...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 2750: DOCTOR WHO: The Complete 2008 Series: "The Darkness is Coming"


The striking thing about Doctor Who's thirtieth season is that it's really worth a second view.

After the series ended, I was somehow left with the impression that it had rather gone off the boil somewhere; distant memory said there was a terrific opening that just trailed away.

Watching it again, all in a row, I discovered not just that that terrific opening really was amazingly terrific, but that the concluding stories build towards a (potentially) amazing climax.

The only possible conclusion from this is that "Journey's End" wasn't as bad as I thought it was… it was worse: the crushing get-out-of-jail-free non-regeneration was such a huge let down, betrayal even, that it completely distorted my recollection of the preceding episodes.

It can't be understated just how good are "Partners in Crime" followed by "The Fires of Pompeii". Catherine Tate completely sells us Donna as both the larger than life figure of "The Runaway Bride" and still a complete three-dimensional person, at the same time commenting on the "kind of kids" the Doctor has been knocking around with and how she intends to have her own say.

It's also a delight to relearn just how funny "The Fires of Pompeii" is. We all know that "Partners in Crime" is funny, but we expect "The Fires of Pompeii" to be tragic: we all remember that grand tragedy of the end, but it's really underscored by the fact that we've come to love these people, mostly though Peter Capaldi's wry but never cruel Caecilius. "Modern Art!" "Positions!" When the Doctor witters some Latin – mistranslated into Gaelic by the TARDIS's running-joke circuits – he tries to respond kindly with a gentle: "Look, you". It's genuinely amusing to be in the company of this man and yet it never undermines your sense of his reality so that by the end you are appalled at the idea that the Doctor might just leave him and his family to die, and equally you can completely believe that he is overwhelmed by the reality of the Volcano.

Meanwhile, there's some really clever foreshadowing in "Partners in Crime", easily overlooked by the more blatant "f… that's Rose!" moment, just seconds later. Donna is chattering on about her luggage and plans and the Doctor just stands staring at her slightly sadly. Suddenly she notices him and thinks that he's like that because he didn't really want her to come along, and – just as she did with traitorous fiancé Lance – she's pushed herself on him.

Except he really, genuinely does want her to come with him. It's glossed over with a (slightly overextended – it works better as just a two-liner in the trailer) gag about her being the Doctor's "mate". What isn't explored then is why he was looking at her in that sad and wistful way.

And surely it's because he doesn't want to destroy her life the way that he's destroyed Martha's and Rose's. More than that, it's possible that – as a Time Lord – he can see her life, he can see that she will be brilliant if she come with him, and he can see that it will kill her.

The "mate" gag, incidentally, also prefigures anther of the season's themes: that of the Doctor's "family".

It would be very hard to follow those, and the Ood story that does certainly doesn't reach the same heights, but then how could it? The Giant Ood Brain is still every bit as silly as the Rani's Giant Red Brain in "Time and the Rani", and Mr Halpen's transformation is still totally gross, but the Ood remain a really good creation (which no one knows how to use properly). And that's not to say that the episode is bad, just average and for this series that's a very high average.

You wouldn't even notice it, if it weren't for the (false) impression of hindsight that says the series is going downhill, and that this is the first step down.

Season four may have a wee bit of a dip in the middle, but that's clearly the time to put on the potatoes (baked Rattigan-style). But there's still something to enjoy in those middle-order stories: I find "The Doctor's Daughter" a blast, a clever sci-fi idea (the war of generations lasting only seven days) wrapped up in a bundle of hilarious hokum. Only the Doctor's "I never would" at the end really grates. On the other hand, I quickly weary of the too too-cleverness of inserting Agatha Christie titles into the dialogue of "The Unicorn and the Wasp", a story that already explicitly comments on the fourth-wall worrying nature of an Agatha Christie-type mystery with Agatha Christie actually in it. Russell freely admits to doing it late one night "for a laugh". So not all of those inspired 2am sessions are a success, then. The tone is markedly different to much of the rest of the season, and – since it was one of the first to be completed – this may be because it dates to the time when Russell was promising us that his fourth season wouldn't be anywhere near as dark as his third. But Alex really loved the charm of the piece; it's a mini oasis of amusement, a little light campery between three rather macho episodes and another two rather macho episodes. So horses for courses really. And there was even one person willing to say they enjoyed the Sontaran thing, although also agreeing about UNIT's "set physics to 'off'" moment when the Valiant comes down to hover over the factory.

(Just think about what Newton's third law means for the downdraft from a hovering airport, if nothing else.)

Having said that, one plot hole we thought we'd spotted – why don't they just shoot the Sontarans with that super-laser cannon that Torchwood have built into London – was perhaps answered by seeing it attached to the underside of UNIT's "aircraft carrier" the Valiant. And since the Valiant was designed by the Master, you can believe him saying "yes, I'll have that, please" (especially since the alternative is to have it pointing at the underside of his prospective throne room.)

There was much appreciation for "Silence in the Library", if only because that was when we brought out the Wispa bars. But the consensus was that the series is in good hands, and you can't deny that Steve has courage, to present several rather challenging ideas to the Doctor Who target audience. To anyone weaned on "The New Adventures", and their attachment to no-longer-quite-cutting-edge Cyberpunk the "they're in cyberspace" answer may seem beyond blindingly obvious and into cliché, but that's to forget that the idea hasn't been done on screen since "The Deadly Assassin" in 1976. Nor is doing "The Time Traveller's Wife" for ten-year-olds unchallenging, particularly since he's given himself the headache of deciding whether to show any more of the Doctor/River Song relationship.

One thing cleared up by re-watching was the question of regeneration: much attention has focused on River Song's remark "you look younger than I've ever seen you", which people have taken to mean she's comparing to a later version of the tenth Doctor, which may well be the case (we'll assume until otherwise shown that there will be "gaps" for more meetings in between the 2010 specials), but before that she casual throws out the line "judging by your face it's early days," which surely means that later days could mean a different face.

It's hard, though, to avoid the sense that Moffat is in danger of eating himself, as anyone who has read Lawrence Miles cuttingly incisive Moffat-times-table will know. "Everybody lives!" was special in "The Doctor Dances", not least because it was clearly a small victory that the ninth Doctor desperately needed, one he needed in a way that the all-conquering tenth Doctor doesn't. Here it rather undermines the tragedy, particularly since quite clearly everyone doesn't live; they're all dressed up in white and off to Randall-and-Hopkirk heaven!

And, of course, Mr Copper in "Voyage of the Damned" warned the Doctor that this insistence that he can choose who lives and who dies would make him a monster.

Also… why, exactly: “And don’t even think you can regenerate?”

There is an interesting philosophical debate to be had about what constitutes "everybody lives". Contrast this electronic afterlife with what is going to happen to Donna at the end of the season. Does persistence of thought in an artificial medium count more as being alive that persistence of the body even if the thoughts are gone?

To an extent, it may depend on whether you believe that a soul will carry on after the death of your body. Is Donna's soul preserved, even if she has no memories of her time with the Doctor? Or is that unique individual destroyed, her soul going to wherever souls go, and what inhabits her body is essentially a revenant? Does River Song's soul survive as a ghost in the machine, or it is no more than a trick of technology, a slightly more sophisticated illusion of continuance like the "ghosting" of the neural links in the suits communicators?

There is a debate to be had… but no one has it. The season presents both solutions as a kind of win, when surely it has to be one or the other.

With "Silence in the Library" being in all part the (long promised) "The Doctor's Wife", and following up "The Doctor's Daughter" the season is looking at family, but not just the conventional definitions of family. In fact it's going as far towards the most liberal and unconventional definitions of family that it can manage. It even pushes the Doctor's definitions; Donna repeated has to tell the Doctor that his daughter is his daughter but mainly because he dislikes her (built-in) philosophy. He is prejudiced. This is a flaw that we've seen in him before (blatantly, with Captain Jack). And it's one of the interesting features of the Doctor's character: he renounced the company of Time Lords but he still can't help thinking he's special because he is one. It's the same character trait that gets him into a lot of trouble on Midnight.

This, of course, is headed towards the Doctor's real family: his companions, as we see them in "Journey's End", all gathered around the TARDIS console, flying the Earth home, which, for all the flaws of the rest of the episode, is magnificent.

Before then, though, we have the episodes that really reward returning to watch again. There is a palpable sense of gathering darkness, coupled with a growing emphasis on mortality that builds powerfully towards the season close. After the solid Moffaty-ness of "Silence in the Library" has presented us with a Doctor who is invincible, indeed on the verge of becoming omnipotent, "Midnight" ripostes by showing us the Doctor at his most vulnerable and then "Turn Left" shows us a Doctor who is dead. On top of these, and the "Bad Wolf Warning" at the end of "Turn Left", "The Stolen Earth" feels like the stakes have never been higher.

And "The Stolen Earth" itself is a truly great episode that does not disappoint. In particular, the scene of the Doctor's companions combining their talents to call out to him through space and time is not just a brilliantly cheeky nod to Gerry Anderson's Century 21 but also a candidate for best moment of the year.

The competition is strong for that honour, though, with the "duelling soothsayers" scene from "The Fires of Pompeii", Sylvia Noble's depths of despair from "Turn Left" and about fifty-percent of "Midnight" all vying for the same title.

Unfortunately, the highest-rated episode of the year (both in viewing numbers and audience appreciation) goes more than a bit wrong. Yes, I suspect that I may be in a minority here.

Where last year "The Last of the Time Lords" skated across thin ice, teetering on the edge of ludicrous with the arch-angel-Doctor, it still managed to pull off a brilliant resolution, mainly through the talents of David Tennant and John Simm. This year, "Journey's End" belly flops over the edge into full on… such a bad word I can’t say it on Millennium’s diary!

There are really only two things wrong with "Journey's End": the beginning and the end. Which is a shame, because those are the important bits.

The Doctor starts to regenerate… and then decides he doesn't need to bother.

Donna evolves to her true potential… and then the Doctor erases everything that made her special and leaves essentially a different person living in her body.

In both cases, the episode promises to kill a major character and then chickens out of it, but does so in a way that leaves you feeling you rather wish they hadn't.

The regeneration-that-isn't just seems to make a mockery of all those time when the Doctor has "given up a life" because of mortal injury.

The worse point, and I made it at the time, is that it is simply not necessary. Cast anyone you like, anyone at all – David Morrissey, Nick Briggs even – and have a genuine eleventh Doctor who can then leave with Rose at the end of the story, thus completely fulfilling Rose's story with no uncertainties about her getting some kind of (excuse the pun) second-hand Doctor, while Tennant can continue as the lead with the added concern that may his Doctor can't regenerate, with the fan-pleasing flipside that maybe he can and has a whole new cycle of regenerations thus getting over that unfortunate thirteen bodies limit. (You might also argue that that sorts out the problem of Rose Tyler being the love of his life and River Song being the love of his life, without tedious recourse to real-life emotions being fickle and changeable especially over a life of centuries.)

But… but, but, but… could you have that radical a departure for the series? Would the fans not be screaming that they want to see the adventures of the "real" Doctor, not this fake? Well, having the lead character stay the same while replacing the lead actor seems to have become accepted practice; are we so ossified that we cannot consider changing the lead character but keeping the actor who plays him the same?

If all else fails, you've set yourself up for a story "The Doctor Returns" in a couple of years, when the original Time Lord, a hundred years older and after Rose has grown old and died, comes back.

The essence of drama is change. The reason, I suspect, that I forgive "The Last of the Time Lords" for its Doctor-as-Jesus architecture and its massive reset button is that the events still happen for all the people that matter. Martha and her family; the Doctor and the Master: they are all changed by the story and because they pay a price for the journey, the journey matters.

In contrast, for Donna it is not "Journey's End" but "Journey's Negation". All of those wonderful things she's seen and done, erased. So why should we even bother? To argue that those things have still happened, that the rest of the Earth knows about them is to miss the point: none of it is actually real; the "reality", the "truth" of the story has to lie in the journey of the person we are asked to follow, to invest our belief in. If that journey goes literally nowhere, then that leaves us feeling as though we have been subtly cheated, our investment was wasted.

Perversely, it's a reflection of the treatment of the Daleks. Once again, a huge Dalek army gets whipped up out of nowhere; once again they get completely annihilated. Whether it's Rose with the glowey eyes or the Doctor with the inter-dimensional vacuum-cleaner, or the second-hand Doctor with Davros's magic pinball machine, any sense of threat that the Daleks might have is wasted if you can wish up another "unstoppable" army with one wave of a hand, and then totally defeat them with another. We know that they'll be back sooner or later, so why sacrifice credibility with yet another Dalek Armageddon?

Somewhere, in some parallel world perhaps, there is a better version of "Journey's End": one that fulfils the expectations that have been built up by those incredible episodes that precede it and by that brilliant, unexpected cliff-hanger ending to "The Stolen Earth"; one that makes good on the dire promise of Dalek Caan's prophecy and costs the life of the "most faithful companion", whether that be Donna or Rose or the TARDIS; one that doesn't just revisit the endings of "Parting of the Ways" (all the Daleks die, but this thing in my head is killing me) and "Doomsday" (I wuv you but I have to leave you forever, does this Welsh beach look like Sweden?).

Without it, the 2008 season remains a work of flawed genius. Certainly a case of better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

One Time: "The Next Doctor"… or do I have that backwards?

*Regrettably, Millennium cannot write you an introduction as he has fallen into the power of an alien menace…

They're Soooooooo Cute
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Day 2879: Tory Policy on Cuts: Cut the Policy!


First Mr Balloon warns of the Labour's Tax Bombshell… catchy, now where've I heard THAT before? …and then he ditches another promise.

Sigh. It's not as though they have THAT many policies TO abandon!

Hopefully that's the end of all that "the cupboard is bare" nonsense, now that Mr Balloon has discovered the ACTUAL cupboard stuffed full of juicy spending commitments.

But he's opened himself up to death-by-salami-tactics again; now that Conservatory Cuts are back on, Mr Frown will be doing the REVERSE-PRIME-MONSTER'S-QUESTIONS again with tricky one like:

"So, uhh, are you going to be cutting the NHS, then?"

"Absolutely not; no way, Jose."

"Is that an, uhhh, guarantee, you just gave there?"

"Umm, look,"

"Just answer the question."


"So, uhh, is it the army, then? Slashing the defence budget, depriving our boys of much needed protection?"

"Flip! This is harder than it looks!"

It's not that there ISN'T room for cutting SOME of the Government's bloated spending on testing and prying and collecting every private bit of data we have and the LOSING every private bit of data we have and then INVESTIGATING what happened to the data and which civil servant to sack for leaving it on the 18:42 to Woking…

Mr Frown's Government is an enormous machine for wasting money.

But having just spent the whole year telling us that absolutely you could TRUST a Conservatory Government NOT to cut spending, it turns out that a whiff of a crisis and actually, sorry, you COULDN'T trust them and they WOULD cut spending.

And apparently they won’t tell us what they would do instead. So, helpful.

And when he talks about borrowing now meaning tax rises in the future he's obviously forgotten (or worse, NEVER UNDERSTOOD) his own MANTRA about "sharing the proceeds of growth".

Borrowing NOW can be repaid out of FUTURE GROWTH in revenues… or at least it CAN so long as you get the economy GROWING again and don't kill it STONE DEAD like the Conservatories did in the Eighties by, er, cutting spending when a recession hit.

The worst of it is, this ditching of basically their ONLY economic policy reveals that, at a time when things are pretty TOUGH and Great Britain NEEDS people to be putting their best ideas forward, Mr Balloon hasn't got any ideas at all.

As Mr Clogg says: "the Conservatories have NO solutions to today's problems."

Previously, I considered Chairman Humph pondering the question of Mr Frown's economic future. But today it is clearly Mr Balloon who is saying "I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue!"


Day 2877: We're Not Out of the Bretton Woods Yet


So Mr Frown struts the world stage, master of all he surveys, and brings us a world summit pledge to "restore growth" (also, presumably, cure Cancer, achieve World Peace and above all resurrect the Golden Goose returning things to normal).

All jolly good as far as it goes. The only problem being it hasn’t actually GONE anywhere yet; all of this TALK is JUST TALK.

The summit HASN'T arrived at any agreement.

The economic indicators are still all set to BLEAK.

And the bankers are still paying themselves BONUSES while foreclosing on businesses and homeowners.

This ain't over yet!

As the late and much lamented Humph could have put it: now as the last REINDEER of GOVERNMENT DEBT is hitched to the SLEIGH of the Bank Rescue Package… and as we hunker down in the SNOW DRIFT of recession watching the HAZARD WARNING lights of the Bank of England blink away the last electricity in the battery of the economy… it's time to look at the final scores.

Graham and Tim have got the Bretton Woods agreement, to stabilize exchange rates and ensure free trade; establishing the gold standard, later replaced with the Dollar as reserve currency for the World; and setting up the World Bank and International Monetary Fund with the power and the ready cash to intervene to support economies in difficulty.

While Gordon and Mandy have got, er, a statement from the G20 that they will continue to make VIGOROUS EFFORTS.


Meanwhile, back in the REAL World, with Japan, Germany and indeed the whole Eurozone already in recession, I think we need to admit that we are in recession here too.

(Yes, I KNOW that it takes "two consecutive quarters of negative growth" before the Government has to admit it, but just because we haven't had the statistics YET doesn't mean that we can't be IN the second of those quarters.)

The STAGGERING news that Citibank is to cull seventy-five thousand bankers worldwide, many of those jobs being in their Stump at Canary Wharf, merely comes on top of a week of many other redundancies, including ten thousand jobs lost at BT.

While, as young Master Gideon could tell you – indeed it's hard to shut him up! – the pound has taken an, er, pounding on the money markets.

Inflation is A BIT LESS out of control than last month (though "bizarre" doesn't begin to cover the newspapers describing this as a "fall" in prices when prices are "merely" increasing by more-than-twice the Government's preferred rate rather than last month's two-and-a-half times). In fairness, the price of petrol and some food HAS come back down a bit, but the figures simply do not suggest we are deflating yet!

You can't even DREAM your way out of the recession with the news that the Premium Bond prizes are being cut.

So what's to be done?

Well, clearly the BIG problem is Americaland.

Bretton Woods was achievable because America was in the driving seat: economically virile and yet with huge moral authority; they were able to press for a system that supported international trade because there was no political pressure to put their own national interest first. (Plus they still REMEMBERED that nations putting their own interests first led directly to the Great Depression.)

They had the will and wisdom to push through what was right, what was good for everybody.

Today, that's not the case. America is in a dire economic strait and has all the moral authority of Mr Russell Brand addressing the Concerned Mothers of America.

And the pressure towards protectionism is high and growing. The cries of "save us! save us!" from the US car dinosaurs are merely the first.

President Elect Barry O wasn't AT the G20 summit, saying "America only has one President at a time". Unfortunately, with the Monkey-in-Chief lamer than a duck that's gone hunting with Darth Cheney, it seems that America doesn't have ANY Presidents at this time.

I think that he SHOULD have been there, if for no more reason than APPEARANCES, but my SUSPICION is that his people and the Monkey-in-Chief's people couldn't come to an agreement that one or other of them would endorse the other's position. Think about it, Barry O is NOT going to continue with the policies of the Monkey-in-Chief; but the Monkey-in-Chief isn't going to take orders from his successor. So Barry CAN'T go the summit because he's going to be thinking he may have to reverse some of the positions that the dying administration takes. And as a consequence, the American government ends up doing NOTHING for three months.

With both China and Saudi Arabia declining the offer to shore up the world economy, we NEED someone to step up to the task of putting the pieces back together again.

Step forward, Mr Frown… oh, maybe not.

What Mr Frown is doing ISN'T leadership.

He took a few PANIC MEASURES and because he took them first, and they looked OK, other people started taking them too. That's not LEADERSHIP, that's just being the first LEMMING in the queue.

What we need is someone to give a BOOT up the fluffy BOTTOM to the Banking sector to get them lending again. A recession is bad enough without perfectly GOOD businesses going to the wall because they just can't get the same credit that they used to. Using the banks that the Government controls (Northern Rock) or soon WILL control (all the others) to DRIVE the market by offering attractive and sensible loans seems a logical place to start.

The irony, of course, is that in the LONG TERM we don't need ONE great big World Bank to save us; we need lots more SMALLER banks, spreading the risk and being closer to their customers so that they better understand the people to whom they are lending. We need to build a new infrastructure that supports SMALL and discourages the sort of massive super-banks and super-corporations that are both impossible to control and unthinkable to let fail.

Mr Frown, with his encouragement for bank MERGERS and increases in CENTRAL Government spending is heading in exactly the WRONG direction.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day 2876: Master Gideon Gaffes Again!


Young Master Gideon Oboe, the ESTEEMED* Shadow Chancellor has now become so SPECTACULARLY inept that he's managed to turn even "statin' the bleedin' obvious" into an OWN GOAL:

"Sterling Collapse! Run on the Pound, Yah Boo Sucks!"

he told the Times. Wise words, I think you'll agree.

But this simple statement, following the Pound's loss of a third of its value on the international money markets, that the British Currency MAY be in a spot of bother seems to have provoked YET MORE opprobrium for the gormless Gideon. Indeed the Labour now accuse HIM of causing the Sterling Crisis (as though the City would pay a blind bit of notice to anything the little squit had to say).

It’s come to a pretty pass when you are letting Chancellor Sooty (of all people!) come on the telly and say, more in sorrow than anger, “It’s really very SAD. Last month the Conservatories were talking about bipartisan approach to the crisis; now they’re attacking us. Last month Mr Balloon was in favour of greater borrowing; now he’s against it. It’s clear that they haven’t any plan at all.”

Now Master Oboe is sticking up for himself (more, noticeably, than his chum Mr Balloon is willing to do, these days) saying:

"It's my JOB to tell the TRUTH!"

This, of course, is a STARTLING departure from his USUAL position, and I for one look forward to him telling the truth about all those times when he and his Conservatory colleagues have EXAGGERATEDLY claimed that Britain has the largest debt in variously the World, the Western World, the Developed World or indeed any other formulation that they can that can come up with but still manage to include Americaland.

And speaking of the I.O.USofA, the wingnut fringe of the Conservatories are attacking Master Gideon from the other side, demanding he back tax cuts (which he is currently against… maybe they should just wait a month) and citing President Ray-Gun’s so-called VOODOO ECONOMICS. That’s the theory that cutting taxes can lead to greater revenues as the economy grows. The Newsnight Show’s Mr Michael Crick, doing his bit to show that he knows EVERY BIT as much about finance as Master Gideon himself, is quoting this and nodding sagely as though this is an interesting paradox, while Daddy Richard hurls things at the eejit’s smug face on the screen.

You see, there’s only one thing wrong with this theory: it turns out, after a decade of trying in the eighties, that IT DOESN’T WORK And after ANOTHER decade of trying in the noughties that IT STILL DOESN’T WORK, and it doesn’t work for the simple reason that it is UTTER UTTER BOL… cue Blackadder music…

Meanwhile, Master Gideon’s problem remains acute. Nothing he tries appears to work, so he keeps CHANGING what he’s trying. He doesn’t actually KNOW enough to comment sensibly, and now people doubt him so much that they have to go and check when he tells them what bears do in the woods. And now he has to face the fact that Mr Balloon is drafting Mr Oily Letwin to finish Gideon’s homework for him draw up some emergency tax plans.

At least everyone has forgotten about his CRAZY Fuel Tax Yoyo… what’s that you say, Dr Pax?

Still, with all these people calling for his head, that’s the LAST thing Mr Balloon can afford to give them!

*the Value of the Shadow Chancellor’s esteem may go down as well as up; your home may be at risk if you do not fix the roof while the sun is shining.

Day 2875: Happy Birthday Chuck


His Most Britannic Fifth-Wheeledness has reached the age of the bus pass.

As Mr Rory Bremner has joked in the past: Mrs the Queen has told the Prince that he will ascend to the throne in the traditional manner… or in her PRECISE words: "over my dead body".

What, then, to get for the Man Who Has Everything (except a Job)?

Well, how about a PLANET of his very own!

Behold: Formalhaut Prime!

Untainted by architectural carbuncles; unlikely to be reduced to grey goo by nanotechnology; almost certainly immaculate of GM agriculture. And a full twenty-five light years away, well outside any territory currently ruled by Mrs the Queen.

OK, so it's probably a GAS GIANT – but what better place to practice being a Right Royal Windbag?

Happy Birthday, Your Highness! Now, someone blast him into space!

Day 2874: Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater


I think I have to say I'm appalled about Baby P; apparently it's now COMPULSORY.

So yes, I'm appalled. And, obviously, I'm appalled by the people who did it.

But I'm ALSO appalled by the people who are BAYING for BLOOD. "Put them to the torture!" seems to be the common consensus.

No, no, a thousand times no.

COMPASSION is what is supposed to separate human beans from animals. And on that ground, Baby P's mother and her partner and their lodger have FAILED. But that is NO REASON for US to fail the same test.

Torturing people is WRONG even when they themselves are torturers.

Killing people is WRONG even when they themselves are killers.

So why do people say otherwise? Sometimes I have to think that you people are not MONKEYS at all, but some kind of no-horned species of BERSERK RHINOCEROS: angrily charging in with no second thoughts, or even first thoughts.

I have asked Daddy to try to EXPLAIN, and he calls it a very HUMAN reaction:

Nobody demands horrible nasty punishments from a position of TOWERING MORAL RECTITUDE; we call for horrible nasty punishments because of our SHAME, because these people remind us of all of our own little failings, all the little times we look away or fail to help, they remind us how LITTLE a gap compassion makes betweens human beans and animals and then we try to say "Noooooooooooo, we're not like that! These cannot be people like US; they must be MONSTERS! And there's only ONE way to deal with MONSTERS!"

(You'll be UNSURPRISED to learn that this means FRANKENSTEIN and not BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.)

People may talk about "letting the punishment fit the crime" or "an eye for an eye", but what they mean is that they feel that EVIL deserves EVIL.

But how can it EVER be FAIR to do EVIL?

Perhaps I am being a SIMPLE elephant, but it seems that nothing can undo the harm that has been done; all we can do is try to do NO MORE harm.

People who do horrid things should go to prison (which I have heard is a very horrid place) and we should try to help them to become better. And maybe, to make sure THEY do no more harm, we can never, ever let them out again, but that does not mean that we should not try to help them.

There is also the UNDIGNIFIED spectacle of a search for a SCAPEGOAT. Great are the cries of: "who is to blame for this tragedy?!"

Well, we KNOW who is to blame; they are the people going to PRISON.

Has anyone asked: "How many children have the Social Services SAVED? "

But could THIS poor toddler have been saved, if someone in "authority" had acted? Possibly, yes. The signs were there (but missed); the warnings were given (but unheard); action was called for (but no one took it).

That is a terrible, horrible failing. But it is fair to pick SOMEONE to blame for all this?

The world is TOO BIG and TOO COMPLICATED for each of us, individually, to look after everyone else individually. So we dump the responsibility on someone else. We give people an IMPOSSIBLE job to do, UNDERFUND them, and THEN blame them when – surprise, surprise – something horrible happens.

Doesn't that make it ALL of our faults?

I have listened to a LOT of points of view on this, but the one that to ME seemed to be KEY was, believe it or not, on Mr Jonathan Dimbledonkey's radio show, "Nanny Answers", from a person who TRAINS social workers. This person said that in the last ten years the guidance has changed from "Paramount Importance of Protection of the Child" to "Best to Keep the Family Together".

The additional assertion was that this was CHEAPER for the Government, but that might just have been the contributor's allegation and may NOT have been their motivation.

Think of the calculation: the harm that is done to the (many more) children just by being taken into care, sometimes (maybe rarely) needlessly versus the harm that is done to the (very, very tiny number of) children not taken into care who end up DEAD. Who can POSSIBLY do the maths to work it out?

What sort of a SYSTEM would it take to make sure that no child was ever, ever killed by an abusive parent or guardian? Accepting that you can never account for accident or madness, surely deliberate ongoing malice like this could be spotted and stopped? But how far would the system have to lean towards ALWAYS taking children into care? How INTRUSIVE would we need to make the powers of the social services? Should there be TESTING of parents, or indeed testing before people are ALLOWED to be parents?

We want – and quite rightly too – freedom to have our children and to raise our children; we don't want the Big Nanny State intervening in our lives to tell us how they should be run. But how can Big Nanny State tell the difference between US (nice people) and THEM (monsters)?

It can't. So we compromise. Sometimes the State CAN intervene, sometimes it CAN'T. And we'll have a COMMITTEE to decide which is which. And sometimes committees cannot bring themselves to take action, which usually means that we err on the side of benevolent non-intervention and everyone is generally happy,

And occasionally it means we fail to act when desperately needed.

Doesn't THAT make it ALL of our faults?

And yet, the Government DOES treat the social provision (social workers, unemployment benefits, preventative health care, basic relationship education and so on and so on) in this country VERY BADLY. They try to get it all on the cheap, all the while happy to splash out on "big ticket" items like Olympic Games, or I.D.iot cards or Middle Eastern Wars… For that, we get dedicated people who try their hardest, (as well as some mediocre people who muddle on through). And once in a while, we get a massive cock-up.

But we get the sort of Government that we vote for (and to be fair it wouldn't make much difference whether it was Conservatory or the Labour).

So doesn't THAT make it ALL our fault too?

For more on this, read:

Auntie Alix

Darrell G

Or Mr Costigan

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 2873: What's That Coming Over the (Benny) Hill…er…Loch?


Thanks to the The Today Programme, we learn that it is 75 years since the first photo was caught of Mr Jim McNaughty Nessie, the Famous Monster of Loch Nessie.

Now, thanks to HootTube we have this EXCLUSIVE new footage…


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 2872: Mr Balloon's Pledge – I'll Protect Your Jobs… By Making It Cheaper For The Corporations To Employ Someone Else!


Last week, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, who is calling* for tax cuts for average earners, asked Mr Frown if we should follow the Leader of the Free World, who is calling for tax cuts for average earners, and try to rescue the economy by offering tax cuts for average earners.

And, amazingly, Mr Frown is hinting that he might do just that!

This leaves the Conservatories with a DILEMMA. Will Mr Balloon stick to his PRINCIPLED (if wrong) position that "The Cupboard is Bare", or will he jump on the passing bandwagon?

Oh, what do YOU think?

(* and has been calling for months

You know, just to make the POINT that some people can have PROPER thought out economic rescue plans that DON'T require last-minute back-of-a-fag-packet spur-of-the-moment guesswork.)

What is PARTICULARLY bizarre is that Mr Balloon has chosen to hand over fistfuls of cash to BUSINESSES rather than giving the money back to PEOPLE.

Well, at least in keeping with his "principle" of: "Look! Rich people! I say, chaps, have some free money!" (see also: tax cut for dead millionaires)

But this is NOT a very good use of the money.

Remember, the KEY danger to the economy is that growth has stalled.

For some years, the British economy has been kept afloat by people who kept on SPENDING because they had easy access to money through cheap BORROWING. The Credit Crunch has put a stop to that, so in order for people to KEEP ON SPENDING the Government needs to put more CASH into their POCKETS.

Cash going into BUSINESSES is more likely to be used for SAVINGS, or rather REDUCING BORROWINGS, especially with loans being difficult to obtain at the moment.

Reducing the COSTS of businesses (labour in this case) is more likely to increase their profits, paid out in dividends which, again, is more likely to go in SAVINGS (most dividends being wrapped up in pension funds).

All of which is to say that business tax cuts is money straight into the banks (ha ha ha) and not out on the high street oiling the wheels of the economy.

Now, getting jobs for people who want to work is a good thing in itself, and no doubt Mr Balloon has some vague hope that if more people are in work then they will have more disposable cash and spend a bit more and start up some growth.

But times are tough and this is a DREADFULLY inefficient way of going about it.

Not least because, as Mr Chris Dillow points out, many businesses will take on staff anyway – and so get free money for nothing!

(And a hat tip to Mr Tristan)

Having WARNED Mr Frown against the DANGERS of making tax cuts without knowing where the money is coming from you would expect the Conservatories to have WATERTIGHT proposals for how to fund their own tax cuts.

Oh, you wouldn't?

Well, of course not. The money for their little cashback wheeze will come from "savings in unemployment benefit".

Just THINK about that for a moment: in order to stop unemployment going up, Mr Balloon is going to spend the money that he wouldn't have had to spend if unemployment hadn't been going up.

Let me just be clearer: if unemployment goes up, the Government will have to spend EXTRA cash.

Instead of spending that extra money on benefits for the unemployed, Mr Balloon wants to spend THE SAME EXTRA money on benefits for businessmen.

He isn't saving ANY money at all; he's just SPENDING MORE differently.

Sooooo, how does this work? The plan involves giving £2,500 in readies to Mr Fat the Business Cat TODAY which Mr Balloon SAYS he can afford because he won't have to give Ms Worker her £60.50 this week*… hang on, that's not right.

(*yes, we know that Benefits are paid fortnightly.)

Mr Balloon CLAIMS that it costs the taxpayer £8,000 when someone goes on unemployment benefit. Perhaps this is some sort of average over all time ever, or perhaps he is counting in costs of administering them coming into the system. But since his scheme only applies to people who have BEEN ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT FOR THREE MONTHS, he can only make savings from the ONGOING COST of remaining on JSA.

So even if we're talking about MITIGATING the impact of higher unemployment, rather than ACTUAL cash-neutral tax cuts, you'd STILL only make this add up if Ms Worker WOULD HAVE BEEN unemployed for another TEN MONTHS.

And that's assuming she's over 24.

And that the job she gets isn't so badly paid that her wages need topping up by one of Mr Frown's Working Family Tax Credits.

And that the benefits don't taper off after six months… which they do.

And on top of that, everyone knows that the longer you are out of work the less likely you are to get employment; so, conversely, the people who DO get jobs are less likely to be needing public support for the sort of long periods that Mr Balloon needs to make his figures add up.

But never mind all of that, here's the kicker: what is to stop Mr Fat from laying off twenty workers from his factory in West Slaving and then hiring twenty "completely different" workers doing "completely different" jobs (terms and conditions apply) at his factory in East Slaving?

He trousers fifty grand and has no extra workers to pay.

Oh I am quite sure that Mr Balloon has thought of all sorts of checks and balances (or CHEQUES and balances) that might make it difficult for a small business with few employees to get away with that, but large companies that hire and fire ALL THE TIME will be almost impossible to police, and will certainly start to coin in free cash for doing no more than they would have done already.

In fact, Mr Balloon is INCENTIVISING them to sack existing workers and replace them with cheaper labour.

So much for this week's promise to "protect British jobs".

"The Conservative Party will not stand aside and allow unemployment to claim livelihoods and destroy lives," said Mr Balloon. "We will not walk on by while people lose their jobs..."

"...We will go over there and MAKE SURE they lose their jobs," he might have added.

As Daddy Alex says: it's an excellent soundbite, but soundbites are not enough to live on!

Mr Balloon's latest shabby scheme does NOTHING WHATSOEVER to protect existing jobs but in fact endangers them as well!

I guess that promise goes the same way as Mr Balloon's promise "not to offer tax cuts".

If you want to fix the economy, you need a BETTER ANSWER.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 2871: Dacre: One Man Should Not Determine Britain's Morality… unless that man is ME!


Mr Paul Decrepit, editor-in-chief* of the Daily Hate Mail, has called the judgements of a high court judge AMORAL!

Quite right too! We do not want anybody's funny ideas about "morality" creeping into our courts! Let us keep our justice FAIR and IMPARTIAL!

But seriously, folks, surely what this NEWSPAPER HACK is asking for is AT BEST free licence to TITILLATE, and at worst a SPECIAL LICENCE to say some people's consensual private behaviour doesn't qualify as private just on his say so. Because, let's be honest, this dribbling diatribe is NOT about upholding "morality" let alone defending "democracy".

Let's look at the "morality".

"Morality", in the sense that Mr Decrepit means, if it means ANYTHING, must mean some kind of universally accepted "ideal" standard of behaviour. Now assuming that such a thing is even POSSIBLE in a democracy where everyone gets their say, why is Mr Decrepit's formulation the right one? Because I think I must have missed the meeting where that ideal got "universally accepted".

The ALTERNATIVE is that everyone has their own PERSONAL moral code: the things that they believe are right and wrong. And that Mr Decrepit thinks that HIS personal moral code trumps everyone else's. In which case he is just using "morality" as a code word for "do as I say".

So, why might Mr Decrepit personally want to put this "FILTH" in his papers, anyway?

a) in order to OFFEND as MANY people as possible, er,
b) to make a FAST BUCK out of DEVIANT peccadilloes, er,
c) because he likes showing off things that make him go EWWWWWW?

What POSSIBLE moral code says that some kinds of CUDDLES are WRONG, but publishing acres and acres (and D'acres) of newsprint describing them in nauseating detail is just dandy? How can those two things go fluffy foot in fluffy foot? If it is WRONG just to do, surely it is even more wrong to PROFIT from someone doing?

It seems to me that Mr Decrepit wants to roundly condemn his cake AND eat it.

So what about "democracy"?

INSIDIOUSLY, Mr Decrepit tries to suggest that the actions of Mr Justice Eady in DOING HIS JOB (i.e. interpreting the Law that Parliament made) are undemocratic because it should be up to Parliament to debate the Law.

Well, Lord Leicester points out, as Mr Pax reports, that he is just plain WRONG to say that Parliament DIDN'T debate precisely this point, and decide that actually, Mr Press Baron, ordinary folks DO deserve a little protection from your snooping, prying and arbitrary moralising.

But beyond that, his rabble-rousing speech is ITSELF actually much more DEEPLY UNDEMOCRATIC than anything that the judge has done.

For starters, democracy cannot WORK without the Rule of Law. That is the IMPARTIAL and CONSISTENT application of laws without favour. And therefore we NEED independent judges.

If some DEMAGOGUE can whip up a crowd, baying for blood, and get people condemned that way, that ISN'T Democracy, it is Tyranny.

So when Mr Decrepit says "most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour" he shows his COMPLETE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING of real Democracy.

CRUCIAL to the concept of Democracy is PROTECTION OF MINORITIES, to avoid the "tyranny of the majority".

ANY sentence that begins "most people think…" suffers from two immediate FALLACIES. Firstly, unless you have any evidence, you simply don't KNOW what "most people think", and are using the substitution "most people" for the pronoun "I".

But, secondly, even if most people think it they can be WRONG.

(e.g. in 2005, a majority of people in Americaland thought Mr God created people in their present form, in spite of all the evidence that evolution is true.)

That is why if you actually WANT real Democracy, you have to ENTITLE people to say – and do! – things that are outside the "normal".

That bit on the Liberal Democrat membership card that says "freedom from conformity", THIS is what that is all about.

This does NOT extend to HARMING others – your freedom to do exactly as you like extends right up to the point where it might restrict someone else's freedom and not one fairy footstep further.

And, of course, that principle is also why Mr Decrepit's much whined-about Freedom of the Press or Freedom of Expression extends right up to the point where he starts making other people's lives a misery for no reason beyond his own sales figures and then he gets rightly slapped down with a lawsuit.

Mr Decrepit claims that "public shaming" has always been a part of maintaining standards of behaviour. And yet, somehow our civilisation has survived since we abolished sticking people in the STOCKS.

He also goes off into the old "healthy newspapers vital to the interests of democracy" trick. If only there were some way that people could get their news by means of electric signals transmitted to some kind of viewing screen that they could have in their own homes, or even access to some sort of network of electronic computing machines that could exchange information from all across the world then we wouldn't be so reliant on the newspapers, but tragically in these days of the late Nineteenth Century… hang on…

"If mass-circulation newspapers, which, of course, also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don't have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process."

Translation: if we can't make loads of filthy lucre from selling scandalous sexy stories, then you'll not be informed about the fulminations of the rightward lunatic fringe and THEN where will you be, eh?

I'm not REALLY sure which newspapers he's talking about, anyway, as it seems to be that there are mass circulation newspapers (which cover the shopping habits of the Spice Girls and the shocking habits of their husbands) and newspapers that devote considerable space to reporting and analysis (the Independent, readership: 4). And not much cross-over between them. Unless I'm missing something by not reading the page three girls; do they perhaps sum up the events of the last day in Parliament and place the developments in a geopolitical context while accidentally misplacing their blouses, nowadays?

The BIGGEST irony, of course, is that Mr Decrepit is not only editor-in-chief of a national newspaper, but also the chairperson of the Press Complaints Commission's ETHICS committee. Thus neatly combining the roles of POACHER and SUBSERVIENT LAPDOG [R: surely "gamekeeper"?]

The PCC, comprising entirely of the people it is supposed to regulate, is one of the LEAST democratic oligarchies you are likely to find, managing to make the rules and judge whether they have been broken all without any recourse to actual real people at all.

You might say that that is the "moral" of this story.

*it would be QUITE WRONG to call Mr Decrepit the "grüppenfuehrer" of the Hate Mail, because that would have an "UNPROVEN Nazi theme"

Day 2870: MUST… NOT… LAUGH…


People having a scrap over a shrine in Jerusalem; that could never happen!

All hail the Prince of Peace!

Day 2869: Congratulations, Baron Ros; Commiserations, Mr Lembit; Erm, thanks for taking part, Mr The Other One.


And I, for one, welcome our new Baroness Overlord

This was quite an INTERESTING campaign for once, seeming to me to be a debate between people who believe that the President of the Liberal Democrats is a CONSOLATION PRIZE (not looking at anyone in particular, Mr Hugs) and those who think that it is a PROPER JOB, and one that ought to be quite different from the job of I'm-on-the-Telly-because-the-Leader-is-in-Canada-today.

But, along with everyone else, I cannot help but be AMAZED at just how CRUSHING a victory it was. And I cannot help but feel sorry for Mr Lembit.

I actually felt that the result in the Leadership election last year was very good all round. Rather than being DIVISIVE, the closeness of it meant that both candidates were shown as STRONG. It is quite healthy for Mr Clogg to get a kick up the fluffy bottom against any tendency to complancy and it's good for Mr Huhney-Monster to know that he was only marginally less great!

Poor old Mr Lembit doesn't even get that reassurance.

Not that "I've had a rubbish year" is a good reason to give him an important party position; and perhaps a man who has problems steering his SegWay isn't the best beast for a Steering Committee.

Mr Lembit is a jolly clever person, whose only flaw seems to be that he has never quite realised that student politics is best practised by students. When you compare him to some of the MPs, those who are selfish or mean or greedy, it seems VERY UNFAIR to criticise him for being "a bit silly". (Not mentioning any editors of Private Eye in particular, but that seems a very CHEAP shot.) He adds to the "gaiety of the nation" and we'd all be worse off without him.

What I hope is that we find the RIGHT role for him. THIS clearly wasn't it; being President is about making the Party workings work, and for that you need a tough-minded negotiator and organiser, not someone who'll play the ukulele in a bathtub filled with beans if asked (important though that skill is!).

So good luck to Lord Ros (and Lady Mark), but good luck to Mr Lembit too!

Day 2868: I really don't know which result would have been worser!


So, the Glen-clothes by-election has, apparently, given Mr Frown his MOJO back, while the Liberal Democrats have fallen into fourth place and lost our deposit.

There's quite a lot to be UNHAPPY about there.

It appears that the Labour are actually BENEFITING from the financial disaster that they themselves are – in large part – responsible for. It looks like people are willing to OVERLOOK Mr Frown's piloting us onto the economic rocks, because he's poised so heroically unflappable stood there on the bridge. Either that or he's frozen with indecision again, still it looks good.

But is it NECESSARILY that bad?

Looked at another way, perhaps if Mr Frown thinks that the polls are moving his way again, he might just be tempted to return to Plan A and hold a general election sooner rather than later. And the sooner he holds one, the sooner we have a chance to spare the country the impact of Ms Jacqui Spliff and her I.D.iot cards! That's something I can't wait for!

Mr Frown's options for an early general election are quite narrow. It's already too late to go for one this year: any three week campaign will take us into December and annoy voters by getting in the way of their Christmas plans; likewise no one wants an election during the great January hangover, so February is probably the earliest. That's a month of cold short days, not good for campaigning, and if you've already waited until then, what's another couple of months to April?

(However, having already moved the local election to coincide with the Euro elections in June PRECISELY to avoid holding elections two months running, May seems a little unlikely.)

An April general election can be PORTRAYED as a "normal" "every-four-year" "business-as-usual" "we-always-intended-this" election; it can come shortly after a give-away budget that shoots as many Conservatory foxes as Sooty can draw a bead on; and it minimises the time for bedding in of any actual policies that the Conservatories might come up with (unlikely as that seems).

So the Labour victory in Glen-robes might not be all bad.

And, as an added bonus, we HAVE managed to avoid another SMUG moment from Alex Salmon, the fishy leader of the Scottish Nasty Party, and dealt a blow to his hopes of floating off Scotland. No, he doesn't want to PRIVATISE it, he just wants to move closer to Iceland… and then SINK.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Day 2867: Bank of England: By "Steady as She Goes" we actually meant "PANIC! PANIC NOW"


The UK central bank has cut its interest rate by a THIRD, that's a one-and-a-half percent reduction from 4.5% to 3%.

The last similar reduction was a two-percentage-point cut in 1981, at the height of a RECESSION. Surely no coincidence!

In their full statement, the Bank admits that while they HAD thought that the rise in fuel and food prices would continue to push inflation up, they now realise that the complete collapse of the housing market means we'll all be living in caves and bartering with beads and necklaces by Christmas, so they may as well stuff it!

A spokesvampire for the banking industry said that the banks would be responding to the cut in base rates by increasing the cost of mortgages and tripling bonuses all round… hang on, that can't be right?!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Day 2866: Now EVERYONE wants to be Barry O's best friend


It's a bit EMBARRASSING, really, when the British Prime Monster and the Conservatory Leader are SQUABBLING over who is more like the President Elect.

"Doesn't this show that someone with no experience would be best," asked Mr Balloon.

"Is it because I is black?" replied Mr Frown.

The real answer is that NO ONE in Great Britain, no, not even the Liberal Democrats for once, can be said to have that same combination of charisma, oratory, smarts and let's face it luck that has made the world so OVERJOYED to see the election of this man in this time.

What we CAN do is LEARN from his example.

Being the SON of JOR-EL clearly helps, but on its own it is not enough. Where the Dumbocrats REALLY triumphed this year was in their ORGANISATION, using the Internet and local community networks to wire their way into the heartlands of America.

Senator Oven Chip gave a really good speech, maybe his BEST speech of the campaign, as his concession.

His tribute to the man who bested him was warm and generous, and it was only a shame that he had to shush the WINGNUTS in his audience who wanted to boo their President-elect (the sort of behaviour they would call TREASON if someone had done the same to the Monkey-in-Chief).

In a whole lot of ways this just summed up the problem with Senator Oven-Chip's run for the White House. He was conflicted between the sort of person he wanted to be – the honourable, middle-of-the-road (for Americaland), elder statesperson – and the sort of person that the Party wanted him to be – the robo-calling, traitor-baiting, smearing, lying fruitloop. That's not to say that he doesn't bear responsibility: it was his AMBITION to win that led him to make a deal with the DEVIL… or rather the person that the DEVIL looks at and says "ooh, he's a bit eeeeeevil", Mr Karl Rove.

Plus picking the fluffy-animal-murderer was obviously UNFORGIVABLE.

And of course, the Replutocrats chose the superannuated senator as their candidate precisely because he was that middle-of-the-road maverick that he wanted to be. NOT because they thought he would win that way, but because they KNEW they would lose this year and wanted to blame it on a RHINO. (That stands for "Replutocrat If we Hold Our Noses", I think!)

The religious purging of the Replutocrats has already begun, and the campaign for Pain in 2012 is symptomatic of the fact that they intend to get madder before they get better.

Which, on the other fluffy foot, is good news for Barry-in-Chief's second term.

Day 2865: African American President


Hooray! Good luck! Now, get it right, Barry O!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Day 2862: Nick Clegg: I'll Never Satisfy Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley…


We have driven all the way to Sheffield, which is in the NORTH, to interview Mr Clogg with some NEW Liberal Democrat diarists.

He got a good quizzing on the economy from Mr Joe; on Barry O and the question of populism from Ms Charlotte; on the danger of protectionism in the current climate from Mr Jonathan; and on appealing to Labour voters; and what, if anything, counts as Conservatory territory by Mr Mat.

Meanwhile, Daddy Alex led us in a chorus of "lesbians, lesbians, lesbians", and I asked about that resignation that has rocked the BBC: who should be the new Doctor Who?

The Team
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Mr Clogg's answer to MY qestion: our very own Dr Vince "the power" Cable. Very generous of him considering the way he batted aside rumours that Mr Frown might sack Sooty as Chancellor and offer the job to Mr Vince.

What we thought afterwards was how much more CONFIDENT Mr Clog has gotten in his role as leader, clearly feeling able to knock back questions rather than trying to circumnavigate very issue by thinking aloud, and determinedly holding his own against, er, ROBUST questioning from Daddy Alex. He also seems to have gained in VIM, positively bouncing around the conference venue, quite rightly slapping Daddy's wrist for DRIVING rather than taking the TRAIN to Sheffield, and enthusing everyone!

The Boss
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On the issue of the party's split on the Human Embryology Bill, which has apparently broken a manifesto commitment to equal treatment for lesbian mothers and thus outraged the gay community, Mr Clogg admitted that there are some issues where the leader cannot simply command, and that the Parliamentary Party had decided that, because of the very strongly held opinions – particularly RELIGIOUSLY held opinions – that it was necessary to allow a free vote on the Bill, and that it should be a free vote on ALL aspects of the Bill, as cherry picking out bits here and there to whip would be crackers. It was a difficult position to put him in, because he himself actually voted FOR the Bill, and agreed with party policy and Daddy Alex. But Daddy wasn't beating him up for fun: he has received lots and lots and lots and LOTS of messages from people saying "ask Mr Clogg about this!" and so I thought that it was IMPORTANT that he should do so.

Mr Clogg warned against treating the manifesto as "tablets of stone", and thought that they have become shopping lists that are too long.

But I do think that there is some DANGER in this. People lobby to make sure that certain policies are IN the manifesto precisely because we want to be able to say to people in groups that we support: look! here is what we say we will do for you; this is why we deserve the trust you have placed in us.

It's not surprising, then, when people ever so slightly expect us to keep our word.

Better NOT to make those sort of promises if we are later going to overlook them.

On the other fluffy foot, until Daddy Alex suggested a BETTER question about Dr Who, I WAS going to invite Mr Clogg to NOT say anything about Mr Brand and Mr Woss. So I was PLEASED that he said he wouldn't be saying anything about them.

I ALSO agree with him that it was a bit PATHETIC to see Mr Balloon and particularly the Prime Monster Mr Frown – who you would have thought would have had more important things to do at a vital summit to save the financial world – jumping on the bandwagon and joining the villagers with the pitchforks and flaming torches.

Anyway, after all that driving, Daddy Richard has unfortunately been unconscious for forty-eight hours, so I apologise for the delay in writing up out interview!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Day 2861: JAMES BOND: A Quarter of Sausage


A SINISTER organisation making DEALS for squillions of dollars and euros and pounds with foreign DICTATORS to manipulate the British Government… and it’s NOT Barclays Bank!

This sounds like a job for my BESTEST HERO, Mr James Bond!

Yes, my Daddies have taken me to the cinema to see the latest DOUBLE BRILLIANT James Bond movie: “Quantum of Solace”. I LOVED it, even if it is less of a story of its own and more like an extra hour-and-a-half of “Casino Re-al”. Or a REALLY extended pre-title sequence for the next one!

This IS the second one, isn’t it?
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It is a 12A which means that people under 12 have to have a responsible adult with them, but the cinema people kindly said that I counted as a responsible person to look after my Daddies!

Daddy’s review, with spoilers, follows… Roll titles!

At 106 minutes, this is, I’m told, the shortest of the James Bond films. It’s the next evolution of the pared down, grim reality Bond that we saw in “Casino Royale” (and, er, several Jason Bourne films), and it works to make a taut, fast-paced thriller. It works magnificently almost to the end, though I would have to say that the explosive climax is probably a touch over-edited, jumping directly from villain closing his deal to all hell having broken loose. Just occasionally less is really not more. The coda though makes a satisfying conclusion to what is, essentially, the story that began before the titles of “Casino Royale”.

“Quantum of Solace” is a mix of hyper-real violence, moments of highly stylised cinema and simmering emotional undertow, all of which disguises a very traditional Bond plot. (That “exploding villain’s base™” at the conclusion is the point where the mask slips). Villainous Dominic Greene is planning a little regime change coupled with some topical environmental terrorism and a touch of extortion. Bond meets him at a swanky party, finds out his underground secret, and blows up his secret base, er, hotel.

Throw in a dash of meta-narrative though, with back-links to “Casino Royale” and nods towards the sequel, and you’re close to reinventing the wheel, or in this case: “Doctor No”.

As you almost certainly know: in “Doctor No” (the film version), Bond’s mission to uncover the murder of agent Strangways leads him to discover almost incidentally the tip of a tentacle of SpECTRE.

Likewise, in Daniel Craig’s first outing, Bond’s mission to uncover the banker to the world’s terrorists reveals that he is just the tip of a tentacle of a much larger secret organisation of which – “Quantum of Solace” reveals – the Secret Service knows nothing.

So among those many connections to “Casino Royale”, not just picking up at most minutes after the “first” movie ended with Bond’s kidnapping of “Mr White”, not just the emotional fallout of Bond’s doomed affair with Vesper Lynd and the resolution of the plot with her kidnapped lover, not even what may be a running joke about the way Bond checks into luxury hotels, we of course learn more of the organisation: “Quantum”.

Yeah, “Quantum”: that really is a rather rubbish name, and they really are just SpECTRE. Dominic even gets the “we deal with the left or the right” speech, echoing Dr No’s “East, West mere points of the compass” speech from, well, Doctor No.

Mind you, if you ARE all members of the secret “evil-gang”, one that has remained unknown to the secret services of the world, perhaps all going around wearing a lapel pin “Q” (in Neutraface font, according to the BBC) might be ever so slightly giving the game away.

Significantly, Bond does not defeat Quantum by the end of the movie. Those “nods forward” include setting up several possible villains for an “episode three” (“Risico”, perhaps? Or “Property of a Lady”? The alternatives are the bland “007 in New York” or the unappealing “Hildebrand Rarity”.) Most obvious pointers are towards the “friend of the Prime Minister” Guy Haines, caught on camera by Bond at the cartel’s meeting in Austria, and mentioned as a “big bad” by both Mathis and Tim Pigott-Smith’s deliciously slimy Foreign Secretary.

Described as a businessman and advisor to the government, my first thoughts were of Lord Mandelson, but Alex suggested Lord Sainsbury, leading to the delightful image of hundreds of supermarkets as Bond-villain lairs. Never mind “Quantum”, how about: “T”errorism, “E”xtortion, “S”abotage, “C”ounter-intelligence “O”rganisation, anyone?

Daniel Craig continues to bring to this new-era Bond franchise everything that it needs in both brutal action and subtle emotional depth. And, perhaps too easily overlooked, brilliant deadpan humour. He doesn’t have the quips of Roger Moore, but instead a very restrained wry delivery, often implicitly commenting on the absurdity of his situations through his casual cracking-wise. And this is a Bond who needs a defence mechanism as he continues to take hurts, losing friends, allies and acquaintances and, seemingly, M’s trust.

M herself is brilliant, and Judi Dench steals every scene that she’s in, which helps you to overlook the fact that the Head of the British Secret Service appears to be turning up on the front lines everywhere. Here were are in Italy, and look, here’s M; a crime scene in a London flat and here’s M again; Bolivian hotel, guess who: yes it’s M; Russia…blah blah, M again. Does she not HAVE field operatives? Okay, to be fair, she’s just learned that her organisation has been compromised to the highest level and possibly the only people she really really trusts (as opposed to fake really trusts) are Tanner and Bond himself.

But come on, even Smiley had one friend!

(Tanner incidentally – presumably Bill Tanner, M’s Chief-of-Staff – is played here by Rory Kinnear, replacing Michael Kitchen. I’ve nothing against him in the role – he’s got a charming rushing-to-keep-up air that brings some freshness to MI6’s sterile HQs – but he looks so young that it doesn’t half re-emphasise the idea that M is now surrounded by teenagers!)

But yes, it’s clear that for all her carefully placed plausible deniability Bond is the man she trusts. As in “Casino Royale”, it is all down to Dame Judi’s deft light touch, but you can be sure that she is pushing the pieces around and relying on Bond to do what she needs and expects him to do. The crucial scene is the one in Bolivia where she arrives to take him into custody. “I hope you can trust these men,” says Bond. M doesn’t say yes and Bond clearly reads that as permission to knock them all out as they escort him out via the lift; then M – cool as a cucumber – meets Bond outside the lift and effectively give him permission to go and do his job.

There are two occasions in the movie where she implies that Bond has shot someone who, in fact, we know that he hasn’t.. He doesn’t correct her; importantly, he knows that he doesn’t have to. He’s realised that when she gave him the licence to kill, she knew what that meant, perhaps better than he did. In the course of the movie, Bond explicitly links M to the role of his mother, and at the end of the film the relationship between Bond and M is stronger than we’ve ever seen it before.

(Alex reminds me: technically Bond has killed them anyway; it’s just that the villains have made extra-sure)

She also gets several of the film’s best lines; Mr White gets most of the others. My particular favourites being the one about florists and the one about “Tosca”. You’ll remember when you hear them.

The return of “Casino Royale’s” version of Rene Mathis is an unexpected pleasure. He adds a sardonic commentary that compliments Bond’s own worldview. It’s a pleasure cruelly cut short when, shockingly, he is murdered. It’s a sign, perhaps – and another may be the way we are left not entirely sure any more whether we can trust the character of Felix Leiter, Felix Leiter of all people – that this new phase of the franchise is not going to be sentimental about its recurring cast in the way that, perhaps, the Bond films used to be, with the likes of “Q” and General Gogol and even that bloke with the bottle of beer and the double take turning up again and again to do their bit of shtick.

On the other hand, it’s also about closure – Bond and Mathis make their peace after they each suspected the other of betrayal by the end of “Casino Royale” – and ramming home the message that Bond needs to forgive himself for what happened to Vesper. Which, obviously, Bond, or this reading of Bond, cannot do… any more than, say, Batman can forgive what happened to his parents.

(Incidentally, Jeffrey Wright, the other “Casino” returnee, playing Leiter gets to do a lot of interesting work in relatively few scenes, getting to show how much Felix is hating getting into bed with Greene and his organisation, but still going along with it. His boss, Bream, is clearly a jackass, though surprisingly we don’t see him get any comeuppance; we merely hear it reported that Felix has gotten his job.)

Mathis is one of those “sacrificial lamb” characters that the Bond films often use: an ally who you come to like and trust and then the villain kills them to show how, well, villainous he is. Another is Gemma Arterton but, sadly, she is wasted as agent Fields. “Just call me ‘Fields’, she says.” (“You must be joking!” Alex exclaimed on seeing her credited as “Strawberry”!) She’s really very good in the few scenes she gets and deserved to be in more of the movie. Drowning her in oil – “black gold” if you will – is clearly supposed to remind us of some iconic image or other, but I’m at a loss to know what… ahem.

Olga Kurylenko, on the other hand, gets all the screen time that she deserves as damaged anti-heroine Camille. She is both beautiful and yet subtly broken, her own mission of vengeance imperfectly reflecting Bond’s pursuit of his duty. It’s slightly a shame that the truncated-seeming ending has her jump too quickly from taking her revenge to cowering from flames. Yes, her back-story (briefly established) does explain why she would fear the fire, but there was no journey for her from one point to the other. What is nice is the ending where Bond doesn’t get the girl and the girl is left not entirely sure whether she got what she wanted either. Nicely unresolved.

There’s a lot of lovely business in the subtitles, a great many throwaway gags and – very subtly – a taxi driver who won’t shut up actually gives us the first big clue as to what Green’s diabolical plan might be. Speaking of words on the screen, though, someone perhaps needs to tell the graphic designer to calm down a little, as the on-screen location credits as we shift from Siena to London to Haiti to Austria to La Paz are, er, perhaps a little frantic as Bond once put it (in “Live and Let Die” – he was talking about ties, though).

David Arnold’s music is excellent as always, if more understated than on some occasions. I must confess though that Jack White and Alicia Keys’ title theme doesn’t work for me sounding, as it does, like an extended version of the “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” intros round. But the titles are, if not quite as good as “Casino Royale’s” playing card theme, a splendid montage of shifting sands, reflecting both the Bolivian desert that features centrally to the plot and the shifting sands of truth and trust that Bond finds himself walking upon.

And don’t panic about the opening: the classic gun-barrel isn’t missing… just delayed.

And that, in fact, sums up this movie. It’s great, fast, action-packed, very James Bond… and it’s the pre-title mini-adventure for the next Bond film. The end of the closing credits promises, as always, “James Bond will return”. Frankly, I can’t wait!