Saturday, October 28, 2006
Day 2120: Mr Something of the Night has a cosy chat
Nowadays, most people have forgotten that before Mr Balloon was there, the Conservatories used to be led by a nasty old Transylvanian who was only famous for being the most right wing home secretary ever ever ever until Lord Blairimort got in and started appointing a string of people who made him look as soft and wet as a downy duckling's bathing suit.
It is rumoured that at least one senior Conservatory politician is unable to invite their former boss around because at the sight of Mr Something of the Night, his little children immediately start quoting Mr Rory Bremner's impersonation:
"I'm not going to HARM you!"
Oh, how he must have wished that the same could be said of the METROPOLITAN POLICE this week, when they invited him to "help them with their inquiries".
This of course is all to do with the ongoing inquiry into whether or not Lord Blairimort is going to get BANGED UP IN THE BIG HOUSE for flogging places in the House of Lords Club in return for huge great bungs of undeclared loans.
As the Sheriff in Robbin' Hoodie would say: CLUE – YES.
Not ones to do an unthorough job, the police have also been looking into the SUSPICIOUSLY ENORMOUS undeclared loans to Mr Balloon's Conservatory Party from four people who ENTIRELY COINCIDENTALLY then got given, er, seats in the House of Lords Club.
Of course, only the most CYNICAL of people could see any similarity between these cases of BLATANT CORRUPTION.
(The Liberal Democrats, before you start reading Mr Rodger Stavro-Moredick's smears, DECLARED the loans that they had received, and were CLEARED by the Electoral Commission of doing anything wrong in the business of that one and only big donation.)
Why would the police want to talk to Mr Something of the Night, though? Well, it is standard police procedure that when a crime is suspected, they check out all the local VILLAINS and people who are known to have BROKEN THE LAW. No wonder Mr Something of the Night popped to the top f their list! When he was Home Secretary he granted more Royal Pardons than anyone had ever done before. Mainly to HIMSELF every time he was caught breaking the law.
Disappointingly, we were deprived of a jolly good laugh (and a chorus of the SCHADENFREUDE song) when Mr Something of the Night failed to have his collar felt…
Mind you, I do hope he did not AVOID any questions! The police might have to come back another TWELVE times to ask him those questions again!
Friday, October 27, 2006
Day 2119: TORCHWOOD: Everything Changes / Day One
Mr Stripy and I have been sent to bed because this show is only for grown up and not for six-year-old [R: FIVE-year-old] baby elephants.
It's not like I haven't seen BOTTOMS before. I happen to have a rather magnificent fluffy bottom of my very own! It's not like I haven't heard BAD LANGUAGE before: Daddy is QUITE capable of turning the air BLUE if it is a REALLY good Today Programme or Newsnight Show!
Anyway, it's not like I don't know how to use the DVD RECORDER, either! I may have big flappy feet, but I can still stamp on the remote control until I hit PLAY!
I think it was BRILLIANT! It is just like Doctor Who but with a VERY, VERY COOL CAR!
As for it being for GROWN UPS: so far as I can tell, the message of TORCHWOOD is "GIRLS ARE BAD" – if they are not bouncing up and down on your tummy until you blow up, then they are stabbing you in the back in order to try out their latest fashion accessory.
But Daddy thinks that there is MORE to this series than that…
Torchwood is billed as the new "adult" spin-off from Russell T Davies and Doctor Who.
Now let's get this out of the way right up front, I do not think that by "adult" they mean that it's Doctor Who with bums and swearing. True, they certainly have all of those things within the first hour-and-a-half, but my suspicion is that they are there like great big warning signs to scare off the under-twelves (or more accurately their parents).
My suspicion is that "adult" is going to refer to the series underlying themes – themes that are hinted at but far from developed in the opening episodes. Connected to that, is my second suspicion that there will be a good few in the audience who moan about "soap opera" because I would guess that the series' themes will be largely emotional – touching more explicitly on the areas where Doctor Who itself can only allude. So expect love, betrayal, guilt, anger, despair.
The two central ideas that have already been seeded are clearly the dehumanising effect of working for Torchwood and the (possibly contradictory) way that it is an escape from a dull existence for Gwen Cooper.
The person most dehumanised is our hero Captain Jack Harkness. Jack is dehumanised to the point where he cannot die, thanks to a gift of resurrection. (You don't in fact need to know this was the intervention of Rose Tyler in the Doctor Who episode "The Parting of the Ways".)
I do have a bit of a theory about what regeneration for the Doctor might mean. As usually presented, it is just the rebuilding of his body when he gets killed. But, inspired by the "Cog Theory" of Continuity (that Doctor Who continuity applies smoothly from one story to the ones immediately before and after it, just not necessarily to stories further ago than last year) I speculated that when the Doctor regenerates he actually changes the whole of his timeline so that he is in a body that would have survived whatever killed him. This is of course retroactive (or how would it save his life) so it becomes that he has always been the new incarnation. This clearly has dramatic implications for the rest of the universe too, which is why things like Dalek history or the existence of the Master or the place of the Cybermen in the universe all seem to change inconsistently. (Given how dramatic these changes can be, no wonder most Time Lords stay at home on Gallifrey and try to minimise the amount of the universe they can affect.) It's also how adventures like the Two, Three or Five Doctors happen: the Time Lords are not summoning the alternative Doctors from the past, they are summoning them from alternative (and effectively deleted) timelines.
The thing is, though, Captain Jack was killed with a Dalek Gun, which can kill anything and in particular – if you think about who they'd be trying to kill in the Time War – it must be able to kill even Time Lords. So when Bad Wolf Rose brings Jack back from the dead, if it's anything like the way regeneration works, then she'd have to make it so that he couldn't have been killed by anything.
It is, incidentally, quite wrong to say that this immortality undermines the dramatic tension. In any ongoing series we know that the hero is going to survive the week anyway; this is just a bit more fourth wall about it. The drama should arise from whether and how he will resolve the situation in which he finds himself, and the way that he reacts to and interacts with the other people around him. Drama is about the relationships, and how people are changed by events. It would be a dull thing indeed if it was just about will he live or die.
The change that has been wrought in Jack is one of melancholy. We do not know how much time has passed for him since his travels with the Doctor, and if the immortality affects the way he ages then it might be a very long time indeed. There are moments that suggest that his life weighs heavy upon him: certainly his insistence that he cannot die seems to suggest that he may have actively tried to. His habit of standing on high roofs – at first glance all heroic Batman homage – leans towards the idea that he might also practice falling off high roofs to see if he's still not dead.
But a man looking for death might also be a man looking for a new life. Certainly he seems to see a spark of something in naïf PC Gwen Cooper when she comes calling. In spite of his intention to drug her and erase her memory, he certainly takes the opportunity to show off to her, show her around and generally appears to be enjoying her – human – company for its own sake.
And he confesses at the end that she may be right about Torchwood being better if it helped people. And by inviting her inside he could be reaching out for a new life as well.
Road not taken: Gwen has her second, and highly coincidental, encounter with Captain Jack just after receiving a blow to her head, but nothing is made of the possibility that it’s just a delusion brought on by concussion and an over-active imagination, what Alex calls the "Life on Mars" explanation.
But, he also asks, does Jack deliberately lure Gwen up those stairs – Torchwood jump out and grab the Weevil pretty smartly once it has already attacked the unlucky porter; did they want some live bait?
Reflecting further on that: at the conclusion we see that Gwen's return to the Millennium plaza triggers Suzie's plan for flight and her confession just as Jack emerges from the invisible lift. Or is it a coincidence? Has Jack been using Gwen as live bait again?
Aside from the Captain, Torchwood's opening story "Everything Changes" presents us with several addiction metaphors: clearly the Resurrection Glove has addictive properties that unbalance the user, but we see that both Owen and Toshiko have their own guilty pleasures for which they are willing to steal from Torchwood's alien tech stash. The way that the scenes are intercut ought to tip us off that Russell is asking us to consider the equivalence of all the moral actions here: while it might seem from the resolution that it is Suzie Costello who is the out-and-out villain – she's the one who kills to further her addiction – does that in fact absolve the others or rather flag us up to the fact that they too might be equally bad?
Certainly Dr Owen Harper has provoked much debate through his use of what is depending on your point of view either a super-effective cologne or a date rape drug. Superficially, Owen goes to a bar, sprays himself, and immediately the woman finds him irresistible. This would certainly seem to say that he is controlling her. Re-watching the scene, though, there is some evidence that she is interested in him to begin with, but either not enough or playing hard to get or just aware that she already has a boyfriend, in which case when he sprays himself does he just encourage her to do what she wanted but for inhibition? But then, when they are caught by said boyfriend, Owen sprays himself again and it results in a total change in the man's mood, from anger to lust.
The problem with any analysis of course is that we do not see the outcome for the couple: how do they feel in the morning? Have they discovered something new about themselves that makes them happy, or do they feel used and dirty? (There's even some question as to whether he did have sex with the couple. It's my interpretation that he did, but I've heard the alternative viewpoint that he calls the taxi for himself so that he can leave them behind, squabbling.)
Personally, I lean to the idea that Owen did have sex with the couple without their consent.
And this is typical Russell T Davies: he gives us brief, throwaway almost, scene that is in itself very funny, a twist on many an old fairy story where you get too much of a good thing. But in fact you should turn it over in your mind and be asking questions about what this means.
Remember that the second episode, "Day One", also presents us with someone irresistibly sexually attractive, but the consequences of that are dramatically fatal. Yes, it might superficially seem like an excuse to show pornography on the BBC – a point underlined by the fact that the club bouncer is using it as pornography on the BBC! – but it is also about the destructive power of rape. Taking away someone else's choice in sex is bad.
There is also the question of whether we will see further consequences for Owen: I think we will. It is unlike Russell T Davies to build a character without planning for their development, and there are also hints to be found on the Torchwood Website that Owen's behaviour has been noted.
Nor should we think that Tosh is more innocent than the others either. It would appear that her "alien book reader" is a benign piece of technology that just enables her to copy text from paper to her computer. And maybe it is. But it is another example of the dehumanising effect: the simple human act of sitting and reading has been by-passed. How much has Tosh let this device get into its head, or into her head? It remains to be seen.
The second theme is the obvious excitement that newcomer Gwen feels on discovering this new world. It is her escape from the humdrum. To tie to the first theme, possibly addictively so. Even when Jack ticks her off for finding fault with the wonders he's showing her, he already knows she's hooked. For Gwen, it's almost like having an affair – see how she is already deceiving her partner. Rhys seems drab and dull to us in comparison with the exciting world of Captain Jack, and deliberately so.
There is an obvious comparison to make to Rose Tyler whisked away into a world of adventure and her stay-at-home boyfriend Mickey Smith. But there is a subtlety of difference as well, in that Mickey is the dumped boyfriend left for the new guy whereas Rhys has no clue what is going on.
It is quite possible that much of "Everything Changes" is deliberately designed to echo "Rose". The opening incident witnessed by the young female protagonist; her investigation of the mysterious man; the entry – literally – into his world, a huge and alien space with a central column and disguised entrance…
Or it could all be a coincidence.
Of course, given that the Torchwood staff are scavengers, scrabbling up the alien technology that they covet, it could also be a source of rich irony that Torchwood the series scavenges much from the successful formulae of television past:
Things that TORCHWOOD takes bits from…
BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: monsters attracted to the Hellmouth/ monsters attracted to the Cardiff rift; Vampires/Weevils
ANGEL: brooding tortured hero stalks the darkened streets / brooding Torchwood hero stalks the darkened streets
DEEP SPACE NINE: aliens coming through the Bajoran Wormhole/ aliens coming through the Cardiff rift; those circular cog-wheeled doors
CAPTAIN SCARLET: the hero who was killed, brought back to life and now can't die / yadda yadda; also, the cool elephant-pleasing Gerry Anderson cars / the cool elephant-pleasing Gerry Anderson car
QUATERMASS (2006) (and the rest): night shots of roads to look like arteries
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: Lector's glass prison in the cellar / the Weevils' glass prison in the cellar
BABYLON 5: mysteriously missing Babylon 4/ mysteriously missing Torchwood 4
(Which reminds me: of the four Torchwoods the two that we know of are both built around breaches in the space-time continuum, and from its mysterious disappearance we might guess that Torchwood 4 was somewhere similar. So are all the Torchwoods built around rifts?)
Oh, and the pet Pterodactyl reminds me of the "pet" Vortisaur in the first season for Big Finish of Paul McGann's eighth Doctor.
From a simply stylistic point of view, the series is clearly trying to use the techniques of modern American television to carve out a new and unique style for itself. It isn't very unique yet, but I remain hopeful. The music is fantastically good, rather better than Doctor Who gets, actually, and the visuals are nicely composed even if they don't quite have a house style that instantly says Torchwood in the way that "Spooks" and "Hustle" have both built up thier own visual "feel".
On the whole, solid foundations which, I hope, will bear re-watching in future when hindsight will change our perception of the key moments. There are references forwards in the pilots of each of Buffy, Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine, even if they are not obvious to begin with. I look forward to seeing what will develop from these roots.
Oh, and I expect we will find out what is large and nasty and driving the Weevils up out of the sewers too.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Day 2118: ROBIN HOOD: Who Shot the Sheriff?
I have been practicing with my BOW and ARROW! So far I have broken FIVE violins! I have no idea how Mr Holmes does it.
Daddy Richard and Daddy Alex enjoyed Robbin' Hoodie much more this week, probably because it was written by someone from the Doctor Who writers club.
This week's War on Terror reference: "War on Terror".
Also: "we're going to win some hearts and minds".
Well, thankfully, Paul Cornell did not let me down and produced an episode far superior to either of the opening two. It was obvious just watching it that it had a far better grasp of pace and dialogue.
And for the first time the series was willing to kill a few people. Eight, in fact. Three each for the assassin and the sheriff's Master-of-Arms. One of them was even the "innocent boy" character!
And two for Sir Guy – ironically, those being the other two killers.
There were a couple of minor niggles:
Maid Marion dressing up as a twelfth century superhero was a little contrived. And her superhero name, "The Night Watchman", even more so. (And she got in and out of Nottingham Castle how, exactly? What with it being all locked up until the Sheriff left and yet she arrived at – woosh kerthunk – Nettlestone Village before him.) It does seem to fly in the face of all her advice to Robin about opposing the Sheriff subtly and politically.
And, as whodunits go, it was a trifle short on suspects. Old retainer Lacey bearing a grudge about his dead wife and, er… Okay, to be fair I was fooled: I thought that Lacey was going to be "the Night Watchman" and the assassin someone we didn't know.
(The only other suspect was the Master-of-Arms De Fourtnoy who we the viewer knew was doing the fake assassinations on the Sheriff's orders.)
But, never mind that, it was a great improvement on what we had seen so far: clearly all that working for Russell T Davies on Doctor Who has paid off! The action sequences were exciting and appropriate; the humour was better balanced, and if it was still at Much's expense it was about his ineptness not his implied lack of masculinity.
In fact Much's character was greatly improved all round, with dialogue put into his mouth that made him the "wise innocent" rather than just a dick. And interestingly Much's insights were played off against the same thoughts coming from the Sheriff: basically they both see the same thing in Robin: he just wants to be loved. But they come from different perspectives: Much sees it as a virtue to be admired, the Sheriff as a weakness to exploit.
Great dialogue for the Sheriff as well: a terrific scene where he and Robin metaphorically get into bed together. (Again, reflected in later action where Robin literally gets into bed with Marion and then later discovers she – though her dual identity – has in fact gotten into bed with him. But back to the Sheriff…) The Sheriff, more than anyone – though they're all doing it, has the mannerisms of a twenty-first century guy. He is, in fact "the Joker": he is vicious, greedy, amoral and very witty. He kills people because it is practical but he wants it done in a way that is funny. "Pretty deaths, pretty deaths," he coos to De Fourtnoy, careful not to give any actual orders. And he gets to physically boot Robin out of his carriage, giving him at last a genuine assertion of their relative positions: Sheriff on the inside, Robin the Outlaw.
Oh, all right, he does have to deliver the crushingly obvious pop reference too, but if you've ever read any Paul Cornell Doctor Who you will know these things are compulsory.
As with much of his Doctor Who, Paul here is also using his writing to explore character emotion: the "he just wants to be loved" theme echoes his lauded New Adventure "Human Nature" (where the Doctor tries out being human and falls in love); the driving nature of Lacey's sense of guilt is reminiscent of the Brigadier from Paul's sublime BBC Eighth Doctor Adventure "The Shadows of Avalon".
These emotional touches helped to fill out the incidental characters, and by extension the world that the series inhabits. Good actors helped, of course. De Fourtnoy in particular conveyed much of his inner thoughts – avarice, arrogance, anger, all the "a"s really – though a series of reaction shots with the words given to the Sheriff or to Sir Guy. Nice to see Sir Guy enjoying his work, too, and being a bit of a genuine bastard.
In fact Robin, ironically, is the least three-dimensional of the characters here, but that is no bother because cleverly Paul makes the plot circulate around him so that we are looking towards him from the viewpoint of the other characters. We learn what they think of him.
Viewing figures were down again, to six million – really that is still perfectly respectable, the sort of pull that gets "Spooks" or "Hustle" described as big hitters, but it's being reported as Robin losing his audience to ITV. It is disappointing, but because I think this one was in fact worth seeing, and if the earlier episodes had been nearer to this formula then I don't think there would be quite so much criticism about.
It's certainly reassured us that there is something here that is worth tuning in for. We’ll see if they can keep it up, or if we have to wait for Paul's next episode.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Day 2117: So farewell then, Claire Snort
Ms Claire Snort, the former Cabinet Minister and MP for Chained-to-a-Radiator South has QUIT from the Labour.
And as a BONUS, she is not going to try and join the Liberal Democrats either!
In her resignation letter she spells out that it is because of the Labour's attempts to shut her up about a HUNG PARLIAMENT that she is going, and in particular, the way that (typically) the Labour has conducted their disciplinary procedures by means of a string of press releases, off the record briefings and outright leaks.
Apparently, it has taken Ms Snort twenty-three years to realise that the problem with the Labour was that they are a bunch of obsessive, secretive control freaks who will have no truck with individuality or opposing opinions.
Still, I should not criticise.
Ms Snort may be late in doing it, but she has done the RIGHT THING. The Labour does not represent the policies or principles that she thought it did or that she herself thinks that she stands for so it is QUITE RIGHT that she should go rather than compromising everything away.
(Yes, I KNOW she compromised all her dignity away ages ago. Be nice.)
Lord Blairimort is only able to stay in power (in spite of the wishes of pretty much everyone from Mr Frown on down) because people continue stay in the Labour long after they should have realised that Lord B is just using them, long after they should have noticed that what they are being loyal to has nothing at all to do with the policies of this government.
If more of the Labour realised that they really are not in any kind of socialist party at all any more and just left, then Lord Blairimort might find his nauseating farewell tour of BLUE PETER and SONGS OF PRAISE cut rather abruptly (oh dear, pun alert) SHORT!
Day 2116: Why Mr Balloon, what a SUSPICIOUSLY FAMILIAR tax policy
So, the Conservatory Tax Commission has said let's have WHOPPING GREAT TAX CUTS, without saying anything about how to AFFORD them.
Mr Balloon has said: "Hangin' with the kids, I'm going to be sensible, give the washing up to the maid, and not promise any tax cuts. Not like these ones – these lovely ones here. Aren't they lovely? You'll only get them if you vote for me. Not that that's a promise you know? Why not vote for me anyway? Now, where is Consuella with my ironing?"
Does this not sound very much like OFFERING people a VERY NICE CAKE and then saying that you are NOT going to PAY for it?
Isn't not paying for cake sort of stealing?
And speaking of stealing, then we come on to where the Conservatories policies CAME FROM!
At the Liberal Democrats' conference last month, Sir Mr the Merciless announced new tax proposals.
To save the environment it is time for the GREEN TAX SWITCH, raising taxes on harming the environment and using that money to pay for:
- Cutting the basic rate of tax by 2p
- Abolishing the 10p rate altogether
- Raising the personal allowance to £ 7,185 to take the lowest paid out of tax altogether, and
- Raising the upper rate to £50,000 to reverse years of Mr Frown sneakily taking more and more people into higher rate tax.
- Cutting the basic rate of tax by 2p
- Abolishing the 10p rate altogether
- Raising the personal allowance to £ 7,185 to take the lowest paid out of tax altogether, and... do you see where this is going?
"But Mr Balloon, this just doing the Liberal Democrat's policies – do you not have any policies of your own?"
Perhaps the answer to this question is TOO OBVIOUS!
Of course, the plans are not COMPLETELY the same: the Liberals want to abolish some benefits for higher rate tax payers in order to make sure they can afford the tax cuts for everyone – while the Conservatories want to abolish Inheritance tax and Capital Gains tax on share-dealing: basically more tax favours for the very rich.
And, er, without saying how they will pay for any of this.
Except of course Mr Balloon says he won't have to pay for any of this (ha ha!) as he won't do it unless he finds the money under his magic money tree.
His chum Mr Boy George Osborne describes this as choosing from a MENU. (I am sure that Sir Digby Chicken Caesar calls it choosing from the menu as he rummages through the bins round the back of someone else's headquarters too!)
The Conservatories new position is being "responsible" on tax.
Personally, I think that this is more a political DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS.
No wonder Mr Balloon does not want MP's getting stuck into the veil row!
Friday, October 20, 2006
Day 2115: Coming Soon…
A scientist called Mr Dr Oliver Curry has announced the results of his study of the FUTURE.
According to Dr Curry, human beings are going to evolve into GIANTS and DWARFS. It is possible that he has been smoking too much of the pipeweed from the University Tolkien Society!
Or maybe he is just working for a TELEVISION STATION with a series to flog!
On the other fluffy foot, Dr Curry does sort of have a point.
A lot of people think that EVOLUTION does not apply to human beings, because of the way that you can now adapt your environment to suit your needs, rather than having to wait until your bodies adapt to suit the environment.
It is important to remember, though, that the process of evolution does not just stop because you have discovered CENTRAL HEATING. In fact it is carrying on all the time and you are adapting more and more to changing conditions.
Here is a good example: human beings start off by drinking MILK, usually from mummies, but you are also able to drink COW-JUICE. But once you are WEANED milk becomes POISONOUS to you.
That might strike you as very, very odd because you probably think, no Millennium, I can drink cow-juice, I have some in my TEA!
You are right! That is because human beings today have in fact CHANGED, you have evolved from humans of thousands of years ago so that you can STILL drink cow-juice after you have grown up.
Why would you do this? Well, it MIGHT have something to do with cows getting all DOMESTICATED a few thousand years ago once you had invented AGRICULTURE. In difficult times, cow-juice becomes a needed source of nutrition; then people able to drink cow-juice have an advantage because they have better food; people who can't drink cow-juice all die out; new humans evolved.
The thing about evolution to remember is that it is not a CLEVER process: there is nothing DESIGNED about it. Whichever adaptation gives you the ADVANTAGE is the one that will flourish – sometimes they are things that make sense, like lungs for going on land or eyes for seeing food or a big fluffy nose for TYPING with, but sometimes they are silly, like the way some birds go really over the top with their plumage.
Sometimes there is a great CALAMITY that wipes out lots of creatures with sensible seeming adaptations, and what happens is something else manages to survive and then develops into lots of new ways. Evolution can achieve change very fast when there are lots of opportunities for new variations of animal, or when differences in environment are very extreme.
Daddy has a COOL DVD of some other people's guesstimates of what might happen in the future, and there are LOTS of very, VERY weird suggestions.
So this makes it difficult to predict what the future path of evolution will be – and so Dr Curry's guess is ONLY a guess. There could be lots of different ways that people will evolve, because there could be lots of different changes to their environment.
(Assuming you leave an environment AT ALL!)
Not that Dr Curry's guess might not be a GOOD ONE based on studying the way people have evolved already. For example, people in Great Britain have certainly become taller over the last hundred years, thanks to better diet and living conditions. But if Dr Curry is RIGHT, then it is also an advantage in finding a HOT DATE in the evolution game: if being tall is an advantage in the selection stakes then more and more people will have the genes for tallness.
(And indeed there will be increases in, er, OTHER things that are seen as good ways to choose a partner. No matter how daft they might seem to a soft toy!)
But IS being taller necessarily such an advantage? If you are a GIRAFFE then the answer is YES because your food is all HIGH UP. If you are a TREE then the answer is ALSO YES, because there might be GIRAFFES about! But is it such an advantage for PEOPLE? Not really – if your food is high up, you can borrow a LADDER. Being short does not stop you finding LURVE and so is not so likely to be bred out as a trait.
The idea of humans splitting into two species is rather more far-fetched.
Scientists do not completely under this process – called SPECIATION – yet, but it is thought that, usually, you need part of one species to move to a new environment, either GEOGRAPHICAL or a new NICHE within the ones available where they are (like say a plant eater starting to eat insects). Then the group adapts to that new place while the rest of the species adapts differently to the old place. Humans wouldn't really split into different species unless they were separated into different places.
Of course, that COULD happen.
If some people go into SPACE then that will be a very big change. Just to go and live on a planet like MARS (the most likely possible place for a human being colony in the next one hundred years) will mean moving to a planet with lower gravity, and less sunlight. That might make people taller and more pale skinned.
And if you do not stop GLOBAL WARMING you are going to have to get used to things being a whole lot hotter around here – some of the adaptations of DARK SKINNED people might become much more advantageous and so skin tones back home will become more black.
Or some people could become more and more interconnected with their technology: bodies might get smaller as you use them less, but fingers could become more dextrous and eyes bigger and better for reading monitor screens.
And those are just the OBVIOUS ones! Nature is quite capable of coming up with some REALLY strange changes just to adapt to new circumstances. Never mind considering the way you might start tampering with yourselves by GENETIC ENGINEERING!
Having said all of that, human beings are in fact one of the MOST closely related species in the world, in spite of all the funny ideas that you have about skin or hair colour. It has been said that two humans from ANYWHERE ON EARTH are more closely related genetically than chimpanzees from two tribes separated by a river.
(It is thought that this might be because you all very nearly died out during one of the recent ICE AGES, but one family or group of families – from whom you are all descended – managed to survive, somewhere in Africa.)
And, short of Lord Blairimort causing World War Three, the world is becoming a much MORE connected place, not a less connected one. This is likely to keep human beings much more closely related to one another.
What a good job you are so good at getting along with your family!
Day 2114: History: That's YOU That Is
Today absolutely EVERYBODY has been writing diaries!
Mr Black Peter, Prince of Wales.
Mr Tony, who writes BALLOTS.
Mr Paul, who writes BURBLINGS.
And of course My Daddy Alex!
I have been looking at the HISTORY TODAY website and some of the stories that have been submitted so far. Most of them seem to start:
"I woke up at [6am / 6.30am / 6.55am / 7am / 7.15am etc] had [rice crispies / coco pops / shredded wheat / etc] for breakfast and went to school."
Here is MY diary for today:
"Arriving by Jet Ski in the early light of the crisp autumn dawn, I leap onto the river path and scale the back wall up to my flat. Silent as a phantom, I conceal the STOLEN PLANS of Professor Jackanory's TIME MACHINE behind the big stack of DVDs and reassure Mr Stripy that that MASTER CRIMINAL Mr Balloon – or Mr Von Balloon as I know him – will no longer be able to use the Professor's device to re-write history. His plan that no one would know about his attempts to use ITV Digital boxes to BRAINWASH the unsuspecting nation has been thwarted.
"Happy at a job well done, I bounce into the still darkened bedroom to place a box of brand chocolates and a card stamped with the silhouette of an elephant on the pillow next to my dozing daddies. Returning to the kitchen, I prepare a light breakfast of strawberries dipped in fresh cow-juice and dusted with sugar decorated with wafer thin chocolate leaves and a drizzle of honey. I leave it on the table with flutes of champagne catching the light as the sun comes up over that big tent that shares my name.
"The sound of daddies stirring – the early roar at some egregious claim on the Today Programme – alerts me that time is short and I strap on my rocket pack in preparation for another mundane day tracking down the agents of international conspiracies, fighting the enemies of liberalism and bopping Lord Blairimort on the nose. To be continued…"
That's a bit BORING isn't it? Maybe I'll just say:
"Sat on the back of the sofa. Watched DVDs. Hugged Mr Stripy. Watched more DVDs. More tomorrow!"
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Day 2113: One of Our Mad Bombers is Missing (err, or two)
The government has slightly misplaced a couple of people that they supposedly had under CONTROL ORDERS.
Sadly for that nice Mr Dr John Reid this does not even save him any places in prison because it turned out it was illegal to lock them up without trial anyway.
Lord Blairimort has hit back, saying: "Ooooo, scary, I warned you! Control orders are only second best. You should have let me lock them up forever without trial!"
Actually, what you should have done was made sure that MFI, the Security Service, were keeping a proper watch on them. Instead of – as Liberal Democrat Mr Nick Clogg points out – looking for loopholes to short-circuit the criminal justice system.
Obviously this involves paying actual people to do actual work and is a whole lot more actual effort than marching up to the House of Commons and passing ANOTHER LAW.
When is Lord Blairimort going to learn? Making something against the law does NOT stop it happening – you need to go out into the real world (that's the place OUTSIDE the iron gates at the end of Downing Street, Lord B) and actually DO something about it.
Things that you might consider doing about TERRORISM:
First – get some PROOF that when you say people are scary baddies they actually ARE scary baddies. For quite some time, the Liberal Democrats have been suggesting that you could use their TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS. You know, if you actually catch them on the phone planning to explode someone's granny or fire off a machine gun in a prison (oh, maybe NOT that one) then you can play the tape in court and GOLLY people might actually believe you.
Second – stop trying to score cheap headlines by picking on Muslims. You are only polarising opinion and pushing away the very people you want to represent. It is no wonder that there are now people wanting to set up their own faith schools when the government is always playing on the fears of both non-Muslim AND Muslim communities. Faith schools make the problem WORSE, not better. People shouldn't go burying their children in their own religion – children should be out there playing and learning together, making friends and GETTING ALONG.
Third – just ignore the terrorists for a bit. Publicity is the OXYGEN of these people: they can hardly terrorise anyone if the public is paying them no attention. No, that does NOT mean ignore the problem: we all know how hard the police and the spies have to work and they should be given the resources to DO that work and the rewards that they earn for doing it. You could start by recruiting more officers to help out, paid for by cancelling the I.D.iot card scheme. (The one you yourselves admit will NOT help against terrorism.)
Fourth – just STOP with the BANNING things. Lord Blairimort's solution is always "Legislation, legislation, legislation." Whatever happened to "education, education, education"? Let us reach out to learn more about each other, we have so much to gain from just talking to one another.
But here's one last thought: if you DO have your suspicions about someone (sinister beard, dubious foreign contacts, tape recorded diaries…) but you cannot prove it… aren't you – and all of us – safer if you DO NOT TIP THEM OFF by, for example, locking them up without trial or slamming a control order on them? Is this not what we have surveillance for?
Yes, of course they COULD escape from your supervision if you only keep them under surveillance, but OOPS, they appear to have done that ANYWAY!
You are quite wrong: control orders are NOT the "second best" option – they are the "second to WORST"!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Day 2112: The Only Opus Dei in the Village
Mrs Ruth Kelly, Minister for Enforcement of Religious Indoctrination, has a problem: government policy is SUPPOSED to be in favour of EQUAL TREATMENT for gay daddies (and mommies) but she does not BELIEVE in this.
So obviously she has a CHOICE – stick to her principles and RESIGN from the government or agree that religious based bigotry is NOT a central part of her faith and go along with government policy.
Of course, Mrs Kelly is not PRO-CHOICE either, so she has decided to ignore those options and get Lord Blairimort to give her SPECIAL TREATMENT instead.
This has proved very annoying for the people in Lord Blairimort's Cabinet who believe in doing what they say they will do (see them listed in the WIKIPEDIA under NAÏVE!). In particular Mr Alan "Interesting" Johnson who had previously been responsible for EQUALITY legislation and was strongly under the impression that in fact equal treatment for gay daddies had ALREADY BEEN AGREED.
But never mind that, suddenly Mrs Kelly finds that she has her sticky fingers on a SPANNER ready to stick it into the machinery of government.
What she wants is for people to be able to discriminate against gay daddies for no reason other than a four-thousand year old copy of "Rough Guide to the Sinai" says so.
Interesting example: Mrs Kelly wants hotels to be able to turn away gay daddies – will she also be checking to make sure that they do not have PRAWN COCKTAIL on their dinner menu?
So-called FAITH SCHOOLS – with their strong record of successfully bringing the religious communities together in NORTHERN IRELAND – have predictably led the protest with cries of:
"It's not FAIR!"
Apparently, they live in TERROR that the rules could affect teaching about (SHOCK!) sex or require them to let (HORROR!) gay groups hold meetings on their premises after hours.
The Catholic Church, which – it says here – regards homosexuality as a SIN, has suggested adoption agencies would close down rather than obey.
If only it was so easy to convince other BIGOTS!
Elephant: dear Ku Klux Klan, you must obey equality legislation about black people;
Grand Wizard: oh, well in that case we’re all just a-hangin' up our cotton-pickin' WHITE SHEETS and darn well GOIN' ON HOME!
Well OBVIOUSLY this really isn't on and I am pleased to hear that Liberal Democrat MP Ms LOVELY BURT has had something to say about it!
(Typically, Mr Balloon is waiting to discover which way the wind is blowing before COURAGEOUSLY leading in whatever direction public opinion is already blowing. This would have been a good time to DEMONSTRATE how he really meant all those things he said about INCLUSIVELY and CHANGE. Oh dear, another opportunity BLOWN.)
Thank goodness for the Liberal Democrats!
"We had always feared Ruth Kelly’s personal beliefs would make her unsuitable to be a champion of gay rights. Unfortunately these fears have become reality and she should now stand down," said Ms Lovely.
The demand for Mrs Kelly's resignation was declared to be ABSURD by a spokesperson for the woman who believes in pleasing god by hurting herself with a small metal chain of inwardly-pointing spikes worn around the upper thigh.
Meanwhile, Mrs Kelly's deputy is saying that a woman who insists on putting her religious beliefs ahead of her duty to her job is UNFIT TO SERVE.
That must have been an interesting conversation when he got back to the office!
Lord Blairimort has given his full support to Mrs Kelly. And, to be fair, to her deputy as well.
Blairimort: "I worship the little baby Jesus in the daytime and sacrifice to the devil at midnight and I see no contradiction in that." (© "If I Ruled the World")
It seems that he is as keen as ever to follow the AMERICAN lead and is now trying to introduce their VERY SPECIAL flavour of religious TOLERATION – the "you can have your faith in any colour you like as long as it's CORNBALL CREATIONIST" version of freedom of religion.
The time has come to admit that Britain has a problem with an UNWANTED MINORITY: by and large they shout very loud, demand all sorts of special rights, have their own set of "beliefs" different from ordinary folk, read the Daily Mail and think that they can look down on other people based on what colour they come in or what flavour of cuddles they prefer.
And unfortunately they run the country.
These people DESPERATELY want to hang on to power but they don't have any BETTER ANSWERS to offer you, so they just try to keep you SCARED all the time.
Every few years they come up with a new "PERIL" to victimise: at the moment it is Muslims, but before that there were the EAST EUROPEANS, the GYPSIES, the COLONIALS, the JEWS, the CHINESE, the HUGUENOTS, the JEWS again, the ROMANS, the SAXONS, the NEANDERTHALS and the CUDDLY MAMMOTHS.
"Mail on Sun Worship Day, 15th October 6000 BC. Headline: Menace Druids Demand Right to Build "Super-Henge" in Salisbury. P2 How the end of the Ice Age will affect your property prices…"
Do we REALLY want American Tali-baptist style religious influence (as promoted by Mr Karl Rove a.k.a. "Bush's Brain") worming its way into our politics?
No, of course not.
"Look, I can't… you know… give you the evidence… but you've just got to trust me on this… I've got a feeling… it just might be true!" is NO basis for making sensible decisions. Look how well it worked last time!
The Americans VERY WISELY devised the separation of Church and State and enshrined it their Constitution. In this country we have usually used EMBARRASSMENT to keep politicians from mentioning what they do on their knees at the weekend. (Sadly, our way actually seems to work better.)
The really tragic thing is that all that the Labour ministers are willing to do is row about it in Cabinet and then leak to the Observer. What a shame they do not have the BACKBONE to oppose to Lord Blairimort and his FAITH BASED INITIATIVE.
Will somebody PLEASE STAND UP TO THIS LUNATIC!
Meanwhile, since Mrs Kelly is already a member of a BIZARRE CULT and believes in greater SMITING, may I recommend that she goes the whole hog and COMES OUT as a worshipper of CUDDLY CTHULHU.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Day 2111: ROBIN HOOD: Sheriff Got Your Tongue?
Caption: Our Front Room…
We settle down again on my sofa to watch ROBBING HOODIE. I am not sure if it is quite "appointment to view" yet; I had to wake my daddies up by turning up the sound REALLY LOUD and dancing along to "Strictly Ballroom Fever".
I do not THINK that daddy minded me dancing on his tummy…
It seems very odd that this new Robin Hood can almost revel in some of the more messily gory aspects of 12th Century justice – a removed hand last week; off screen, at least one tongue cut out this week – and yet cannot bring itself to kill anybody.
The "brutal" outlaws in Sherwood Forest (under sentence of death, remember) strip their victims (only to their underclothes – for shame's sake!) and tie them to trees rather than – say – killing them a bit. These are witnesses to their crimes and where they are hiding who could presumably turn them in to the Sheriff, were they not Robin and co so also newly outlawed.
But Robin in particular goes to ludicrous, and indeed unbelievable, lengths to convince the Sheriff that he is willing to kill when in fact he is faking it: ludicrous because the Sheriff will see through the deception as soon as he discovers the "corpse" has got up and walked away; unbelievable because a recurved bow at point blank range would punch an arrow quite lethally though that piece of wood – try to remember that these things are used against armoured knights.
Last week we were playing "Hollyoaks" but this week we are clearly moving into the territory of "The A Team".
"In 1172 a crack team of crusaders were outlawed for a crime they didn't commit…"
Still on the whole, things are getting better: the dialogue was snappier, Robin and Marion sparked off each other a bit more and Gordon Kennedy added some much needed bottom to the outlaws.
And the Sheriff – ooh, and he's got a name, Sheriff Vasey, apparently, first name Royston we presume – the Sheriff gets a lot better lines this time: his nearly psychoanalysis analysis of Robin, spotting the fatal flaw in the man (and in the series!) that Robin is against killing is very well delivered and even with Robin holding him at arrow point you strongly feel that it is the Sheriff who has the upper hand.
On the other hand, Sam Troughton is still suffering with dialogue for Much coming straight out of the fifties. Possibly the twelve-fifties. Welcome back jokes about effeminacy, then: the limply running gags about lavender water, waiting until the rabbit is properly cooked and the "fetching" many-coloured string vest of which Much is deprived all seem to speak of a writer whose sense of humour needs to grow up a bit. This is rather more offensive stuff than the farting "Aliens of London" in Doctor Who: there the childish humour was about the ridiculousness of a very human biological problem; this is really just picking on someone for not being butch enough to meet the – did I mention how heterosexual it all is – group's standards.
And rather oddly, no sign of Will Scarlet's "never-before-heard-of" brother Luke… having missed Little John in the close of episode one, did I also miss young Luke being whisked away home to "Locksley"? Or indeed Loxley as everyone else calls it? Will he be "never-heard-of-again"?
More "outrageous" stunts this week, though not so obsessively as in part one and mostly in the big escape at the end. Robin's super-human archery skills are mainly kept to his rescue of Little John's wife, Alice, by shooting the ghastly tongue-scissors from the fingers of a passing henchman. And then shooting them again in mid air. Not that he was showing off, at all.
This week's totally gratuitous moment: Robin slides down a rope hanging from the arms of his bow. Rather than, for example, calmly leaving by the stairs with Roy (William Beck), his not-quite-as-shot-dead-as-the-Sheriff-thought chum. It took ages to set up and really wasn't nearly spectacular enough. Sorry. You need to make these things seem casual and spontaneous.
With fewer stunts there was more time for character moments, and thankfully they were mostly given to Gordon Kennedy who can act. Admittedly, what could possibly be more nauseating that "Littler Little John", but somehow the boy and Kennedy managed to make the scene work. Thank goodness. And somehow the "funny berserker" moments were actually humorous where the "funny camp follower" (geddit) were so very not.
Robin and his magic elves leaving gifts for all the villagers was verging on the too twee for words, though.
Unlike last week, there was no forced cliff-hanger ending, so I suspect that parts one and two are subtly designed to be bolted together into a "movie-length" pilot for the inevitable attempt to sell the series to America. Which isn't nearly so much fun as having a tag scene that turns into a cliff-hanger each week. The new Doctor Who doesn't have cliff-hangers excepting thrice a year, but does have those awfully good "Next time…" trailers before the closing credits which serve the same purpose: make it impossible, unthinkable that your kids could miss the next episode.
Robin had a bit of a fall-off in the ratings from week one and ITV will doubtless be gloating that this week it was they who won the ratings war. That sort of decline is to be expected though: week one – like "Rose" – was always going to be "event television" and have a much greater "well we'll just see what it's like" factor. Plus the run in from the football never hurts the BBC's evening lineup. But six million plus viewers and a better than 30% audience share is still hit television.
Next week is, I believe, the episode written by Doctor Who star writer Paul Cornell.
So stick around.
Day 2110: General Manoeuvres
The CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES has had a few words to say about Iraq.
I do wish he hadn't.
Now, I do not doubt that what he said was in fact PROBABLY TRUE. And OBVIOUSLY it is very AMUSING to have Lord Blairimort dropped in it.
But think how you would feel if it had been the OTHER WAY ROUND: suppose a Liberal government had decided NOT to join the Americans in invading and the Chief of the Army said:
"Oh no, that was very, very wrong!"
General Dannatt is probably RIGHT. It IS very likely that just by being in Iraq we are making things WORSE for ourselves both at home and when we have to send our soldier ABROAD – to places like Afghanistan, where we are operating with the UN authority and the NATO mission.
And we are probably making things much worse FOR Iraq, too. This one is more difficult to judge – we may be, as Lord Blairimort likes to say, the one thing between the people of Iraq and total civil war. On the other fluffy foot, we MIGHT be PROLONGING the agony by forcing the disparate bits of Iraq to remain united when they don't want to. No one has asked the Iraqi people what they would think of a three country solution – though in fairness they might hate the idea. (The Kurds would probably like it, but Turkey is VERY against an independent Kurdistan because they don't want it laying claim to any bits of Turkey!)
And the General has a perfect right to SAY that in public – as long as he RESIGNS his commission FIRST. Because at the moment, he is under oath to SERVE the elected government (even if they are as bonkers as Lord Blairimort is).
There is a proper procedure called the CHAIN OF COMMAND for the voicing of complaints and problems like this, and General Dannett can always go and talk to Lord Blairimort – which is more than most of us are allowed to do. Unless Lord Blairimort is asking the army to do something ILLEGAL – and that is a completely different kettle of boiled fish – then those conversations should be CONFIDENTIAL. Ministers have to be able to take advice and know that their questions and decisions won't end up splashed over the DAILY GNOME front page.
(Note to Mr David Blunkett – this applies to you too! What could be more revolting than CASHING IN on your time in government by doing the dirty on people who are supposed to be on your own side? Daddy Alex mentions that there is probably more money in it while it is still topical… he does NOT mean this approvingly!)
Of course, later that day – one quick trip to Room 101 later – the general was professing his LOVE for
We have ALWAYS been at war with EASTASIA; EURASIA has ALWAYS been our ally.
Day 2108: Vulcan Spotted?
News arrives of THIS planet seen orbiting the nearby star Epsilon Eridani…
…but in fact it is NOT the FAMOUS planet VULCAN from TV's Star Trek because, thanks to the hard work of sad continuity obsessed writers, an episode of "Enterprise" apparently identifies Vulcan's star as 40 Eridani A.
This is a SHAME because otherwise I would have had a COOL diary to write today.
Put this down as ANOTHER thing wrong with "Star Trek: Enterprise", I say!
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Day 2108: Let's do 21st Century Science
As you may have guessed, I am very PRO-SCIENCE!
I think that every elephant should know some of the basics about how the world is made and how things work.
And, BETTER THAN THAT, that we can try and work out MORE STUFF about how the world works, and that we have a process for coming up with ideas and then testing to see if they are right by finding evidence.
(And with DOCTOR WHO back on the telly, I hope that people will again be thinking that there is MORE to science than just FORENSIC MEDICINE!)
Apparently, though, there have been some complaints about the new syllabus for GCSE Science from some TOP PEOPLE.
It seems that they are worried that the new school course will not prepare people properly for being SCIENTISTS OF THE FUTURE™. They are RIGHT to be concerned, of course, because already there do not seem to be enough new scientists to go around and at least one university is closing its physics department.
So I have made Daddy Richard go and do the example Physics papers in order to see
And on the whole, they did not seem entirely unreasonable: questions based on the dangers of sunbathing, the stopping distances of cars, cooling a drink with ice or generating electricity by solar panels at the equator. They are vaguely practical and vaguely relevant to everyday life (in a nice Middle Class sort of way!)
The paper comes in FOUNDATION or HIGHER flavours – I THINK that you are only supposed to do one or the other, as the Higher paper used a lot of the same starting points as the Foundation one and asked SOME of the same questions but replaced other questions with more detailed – alright HARDER – ones.
Daddy did NOT get all of the answers right!
(He could not remember that total internal refraction is determined by the CRITICAL angle; and he answered "High Tension Power Cables" for TRANSMISSION CABLES, the silly man!)
Plus there is the whole course work thing (no, NOT copying from the internet!) to do, so Daddy is NOT getting a GCSE from ME!
We have looked in particular at the new CURRICULUM called 21st Century Science from Nuffield Curriculum Centre and the University of York Science Education Group in association with Oxford University Press.
It seems to be based on doing a CORE course called "Science" that covers topical and practical subjects that young elephants and people should know a bit about. These include: global warming, radiation and genetics among other topics.
As Daddy looked through them, he ASSUMED that there were some things that were covered further down the National Curriculum, things like: the equations of motion, electric circuits or the periodic table of the
(On the other fluffy foot, it was a bit of a surprise to find study of polymers WAS included because organic chemistry – or "how it works: our friend the carbon molecule" – was not included very much in Daddy's O-Level!)
We were a LITTLE bit alarmed where the "Life on Earth" module is described as presenting:
"…some different explanations for the origin of life on Earth, and its evolution, including Darwin's explanation of natural selection."
(Because, as I am sure YOU know: (a) Darwin's theory doesn't explain the ORIGIN of life; it is only about how life changes – evolves – once it has begun, and (b) exactly WHAT "different explanations" to modern evolutionary theory are we talking about here?)
The same problem crops up in the "Earth in the Universe" module – which does seem to cover everything from cosmology to plate tectonics! – where it says:
"Beliefs about God - or the absence of God - underlie any discussion of origins. They might arise at two points in this module: the discussion of fossils and the big bang theory of the origin of the Universe.
"We suggest that you let students air their views, but at the same time you should prevent this distracting them from the module's main themes."
This is a DELICATE area (to say the LEAST!) and not one to go trampling over with my big flappy feet, but it DOES seem to be a bit of an opening to let people's BELIEF SYSTEMS stick their unscientific oars in.
Letting the students "air their views" appears to be just offering a safety valve to stop the OBVIOUS CONFLICT arising – but it also looks worryingly like a point where there might be missing a strong DEFENCE of the evidence based scientific understanding for the entirely understandable reason that no one want to have to drop kick into touch anybody's firmly held belief in the FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER (other creation myths also available)!
All of which, one fluffily suspects, is what makes the "science elite" think that the "Science" GCSE is dumbed down, or a bit of a "pub quiz" version.
BUT, the question is: what is the GCSE for? People who think that they are going to go on and study science at A Level or harder will probably be doing the double science option anyway. The core science course is for EVERYONE so that they have at least a bit of an idea about things that are going on in the news – like why it is BAD to explode nuclear bombs, or why we need to use less carbon-based energy if we are going to stop the world burning up.
It is TRUE that we want our next generation of scientists to have a proper grounding in the basics: having a grasp of the basic laws – and that there ARE basic laws – that make everything work; but understanding that DOUBT and TESTING as much as IMAGINING new theories are the basis of the scientific method; and knowing that mathematics is the OPERATING LANGUAGE of the processes of the universe.
And we SHOULD worry about the shortage of physics students – physics is IMPORTANT, and not just to understanding BIG questions like "when will the sun explode" or "what colour is a black hole?" It is the basis of EVERYDAY stuff like engineering or architecture: you wouldn’t want to use a bridge or a building that was built by someone who DIDN’T understand about FORCES like gravity, now would you?
It is not that children are not learning physics – in fact the number learning SOME physics jumped up enormously when "general science" GCSE was introduced as an option instead of separate courses for Chemistry, Biology and Physics.
The problem is that there are not enough teachers who are specialists in physics: two-thirds of pupils are taught physics lessons by teachers who do not have a degree in the subject; one third are taught it by teachers who do not even have an A Level in physics! This is not a question of how good the teachers are as TEACHERS, but how good they are at PHYSICS. What pupils are missing out on is the degree of enthusiasm and encouragement that comes from being taught by someone who really knows the subject.
But we are not going to fix that overnight; and we are not going to fix that by making science MORE "elite"!
Because we do also want people to be INSPIRED to be scientists in the first place, and that means that science should not be something ALIEN to any large part of the population. People should NOT be separated into those who DO science and those who do not GET it.
If MOST people realise that science stuff is not only around them all the time, but that they can understand it and USE it to make things better, then we can hope to get MORE people WANTING to take science A Levels and degrees.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Day 2107: Shadow of Doubt
Cuddly Cthulhu has taken some OFFENCE at my diary of yesterday and would like you all to know that HE is founding his own society to be called: The Great Old Ones Do Exist Let People Understand or there'll be Smiting club – which has the acronym: GOD'ELPUS.
If you do not believe HIM then you had better see this: fhtagn!
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Day 2106: Professor Richard Dawkins and the Militant Atheist Baby Elephant
This is because my Daddy Richard and our friend Mr Alan have taken me to see a talk by Romana, along with her husband, my favourite professor of evolutionary biology, Mr Professor Richard Dawkins.
Earlier this year I told you about Daddy Richard listening to CDs of Professor Richard and Romana's adventures in their TIME MACHINE.
Well, tonight they were doing something very similar, reading passages from Professor Richard's new book THE GOD DELUSION.
At the start of this year, Professor Richard presented a television programme on Channel Four called "Root of All Evil?".
Apparently, "Root of All Evil" was Channel Four's idea for the title, and Professor Richard did not like this because he does not believe that ANYTHING is the root of ALL evil and certainly not that religion is the root of all evil. He just thinks that religion is the root of quite a lot of evil, but that is not really as catchy a title.
Anyway, Channel Four were willing to compromise and allowed him to add a "?" to the "Root of All Evil".
Still, it is not as though he minds being up front and honest even if some people might be offended, as the title "THE GOD DELUSION" proves.
(Though, that probably makes it more difficult for Daddy Richard to slip a copy of Professor Richard's book into people's Christmas stockings!)
The core of the argument, Professor Richard told us, lies in chapter four. That is the part that would change people's minds, if we were to read it to you. Unfortunately, it's a bit much to summarise. So we won't.
Instead, we were read some of the chapters about the god of the Old Testament. Or "one of the least pleasant characters in fiction" as Professor Richard called him. These stories were funny in a horrible sort of way, full of all the terrible SMITING and CURSING and STONING TO DEATH of unfortunate passing strangers that occurs in the early biblical stories. Cuddly Cthulhu would have loved it!
But Professor Richard's point was not to just have a good laugh at how misogynist and arbitrary was the power of god, but to show that we cannot possibly draw our modern morality from these tales.
Even if we DO see some of the stories as illustrating a GOOD moral point, how is it that we are able to CHOOSE those stories and gloss over all the handing over of daughters to murderers, sacrificing of firstborns, or exciting genocides? We must have some criteria of MORAL JUDGEMENT that is SEPARATE from the "good book" or else how can we pick the bits that are "good".
As an illustration of how MUDDLE HEADED religion can make people, Professor Richard told us about a psychological experiment with a group of Israeli school children. They were told about General Xim who marched his people into an ancient Chinese kingdom, three thousand years ago, and set about destroying the cities and killing all the people there and in particular burning down their temples. Then the children were asked a simple moral question: was General Xim right or wrong. And ninety percent of the children said that he was WRONG.
Well you would wouldn't you?
Except, of course, this version of the story has been slightly DOCTORED. With a different group of children, the ORIGINAL story had been told the way it is told in the Bible – Joshua leading the army of the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan and, on god's instructions, wiping out the people who already lived there with special instructions to bring down the temples of the "false" (i.e. rival) gods that they worshipped.
Of the group who had been told that story, sixty-six percent of the children had said that Joshua was completely right and another eight percent said he was at least partly right; only a quarter said that it was wrong to commit genocide in Canaan.
What can explain this DISPARITY, this total DISCONNECTION in moral opinion?
Perhaps Professor Richard's greatest scorn was reserved for the chapter about the CRYING SHAME that is occurring in some of Lord Blairimort's City McAcademies (and with his KNOWING APPROVAL – he even opened one of the newer schools!): the teaching of CREATIONISM as if it were somehow (I shudder even to type it) true.
In answer to questions afterwards, Professor Richard made it clear that he is not against children being taught ABOUT religions: this is what Muslims believe, this is what Buddhists believe, this is what humanists believe, and so on. He also added that he believes that much of our LITERATURE – the works of SHAKESPEARE no less – include many allusions to the King James Bible, and also to the gods and goddesses of Greece, and that for the reason of better understanding, these stories, biblical and heathen, should be studied as literature.
But he is very much against taking children and telling them: you are a [insert religion of parent/guardian/headmaster's choice] THIS is what you believe.
The final chapter is called "THE MOTHER OF ALL BURQAS" which is pretty RISQUÉ in the current climate following the remarks of Mr Man O' Straw about lady Muslims and their veils.
Professor Richard, however, was using this as a METAPHOR: the narrow eye slit covered with gauze, represents how very, very TINY and distorted is our perspective on the universe, limited as it is by the very small part of the spectrum of light that we are able to see (which is obviously called VISIBLE LIGHT) and by the very small range of scales: of size or speed, with which we are familiar and able to imagine.
How much wider, and deeper and broader is the true scope of the universe that SCIENCE reveals to our minds' eyes, asks Professor Richard. From the microscopic world of the electron up to the billions of bacteria at one end and from the scale of planets and stars to the truly cosmic span of the universe at the other.
Do not be restricted by the narrow vision that the enfolding "burqa" imposes: feel free to shed the confining cloth and step into a whole new universe of sensation and exploration, of discovery and wonder!
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Day 2105: Full Up
That nice Mr Dr John Reid must be VERY PROUD this weekend as he is close to reaching his TARGET and filling up all of our prisons.
Both Liberal Mr Nick Clogg and Conservatory Mr Davis David have pointed out that it is a bit incompetent of Mr Dr John to have got to his target without enough places to put everybody.
But instead of asking: "Why do we not have MORE than 80,000 prison places in which to put people?" shouldn't we ask: "Why do we need as many as 80,000 places in the FIRST PLACE?"
The number of people that we are putting in prison has very nearly DOUBLED since 1993 (which COINCIDENTALLY is when Lord Blairimort started using this as a stick to beat the Conservatories with). We now lock up more of our population than any other country in Europe: 4 out of every 3,000 British People are at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
(Which is a VERY odd phrase: it cannot be THAT much of a pleasure to keep thousands of people chained up!)
Why do we do this?
Are British people just more desperately HORRID than people in the rest of Europe? Is BINGE DRINKING to blame for it all? Was Iraq not ENOUGH of a war to get violence out of our SYSTEM?
Looking at what crimes have been committed, this graphic from the BBC shows that the runaway winners are Violence against the Person and Drugs offences. So these are not people that we OBVIOUSLY want to let out again.
(Although it might be better if people hooked on drugs were sent to a place to get them unhooked from drugs rather than an ordinary prison.)
But I think it is VERY IMPORTANT that we try and work out what is the CAUSE of this apparently huge rise in criminal violence!
Lord Blairimort said he was going to get TOUGH ON THE CAUSES OF CRIME, but this does not appear to have been the case AT ALL.
I do not think that anyone thought that he meant "Crime is CAUSED by the people outside prisons, so the solution is to put more of them INSIDE prisons."
It is only a short step from that to "The Crime isssss Life; the Ssssentensssss isssss…" something nice Mr Dr John can work out for himself!
It is said that it costs £37,000 a year to keep a person in prison. So for 80,000 prisoners that makes the cost the best part of £ 3 BILLION a year. Or about FIFTY QUID FOR EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US – even the NOT PRISONERS!
(Although in fact this is less that the government want to spend on I.D.iot cards!)
I have this silly idea that we would all be better off if the government just PAID all the prisoners £18,000 a year to NOT commit crime and gave everyone in the country £25 back!
Anyway, one crime that has been avoided apparently, is a FIGHT between Mr Dr John and Mr Frown, as rumour suggests that they have come to a deal. Those always works out well for Mr Frown!
Here's the agreement: Mr Dr John will not spoil Mr Frown's election as leader by standing against him and Mr Frown will not spoil Mr Dr John's being Home Secretary by firing him the day after he is elected.
In celebration of this new accord for peace and understanding, Mr Frown has been allowed to make a speech on the Home Secretary's usual turf: terrorism!
Now Mr Frown is going to start freezing the assets (no it is NOT rude!) of… well, pretty much anyone he decides is a terrorist.
I'd say Lord Blairimort had better visit a cashpoint!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Day 2104: ROBIN HOOD: Will You Tolerate This?
Daddy Richard has had nothing to write for AGES so it is about time I put him to work again, don't you think? Fortunately, the BBC have come across with a new series for him to review for me! It is called ROBBING HOODIE and the SHERIFF OF NEO-CON.
I THINK that there might be some sort of SUBTEXT!
I wonder what Daddy thinks…
Even before the launch of the official Doctor Who spin off "Torchwood" (thoughtfully trailed at the end of tonight's episode) we get as good as the next "son of Doctor Who" in the form of a Saturday evening fantasy adventure for a family audience. And one that kicked Ant & Dec's Saturday bottom, to boot. Hoorah!
The most striking thing to me was just how heterosexual it was. It's not that Robin's sexuality has even been in any doubt, even the most Timoteé-ified Robin, "Robin of Sherwood", was still a love story between Marion and Robin. Or Robert. But previously it was a much more courtly or even ethereal love and it was generally backgrounded. This Robin, with a hugely male cast and women restricted to "the feisty one" and two "eye candy" roles, seemed much more upfront about being a Boys' Adventure in every sense.
Jonas Armstrong in the lead as Robin of Loxley is a bit pretty. Well, quite a lot pretty if I'm being honest. And cheeky enough to know it too. Within ten minutes he's snogging lustily with the first available damsel. And all of his dialogue with manservant Much (Sam Troughton, yes grandson of that Troughton) was very much two mates coming back from the football and not a hint of Russell T Davis-esque "gay agenda" ambiguity. Even an "I love you" managed not to suggest anything other than manly male bonding.
It was the "They Think It's All Over" of Robin Hoods. Or even given how very, very young most of the cast seem, the "Hollyoaks" of Hoods.
Michael Praed and Jason Connery were quite young when they played the outlaw, but even they seem mature compared to young master Armstrong; he hardly seems old enough to have just returned from a tough five year stint with the Crusades. But then, Will Scarlet and previously unheard of even younger brother Luke Scarlet seem barely out of short trousers.
(And being "previously unheard of" does not bode well for boy Luke's long-term survival if the writers are planning to do something a bit shocking.)
So, Robin gets to be a bit of a young rogue with an obvious eye for the ladies. Robin is a reckless courageous firebrand: if there's any misstep in the script it's at the conclusion, trying to set us up to believe that he would ever go through with letting the boys hang. Given everything about the way he has behaved up to now – his opening rescue of Alan from the Sheriff's men; his repeated tweaking of the Sheriff to his face – he isn't a guy to avoid the direct approach. He would have broken into the castle in the dead of night and tried to fight his way out with them.
Meanwhile Much gets to play a very traditional kind of comedy sidekick: the loveable idiot. We're all a bit used to the Eddie Murphy style of wise-cracking donkey as chief assistant/pain in the butt to the male lead, so the writing of Much's character was one of the most medieval parts of the show. Possibly giving him the catchphrase of "I knew that" was a little unwise for those of us old enough to remember "Goodness Gracious Me" and the anglophile Denis Kapour (pron. Cooper) who would frequently repeat the same words when caught out. But there was still the occasional moment – almost overwhelmed by memories while in the bath, for instance – that suggested that there is or will be more depth to be found here.
For the dark side, the Sheriff as played by Keith Allan is definitely school of Alan Rickman: all cackling, camp and canary killing. The Sheriff is a difficult role: you want to be big enough to make a splash but not so much that you become panto. Nicholas Grace was given a much more interesting, thoughtful, intelligent Sheriff: a political operator. And that was one of the great strengths of Robin of Sherwood – the Sheriff was the guy from the 20th Century, he was the one who could understand and even deconstruct the myth going on around him. All of which made it worse for him when he started to realise that actually the myth was too strong from him to beat it with his cynicism. Conversely, the fantastic Errol Flynn swash-buckler "The Adventures of Robin Hood" does away with the Sheriff altogether, rolling the character up in the dastardly suave of Basil Rathbone's Sir Guy de Gisborne. This new Robin Hood sticks to the traditional, though, so the Sheriff is the "Big Bad" with brooding Sir Guy as henchman / best boy-totty.
It's early days, of course, and beyond Robin, Much and the Sheriff, and a bit of Marion, no one has really been given even a chance to establish a character yet. We have an Alan a Dale acting a bit of a cheeky wideboy and aforementioned Scarlet brothers Will and Luke to make up numbers for the hanging. Gordon Kennedy is credited but his Little John has yet to turn up; expect him in the forest next week if the trailers are to be believed.
With another twelve weeks to go though, it's to be hoped that all of the people involved will be given the opportunity to but some flesh on the bare bones of character that they were allowed to show in episode one.
In many ways this is the exact opposite of the way Doctor Who went – and perhaps deliberately so, to set up the difference from the word go – with Christopher Eccleston's first episode "Rose"* very much concentrating on character, in fact A character: Rose Tyler, almost to the exclusion of plot.
Robin went to the other extreme and was almost a series of action set pieces strung together by the briefest of character sketches. Arrow work, sword work and then confrontation with the sheriff before the big rescue at the end.
Most of the hard work was being done by the director and the editor: lots of ramping (that bit where the action suddenly speeds up or slows down), lots of sharp cuts and crash zooms, and lots of fast inter-cutting to flashbacks. Or was that the new episode of "Cracker"? Anyway, it was certainly trying to say this was very 21st Century Television.
Only the sword fight with the affronted father of that buxom wench™ seemed in any way gratuitous. It didn't really advance the plot any, though it gave us the chance to establish Robin's 12th Century Casanova credentials, and that he could swing a sword a bit. Mind you, if he was good enough to fight off half a dozen of the Sheriff's guards at the climax, why didn't he chop dad into mincemeat? Or for that matter, if dad was so handy with a blade, why was he digging pits to dye cloth when he could be up at the castle getting gold for bodyguard work?
And if I'm going to raise quibbles, what was the Earl of Huntingdon doing living in a minor manor house in Nottinghamshire? Robin of Sherwood rather wisely decoupled the two "origin stories" of Robin – dispossessed Saxon noble or lost heir to the Norman Earldom – which came in handy when they needed to recast for series three. Making this Robin an Earl allows him to pull rank on Sir Guy… but the reality is he'd be pulling rank on the Sheriff too. As an earl he'd have extensive lands, not to mention soldiers, of his own and the Sheriff really couldn't afford to treat him with that much contempt, not to mention the fact that it would need the King to outlaw him.
The music was a bit two-dimensional too, a repetitive riff on the main theme, which could have done with some of the depth and variety that Murrey Gold brings to the Doctor Who scores. On the other hand, it sticks in your head a fair while, and that's useful, even if it has a propensity to turn into the BBC's 1980's election night theme that was reused as "Hordes of the Things".
Mind you, I was amused by the bow and arrow woosh-kerthunk noise for the location captions.
Speaking of locations, they've built a rather lovely Loxley and a rather nice Nottingham somewhere in the Hungarian countryside, and I expect we'll be seeing quite a bit more of those as they amortise the cost over the season. The forests felt more autumnal than summery – appropriate for the time of year, of course, but also for the "England fading" vibe that seems to be underlying some of the series ideas.
Now, on that theme, it's just possible that Millennium is right and there may be more to this series than meets the eye: Robin returns from a war in the Middle East where we stand shoulder to shoulder with the super-power (Rome) and at home civil liberties are being threatened or even abandoned in the name of greater security. The Sheriff's men are empowered to enact on-the-spot fines (of a finger) without trial and punishments have been increased and increased to deter, or look tough on, crime.
Do you think they are trying to say something?
Okay, the politics is a little bit on the naïve side but at least the hero is shown to be the liberal – nice free trade plan there, by the way, Robin – and in these days of "24" who knows, the Sheriff could have been played as the good guy with Sir Guy running Robin to ground from Nottingham CTU.
Alex reminds me of the "Mrs Thatcher Dictionary" entry: "Robin Hood – a terrorist". Is Dr John Reid taking notes?
There is a theory I recall that the Robin Hood legend returns again each time the liberal spirit comes under threat: Richard Green starred as Robin Hood (you all know the song) in a series largely made by Americans who had fled to Britain to escape Senator McCarthy. Robin of Sherwood retold the legend at the height of Mrs Thatcher's power, and now we have the War on Terror and another Robin for our times.
(I'm not quite sure where that theory leaves "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"… other than as a bloated Kevin Costner vehicle stolen by Alan Rickman, naturally.)
Here we have Robin as the "good man of the people" who, despite the uncomfortable way the repeated use of "my peasants" sat on his tongue, never seemed more than a minute away from a rousing chorus of "The Land". Pity he banned songs.
On the whole, very promising but it could have been tauter: some more detail to the characters: if Robin had been more cynical, or war-weary, so that we could believe that he would fold under the Sheriff's pressure, then that ending might have played better; a little more emphasis on plot rather than spectacle: some sense of why these people are doing what they are doing more than just because he's good or he's bad. It may be episode one and everyone may know that Robin has got to come home, find the Sheriff taxing everyone into the ground and turn outlaw, but the challenge is to find a way to make that story exciting rather than putting exciting stunts around a perfunctory retelling that looks like it thinks the story is old.
We'll tune in next week to see how the story grows.
*(To be fair, I got the DVD out and watched "Rose" again and it is still a cracking piece of television: it has great pace, quickly bringing us into Rose's everyday world and then turning it upside down, introducing us slowly to the Doctor through the mystery of his identity as Rose investigates it. Plus there are some killer plastic mannequins. I'm afraid it rather beat poor Robin into the ground. But then Russell T Davies is a certified genius of the screen.)
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Day 2103: Veiled Insults
Mr Jack Man O' Straw started the day off by politely asking that lady Muslims please remove their veils when they are in his constituency surgery so that he can better communicate with them.
This being politics, the story has of course spiralled out of control, but if we just stick to that polite request then I think I can say that Mr Jack OUGHT to be able to say that. After all, the Muslim lady can always say "No thank you" can't she.
We live in a society where it is IMPORTANT that we are able to discuss ideas with each other.
For people who are used to a culture where discussion is often very VISUAL (we have "face-to-face" meetings where we "see" each other's points, we read each other's "body language" and sometime try to "mask" our feelings) it should not be TABOO to say that to other people, even if those people come from a different cultural background where covering of the face has different meaning.
Some people can see a face covering as a DISGUISE or a CONCEALMENT and others can see it as MODESTY. Neither side is necessarily right so we shouldn’t say that they cannot express those feelings to the other side.
I think that it is actually a GOOD THING that Mr Jack has said this – you will not hear THAT very often! – so long as it helps to break a little ICE. When people feel that they cannot talk about something – something like a veil maybe making them a little uncomfortable – then they will bottle that feeling up and maybe start to feel RESENTFUL. Maybe they will start to feel that they are being FORCED to accept something that seems alien to them.
Fear is a path to the DARK SIDE. Yoda says so, so it must be true.
(Mind you, for a wise old gooseberry guru he should maybe have spotted what was going on with young Master Anakin with all the "I keep dreaming that my girlfriend is going to die, should I learn about the Sith in order to save her, Master?" questions… but that's not important right now.)
A Muslim lady from Radio Ramadan was on the Today Programme this morning and she said that if she were to ask another lady in the street to put MORE clothes on then that would be WRONG; so Mr Jack is just as WRONG to ask that Muslim ladies take off their veils.
I do not think that this is quite right, though.
If a lady of either gender went into Mr Jack's surgery with no top on at all then Mr Jack would certainly ask her or him to please put on a CARDIGAN or other apparel, because otherwise it might be INAPPROPRIATE or at the very least DISTRACTING for him trying to take down their details.
Asking not to be able to see someone's top is as much to do with our culture as asking to be able to see someone's face. (It is funny how cultures say we must see some bits and not see other bits.) It is just that we do not get complaints from people whose culture involves NOT wearing things on their tops.
And at least people do not get arrested for wearing veils, headscarves or full length tents. My Daddy has told me about a man who is OFTEN getting arrested for not wearing ENOUGH clothes.
(This worries me as I usually only wear my special badges and Lord Blairimort already has enough ways to arrest me! Sometime I put my HOODIE on, though, so that must be all right, mustn't it.)
Mr Jack has gone on to say that he feels that the veil is a sign of SEPARATION. This is a step too far for me.
Wearing a veil is a sign of being DIFFERENT, but so is wearing a pink tutu and platforms or a spiky Mohican haircut or nothing at all. If it is what people CHOOSE to wear then we have no business putting them off wearing it. Because Liberals stand for freedom from CONFORMITY and that means freedom from conforming to what WE think it is right to wear as well.
(CHOICE is of course the important thing: it should be the lady's choice always whether to wear traditional or outrageous. And to be fair to Mr Jack he was at some pains to suggest that he was only making a request and not a command.)
It would just be better to be more RELAXED about the whole discussion. We should try to think well of people. British lady Muslims who are wearing a veil are probably wearing a veil because they WANT to wear a veil and not because the husband is an inaccurate STEREOTYPE who is on Osama's birthday card list; and Mr Jack is politely asking to see their faces when he communicates with them because he probably wants to communicate with them and not because he is sending a coded message to the British Nasty Party.
Anyway, my big fluffy nose is too big and too fluffy to wear a veil.
So it is a good thing no one here is too shy to show their face, isn’t it!
Day 2102: Patent Pending
For all lovers of shiny silver discs, the scratch on our laminated surface recently has been the impending WAR TO THE DEATH between the formats for the next generation of viewing delight.
HD or Highly Desirable telly is on its way and the pictures are just TOO GOOD to go on my lovely DVDs: it is time to get a replacement which is able to hold lots, lots more of the little Lego bricks that are used for making the pictures on the telly.
To compare: a DVD can contain 4.7 GB which stands for "gosh, LOTS of Bricks", but the NEW discs will be able to hold up to 30 GB or even 50GB.
No more FIVE discs to show the whole season of DOCTOR WHO when you can fit it all onto just ONE! (Or they could maybe film it in Hi-Def! At 4 GB an hour, you could only fit ONE HD episode onto a old fashioned disc, but you could get ALL THIRTEEN onto a 50 GB disc and still have room for the CHRISTMAS SPECIAL!)
But what’s this "30 GB or even 50GB", I hear you ask.
[R: what’s this "30 GB or even 50GB"?]
There is a PROBLEM: better DVDs have been invented by TWO different people!
The Toshiba people have invented HD-DVD which it is pretty obvious what it stands for; the Sony people have invented BDs and that stands for "blu-ray" disks because they use a different coloured LASER BEAM: yes, it is the colour blu!
It is just like the video recorder wars, except that this time Sony have signed up lots more Hollywood Studios so that they do not end up flogging "Son of Betamax"!
HD-DVD as you might guess from the name is more compatible with DVD but Blu-ray has the higher capacity for storing Lego on the discs and may be the more technologically ADVANCED solution.
What IS a fluffy elephant to do?
Pester power can only go so far, and I do not think I can persuade Daddy that he wants to buy me BOTH sorts of machine!
But help is at fluffy foot!
Some clever people in America have realised that DVDs are SEE-THROUGH! And have decided that you can make a special SANDWICH by gluing a Blu-ray disc on top of a HD-DVD disc. Or more plainly, they can make a sort of disc that can be played in EITHER SORT of player!
This lets the studios off the hook: they do not have to annoy half the buying public by not releasing their movies in the right format and they don’t have to waste their time releasing two different editions of the same flick either.
I suspect that the Sony people and the Toshiba people are spitting feathers though since neither of them will achieve WORLD DOMINATION this time around.
To be honest, they should have asked my daddies to sort it out. They own all the DVDs in the world already!