Saturday, November 27, 2004

Church of Latter Day Irony

From the you couldn't make it up department: Mormons seek an injunction to stop an evangelical preacher from knocking on their doors.

Eric the Uncanny

Earlier in the week, there was a bit of a discussion about John Laughland of the 'British Helsinki Human Rights Group' (Helsinki[*] Human Rights - as opposed to regular human rights - are those that apply to oppressed Belarussian Presidents, it seems) on a few blogs (see Eric, Harry and the comments on this post at Fistful) and Eric wondered:
Perhaps he'll pop up in the Guardian suggesting it's all a Neo-con conspiracy?
Bet you can't guess who the Guardian's only comment piece on Ukraine today is written by, can you?

[*] This is not to be taken as an insult on Helsinki or the Finns in any way, before anyone thinks otherwise. They're lovely people who just happen to have been the host for the meeting which established the OSCE, which Laughland et al seem to have a particular dislike for.

Dumbing down

Quote of the day from Michael Brooke, who reveals just how much standards are slipping at Sight and Sound:
I should probably confirm that those three words do indeed appear in the review, in that order, and that the quote is a fair reflection of the overall tone - though you won't be able to check this for yourself until the next Sight & Sound is published. That said, if you want a sneak preview, David Parkinson's much shorter review in Empire drew more or less exactly the same conclusions, so just imagine his piece expanded to 900 words and the reference to Alexander Dovzhenko replaced with one to Viz's Buster Gonad and you'll probably get the general idea.
I understand future issues promise us such treats as 'Recontextualizing Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and the Fat Slags', 'True Northern Realism: Contrasting Kes and Black Bag' and 'The Tinribs Effect: Special Effects in British SF movies'.

Legal threat bingo

So, given that Chris Lightfoot can now add the Labour Party to the English Democrats in his list of 'political parties who've sent me legal threats' who's next? Can he get a complete set before the next election?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Time out

Taking a break from Ukrainian matters for a moment, I think I ought to state that I, like so many other bloggers, am proud of Britain.

Update: And as it turns out, there are so many reasons to be proud of Britain.

Another quote that comes to mind

From V For Vendetta:
'It does not do to rely too much on silent majorities, Evey, for silence is a fragile thing...one loud noise, and it's gone... Noise is relative to the silence preceding it - the more absolute the hush, the more shocking the thunderclap. Our masters have not heard the people's voice for generations...and it is much much louder than they care to remember.'

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The other PLO

More light relief comes from the Philistine Liberation Organisation and their Philistine Manifesto. I'm reminded of Handelsman's Freaky Fables cartoons in the old Punch which once depicted the Philistines marching against the Israelites while chanting their spine chilling battle cry: 'WE LIKE WALT DISNEY!'

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Meanwhile, back with the loons

I don't have the time to do anything other than link to this right now, but the Evening Standard is reporting that there may be a leadership challenge within UKIP with reports that 50 branches are ready to demand a no-confidence vote on Knapman.

A little light relief

Spotted while on a break from Ukrainian matters, Awful Plastic Surgery is a good way to waste a few minutes and probably especially good if you can call people over to point and laugh at the pictures together.

It's hard work, as someone once said

For those of you who haven't noticed, I've been hard at work over at Fistful for the last day or so, keeping track of all the developments in Ukraine, and hoping that everything gets resolved peacefully without descending into panic on the streets, violence or civil war.

One thing I have noticed, though, is just how much information there is to keep track of and how many sources it's possible to get information from. I'm wondering what the revolutions of 1989 would have been like if we had had the Web and wider internet usage then - or would the spread of information have meant that the revolutions would have happened earlier?

Everything I need to know I learned from science fiction

I'm reminded today of a quote from Green Mars:
She could have kissed him. Instead she nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and went to the doorway to the living room. Jackie was still in the midst of her exhortation, and it gave Maya the greatest of pleasure to interrupt her: "The demonstration's off."

"What do you mean?" Jackie said, startled and annoyed. "Why?"

"Because we're having a revolution instead."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Before and after

One interesting thing from the Ukrainian elections - reported in the Independent this morning, but not in their online edition - are the rumours that Yushchenko has been poisoned and is suffering from chloracne caused by dioxin poisoning.

You can compare this picture of Yushchenko from June 2003 and the picture in this BBC story, which also mentions the allegations.

After the USSA

I was thinking about my previous post just now, and I was reminded of Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's Back In The USSA series of stories. For those of you haven't read them, they're not strict alternate history (one description I heard of them once was 'pop-cultural fantasies') but they depict an alternate 20th Century where it was the USA that went Communist (and became the USSA - United Soviet States of America) while the Tsars retained power in a Russia which then became capitalist. One of the things that makes them not 'proper' alternate history is that Newman and Byrne mix real and fictional characters together - for instance, the President of the USA at the time of the (Eugene Debs-led) Revolution is Charles Foster Kane and the Vietnam (Indochina) War is told in the story 'Teddy Bear's Picnic', the cast of which is mostly from British comedy (think Apocalypse Now starring the Likely Lads) and features the classic line:
'Hello clouds, hello sky, hello pile of severed human heads.' said Major Basil Fotherington-Thomas.
The series of stories is complete, as far as I know, and Newman and Byrne haven't shown any indication that they're going to write more, but I've been wondering about how history would have continued in that world given that it's a kind of dark mirror of our own.

For instance, the General Secretaries of the USSA were figures from our world - Eugene Debs was the Lenin figure, then replaced by Al Capone ('Caponist' was that world's version of 'Stalinist') and by the time of the USSA's final collapse it was General Secretary Vonnegut trying to bring in his programmes of Getting It Together and Straight Talking before he was replaced by President John Ross Ewing.

The question I'm wondering about, though, is where does it go after that? Which character (either real or fictional) would be the Putin figure. Would the Rose Revolution take place in Atlanta, Georgia with Stipe replacing Saakashvilli? And what state would be the most likely alt-Ukraine?

Ukraine

I've been doing some blogging and comment on the Ukrainian situation over at Fistful (there's also a good post on it at Europhobia)

What's interesting about the situation (as well as the way it mirrors last year's events in Georgia, almost exactly one year on) is the geopolitical aspects of it and the way the old Cold War proxy battles between the USSR and the West are being refought on new territories. Of course, the Cold war itself was just the old Western Europe vs Imperial Russia battles fought under new names with new allies on a global scale - it'd be interesting to be around in a few hundred years time to see how historians look at the 19th and 20th centuries. I expect we'd be surprised by a few of their ways of looking at it.

Anyway, I don't want to turn into one of those bloggers who goes on about geopolitics for days and days as though everything I'm saying is Holy Writ and the absolute truth of what is happening in the world, but I think it's interesting to note that while the attention of most people is focused on the 'war on terror', there's a longer term conflict going on behind the scenes as the Western powers continue their attempts to encircle and neuter Russia while it prepares to come back while strengthening and reclaiming it's periphery. Which way Ukraine turns - west or east - is just the latest battle, though how this plays out could determine where the next round will be. Onward to Minsk or back to Tbilisi? And then again, there's always Uzbekistan simmering away and waiting for a crisis to bring it to the world's attention.

Update: The Independent has an article on Ukraine's position in the new 'Great Game'.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Protest news

Interesting news from Australia, where commuters are getting to travel free for a day on Sydney's trains after threatening a payment boycott because of poor service. Maybe we could try it in Britain, though from the sounds of it, Sydney's system is even worse than ours:
For some, even the sight of a train arriving late is a relief on a network where many services are cancelled without warning.
Though I have had nights like that on the Central Line, of course.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Vote 2006?

I've been thinking about when the next General Election will be, and while conventional wisdom says next May, I'm not entirely sure. It's the most likely date, I agree, but I'm not sure that it's the locked on certainty that we're assuming it is.

I already mentioned this week that the possibility of a February election - slim though it was anyway - is now pretty much ruled out because that's when the hunting ban is set to come into force. Seeing that Labour are trying to make law and order a main theme of the next election campaign, it doesn't strike me as a good idea for them to be holding it agains the backdrop of what seems likely to be mass-lawbreaking, widespread protests and all the other stuff that's likely to happen.

However, if that is going to happen - and it seems rather likely - it's entirely possible that it won't be over in a week or two and protests are likely to carry on for months, which means they'll still be going on into April and May and it runs the risk of pushing hunting up the agenda (perhaps even to the top) of election issues, a prospect that's not going to be pleasing any Labour strategists.

The sensible solution then would be to decide to wait, allow the issue to settle down and hope to come up with a compromise solution that eases the tensions. However, that means they have to come up with a new election date. Autumn 2005 would be good, except for the small matter of Britain holding the EU Presidency during the second half of next year and - as others have pointed out - the focus that requires effectively rules out holding an election during that time, not least because - as far as I can tell - no country has ever held an election while holding the Presidency.

So, we move into 2006. There aren't too many problems caused by that - the Government still has a thumping great majority, even allowing for by-elections and an extra year in office complete with G8 summits and EU Presidencies gives lots of good 'Tony as world leader' photo ops and there's the chance that Iraq will be sorted out and safe by then. And while Blair probably doesn't want to be seen as drifting into an election, he can always revisit the most recent scenarion, make everyone think he's waiting till May 2006 and call a quick election in February.

Howard avoids a threesome

We've already seen Michael Howard begin the official Leader of the Opposition script calling for a debate with the Prime Minister and now he's decided to go for a slight variation of the form by proposing a rather strange plan to accomodate Charles Kennedy, while not having a debate featuring all three leaders.

It's a good idea by Howard. Well, it's a clever political idea, but absolutely terrible if you're looking for a proper debate between the three party leaders. I presume the thinking is that the first debate would be the one that gets the highest ratings, and thus features him and the Prime Minister and then they each get to go one-on-one with Charles Kennedy (in a kind of 'winner stays on' format) where neither of them will feel the need to talk about their party's policies but just get to reel out the 'Liberal Democrats are evil! You hear us? Eeevil!' line whenever they're called on to make a statement. Still, it's good to see Howard trying to create some new opportunities for himself, like a good opportunist.

One day, we may get a proper televised debate (or even a series of them) between the three party leaders, but I doubt if it's going to be next year, mainly because if Howard keeps changing his mind about which format he wants, it's very easy for Downing Street to agree to something he's already rejected to ensure it doesn't happen.