30 April 2015

One week to go

The polls have been all over the map on this one. Anyone who claims to know for certain how this will turn out is a person with far too high a level of self-confidence.

I severely doubt the Tories will get a majority, but largest party at least in terms of national vote is a distinct possibility. In which case, any Labour government is going to have a hard time gaining popular legitimacy.

And this sort of thing would still happen under PR...

22 April 2015

Two weeks to go

The election is getting closer - in fact postal votes are already being filled in. It's not been a massively exciting campaign, but there have certainly been some moments.

We had the food bank statistics released today - over a million people had to go to these (which provide you with three days' supply) in the last year. 100,000 would be far too many. 1 million is just obscene for one of the world's richest countries.

David Cameron should go and visit one to see the real impact of his policies on the poor in this country. But he won't. Just like he wouldn't have a face to face debate with Ed Miliband.

The hippies want their curtains back (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.9, "Dagger of the Mind")

The Enterprise sends drugs to the penal colony/treatment facility on Tantalus and receives a box of classified material in return. The box in fact contains an escapee... who when captured really doesn't want to go back and with good reason.

We've gone into another classic plot here; idyllic treatment facility masks something much darker underneath. Kirk seems to be a fan of a lot of scientists who turn out to be dodgy; Dr Adams (James Gregory, best known for his role in Barney Miller, a show whose main impact on TV to me seems to be the plethora of fictional 12th precincts in NYPD shows), the boss of a place that seems to have done wonders for criminal rehabilitation is another classic example, complete with ironic death. However, the plot of the story could have been further developed (indeed some lines got removed by Roddenberry in the scripting); it would have been good, for example, to see the inmates of the facility go after Kirk.

The Most Ridiculous thing in the episode title goes to the inmates, who generally wear multi-coloured print style outfits that someone probably nicked from a hippie's VW van.

However, it's run close in the OTT stakes by Dr Simon van Gelder, who after experiencing physical pain when trying to say his name ("My name is... AHHHHHHH!" reminding me of Eminem, although it would be six years before his mother gave birth to him and 33 before she sued him) experiences the first Vulcan mind-meld in the series. The only reason Morgan Woodward doesn't chew the scenery is because he's strapped to a gurney.

Kirk is accompanied to Tantalus by one Dr Helen Noel, an attractive scientist who he kisses at least twice, dressed in the infamous Starfleet minidress that guarantees panty shots. Mind you, the whole "surprised the scientist is female" thing by a male lead is really, really old hat now.


A good episode, but it kind of loses something by the end. It would have been better with Klingons and I'm still hoping they turn up sooner rather than later.


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.


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


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.