...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 3162: Hannan the Hypocrite or The Berk of Enoch


Writing in the Daily Tell-lie-graph, swivel-eyed Conservatory Mr Daniel Hangman makes a case for disagreement between members of political Parties: it's not a gaffe to disagree. So he should be allowed to say whatever pops into his pointy head.

But in the SAME piece, he cannot resist a back-handed slap to "Labour and Lib Dem MPs voting – in defiance of their commitments, their constituents and, in most cases, their consciences – against a referendum on the European constitution."

In other words: disagreeing with your Party is GOOD, unless you disagree with ME in which case it is COMPULSORY.

My big fluffy nose detects the slight whiff of HYPOCRISY here.

IF Mr Hangman wants people to have the choice to DISagree with their Party, he has to let them have the choice to AGREE with their party too; and if he wants people to take what he says as meaning NO MORE than what he says, then it is NECESSARY that he affords the same benefit of the doubt to other people. In this case: he CANNOT know that people were voting against their consciences, and yet he wants to read HIS interpretation into their actions, at the same time as saying it is wrong for other people to read things into what HE says.

In the same vein, here is Mr Hangman's blog saying that he thinks President Barry O's summer reading list smacks of spin. Once again, Mr Hangman does not afford someone else the benefit of taking their word at face value. Why does he think that HE deserves this benefit if he won’t give it to other people?

For Mr Hangman, sauce for the goose is clearly how very dare you for the gander.

Now, it may not have escaped your attention that my Daddy Alex and Mr Mark Reckons have been having un peu d'un spat about Mr Hangman.

Obviously, as a FAIR-MINDED fluffy elephant, I shall CAREFULLY and IMPARTIALLY consider both sides before deciding that Daddy is right.

The centre of the disagreement is whether we should judge Mr Hangman ONLY on the exact words that he says or whether we should read more into them because of the CONTEXT of those words. Essentially an argument between what he SAID and what we THINK he said.

And, ironically, several people say that Daddy Alex would BAN Mr Hangman from having his opinion; that is only what they THINK, whereas Daddy's actual position is the exact OPPOSITE: Mr Hangman should NOT be banned from telling us his opinion, and we should not be banned from saying what we think of him BECAUSE of his opinion.

Ironically (again), Mr Hangman's position is to insist that he has NOT told us his opinion. As I will go on to explain, this is, I'm afraid, a rather, er, FLEXIBLE use of the term "honest answer".

It means that the question really is this:

Is it CREDIBLE that a senior Conservatory, having lived through the last four decades, steeped in the politics of Great Britain, with the intelligence and knowledge that must go with achieving the position of Member of the European Parliament, is it CREDIBLE that he would NOT know that there is an AUTOMATIC context that goes with the name "Enoch Powell"?

In ancient fairy tales, the "Book of Enoch" is one of those bits of the Bible that were edited out in order to get it down to a PG rating. Partly it deals with the NEPHILIM, the monstrous "half-breed" children of the "immoral" marriage between human beings and angels, which comes down to some VERY old-fashioned (by which I mean racist, horribly, horribly racist) ideas about "mixing of blood".

Which brings me on to Mr Enoch Powell.

Very few politicians become so totally identified with one single policy or incident that their name becomes a CODE WORD. You might, perhaps, think of Mr Chamberlin who was unlucky enough to become synonymous with "appeasement" or Mr Profumo who's name is now uniquely identified with what these days we call "sleaze".

Mr Enoch Powell is another of these RARE individuals, thanks to a speech that he gave in April 1968 in which everyone remembers him saying that immigration was a BAD thing because in fifteen to twenty years black people would take over from white people.

Now, do I REALLY need to establish that this is racist? Horribly, horribly racist?

Even without using the language of SLAVERY and all that frightening BLOOD imagery, the idea that it's a BAD thing for black people to be in charge is obviously HUGELY WRONG.

Even today, not twenty but FORTY years later, the VAST under-representation of non-white, non-male, non-middle-class, non-heteronormative (cool word!) persons in our mother of Parliaments shows it's almost HYSTERICALLY inaccurate too. Though of course HYSTERIA is exactly what the speech was aiming at. It wasn't about the FACTS of the speech, which were undeniably flat wrong, it was about the FEAR that goes with the idea of "the stranger" coming and taking the inheritance that we quite naturally want to go to our nearest and dearest.

And, of course, even though everyone REMEMBERS him saying that about fifteen to twenty years, that ISN'T what Mr Enoch SAID. What he ACTUALLY said was that he had a conversation with a man, and the OTHER MAN said those things.

Taken entirely at face value then, just on what Mr Enoch ACTUALLY SAID, does that mean that we cannot say that Mr Enoch agreed or disagreed with those views?

No, obviously not.

We HAVE to take the CONTEXT: the framing of the speech and that it was MR Enoch's CHOICE to repeat those remarks. He was NOT a stupid man, he knew what he was doing: by framing the speech as some kind of Socratic dialogue where he puts his views into the mouth of a maybe real maybe made up "other man" he is only providing a FIG LEAF of "no it was the other fellow" to cover himself.

I'm not saying that it was a very GOOD fig leaf, because it didn't work, and – entirely rightly – Conservatory leader and later Prime Monster Mr Heath fired him on the spot.

But this is what we mean by saying "talking in code" or in today's jargon using a "dog whistle": human beans cannot help but read more into things than are actually said. It's actually an evolutionary ASSET to pattern-match quickly and draw intuitive conclusions; it means that you get to answers faster and thus have more time to react, to fight or flee. Clever people know this – it is the BASIS of all oratory. And for that matter all comedy. (JOKES, you see, work because we pattern-match what we think is going to happen and then the punch-line derails that in an unexpected and therefore humorous way.) It's the same process that means you can understand exactly who I mean when I refer to, for example, "Mr Daniel Hangman", even if I get the exact words WRONG sometimes.

And the same process again allows "Enoch" to become CODE for "we doesn't like furriners in these parts". That is a GROSS oversimplification of something that Mr Enoch didn't in fact, in so many words, say. And yet at HEART it IS the message that he was putting across: "You're afraid of people who are different; support me and – quite literally – I will speak for you."

So, a famous and highly intelligent fire-brand politician goes WAY off message tapping into the unconscious but powerful "fear of the foreigner" and has a fig-leaf of "no, what I actually said was…" to cover up the fact that you cannot escape from reading more into what they said.

Does that sound at all familiar?

Mr Hangman, being a Conservatory, refers NOSTALGICALLY to the PAST, a Golden Age when MPs had to be CONVINCED to vote for legislation because they were all independent-minded free agents with their own consciences. Never mind that they were all loaded with money and often barely knew the geographical location of their constituencies let alone visited them.

Mr Hangman then goes on to blame the media for the robotisation of our MPs, the habit of them all to be "on message" lest they feel the wrath of the whips for committing – or, worse, allowing the papers to SAY they have committed – a gaffe.

But I rather think that it goes deeper and further back than this.

The change in politics post World War Part Two, or even Part One, was intrinsically linked to the (at long last) universalisation of the franchise. That means everyone could (at long last) vote in elections. In response to that, Parties chose to sell themselves as coherent, agreed policy platforms; the individualism of the MP was deliberately played DOWN and the idea was that you voted for the Party and the manifesto that went with it.

This was easier all round. Easier for the Parties, certainly, because they only needed one manifesto not six-hundred. Easier for the media who could cover the election nationally, rather than as a hotch-potch of local contests with no (patterns again) overall picture. And easier for the voters too, because (at least in theory) there's a direct translation from how you vote to how Parliament is made up to how policy actually turns out.

So if MPs and MEPs from political Parties can – in general – be trusted to say the same things, and vote along the same lines as they said they would, then that puts power into the hands of VOTERS.

Oh yes it does.

Sure, it gives power to the whips and the party hierarchies too. But the ability to make CHOICES between candidates at election time comes down to having some idea about WHAT THEY WILL DO if you elect them.

A House full of Independents and Mavericks is a recipe for NOT KNOWING which way ANY of them will jump in any given situation; it give all the power to the ELITE Members of Parliament and none of it to the voters who are choosing on some kind of "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Into Parliament" basis, rather than a choice about how they want their MP to behave.

The rise of the "gaffe" in the media is a SIDE-EFFECT of the Parties choosing to portray themselves as homogonous. Of course, there's then a whole load of feedback as the Parties try to become EVEN MORE identikit to avoid the "gaffe" accusation, and "rebels" become local heroes not least because they get media attention for being different and stepping outside the conventions.

Hello again, Mr Daniel Hangman who, remember, first came to prominence for stepping outside the conventions of POLITENESS to lambast Mr Frown to his face, something many of us would LIKE to do but can't (which is probably why it was so popular on HootTube).

Now, arguably this reduced ALL politics to the "politics of the playground": you're not in my gang so you smell; oooOOOooo you didn't say the same as Mr Balloon even though you signed up to a manifesto where you PROMISED that you WOULD, sort of thing. I'm sure there must be a more edifying way to do politics, but we are where we are, and if you WANT to play in the playground, and if YOU play by the playground rules, it's too late to say "it's not FAIR" when everyone else does the same back to you.

So, Mr Hangman says that Mr Enoch is his political hero, the one British politician on his list, anyway.

Superficially, based on JUST the words, that tells us NOTHING. He could have said Dan Dare. He could have said Wonder Woman. He could have said Gollum.

But these questions – and answers – are SUPPOSED to tell us MORE about the person being interviewed BECAUSE we read more into them than JUST what the words say.

So we are SUPPOSED to "get" that in some way Mr Hangman IDENTIFIES with Mr Enoch. Maverick, populist, hero-of-the-right furriner-bashing Mr Enoch. Racist Mr Enoch.

Does that mean that we can assume that Mr Hangman is a RACIST too? His voting record suggests otherwise. But, as I said, it's simply NOT CREDIBLE that Mr Hangman does not know that Mr Enoch is a CODE WORD for xenophobia.

Which means, because he omits any reference to the CONTEXT – indeed DENYS the EXISTENCE of the understood context, especially when that context is so unavoidable as in this case, in fact when he himself sets the context as "somebody who understood the importance of national democracy" (translation: "furriners are bad") – it means it is IMPOSSIBLE to say that Mr Hangman's answer is "HONEST".

Saying there is no context is not just impossible, it is wilfully misleading, possibly even deceitful.

He KNOWS that we will read more into what he says; he WANTS us to read more into what he says. To then protest afterwards that we HAVE read more into what he said is, a teeny-tiny touch, hypocritical.

(And THAT is why I agree with Daddy.)


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 3160: Senator Kennedy and the Giant Vampire Foxbats


The The Today Programme Studio:

6.45am This morning's headline: Senator Edward Kennedy has died

6.46am And now the news that the Giant Vampire Foxbat has taken a step closer to extinction

Sometimes I think that the The Today Programme editors do these juxtapositions just to see if Mr Evan can cope…

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 3157: C.I.A: Compassion In America


"This isn't about JUSTICE; it's about COMPASSION. It's not SUPPOSED to make SENSE."*

Let's be clear about one thing: regardless of any doubts about whether he actually did it or not, the release of the man convicted of exploding flight Pan-Am 103 was nothing to do with JUSTICE.

"Justice" seems to mean "people getting what they deserve". You don't need to believe in Mr God to recognise that in THIS world that's QUITE DIFFICULT to achieve.

No one, for example, "deserves" to be exploded. But there's NO WAY of setting it right again; you cannot ever have true "justice".

People in Americaland think that the Pan-Am bomber Mr Addledbastard al Megrahi, ought to have died in his prison cell. Or perhaps Americans are now SO convinced of the EVIL of the NHS that they consider it an intolerable MERCY to spare a person dying of cancer from British healthcare.

Whatever. President Barry O, Secretary of State Hillary-Billary, FBI Director Robert Mueller-Lite have all protested that letting him go was a VERY BAD THING to do.

And they are all WRONG.

They are wrong for TWO reasons: first, because what they want is VENGEANCE not JUSTICE. "You hurt us so we are going to hurt you, and hurt you WORSE". Americaland thinks of itself as the New Roman Empire (just look at all the marble they used building their Capital, or even their Capitol) and Rome was BUILT on vengeance (and marble), vengeance beyond all reason (and quite a lot of marble). If a citizen of Rome was harmed, the Roman legions turned up and OBLITERATED YOUR COUNTRY. A LOT of people think like that, and not just Americans – it's hard not to, it seems to be wired into you monkey people at an evolutionary level – but Americaland has the power to DO IT, and they DO.

And the second reason is because if there WAS any "justice" then Americaland (and I'm aware the Great Britain is not much better) would not hog a quarter of the World's resources nor cause a quarter of the World's pollution.

And then we end up with MORE revelations about the CIA practicing torture on people. Gee, the CIA turned out to be EVIL – who would have thought? But does ANYONE expect "justice" properly to be served? Are we going to see Mr Darth Cheney or Mr Donald Rums-failed even standing TRIAL let alone facing punishment for what they made happen? Is anyone going to send a cruise missile down one of THEIR chimneys? After all, that's the way America deals with torturers, isn't it?

It is the INjustice of Americaland's vast inherited wealth, and the obsessive aggression that they use to defend it, and the double standards by which they are seen judge themselves that breeds a World full of people who WANT to explode aeroplanes!

So what IS this thing called "justice"? It's sort of like "fairness" and it's sort of like "moral rightness" (whatever THAT means).

What sort of things should it be MADE of?

Restitution – giving people back what they have had taken away?

Retribution – punishing people for breaking the law whether because you believe doing badness means they deserve to receive badness or, more practically, as a disincentive against doing it again?

Rehabilitation – to make it so that bad people become good people?

(And this is all getting like 80's Dr Woo Dalek stories – you know: "Remembrance of the Revelation of the Resurrection of the Renaissance of the Retaliation of the Religion of the Daleks".)

But as I say, you cannot give someone their life BACK, so how can there be proper restitution?

The Iranians might say – MIGHT say – that the Americans blew one airliner out of the sky and had one blown out of the sky in return. An eye for an eye; an aeroplane for an aeroplane? Is THAT "justice"? Or is that TWO WRONGS making something very NOT RIGHT indeed?

So if you cannot make restitution, what about retribution?

Well, for retribution to be "just" then it has to be proportionate: the old mantra (or Gilbert & Sullivan song) "let the punishment fit the crime". But again, when a crime is SO awful, how can one person be expected to BEAR any punishment that would be "proportionate"?

So when the former Monkey-in-Chief's Ambassador of Evil, Mr Roger Bolt-thru-neck, whinges that Mr al Megrahi "only served two weeks for each person who died" you have to point out the bloody-minded STUPIDITY of his remark: what does he want? Mr al Megrahi to serve a LIFETIME for each person who died? How are you going to do THAT, then? Even if you want to KILL him, what GOOD will it do? Do you want to execute him two-hundred-and-seventy times? Will that bring a single person back?

So much for retribution, how about rehabilitation then?

Well, Mr al Megrahi is hardly likely to do it again, is he? But that's not really the point. Surely, the REAL rehabilitation is that of LIBYA. And doesn't that seem to have WORKED?

By accepting compensation, or two-point-seven billion dollars worth of "blood money", paid to the families of the victims, America and Britain accepted that we and Libya could move on. Compensation isn't about putting a crude value on someone's life; it's about drawing a line under a vendetta, ending the feud, preventing FUTURE violence and grief.

Listen to the WISE WORDS of Mr Stephen of the Glenn, who seems to have come TERRIFYINGLY close to being EXPLODED himself on several occasions!
"A nation that shows compassion finds it easier to look past the past; one that holds grudges finds it harder to let it go."
Americaland, in spite of having so little history – or perhaps BECAUSE they have so little history – just can't let it go.

So, where in this scheme of "justice" should COMPASSION fit in? Well, the answer is nowhere! SERIOUSLY, theries of justice SAY that justice has to trump compassion. Because "compassion" is giving someone something that they DON'T deserve. It is sympathy for a person in pain REGARDLESS of how deserving they are.

Compassion is about US being better people, not about the goodness or wickedness of the person on the receiving end.

Is it regrettable that people take advantage of that kindness to stage some kind of Hero's Welcome? Yes, of course it is – but that makes THEM bad people, not us. It means that the people who agreed to keep things LOW KEY are the ones who broke their promises, not the people who only did a good thing.

Is it regrettable that people sometimes people DO make behind-the-scenes deals for trade or whatever in exchange for releasing a prisoner? (Not that that DID happen here; not that that DID happen to let President Billary-Hillary rescue those journalists from North Korea; not that that DID happen to get that American nutter who swam out to Aung San Suu Kyi's house out of Burma.) Yes, because it's sordid and it undermines our trust in the people we elect to make these decisions on compassionate grounds.

Justice is usually portrayed as a LADY with a sword to indicate the FORCE of the LAW, a set of scales to indicate WEIGHING up the EVIDENCE and a blindfold to indicate IMPARTIALITY. What we usually end up with is an overburdened blind lady waving a large letter-opener about. As a METAPHOR for a justice system that seems to flail about inflicting stabbing pains on people at random, that's actually depressingly accurate.

But if we can't HAVE justice, then we have to make a choice between vengeance and compassion.

And we should choose compassion.

*Yes, I am misquoting Uncle Enyos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the point still stands.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 3152: Expenses: Latest Shock!


Never mind that he BETRAYED his COUNTRY to the SOVIET UNION, it seem that masterspy Mr Guy Burgess may have FIDDLED on his expenses while working for the BBC.

I know what you're thinking: how COULD the BBC have employed such a BLACKGUARD! Why, Mr Harold Nicholson and Ms Violet Bonham-Carter on the Board of Governors were even saying: "why don't you promote this brilliant man?" The The Today Programme demanded answers.

HELLO! He. Was. A. SPY!

It's not ALL chemin-de-fer with Le Chiffre and hijinks with Pussy Galore, you know. Sometimes you just HAVE to infiltrate the BBC.

Possibly in a submarine disguised as a crocodile.

Just don't forget to get Q to sign for the receipt.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 3150: Mysteries of Doctor Who #19: How does the Brigadier manage to retire from UNIT before he joins it? Yes, it's the "UNIT dating" one.


"UNIT dating"*: it's the continuity niggle SO egregious that it has even crept into the programme's own dialogue (in "The Sontaran Stratagem", if you must know) and even Dr Woo himself cannot tell you whether his adventures with UNIT took place in the 1970s or the 1980s.

There just ISN'T a solution to keep EVERYONE happy; the evidence all contradicts itself.

But there's no avoiding it and, with the BBC releasing the Black Guardian trilogy on DVD, this is as good a time as any to sort it out once and for all.

Daddy Alex's advice: back away now!

All right, for those of you still with us, the story so far…

The very first UNIT story, well UNIT-ish, in that it introduced us to the Brigadier, even though he was only COLONEL Lethbridge-Stewart on that occasion, was "The Web of Fear".

Now, in "The Web of Fear", Dr Woo, Jamie and Victoria arrive in a mysteriously deserted London but fortunately they meet someone they know: Professor Travers, along with his daughter Anne. They previously met the Prof in Tibet in the adventure with "The Abominable Snowmen" which was three stories ago for them but rather longer for Prof Travers, in fact he says (episode two, scene nine):

"Why that's... that's over... forty years ago!"

Two scenes later, and while Victoria is explaining their time machine to her, Ms Anne clarifies further:

"And you met him - when was it you said? In 1935? In Tibet?"

So, the earliest possible dating for "The Web of Fear" is 1975 (and probably later).

The NEXT story, where we are introduced to UNIT properly, is "The Invasion" where now-Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart refers (episode two, scene eight) to the business with the Yetis in the underground: "Must be... four years ago now."

Which means that "The Invasion" has an earliest possible date of 1979.

Jumping ahead to "Planet of the Spiders", the Brigadier tells Sarah Jane (episode six, scene twenty-nine):

"One time I didn't see him for months. And what's more, when he did turn up, he had a new face…"

which suggests a gap of "months" between "The Invasion" and "Spearhead from Space" (though in itself that's odd, referring to a gap of "months" when the Doctor's immediately preceding absence was of "years").

The clues become a little thinner on the ground after this: "The Mind of Evil" suggests that the Master has spent a year masquerading as Emil Keller, giving an unexpected twelve-month gap between the first two stories of season eight; "The Dæmons" takes place on a May Day; "The Day of the Daleks" on a 13th of September.

Generally we can assume that they DO take place in the same SEQUENCE as we see them broadcast – "The Mind of Evil" has to follow "Terror of the Autons" as the Doctor has the Master's dematerialisation circuit; "The Sea Devils" has to come after the Master's capture in "The Dæmons" and so on.

The place where there IS a little doubt, at least Mr Tat thinks they might be better the other way around, is between whether "The Ambassadors of Death" or "Inferno" comes first or second. But we have to accept that "Ambassadors" is the first, because of the Doctor's remaining p'ed off with the Brig for blowing up the Silurians. Nor can, I'm afraid, "Colony in Space" where Dr Woo takes Jojo on a daytrip in the TARDIS take place before Mr the master fixes it for him in "The Claws of Axos".

Although whether Mr the Master experiences them in the SAME order is another question entirely! In a LOT of ways it would make LOADS more sense if he experienced "Colony in Space" FIRST – having stolen the Time Lords' files on the Doomsday Weapon, why waste time with Nestenes and Axons and Mind Parasides (oh my!) – and only THEN came after Dr Woo on Earth for REVENGE. Unfortunately, he recognises Ms Grant, so that one's up the swanny too.

Could we take a clue from POLITICS? The British Government during Dr Woo's exile is, er, rather peculiar to say the least. Mainly because no one in the Doctor Who production office knows the difference between a Permanent Secretary and a Secretary of State. Or a Secretary from the Typing Pool, either, in all probability.

We DO however, get a couple of glimpses of who is Prime Monster: in "The Green Death", the Brigadier gets a top level spanking from the Ecology Secretary, who hands him over to "Jeremy", who many people assume to be Liberal Leader Mr Jeremy Thorpe. Then, in "Terror of the Zygons", the Brig addresses the First Lord of the Treasury as "Ma'am". Which, in spite of what we now know about la Thorpe, probably does NOT refer to Dame Jeremy. In spite of all too many fanboys bending over backwards to suggest that "Ma'am" is Our Shirl (Tom Baker) or possibly Ms Barbara Castle (Tower of London) in a Labour Government of the mid Seventies, it's just too, too prescient of Queen Maggie, Prime Monster from 1979, elected after all those Labour energy projects (Wenley Moor, Stahlman's Gas Drill, Nuton Power Station and so on) go a bit TOO White Heat of Technology and explode.

Anyway, eventually Dr Woo rescues the Time Lords from Mr Omega, regenerates and finally leaves the UNIT era behind. But not without a final tantalising clue:

During their terrifying adventure with Sutekh, Last of the Osirans, in "Pyramids of Mars", Sarah Jane suggests just nipping off because they KNOW the World isn't going to end in 1911, no matter what Mr Sutekh wants. So Dr Woo dials up the space year 1980 – and remember that this was shown in 1975 so that's five years into the future even then – and shows them a future Earth blasted to flinders.

"But I'm from 1980" says Sarah rather plaintively. And anachronistically.

And not long after that though the Doctor leaves Sarah Jane behind (in Aberdeen, as it turns out) and loses all contact with Earth of the present, near-present or UNIT era-whenever. His next chums, Leela and K-9 both come from the future, the tin dog from the year 5000 and Leela from even further, and then Lady Romana, the Time Traveller's wife, comes from Gallifrey.

The next time we meet anyone REMOTELY local it's Ms Tegan Jovanka and she is as absolutely contemporary as its possible to be – to the extent that "Four to Doomsday" establishes that she first enters the TARDIS on 28 February 1981, which is the date of broadcast of episode one of "Logopolis" when indeed she first enters the TARDIS.

All back in synch until the 20th Anniversary Year, and the story "Mawdryn Undead".

Here Dr Woo arrives at a dead posh public school and is surprised to find that Ian Chesterton couldn't make it, so the maths class is being taken by a retired Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, amnesiac fist class. And it's 1983.

Worse, troublesome Tegan has gotten translated in time and winds up in the year of Mrs the Queen's Silver Jubilee, 1977, and meets… well who do you think? And he's already retired then!

So, it's 1977 and the Brig has retired from UNIT at least two years before he founds it.

Has, perhaps, Mr the Black Guardian been messing with TIME?

Understandably, a LOT of Doctor Woo fans have been quite upset by this contradiction for some time, and often go to ludicrous lengths to assert that their version, and only their version, of the Doctor's history is the right one.

The MOST barking of them try to "re-date" "Mawdryn Undead", perhaps moving the bunting to 1982 to make it the Royal Wedding rather than the Jubilee. That is obviously nuts.

The other extreme is to say that since "Mawdryn Undead" RELIES on the dating in a way that "The Invasion" really doesn't, that it must be the dating of "The Invasion" that is ignorable, and all the UNIT stories are actually set in the year they were broadcast, "The Invasion" falling back to 1969, "Spearhead from Space" being 1970 and so on, allowing the Brigadier to retire after 1976's "The Android Invasion" or "The Seeds of Doom" where he is said to be in Geneva.

Now there ARE a lot of incidental things that you COULD use to suggest a contemporary date for UNIT adventures. There are, for example, no CARS to be seen that are manufactured later than the date of filming (unless you count the Whomobile… no?), and the registration numbers are a giveaway too. Classically, there are price labels in pounds shillings and pence in "Spearhead from Space" and the taxi fare to the Ministry of Science is "three and six" in "…and the Silurians" which would make them both pre-Decimalisation. And you COULD choose to date the stories by the haircuts and fashion sense. Though of course that would mean that you should insist on dating "The Long Game" (clearly dated to 200,000 AD), New Earth (clearly dated to 5,000,000,103 AD) and Utopia (clearly dated to 100,000,000,000,000 AD) all to take place in 2006.

CLEARLY the production team couldn't INVENT next year's model cars nor next season's fashions, and as often as not they just forgot or never realised the need to cover up or disguise the more blatant "now-isms".

But you can tell that they had an INTENTION of a "near-future" setting, and they included the odd little thing to be slightly startling to say "this is not quite today": usually it's a VIDEO TELEPHONE. Though casually tossing in a population of eight million for London or suggesting that the Prime Monster is a woman are other classic examples.

The PROBLEM was that the production teams CHANGED, and so just how FAR into the future that intention lay changed too.

The initial UNIT conception by Mr Peter Bryant and Mr Derrick Sherwin was for TEN years into the future, hence all that dating in "The Invasion", and hence the stories in season seven that they commissioned (even if they didn't end up PRODUCING them) having HUGE leaps forward in technology, like experimental fusion reactors built under Wenley Moor or a British Space Programme that has landed on Mars (using Quatermass IV rockets, no doubt).

But then the team that takes over are Mr Barry Letts and Mr Terrance Versatile Disks who are much more cautious, even "conservative" about how many days-after-tomorrow this is, and we drop the dating hints and technology things become a little bit less removed from the present day.

When Messrs Hinchcliffe and Holmes take charge they want to start throwing out little hints and clues that unsettle the audience, so the business with the "original" console room, the rules about regenerations and THOSE faces in "The Brain of Morbius" are all of a piece with the unexpected suggestion that Sarah is actually from five years into the future.

Ultimately the series falls into the hands of the pairing of Producer Mr John Nathan-Turner and script editor Mr Eric Wayward, and the thought is that UNIT is part of the programme's HISTORY, and so they set UNIT and the Brigadier's retirement in the relative past. Even Mr Wayward has since admitted that this was a cock-up.

So you are left with CHOICES:

Present Day +10 years:
Agrees the dating of "The Invasion" (and arguably "Battlefield", broadcast 1989, set – at least according to the novel – in 1999)

Present Day + 5 years:
Agrees the "I'm from 1980" dating of Sarah Jane (and arguably this is what the new series adopted when the Cyberman head in Mr Van Statten's museum in "Dalek" was labelled "London Sewer, 1975")

Present Day +1
Agrees the dating of "Mawdryn Undead" (at a pinch) (and arguably makes sense of the fashion statements, if not the non-regulation UNIT haircuts).

Basically, they're sort of in the future. A bit. Pick one and accept that you are WRONG when watching some stories.

Not satisfied with that? Oh, all right, how about this:

Perhaps, Mr the Black Guardian HAS been messing with time.

What draws him to Brendon School in 1983 in the first place? Why draw the Doctor and Mawdryn into collision in THIS particular time and place? Why, of all the aliens on Earth (yes, there are LOTS, we know that from Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures) why pick weaselly Turlough?

Maybe it's because this is a WEAK SPOT in space and time, a place where the Black Guardian CAN do the sort of mucking about needed to set up his nya-ha-ha-ha-haaa plots. And if it IS a weak spot in time, the most logical cause of that is… the Brigadier himself. We know that the story is going to see him temporally duplicated. But Mr Black Hat arrives before that… so, what if it's more complicated still?

What if the 1977 Brigadier who is "retired" and working at Brendon Accademy for Bullying Backward Boys is ALREADY temporally duplicated!

Just suppose that, after "The Seeds of Doom" when we last hear of him, there is an UNSEEN adventure for the Brig when he ends up getting SENT BACK in TIME.

Arriving in the 1970s, the FIRST thing that he would do is contact the DOCTOR.

And the Doctor would say: "My dear fellow, I can't possibly help you. Don't you remember, the Time Lords have stranded me here! And you talking to me like this risks the most awful PARADOX, not to mention the Time Lords adding penalty time to my Exile. I suggest you go and lose yourself somewhere until you catch up with the time you came from. Good bye!"

This would explain why when we find him he is doing something so utterly unexpected as being a teacher in a boys school: it's as out of the way and unlikely to bump into himself as he can think of.

When Dr Woo asks him how long ago he left the army, the Brigadier tells him "seven years ago". But AT THE TIME, the Brig is suffering from AMNESIA and the Doc has yet to break through Alistair's mental block with sepia-tinted flashbacks.

Now looked at like that, it doesn't MATTER whether the UNIT stories (or at least some of the later ones) ARE set in the 1980s; there is no contradiction because the 1977 date does not give us an upper limit on the year that the Brig retires.

Problem solved!

Now, perhaps someone can explain why the Doctor thought it was a good idea to post Sarah Jane a K-9 in-a-box three years before he met her!

*no, I'm NOT going to make the joke about Mr Mike Yates and Ms Jojo Grant.

Anyway, he ends up with Sergeant Osgood, as all true-hearted fans of "Happy Ending" know.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 3149: DOCTOR WHO: Dalek


Well yes, my goodness it HAS been a bit of a while hasn’t it. We have a great big pile of the Doctor Woo DVD Files on the floor next to my sofa now, because Daddy Richard and Daddy Alex have been spending all their time watching silly rubbish like “The Wire”!

Anyway, Daddy Richard has FLU, so I’ve been able to wrestle the remote control out of his sweaty paw and put on some proper telly instead. And it didn’t half make him feel BETTER!

Here, between coughs and gurgles, is what he has to say about it:

A Dalek without power, discovered after it crashed, using its guile and cunning to get what it needs to restore itself, playing off human emotions of compassion and greed; the Doctor, behaving in a way we’ve never seen him before, desperate to destroy it by any means but thwarted by the people in charge; the result: a massacre.

But enough of 1966’s “The Power of the Daleks”, because the plot of “Dalek” is almost beside the point, constructed as it is as an exercise in ticking off every point that anyone has ever laughed at a Dalek about. I doubt if it’s coincidental that Adam refers to the alien as a “big pepper pot” while the Doctor himself calls it “the great space dustbin”; let’s throw in the disparaging terms alongside the jokes about plungers and stairs. And then let’s show that they’re not jokes, not even remotely funny, as the Dalek cleanly and efficiently slaughters everyone in sight.

But this is much more about what it is to be a Dalek, with the answer seemingly being “honest” as much as “horribly lethal”. Mind you, the idea that Daleks are “uncomplicated” compared to the intricacy of human motives was also an inheritor of “The Power of the Daleks”, with the crucial question being: “why do humans kill humans?”

“Dalek” is, as is widely known, based on the Big Finish audio adventure “Jubilee”, with “Torchwood”’s Jubilee Pizza an onscreen nod of gratitude. The character of Simmons is named after the actor who played the similar role on audio, although evil hench-woman Diana Goddard is named for writer Rob Shearman’s wife. (And funny to think that her “joke” about replacing the President at Van Statten’s instruction refers, with this being 2012, to Barack Obama, now; still at least he’ll be replaced by another Democrat.)

“Dalek” is a stripped down, buffed up, Terminator of a version of “Jubilee”, though, with most of the meat of the story stripped off. In “Jubilee”, the Doctor arrives in (or rather crashes into) an alternative English Empire built on stolen Dalek technology obtained when the Doctor himself thwarted an invasion in the Edwardian era (and think how much of that might have gone into the Pete’s World strand, or “The Next Doctor”). The Daleks (and to an extent Doctor Who itself) are subtly (and sometimes unsubtly) mocked, much as the series has been mocked. But here “Jubilee” peels back the surface to reveal that that mockery is cowardice, and it’s the refusal to look evil in the face that has led to an “English Empire” that is just as evil as the Daleks themselves. “Jubilee” is about making choices; and confronting or accepting evil is the biggest choice there is.

There isn’t time for all of that in “Dalek”. What we are left with is the central figure of “Jubilee”, the single Dalek, alone, defeated, waiting for orders, and the extraordinary relationship that it forges with the Doctor’s companion, based on the singular occurrence of it encountering a human who does not fear it.

The Sixth Doctor’s companion Evelyn had met the Daleks before, of course, (in “The Apocalypse Element” – or “Apocalypse Elephant” as Millennium insists it should be called) which makes her stronger in this regard: Evelyn does fear the Dalek but her compassion for it is greater.

Rose, in contrast, does not fear the Dalek, but through innocence; she has no idea what it is and has just started to learn from the Doctor to treat all aliens as people. In fact, you can see how Rose has grown as a character since her attack of culture shock in “The End of the World”. There the aliens were “just so alien”; now she is literally reaching out to them.

Nevertheless, Rose’s relationship with the Dalek is extraordinary.

A superficial reading of the story is that the Daleks fakes the emotions necessary to gain Rose’s sympathy – and more importantly her touch – but then gets more than it bargained for, becoming (in it’s eyes, or rather eye) “corrupted” with her emotions.

But is it that simple? That reading relies upon accepting the Doctor’s assertion that the Dalek has no emotions but hate, yet he is hardly an impartial witness. Before it’s even met Rose, the Dalek’s reaction on being told that its entire race is dead and the Time War lost is not rage, but despair. It demonstrates empathy with the Doctor, “we are both alone”, and both pity and contempt for itself, “and yet the coward survived”.

So, when Rose meets the Dalek how much of what it says is “false”, merely trying to lure the dumb, emotional human into touching it (and potentially bursting into flames)? And how much is a genuine connection being forged between these two unlikely beings, linked only by their association with the last Time Lord?

The ending is ambiguous too, between whether gaining human emotions – like vampires Angel or Spike regaining their soul – make the Dalek confront the evil that it has done and realise that it cannot bear to exist; or whether the true Dalek philosophy of destroying everything non-Dalek wins out, extending ultimately to itself for committing the worst form of Dalek apostasy: changing.

Praise must be given to Billie Piper, emoting for all she’s worth at a bronze-painted plywood prop; and equally to Nicholas Briggs, who is just never better than he is here, not just re-creating the sound of the Daleks, but creating a Dalek who can feel, and for whom we feel.

Praise too for Christopher Eccleston, finally fully let off the leash and allowed to show the range and depth of emotional response of his take on the Time Lord.

We rarely see the Doctor get things so wrong. If anything, this is one of the surer signs that it was the Eighth and not the Ninth Doctor who faced the Daleks in the Time War; this incarnation has no ability to cope with them, and it totally deranges him.

Alex remains horrified by how un-Doctor-ish he is when throwing insults at Adam: “what will you do, throw your A-levels at them?” seems especially hurtful from a series that historically champions the academic nerd over the macho bully-boy with the big gun. Oh look at what the Doctor is holding.

But even before we get to the self-evident wrongness of “Doctor with a big gun”, he’s making mistakes that lead to tragedy. It’s his arrogance in thinking he can deal with anything better than Van Statten – and showing off for Rose, just smell that testosterone – that has him blithely announce himself to the Dalek, waking it up in the first place. Then his panicked reactions, first flight, then “extermination”, push Van Statten into seeing him as a threat, depriving him of the chance to deal calmly and rationally with the problem. If he hadn’t been such a moody close-mouthed so-and-so about the Time War, Rose might have known what a Dalek actually was and avoided petting the thing. And then he’s in such a tizzy he then blabs that he’s an alien himself to Mr “Biggest Collector of Aliens under the State of Utah”, leading to his near crucifixion on Van Statten’s scanning machine.

By the time he’s repeatedly advising Van Statten to throw more guards at the creature to kill it – which only gets more of them killed – he’s completely lost it. Cut to phlegm flying and “you would be a good Dalek”. Which by that point, he nearly is.

(To be slightly fair here, he’s not the only one allowing arrogance to overrule good sense, and it’s not clear if Van Statten’s troops choose to ignore the “aim for the eyepiece” advice because they “know how to deal with one tin robot”, or if the Doctor’s tactics were just useless anyway.)

And yet, this is a definite turning point for Doctor number nine. A true catharsis, burning away some of his personal shame at surviving the Time War, ironically by recognising and facing his subsequent faults.

Complexity of motivation extends to supporting characters too. Billionaire Henry Van Statten is easily dismissed as a typical Doctor Who amoral businessman villain, and yet he is sensitive enough to play the alien musical instrument even as he is crass enough to toss it aside; rarely for a Doctor Who villain, he changes his mind, realising that living and keeping the Dalek intact are mutually exclusive; and he half-confesses to enjoying himself when getting back to his “simpler past” as a programmer, trying to help the Doctor seal the bunker doors.

Similarly, Goddard shows shades of emotion. She certainly makes personal gain when, like Krau Timmin in “The Caves of Androzani”, she ousts her amoral boss, but her motive is also because he got so many people killed, throwing away lives. And this isn’t some sudden discovery (or convenient feigning) of compassion, as she previously demonstrated concern for the Doctor when he believes Rose dead.

As potential companion, Adam Mitchell is allowed to be even more interesting: he is clearly vain, proud of his intelligence, and showing off for Rose. So far so like the Doctor, in fact, which may explain – if not excuse – the Time Lord’s jealous over-reaction. And he is “a bit pretty”. But Adam is actually able to stand up for himself – not necessarily with his half-stolen collection of alien guns (and hairdryer), but he certainly more than puts the Doctor in his place when accused of leaving Rose behind. “It wasn’t me closing the doors!”

However, more of Adam next time.

It is necessary to add a word about the silliest aspect of the story – just how does the Dalek repair itself from Rose’s DNA? Even assuming that the Dalek casing can, for whatever reason, extract a sample of genetic material from contact – and why not, if Lawrence Miles is right and Time Lords technology is at a basic level biological – but how does this get added to the mutant? “I fed on Rose Tyler’'s DNA,” it asserts at one point. Well yes, and I had a fish supper, but I don’t expect to be having fishy feelings as a result; what’s going on?

By “Doomsday”, Russell will have come up with the idea of “background radiation”, absorbed during TARDIS travel; even, dare we say it, linking it to the old stand by of “artron energy”. And this is in no way out of step with the Classic series, where stories such as “The Deadly Assassin” and “City of Death” suggest that the very extent of the Doctor’s travels have made him both stronger and more sensitive in Time.

And how very Dalek-like to evolve to eat the stuff; living off the “life force” of their enemies.

It would be a gift if we could put it down to a translation glitch: DNA meaning not “deoxyribonucleic acid” but, ahem, “Dalek Nutrient Artron”?

But no. “Genetic material assimilated,” it chants to itself as it merrily pulls free of its chains. It is one of those moments when you wish a writer, and Rob is extremely talented, but you wish he would use a made-up word rather than a proper science one that he seems not to know the meaning of.

The point is that it’s absorbing Rose’s human spirit: her determination, her optimism, her pluck. It's the “human factor”, referencing the other Troughton-era Dalek tale, and it’s the thing that the Dalek needs to break out of its situation: the capacity to act without the need for orders.

But, at the risk of going all nurture versus nature, those qualities are recorded in our minds, not our genes.

More than many of these first series stories, it’s difficult to look at “Dalek” again without hindsight. The new-look, bronze Daleks – or blonde-shelled, blue-eye-stalked as Alex smartly refers to them – have appeared a half a dozen times again in the returned series now. In a way, each of those subsequent appearances have undermined what “Dalek” achieves here. Having re-established that one single Dalek was an almost unstoppable threat, resorting to “topping that” with thousands of the buggers throws that away by having them eminently stoppable (whether by Bad Wolf/magic TARDIS dust, convenient inter-dimensional vacuum cleaner or Davros typewriter of doom). Nor is there any need for every single appearance to be, once more, “the final end”.

Next Time: A story that has nothing to do with Daleks whatsoever. Oh no indeedy. Or “What Adam Did Wrong…” in “The Long Game”


Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 3148: Pillock's Progress aka Mandy v Gideon round deux


This week Master Gideon dabbled with a new philosophy: he said that the Conservatories are the "progressive party" now.

"Progressive" means "wanting things to CHANGE", but I'm sorry, Mr Oboe, just wanting "a change from the current lot" doesn't really count.

"Progressive" is the OPPOSITE of "conservative", wanting things to stay as they ARE or HOW THEY USED TO BE.

So "Progressive Conservatives" OUGHT to be the very definition of an OXYMORON. An OXYMORON is, of course, an IDIOT from one of THOSE universities. Which, come to think of it, ought to be the very definition of Master Gideon…

In POLITICS "progressive" usually means wanting the GOVERNMENT to effect change while "conservative" means wanting the Government to impede or reverse change.

Look how much of the LANGUAGE of Conservatories harks BACKWARDS to some (usually-imaginary) Golden Age, whether it's the 'Fifties (before all that "permissiveness"), or the Age of Empire (before all that "European Union") or from "bring back Matron" to good old Victorian Values.

The notion that Master Gideon and the Conservatories are "conservative" goes back even further to the idea of what they are FOR, namely: to preserve, defend, entrench and generally stop anyone else getting their hands on the POWER and PRIVILEGE of those who are already very, very RICH, starting with the King (specifically Charles II).

Bringing this right up to date, Master Gideon's ONLY tax policy (that we know of) is the tax cut for dead millionaires. This is "preserving the privilege of the already-haves 101" and people are QUITE RIGHT to call him on it.

So far so very mildly-amusing: look how the young Oboe makes a fool of himself AGAIN.

But there is clearly something about Master Gideon that brings Lord Mandelmort out of the woodwork; he just can't help rising to the bait. And so it was this week, as the First Prince of Darkness felt compelled to respond in the Grauniad.

"Crass political cross-dressing", he called it – and remember, Lord Mandelmort has seen Master Oboe in the cabaret on board Russian Billionaire Oleg Deeply-Suspect's yacht.

Lord Mandelmort and Master Gideon.

You know that bit in King Kong, where the giant ape fights a T-Rex? Sinister pre-historic reptile versus heroic gorilla? This isn't like that at all.

It's more like the bit in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex finds the rubbishy lawyer quivering on the loo and swallows him whole.

(Credit, in passing, to Mr Evan Davis of the The Today Programme, for trying gamely to get Lord Mandy to answer the question during their interview on Wednesday. Unlike some of his co-presenters, Mr Evan was not trying to get his interviewee to say some "thing that he wanted them to say" – presumably to then spring an "ah ha!" gotcha – but instead he had a genuine question and wanted a proper answer. And since the question was "now that you've got us a trillion pounds in debt, how are Hard Labour going to pay it off?", which is quite a GOOD question, it was certainly one deserving of an answer. Not that he got one. Lord Mandy is just as frustrating to interview as Master Oboe, only much, much cleverer at not looking like a total spork.)

But just how "progressive" are Hard Labour, anyway? Saying that they've poured billions into schools and the National Health Service isn't actually "progressive": we HAD those things under Queen Maggie too. Hard Labour is just doing the same but paying for it.

So what have they actually CHANGED?

Well in the PLUS column, there has been genuine devolution to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. We've had the Human Rights Act, which more people ought to say is a GOOD thing. At the point of a European Union gun we've had some equal rights for gay daddies.

But, in the MINUS column, we've had special rights for RELIGIONS and a huge increase in FAITH schools: that's handing a lot of power BACK to one of the OLDEST PRIVILEGES in town, divine right and never mind the king!

The power of a TINY minority in the PRESS, in particular the Emperor of the Airwaves, Mr Roger Stavro Moredick, has been amplified more than ever before, and the ITV companies have been allowed to merge Shoggoth-like into a single massive loss-making entity, while the only institution standing between us and the full Faux News – the BBC, yes I get the irony – gets SPANKED at every opportunity.

We've seen a freezing of social mobility thanks to an education policy biased to the privileged and a yanking up of the ladder after all those cabinet ministers who benefitted from a free university place.

We've seen some very, very highly overpaid bankers have their jobs saved at the cost of trillions of pounds, and we've seen some very, very averagely paid workers made redundant rather than save their electric van plant or windmill factory.

And by far the BIGGEST change they've effected, from section 44 of the Terrorism Act to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and all the rest, is a MASSIVE entrenchment of the powers of the state to spy on, arrest, abuse and generally intimidate its citizens. That's a really, REALLY big "preserving powers of the already powerful".

Oh, and of course we fought an illegal war that reduced a Middle Eastern country to the Stone Age at the whim of a pampered billionaire playboy who just happened to have bought and cheated his way into the Presidency of the richest nation on the face of the Earth. Well done on sticking to the progressive principles there, boys.

The old left-right axis has always been about "privileges for the privileged". The "right" believe that the privileged few who control the usually-inherited wealth know best and should be in charge. The "left" believe that the privileged few who control the State's central committee know best and should be in charge…

…which – daytime TV link – reminds me, Lawrence Miles (read it before he deletes it) has an actually-positive review of the recent series of Torchwood, though in his usual style he finds a way to be abrasively confrontational about saying so.

However, in the middle he goes into a MIND-SHATTERINGLY ill-informed rant about what he perceives as the "evils of Liberalism"©theLarryverse:
"…there's a difference between "left-wing" and "liberal". To be a liberal means to believe that tolerance is good and global warming is bad, but also to believe that you can save the world simply by not using the word "poof". S/he may have good intentions, but doesn't seem to appreciate that all the things s/he considers to be civilised - democracy, universal suffrage, the right to exist without having the shit kicked out of you for having long hair or skin that's a bit on the dark side - were achieved through the effort of rather more pro-active people, who fought and occasionally died in order to create a less appalling version of humanity. To be a liberal means to shield yourself from the full horror of your society, to have a veneer of civic responsibility while still approving of a system that's wholly founded on exploitation. Tennant-era Doctor Who is liberal."
It's difficult to grasp how someone normally so well-informed and erudite can be so gob-smackingly wide of the mark here.

Yes, there IS a difference between "left-wing" and "liberal", it's just that you have absolutely no idea what it is, or indeed what you are talking about or, for that matter, the history of the country you are living in.

"Left wing" means a belief that capital should be controlled by a (presumed benign) central state. "Liberal" means a rejection of arbitrary authority, whether based on heredity, religious mandate, inherited wealth, or "happening to be in government".

Scary Charlotte (now with even scarier kittens!) could NEVER be described as "left-wing", but she is CLEARLY a Liberal.

But to fisk this clause by clause:

"to believe that you can save the world simply by not using the word "poof". "

– that would be "political correctness" a not-actually-bad notion (assuming such a thing was not wholly made up by the Hate Mail just so that people could claim "it's political correctness gone mad") that being POLITE to people would result in a "less appalling version of humanity", but definitely a "leftist" notion rooted mainly the alternative comedy of the early 'Eighties (who, ironically, felt that racism was beyond the, pardon me, pale and so had to make jokes about homosexuality instead – if you don't believe me, try watching the terribly "right on" first episode of "Black Adder II" again).

"democracy, universal suffrage, the right to exist etc, etc, unlimited rice-pudding…"

– well bless my muffins, who was it who brought in all those great Reform Acts in the nineteenth century? Who campaigned for religious tolerance for Catholics and Jews? Who invented the pension? Who wrote the People's Budget? Who came up with the idea of the NHS?

And if it comes to "fighting and dying" for a better kind of humans you can only possibly mean World War Part Two, and frankly that was ALL of us in it together, Liberal, Conservatory, Labour, probably not Sir Oswald's lot, I certainly don't recall that War being a "leftists only" affair.

Or perhaps you think that the Marches against Fascism in the East End were only leftists? That the campaign against Apartheid wasn't led by the Young Liberals (yes, even Mr Vain)? That the Stonewall Riots were fought by Marxists and not a bunch of drag queens?

Basically HOW DARE YOU, how dare you deny the others who fight and die and then condemn them because you claim they weren't there. They were there. And you were not.

"To be a liberal means to shield yourself from the full horror of your society, to have a veneer of civic responsibility while still approving of a system that's wholly founded on exploitation"

– whereas to be a "leftist" is to claim credit for all the advances ever made while denying any responsibility for the actions of your party, the Labour Party, and whine on the sidelines doing nothing, claiming that you are being a realist about the system while still fully taking advantage of it. It is to be a hypocrite.

All of us in this country are part of the "system" that at least in part contributes to exploitation in other countries. It's not just shopping at Primark – how easy it is to scorn the poor in this country for their impact on the far more poor abroad – your bank, your telephone company, your local council, any of them may have shifted call centres or supply offices overseas to take advantage of cheaper labour. The only people who can truly afford to step out of "the system", grow their own food, make their own clothes, generate their own electricity for the computer on which they post their blogs (and by the way, do you refine your own oil to make the plastic and semi-conductor components?) the only people who can do that are the independently wealthy – i.e. the ones who inherited a fortune and are therefore screwing the rest of us from birth.

Seriously, which philosophy will actually one day help people out of Third World poverty? "Leftist" "don't you worry your pretty little head about it, the State knows best" or Liberal free trade and opportunity? Because every single example everywhere of countries escaping poverty is thanks to Free Trade and not State Intervention.

"Tennant-era Doctor Who is liberal."

– this is supposed to be an insult???

News for you, Larry: HARTNELL era Doctor Who is Liberal: the Sensorites are people, the Rills are the nice ones (crass as that message is), religious intolerance leads to "The Massacre"; Troughton Era Doctor Who is Liberal: "why?" is the unanswerable question for Daleks; Pertwee-era – yes, Lord help us, even the Twepee Era is Liberal: green scaly people are people too; the Baker-era is Liberal; the Davison-era, Liberal; the Baker, McCoy, McGann and Eccleston-era Doctor Who IS ALL Liberal.

You cannot get away from it: the series is ABOUT a person who opposes the arbitrary power of bullies.

He's not ever a "leftist": he doesn't believe in the centralised state. He's not a Conservatory: he RAN AWAY FROM traditional inherited power. Time and time again he is FOR the individual, for science and discovery, for freedom. He's the OPPOSITE of the DALEKS for fluffy's sake. DOCTOR WHO IS A LIBERAL.

Hang on, Larry's got a caveat:

"…much of the previous paragraph was informed by various encounters with Doctor Who authors over the years. Most particularly, an argument with Paul Cornell - Grand Poobah of Liberals and unapologetic Blairite…"

Sorry? You think supporting New Labour makes you a LIBERAL???????????

This can only be the cognitive dissonance speaking: "I am a leftist. Leftist must be GOOD. Labour is EVIL. Labour cannot be leftist. DOESNOTCOMPUTE DOESNOTCOMPUTE Must… pick… term… at… random… Labour are Liberals. Ahhhhhh, brain feel better now."

Words MEAN things, and being in denial about the Labour Party being "of the left" does not give you an excuse to go all Humpty Dumpty on us.

Which, to cut a long story short, brings me back to Master Gideon.

Who would have expected the Shadow Tuck Shop Monitor and the author of "Alien Bodies" to have anything in common, and yet here they both are redefining away to let them feel good about themselves.

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They change the facts to fit their opinions."

That's a quote from Doctor Who. Being a Liberal.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 3146: Alan Duncan-Doughnuts IS a Plonker… but does he have a point?


So, the Conservatories’ Spokesperson for Making Mr Ian Hislop’s Job Easier has once again placed himself in mouth-foot conjunction, caught on hidden camera with the suggestion that MPs are “living on rations”.

Oh throw up your fluffy feet and decry how dreadful, greedy, out-of-touch, etc, etc copyright all overpaid news-editors.

Except, let’s be honest he was not SERIOUSLY comparing MPs’ sixty-four thousand pounds-a-year salaries to wartime comestibles; he was using LIGHT-HEARTED language to explain the point he was making. No joke can survive ultra-po-faced analysis on the The Today Programme… and, let’s face it, Mr Duncan-Doughnuts IS that joke.

Firstly, don’t we WANT politicians who will try and talk in a way that has wit and character and occasional total idiocy, rather than the desperate robot-code that Mr Balloon or Lord Mandelbrot speak in all the time? It is this very act of taking someone to task for their WORDS rather than their MEANING that drives politicians into the realms of never saying or meaning ANYTHING. I mean far be it for me to suggest that Mr Doughtnuts is anything other than a venal nincompoop, but at least the very unpredictability of the next way that he’s going to cock up makes him more worthwhile than most of the grey-faced cyborgs in the Shadow Cabinet.

Secondly, lets remember to whom Mr Doughnuts was talking: the editor of a political magazine who had previously made a slightly blunt point by digging up Mr Doughnuts’ garden and planting some pretty flowers. Rather than ordering Smithers to “release the hounds”, Mr Doughnuts had invited the fellow round for tea at the House. That’s really rather admirable. As it turned out, blitheringly naïve too. Yes, like his appearances on Have I Got a Rip Off of the News Quiz For You, it’s because he’s arrogant enough to think that he can outsmart the professional piss-takers. And he can’t. But nonetheless, once again, we are in danger of punishing an MP who is, shock and fluffy horror, actually trying to reach out to someone with an opposite point of view.

But thirdly, concentrating on the unfortunate or otherwise choice of words in this remark is drawing attention away from the point Mr D was trying to make: that we are putting off the very people, the “best” people who are the ones we WANT to be in politics.

Let’s just get a couple of statistics straight here. According to the Office of National Statistics, the MEAN weekly wage in 2008 was £574. That’s equal to £29,848 a year. So MPs get paid a bit more than TWICE the average national wage, not “three times” which is a figure we hear bandied about quite a lot.

Also, bear in mind that people aged sixteen to twenty-one get paid SUBSTANTIALLY less than older workers, which skews that national average down a lot – whereas MPs with few exceptions, tend to be, well, over 21.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a WELL-PAID job, as much as, say, the earnings of two secondary-school teachers. It’s not impossible to make ends meet.

(And I do not have much truck with the Conservatories’ EXCUSES for earnings on the side, be it columns in the Tell-Lies-graph, after-dinner speaking, sitting on the boards of banks and tobacco companies or, if you are Mr William Vague, all of the above. I agree that MPs would be better if they have experience of the world outside Parliament, but I believe that means they should have a different job BEFORE they go into politics not SIMULTANEOUSLY with.)

But it’s not dwelt on that MPs have a full time job in the House of Commons supervising legislations AND a full time job in their constituencies helping and being advocate for their constituents, AND then they have the tedious business of doing campaigning to keep their jobs on top of that. So a good MP can easily end up with a 70 hour week. And yet, when we hear (often ALSO well-paid) commentators suggesting “most people wouldn’t mind doubling their salaries”, they rarely put it as “most people wouldn’t mind doubling their working hours in order to double their salaries”. Because, on the whole, most people WOULD mind doubling their working hours.

But shouldn’t we REALLY be looking for our MPs to be among the six-hundred BEST PEOPLE in the country?

Looking at this “best salaries” league table for 2008, you see that company directors earn an average of over TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds. Is it not the case that we want our MPs to have the talent and drive of these sort of people rather more than the talent and drive of (picking someone from around the national average salary) a workplace hygienist (no offence to workplace hygienists)? For that matter, don’t we want MPs to have the skills to manage top company directors or would we rather businesses ran rings round our legislators?

For that matter, shouldn’t an MP get more than two-thirds the wage of a newsreader on barely-watched BBC News24?

Basically, if we want the BEST people, shouldn’t we expect to pay a BIT more than what you pay for middle management in a not-too-big private company?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 3144: I'm SOOOO glad that Britain's Top Spook can stand up under questioning


After the Secretaries of State for Home and Away, Mr Johnson and Johnson and Mr Millipede, assumed what can only be described as the "Ms Mandy Rice-Davies position", it fell to the Head of MI6 and former Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir John "Captain" Scarlet, to DENY EVERYTHING.

Agent Scarlet: We always stick to our principles.

Sinister BBC Questioner: Meaning we don't torture?

Agent Scarlet: We do not torture!

Sinister BBC Questioner: and we're not complicit in torture?

Agent Scarlet: Um, er, um, well, er, no, no we're not, as it we're, um complicit, um no. Sorry.

He's hardly likely to win a round of "Call My Bluff" let alone defend the Secrets of the Nation from a determined interrogator from Pakistan, Morocco or, um, Americaland, is he?

Seriously, is there ANYONE who DOESN'T at least vaguely SUSPECT that we are up to our fluffy NECKS in complicity with the torture of British and former Gitmo resident Mr Binyam Mohammed?

Oh it could all be an enormous COINCIDENCE, couldn't it? By an incredible MISCHANCE, British MI5 agents JUST HAPPENED to be in the cell in Pakistan asking him questions BETWEEN some rather unpleasant bouts of what they no doubt innocently assumed to be physical exercise.

And then by a truly ASTOUNDING stroke of misfortune, one of the same agents was merely passing by in Morocco during what can only have been some dreadful misunderstanding with the electrical contractors. Three times.

Other establishment stooges respected senior figures spinning the party lie line included Environment Secretary Mr Benny Hill on the Andy Marrmite (aka Sophie Rayworth) Show and Mr Dr Kim Philby Howells, Labour chairman of the no-intelligence and no-security committee on the The Today Programme.

"We are resolutely opposed to it, and that remains the case," said Mr Benny firmly, before completely undermining that with his Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card (not applicable in Pakistan, Morrocco, etc): "Other countries, they're responsible for what they do, but the position of the British government is absolutely clear."

Translation: it's not OUR fault.

And Mr Dr Kim was even less SUBTLE:

"We can't give a guarantee, and no government on earth can give a guarantee that somebody who's picked up and held in another country hasn't had their... human rights abused in some way."

No, you can't guarantee that no one will be tortured. More is the pity. But if you had an OUNCE of HONOUR what you COULD guarantee is that you would NAME and SHAME any Government up to and including our own, that uses even by extension torture; you could guarantee to refuse sharing of intelligence with such regimes, because exchanging OUR intelligence for the PROBABLY-WORSE-THAN-USELESS products of forcing someone to say what they think you want to hear is just pouring resources down the very-unsanitary TOILET.

You could even, my goodness, INTERVENE to try and put a STOP to it! If you know someone is in a cell with the man in the rubber apron, send in the ambassador; if you realise that the unscheduled aeroplane en route from Talibaptistland to Talibanland via a British airstrip is probably extraordinarily rendering someone, stop it taking off again.

Freedom, prosperity, human rights, not being EXPLODED, not being TORTURED. These are the things that we are SUPPOSED to have on offer, instead of the certainties of a theocratic tyranny.

Can we PLEASE try and remember that.

Remember: Captain Scarlet's feeble excuses are indestructible; yours are not. Do not try to imitate him.