Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is the internet invulnerable?

I've just seen this story about a severed cable disrupting the internet in the Middle East and India. (BBC News: Severed cables disrupt internet) Much traffic has been disrupted. I remember several years ago when the main transatlantic cable for JANET, the main UK education network, went down. There was similar disruption to the internet, along with much frustration amongst users - I hadn't seen so much frustration since my first year as an undergraduate when the world wide web often failed at weekends and there was no-one in the server room to push the reset switch.

Yet all this is at odds with the idea of the internet being indestructible, as I remember all the promoters telling me in the mid 1990s. Time and again they argued that if a cable was broken the system would simply reroute and there would not be a problem? Or was this era of optimism based on much lower usage and smaller download sizes?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ming says he was a eunuch

A man with responibility but no powerSir Menzies Campbell has given an interview declaring his party is not "fit for 24-hour-a-day news". (BBC News: Lib Dems 'not fit for 24hr news') It's clear that he's still bitter about the huge number of off-the-record briefings from members of his party that undermined him. And his irritation with comments about his age is all too clear. But I feel he brought this on himself - nobody ever made an issue of Michael Howard's age and Howard is only two months younger than Campbell. However Howard never tried to make anything of his age.

But what stands out the most are his comments about being leader:

"One of the things I learned very early on is that the leader of the party - the opposite of the harlot - has the responsibility but not the power."
He may not have mentioned Tom Stoppard by name, but it's hard to avoid thinking of Stoppard's classic reverse of Stanley Baldwin's famous quote. Where Baldwin spoke of "Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages", Stoppard said "responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch throughout the ages".

So does Ming realise what he's said he is?

On the plural of "referendum"

I've just seen Gordon Brown giving an interview on the Politics Show and when talking about not the people have their say on the EU Constitution"Treaty" he said "referendums" and then rapidly "or I should say 'referenda'".

Why is this hyperforeignism pluralisation perpetuated? Not only is it inconsistent - we don't use the Inuit pluralisation for "anorak" for a start - but it's also not necessary. The most correct plural form is "referendums" and this is reflected in legislation - see the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Act 1997 and Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. This is becoming one of those issues on which pedants are making a fuss in favour of the wrong form!

(P.S. My blog spellcheck still doesn't recognise "referenda" but has no problem with "referendums".)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Odds and sods

For some reason every time there's been a major political resignation lately I've been out and about and unable to comment on it at the time. It's hard to feel sorry for Peter Hain though.

More widely I've generally sought to avoid commenting on party funding issues (other than major cock-ups by party leaders) because the issue is inherently complicated and the system of regulation has, if anything, made matters even worse - look for instance at the confusion over whether donations needed to be declared to both the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary Regulator. What's not been noticed as much is the way that what is morally right has been superseded by what is legally right and many of the rows have focused on the detail of the rules.

It also reinforces my concern about the way the media report cases. The assumption of "innocent until proven guilty" is often thrust aside, with a new assumption that anyone who donates to individuals or parties is just seeking personal reward and that any recipient with a question mark over them has automatically done something wrong. This is not good for politics at all. I also feel it does little to help the situation when an almost tit for tat process of reporting MPs left, right and centre for various ambiguities are picked up by the media and reported as a sign of mass guilt. Ths is a problem that goes beyond partisan interests and trying to harness it for them is deeply damaging.

Most of the proposed reforms so far focus on the symptoms rather than the cause, whilst the public keep indicating they don't want to finance parties. And why should they? A political party is a voluntary organisation. If it is unable to inspire people to fund it, it won't be able to inspire enough people to vote for it.

On other matters, the race to be the next US President continues in earnest, though I note that Dennis Kucinich has abandoned the race. (The Associated Press: Kucinich Abandons White House Bid) Kucinich was always a very long shot hope getting limited coverage and what coverage I've seen of his race has focused less on his position as one of the most socialist Democrats but instead on his new wife Elizabeth (who I was at university with though I can't recall us ever speaking). But as Kucinich was polling extremely lowly and was shut out of key debates, his withdrawal will do little to accelerate the Democrat race for the nomination. The question remains as to when John Edwards will accept the inevitable and pull out.

The economy is more worrying. For all the talk of rogue traders, I fear we're in for a world recession. That's not a good sign.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Liberals continue ditching democracy

As well as the party's youth wing changing the name and ditching "Democrats" (see Young Lib Dems to become a lie?), the party is retreating from democracy in other areas. Nick Clegg has announced that his party will vote against letting the people of this country have their say on whether or not political power should be transferred.

Many often argue against referendums, making the case that we elect Parliament to make decisions for us. And this is true. But that is a very different thing from whether or not Parliament should have the right to give powers away; powers that will be very hard to retrieve. There is an unwritten agreement between Parliament and the people, and any changes to that agreement should be assented to by both.

Nick Clegg seems scared of a referendum - does he think he wouldn't win one? Doesn't he have the self-confidence to put the case for the treaty to the people? If so then he truly is a yellow politician. Instead he's calling for a basic referendum on whether or not we should be in the European Union at all - a worthy thing in itself but since such a vote is currently unlikely he is merely using it to appear to support democracy whilst in actual fact undermining it.

And at the last general election all three parties promised a referendum on the Constitution. That the treaty is very similar is a conclusion reached by even the committees of the House of Commons, so the nomenclature is no excuse for backing away from one. As Austin Mitchell said in the Commons:

If it looks like a constitution, if it smells like a constitution, if it reads like a constitution, so far as I'm concerned it's a constitution.
(Source: BBC News: In quotes: EU treaty debate
One of the reasons for the great alienation from the European Union in this country is the way that politicians have sought to keep the debate amongst themselves, telling the people that it was all about free trade as an ends in itself and then claiming the project was just about "modernisation" and "expansion", rather than being open about the goal of European unity. A referendum would give pro Europeans the opportunity to put their case to the people and seek to re-engage the public on this issue. Instead politicians like Nick Clegg (a former Member of the European Parliament) choose instead to perpetuate and extend the democratic deficit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Is Oprah female or black?

Oprah Winfrey - female or black? Choose only one!Since the answer is "both", you're probably think that that's the stupidest question anyone could ask. And you'd probably be right.

However with race & gender becoming ever more prominent in the US Presidential primaries there are ever greater demands for people to support a candidate not because of policies but because they are the same race or gender as the voter. So what happens when they are the same as two candidates?

normblog: Oprah or farce? notes that Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama has led to supporters of Hillary Clinton makind accusations of treachery against her fellow women! See also The Sunday Times: Women turn on 'traitor' Oprah Winfrey for backing Barack Obama.

Now I don't know much about Oprah's particular brand of politics so I can't comment on which candidate is the natural choice for her. But I find it hypocritical of her detractors to attack her not for apparently choosing a candidate on grounds of identity, but for choosing the wrong identity!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doctor Who - Beneath the Surface

And now for my old reviews of the latest Doctor Who stories released on DVD from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide.

It's another lengthy one this time, as the latest release is a box set containing the three stories featuring the Silurians and Sea Devils. First off Doctor Who and the Silurians:

A strong message and story

Wisely, the second story featuring the Doctor exiled to Earth does not focus in any way on the reasons behind the Doctor's exile and his attitude to it but rather shows just how the Doctor fits into the entire UNIT structure whilst at the same time presenting an interesting variation on the UNIT format showing how flexible it is after only a few stories of the type. It speaks volumes that Jon Pertwee's first scene shows him tinkering with Bessie rather than with the TARDIS and thus showing him attempting to improve his situation on Earth rather than emerging from the TARDIS after yet another failed attempt to depart. Malcolm Hulke's scripts are highly intelligent and challenging, presenting a set of characters who are all highly believable as they face the unusual developments at Wenley Moor.

One feature of the story that stands out is just how much of a loose cannon the Doctor is. He travels about in his own classic car which he has heavily modified, steps in to help with technical problems, ventures off into the caves by himself on several occasions and is routinely out of sync with even the Brigadier. Nevertheless there is a strong bond of respect shown between the two with the result that when the Doctor desperately needs the Brigadier, such as when the plague spreads at the end of Episode 5, the latter is willing to do everything he can to help even though the the Doctor as ever does not provide the greatest of reasons to be trusted.

The guest human characters are all interesting, ranging from Dr Quinn who is driven by vanity to be known as the discoverer of the "Silurians" (okay the name's inaccurate but then so is the alternative version of "Eocenes" given in The Sea Devils and that sounds even worse) to Miss Dawson who doesn't understand much of what is going on around her other than her love for Dr Quinn to Dr Lawrence who becomes increasingly paranoid as the research centre becomes ever more diverted and he appears ever more unable to keep things going. The Silurians themselves are equally well portrayed, evoking both our sympathy for their plight but also our revulsion for the actions taken by the Young Silurian, often at odds with the Old Silurian. The message of the story is clear - that when two highly developed communities encounter one another it must always be the moderates on both sides who must win through to prevent bloodshed - and this is as strong a message today as it was at the time of the story's original transmission when the Troubles in Northern Ireland had only just begun one of their most bloody phases.

Hulke's scripts are backed up by some strong production values which, with the odd exception such as the dinosaur, never let the story down, nor does the cast. One particular good feature is the way that many on both sides are killed off including even normally 'untouchable' characters in a story such as the civil servant (Masters - ably played by Geoffrey Palmer) and the second in command (Hawkins - portrayed by a young Paul Darrow before Blake's 7 made him famous). The Silurian costumes are good and even their head shaking when using their third eye makes sense as it implies that they are focusing their power. CSO makes its first appearance in Doctor Who in this story and it works well here since it isn't used to make the critical action shots. Direction wise this story works well, with the location work giving it a strong edge and also making the plague seem especially menacing as it strikes down commuters at Marylebone Station. Although the story's title is rather silly, this can be easily ignored as a cock up (and there are many books where the 'Doctor Who and...' variant also appears in story titles, such as The Making of Doctor Who) and in no way detracts from a highly rewatchable story that never slows down throughout its seven episodes. 10/10
Next The Sea Devils:

A strong sequel

About a decade ago The Sea Devils was selected to represent Jon Pertwee's time in the series in a repeat run. As an all action adventure, and being the middle story of his middle season it seems a highly appropriate tale to select. However it is noticeable for being set on contemporary Earth and featuring no direct appearance of UNIT at all. This gives a degree of freshness in the early episodes as the Doctor can not immediately call upon the support of the Navy in the way he would be able to do so with UNIT, whilst Edwin Richfield gives an excellent performance as Captain Hart without having to compete with any UNIT regulars.

There is a huge amount of action in this story, ranging from the Doctor's duel with the Master to the scenes of the naval task force attacking the reptiles' base. The story itself is for the most part a rerun of Doctor Who and the Silurians with the Master thrown in as an additional element but the story never noticeably drags. Michael Bryant's direction is strong and competent and makes good use of a mixture of stock footage, visual effects and equipment loaned by the Royal Navy to give the story a strong and slick feeling. Malcolm Hulke's script is well written and the only character to get sent up is Walker, a wonderful caricature of 'patriots' who merely make the entire situation far worse.

On the acting side, Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Roger Delgado all give their usual strong performances whilst Clive Morton (Colonel Trenchard) and the aforementioned Edwin Richfield both give exceptionally good supporting roles. Clive Morton brings a strong sense of tragedy to Trenchard, a strong patriot who believes he is doing his country a great service but finds out that he has been merely used by the Master as a means to an end and he then dies guarding his prisoner.

There's a limited degree of humour in the story, such as the Master and Trenchard's exchange about the Clangers being an alien life form or the Doctor's initial attempts to transmit a distress signal resulting in his picking up Jo's favourite DJ, but predominantly the story is serious. There's much less of the moralising of its predecessor, with only one of the reptiles (their Chief) being able to speak and he doesn't appear until the fifth episode and instead this story focuses on the action. Consequently the ending is far less tragic than before but instead focuses on the Doctor and Master escaping and continues the trend of the almost sibling rivalry between the two when the latter waves goodbye as he flees in the hovercraft. Whilst not as strong as its predecessor, The Sea Devils nevertheless presents a strong tale that is complemented by good production values. The music is radically different from the norm, being provided by Malcolm Clarke and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, but this experiment works well and uses many distinctive sounds. By breaking out of the standard formula for the Pertwee years, this story benefits from a degree of originality and so fully deserves its existence as more than a mere sequel. 8/10
And finally Warriors of the Deep:

Definitely Warriors on the Cheap but what about the script?

This story is often called Warriors on the Cheap by harsher critics and the conventional wisdom has it that this is a story that was written with some very strong ideas and premises but which was completely let down by poor direction, having less time than most Doctor Who stories to be completed, weak visual effects, poor design work that was not what the writer had envisaged at all and some terrible lighting that makes the story's weaknesses all the more glaringly obvious. But conventional wisdom can often be wrong and here it is difficult to see much of merit in the script for the story either.

For the series 1984 begins appropriately with an extremely pessimistic vision of the future in which the-then present day divisions of the world are chillingly mirrored and expanded upon. Warriors of the Deep never actually uses terms like 'the Americans' and 'the Soviets' or 'West Block' and 'East Block' (that was only in the novelisation) and so it has been argued that this is a new division of the world but it is clear that writer Johnny Byrne was thinking of the Cold War lasting for another century even if he avoids clarifying which side the Seabase is on. Unfortunately by the time the story's tenth anniversary appeared the world political situation had drastically changed and so although 2084 is a very long way away at the time of writing, it is hard to envisage this story as anything like what that time will be.

This story also sees the revival of the Silurians and the Sea Devils, both last seen in the respective Jon Pertwee stories named after them. Whilst those stories were 14 and 12 years old when Warriors of the Deep was first transmitted, the impact and long lasting effect of Malcolm Hulke's novelisation of the first story should not be ignored and so the revival gap diminishes somewhat. To the non-dedicated fan it doesn't matter if the monsters have appeared before or not - there have been other times when the Doctor has known about new races and characters - but for those who are familiar with the creatures it soon becomes clear that Warriors of the Deep is a big letdown. The costumes are very different, the Silurians' voices are electronic and their third eye has now become a flashing bulb indicating which one is speaking rather than a focusing point for their mental energies and worse still the very premise of the creatures has changed drastically. The earlier stories had clearly established that the reptiles sought merely to reawaken and establish their civilisation once more, with divisions between those who wanted to try for peaceful coexistence with the humans and those who wished to wipe them out completely, but now they are shown as ruthless and making no concessions whatsoever to a chance of any form of negotiated peace. The Doctor and Icthar have met before but it is hard to tell if this is an unseen adventure or a reference to Doctor Who and the Silurians.

The convenient plot device of the Sea Base being stocked with hexachromite indicates a laziness on the script's part, whilst the body count for the story is immense. It is hard to think of a previous story where out of such a large cast and extras virtually every speaking character (bar one) and many extras are wiped out completely. The script is a hideous mish-mash that completely fails to work as much more than a glorified action piece and the Doctor's final line 'There should have been another way' completely fails to convince from the way the story has progressed.

The cast are a mixture of clichés such as Tom Adams' solid Vorshak and utterly bizarre characters such as Ingrid Pitt's Solow who encounters the Myrka and reacts by trying to engage it in martial arts rather than fleeing while she can. The characterisation is generally poor, with the Doctor establishing his credentials all too easily through the crew's discovery of the TARDIS and the whole story limps along. It is hard to feel any sympathy for the deaths of any characters.

The production of this story routinely takes a knocking but it must be said in its defence that the model work of the Seabase and the Silurians' vessel is extremely good. Unfortunately that is just about where it ends. The interior of the Seabase completely fails to come across as an underwater military outpost, whilst the lighting is ridiculously high. There are far too many "secure" doors that look like rubber when they collapse, whilst the Sea Devil costumes completely fail to generate any sense of terror. Much has already been written about the Myrka but this has merely served to distract attention from the other weak elements of the story. All in all Warriors of the Deep is a story that sinks even lower than the Seabase. 1/10
Doctor Who - Beneath the Surface can be purchased from

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Young Lib Dems to become a lie?

Hattips to Dizzy and Iain Dale who report on the story that Liberal Democrat Youth & Students is about to have a makeover and rebranding as "Liberal Youth". (Dizzy Thinks: Clegg to spin 'Yoof Wing' relaunch? & Iain Dale: Is Nick Clegg About to Change His Party's Name) What has caught the imagination of the blogosphere (e.g. Norfolk Blogger: Are we set to become the "Liberal Party"?) is the possibility that this could be a prelude to the Liberal Democrats as a whole reverting to the name "Liberal Party", although as there is already a registered Liberal Party, the name isn't available. (see Hug A Hoodie: Why Nick Clegg won't rebrand us as "The Liberal Party") Some are speculating that the former Social Democrats in the party will be hostile to this move, but this overlooks the fact that the merger is now twenty years old and the turnover in that party is such that many have no reason to care one way or the other.

But what I haven't seen anyone notice yet is how this move could be disastrous for the Youth & Students wing itself. The acronym "LDYS" can and often is pronounced "Lie-Dies", no doubt to the annoyance of many a LDYS member (who tend to pronounce each letter separately). But "LY" is even worse. This would be the silliest renaming exercise since the Reform Party of Canada dissolved itself in favour of a new party, the "Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance" and only then when the media pointed it out did they realise what happens when you add "Party" to that.

So will the young Lib Dems abandon a name with "rat" in it for one that makes them a lie? Time will tell...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary

Truly a giant, Edmund Hillary was the first man to stand on top of the world. And by all accounts he was an ordinary, humble man. No wonder the people of New Zealand are so saddened today.

But that was only one of his many achievements throughout a long life, and his lifelong friendship with the people of Nepal has been one of the most touching parts of the many obituaries that have flown forth today.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing NorgayEdmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay literally conquered the world. Today they have been reunited at an even higher level. The rest of us can only marvel at their achievement.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

William Hartnell 1908-1975

William Hartnell (1908-1975) as the vey first Doctor WhoOn this day one hundred years ago William Hartnell, the very first actor to play Doctor Who, was born.

It's incredible to realise that the series came at the end of quite a successful acting career for Hartnell and there are many fans of the series who have only seen him in it and also Carry On Sergeant. But even today his performances shine through.

And in many ways he was the man who made the series work in its early years, when few in the BBC reportedly had faith in its longevity. Even today some of his stories can be found amongst those most cherished by fans.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Don't let the dream die

The beauty of KenyaMy mother grew up in Kenya and it's also the first country I ever visited. So even before the world's media picked up on the violence I was awaiting the outcome of the Presidential election with wonder as to whether Mwai Kibaki would be re-elected or whether he'd become that rare thing - an African leader who has been voted out of office.

Let's dispel a few myths. Although my holiday coincided with the one major exception (the 1982 Kenyan coup d'état attempt) for nearly all its history Kenya has been a peaceful stable country. It has experienced strong economic growth and stood out as one of the success stories of Africa. Sure one can find individual incidents to fault it, but the same is true of practically every other country.

Which is why I look at the news about the current crisis in great sadness. It started as a close run election with the two main sides emerging from a recent breakdown in a political coalition. Such political contests are far from unique throughout the world.

But what has tipped things over the edge has been an election process that generates limited confidence. And this in turn has spawned bitter political violence that exposes the basic roots of the political divide in the country.

What's the solution? I honestly don't know. Something must be done to end the violence and restore confidence in the country's political process.

But what saddens me is the way some people seem to think that this is just proof that democracy can't work in Africa and that it'll all end in tribal violence; that a successful state isn't possible.

That's not a dream I'm prepared to give up on. That's not a dream anyone should give up on. Whatever it takes, Kenya must be helped. It can overcome these problems. It should not be written off because of them.

London Mayor: Neck-Neck-Toe

I missed this the other day but YouGov have done a comprehensive poll for the London Mayoral election, with the results showing that the race is very close. (Evening Standard: Mayor race: Livingstone and Boris too close to call) And it also shows how time and votes can be wasted - Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat, is nowhere.

So for all those Liberal Democrats out there, here's a special one just for you. I don't know much about how to create images, but here are the figures in one of those bar charts your leaflets usually use:

As you can see:


...and all the other usual slogans.

Now I know what some of you are going to say - the Mayoral election is by Supplementary Vote. But this only gives the voter two options. So if the Liberal Democrats go chasing second preferences, particularly from people planning to vote Green or any other smaller party, they will merely be wasting votes and giving the election to Livingstone.

Only Boris can beat Livingstone.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

December on this blog

Happy New Year everyone!

Time again for the monthly look at who's been visiting this blog. For those who wish to see stats for earlier months you can now click on one of the labels at the end of this post. Comparisons are with the stats for November.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. (+1)
  3. Wikipedia (+5)
  4. ConservativeHome (+3)
  5. Conservative Mind (+1)
  6. Mars Hill (-2)
  7. Chris Paul: Labour of Love (NEW)
  8. Facebook (-3)
  9. Yahoo (+1)
  10. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (+11)
Dropping out of the top ten is Slugger O'Toole (disappearing altogether).

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (+2)
  2. viscount severn (NEW)
  3. educationet (NEW)
  4. tim roll-pickering (+3)
  5. what harms the environment (RE-ENTRY)
  6. laura blomeley (-1)
  7. london borough sutton border (NEW)
  8. the death of ian smith (NEW)
  9. what president am i most like (NEW)
  10. australia second chamber elected (NEW)
Some of usual regulars, some interesting new ones.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in:


Thank you all for reading!


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