Thursday, June 04, 2020

Black Lives Matter...

...through the distorted worldview of Katie Hopkins.

For those of you who don't know - and blessed is your world, because it will not be enhanced by learning about the woman - Katie Hopkins was once on The Apprentice, a show which allows for non-entities in business to fight for a job (in the days Hopkins first blemished our screens) and now investment from Lord Alan Sugar, a man most famous for a brand of computers that were rendered obsolete almost as soon as they were released. Hopkins did not get the job - she stepped aside, if memory serves - but instead has carved out a media non-career as a rent-a-gobshite who spouts controversial things apparently for the sake of controversy. Like Piers Morgan, but without the fame and (presumably) the undeserved wealth. Her latest missive from the strange alternate dimension that she lives in can be found here. In it we can marvel at how Hopkins has, apparently without irony, a copy of Donald Trump Junior's book on the shelf apparently proudly on display. There have been many considered and reasoned philosophers of conservatism in both the UK, the US and elsewhere. I don't think even Trump Senior would see his son as one. But that is an aside; the core of the video is posing three questions. Let's take them in turn.

1. "Why do black lives matter more when a white person is involved?" I'd change that question by adding the clarifying point of "in their deaths" at the end of the question but that is just me wanting to be clear on what this is about. And I dare say from this we can extrapolate and see that it isn't a case of a life mattering more - I would argue that all the lives of those murdered who Hopkins mentions in passing matter just as much as the life of George Floyd. The difference lies in how they died. Hopkins mentioned a man who was murdered defending a shop from looters. Now that is tragic and unnecessary. And the police can catch the person or persons possible, who can then be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. By contrast, George Floyd died because, while he was in handcuffs and on the ground after a complaint about a counterfeit bill, a police officer knelt on his neck for a extended period leading to his death. If you are so inclined, you can watch the video here. And Floyd is, sadly, the tip of a very large and deeply unpleasant iceberg. Racially motivated killing by the police in the USA is not something new. And if you cannot see the difference between concern over a murder that can be investigated by the police and murder committed by the police then it is difficult to really help you. The best I can do is offer the scenario of if the police in the country started de facto summary executions disproportionately on alabaster middle class white people. I would be very concerned. As, I dare say, would the likes of Ms Hopkins.

2. "What do you want and why do you want it?"

 Here is a question that Hopkins pretty much answers for herself when she references "systemic racism." Yes Black Lives Matter would like an end to systemic racism - something that most people should want. Or at least non-racist people should want. But I can go better and tell you exact what they want. They are looking "to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes." My source is, in an unprecedented research move, their website. But Hopkins is not done with this question yet, using it as a springboard to question whether systemic racism is something new under Trump. The answer to this is also jarringly obvious. It is "no." Black Lives Matter was formed under the Obama administration in response to circumstances very similar to the murder of George Floyd. Again, even the most basic of research would show this. Such as looking at the Black Lives Matter website, which has a section entitled "Six Years Strong." The devil here is in the detail, and the detail here is blindingly fucking obvious. And even the most basic of knowledge of US history would suggest that systemic racism is something that country has been battling with for a long time. Names such as Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks might be helpful indicators here. As would Johnson forcing the Civil Rights Act through Congress. And, y'know, the Civil War. Finally Hopkins rounds off this section of her spiel with "If I ask 10 of you [that question]I would get 10 different answers." Quite possibly, although the "if" here strongly implies you have not even tried to do that. Research, eh? Who needs it when you can spout the first good old bag of bollocks that springs to mind?

3. This one rambles a bit but is essentially "why are BAME people calling for the release of a report into why COVID-19 affects them more while still being willing to go out and protest thus risking the virus?"

This is, to a large extent, "whataboutism." It is trying to deflect interest away from one issue by raising an unrelated issue. I dare say it is of concern to people from ethnic minorities that a pandemic is affecting them more than others. What with that pandemic being... ongoing and likely to recur. However I would dare say that a greater concern would be if you were part of a group in society that could be wrestled to the ground by those meant to represent justice and then have your neck knelt on until you are dead. I don't think I am at immediate risk of this, but deploying skills based around what I call empathy allows me to see why people might take to the streets against actions that would have raised an eyebrow even in apartheid-era South Africa. Then again, empathy and Katie Hopkins. Never the twain shall meet. Hopkins rounds off with the observation that she is not expecting an answer to any of her questions any time soon. I dare say she is right here; the conclave of all BAME people everywhere is not going to suddenly convene because a nano-celebrity in the UK has some questions. Possible that they have other priorities. But here's the thing, Katie. Here's the real kicker. You could have answered these questions for yourself. No, really, you could. See, there's this website - You can literally type question into it and get answers! I know, I know, the crazy future times we live in! There is a .com version to but I am not going to link to that lest a global version sends you into one of your quasi-psychotic, ultra-nationalistic fugues.

 In short, shut up you intellectually myopic, arse-faced twat.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Resolution and The End

I've tried, you know. I've really tried to get the enthusiasm back for this blogging malarkey, but it just isn't happening. So I think I'll set myself up with a New Year's Resolution that I can almost certainly stick to - no more blogging here. As such, this is the last post that will be published here.

Thanks to all who stopped by and offered their opinions, or those who just read in silence. There have been testy debates and moments of enlightenment for blogger and commenters. Which is exactly what I wanted. So again, thanks.

Is this the last time the Nameless Libertarian will write? Probably not. I'd be amazed if I can make it through the whole of a US Presidential election without passing some sort of comment on it. But those comments won't be here - if they happen, then I'll be following the example of another fallen blogger Mr Eugenides and putting them up over at DK's place. And I'd be amazed if there are no further reviews of the adventures of a certain Time Lord - but they will happen somewhere else, probably under a different name.

So that's it, really. Nothing more to say. Just to put that final full stop and end this blog once and for all. Nothing more; the end.

Of course, they say you should always end on a song. Well, I've never been sure who "they" are, but this strikes me as sound advice. So, ladies and gents, here to play out The Appalling Strangeness is one Steven Patrick Morrissey:


Friday, December 30, 2011

On Relativism, Pluralism and Reality

One of the most tedious charges that has been levelled at me by people who don't really know what they are talking about is that I am some sort of relativist. This is clearly nonsense. Yeah, I believe that morality and ethics are to some extent dependent on contingent factors such as time and place - as an extreme example, the morality of the Stone Age is always going to be different from what can be described as moral in this day and age. But I don't believe everything is relative, and I find the relativist position deeply troubling as it allows for little meaningful differentiation between concepts such as right and wrong.

Rather, I would describe myself as someone who is very aware of the fact of value pluralism*. Even with just a casual look at our country - and other countries across the globe - we see not a truth, or a universally valid understanding of what is good, but rather numerous and often conflicting subjective truths and individual understandings of the good life. That is the fact of value pluralism; there is a complete plurality when it comes to modern understandings of how we should live our lives.

Before we take a look at what this means, let's be clear on what it doesn't mean: firstly, value pluralism does not mean that all conceptions of what makes up a good life are all of equal worth. It is pretty easy to show, for example, that someone who believes that the consumption of crack is the purpose of their life and is therefore prostituting themselves is leading a tangibly less worthwhile life than someone who has a stable job that allows them to pay for their interests, hobbies, and chosen way of living.

Furthermore, I am not claiming that there is no objective truth; there may very well be. What I am pointing to is that the subjective truths all live in potentially unending conflict with that objective truth, should it actually exist and be attainable by human minds.

And that's where reality comes in here; the fact of value pluralism is, well, a fact. You might believe that your subjective truth is the same as the objective truth; you've then got to persuade the rest of the world that what appears to them to be just your subjective truth is actually *the* truth. And good luck with that. Because even totalitarian states have failed, despite all of their brainwashing and the perpetual threats of lethal violence, to make all humans inhabiting that society agree on one understanding of the truth. Just look at the conflict that would (and has) occurred when Christians debated their beliefs with Marxists. The end result is precisely that - not consensus, but conflict. And then you have to take into account the plethora of reasonable people who are not convinced by either the communists or the god-botherers. The fact of value pluralism is that people are going to disagree with you - often vehemently - no matter how much you know you are in the right.

So the question then arises - what does this mean for politics? Well, politics itself can continue to be an often bitter debate over how we should live our lives. What the state needs to be, however, is as small as it possibly can be, and as unobtrusive in judging the plurality of lives led by its citizens as possible - if for no other reason than to allow for what John Stuart Mill once called "experiments in living".

But there will, of course, be some moments where the state will have to make a value judgement about what is acceptable in its society. Female genital mutilation would be one example - even though some faiths and cultures believe this to be acceptable does not mean that it should be allowed. But cases like this involve the use of naked power, and the use of power (and force) to make others conform to what you want is a very blunt tool whose usage can go badly wrong. It is a tool that must be used sparingly if there is to be a truly free society.

And finally, let me anticipate a problem that certain people will have with this idea - yes, the fact of value pluralism may hurt your faith in whatever creed floats you boat. But take a look at the world around you; value pluralism is a fact. The pressing question is how we deal with that fact.

*And I'm happy to acknowledge a considerable intellectual debt here to both Isaiah Berlin and John Gray.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Year in Doctor Who

I was thinking of doing a countdown/reassessment of the Doctor Who episodes of the year, but my opinons haven't really changed and a simple countdown is pretty boring*. So instead I'm offering an overview of the Year in Who.

In terms of the main show, it was quite a year. In fact, I struggle to think of a season of Doctor Who that has ever been as consistently good as this one. There was only one real clunker, and even some of the filler episodes were minor classics in their own right. I mean, a few years ago the slots held by The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex were represented by the likes of Love and Monsters and Fear Her. And it is one of the filler episodes - one of the few not dominated in some way by the overall story arc - that wins my award for the best episode of the year - The Doctor's Wife was an incredible, moving and inventive episode of Doctor Who. I would love to see Neil Gaiman writing another episode on the future.

And there were some brilliant performances in this season. Karen Gillan deserves a lot of praise for The Girl Who Waited, which is a startling rejoinder to those critics who have commented that she is more there for her looks rather than her acting ability. Likewise, Let's Kill Hitler finally gave some great lines to Arthur Darvil, who has perfected his bemused everyman routine. It also allowed Alex Kingston to play a very different version of River Song. But the best performer of the season was the star. Matt Smith has shown his versatility across 2011, and his performance in A Good Man Goes To War showed his incredible range across just forty-five minutes. Watch the Colonel Runaway conversation for a restrained yet compelling anger from the Doctor. Or watch the scene when he realises that Madame Kovarian has actually stolen Melody from under his nose. This year has shown one of the most talented actors the show has ever had as its star at the very height of his powers.

We also got some great monsters this season. The dolls in Night Terrors might have been derivative. but they were very creepy. The Minotaur of The God Complex was also derivative but striking; the nightmare maze it inhabited has probably entered the psyche and the nightmares of many a child. But the Silence were the monsters of the year; it would be good to see more of them and fully explore what they are about.

But while almost everything was well in the parent show, the same can not be said for Doctor Who's various spin-offs. The Sarah Jane Adventures ended as it really had to, given the circumstances, but at least it ended on a high. The Curse of Clyde Langer was a great instalment of that show, and a story that puts to shame many of the stories in the parent show.

Torchwood may have ended, or it may be back. But if it does end, then it effectively committed suicide. Miracle Day was a bloated mess of a series - about 50% longer than it should have been, it was turgid, bloated nonsense that took an interesting premise and then did nothing with it across the course of circa ten hours. The sole truly interesting moment was when a character met a fiery end in the camps; aside from that, it was a colossal waste of time and a massive step back from the really rather good Children of Earth. As I say, I don't know whether this was the last series of Torchwood, but the truth is that they don't deserve another series even if they happen to get one.

And last but by no means least, any review of the year in the Doctor Who universe has to note that said universe lost two of its most important figures last year - Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen. Short of the eleven actors who have played the lead role, it is difficult to think of any other actors who have been quite so important to the series. They deserved the accolades that made up their obituaries, and their deaths are deeply saddening. And their is a real poignancy in watching a story like Planet of the Spiders, and noting that the three protagonists are no longer with us. Rest in peace, Lis and Nick.

And what about next year? Well, we've got quite the wait until the good Doctor returns to our screens. When he does, we've been promised the tragic end to the story of the Ponds and a new friend for the Doctor. How will it end for the Ponds? I suspect that Moffat will stop short of killing them off, but I do think that there will be something very final about their departure. And the whole series is gearing up to the 50th anniversary and the fall of the eleventh - I suspect that either 2012 or 2013 will see the end of the Eleventh Doctor. So much to look forward to... even if it isn't coming for a while.

*Oh, alright, if you insists - here's the countdown:

14: The Curse of The Black Spot
13: The Rebel Flesh
12: Closing Time
11: Night Terrors
10: The Almost People
9: A Good Man Goes To War
8: Day of the Moon
7: The Impossible Astronaut
6: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe
5: The God Complex
4: The Girl Who Waited
3: Let's Kill Hitler
2: The Wedding of River Song
1: The Doctor's Wife

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ah, a festive tradition - a Christian belly-aching about Christmas losing its essential meaning. Cue a whole host of comments, some backing the author, some trotting out the old cliches about how Christmas is actually a pagan festival and so on, until Christmas is consigned to the dustbin as the festive season ends.

So has Christmas lost its meaning? No, no I don't think it has. But that is because I don't think that it has just the one meaning. It was once a pagan thing. And yeah, there is Christian content - hence Christ-mass. But it has come to be about other things as well for some - presents, family, food, drink. For some it is just about having a holiday. And for others still it is an annual chance to be a grouch. To a large extent, the meaning of Christmas is what you choose to make it.

Therefore, if you want to have a Christian Christmas, feel free to do so. Go to church. Sing carols. Celebrate the birth of Christ. But don't expect those who have a different interpretation of the meaning of Christmas to conform to your expectations of that holiday. I don't believe in God, and will not be spending this or any other Christmas feigning deference to your favoured myth.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Well, quite simply that was the best Doctor Who Christmas special ever. It managed to take the different elements of a good Christmas story, and bind them together to create the sort of Christmas day television that grabs the imagination and consistently entertains without ever being too taxing for post-Christmas dinner viewing.
Sure, the story was loosely (and I mean very loosely) on the old C. S. Lewis story, taking some of its trappings from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. But it was far less slavish in the following of its inspiration that last year's A Christmas Carol, and was all the better for it. This was a Doctor Who story - albeit one fuelled by a sense of fun than menace (but what else to expect for an episode being watched on Christmas Day?) through and through.

A key part of that sense of fun was down to Matt Smith - one of the most talented actors to ever take on the role of the Doctor. Yes, he can do angry; yes, he can provide an irascible Doctor as well as one steeped in the desire for destructive revenge. However, those readings of the Doctor were not present on Christmas Day - and quite right too. Madge's story was tragic enough without having an overbearing, angry Doctor to contend with. Yes, he was silly; but he needed to be silly to help Madge at her moment of heartbreak.

And Madge was a great "companion" for this story. She, rather than the Doctor, was the motive force that made it all work. Claire Skinner made you believe that she was a Stoic widow admirably trying to save Christmas for her two kids, and the moment when she began to tell her children that their father was dead was truly heartbreaking.

But her husband was actually still alive, I hear some of you cry. Wasn't that just a massive cop-out? Well, the story explained exactly what happened - it will be one of those twists that really works for some and doesn't for others. For me, it felt like it was properly plotted in to the whole story, rather than an RTD style "reset switch" solution to the story. Besides, did anyone really think that the crazy, silly, impossible Doctor would come into Madge's world at Christmas and not (help to) bring her husband back? I mean, maybe in a mid-season filler episode, but not in a special broadcast on Christmas Day. Yeah, it was a bit cheesy that she managed to save her husband but so what? That's Christmas for you.

So in short, we got another festive romp. And great, that's absolutely the way it should be. Yes, Doctor Who needs darkness, and menace. But not all the time. Every now and again, the Doctor should take time off to be a barmy caretaker making an impossibly brilliant house for two kids. And Christmas is the perfect time for doing it.

Labels: , ,

The Near Impossibility of President Ron Paul

Now the rest of the GOP field has peaked too early, people are adopting that predictable position - through nothing more meaningful than a crude process of elimination - that maybe the Republican nomination is Ron Paul's for the taking. This I doubt; what I find even more doubtful is that Paul would be a credible contender in a straight contest with Obama.

Before I explain why, let me explain my own thoughts on Paul. Yeah, he's dead right on some things - and I've been very impressed with his reasoned and non-bellicose approach to foreign policy, which is a great thing coming from a (nominal) Republican. I have little time, though, for his anti-abortion stance or for his apparent god-bothering. But hey ho. No candidate is perfect, and he's the best of a truly atrocious bunch. So while I wouldn't go so far as to say I want him to win - such passion over a deeply predictable contest that I will not be able to vote in strikes me as utterly pointless - but I suppose I would prefer him to. So why am I so dismissive of his chances?

Well, quite simply (and really rather obviously) what I want does not impact on reality in any meaningful way. Reality does not conform to my wishes. And the reality is that the deck is stacked against Paul to a massive extent. He is unlikely to win the nomination for his party, since even if he does win some early upset victories then the Republican establishment will intervene in favour of a much more mainstream and middle of the road candidate. I reckon there will be a replay of the 2004 Democrat primary campaign, where the genuinely interesting (although possibly a little barmy) Howard Dean was swiftly marginalised by the much more pedestrian yet mainstream John Kerry. The nomination will probably be Romney's; he's a safe pair of hands who will not damage the party too much even as he hands victory to Obama.

But suppose Paul did get the nomination - what then? Well, Obama would crush him. The Democrat electioneering machine would spend all of its time telling the American people that Paul is some sort of dangerous radical who would leave innocent people to get ill and die without health insurance. Hell, they could even outflank on the issue of security. Yeah, those charges might be false, but so what? Since when have presidential elections been about taking the high road? The Obama campaign would do everything they possible could to make Paul into a Goldwater for the new millennium, while simultaneously painting their guy to be solid, dependable and statesmanlike for the cameras.

Perhaps a truly great communicator could make libertarian ideals appeal to the American masses; the problem is that great communicator is not Ron Paul. Sure, he manages to avoid sticking his foot in his mouth most of the time, but that is not enough to win enough Americans over to what is potentially a radical realignment of the nature of government and state in their country. Plus, he's up against Obama, whose pompous speaking style manages to add gravitas to even the most anodyne and meaningless of pronouncements. Again, yeah, you can argue that this is unfair, but it is also reality. A Ron Paul presidential campaign might be enough to provoke a misled American people into handing a reluctant landslide to Obama.

Paul's best hope for next year is that his stance and policies in some way influence the Republican programme; in other words, that the long process of explaining his version of libertarianism begins. Then the next time a libertarian runs for the Republican nomination, these ideas are more mainstream and people are more likely to understand them and get behind them. It could be enough to get a Republican libertarian nominee in 2016 or 2020. It will certainly help to wrest control of that party away from the Christian fundamentalist path that Bush Junior put it on. But President Paul remains deeply unlikely to the point where it is basically an impossibility. It might comfort some libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic to pretend otherwise, but unfortunately it remains a pipe dream that helps them to escape from a political reality that remains stubbornly immune to the penetration of libertarian ideals into the political mainstream.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas y'all! Hope you have a good one celebrating in whatever way you see fit and whatever way works for you.

Oh, and don't forget to watch this. I'll be publishing a review of it in the not too distant future.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 23, 2011

Unlikely Festive Films

'Tis the season to watch festive films. And what a choice you have! You can watch the curious tale (on paper at least) of a retarded angel saving a put-upon banker from jumping in the river after a particularly bad day in the office*. Or you could watch the once popular Tim Allen turn into Santa in an at times similar manner to the central character in Cronenberg's version of The Fly (albeit it without the body parts falling off or the sheer viscera and pain). Then there's the surprisingly watchable Muppet Christmas Carol, in which Jim Henson's creations sing their way through Dickens' most famous tale. Or there's the genuinely funny Elf, in which Will Ferrell brings a certain level of charm to the one character he can play well - that of the earnest simpleton. But it is more than possible that by the end of the festive season you'll be sick of the traditional festive films, yet at the same time you might not want to watch something as unseasonal as Eraserhead or Black Swan. So I give you five films that are seasonal if only because they are set during the festive season:

Trading Places

A festive favourite that involves two men fucking up the life of an employee over a one dollar bet. It's a great film, though; pretty much perfectly cast and blessed with Eddie Murphy at his peak. The story is entertaining, fast moving and often very funny. So yeah, the central plot may not be that festive, but if you ever want something light yet absorbing for a post-Christmas dinner film, then you could do far worse than this one.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Once upon a time it used to be a quasi-tradition that there would be a Bond film broadcast on TV on Christmas day. Actually, it might still be for all I know - there is very little I watch on TV these days, and films I have on DVD are, fairly, obviously, not included in what I do watch. But if I had to choose one Bond film to watch on Christmas Day, it would be this one. Firstly because it is partly set at Christmas - even to the extent where it contains a Christmas song (albeit one that is so sweet and sickly that it could send even the healthiest of us into a diabetic coma). Secondly, it is quite possibly the best Bond film ever - well directed, with a proper story and central romance combined with some great performances. Of course, there is the massive drag factor of George Lazenby - an actor who seems permanently bewildered not only by the fact that he is James Bond, but also by the fact that there is a film crew following him and like shooting stuff and shit. So whenever you watch this one, picture Connery, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig or even Moore as the star. It may be tough to pull off at times (especially when the late George Baker's voice is crudely dubbed onto Lazenby's flapping mouth), but trust me, this makes the whole film much better.

The Poseidon Adventure

A simple premise for this one: a voyage across the ocean during the festive season goes wrong. In fact, it is safe to say it goes really badly wrong. Capsized by a freak tidal wave, a group of plucky survivors fight their way through the upturned ship. Of course, disaster, destruction and death are not necessarily that festive, but there is something curiously Christmassy about a disaster movie. And there are very few disaster movies quite as good as this one. But if you can't get hold of it, then check out Voyage of the Damned - it's more or less that same story, but set in space and with additional Time Lord goodness.

Batman Returns

Ahhh, Christmas in Gotham. And what does director Tim Burton give us as a present? The darkest cinematic interpretation of the dark knight prior to Christopher Nolan deciding that a broken hero with post-traumatic stress disorder was the way forward for the franchise**. A city under siege; traumatised parents killing their deformed, cat-eating baby; said cat-eating baby turning into a bestial version of the Penguin with a penchant for nose biting and attempted mass murder. Plus there's Catwoman; a PVC clad vengeance machine who ultimately turns her back on Bruce Wayne - favouring, instead, death by electrocution with her murderous boss. So yeah... set at Christmas. Not a great Christmas for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Or Gotham. Or Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Or Oswald Cobblepot. Or pretty much any character who appears in the film.


Perhaps the most Christmassy of all the films listed here as this not only takes place at Christmas but contains numerous references to Christmas and is set against the backdrop of snow. It is even, at times, trying to be a twisted version of It's a Wonderful Life. Of course, it also contains vicious little monsters who create havoc and hurt, maim and kill arbitrarily. Indeed, they'd be some characters in this film who might prefer to have spent the festive period in Gotham circa 1992. But there is glee in this film - even if it is often a malicious, sadistic glee. It is a fun and fast-moving motion picture, even if occasionally scary, and as such is perfect for Christmas.

So that's my list of non-festive festive film treats. If you have any suggestions in a similar vein, well, you know where the comments section is...

*Actually, I really love It's a Wonderful Life, despite what I've written here. But it has to be seen to be believed, because any summary of it does make it sound cheesy and annoying.
**And was actually right in this decision.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Kim Jong-Il and Idiots

A brief missive from the blogging wilderness:

Today is a special sort of a day. Today you may get incontrovertible proof that some people you know are total idiots. Because today some people, in the wake of his death, may feel lead to defend Kim Jong-Il. They may well feel that he represented some sort of realistic alternative to the capitalist liberal democratic model of statehood dominant in much of the rest of the world. If they believe this, then they have fallen foul of the empty politics of symbolism. They see problems in capitalism, yet are unthinkingly embracing an alternative that is far, far worse. If they defend him, then they have shown their commitment to evidence free idealism over actual engagement with reality. In short, they have shown themselves to be absolute idiots.

Because Kim Jong-Il really was a vile human being. He exploited his father's personality cult to propagate a regime that is virtually at war with its own people. He led the world's sole remaining Stalinist regime committed to an experiment with a whole nation that not only failed, but failed decades ago - leaving many starving and a whole people brutalised and brainwashed. If this is the socialist future, then we'd be as well to consign it to the past as soon as we possibly can.

In short: Kim Jong-Il is dead. While it is impossible to say what happens next, at this point the only appropriate response is good riddance to bad rubbish.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soooo..... regular readers of this blog will have noted a certain inactivity of late. When posting has happened, it has been sporadic at best. And there's going to be no apology for that, merely an excuse - that when you are working two jobs as well as two a full-time PhD, something has to give. And that something is blogging.

Part of me wants to call time on this blogging enterprise, because there is a lack of inspiration combined with a bloated workload. But I do have ideas for posts, even if there is no time to do them justice. And the last time I "gave up" blogging, it lasted for just a few weeks (during which I spent a lot of time writing at DK's place). So an involuntary sabbatical is in place. Said sabbatical may end in early December, maybe not.

But ttfn.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

To Protect and to Serve

Now, as regular readers will know, I'm not the world's biggest fan of the occupy movement. I think there is much wrong in this world and much to protest about; trying to stigmatise the banking industry through spurious and clearly false claims to be representing the 99% strikes me as a pretty crass basis for a global protest movement, though. That said, those carrying out these protests should be allowed to do so. They certainly shouldn't be pepper sprayed in the face by a bovine, corpulent cop who either is too stupid to know or too ignorant to care that he is clearly going to be filmed by someone.

There's international outcry over this; and legtimately so in my not at all humble opinon. But there are a couple of points to make here. Firstly, let's tone down the hyperbole - this isn't, as I saw someone on Facebook stating, the moment when the revolution starts. Kent State - a far more terrifying example of police brutality - went past without provoking a revolution, as have similar actions by police on both sides of the Atlantic, so the actions of this pot-bellied pig are unlikely to provoke anything more than a very vocal but equally very fleeting furore. The second point is that the police across the world need to remember that their actions need to be proportional; thus, sitting back and letting rioting mobs tear up shitty parts of London is not an appropriate police response; nor is pepper spraying seated protestors in the face. And this sort of brutal, disportionate response does nothing other than increase the sympathies for the protestors among people like myself who are circumspect at best about these protestors.

Labels: , ,

Doctor Who: The First Christmas Trailer...

It would seem remiss of me not to post this. In fact, it is probably remiss of me not to have done so already...

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On Beauty. And Goths.

Over at Orphans of Conservatism Liberty, James Higham has been considering art and aesthetics. And he offers some thoughts on females and alternative fashion:
The sight of ugly goth girls with nosebones and tatts trying to do steampunk is an utter travesty. and yet intrinisically, in terms of the outer form G-d gave them, those lasses could be so beautiful. Why are they trying to be ugly? How are they so under the spell of the dark side that they could wallow in this pit of ordure? How are they so pig-ignorant, so harsh of cackle, so witch-like? What a mockery of the supposed beauty of youth.
Now, neither James nor anyone other than the actual girls concerned can truly say why they choose to adopt the goth subculture. It is perfectly possible that they choose these apparently controversial "nosebones and tatts" for numerous reasons - to fit in with the goth subculture, to provoke reactions, to assert an identity different from the ones they were raised with. Y'know, alternative culture as a form of protest (and thus an important part of growing up for some people). Nothing to do with the dark side or being pig-ignorant, or witchlike.

Likewise with art. It is simply not a case of representing beautiful things in a beautiful way. It can be about being provocative, about challenging people, about getting a debate going. Two of the most striking art exhibitions I have seen at the Chapman brothers' "What if Hitler was a Hippy?" and one of Francis Bacon's work (including the notorious Screaming Popes) - and neither of those could really be described as beautiful despite being highly effective art.

But there is another possibilty: it is more than possible that the "ugly goth girls" aren't "trying to be ugly". In fact, it could be that these girls (and the men in the goth subculture) see these piercings and tattoos as ways of enhancing their beauty. It is just that their view of what is beautiful is different to that of the Christian conservative James Higham. That's fine; that's a question of opinion. What I cannot justify is why one conception of beauty should trump another, which is precisely what Higham seems to be suggesting with the his vision of beauty good/their vision of beauty bad. Why should James' opinion trump alternative views? Answers on a postcard please, because in a pluralistic free society I can't think of any meaningful reason.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Doctor Who: The Movie

So, in the world of the nation's favourite Time Lord, we've had some big news this week - namely, that some chap who has done some stuff with the Harry Potter franchise (a film series that leaves me utterly cold) is going to spend the next three years or so creating a Doctor Who film with a former producer of the show. Great news, right?

My response would be a very circumspect "hmmmmm". Now, it is true that Doctor Who has had two feature films that stand outside of what some people call the Whoniverse (terrible word, obviously) and they work rather well. They are fast-moving, they are exciting and they have a certain charm. But they aren't demanding, and they are simply rehashes of TV stories. It seems that the movie proposed this week will be a rather different proposition.

Which is my big problem with it. It seems to be trying to reboot the whole of the Doctor Who universe. Now, reboots can and do work. But they tend to work best when the original show/franchise has run out of steam. When it has ceased to be popular. When a fresh burst of creative energy is needed to make the whole thing a viable proposition again. And Doctor Who does not need that. Quite fundamentally, it has been firing on all cylinders since it returned in 2005. Arguably, it has never been as consistently involving and striking as the last season. So there is absolutely no need to reboot it and, let's be honest, it doesn't seem likely that there will be a need within the next three years. So a movie completely detached from the ongoing and growing continuity of the show is completely unnecessary. In fact, it is arguably going to damage the TV show as people might see the movie as more important than that lil ol' show on Saturday evenings. If it happens, it could come to dominate and overpower a TV show in its prime. Which would be a crushing shame.

But that's the other point to make here - if the movie happens. There have been numerous talks about Doctor Who films over the years, especially during the wilderness years between 1989 and the TV movie of 1996. And they all came to nothing. So you'll have to forgive me if I question whether this movie will even take place. But if it does, then I really worry about the impact it will have on a TV show that is going from strength to strength. When I see the director talking about how the show needs a radical change, I can't help but this that he is completely and totally wrong. And probably needs to bugger off and actually watch the show he's doing to start mauling for no reason.

But we'll see. As a wise man once said, time will tell. It always does.

Labels: ,

Paranormal Activity 3

Let's be honest about it, Paranormal Activity 2  - or Paranormal Inactivity as I prefer to call it - was poor. As any horror movie that focuses on spooky goings on involving a pool cleaner for much of the first third of its run time would inevitably be. It felt like a tired, overlong re-run of the far more effective first outing for what is now a film franchise. Therefore, the idea of Paranormal Activity 3 did not sound desperately appealing to me. Fortunately, the makers of that film - who also made the impressive mockumentary Catfish - worked out what they needed to do to get the franchise back on track. And they do it in two ways.

Firstly, they don't slavishly follow the original, but instead play with the audience's expectations. So rather than this all happening concurrently with the original film (as the first sequel sort of tried to do), PA3 is a genuine prequel. And that helps to create some fun with the format. Aside from the (at times OTT) eighties references, the film has to cope with the fact that technology was not as advanced in the eighties, so documenting a demonic haunting would not have been as easy as it is in that day and age. This leads to a lot of improvisation - including using a fan-mounted video camera, which in turn leads to some of the movie's most effective moments.

It also introduces ideas such as the demonic force not being the sole evil force with this movie - something perhaps forced on it by the "revelation" in the previous film about the cause of the demonic haunting, but also a hand it plays well. And it also bucks the trend of having the leading male character being a dick by having a genuinely likable protagonist in Dennis. It becomes far easier to watch a film - and care about the character's eventual brutal fate - if he is basically likable rather than a bit of a dick.

But above all it remembers to be scary. It does this simultaneously by offering cheap scares based on the characters' awareness of the cameras (the babysitter disappearing and then jumping out at the camera) but also by offering some genuine chills and some truly stressful scenes - in particular, the "bloody Mary" sequences followed by the child's chair been kicked across the bedroom or the moment when the ghost/demon cleans the kitchen, only to bring it all crashing down again. The film knows it needs to up the ante in terms of the scares and the same time as confound expectations; it manages to do both.

As with everything, it isn't flawless. Indeed, there are a couple of moments when I positively winced - such as when the camera recorded the dust falling on the demon in the aftermath of an earthquake. And the ever-present problems of the found footage genre were there (why are you still filming this? Why the hell do you have the foresight to record this stuff but not to turn on the fucking lights when something goes bang in the night?) However, overall, this was exactly what it should be - a clever, occasionally scary and witty horror film that can make you jump. If you want more than that, then look elsewhere. But if you want more than that, seeking out the third installment of a horror franchise is the wrong place to start.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rick Perry: Intellectual Giant

Labels: , , ,

Random Observations #3

The 2012 Olympics are already deeply tedious, and we haven't even reached 2012 yet. Any chance we could all just pretend that they had already happened, and therefore skip further Olympics related tedium?


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Random Observations #2

Number of random nutters at the bus station this morning: 3.

Number of random nutters who want to have a conversation with me: 3.

You can reach your own conclusion based on those stats.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Random Observations #1

To the makers of Felix "As good as it looks" cat food: it doesn't look that good. In fact, it looks like shredded chunks of dead animal in fatty jelly. The cats love it because, I suspect, it is the feline equivalent of KFC. But given how it looks to this human, you might want to work on your marketing just a wee bit.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

How the Tories Could Win the Next Election. Oh, and Labour*.

As things stand, we’re probably heading towards another hung parliament. Cameron is not repelling people as much as many thought he would, despite his apparent lack of anything approaching a spine. Ed Miliband is a total disaster for his party, and is largely responsible for that party failing to make headway even as the coalition becomes less popular than dysentery. But both of those leaders could win the next election – but only if they are willing to take a gamble and do something bold. But both could do it.

How? Cameron could offer an referendum on the EU. Or, even more radically, he could redress our membership of the EU perhaps even to the point of pulling us out of that whole fucking mess. In doing so, he would become the hero of his party (including those on the right who remain very suspicious of young Hug A Husky). People across the country would also love this; it would be met with rapt applause from The Sun and The Daily Hate. Sure, many wouldn’t like this, but they would be the sort of people who wouldn’t vote for Cameron anyway. The ex-marketing man would be the hero to millions of people across the country, and he’d be able to spin himself as the courageous and visionary leader who dragged his country out of an expensive, bureaucratic mess.

What about Miliband Minor? Well, he could try being the socialist he sometimes hints at wanting to be. He could ramp up the rhetoric against the banks, and present himself as a genuine man of the people fighting on their behalf against reckless and dangerous financial institutions. He could get himself photographed with those members of Middle England struggling to make ends meet, and talk about how he is going to help them. Hell, he could even stand with those at the Occupy protests and claim that he, too, represents the 99%. Of course, it would be a blatant attempt at naked populism. But talking at the anti-war demos never hurt Charles Kennedy, for example. In fact, the opposite is probably true. And yeah, some people would find this sort of approach utterly repellent – myself, for example. But guess what? Those people, including me, would never vote for Miliband Minor anyway.

Which is part of the problem our party leaders have; they are so determined to try to please everyone all the time they lose sight of the fact that to do so is impossible and in trying they run the risk of really pissing off their core supporters. They fight so hard for the centre ground that they become myopic about the whole, broad range of the political spectrum. And then they wonder why fewer people vote, and they get approval ratings that, at best, are flat-lining, and at worst in free-fall. There is a real need for bold leadership in this day and age; unfortunately our leaders do not seem willing or able to provide it. So instead, we end up with cowardly, centrist jellyfish who actually please no-one; not even the core supporters of their own parties.

*And the Lib Dems? How could they win the next election? Well, they can’t. Hell, I don’t even know how they can maintain the disappointing result they got in 2010. Unless something pretty bloody spectacular happens, then the next election is not going to be very pleasant for the Liberal Democrats. 

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Church ♥ Occupy

When I heard yesterday afternoon about the Church's u-turn on the Occupy protests I couldn't help but think that it is pretty much perfect. It is effectively one bunch of increasingly irrelevant fantasists backing another bunch of increasingly irrelevant fantasists. And I can't help but think that real life is happening while these cretins engage in their useless and incoherent posturing.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Democracy Coma*

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of democracy. I’m certainly not one of these people who fetishize it and argue that it should be an aggressive international export; sent by the West across the globe (by force if need be). But I am even less of a fan of our version of democracy. Because, for me, our democracy has ceased to be about politics. In fact, I’d argue that our democracy has become the absence of politics.

Don’t believe me? Well, when was the last time you had contact with your elected representative? For most people, the last engagement with those people and therefore with what we laughably call politics was at the polls either in the general or local elections. Putting your “x” in the preferred box (or, most likely, voting for your least hated option). And that’s it. That’s you done, politically speaking. If humans are, to paraphrase Aristotle, social and political animals, then we’re only about 50% human.

Of course, there is more that we could do politically if we wanted, but it is all largely pointless. Write to your MP – why? It isn’t going to change how they vote in the House – that tends to be based on what the Whips want – and unless you are one of the very few that they can proactively help then the chances are you will end up with a very polite fuck off letter. Write to a more senior politician and you’ll be lucky to get the brush off – most likely your epistle will be consigned to the file marked “b1n”.

Then again, we could be involved with a political party. But again that little question springs up – why? What does that achieve? Join one of the main political parties will involve substantial compromise for most, and will see you joining a party that, in vast swathes of policy and ideology, broadly agrees with its main opponents. And as for joining a smaller party – well, you may as well take your membership subscription and flush it down the toilet. Overall, you’d be better off joining some sort of pressure group. At least they tend to believe in something, and often have the tunnel vision to effectively pursue that belief.

So there we have it; democracy, or voting whenever you are given the chance, is the extent to which we get to engage with politics in this country. For the rest of the time, the vast majority of us are in a democracy coma, or a political stupor induced by being able to vote for people you don’t know and even if you did, you probably wouldn’t rate. In the meantime, that empty ritual of voting allows the self-perpetuating oligarchy in charge of this country to do pretty much what they want, to the occasional but utterly impotent howls of the people.

What’s the alternative? Well, we often hear that direct democracy is the way forward. Let’s have more referenda. Let’s get the people making legislation whenever they can. Which is all well and good, until you consider the cost of such exercises. And that nature of a referendum – the government decides a question, and you get to say yes or no to it. And then there’s that sinking feeling I get when I think about the sort of results we might get from referenda. I’d be pretty happy to have one on the EU right about now, because I’m reasonably sure I would agree with the outcome. But one of the death penalty? Thanks, but no thanks. Part of it is a lack of faith the in intelligence of the electorate (look at how many millions still voted for Gordon Brown in 2010, for example), but if I’m totally honest a lot of it boils down in my lack of faith that the electorate will always back what I believe in.

Besides politics could – and should – be about a lot more than assenting or otherwise to a closed question designed to rubber stamp (almost certainly uncontroversial) government policy. Therefore, to have a genuine return to politics in this country, politicians need to do less and the people more. There needs to be a fundamental redistribution of powers from the former to the latter. We need more localism, and less central government. And we need it urgently. We need disparate and different communities that reflect our diverse and fundamentally pluralist culture – not an attempt by central government to come up with policy designed to impress all 60 million people in this country that ends up impressing none. And we need the right of exit within those communities, so the successful ones are able to flourish and the less successful ones fade away without government intervention to favour or suppress any particular preference in terms of community.

Of course, the chances of this happening are next to none. Our political class won’t let it. They are like black holes when it comes to power – power is dragged towards them, almost like a law of physics, and power moving in the other direction looks like an impossibility. But we’re responsible for it too, you know. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be fobbed off with the chance to vote every few years for anonymous candidates representing largely indistinguishable parties. We should demand more. Because we certainly aren’t going to get to be active participants in the political process unless we do so.

*Also a song title by Manic Street Preachers. 

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 31, 2011

What to read and watch on 31/10

Halloween is all about watching horror movies and/or reading ghost stories. For me, the ultimate televised ghost story is Ghostwatch. If you've never seen it, then you should go do so. And if you have, then I offer you a ghost story about what happened next...

Labels: ,