30 October 2016

Leaving the Labour Party

I have decided that I will not be renewing my membership of the Labour Party when it lapses. This is for a number of reasons.
  • The thought of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister personally appals me; I do not think he is competent enough to do the job and his world view, in which he engages in far more criticism of our allies than our 'enemies' is not one I subscribe to.
  • The current policies of the party are not properly thought out and not properly costed. Where is the £500 billion coming from.
  • The level of unpleasant rhetoric in the party is too high and not enough action has been taken to deal with it.
  • Finally, I no longer consider myself a social democrat, let alone a socialist.
This last one needs some further explaining. I do not believe that the current welfare state is at all sustainable as our population lives for longer. Already the NHS is struggling under levels of demand.

I also believe that people need to start taking more individual responsibility both at a personal and a community level; our current government is not inclined to fund community services and at any rate, cannot sustain them at levels to be expected.

Yes, I believe that the rich should pay their fair share in taxes, but as someone who would like to be in the top tax bracket one day, I don't like the idea of half my income above a certain level going to the Government, which isn't always the best spender of it.

I believe in a welfare safety net, but I believe those in it need to make every reasonable effort to get back on the tightrope. Those who cannot work should be genuinely provided for and not subject to the unpleasant assessments currently being used.

I have no time for those who waste their money on copious amounts of alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs; they need assistance in getting off them true, but they must also take personal responsibility for ignoring the many, many warnings. I would support charging people who go to A&E because of their own stupid behaviour.

I believe that we should help people to help themselves. I do not hear that statement coming from the Labour Party at present.

28 October 2016

I, Skynet (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.3, "The Changeling")

 Sorry, mate, she doesn't know either!

As we wait for news as to who on Sol 3 has been cast as 'Number One' in Star Trek: Discovery, I find myself imagining various actresses that I am familiar with in the TOS setting - as we know, the show will be set 10 years before that. One of them is Sarah Shahi, known to me as the 'grumpy commando' Sameen Shaw in Person of Interest.

And this episode did remind me a bit of that show...


Responding to another distress signal (they don't do a lot of 'exploring strange new worlds' at the moment...), the NCC-1701 Posse are attacked by a powerful source of energy. They discover it belongs to a lost Earth space probe called Nomad that has developed a rather dim view of biological life... and also believes that Kirk is its creator.


Artificial intelligence that decides it's so good that it can rather do without humanity is not entirely a new thing and this episode was indeed inspired by the last episode of the original run of the anthology series The Outer Limits, which also would provide a number of props. In that episode, a group of plane crash survivors are captured by an alien space probe on Earth. In this story, the probe is from Earth... but has been altered by an encounter with alien life.

A decade later, Star Trek: The Motion Picture would feature V'Ger... which does exactly the same thing. Well, you can't plagiarise yourself...

Nomad is a floating metal object about a metre tall that hovers about the whole time and talks by means of flashing lights. It is also rather Dalek like, both in voice and a quest to purify the galaxy of everything that does not match up to its ideal of perfection. Of course it isn't perfect, something that Kirk uses to his advantage to defeat it in a superb climax. Yes, he logic bombs the thing to death, an old trick, but he does it so well that it still seems great. When he's not getting his shirt ripped, Kirk is an excellent operator. The plot is strong all round, although one plot isn't that great, even if it does allow McCoy to say "He's dead, Jim"...

This is a strong episode for all the regulars bar Chekov, who isn't in it, but particular credit goes to Uhura, who gets her memory wiped and has to go back to school to learn everything again. The sight of a child-like Nyota Uhura struggling her way around basic reading is a well played scene by Nichelle Nichols, who gets to do a considerable bit more than being the lady who answers the phones, so to speak.

As a final point, the episode takes place pretty much entirely on ship, which spares us from alien worlds clearly in a studio, but doesn't spare us from some effects errors where phaser beams appear to stop in empty space... Well, at least the four redshirts had a go before being disintegrated.


I have to say that I found this one an exceptional episode of the show... but it loses points for the 'comedy' ending, which I really don't like.

A definite classic in my view... and a sight better than the later movie it inspired.



Next up, "Mirror, Mirror". The evil beards are in the house... 

26 October 2016

Heathrow third runway

I must admit to having mixed feelings about a third runway at London Heathrow Airport.

The airport is overcrowded at present - there are generally queues to take off and land. Which of course means more fuel being burned and more noise. A third runway will help relieve that.

In addition it is a major infrastructure project of the sort that we need to stimulate our economy - especially since we voted to leave the EU. It may well boost trade, especially as it will allow for more business - and cargo - flights from other parts of the world.

Thirdly, the transport infrastructure is already there - Gatwick only has one rail line to London as opposed to the two at Heathrow.

That said, my concern remains over the environmental impact; reduction of CO2 emissions in general is needed to mitigate the impact of climate change. I would personally bar internal Great Britain flights from using Heathrow - that does not include Northern Ireland - and make them use other airports.

Better still, we need to encourage people to use rail internally over aviation - that means a string of projects to increase capacity and speed - including HS2, but also getting both the WCML and ECML up to running at 140 miles per hour.

Of course, we need to find a way to pay for all of that. I would personally suggest a 'giant Kickstarter'; people contribute towards it in return for shares in the profits, season tickets etc. Indeed, the original railways were built by selling shares.

I may well do a separate post on HS2 soon.

21 October 2016

His gold leaf provider, maybe? (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.2, "Who Mourns for Adonais?")

When I said we needed a hand, this not what I meant...

Forgot to mention something last week - T'Pau also gave her name to a 1980s British band, best known for "China in Your Hand".

Anyway, moving on...

Exploring another planet (Pollux IV), the Enterprise gets grabbed by a mysterious green hand in space, which belongs to a - yep, another one - powerful being. This one, who goes by the name of Apollo, claims to be a god, who wants the crew of the ship to worship and serve him. He's also rather interested in a female member of the ship's crew...

Looking at this episode, it's got a couple of elements that would figure majorly in other franchises - firstly powerful aliens being treated as deities, something that would be a major part of the Stargate universe. Also, attempting to do deal with a problem by 'reversing the polarity', before Doctor Who did it, but that line actually goes back as far as 1968.

Most of the regulars do well - Uhura gets to showcase some new skills for example - but pride of place goes to Chekov, in his second episode. His character beats get established quickly (including a bit involving the Cheshire cat), he has some genuinely good observations and anyone who can answer back a 'god' with the line "And I'm the Czar of the All the Russias" gets my vote. His hair is a bit distracting though...

We have only a few guest stars in this episode. Pride of place goes Michael Forest as Apollo and Leslie Parrish as Lieutenant Carolyn Palamis.

Apollo first appears as a disembodied headshot in space in a scene that reminded me of a 1980s Doctor Who title sequence and then spends the rest of the episode being pretentious while dressed in a chest-baring gold toga. He throws about lightning bolts and can hold a ship in place, but the guy is lacking in menace. Mid-Atlantic accents are probably not the best choice for ancient 'gods', not without vocal treatment at any rate. There are frankly better super beings in the show.

Palamis is not so much remembered for her character (who is pretty but far too 'airy'), but the outfit that Apollo magically puts on her... or the distinct lack of one. The pink dress she wears - and a modern female character would hopefully complain about it (if I was magically undressed without my consent, I'd deem that sexual assault) - is basically draped over her breasts, looking like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen... which is almost certainly what William Theiss, a man who seems to have designed costumes using his male urges, was thinking. Parrish (who had chunks of skin torn off by the sheer amounts of double-sided tape used) was apparently completely fine in the outfit... it was everyone else who had concerns about it! Also, 1960s US television had a strange hang-up over showing the female navel... I will also comment that "woman falling in love with a clearly dodgy guy" (and not dodgy in a good way) is the sort of thing that riles feminists and I like to think of myself as well.

Another quick point - Pollux or Beta Geminorum is only 33.72 light years from Sol... that seems rather close for an exploration mission. Did they know it was that 'close' back then?



There's some decent stuff in this episode, but it's overly pretentious and drags something awful at times.  


13 October 2016

Donald Trump

More video has come out and more accusations of sexual assault have been made against the Republican candidate for president.

At best, this man seems to me to be a vile lecher with no respect for women. He is not fit to run a whelk stall, let along a nation.

04 October 2016

40 Years of the '125'

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the full introduction of the iconic High Speed Train to British Rail's Western Region; while some trains were in traffic from August 1976, 4 October marked the beginning of their 125mph operations on the Great Western route out of Paddington.

These iconic diesel units made the UK the second nation in Europe to run trains at over 200 km/h and remain in daily service, now older than some of their drivers. Some of the features may be antiquated now, but with the plans to upgrade the Mark 3 carriages with sliding doors and retention toilets for the surviving units, the story of the InterCity 125 is not over yet.

Happy Birthday, Congratulations and thank you to Sir Kenneth Grange for such an iconic shape.

03 October 2016

Southern and the closing of doors

Southern Rail have made a 'final offer' to the RMT in the dispute over the role of guards on trains.

My view is that driver door closure is fundamentally safe and any potential dangers are avoidable with improved technology or indeed simpler stuff like the extendable mirrors used on the Berlin S-Bahn.

However, having a second highly trained person on board for customer assistance and to deal with emergency situations is something I definitely support.

Finally, the railway is a lot safer than it was. Compare the twenty years before privatisation with the twenty years after it and you will see what I mean. There have been no fatal crashes since 2008 and long may that continue.