Worth Reading 29: In advance of the leap year

One of these is obviously a day late. Can you guess which?

One genre to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them – There’s been some interesting discussion recently about the claims of literary fiction, and how this one genre dominates media coverage of books and reading. Here’s an interesting take on it all. (via)
Meat Lover! The Scariest (True) NYC Sublet Story You’ve Ever Heard – Does exactly what it says on the headline. Probably not to be read if you’re squeamish, easily offended or are about to eat Chinese food.
One cold may morning in June – Phil Edwards on the difference between Adams and Pratchett.
Ireland and Doctor Who – For St Patrick’s Day, Nicholas Whyte chronicles the connections. “There is occasional confusion about whether Gallifrey might be located in Ireland.”
If Cameron can’t explain AV, his education was wasted – “So for Cameron to blithely claim he is not able to explain AV suggests one of two things to me. Either he is not being honest, or his extremely privileged education was wasted on him.”

Time travelling thoughts

Looking through the Onion site, I found this interesting article in the AV Club about time travel and when and where you’d choose to go live for a few years if you had the opportunity:

Where and when would you most want to live for five years, restricted to a five-mile radius?

Everyone says things like “Oh man, how cool would it be to be in Dealey Plaza during the JFK assassination, or see The Beatles during one of their Cavern Club concerts, or witness ancient Rome?” Well, what if you were given the chance?

Here are the conditions. You’ve been granted a hypothetical ticket to live, in comfort and coherence, during one five-year time period. Maybe you want to be in New York in Chicago during Prohibition, or Victorian London, or France right before the Revolution. (Or during—no judgments.) You’ll be able to understand and speak the language (if needed), have enough disposable cash to live at leisure, and experience whatever you want, with no need for a job. You’ll have a comfy apartment or house to return to, full period wardrobe, and as much time as you need before making this trip to study up on the period you’ll live in.

But you must stay within a five-mile radius of where/whenever you choose to live. Thus you can’t go see the Kennedy assassination, then go zipping around the world to London to watch the birth of the British Invasion, or New York for the early years of Greenwich Village. Want to see the Kennedy assassination? Fine. But then you’re stuck in Dallas for the next five years.

What historical period (and place), in your opinion, offers the most enticing experiences in one five-year period?

So, despite the fact that they illustrate it with a TARDIS, this isn’t a simple where would you want to pop into as a time tourist for a few hours, but a proper time traveller, really experiencing and being part of the local culture. The fact you have to stay within five miles of your location for five years probably rules out some interesting locations – going to see the Boudiccan revolt burn down Colchester might be interesting, but spending five more years in and around an under construction Roman border town probably wouldn’t be. Other great battles and conflicts will most likely suffer from the same restrictions – several years of hanging around 20 square miles of countryside in exchange for a few days of historical action.

My choice would be for London between 1685 and 1690. For me, that period from the death of Charles II to the accession of William and Mary to the throne is a key point in British and world history. The changes that were wrought in that period were much more profound than the question of who got to sit on the throne, they were about the basic nature of the British state and whether Parliament or the Crown would finally emerge victorious from the battles that had begun long before the Civil War. How fascinating would it to be able to sample the public mood during that period – what did people think when news came through of Monmouth’s rebellion in the West? What were the protests, discussions and arguments over religion like during the reign of James II? What wild rumours went through the streets as William’s navy sailed down the Channel and James led the Army towards Salisbury Plain? And how did it feel to be in a city seemingly abandoned by its monarch and under what was effectively Dutch occupation? A remarkable time in history, and so much of it happening within those few miles of one city.

So where would you go?

Five-Dimensional Vistas, or an attempt to explain the Time War

Time for a break from writing about politics today as reading Andrew Hickey’s series of posts on hypertime, canon and all other sorts of marvels reminded me of a long post I’d written on a Doctor Who forum a few months ago.

So, if you’re not interested in some extremely fanwanky thoughts about the deeper metaphysical structure of the Doctor Who universe, look away now…
Continue reading Five-Dimensional Vistas, or an attempt to explain the Time War

You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m entitled to mine

Last night I was going to write about my two cents in the latest spat between Charlotte Gore and James Graham but managed to get distracted from doing that when I noticed a rather inflammatory-titled post on Liberal Vision.

Of course, what you see there now isn’t quite the same – or quite as inflammatory – as I saw last night. Yes, the doughty defenders of freedom and free speech have no problems with censoring themselves, refusing to admit they’ve done anything wrong and calling anyone who points this out a bully. It’s an interesting debating tactic, but not one that really helps to push the debate forward – but then, when your attempt to weigh in on the great Twitter NHS storm has embarrassingly stalled, I guess you try another tactic.

But, this does help to highlight some of the issues of online discussion, debate and freedom of speech that have been highlighted by Charlotte and James’ exchange – and no, I’m not just talking about Godwin’s Law.

During my time away from regular blogging, one way I filled my time online was posting on the Doctor Who forum now known as Gallifrey Base. (Yes, this will be relevant, bear with me) Now, for those of you who aren’t Liberal Democrats don’t know the intricacies of Doctor Who fandom, it contains a small yet exceedingly vocal minority who despise head writer/executive producer Russell T Davies who like to continually remind people of their disdain for him and his work. The pattern of discussion was predictable after a while – an initial post disparaging Davies, usually containing some combination of the terms ‘gay agenda’, ‘soap opera’ and ‘deus ex machina’, a large number of replies to that original post pointing out ways in which it was wrong, and then either the original poster or one of the other objectors chiming in with ‘obviously, you’re not allowed to dislike Davies here’ before going off in a huff.

In the words of the late Anthony Wilson: ‘You’re entitled to an opinion, but your opinion is shit.’ You can say whatever you want, but you have to accept that freedom extends to everyone else, and they can say whatever they want about what you’ve said. Pointing out that someone’s talking rubbish isn’t bullying them, silencing them or restricting them in any way – criticism is a consequence of free speech. Yes, maybe it would be good if all debates could be polite and respectful, living up to the senatorial archetype, but sometimes saying ‘now that’s just silly’ is all that’s required.

As James points out, many of the debating tactics of the right – especially a certain fringe within the Liberal Democrats – forget this in the same way as the anti-Davies fringe in Doctor Who fandom do. (Though to be fair, it’s not solely limited to the right) Debate involves people disagreeing with each other, and sometimes that disagreement might not be as eloquent, detailed or constructive as you might wish – but when you feel it’s OK to refer to your opponents as ‘evil’, ‘deluded’ or ‘Nazis’, don’t be surprised when they do something similar back to you. If you want something better, lead by example.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the main thrust of Charlotte’s post:

We say, hey! Politicians! Stop being puppets and say what you really think! Then, if we find a politician stupid enough to listen we lynch them for it.

(Disclaimer: I say that as a politician who knows that one day a bored journalist with space to fill is going to find this blog and take all sort of out of context quotes from it)

However, I don’t think it’s some purely British situation – look at how Obama, Clinton, McCain et al spent most of last year talking in the blandest platitudes possible to avoid giving fresh meat to those who’d tear a mistaken word apart. What may be particularly British is the way parties are conceived of here – the moment a politician says something that diverts slightly from the party orthodoxy, the media are instantly calling it a split or a feud and demanding that the party leadership clarify their position and wondering what they’ll do about the supposed ‘maverick’. Then they wonder why no one wants to join political parties anymore…

In conclusion, then: I’m right, you’re wrong, and I hate you all.

And lo, the internet melted down…

…as weeping fangirls and fanboys mourn the departure of David Tennant from Doctor Who. Meanwhile, tabloid journalists rejoice as they can fill pages with speculation over who’ll replace him, having been denied that opportunity when Eccleston left because the BBC announced Tennant was getting the job almost immediately.

James is quick off the mark to champion Simon Russell Beale, who would be an interesting choice for the role, as would current bookies’ favourite Paterson Joseph, though that has been the sort of market where a £50 bet would likely make someone odds-on favourite. Of course, rampant press speculation is rarely correct in picking the next Doctor, as Bill Nighy and Brian Blessed can attest to, so we should have some interesting months of speculation before Steven Moffat gets to start his tenure as Official Who Head Cheese by announcing his pick. As yet, there’s no confirmation to the rumours I’ve just made up that the decision will be heralded by a plume of white smoke rising from Upper Boat.

Eccleston and Tennant have made the role one that high-profile talented actors will be interested in, so it should be interesting to see how many of them use interviews in the coming months to confirm or deny interest in the job. If it was up to me, as well as Joseph and Beale, my shortlist would include Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rupert Penry-Jones and Damian Lewis, but that’s likely put the kiss of death on all of them…