15 April 2015

Three weeks to go

It's just over three weeks until polling day and it's clear that it's going to be close. I think Labour just has the lead at present, but it's still within the margin of error and this is an election where the polling could go badly wrong if the pollsters have their models incorrect.

I can't say I'm impressed with the Lib Dems suddenly finding a conscience after five years in this awful Coalition; I want them back on the opposition benches where they belong,

I also would be very happy if Farage loses Thanet South.

12 April 2015

The fall of tyrants

This is a post I've been meaning to get around to for a while: events in Libya and Syria have made it arguably more relevant.

In this post, I will examine the causes of the worst mass murderers in the 20th century actually leaving their office. Where multiple causes contributed to their departure, I will add one in each column.

The five groupings I have done are:
  • Military intervention (MI)
  • Natural causes i.e. dying in office (NC)
  • Popular revolution (PR)
  • Internal overthrow (IO)
  • Suicide (S)
My list comes from here: I have retained that order.

  • Josef Stalin (USSR: 1924-53) - NC and IO. While Stalin died as a result of stroke, there are reasonable grounds to suspect the delay in getting him medical attention was deliberate.
  • Adolf Hitler (Germany: 1933-45) - MI and S. Self explanatory really.
  • Mao Zedong (China: 1949-76) - NC.
  • Chiang Kai-shek (China: 1928-49) - PR.
  • Enver Pasha (Turkey: 1913-18) - IO and MI, due to his removal by the Sultan facing defeat in the First World World War.
  • Hirohito (Japan: 1926-89) - NC. Does he really count though?
  • Hirota Koki (Japan: 1936-37) - Other as he resigned.
  • Ho Chi Minh (North Vietnam: 1945-69) - NC
  • Kim Il Sung (North Korea: 1948-94) - NC. Same with his son actually.
  • Lenin (USSR: 1917-24) - NC.
  • Leopold II (Belgium: 1865-1909) - NC.
  • Nicholas II (Russia: 1894-1917) - IO linked to a PR so both.
  • Pol Pot (Cambodia: 1975-79) - MI, from Vietnam.
  • Saddam Hussein (Iraq: 1969-2003): MI. Undoubtedly.
  • Tojo Hideki (Japan: 1941-44) - IO following military failure. It's hardly MI when he started the Pacific War.
  • Wilhelm II (Germany: 1888-1918) - PR resulting from MI. More the former as Germany wasn't that defeated, so to speak.
  • Yahya Khan (Pakistan: 1969-71) - PR
  • Idi Amin (Uganda: 1971-80) - MI that provoked an IO.
  • Ion Antonescu (Romania: 1940-44) - IO linked to one massive MI.
  • Ataturk (Turkey: 1920-38) - NC
  • Francisco Franco (Spain: 1939-75) - NC.
  • Gheoghe Gheorghiu-Dej (Romania: 1945-65) - NC
  • Yakubu Gowon (Nigeria: 1966-76) - IO
  • Radovan Karadzic (Serbian Bosnia: 1991-96) - MI
  • Babrac Kemal (Afghanistan: 1979-87) - Other, being essentialy removed by the USSR.
  • Le Duan (Vietnam: 1976-86) -  NC
  • Haile Mengistu (Ethiopia: 1974-91) - IO
  • Benito Mussolini (Italy: 1922-43) - MI leading to IO.
  • Ante Pavelic (Croatia: 1941-45) - MI
  • Antonio de Salazar (Portugal: 1932-68) - NC, removed due to ill-health.
  • Hadji Suharto (Indonesia: 1967-97) - PR
  • Tito (Yugoslavia: 1945-80): NC.
Totals by primary cause:
  • Military intervention or defeat: 9
  • Natural causes: 13
  • Popular revolution: 5
  • Internal overthrow: 3
  • Other: 2
I think the conclusions are pretty obvious; tyrants sadly don't get overthrown by their people in most cases. Why would they when they control all the major weapons. It's only when they lose that control or someone, frequently the Grim Reaper, takes it from them that they go.

Lower-level authoritarian figures are more likely to go as a result of popular pressure (the collapse of the Soviet bloc for example); there's no long-term habit of mass repression ingrained in them or the military. Killing one person is generally pretty hard; once you've done it a few times, it becomes a lot easier - in many cases, professional soldiers will say no. If they say yes, then a tyranny generally forms. Stalin terrorised people into submission; Gorbachev was unwilling to do so and the USSR collapsed.

It doesn't fill me with optimism for people power, that's for sure.

09 April 2015

In which James T. Kirk becomes a schoolteacher (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.8, "Miri")

The Enterprise receives a SOS signal from a planet that is a near exact duplicate of Earth... expect that all the adults have disappeared, leaving just the kids.

****
In this episode, Kirk punches a 'zombie' three times. This is awesome until you realise exactly what the 'zombie' in question is in an episode with some fairly deep horror quotient when you start thinking about it. In fact, the BBC did not air it again for two decades after initial UK transmission as they felt it was too horrific for broadcast.

In a desolate town, Kirk and his landing party (including Yeoman Rand) encounter a large group of children who have no proper parental figures, for whom grown-ups, or "Grups" are objects of fear. When they discover what caused the adults to go, we go into a fairly standard race against time plot with one rather big added complication, There is a scene in a cob-web filled where Kirk has to persuade these rather feral children (a number of these were played by relations of the cast, including Shatner's then five year old daughter Lisabeth, who says she was fascinated by Rand's hairdo) that he offers the best hope of their salvation... while they're prepared to attack him. My thoughts were "welcome to a British inner-city school", but that might just be the inner cynic in me.

Chief among these is the titular Miri (Kim Darby, who was 19 at time of filming, her costume designed to hide her fuller adult figure), a young lady on the cusp of womanhood, who, quelle surprise, falls for Kirk. Now, I doubt she was the only teenager who had a crush on Shatner, but what slightly throws me is Kirk telling her that she's very pretty in response. The line between dealing with a highly emotional kid and 'grooming' is a thin one... I must admit to being slightly uncomfortable with those scenes.

Kirk gets to do some shouting, Spock gets to be very logical and McCoy commits medical malpractice on himself in an episode which firms up the key archetypes of the leads.

While there is a good deal of horror stuff just below the surface, there are also plot holes big enough to fly a Galaxy-class starship through. The event that eliminates the adult population is such that is very unlikely most of the children would survive for as long as said in this episode. Also, identical down to the continents? Really? That smacks of trying to save money with stock imagery with an episode already filmed in a backlot - namely 40 Acres, which was used for The Andy Griffith Show and also Gone with the Wind.

Conclusion

An entertaining and atmospheric episode, but does fall apart a bit if you look at it too closely.

8/10

03 April 2015

The danger of Jesus

So, another Easter has come round and it's worth reflecting about the reasons why a group of Jewish leaders got a bunch of Romans to execute him, while violating several legal norms in the process.

Because he endangered their way of life. He challenged their wealth, their power and the injustice they presided over. He showed up their following of 'religion' when they should have been having 'faith'.

And he's still dangerous today. Christians today are still being persecuted and even killed around the world because the freedom he brings challenges the control of tyrants, as well as extremists. His call to love one another challenges the politics of those who wish to divide us.

However, Jesus has won through his Resurrection and will continue to win until the final victory of the Second Coming.

Happy Easter.

30 March 2015

You wait ages for a redshirt to die... (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.7, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?")

And then two die at once! Two guys called Matthews and Rayburn get killed by a big hulk of an android and thus play a small part in the history of Star Trek.

****
The seventh episode of this show sees Kirk and Nurse Christine Chapel beam down to the planet Exo III, home to a long dead civilisation and the latter's missing fiancé, galaxy-renowned scientist Dr. Roger Corby. Who unfortunately has gone rather mad and likes androids...

Very much a Kirk vehicle (he makes some frankly brilliant moves in this one), this is also a discussion of artificial intelligence and the dangers within, with themes that would crop up in many another work after this. There are also a couple of twists that I really should have seen coming, but still feel fresh and dramatic.

This marks the debut of dead redshirts and most notably Nurse Chapel. The latter is played by Majel Barrett, who would later marry Gene Roddenberry and become known as "The First Lady of Star Trek" - contributing all the way up to the first Abrams movie, dying of leukaemia before it was released. She's definitely got a very 'floaty' voice, although I admit to not being over-struck by her performance here.

What many people, especially those of the woman-loving persuasion, is 'Andrea', whose two crossed strips of material for a top outfit is William Theiss' most famous creation by a good parsec or two. I wonder how many takes it took for the actors to deliver their lines dealing with that in their eyeline.

Equally striking is the very big android, Ruk (played by Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch in The Addams Family) whose outfit, below, is only beaten to this episode's Most Unintentionally Hilarious Thing by Kirk trying to hit him with a very phallic looking rock.

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/images/3/37/Ruk.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width/640?cb=20110418162950&path-prefix=en

Last but not least, there's a scene involving android creation that wouldn't look out of place in a music video and if it hasn't inspired one, I'd be very surprised.

[A small note here. While I am trying not to read up on future episodes, ancillary research into actors etc. on Memory Alpha may result my getting slightly spoiled. I do not yet know when the Klingons turn up and want that to remain a surprise]


Conclusion

A strong episode that still stands the test of time; although I'm not inclined to call it excellent.

26 March 2015

The campaign begins, fully

So, Parliament has sat for its final session ahead of the dissolution on Monday, after which there will be no MPs, only candidates vying for re-election.

A lot is going to be riding on Ed Miliband's shoulders in the next few weeks, especially in his television appearances. He has to convince the undecided and wavering voters that he is not the caricature that the right-wing press portray him as. If he does that, he will go a long way to winning this election.

For there is more to 'winning' than just getting most seats; Labour must win the popular vote to have any chance of legitimacy in a minority government. With the polling averages showing things neck and neck between the two biggest parties, every vote for Labour will matter.

16 March 2015

Thoughts on the SNP

It's looking increasingly likely that Labour will have to do some form of deal with the Scottish Nationalists after the election.

Do you know what? I'm not too upset at the idea. We agree on a lot with them and having to rely on them for key bills might prove to be a useful left-wing restraint. I would favour "supply and consent" over full coalition, mind you.

As for Trident? Just get it through with Tory votes.