she knows these secrets get blurted out every week. It's not like her paranoia about Rhys finding out what Torchwood does has mellowed; and it's not like he's suddenly stopped being Mr Suspicious Moody Jealous Guy (subject to supply of Danishes).

But the episode ends with a positive (unless you're a dead space whale): love and honesty triumphing over paranoia and secrecy. It is interesting to see the conflict between the traditional need for secrecy and the exultation of hope play out. It plays out on John Barrowman's face before he gives Gwen his blessing. After all, it is the Twenty-First Century and Everything Changes. Perhaps even Torchwood. Hopefully this development will stick.

In spite of concentrating on the Gwen/Rhys axis, there was still time for some nice moments for the other players. Tosh and Owen appeared to have gone right back to "she's got a crush on him / he doesn't know she exists", though the moment at the end, where he accepts her comforting hand might hint that in fact Owen knows exactly what is going on and is trying to avoid becoming entangled – sort of like Bertie Wooster but with aliens instead of aunts.

Some more strong work for Ianto Jones, not just delivering the one-liners (and the pizza: meat feast, anyone?) but also getting to be rather fierce when he thinks his friends (one in particular) may have been killed by these idiots.

And Jack gets a few moments of being suave – offering an arm to Gwen, sparking Rhys's jealousy (loved Rhys's hopeful, doubly ironic: "you're not gay by any chance" remark, by the way).

There was an opportunity missed there, though, to contrast Gwen and Rhys's relationship with Jack and Ianto's.

But where the episode really misses a trick is by not sticking with a single point of view throughout. The opening, where Rhys is in the middle of trauma, discovering a friend and colleague has died in a car crash, when the "Men in Black" turn up… and one of them is Gwen (with full on Matrix-lite leathers and slo-mo camera work) offers a tantalising hint of an episode that follows him trying to work out what is going on. And maybe waking up several times having been retconned back to square one. Or, we could have followed Gwen trying to reconcile her relationship with Rhys with the fact that she's also investigating Rhys, and play with the possibility that he really is in it up to his neck. Flipping back and forward between Rhys and Torchwood means that we know what is really going on, which robs us of tension either way.

And of course they do linger a bit too long on the CGI space whale. Long sweeping shots pulling back to reveal its size also let us dwell on the fact that it's a cartoon. Not a terribly bad one – well, except when we see it's "cute flappy mouth" near to the end – but it too obviously doesn't match the real background. The practical effect of the creature's wounded, harvested flank was much better realized – stomach-threateningly so, so soon after dinner. And the opening eye, complete with reflections, was rather nice.

The moral of the story is straight out of Season Twenty-Two and the Robert Holmes book of "Vegetarianism for Good Guys". It can't really help being heavy-handed, bringing home the sort of visceral horror that the Japanese Whaling Fleet is visiting on higher mammals right now. The "it's sentient!" revelation was perhaps over egging things, though: this ought to be a moral wrong even if it is just an "ordinary" animal.

When I first saw the creature, I did wonder if it hadn't been engineered to grow continuously for food. A couple of the Doctor Who books – "Original Sin, springs most readily to mind – have made mention of "food animals" in the Thirtieth Century (and of course the books themselves show a debt to 2000AD again there). I wondered if it might not have been one of those, fallen through time. There is an interesting debate about farmed livestock and GM foods to be had, though this episode wasn't it.

On the whole, this was a powerful episode for the actors and we enjoyed it for the strength of performances here to the extent that while I might suggest a more interesting story direction, I wouldn't want it at the expense of those performances. Getting the team firing on all cylinders is the heart of a good ongoing drama, and we've finally got a Torchwood of characters who are worth watching.

Now, let's give them something interesting to do.

Next time… would you Adam'n'Eve it, there's a new member of the team and Jack's got a li'l brother. "Adam"

Day 2591: Super-Trouper Tuesday


"Tonight the Super Trouper lights are going to blind me; but I won't feel blue; like I always do; 'cos somewhere in the crowd there's YOU!"

Never have ABBA written a truer word.

Tonight there was someone in the crowd for EVERYONE and all of them were TRUE BLUE, because it was the day when millions of Americans finally decided that the choice of candidates in the race for the White House would be… going on a bit.

It was the day that they were calling Super Duper Tuesday, so there's really only one thing to say… (run VT!)

Okay, maybe there IS more than one thing to say.

The outcomes in both races were far less cut and dried than everyone supposed going in.

My Fluffy Chum, Frank Luntz, among others had been predicting that Senator Oven-Chip would easily win among the Replutocrats, with Frankie first saying that he'd take more than half the states up for grabs and later raising that to 18 or 19. That didn't quite happen. In the end, Senator Over-Chip only won in 9 out of the 21 Replutocratic contests.

Among the Dumbocrats, there was much speculation that MTV's Barry O might steel a march on Hillary-Billary, and come out ahead. That didn't quite happen either. Instead, the honours were divided pretty evenly, with Senator Clinton doing better in terms of actual delegates, but Senator Barry getting a wider spread of states, and maintaining his SURGE.

This, in fact, has been MORE crucial in the days FOLLOWING Super Tuesday – unlike when he underperformed his team's predictions in New Hampshire – which have seen a RASH of states from Washington and Nebraska to Louisiana and on to Maine with the so-called beltway states to follow all plumping for the CHARISMATIC Senator from Illinois on the back of a wave of optimism.

But do not get carried away! These states had already been predicted to swing Barry-wards. Even so, the SCALE of his victories are certainly showing that the FORCE is with him. But it is the NEXT round, particularly in Texas, which will see if Hillary-Billary can make up lost ground or if the tide truly has swung towards her younger rival.

More worrying for the one-time First Lady should be the flow of FINANCES, and the news that she had to loan her own campaign $5million must be a bit embarrassing. When you are funding you own race for the White House you run the risk of looking like a VANITY PROJECT.

Of course, she's raised that money back and more in the days since Tuesday… though Barry O has raised even MORE STILL.

The MAGIC that seems to be with the Obama campaign is charming the birds from the air and more importantly the dollars from the wallets. And in a contest where both of them have already spent over $100million, that ability to wring more greenbacks out of the backers may be more decisive than the votes on the ground. Especially when the votes are as evenly split as they are.

Of course, the Dumbocrats have a PROPORTIONAL system that militates against knockout wins, because even coming second in California and New York means you can still gather a lot of delegates to the national convention where they decide the winner.

For the Replutocrats, because of the "winner steals all the biscuits" system that they use, Senator Oven-Chip has romped away in terms of delegate votes by winning those states (no doubt Hillary-Billary wishes she had the same advantage).

However, what is INTERESTING is to look at the split – and it is VERY split – of the Replutocratic votes behind the results.

In New York he got all 101 delegates with just 51% of the votes cast; in Illinois he got all 54 delegates with only 47% of the votes; in California he got 158 delegates with just 42% (Mitt Morony got a consolation prize of 12 delegates for 34% of the votes!); in Missouri he got all 58 delegates with JUST 33% of the vote (Mr Hucky-Mucky-Puppy got 32% of the vote and got nothing).

Even in his home state of Arizona, Senator Oven-Chip only managed to poll 48% of the votes. Sure, he won the 50 delegates and that's what COUNTS, but… he'd have lost his own senate seat.

The "winner takes all" results heavily disguise the fact that the MAJORITY of Replutocrats want a bonkers right-wing theocrat as their candidate. They just can't decide WHICH wingnut they prefer: in the Deep South, it's obviously deep-fried loon and evolution denier Mike Mucky-Puppy; in the rest of the middle of America, it's richer than Mammon, Mitt Morony. Only the coasts support Senator Oven-Chip and then hardly with any conviction. He might SAY that he appeals to the Conservatives, but the truth is he really doesn't.

If the religious right hadn't been split the Oven-Chip campaign would have been COOKED by now.

As it is, it was that gold-plated shyster Mr Morony who had to take an early bath (reputedly FURIOUS with the Mucky-Puppy campaign for spoiling his chances).

Mr Mucky-Puppy himself remains in the race, even though he's trailing a long way behind now. Significantly, he's picked up the 33 delegates from Kansas over the post-Super Tuesday weekend. It may not YET be somewhere over the rainbow, but the bluebirds are singing.

At this point, though, Senator Oven-Chip has 723 out of the 1,191 delegates that he needs to secure the role of punch-bag for the rest of the year. Why would Mr Mucky-Puppy, trailing with only a couple of hundred, be staying in the race?

Well, the aim has to be to secure enough delegates to make it impossible to ignore him and his crazy constituency. He probably wants to be Vice President, even though he says it's a job no one wants and has apparently been given the brush off by the Oven-Chip camp.

This doesn't stop Replutocrats thinking that McCain-Huckabee might be their dream ticket. McCain contributes strengths where Mucky-Puppy has weaknesses in Foreign Affairs and, er, Home Affairs. And where McCain has weaknesses, being a Washington insider, being a war-mongering maniac who would stay in Iraq for 10,000 years and being too close to the Monkey-in-Chief, Mucky-Puppy contributes… being a CRACK-BRAINED LOON.

Senator Oven-Chip would have to have a DEATH WISH to pick Mucky-Puppy. So no doubt that's who he'll end up saddled with.

To add to his woes, turnout has been HUGE. In the early primaries, it was remarked upon that turnout was UP for both Dumbocrats AND Repluotocrats. But on Super Tuesday, with Americans voting in record numbers, the word is that Dumbocrat voters outnumbered Replutocrats by more than 2 to 1. Which means even if Hillary-Billary's supporters don't turn out for Barry O (or vice versa) they can STILL win!

Mr God Bless Amnesia!

Day 2590: What's Up Doc?


I guess that the trade union for doctors, the BMA (Bona Medical Appliances), were really JOLLY GLAD that the Archpillock of Canterbury decided to go so dramatically OFF PISTE, as all the loud coverage of HIM has enabled them to sneak out a quick backing down with very little press attention.

This is – I should hope – going to see some resolution to the long running DISPUTE about longer opening hours. It would make a whole lot more sense for people IN work to be able to visit their doctor without having to take time OFF work to do so. Because faced with the choice most people choose to skip the doctor rather than the office, unless they're REALLY ill. Which means a lot of preventative medicine goes undone.

I think that doctors actually recognise this and would like to come to an agreement – not that they do themselves any favours protesting "too much" that everything is lovely and 800% of patients love their opening hours. But both the BMA and the government are being pig-headed.

Basically, the Labour gave doctors squillions of pounds for doing stuff they were doing already, so now they are behaving truculently to try and get some FACE back.

Not that the doctors didn't DESERVE paying for doing all those little extras; you can't run the health service forever on the charity of doctors (despite what Mr Balloon might think).

Meanwhile the BMA respond with SCARY stories about this being the government attempting to privatise the health service.

Result: loggerheads. And the editor of the Lancet starts accusing the BMA of not representing doctors properly.

Being the Labour, the government decides to IMPOSE a centralised solution, and Health Secretary Postman Pat writes to GPs directly

to give them their orders.

Of course, micro-managing EVERY GP's surgery in the country from No. 79 Whitehall is the sort of bonkers plan only a Labour Minister could come up with. And it's why you end up with these stupid head-butting contests where the centralised union and the centralised ministry end up eyeball to equally-ugly eyeball.

And it is the PATIENTS who get forgotten in the middle of all this – which is why it is so important to restore a sense of balance and put patients back in charge.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day 2597: Every Burkha has a Silver Lining


If there is one GOOD thing come from the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury's daft pro-theocratic pronouncement it is that the people of Great Britain have risen up and said with many different voices and for many different reasons: "Noooooo!"

Because if people have misunderstood the Archbishop, it is that they have misunderstood the SCOPE and BREADTH of his offence.

He has not, as some people seem to believe, suggested that the Sharia should be the law of Great Britain.

No, he has said that HE – silly old buffoon that he is – HE should be the law of Great Britain.

And sorry, but if HE'S not going to shut up about this, then neither am I!

(It is a mealy mouthed EXCUSE for an APOLOGY, anyway, saying "I shall take responsibility, but I was right and no one understands me!")

Now, in spite of Daddy Alex's help, I have had to spend all weekend thinking VERY HARD about the Archpillock's speech.

So now my fluffy head HURTS!

He begins with an examination of the Sharia law, and it would appear that this is what he has been invited to speak about. So rather than a, perhaps ill-chosen, example in a broader topic, in fact he has chosen to use it as the basis from which to set out a far broader suggestion of, basically, religion taking over the law.

He says as much himself:

"But, as I hope to suggest, the issues that arise around what level of public or legal recognition, if any, might be allowed to the legal provisions of a religious group, are not peculiar to Islam"
He also repeats the usual whinges that secular justice is somehow overriding the SPECIAL PRIVILEGES that he thinks religious people somehow deserve, for example referring to:

"…a risk of assuming that 'mainstreram'(sic) jurisprudence should routinely and unquestioningly bypass the variety of ways in which actions are as a matter of fact understood by agents in the light of the diverse sorts of communal belonging they are involved in."
Implicitly bringing up the idea that BACKGROUND makes a difference to the RIGHTNESS or WRONGNESS of actions.

He also alludes to…

"some examples of legal rulings which have disregarded the account offered by religious believers of the motives for their own decisions"

"the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions"
…specifically citing the Catholic Cardinal's desire to be biased against gay daddies.

Quite simply, he is saying that some people are SPECIAL and deserve to have special EXCUSES to let them off the law.

In essence, and despite his subsequent denials, he IS suggesting that there could be multiple parallel legal systems. To say afterwards: "ah it was only a notion I was toying with" is, well, flexing honesty into what Cuddly Cthulhu suggests is a non-Euclidean dimension. OK, he doesn't say "parallel" he says "plural" but the difference is SOPHISTIC.

He specifically mentions:

"'a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that 'power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents'"

Now to be fair, this is a quote of a quote from author Ms Ayelet Shachar but the ENTIRE THRUST of his speech is to suggest a "what if" game of how would parallel systems WORK.

He suggests that there are three objections to this (only three, your worshipfulness?) and raises them to knock them down:

  1. "vexatious appeals to religious scruple"

  2. "reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them"

  3. "everyone stands before the public tribunal on exactly equal terms, so that recognition of corporate identities or, more seriously, of supplementary jurisdictions is simply incoherent"
I go for "simply incoherent". Well HE said it!

His offered solution to 1, that there should be a religious authority to say which complaints count as "real", is surely biased in favour of the religious complainant. And how does this do more than just add an extra bureaucracy to the legal process? At the moment, the judge would decide if the case if frivolous; why shunt that decision to someone else to make? "Ah ha!" you might say, "but doesn't the present secular system bias the choice AGAINST the religious?" NO! Because "secular" does NOT mean atheist, it means NEUTRAL regarding religion. The Archpillock raises examples – a woman who refuses to handle Bibles, and the British Airways cross woman – to illustrate the types of conflict that arise, but does NOT say how in his new framework these WOULD BE RESOLVED.

For 2 he mentions forced marriage, then shies away from discussing it, turning instead to widow's inheritance – where he fails to describe what the current position actually IS and thus again offers no explanation of how this would be resolved. He also examines the penalty for apostasy – i.e. death. Essentially, his counter-argument – that violent reprisals were considered necessary in a time when abandoning the faith automatically meant joining a violently opposed faction – reduces to "it's out of date; we'll see if we can find some loopholes in the set text".

This demonstrates the PRIMARY PROBLEM with a "revealed" statute. It tends to be – MYSTERIOUSLY for a revelation from an omniscient divinity whose wisdom SHOULD transcend the centuries – biased towards the conditions prevailing at the TIME when it was "revealed". Almost as though it was thought up by people OF that time, rather than the aforementioned ALL-WISE ONE. No doubt HE was just putting it in language they understood. Though it is a SHAME that HE did not leave footnotes for those of us living in post-mediaeval centuries. As an example, the Bible dwells on the laws for treating slaves, unnecessarily you might think when it could just say "in about 1800 years time, you'll work out that this is a really BAD thing."

It is with 3, though, that the Archpillock really has to work to find a get-out for himself.

He had already FRAMED the third question as a problem of our "modern thinking" that is "dominated by European assumptions about universal rights", which is IRONIC when your central tenant is the Sharia, a law that SELF-DEFINES as "universal".

Then, rather than reaching for his promised examples, he instead launches into a discussion of the Enlightenment, mainly with the aim of saying that the great throwing-off of the dead hand of the Church's authority was all down to Christianity anyway.

Why attack the Enlightenment? Because, for the theocrat, THAT is where it all started to go down the big gold pontifical TOILET.

There has been no Enlightenment in Islam. Quite the reverse: the period of European colonialism saw often enlightened and liberal states driven back into Feudal BARBARISM (and fundamentalist Islam's quite BERSERK attitude towards gay daddies comes STRAIGHT from the VICTORIANS not their own history).

And – and I remember the "joke" that Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain contributed to Any Questionables on Friday, suggesting that Dr Row'n might like to apply some chastisement and flogging – WOULDN'T the Archpillock prefer to have all the power that goes with THAT?

He attests:

"The great protest of the Enlightenment was against authority that appealed only to tradition and refused to justify itself by other criteria."
And this certainly IS key: the idea that law should proceed from principles that can be clearly stated and understood, and moreover that can be CHALLENGED.

Indeed the appeal to authority (this is true because a wise person says so) or tradition (this is true because we've always said it was true) are both FALLACIES – false arguments.

You would think that this sinks his "law should come from "revelation" (i.e. traditional sources)" thesis. And it does. But he never says anything to refute this.

Instead, he embarks on an enormous CIRCUMLOCUTION in order to try and rephrase the principle of the Rule of Law in such a way that he can guilelessly discard it.

When he says…

"Perhaps it helps to see the universalist vision of law as guaranteeing equal accountability and access primarily in a negative rather than a positive sense…"
…you almost expect him to conclude the solipsism by saying:

"so now that I've said it is bad you can see that it is bad!"

To be fair he is PROBABLY trying to use a construction that forms a "negative freedom" (i.e. a freedom from interference, see Hobbes or Berlin), but this is maddeningly vague and, in a speech that is repeatedly described by his supporters as "academic" and "thoughtful", very poor argument.

What he ACTUALLY arrives at is a definition of the Rule of Law as:

"a mechanism whereby any human participant in a society is protected against the loss of certain elementary liberties of self-determination and guaranteed the freedom to demand reasons for any actions on the part of others for actions and policies that infringe self-determination".
There is a certain MEANNESS to this definition, eliding as it does any sense of levelling of terms between participants in life and dropping any notion of redress of wrong when those protections fail. But you could see it as an attempt at stripping back to first principles, if he were not about to strip it out ALTOGETHER!

Because this is the point where he does his theosophical PAUL DANIELS turn.

"…the point of defining legal universalism as a negative thing is that it allows us to assume, as I think we should, that the important springs of moral vision in a society will be in those areas which a systematic abstract universalism regards as 'private' – in religion above all, but also in custom and habit."
In translation: all moral vision proceeds from, above all, religion.

But see: he is using his verbosity to excise the idea that equality before the law might be a moral good IN AND OF ITSELF.

Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought has spent a great deal of time considering the question: "what is good?", from Hume to Kant to Nietzsche, not forgetting Mr J.S. Mill and Ms Harriet Taylor.

And if there is one thing that they can tell you from all that thinking it is that you should be able to start from PRINCIPLES that you can explain, and NOT a dusty tome.

That doesn't mean that they do not arrive at conclusions that you can find IN religion. But it DOES mean that they showed their working-out, and you can follow it and agree or disagree.

And even though religions sometimes end up with answers that we agree with, sometimes they DON'T (e.g. slavery; e.g. death by height reduction for people who change to another religion) and the very fact that we can tell the difference proves that our moral sense DOES NOT COME FROM RELIGION.

Indeed, when the Archpillock HIMSELF said that we would not want to import the more "primitivist" aspects of Islam he was making a choice that CANNOT have been informed from religion. Religion says "Islam YES/NO" or "Christianity YES/NO", not "these bits are good and we know that these bits are bad even though scripture SAYS they are good because er, um, St Augustine had a long bath about this one, didn't he…"

In translation: moral vision in no way proceeds from religion.

In which case, why should RELIGION claim any special position over the law?

Don't be mistaken. This old buzzard in a dress is NOT trying to talk up notions of how we could all get along a bit better. He is deliberately setting out his stall for the rolling back of centuries of freedom from theocratic intellectual tyranny.

At the CORE of his speech is this:

"There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private and of individual choice. As I have maintained in several other contexts, this is a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies"

Let me put that slightly another way:

It is very unsatisfactory that citizenship is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state
What ADDITIONAL requirement for citizenship can there POSSIBLY be?

For "any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour" (and let's be blunt here, he means RELIGIOUS affiliation) to be OTHER than "private choice" means that they are MANDATORY. How else is this sentence to be understood?

But guess what: in the culture wars, we WON. Secular, liberal democracies are what people WANT, and that is why they vote with their feet for them – often literally, hence the immigration. We won and the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury LOST.

Which is a SHAME for him, but perhaps he would like to apply his "intelligence" and "wisdom" to living in the MODERN world, rather than trying to find ways to sneak us back to the Tenth Century.

Freedom of religion and freedom FROM religion are the beginning of our modern culture. Secularism means that you can enjoy the comforts and consolation of religion IF YOU WANT TO.

And I, as a Militant Atheist Baby Elephant, can enjoy being RIGHT! (… KIDDING!)