...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 3287: A Year in Millennium aka Ooh, You Are Orwell… but I like you!

New Year’s Eve:

As the much-loved Fluffy Elephant of Time paraglides towards the Bouncy Castle of Fate and wonders why it’s blocking the Landing Pad of Destiny, we realise that the Old Year is likewise headed for a rubbery conclusion and reflect on what a year it’s been.

Anyway, the notion of nonimating my fluffy self for this year’s Mr Eric Blair Awards was making its way through my fluffy head, and it occurred to me that I am a MUCH more famouser author than him so I should be handing out awards of my OWN… and here they are!

First, the Memorial Mr Lembit Opik Asteroid Award for making a BIG SPLASH goes to Mr Mark Reckons not just for probably the most influential blog post of the year, but also for the House of Comments podcast (although, is it just me or does it come out a bit QUIET on the old iPod?), for being Director General of the BBC, and for his general ubiquity this year!

The Mr Sir Christopher Lee Genuine Sith Lightning Award for blasting Master Irfan goes to the Honourable Lady Mark for blasting Master Irfan!

The omigod he looks like Mr Stephen Tall’s gay brother Award goes to Mr Matthew Goode (aka Ozymandias, the gay-one-who-is-obviously-the-villain in the Watchpersons movie) as seen on Film 2009!

The omigod he DOES look like a Sontaran Award goes to Mr Andy Hinton… he knows why!

And finally, the COVETED top prize, the Award-winning Auntie Alix Mortimer Award for Awesomeness goes to… Auntie Helen for all her hard work being the SECRET MASTERMIND behind the Lib Dem Blogosphere, for reading the Sainted Earl Conrad, for knowing that the next decade doesn’t start until 2011, for getting her initials – HD – on every new flatscreen telly in the country, for remaining UNSHOCKABLE in the face of all that Auntie Jennie and the Honourable Lady Mark could muster, and for all round general being brilliantness!

So, with that happy announcement, I now offer a glance back at some of the events that have made up 2009, (which might also be a few suggestions for what I might submit to the Orwell Prize 2009 committee! Any other suggestions from anyone more than welcome!!).

Ten entries on "The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant"

On Mr Charlie Brooker in the Guardian denouncing the Sinister Minister, Mr Jack Straw, and Hard Labour in general: On Bovril Buttered Brainwreck and (at the time former) Cabinet Minister Mr Peter Vain calling for reform of the law that he broke: On Mr Balloon apologising for all the Conservatories’ mistakes in the run up to the Credit Crunch: Responding to Mr Rupert the Bear-with-a-sore-head Read, Green Party candidate in the East of England, writing for Labour Conspiracy: On the release of Mr Muhammad al Megrahi: On Mr Daniel Hangman MEP and his list of political "heroes": On the Government requiring criminal records checks for anyone even remotely connected to working with children: On Mr Frown's Conference speech: On former Second Home Secretary Ms Jacquie Spliff apologising for her second home allowance claim: And responding to the idea that we should cut benefits in order to reduce the budget deficit:
Ten Entries on "Liberal Democrat Voice"
January: February: March: April: May: June: July: August: September: October and November:

…and ten five more Elephant Interviews
With Very-nearly-almost-but-not-quite-President Mr Governor Howard Dean: With Baroness Ros Scott: With Mr Vince “the Power” Cable: With Mr Chris Huhney-Monster: And with someone called Mr Nick Clegg:
Here’s to more fun in 2010. Have a Happy New Year, everybody!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 3281 (again): DOCTOR WHO: The End of Ten (Part One)

Christmas Day:

Hah HAAA! Now that I, the MASTER, have possessed everyone and everything on Earth, including this Very Fluffy Diary of My Name Is The Master, I can hahahahah tell how BRILLIANT haha BRILLIANT I was in the Doctor Who Christmas Special and… OOOF!

[is punched in head by elephant]

Silly man! Machine was set for HUMANS! Elephants are IMMUNE!

And if you are worried, Daddy Alex’s head is stuffed full of all the knowledge of the Time Lords and Daddy Richard assures me that he is only half-human on his Great Auntie Fred’s side. So we’re all fine!

We may not be going out much this week though!

So, time for a Doctor Who review from Daddy.

(And while that small intrusion may have let the CAT-MONSTER out of the BAG, there may be more spoilers to follow.)

So far, The End of Time is a collection of gripping, moving, thrilling plot coupons in search of a story, a point that Jennie makes with rather more anguish. Maybe it’s just me being a boy but I thought they were good gripping, moving, thrilling plot coupons, strung together by director Euros Lyn with verve and panache, having David T run everywhere with his big coat a-flapping getting quickly from one set-piece to the next to form a coherent if not actually logical sequence.

Structurally, it fell into two half-hour episodes, almost as if the return of the ”part one” tag has infused the whole affair with old school Doctor Who-ness, with a spoken interjection from Timothy Dalton at the start, the half-hour and the conclusion. In fact, the narration at the half-way mark is really hanging a lantern on the fact that the first half hour has been spent moving characters into place. The Master is resurrected… and it goes wrong; the Doctor is given yet another prophecy, this time from the Ood; Wilf is troubled by bad dreams that only he can remember… and stalked by the mysterious “woman in white”, with her cryptic warnings.

Each new thrill or shock or laugh or heart-breaking-conversation-in-a-café keeps you watching, drawing you further in.

It’s full of fan-pleasing references, often at the same time subverting them.

The opening parable in the church got us expecting “The Stones of Blood”’s Little Sisters of St Gudula… when in fact it’s Mrs Trefusis who turns up; when the Doctor tells the cactus people “I’ve met someone like you before” we jumped to the conclusion it was a reference to Meglos when in fact we should have been looking for the season eighteen nod being to “The Leisure Hive”; while the Master’s plan is Skagra’s plan from the unfinished “Shada” – the Universe will be me! – crossed with “The Empty Child” – a hospital machine makes everyone the same.

The only thing that’s missing is a reason for these events to be important.

Look at “The Waters of Mars” – to pick only the most recent example. I could as easily reference “Planet of the Spiders” with its summary of the whole Third Doctor’s era and character wrapped up in Buddhist parable; or “Logopolis” with the fourth Doctor and the Master facing off against the ultimate reality of the universe, and the Doctor defeating entropy by becoming younger; or the very personal heroism of the fifth Doctor in “The Caves of Androzani” giving his life to save just one single human, who he has – Big Finish retconning aside – only recently met.

What “The Waters of Mars” has is a big emotional question threaded through the zombie chases and exploding space shuttles: what happens if the Doctor breaks the laws of time?

The End of Time doesn’t seem to be following that up, either in terms of plot or in emotional terms.

There’s no sense that events are unwinding because of the Doctor’s actions on Mars – although you could take the implication of going from Ood Sigma in the snow at the end of “The Waters of Mars” to Ood Sigma in the snow at the start of “The End of Time” to be that for the Ood just seconds pass but the Doctor has time for loads of adventures so the Doctor has broken the Laws of Time even more!

And having the Doctor emerge from the TARDIS in garland, hat and sunglasses and basically say “nahh, I didn’t think the end of “Waters of Mars” was actually that important to me” undermined the drama from the word “go”. The Doctor is cruel at the end of “The Waters of Mars” and then cowardly when he runs away. There should be consequences for that, and we thought that in Russell’s universe there would be. But there aren’t, and that’s a shame. Very much like the beginning of all Russell’s part twos – most egregiously at the start of The Sound of Drums – he wraps up any dangling threads instantly. Too much instant gratification!

What you could have done – and there’s almost a sense of this in their confrontation in the wasteland, buried in amongst the Sith lightnings and helicopter kidnap – is have the Doctor seeking out the Master to try and find out how to cope with breaking the Time Lords’ laws. But that’s not the sense of how events develop: the Doctor’s reaction to the Ood’s warning is to go running off (big coat a-flapping) and it certainly looks like he’s desperate to stop the Master’s resurrection, rather than eager to book a consultation.

(Maybe if the Doctor had been more wistful, or regretful in his insistence that “that man is dead”; an aside that “he could have helped me” perhaps…)

It means that we’re at risk – and we must remember that there’s another week to come – of this becoming something hollow: a huge spectacular that ultimately means nothing. We’re talking “Journey’s End” again. And that would be a real shame because Russell has demonstrated over and over that he can make much more of this series than that. Stories like “Boom Town”, “The Girl in the Fireplace” (though to be fair, Russell didn’t have much to do with that), “Human Nature” and “Last of the Time Lords” – yes, even “Last of the Time Lords” – have had something to say, something about the Doctor’s lifestyle, the choices he makes, his loneliness and need for a companion, a friend or a compatriot, even. And that’s the real legacy of David Tennant’s tenth Doctor that deserves to be celebrated and underlined in his swan song, his big finish (ahem).

Instead, we got a lot of the other Russell tropes: the not-so-good ones. Playing up the effect of events on character, without really considering the plot logic; turning up Murray Gold’s Greatest Hits to eleven (but without anything new and memorable in the score) to play on our emotions; a complete blindness to what that-thing-he-did-to-Donna actually means – the Doctor even gets a speech where he says “everything I am dies and some other feller strolls off in my body”; so what exactly was it you did to Donna, then, Doctor? – and a paranoia that people will forget that this is “Doctor Who” if you don’t throw in some gratuitous “hilarious” aliens.

Charming performances as they are, the green, spiky Vinvocci do deflate the escalating fear and horror of the Master in full Hannibal Lecter mode. And they’re just there as Mr and Mrs Basil Exposition, to avoid the Doctor simply telling us what the “Immortality Gate” does. And to answer a hanging plot thread that really isn’t hanging – the “so, tell us more about Bannakaffalatta, Mr Russell” thread. Toss in the mention of Torchwood and their alien treasure-trove, and we begin to see a pattern of linking things that don’t need to be linked, to make the whole 2005-2009 era “one big story”, when we should be concentrating on making this story connect.

So, we get the “comedy conkers” as the “ooh look, aliens” moment for this story. Without them, everyone looks human and somehow that’s not Doctor Who-ish enough for this team. (As if “Midnight” suffers with its entirely human cast!)

The same could be said of the skull-faced Master. I had begun to think, probably from too many trailers, that the Master and his electric skull might be rather overdone but, fortunately, the effect was actually about right. And, of course, it is reminiscent of the Master’s appearance in “The Deadly Assassin”, revealing the true Master under his disguise of skin.

But the Master really is more in the performance than the appearance, so it was marvellous to have the extraordinary John Simm back as the Mister Master: bleach-blond, down and out and eating tramps – as he himself puts it – and ever-cackling with maniacal, self-delighted mirth. And hurray: first time the villain gets their name in the opening title sequence.

Allegedly, Russell asked David who he wanted to kill him and David asked for John’s Master to come back. I say “allegedly” because the Master’s return was one of the most glaring of the dangling plot threads of the Russell Davies era. (And bear in mind that the show opened with a throwaway remark to tie off the question of Doctor Ten being Queen Elizabeth the First’s “mortal enemy”.)

Naughty, naughty Doctor Who Confidential. Russell tells us how he’d set up the Master’s ring for “the next person who wants to bring him back”, how he knew that “the hand” was a prison warden, how he knew the details of the Lord Voldemort ritual that would bring the Master back – I must confess, I liked the “Widow’s Kiss”: obviously a reference to the Doctor and Martha’s “genetic transfer” in “Smith and Jones”, but possibly also a nod to tenth Doctor comic strip “The Widow’s Curse” – but he never believed he would be the one to write that story… and then they cut to a clip of Lucy Saxon crying “can’t you see: he lied to you!”

The Master’s naked hunger for meat, flesh even, was a nice (or nasty) turn, again true to the underlying carnivorous greed of the man. And on Christmas Day, too, when everyone will be stuffed with too-big Christmas dinners, to have him tearing up whole turkeys (oh, and people) is a visceral demonstration of just what a sick puppy he’s become.

Not sure about the flying though. Certainly, it’s part of the ‘not just humans’ template, and points for it being a surprise, at least… Alex bets that someone’s given Master John a “Heroes” box set, though I think that with it’s abrupt take off and slamming landing it – and taken with the episode conclusion, of course – it’s much more lifted from “The Matrix”.

That apotheosis, the Master replacing everyone on Earth with copies of himself – and, Alex observes, the head-shaking body-snatching effect is straight out of the TV movie – is perfectly delicious, exactly the sort of narcissistic insanity that he would come up with on the spur of the moment. The concluding moments where everyone is John Simm, all wildly applauding their own cleverness and laughing like a barrel of monkeys is brilliant television. Not to mention all that dressing up in women’s clothes making him the ultimate Panto Dame. Of course, you know it’s going to be a total disaster for him; they can’t all be the supreme ruler of the universe, can they. To be honest, the Master was capable of starting a blood feud with himself even when there was only one of him – six billion of the loon should be, er, competitive doesn’t begin to describe it.

On the other hand, it does mean that all the other plot threads that seem to be being set up – villainous Naismith and his creepy daughter Abigail, for example – all suddenly go nowhere.

The very pace of the thing means that many of the guest cast are reduced to no more than cameos. That’s a bit of a waste of David Harewood, then, and though it’s lovely to see the Master’s wife again, what a pity she got blown to bits after only one scene. There is time for a lovely moment for Jacqueline King as Donna’s mum Sylvia: previously an unsympathetic character, here she is revealed as loving her daughter enough to let herself look silly in order to protect her from the Time Lord memories that might hurt her.

And a quick mention for the sublime Bernard Cribbins, and his cohorts in the “Silver Cloak”. Notice this week’s “gay agenda” anyone? Racy June Whitfield as Minnie is clearly taken with the handsome young Doctor… and so is Barry Howard as bus driver Oliver. Relying on the old people to sort everything out is rather Quatermas IV; subversion here means we’re meant to think they’re old people “from the war”… but they’re actually too young (as the Woman in White point out). Only the Doctor and the Master are veterans here.

The final shock reveal – yeah, like no one was expecting that, Russell – is the return of the Time Lords. Yes, Mr Dalton, “the Narrator”, turns out to be Time Lord Tim, after all.

Even this is subverted though. We expected the Time Lords to return, what we didn’t expect was for all this to be their Big Bad plan. But remember the first time we encountered the Doctor’s people: a story that at first seems to be all about Earth, and then the Big Bad behind it all seems to be a renegade Time Lord (and insert here an hour’s debate on whether the War Chief and the Master are the same person, if you like) and then the really badass people turn up, and they’re the Time Lords. And they kill the Doctor.

Alex once wrote that “the Time Lords are gits and always have been”, and that big pull back to reveal the Panopticon, reminiscent of the similar pull back reveal of the serried ranks of Daleks at the end of “Bad Wolf”, must surely be deliberate. Incidentally, the robes are, of course, magnificent. But they’re all scarlet, no Arcalian green or Patrexes heliotrope: did only the Prydonians survive, then?

Here, at least, there is follow up to “The Waters of Mars”: when Doctor declares himself the Time Lord Triumphant and we see that’s a bad thing… and now the Time Lords Triumphant turn up. Oooh dear.

Question, though: how exactly does anything that Master has done lead to the return of the Time Lords? Were they hiding inside his head? That would be a wry twist on Lance Parkin’s “The Gallifrey Chronicles” which finished with reveal that the Doctor’s amnesia was caused by him backing up the Matrix and hence the minds of every Time Lord who has ever lived, inside his own brain. I suppose it would make a change for someone other than Lawrence Miles to be left spluttering.

While we’re asking questions: who were those two figures standing at Tim’s shoulders, with their eyes covered with their hands. Were they weeping for the universe? Or were they prophets, like the Sybiline Sisterhood of “The Fires of Vulcan” (already referenced in the smoke that the Elder Ood was inhaling for his dream visions, I notice).

And who was that woman in white who was haunting Wilf?

Is she a “good” Time Lord, here to protect Earth from the rest of her kind? She’s credited as “the woman”, just as Timothy Dalton is “the Narrator” (and Tennant is “the Doctor” and Simm “the Master” for that matter).

Is she (if we’re referencing the TV movie) the half-human Doctor’s mother? And does that mean (paging Dr Freud) she’s the Master now?

Is she dressed in white because she’s the White Guardian?

(Just going back to my old thesis of Russell’s “plan” matching his seasons to icons of the series’ earlier Doctors: first season/first Doctor: the Daleks; second season/second Doctor: Cybermen; third season/third Doctor: the Master; fourth season/fourth Doctor: Sontarans and Davros; fifth season/fifth Doctor… er. The Guardians might be a logical “icon” to fill that tricky fifth gap.)

But, as Alex points out, her “you mustn’t tell the Doctor about me or he’ll die” remarks open the possibility that she is in fact a sinister force: keeping “our little secret” being long-standing code for “bad”, or just remember Adric’s block transfer ghost falsely warning Nyssa to keep secrets in “Castrovalva”. So is she good or evil?

Oh, and why wasn’t everyone in the end titles credited to John Simm?

Next Time: If ever there was a time to use “To… Be… Concluded” instead of “Continued”… Guess what: he dies! The End of Time, part two.

PS: Never mind Doctor Who; the Gruffalo was LOVELY!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 3281: It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas

Christmas Day:

Those Irony-meisters the Pet Shop Boys appear to have brought down the Curse of Ubastard, Evil God of Bad Timing, by releasing their Christmas single shortly before it in fact DOES snow at Christmas, paralysing all planes, trains and automobiles.

Fluffy hugs especially to everyone who got trapped in the Chunnel or in Europe. We know how you feel; Daddy Richard's mummy and daddy went shopping in BASINGSTOKE. It took them EIGHT-AND-A-HALF hours to get home!

Here's hoping you got safely home to your loved ones!

Help yourself to a nice warming PIE and meanwhile… Run VT, daddy!

Fluffy Christmas Everyone!
MM xx


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 3278: We Wish You a Banking Christmas and a Bonus New Year


As the Office of Fair Trading finally gives up hope of forcing the banks to trade fairly, let's hear the glass spires of the Square Mile ring out with those much loved ol' City carols…

"Away in a Mammon…"

"Once in Royal Bojo's City, Stood a Lofty Banking Shed…"

"While Shareholders Watched Their Stocks by Night…"

"We Three Kings of Orient Are… Looking for a Remortgage Deal for Dubai World…"

And of course

"Silent Night, Holy Night; Of the Regulator, Not a Sight…"

As Tiny Tim himself might say: God bankrupt you all, every one!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 3275: His Dark Materials


Previously, I have mentioned how the universe is made of CHOCOLATE.

It surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together… no wait, that's the FORCE!

Anyway, scientists call this delicious substance DARK MATTER, because it appears – or rather DISappears – to be invisible. Yet it makes up FAR MORE of the Universe than bits we can see.

(In fact, 70% of the universe is dark ENERGY which is even MORE mysterious but if the sums add up right then a quarter of everything is dark matter; that's FIVE TIMES as much dark matter as light matter!)

So you can't see it but you CAN see the effect that it has. In fact, using the Hubble Space Telescope, you can photograph a bit of a GLOW around distant galaxies caused by the Dark Matter BENDING LIGHT around the edges!

Now, there's a BIT of a puzzle about what dark matter is really made of.

Some people think it might just be ORDINARY matter bundled up into super-heavy lumps that, for some reason we don't understand, don't heat up and radiate light.

('Cos that's what USUALLY happens when ordinary matter gets bundled up into super-heavy lumps… we call them STARS.)

These bundles of ordinary-but-lumpy stuff are referred to as Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects or MACHOs. Yes, scientists are like that; live with it.

Others think that there are a whole new farm of sub-atomic particles that carry MASS (so can affect gravity) but none of the other fundamental forces (so they DON'T interact with ordinary matter in any other way). These are called weakly interacting (because they don't really interact) massive (because they have mass, not because they are enormous) particles. Or WIMPs. Yes, I know; never mind.

Detecting the presence of actual invisible particles, though, would mean that there actually ARE invisible particles, and would settle that argument.

But how do you detect them if you can't see them.

Well, you CAN, if you are very, very careful, detect a teeny-tiny bit of a REBOUND in a bit of light matter, something that you CAN see, if a dark matter particle happens to collide with it!

And that is just what scientists at the bottom of a very deep mine in Americaland claim to have done.

Alternatively, it's students from the FUTURE messing about with the Large Hairdo Collider!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 3274: The Liberal Democrats WILL Abolish Tuition Fees


File under news that ought not to be news but IS: the Liberal Democrats have re-stated their pledge to abolish tuition fees, the fees imposed on students when Hard Labour broke their promise not to!

Captain Clegg has e-mailed me to say:
I'm writing to let you know some good news about the Liberal Democrat manifesto - good news for students and for everyone who wants a fairer Britain. This week the Party's federal policy committee agreed a way to deliver one of our most important policies, the scrapping of unfair tuition fees. We've developed a plan to phase out tuition fees over the course of the next six years, to ensure this vital policy is affordable even at this time of economic crisis.
This is TERRIFIC news!

We know that under Hard Labour, more and more people's chances in life have been FIXED by the chance of their birth, the accident of CLASS. No wonder Hard Labour are playing the CLASS CARD – THEY are the ones who have re-enforced the Class System of prejudice in favour of the HAVES and against the HAVE NOTS!

Liberal Democrats want to give opportunities to EVERYBODY, and one way is by making sure that anyone, from whatever background, can go to university and is not put off by the thought of a life of perpetual DEBT.

Well done to the FPC and the treasury team for working out a way to get rid of this unfair tax on opportunity!
Since this means that a commitment to abolish tuition fees will be in the next manifesto, can we expect Mr Mark Littlewood to pay up?

(I confess, I MAY have an interest as Daddy Alex put up a tenner!)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 3273: Fly My Pretties!


A million people will be glad to hear that the planned "Twelve Days of Christmas" strike by British Airways' cabin crews has been cancelled on a technicality.

Agreeing to BA's injunction, Mrs Justice Cox added:

"At Christmas too! What did you THINK you were doing?!"

…before jumping on a flight to Bermuda.

The "Untie" Union, who are responsible (or IRresponsible) for the Christmas strike threat, called this "a disgrace to democracy", to which one might not unreasonably reply: if you didn't want to disgrace democracy, you shouldn't have messed up the ballots in the first place, should you!

Yet with the news that another airline has gone BUST and when even market cheapo Ryanair is cancelling its order for more aeroplanes, does it not seem like a VERY ODD time for the Union to be making it HARDER for British Airways to stay aloft? Is this not another case – like the Post Office union going postal – of killing off the hand that feeds you?

Yes, yes, fair enough, the Union wants to protect the rights and salaries of its members, but they seem to be going about it in a totally short-sighted way.

British Airways is UNCOMPETITIVE because it costs more for them to fly their aeroplanes around than it does for other airlines. One way that it costs more is that they pay their cabin crews MORE than other airlines – according to the BBC, the average salary for a BA crewmember is £18,000 compared to a crewmember on Virgin getting £15,500.

Surely the Untie people ought to be aiming to improve the wages of the VIRGIN cabin crews, while ACCEPTING the British Airways pay FREEZE. That would make BA more competitive, protecting salaries AND jobs.

Instead, the union is making life more difficult for the BETTER employer. Isn't that just, pardon my pun, plane bonkers?


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 3268: Government treats religious faith as an "eccentricity" practised by "oddities"… says man wearing frock*!


So, the Beardy-Weirdy of Canterbury wants to know why we don't like hearing about our politicians' beliefs and why, if we do, we think it makes them a bit… peculiar.

Two words for you, your weirdiness: LORD BLAIRIMORT.

Yes, Britain's most famous (living) GENOCIDAL THEIST, author of pamphlets: "How I Did It!"; "I would have did it ANYWAY!" and "Nozink in ze vorld can SCHTOPP ME NOWWWWW!", back in the news with the revelation that he DIDN'T GIVE TWO HOOTS about the legality of invading that Middle Eastern county.

Religious convictions? We'd settle for convictions for War Crimes!

We have been INCREDIBLY LUCKY in Great Britain to have got away with being only slightly sucked in to the centuries of religious conflict that have wracked Europe since… well, I was going to say the Reformation, but before that there was the Islamic Invasion and the Cursader Counterstrike and before that it was all barbarians and martyrs so it's pretty much since the Council of Nicaea and Emperor Constantine spotting a get-rich-quick scheme that involved seizing the wealth of all the religions in the Roman Empire by forcibly converting everyone to the unpopular one with no money (guess which).

That's not to say that we've avoided it entirely. Hen-er-ry the Eighth's Break with Rome (NOT a cheap holiday away-day) was a POLITICAL act. Everyone knows that. (Although of course ALL religion is a political act, really.) But his kids turned it into something of a personal cursade, what with Eddy going one way then Bloody Mary going the other.

And Earl Conrad Russell (of sainted memory) wrote of how the Bishop Wars of the early Seventeenth Century led into the English Civil War of the mid Seventeenth Century and how RELIGIOUS conflict was at the root of that strife too.

And even today there are STILL deep religious divisions in some parts of the country, not least Northern Ireland (obviously) and some parts of Scotland (often with the same roots again).

HOWEVER, what we've managed to do is find a very British COMPROMISE. And in fact a very LIBERAL compromise, with successive Liberal Governments in the Nineteenth Century legislating to remove religious prejudice from the (Unwritten) Constitution.

The compromise is this: don't mention the RELIGIOUS war… I did it once, but I think I got away with it!

The thing about religious belief is that it TRANSCENDS rational argument. As a militant atheist baby elephant I would have to say that it HAS to. For most people, faith is something that they FEEL, not something that they DEBATE.

(I say most people; obviously the Beardy-Weirdy's PROBLEM stems from the fact that he is an ANGLICAN BISHOP – debating his faith is practically all the job description he's got!)

If you hitch the cart of policy to the donkey of personal faith, you end up with a simile from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue… but also you make people invest literally their VERY SOULS in your politics (other fish are available); it makes debating IMPOSSIBLE and even agreeing to differ very, very hard.

So, extremely wisely, Britain has chosen to SEPARATE religious views from political ones. We call this a SECULAR STATE. There is a space for people to do religion (or to not do religion if you are a militant atheist baby elephant) and a SEPARATE space for people to debate politics and BECAUSE they are separate, no one needs to get burned at the stake over a disagreement about the interpretation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Bill!

Not that Archpillock Williams wants to get his hands dirty with the nitty gritty of the Agriculture and Fisheries Bill; Bishops almost NEVER turn up in the House of Lords Club when there's REAL work to be done (unless they're out to ban Gay Daddies from getting something everyone else already has!).

But what he means, when he says politicians are "side-lining" religion, is that he doesn't just want to play in his OWN place for doing religion but wants the special right to come and play in the political sandpit too when he wants to be able to give special little favours to his special personal friends.

(For more on how this "marginalisation" works, see HERE!)

Fortunately, and even more wisely, Britain didn't make that separation with the LAW but used the MUCH MORE POWERFUL force of FAUX PAS!

Ban something and you create underdogs and martyrs (again) and will strengthen and perpetuate it – just look at the Hunting Ban. But put mentioning religion on the same level as farting at the Christmas table and you kill it stone dead – look at the decline in smoking BEFORE Hard Labour legislated to ban it!

That's why we think that the Beardy-Weirdy is a bit, er, WEIRD!

That is why people associate Lord Blairimort "getting religion" with Lord Blairimort going BONKERS.

In all honesty, the former Prime Monster could have painted his bottom BRIGHT BLUE and called himself the Queen of Marzipan and people would have thought him less peculiar. THAT would have been "eccentric", but religion… it's just not CRICKET! No wonder Mr Alistair Henchman kept us from finding out about Lord B's "proclivities" with his "we do not do God" quote.

We're not dubious of Lord Blairimort IN SPITE of him turning out to be a closet Catholic.

We are dubious of Lord Blairimort precisely BECAUSE OF his turning out to be a religious whack-job!

His latest self-justification, which EVERYONE can see is because he's going to get hauled in front of the Chilcot Commission, is that Mr Saddam was "BAD" and so ought to have been removed.

But what MAKES a "bad" person "bad"? And who gets to decide and based on what rules and evidence? Because if it is merely "people Lord Blairimort SAYS are bad" then we are into VERY dangerous territory indeed. We're DANGEROUSLY CLOSE to a religious condemnation of the INFIDEL.

Suppose there is a particularly militant anti-Western Muslim in Iraq (I don't think that's TOO hard to imagine): from their perspective they could see Lord Blairimort as "BAD" – after all, he has (according to them) the "wrong" religion and he's certainly launched wars of invasion. Does that mean that the Iraqis would be justified in invading and occupying OUR country to catch HIM and put him on trial so that the Government that they pick for us can have him executed? In Lord Blairimort's world it does!

Look, I am NOT saying that Mr Saddam was all fluffy and nice. He was a TYRANT, a military dictator who invaded other countries (sometimes with our tacit support) and had lots and lots of people killed (even if stories of "people shredders" turned out to be made up propaganda).

But that's NOT a reason for invading his country and killing a lot of people who were frankly his victims. It IS a reason for not giving him lots of money and weapons and egging him on to attack Iran. Which, funnily enough, is something else we failed not to do.

Believing things to be true JUST BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE THEM is the very DEFINITION of a religious conviction. Which may be fine for Eternal Verities, but when it comes to impartial weighing of evidence, never mind deciding to take the Country to WAR, it's RUBBISH.

Bishops – like the Beardy-Weirdy of Canterbury – would like to have the POWER that comes with political control. Politicians – like Lord Blairimort – would like to have the UNQUESTIONING support that comes with FAITH.

Thank goodness our compromise keeps them apart!

*And what's wrong with men wearing frocks?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day 3265: Let's Pre-Budget Review


OK, for starters, when exactly did we get the idea that our economic woes were all the fault of the PUBLIC SECTOR?

Quick recap: the PRIVATE SECTOR banks indulged huge numbers of PRIVATE citizens in running up vast debts shopping on the PRIVATE SECTOR High Street with PRIVATE SECTOR store-cards supported by a PRIVATE SECTOR housing bubble (not irrelevantly connected to UNDER-investment in public housing).

The Government isn't INNOCENT, but if you're going to big up the benefits of the PRIVATE sector, then you've really GOT to admit that it's time they took their share of the BLAME too.

We have ASTRONOMICALLY HIGH Government borrowing because the Government had to BUY SIX BANKS (oh yes, SIX: Northern Rock-and-a-Hard-Place, Halifax, Bank-that-we-own of Scotland, ROYAL Bank-that-we-own of Scotland, Lloyds and the TSB, wot we used to own anyway, which should, at the VERY least, all be separate banks not huge too-fluffing-big-to-fail super-banks) banks that the PRIVATE sector – it turns out – could NOT be trusted to run.

Government tax revenues have fallen (and relatedly benefit costs have risen) because businesses, small AND large, are going BUST up and down the country as a result of private sector banks deciding to shut off the GUSHING MONEY PIPE of cheap credit.

Now, the Government WAS at fault in several KEY ways: most obviously, regulation of banking was poorly targeted and under-funded, with important other concerns being the running of a budget deficit in GOOD years before things turned BAD, and an obsession with centralisation, targeting and micro-management that has diverted public resources – TIME as well as money – from actual service provision and investment in infrastructure into (forgive me, the Honourable Lady Mark) Byzantine bureaucratic systems for collecting statistics.

And the choices that this Hard Labour Government has made have been utterly, utterly RUBBISH.

The OBVIOUS example is wasting BILLIONS of pounds, and more importantly HUNDREDS of LIVES, on an illegal invasion of one Middle-Eastern country and a totally muddled, unfocussed semi-occupation of a Himalayan anarchy.

(Look, if the "aim" – this week – is to destroy terrorist training camps, then you want a specific UN or NATO task force that can strike and withdraw. Remaining bogged down in one place is pointless; the terrorists will – indeed HAVE – just set up their bases somewhere where you are not. e.g. Somalia. If the "aim" is to "build democracy" then forget it. It's impossible. You can establish the rule of law and probably build and – and this is just as important – defend schools and hospitals, but in a much, MUCH smaller area, and maybe, maybe democracy will develop. But you can't wave a fluffy foot and expect it to happen. You end up with a BAD JOKE like this year's Afghan elections, which almost literally gave democracy the finger!)

More subtle has been the sheer BADNESS of their choice to let British industry trickle away, with more and more jobs going to the service sector while the Government relies ever more heavily on the GAMBLING DENS of the City, like some addict hooked on the RISK!

And of course there is the DEMENTED urge to collect and control ever more data, whether it is I.D.iot cards or DNA database or child-abuser-friendly Contact Point or the ruinously expensive, now-abandoned NHS IT project.

But, more than ANYTHING ELSE, the fault of the Government was in ceding control of crucial economic decisions to tiny, powerful, PRIVATE SECTOR elites.

For the last THREE DECADES we have had THATCHERITE Governments that have CONSPIRED with the worst elephants elements of the PRIVATE SECTOR for their own benefit.

In area after area – finance (obviously), media, power generation, supermarkets, transport, housing, utilities, town (and out-of-town) planning, the list goes on and on… and on and on and ON – centralised control is handed over to private sector CARTELS, shutting out democratic oversight, closing down competition and destroying opportunities for "ordinary" people and small businesses.

Far from EGGING these people on, these are PRECISELY the kinds of BIG BULLIES that Liberals ought to be standing up against.

We should NOT be afraid of using the powers of Government to clip the wings of these DANGEROUSLY-big Big Businesses – that is the FUNDAMENTAL error of the Libertarian. Arbitrary power is BAD – yes that INCLUDES arbitrary power of the Government itself. But not JUST the arbitrary power of the Government. To ABANDON us to the mercies of the corporations is a council of DESPAIR.

Mr Dr Vince says break up the super-banks but we don't go NEARLY FAR ENOUGH!

It is within the power of banks to support business, innovation, and people. But it's far, far better at a LOCAL level, where the bank manager KNOWS the businesses and the people. So make the banks SMALLER and MORE LOCAL!

And why stop at BANKS? There is a crisis of local newspapers, we are told. But the cause, the papers won't admit, is the national papers centralising their operations to London. (It's not JUST the Murdock Evil Empire – anyone remember the MANCHESTER Grauniad?)

Natural monopolies should be held on TRUST as a PUBLIC GOOD, not allowed to be milked like giant CASH COWS; that's why we need a POST OFFICE, that's why we need a BBC. What we DON'T need is an identikit Tesco in every town, turning our urban landscape into a WASTELAND.

Oh, but Tesco pass their saving on to their customers – sure, but only at the expense of wiping out all other businesses, impoverishing our communities and bankrupting our farmers. Every little HURTS.

But it is ALSO the job of Government to EMPOWER people, to encourage and support and enable, to shield us when we hurt, to pick us up when we fall.

Nothing, but nothing, but NOTHING drives me further into WILD ELEPHANT RAGE than seeing smug, self-satisfied and, above all, RICH Conservatory politicians and Conservatory-voting businesspersons and Conservatory-supporting media hangers-on BLAMING THE POOR, worse blaming the very people that this private sector-made disaster has MADE POOR, saying that Government "wastes" too much money on benefits, saying that we should cut the huge benefit bill in order to balance the budget.

We live in one of the richest – and luckiest – islands on the face of this planet, green and beautiful, gifted with extraordinary natural resources, a generous climate, abundant wind-energy should we choose to harness it, not to mention the almost-unparalleled inheritance from giants of science and technology that placed us at the very front of industrial development and an enormously rich cultural tapestry from the many, many peoples – Britons, Celts, Romans, Vikings, Normans, Huguenots, Jews, Chinese, Jamaicans, and Polish Plumbers and all – who have so generously chosen this country, of all countries, to come to.

To say that there is almost ANYTHING that we "cannot afford" is beyond ridiculous; to say that we cannot afford to support the weakest and worst off is verging on the OBSCENE.

(A Tory Troll responds to Ms Pollyanna Toytown with a braying "we'll abolish the 1.5 billion pound inheritance tax cut if you abolish the 50 billion pound benefit bill".

"Yes," someone replies "and then the people on benefits will die of hypothermia you total, total badword".)

And while I'm at it, Master Gideon Oboe insists that his inheritance policies are so that people who work hard can be allowed to leave something to their children. Well that's LAUDABLE – so how about THIS as a policy: you can leave ANYTHING you want to ANYONE you want with NO tax at all… but anything that you INHERIT is taxable at 100% on your death.

Look, we KNOW what is going to happen WHICHEVER Conservatory Party, Red or Blue, gets in: they are going to put up VAT and slash benefits. And we've SEEN the model for this because the Conservatories did it the LAST time they got their sticky fingers on the levers of power: it STALLS recovery and PROLONGS recession.

So now we are offered – as though this is ALL the choice there is – the chance to pick one of:
    Option A: a grumpy monomaniac obsessed with total control from the centre who has spent our way into an ever-deepening black hole and yet left us with less actual ownership of our lives than we have had in a hundred years
    Option B: a hollow (trick) cyclist with chauffeur-driven shoes whose main aims, as much as his vaguely enunciated policies can be made out, are to reduce the burden of Government for his own rich clique
There has GOT to be a better choice than THAT! That is NO CHOICE at all!


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Day 3261: DOCTOR WHO: Dweeb Land


GOOD NEWS: "The Sarah Jane Adventures" and "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" show that adding a Dr David to your mix adds a COOL MILLION to your viewing figures!

BAD NEWS: this suggests the interest in Red Button cartoons SANS David Tennant is probably NIL!

Daddy has a go at explaining "Dreamland":

Hmmm. Ever so slightly it would've been nice if this "red button treat" had been on before "The Waters of Mars".

It's not that it's bad as such… no, actually it is that it's bad… no, that's unfair, it looks dreadful, but actually… anyway, it breaks the mood.

"Waters" ramped up the tension to "nearly-unbearable" in preparation for the jolly Christmas Armageddon of "The End of Time" and then they toss in this lightweight B-movie themed romp. And then they make it look like… that!

Phil Ford, the writer here, has worked on the Sarah Jane Adventures and, of course, shared the writer credit with Russell for "The Waters of Mars" (which is ironic given my complaint about the juxtaposition of the two stories), but he first came to our attention for writing most of (and most of the good episodes of) the CG Captain Scarlet, so he really ought to be the man best suited to this. But, I guess, he just assumed that the animation would be up to Captain Scarlet's standards. Which, sadly, it's not.

Animation can be the sweetest of mediums, even for Doctor Who: the re-animated "The Invasion", say, is stylish, atmospheric, moody and perfectly captures the whole "Ipcress File-ness" of the dastardly spy sub-plot in the opening episodes. In contrast, "Dreamland" with its gaudily painted stick-figures and sub-Thunderbirds puppet-walk movement is constantly dragging you out of the moment, subtracting from the voice acting.

Tennant (as a voice) is on excellent form. He's an alumnus of Big Finish so he ought to know the drill, but he manages to gabble most of the exposition out both in character and, more importantly, clearly to hear. Tragically, his digital avatar has less emotional range than a Smash Martian: going from wide-eyed boggling to wider-eyed boggling, with occasional leaning slightly forwards for emphasis.

David Warner always adds gloss to a production and this is no exception; his cynical, two-faced Lord Azlok makes for a decent opponent, even if he looks like a super battle droid wearing Nute Gunray's hat (and then goes the full "Attack of the Clones" and flies like a Geonosian bug creature!). And do his googly eyes really have to make that squeaky noise every time he does his CGI blink?

There's also a lovely appearance by Lisa Bowerman (Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield) as a grey alien with a charming touch of world-weary scepticism that nicely counters the Doctor's sugar-rush enthusiasm. Their scenes together inside the set of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (oh come on, weren't you hoping they'd knock over the Ark of the Covenant?) are among the episodes best moments, and their "crate escape" is genuine Doctor Who gold.

Sadly the multi-talented Georgia Moffett and fellow companion Tim Hower as Cassie and Jimmy are completely wasted. Their characters have almost no character, in fact almost no dialogue to establish one beyond "ooh, I'm a Native American" and "ooh, I wear bobby-sox". And it hardly seemed worth Clark Peters ("The Wire's" Lester Freeman) turning up for the tiny role of Night Eagle or "granddad exposition" as you might as well call him.

The plot amounts to the fairly basic invasion-of-Earth nonsense with a large dash of Aliens added (how obvious did the Viperox Queen and all her little eggs have to be?) but it's overlaid with a warm-hearted wash of homage to all those Fifties American clichés: from flying saucers to Men in Black (who are Robots, no less) to secret military bases where you get strapped to the operating table to have your mind erased by the evil mind gas.

(Minor quibble though: why does the room with the mind-wiping gas have ventilation ducts that lead back into the rest of the base? And, given that it does why does anyone in Area 51 remember who they are???)

One nice touch is that the flying saucer – the Roswell flying saucer – matches, inside and out, the one seen in The Sarah Jane Adventures "Prisoner of the Judoon"… and so it should since the one appearing in Sarah Jane was allegedly modelled on the US Air Force' plans for the Roswell saucer. (Although sadly no one says: "oi, the milometer's gone missing!" – see "Dalek", for why!)

Combined into a single 45-minute narrative, "Dreamland" suffers from a couple of "hang on have I missed a bit" moments where clearly "events have moved on" between mini-episodes (the most glaring being the jump between the opening in the diner and the "second" episode, ironically combined into the double-length episode one, where the Doctor and chums encounter their first Viperox).

The real shame though is that all this has been done before – and rather better – in the 1994 New Adventure "First Frontier" by David A McIntee.

In fact, the conflict between the aggressive, warlike Viperox and the technologically advanced grey aliens depicted here is remarkably similar to "First Frontier's" back-story (or rather foreshadowed fore-story) of the war between the aggressive, warlike Veltrochni (a species allegedly resembling a cross between a Predator and a Klingon) and the technologically advanced Tzun (who are your basic grey Roswell alien).

The fall of the Tzun Confederacy, dated to 2172, is, incidentally, one of my favourite bits of clever retro-continuity in the Doctor Who universe – it's what allows the humans to have space for their Empire to expand into. Sadly, recent TV episodes – "Last of the Time Lords" in particular – seem to suggest that there's a rather more mundane Galactic Traffic Patrol – or possibly the Shadow Proclamation – keeping an eye on the Earth instead.

So, with its sunny setting and devil-may-care Doctor this is much closer in appearance and tone to the sandcastle nonsense of "Planet of the Dead" than the emotional intensity of "The Waters of Mars" and we'd have been more "in the mood" for this cartoon Doctor earlier in the year. Plus it could have tided us over the huge-seeming gap, rather than very nearly feeling like it's getting in the way of our sprint to the finish.

Next Time (again): Christmas Day. Two part festive episode. Return of character thought long-dead… Are we sure this isn't going to be set in Walford?…


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Day 3259: OK you bankers, I accept your resignations – if only Saint Vince were Chancellor


The Board of the Royal Bank-that-we-own of Scotland are behaving like a flock of Sir Desmond Glazebrooks, the incompetent but wily banker of "Yes, Monster" and "Yes, Prime Monster" fame, who would insist treating all the good chaps like good chaps because it wouldn't be being a good chap to do otherwise.

"We HAVE to give out a BILLION-and-a-HALF QUID in bonuses or the good chaps will leave," they whine. "And if you won't let us, we'll all QUIT!"

Well, HURRAY for Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable, Sage of Twickenham, calling their bluff: ok, he says, quit then!

Listen to Saint Vince on the The Today Programme. And yah boo to anyone who says politicians don't answer the question he answers each one straight.
TODAY: If you were Chancellor what would you do?

St Vince: I'd accept their resignations and be very clear that this bank has to operate in the interest of the public.

TODAY: But what about the minority investors?

St Vince: Well, what about the MAJORITY investors – i.e. the Great British public who own 80% of this bank and have put in billions and billions of pounds. The minority shareholders were largely big institutions who sat passively by and allowed the crisis to develop.

TODAY: Won't the board argue that what they're doing IS in the public interest, making a profit to get the public's money back?

St Vince: Of course the taxpayer should get their money back but that's not the only objective. There's also restoring the flow of credit to small and medium sized British businesses who are still finding it very difficult to obtain credit.

TODAY: If they don't get "the going rate" won't the good staff will go to Goldman Sacked (to do "god's work", one guesses)

St Vince: Let's not forget the five-thousand people in the City earning over a million are all ultimately guaranteed by the taxpayer, the Government has effectively said they'll underwrite them. This is not "normal commercial business" in the sense most that people would understand it.

TODAY: Lord Mandeltine says that the Government is asking for restraint from the bankers but that RBS won't be singled out.

St Vince: Well, Darth Sideious, excuse me, Lord Mandeltine has got to be firm. The bank is effectively blackmailing the Government by saying do what we say or we will walk. The Government has put in billions of taxpayers' money and has got to exert some discipline.
Mr Dr Vince is, of course, RIGHT. It is about time someone called these ghastly bankers' bluff and told them that THEY have got to contribute something to cleaning up the MESS that THEY made.

Now, let's see if Mr Frown will "save the world" or save the bankers' bonuses.

Mr Stephen of the Glenn points out that that the Scottish Bankers are like the Scottish Nasties in their threat to toss their toys out of the pram if they can't spend public money their own way. He also shows that the total bankers at the Bank-that-we-own want to take a QUARTER of the profits for their own wallets. Not so much repaying the public investment there then.

The lovely Caron muses that the bankers should be more than a bit grateful that they've still GOT jobs rather than whinging that they are not being overpaid enough.

And even CGI (Charlotte Gore, Independent) is up for calling the bankers' bluff… on the grounds that they're venal Government quislings, naturally.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Day 3256: The Zachary Goldfinger Tax Dodge… Why Did He Fess Up Now?


You cannot have failed to notice the revelation that Conservatory golden/green poster-boy and anti-Liberal Democrat candidate Mr Zac Goldfinger, son of millionaire Bond Villain Sir Jammy Goldfinger, has been caught out avoiding tax.

In particular, Daddy Alex is VERY CROSS about Master Goldfinger saying we should be GRATEFUL for his CHARITY*!

But I've been wondering why this news should leak now?

Meanwhile, ENTIRELY COINCIDENTALLY, Monday 30 November was the deadline (now extended to January) for UK citizens to tell Mrs the Queen's Customs and Revenue about any pots of cash that they have squirreled away in OFFSHORE TAX HAVENS.

The Conservatories have worked VERY HARD to push the idea that ANYONE should be allowed to stand for Parliament and you shouldn't hold someone's BACKGROUND against them. This all sounds very EGALITARIAN, but actually it's a pre-emptive strike to say: "ooh, you beastly oiks just CAN'T make politics out of the fact that Mr Balloon / Master Gideon / Miss Nancy Mogg / Mr Goldfinger / etc has inherited a HUGE fortune and never done an honest day's work in all their life! How rotten!"

Well that's nonsense!

Candidates should be judged by the ACTIONS, and that includes whether they have chosen to pay their FAIR contribution in tax in this country like the people they CLAIM they want to represent, or whether they have chosen to take advantage of tax loopholes to keep their UNEARNED, INHERITED riches for themselves.

(*Hat tip, Mr Paul Burblings too!)

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