Saturday, March 29, 2003

You see? I do get some things right!

A while ago, I wrote about the 'Nigerian' 419 scam in a couple of entries and said: 'I can certainly envision an Iraqi variant offering the recipient to share in Saddam Hussein's millions in the aftermath of any war in the Gulf.' It's not exactly what I predicted, but Chris Brooke has received what may be the first Iraq war-related version of it.
Wasn't he meant to be quiet on the backbenches?

Robin Cook has called for British troops to be called back from Iraq. It's an article for the Sunday Mirror, apparently, but their website is still carrying last week's stories - I'll update when/if the article is available online.

Update: The full article is available here. I particularly like the line: Personally I would like to volunteer Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz to be "embedded" alongside the journalists with the forward units.

Thoughts inspired by an Adventuress

Finally, I've finished reading Lawrence Miles' The Adventuress of Henrietta Street which I started a couple of weeks ago. No, it's not a slog to get through, just that I haven't had time to do much fictional reading recently, so after starting it, it sat around in a bag for a couple of weeks and then I finally got around to reading it yesterday and today while lazing around doing nothing much in particular. Anyway, it's prompted me off into a few thoughts on SF TV and where it's all going wrong. Even as I write those words, I'm aware that I'm straying into the territory that leads to either becoming Comic Book Guy or joining the Eltingville Club...

Quick capsule review: Excellent, and I really wish he'd try writing something other than Doctor Who (and now Faction Paradox) stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with them, just that it's a shame that a writer of his talent is only publishing stuff that's going to get a few thousand readers maximum. Or has he forced into doing it by some nefarious quota system that limits the number of active British SF writers whose surnames begin with M? Ken Macleod, China Mieville, Michael Marshall Smith (unless he avoids the quotas by being an S) - I could be on to something here. Or just on something. Your choice.

Or, what would be fun (and thus has almost no chance of happening) would be for the BBC to hire Miles as the main writer should they ever decide to bring Doctor Who back to TV. In this interview, he makes some interesting points about why the BBC will mess up any revival they try to bring about and in my opinion, it's a pretty accurate analysis. However, I'd add to it by saying that the BBC doesn't really know what it wants to do with Doctor Who, besides just treating it as a useful cash cow for BBC Worldwide. As long as it keeps selling books and videos, they're not inclined to tamper with it and are quite happy to let it trundle along for the next however many years until the remaining fan base is either completely saturated or dies off when it'll just disappear into obscurity.

Yes, they did attempt the Paul McGann revival in the 90s (though that was principally an American work) and I guess we ought to be glad they did that rather than go for one of the ideas described here. However, despite the atrociousness of those ideas, I believe that if they're ever going to bring it back, it needs to be a complete restart, wiping the slate clean of all that has gone before. Why? Because it'll piss off the fanboys (and girls).

One of the curses of the internet is that it's allowed people who would otherwise have done nothing much with their lives to set themselves up as little gods of a particular field. One of those areas has been what's known as 'fandom', where people with no real creative ability can set themselves up as 'continuity experts' - monitoring every episode of a particular TV series and then writing long detailed Usenet posts about how Character X's actions in an episode contradict some minor line of dialogue from four years ago and thus the writer of that episode is a talentless hack who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near ‘their’ series again. In short, the problem has become that fans now see themselves as the 'owners' of a series, rather than just the consumers. All very noble and democratic of course, but great art is never made by a committee, and the problem comes when the writers and producers start listening to 'the fans' and giving them what they want, which leads to every little bit of mystery being explained, every continuity 'error' being rectified and a series that eventually disappears up its own backside. Or, you just get Enterprise which starts up there and just keeps digging further in.

The problem stems from the fact that 'the fans' are only a small number of the people who actually watch the show. Even if there are 10,000 of them, that's still less than 1% of the several million people who watch the show and that 99% plus don't really care about continuity. Yes, they care about the 'big picture' continuity and would get pretty annoyed (or more likely, would just stop watching) if, say, Buffy started defeating vampires by using interpretive dance rather than wooden stakes, but they don't care about the little things the 'fans' get obsessed with because they don't recall it, and if they do, they don't care, because it's just a story.

Which brings me back to Doctor Who revivals - what the 'fans' forget, and Lawrence Miles seems to understand, is that outside of their little group, no one can remember the details of individual stories and plotlines. The reason any Who revival needs to go back to square one (I'd say Year One, but dates are always relative when you're talking about Time Lords) is because if it tries to carry on from where it left off, it's instantly saddling itself with forty years of continuity that no one outside of a small group knows or cares about. Various parts of Doctor Who have become iconic parts of modern British culture - people remember the Doctor, the TARDIS, the Daleks and a smattering of other enemies and companions (the exact details depend on their age, of course) but they don't remember much beyond that. More to the point, they don't remember or care that such-and-such an episode revealed an important fact about Time Lords or the internal politics of the Daleks, and if they're expected to remember that to watch and enjoy a new series they won't bother and will just turn to Footballer's Wives instead.

Iconic characters don't need to stay in a fixed continuity. Consider Superman as an example - the Christopher Reeve films are not continuations of the 50s TV series, Lois and Clark doesn't pick up the story from the end of the film and Smallville is yet another take on the same character. If audiences as a whole cared about continuity, then they wouldn't watch any of the 'new' series, as it conflicts with the 'original' story, yet people still watch them which shows that as long as the basic character of Superman/Clark Kent stays the same, the continuity isn't important.

So, it's time for the BBC to tell the fanboys to go away, give the keys of the universe to Lawrence Miles, tell him to start it all over from scratch and then sit back and enjoy the show.

And if, after this long post, you want something fun and related to read, this rather long interview with Lawrence Miles has some very good (and potentially libellous) stuff.
Random late-night webspotting

This week's b3ta challenge is to come up with images of what Britain would be like under Nazi rule. Not something you'd expect to be a great source of humour, but they manage it. Richard Littlejohn's column under the Nazis is particularly amusing.

By the way, am I the last person to discover that b3ta is actually pronounced 'beta'?
Turn on, tune in, geek out

Well, thanks to the lovely RSSify utility at Voidstar.com, I've now got myself an RSS feed for this blog. It's that lovely XML button in the 'me' section of the links to the right.

OK, now can someone tell me what I can do with it now I've got one - I've registered for the UK Blogs Aggregator - but what else? Still, it's inspired me to put titles on my posts.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Hart on the left - and on the web

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Watson may have become the first British MP with a blog (unless Edward Davey got there first) and now, on the other side of the Atlantic, they've got the first potential Presidential candidate with one - Gary Hart. Yes, that Gary Hart, the one who could have been the Democrats' candidate in 1988 except for a weekend on a boat called Monkey Business. (More info on him here) And, just to prove he's serious about being a blog of the left, he's got the obligatory link to Atrios' Eschaton.
You know, I'm starting to wonder if we've all crossed over into a parallel universe that's been written by the staff of The Onion. Or maybe just Onion rejects, as I'm not laughing that much. As an example, how about this?

Summary: Dixie Chicks requested to apologize for unpatriotic comments and perform free concert for the military of this state

Even after Strom Thurmond retires, South Carolina continues to amaze the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

via Hesiod: Thousands of people in Toronto advised to quarantine themselves to prevent an outbreak of SARS. "This is an incident of unprecedented scope and magnitude."

If anyone is starting to have dreams about a dark man and an old woman, feel free not to tell me. Or, "Men come and go, but earth abides."

But on the lighter side, there's a rather nice discussion about the best way to make tea on Dustbinman. Good to see that the important issues aren't being forgotten.
As you all know, I'm against the war, but the Stop The War Coalition look like they're about to start seriously annoying me. Harry pointed me to this page, which includes the following about upcoming demonstrations:

This Saturday we are asking local coalitions to organise demonstrations focusing where possible on pro war MPs... In Brixton they are targeting Kate Hoey.

Maybe she's changed her mind in the past week, but according to Hansard, Kate Hoey voted against the war.

And then there's:

In Manchester and London, demonstrations will be targeting the BBC.

Excuse me for a moment - IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S SANE, WHY? WHY? WHY? - thankyou. What the hell does a demonstration against the BBC hope to achieve, and aren't there slightly more important things to be demonstrating about at the moment? Like the war itself, just to pluck an example at random. Has STWC been infiltrated by pro-war activists trying to make it look stupid? Either that, or someone's completely taken leave of their senses.

Related: this excellent piece by British Spin on media 'bias'.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

This is one of the signs of the Apocalypse, I think - David Baddiel actually told a funny and relevant joke on Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned: 'What if we actually capture Saddam Hussein and he claims to be one of his lookalikes?'
Via Hesiod, here's an interesting interview with Muammar Qaddafi from Le Figaro last week. Qaddafi might not be the most reliable source, but the interview is interesting as it does show some of his distaste for Arab leaders (which was part of the reason for his decision to effectively give up on the Arab League and concentrate his efforts on the African Union instead) and his reading of the Bin Laden situation:

Everything that’s going on now serves the interest of Osama bin Laden. He sets himself up as a savior against a dominating, hegemonic America. In many Arab countries, Bin Laden is seen as a resistance hero.

I think it's something that a lot of people forget about Qaddafi and Libya - because of the vision of Libya as an Arabic 'rogue nation', there's a tendency to forget that it's also one of the most secular Arab and North African states (part of the reason behind the disgust at the Arab League, I believe) and thus fears any sudden rising of Islamic fundamentalism, especially as it borders Egypt and Algeria.
I had a rather sleepless night a few days ago as I thought of the potential worst case scenario fallout from Operation Piss Off The Planet. And this afternoon, I check out BBC News and find this, which reminds me of the whole thing just a little too much. I'm still debating whether to write the whole thing down and post it here, but I think putting my fears into writing might make them even scarier.

And I'm guessing that this will be moving forward sometime in the next few weeks.
I've now met three people on my 'Blogs etc' list to the right - one of them helped me get a job, I got drunk with one in Las Vegas and another just gave me two Ken Macleod books. The books came from Random and Irrelevant Sam - I'll let you work out who the other two are.

Anyway, here comes the germ of an idea - anyone interested in having some kind of UK bloggers meet up? Nothing major, just a bunch of people meeting in a pub and saying 'I really like that piece you wrote about such-and-such or 'so that's what you look like'. If you are, leave a message here and spread the word. If enough people are up for something then we can actually think about organising something.
I'm not sure which is the most disturbing - that someone came here on a search for 'delusions of omnipotence' or that I'm the number 2 on Google for 'Nick war blog'.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Remember the 'If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq' email that did the rounds a while ago? Well, someone's gone and made a rather amusing flash animation of it. (via Barney Gumble)
If, like me, you've spent far too much time in your life delivering leaflets for various causes, then you'll appreciate Iain's Rules of Letterboxes.
OK, probably way behind everyone else who's reported this, but there's now a limited English version of Al-Jazeera's website available. I suspect it's getting a lot of hits from all over the world right now which probably accounts for why it's quite hard to access at the moment, but it does have some interesting news and an interesting take if you want to get all sides of the story.

Related random thought: There have to be people out there who think that Fox News is too far to the left.

Also related: an interesting BBC News analysis about why we haven't seen the dancing and cheering crowds welcoming the troops into Iraq.
I've noticed a couple of blogs (Green Fairy and Beatnik Salad - that sounds like something from a cannibal's recipe book, doesn't it? But I digress...) mention this morning's Guardian/ICM poll about the war and note, with sadness, that support for the war appears to have surged. As Ryan says: 'Who are these fickle turncoats!? If it was wrong before the bombing started, how is it right now that the killing has begun?'

(I'm sure there are also those on the pro-war side pointing to them with a smug 'see, I told you so' attitude, but I really can't be botherered to track them down.)

Anyway, rather than leave effectively the same message in the comments on two blogs, I'll do it here instead. I don't think the poll is necessarily as bad news as it first appears. The important thing to note is that the question asked is 'Do you approve or disapprove of the military attack on Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein?' Looking at the full results of the poll (it's a PDF file, so you'll need Acrobat to view it), it's also effectively the only question that is asked. However, even that reveals something - as was shown on Yes, Prime Minister (and also in the real world) many years ago, the phrasing of a question affects the results you get.

So, that means what is asked is important. The question does not ask if people believe military action is 'justified', despite the line in the story that '61% (of men) now believe that military action is justified' it asks if they 'approve or disapprove'. Also, the question asks it in relation to 'the military attack on Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein' without actually using the word 'war'. However, it does mention 'remove Saddam Hussein', and as we all know from the last few weeks of propaganda, Saddam Hussein is a bad man and one of the 'evildoers' (note to those people who like to wilfully misunderstand what I'm saying - I am not defending Saddam Hussein or his regime at all). Plus, this poll was taken over the weekend when the news and papers were full of stories of troops rolling across the desert and 'support our boys' messages. And even then, they could only get 54% to say 'yes'.

What, I wonder, might have been the response to the question 'Do you believe the invasion of Iraq is justified?' to pluck another question out of the air. This question was just about the best they could ask to boost the pro-war results without straying into the territory of 'push polling' - another question would likely have got a very different result.
Just a quick few links to some interesting comment pieces in today's Guardian. Matthew Engel identifies a possible reason for why the current wave of anti-French propaganda is not being applied to Germany:

The reason is harder to get at. The one thing we do know is that the change came at the very end of February, immediately after a visit to Washington by Angela Merkel, the German opposition leader, who was granted an A-list schedule, seeing just about everyone who matters except the president himself. Her public statements were strongly pro-American; privately, it is thought, she told Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice to back off, because the more they attacked the chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, the more they strengthened him politically. There are no comparable political divisions in France.

Also, George Monbiot has a good article on the Geneva Convention and the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Zoe Williams has a fun time trying to resign from the Labour Party. I hadn't even known she was a member of the Labour Party, but now I think I like her even more. Did I ever mention I had an email from her a few weeks ago?
Having been to University in Wales and having a brother who plays rugby, I'm well aware that rugby players are not quite the same as the rest of us. But, even by their standards, standing in a small room in Poland with the temperature reduced to -110 degrees Celsius is just ever-so-slightly insane. So, if any of the English or Irish players shatter after a big tackle in the big Six Nations match this weekend, you'll know why - someone forgot to get fully defrosted after their cryotherapy.
I had a visitor to my blog earlier today looking for 'Jack Straw's resignation speech'. Oh, I wish...

Monday, March 24, 2003

(Borrowed from here)

Eve of Destruction (Barry McGuire)

The Eastern world, it is explodin',
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'.
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin',
You don't believe in war -- but what's that gun you're totin'?
An' even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'.
But you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.
Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say,
An' can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away,
There'll be no one to save, will the world in a grave.
Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy.
An' you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeak, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin',
I'm sittin' here just contemplatin'.
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of senators don't pass legislation,
An' marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin',
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'.
An' you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China,
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama.
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space,
But when you return it's the same ol' place,
The poundin' of the drums, the pride an' disgrace.
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace.
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace,
An' tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction,
No, no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Lisa at Burnt Toast has found a good description for Operation This Is A Lot Harder Than Rumsfeld Said It Would Be.
Interesting article in the Observer's business section on the Carlyle Group, and a new book about the 'ex-Presidents club'.

But Briody's account of how an upstart venture capi tal firm went from nothing to managing funds of nearly $14 billion in just 15 years, earning investors returns of around 36 per cent, is likely to reinforce the controversial image of the Carlyle Group and raise concerns about its influence in Washington and beyond.

Sometimes called the Ex-Presidents Club, Carlyle has a glittering array of ex-politicians and big league bankers on its board. Former secretary of state James Baker is managing director while ex-secretary of defence Frank Carlucci is chairman. George Bush senior is an adviser. John Major heads up its European operations. To give the conspiracy theorists plenty of ammunition, US newspapers have also highlighted the fact that current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a wrestling partner of Carlucci's at Princeton and the two have remained close friends ever since.
As you may well have noticed, I'm not a big fan of David Aaronovitch. I think it's mainly because he has the attitude of disdain towards anyone who disagrees with him that's common to ex-NUS Presidents (including Jack Straw and Charles Clarke) but there was one interesting line in his Observer article today:

But the sight of White House adviser Richard Perle masturbating over what he hoped was the grave of the United Nations, was a reminder of where some of the kaleidoscope's pieces are floating.

As I've mentioned before, I participate in the soc.history.what-if (SHWI) Usenet group. A commonly used word on the group is 'wank' - usually in a negative connotation about a post where someone writes a 'what if' whose conclusions all justify their own political beliefs, without necessarily being based in reality. Thus, a hardcore Republican is wanking when he writes a WI where the whole world bows down before Saint Reagan, or a hardcore Democrat is doing the same where Reagan ends up villified and on trial by the whole world. There's also the subgroup of the 'weapons wank', usually in an ongoing timeline, where a post is merely a Clancy-esque description of some battle or other.

Now, while using the word in that way is understandable to most people, I've not really seen it used in that context outside of SHWI, and it's interesting to see Aaronovitch using 'masturbating' in a similar context indicating that the usage may be spreading into the wider world. One for the OED to watch out for, I guess.

(On a related SHWI note, the 'What If Gordon Banks had played' timeline has now finished. Damn.)
At last! There's a new TV Go Home (thanks to Dan for noticing this first) - hopefully, it won't be a five month wait for the next issue.