Crime and Punishment

Posted: 21st September 2011 by admin in Angry Rants, Politics
Tags:

Now, I’m not going to comment directly on the riots and their causes.

I could point out that any reference to inequality in this country has to have a giant red RELATIVE stamp marked across it; see here, the average net earnings of the top fifth were £53k and the bottom fifth were £13k. While this is a gap of around £40,000, this gap needs to be filled with free education until the age of 18, free healthcare, and various social services and amenities such as libraries and museums, or all the other civil service jobs (Inspectors, tax collectors, judges etc ) a country needs to function, and not to mention the skill set and effort it takes to be a doctor and a call-centre employee respectively. Yes there are bankers and footballers (funny how no one ever mentions footballers), but these are as much outliers as the Daily Mail-baiting guy who had 14 children by 12 different woman.

I could also mention that given the grammar and elocution of some of the interviewed rioters (and at the risk of guessing, maybe school attendance records) their anger is as legitimately to do with lack of opportunities as my ennui is due to my inability to sprout a magical horn and fly with the unicorns.

I could also mention that in a country where businesses and colleges report GCSE school leavers lack even basic work skills, that blaming issues around the EMA and HE fees for the lack of opportunities is jumping the gun a little

But I won’t get into all this as the situation is actually quite complex and the “truth” of the causes is not going to be found on the Right, which sees a rodent-like underclass who made rational choices in a libertarian paradise, nor the Left which sees poor Oliver-esque cherubs brutally cast aside by an unfeeling dystopian Oligarchy.

There's a reasonable argument in there somewhere

What I will mention however, is the direct response to the riots.

Punishment is your friend 

To paraphrase and butcher Hobbs, we sacrifice our freedom to do what we want in order to have protection against others doing what they want to us. And thus the state is born, the Lethiathan which has the power to enforce law and order at the levels an individual could not hope to. And this works really, really well. Decades of research has fairly conclusively shown when there is the potential for punishment, cooperation increases. Not because everyone is brutalised and forced to obey, but because the threat of being taken advantage of has been removed. We take distance transactions over eBay for granted because deep down you know there are mechanisms to enforce the contract with the seller. This is why prosperity follows law and order; why set up a business if larger men with guns can simply take it off you (This also has ramifications for the legitimacy of authority, but that’s another matter), and because of this the concept of law benefits the weak far more than the strong. Indeed it’s also why the tribes in places like New Guinea initially welcomed colonial troops as here was a force that could enforce peace between them, a power than individual tribes could never possess (see also). Don’t think of punishment in terms of prison and flogging, think of it as removing the need to protect yourself because the state will do it for you. It’s the reason, even when driving through Liverpool, no one needs to do more than figuratively ride shotgun.

it’s cheaper to pay taxes for a police force than fuel this bad boy, and spent uranium shells don't come cheap

Still, Liverpool, why take chances

Now I say this because, if there’s one thing that angered me about the riots, it wasn’t the destruction of property or even the commentators (who were clearly watching a different riot) and their insistence there was some form of political motivation, it was the very real fact that for a few nights the streets of some of the UKs major cities had been abandoned to chavs. I think this needs to be made clear, as one of the main failing of the police was they treated the events like a protest, and not general lawlessness, and indeed treated it like a protest post-the inquiries into kettling and such. This is important to remember when discussing what the response should be, i.e. this isn’t the  rounding up dissidents a la Iran (despite some more excitable members of the left wing trying to associate the riots with the Arab Spring): this is a response to looters, nothing more and nothing less.

What has come out subsequently from various sources is that one of the proximate mechanisms at least they drove the riots was the feeling they could get away with it, that nothing would happen to them, and this was exacerbated by the aforementioned police response. Essentially with the threat removed there is no need to cooperate. This brings me to the issue of the harsher sentences being handed down, although my current understanding is they are not so much harsh, as the maximum the sentence allows under judicial guidelines.

Fine is a price

This concept is very simple, if the fine (i.e. the punishment) is seen as too appropriate for the action then any response is seen as a price worth paying (see the opening to Porridge) and given the impassioned and erudite interviews given by some of those involved in the riots, they perceived the fine to be nothing, a price certainly worth paying for a nice shiny new television or pair of trainers. Directly, they didn’t fear being caught and therefore didn’t need to behave. By the way, for balance, one of the main factors behind the banking crash was the lack of punishment for losses which simply encouraged ever more risky and insane speculation. The more you know eh?

More indirectly is the other side of the fine, general life effects. I’ll tread delicately here as the issue the socio-economic status of the looters, as it leads to, shall we say ‘heated’ discussion (although something tells me that maybe, just maaaaybe there’ll be a correlation), the reason the majority of us don’t commit crime isn’t so much because we have a fine moral compass, but because beyond the fear of being caught itself (see above) the consequences are far reaching. What would happen, for instance, if you were arrested and jailed; job loss, not being able to pay rent, maybe unable to enter your ideal career? But when you take those fears away (both, on the Right, because “they just get benefits” and on the Left “they’ve lost all hope of attainment in our society”), you take away many of the consequences of anti-social behaviour, especially when it’s coupled with a subculture who’s response to anti-social behaviour is not the same as the majority of the population. With the threat of destitution (in principle anyway) removed, as well as the socially disapproval penalty, the only cost left is imprisonment or other punishment by the state.

Is it wrong to expect parents to ask "Where did you get this" and "why is it full of broken glass"

God damnit Son, stealing trainers, are you an idiot? I said get a Xbox, XBOX

Reviving The Lethiathan

On a conceptual level it was terrifying to see the people I cross the road avoid take over the streets, a veritable dawn of the NEDs, leading after a few days to a rise in calls for general vigilantism as citizens lost faith in the police to do their duty, which causally led to the deaths of three men guarding a local business, and another who sadly joined  the long list of citizens beaten to death for confronting gangs of kids attacking his property.

Let’s be clear on something for a moment, we in the UK don’t live in a military dictatorship, a religious autocracy or are ruled by a man in a shiny/spiky hat claiming a divine right to rule. We live in a democracy, and as such the laws of the state are our laws, there is ‘the state’ and it’s us. As I mentioned above, it’s this almost metaphysical notion of the lethiathan that allows us to go about our business, knowing that there is a legitimate authority more powerful than anything else that could do us harm.

"That's nothing compared to the monster of inequality" *snap*

Well maybe not "anything"

Now, trying to be seen to be ‘tough on crime’ has quite frightening pitfalls, but in this specific case I feel it is indeed important for justice to be seen to be done, if only because without it, the outrage felt by many as their city centres burned may be releases in some other worse guise; who’s to say, should things every “kick off” again, we won’t see the streets filled with more citizens protecting their property themselves, who are unlikely to be as constrained as the police have to be. Equally, if the community as a whole doesn’t see those involved punished directly, they’re more likely to support punitive and self-defeating notions like stopping benefit for households where any one person was involved. Sometimes it is legitimately more important that justice seems to be done.

Jailing people helps communities

Now, back in my home town (I won’t say where, but in the top 20 “worst places to live” 2009) I found out along the grape vine that when one person is put is prison, the burglary rate in the area drops by half, to the point where the source joked (I think) the police plan budgets around his release dates. Indeed, over the pond in the US, one of the main reasons for the reduction in crime may be longer-sentances. This is might not just because these people are not committing crime, but it’s also removing their influence from others. The majority of us are socialised by our environment, but there are always a few can never be socialised (the true psychopaths) and these people affect those around who are  influenced by their developmental environment, they act as the kernel of dirt around which forms a snowflake of anti-social behaviour.

They stole the Ice Giants other testicle yesterday

See, crime is... SNOWBALLING XD

Thus, by jailing the individuals who are caught, especially the ones who seemed to be at the centre of it all, you’re not only removing them from society directly, but also the deleterious effects they would have on individuals who haven’t yet internalised their aberrant social values. This is where the issue of poverty comes in, as while I would hazard to say the majority of the rioters were of low socio-economic status, this of course does not mean most people at that status are not law abiding and just want to get on with their lives.

Unfortunately, it’s those communities that are more likely to be blighted by the anti-social minority (because you move if you can afford it). It’s a situation seen from areas of urban decay to the hinterland of Afganistan to Germany circa 1938; do you side with the local power for protection (even if you must act against your wishes) or risk persecution. Thus by quickly removing trouble makers from communities and keeping them away, you remove their poisonous influence from areas that already have to contend with the genuine social grievances such as lack of opportunity, employment and local government resources. As an aside this is partly why the literati defense of the rioters irked me so, they may well be forgotten peoples to you and politicians, but not to those who live next door who have to endure the chronic aggressive and threatening behaviour on a daily basis.

Those poor misunderstood victims of society

So there we go, my brief take on the criminal justice response to the recent unpleasantness. Now don’t mistake this for anyone wishing some sort of police state, but I think I’ve demonstrated that the enforcement of the law in cases of pure criminality (I don’t think any culture since the dawn of man has considered “taking something someone else has by force” as good thing) doesn’t do anyone any harm. Punishment may not necessarily be in the form of jailing (there has been great success with community-based restorative justice) but should be a direct punishment.

While we should always be wearing of “tough on crime” band standing, it is also important for a society to maintain that credible threat of punishment, not to produce a society that is fearful of the state, but one where do not have to fear one another.

Recently the BBC finished broadcasting the last of documentary maker Adam Curtis’ latest series “All watched over by machines of loving grace”. I’m usually a fan of Mr Curtis, his shows are often interesting and insightful, and highlight the contradictions in social themes and movements that have taken over the western world in the last century.  Case in point would be this segment from new-swipe about how the framing of conflicts by the media into simple good/evil makes dealing with the intricacies of geo-politics impossible. However, the latest series bugged me, and particularly the last episode that focused on Kin Selection…

Which he got wrong. Infuriatingly wrong. Not only did he fail to express or explain the theory, but it was framed in an horrendously manipulative way. Such was my indignation with this program in fact, that throughout the running time I resembled a Daily Mail reader during their morning outrage.

this is as close as google got to "blustering man"

Sigh, those refugees will want food AND water next

Kin Selection & Altruism

The prevailing theory of the evolution of behaviour at the time was of group-selection.  Group selection as it stood was essentially a Disney-version of evolution; one where particularly noble  member of the species would sacrifice itself for the good of the group (Possibly while be-hatted and singing). Such virtuous individuals aid group survival and thus their presence helps their particular group  prevail in the Darwinian thunder-dome against groups lacking such Princes amongst organisms. All very nice, but (in this form at least) really quite wrong. Essentially, as many a coward has discovered, nature favours the individuals who stay behind the front line sipping cognac and bedding the local debutantes while others die in their place.

Kin selection, and the gene-eye view in general, is a departure for this, it suggests that for altruism to evolve there has to be some advantage to the organism or it will be swamped by others more than willing to let those possessing the Prince Valiant gene die in their place. The Kin Selection equation is probably one of the most recognized bits of maths in evolutionary biology and it looks like this rB>C: where r is how related you are to someone, B is benefit to the other person, and C is the cost to yourself. Put simply, in general the more you are related to someone the more cost you are willing to endure to help that person, and it is one of the building blocks of altruistic behaviour. Curtis presents this as some form of aberration, as if the very suggestion is anathema to the milk of human kindness. The trouble is, not only has study after study demonstrated kin-centric behaviour is a human universal, but despite how much you refer to equations and mathematics as cold and robotic  “you’re nicer to your family that strangers” is the world’s least controversial statement after “kittens are cute”.

And while we're on it, she has enough organs to save several unrelated people...

"Sorry Chrissy, but someone else needs Daddy's kidney too"

I imagine even those who aren’t knee deep in evolutionary game theory on a daily basis were surprised by how shocked and revolted Curtis was at the idea that altruism is often directed towards relatives. But of course, humans live (now at least) in huge societies and this theory can’t explain the level of apparent altruism humans demonstrate (Not that anyone ever claimed it could by the way). Kin Selection though is just one aspect the evolution of altruistic behaviour. But more on that later, for now I will take issue with how the program itself was constructed.

Rwanda was used as the backdrop as, I believe, an attempt to juxtapose the ‘simple’ and elegant concepts of maths – I use ‘simple’ as those equations give me a headache just thinking about the cover of the book their in – with the grubby complexity of the world . This has after all been the series’ theme after all, “Here’s a theory that expresses something in numbers, but look how complicated the world really it” as it were.  However there is a certain rhetorical trickery going on here. If the aim was to show how different the simple mathematical view was from reality then why not frame the narrative around the million-man civil rights marches or a nun defending an orphanage from racoons? Opting to overlay the theory with such a terrible event was clearly an attempt to taint by association. This would be acceptable had there been a causal link made between the two (such as in his other work, The Trap), but the point was (again, in my opinion) to show how different theory was from practice to highlight the complexity of human interaction. For a person who has produced so many pieces on press manipulation this is somewhat hypocritical.There was also more than a passing amount of personal attacks, from the hint no one believed the theory at first (though see above as to why) to ridiculing his trip to find the source of AIDS while the Congo civil war still raged. It was framed to suggest not only that the theory may be in some way responsible for genocide, but that its creator was some sort of emotionless robot.

No kin selection here: Robots would even kill their own preceding models

Researchers were hardier back then

For a  documentary maker who’s major target has been the over-simplification of the news media, politics and human behaviour, the piece was very good at simplifying and falsely representing the whole branch of evolutionary biology. To demonstrate how such simple explanations for human are wrong, it ignores half a century of research into the topic of human cooperation. Had the show been framed in history, i.e. about the birth and growth of theories this would have been acceptable, but the purpose it to show how certain ideologies have “taken over” or influenced our society over the decades. Human cooperation as a topic could be (and deserves to be, BBC, if your reading) a series on its own and I wouldn’t expect something such as this to delve into the matter fully, but if you’re going to attack 50 years of research as least suggest the modelling of human behaviour has extended itself a little. Kin selection is the easiest to pick on as every day experience tells us humans don’t just help there kin, QED its all hokum, yet had they included other contemporaries of Hamilton they would have found a menagerie of researchers developing theories of  altruism. Concepts such as mutualism, where individuals cooperate because they both benefit (we need to work together or the bears will kill us both), reciprocity, where we aid someone with the expectation of future assistance (Help me find some bear cubs and I’ll help you do the same tomorrow) or competitive altruism, where helping others shows how amazing you are (here, have this bear pelt, I have dozens) were around and generating great interest. All have a gene-view perspective and all contribute to our understanding of altruism.

Understanding the impact Care Bears have had on our evolution would fascinate and terrify you

Another delicious species hunted to extinction

I am not a number

Adam Curtis is clearly against the notion that human behaviour can be  explained by any coherent theory, and he has approached this topic before in “The Trap”. The difference between that series and this was the former had a clear focus; how treating human beings as rational agents, the essence of a certain branch of game theory, is doomed to failure and in this he was correct. The rational agent approach to economics as exemplified by the Chicago school and Milton Friedmanites of this world was fundamentally flawed because humans are not rational entities in a neo-liberal sense, and where ‘The Trap’ succeeded was in drawing parallels between a mathematical model, it’s policy effects and how policies based on this assumption had disastrous consequences; This is what happens if you fail to take an holistic account of human agency. Here though he loses his way. The show is not so much an argument against a theory as it is the musings of someone who simply doesn’t like what they hear. All that is offered as proof against what Curtis sees as a destructive perspective on life is a series of gruesome images and some fun fact about imperial Belgium

If one replaces rB>C with “would you save your child over a stranger’s child” suddenly the cold and robotic mathematics appear less so, equally for “Would you lend £10 to a friend of stranger” “would you try to impress an attractive female in a bar. These are all aspects of human behaviour that effectively express the  “gene-eye view”: We love our children, because the infants of parents who didn’t give a shit died; We form friendships and care about our friends, because individuals who didn’t have alliances had no one to help them; we want to impress a potential sexual partner, because males that didn’t lost out to the strutting posers who did. Fundamentally Curtis makes the same error many do when introduced to this topic, to assume that because proximate behaviour has a billion year old ultimate cause, the latter fundamentally detracts from the former. That understanding the evolutionary cause of a behaviour somehow removes the qualia of its experience. That because  there is a biological, describable, reason for both the good and bad aspects of human sociality, this reduces us to nothing but machines.

another picture of photons refracting in the atmosphere during a planetary rotation

Just another picture of photons refracting in the atmosphere during a planetary rotation

 

 

You Only Vote Twice

Posted: 2nd May 2011 by Get No Happy in Politics
Tags:

We’re fast approaching the AV referendum and indications are that, much like the Balrog, it will not pass. This is a real shame but unsurprising given the amount of vitriol the NO campaign especially has poured into the debate. Now I won’t bore you with the reasons you should be voting yes (instead I can direct you to an earlier post by me to do that) but will instead step down a little from my moral high ground to have a brief sneering look  at the NO campaign.

 

The enemy of my enemy

It is demonstrative of the level of discourse the No campaign want for this issue when one of their main arguments against a fundamental change in the governance of our nation is “no one likes Nick Clegg”. Sod the issues about representation and democracy, Nick Clegg is a bad man (though I would say this is incorrect) and thus, much like the demands of a eloquent and classically trained psychopath, we can be sure anything he wants will ultimately lead to our downfall.

I ate a YES leaflet with some fava beans and a nice chianti

I could go on at length on the long, sad history of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but fortuitously, after 10 years, two invasions, millions of dollars and untold military and civilian casualties, America has chosen this week to finally catch and dispose of  it’s most infamous communist-fighting patriot, and I feel this serves as an appropriate reminder of the folly this mode of thinking represents. Taking a step down from  hyperbole hill, the anti-Nick aspect of the campaign is clearly targeting disaffected Lib Dem voters; “send a message to that smug bastard” and all that. Much as in the Ballard of Mr Bin Laden, reacting against you’re immediate enemy means strengthening a future one, it means both supporting the Tory party and killing for perhaps a generation one of the main tenants of Lib Dem policy (PR). And of course all that representation in democracy stuff.

 

It’s not taking part, but the winning that counts

The demands we make to leaders around the world is that democracy is the only way to represent the will of the people, that without free-elections any claim to represent your countrymen means naught. If this is true then leadership is not be a prize to be won, but a position to be earned, yet since the (sorta) scandal of expenses the population at large view politicians as self-serving passengers on the gravy-train of life who actually care very little about the common man, and conceptually this aspect of the NO campaign does little to dispel this. A place in parliament is something of  prize, an end unto itself.  Never mind that in a multi-party system it doesn’t represent the views of the population, you won (Woo) and that’s far more important than sticking to the tenants of democracy.

To represent FPTP properly, Mr Blue & Red would have jet-packs and the other lanes would be land-mined

The odd thing is, while we can name many areas that work FPTP style (as the NO campaign so expertly did above), there is one small little-known aspect of life that doesn’t operate on this principle. It’s known as every single sport that relies on a league system. In Formula 1, for instance, it’s entirely possible to never win a race a season but still take the championship by consistently finishing second. Yet no-one would argue this is unfair: Any fan would appreciate that the drivers and mechanics and tacticians who keep the pace all season deserve their accolade. Under our system it’s the single win that counts, not performance (or appeal) across the board; which is why (to use one of my favourite links) strong majority governments can be formed with the minority of votes. Yes technically, as the No campaign claims, a government could be made up of a party that was “no ones first choice”, but if we’re going to test a system to hypothetical breaking points, under FPTP, a party could receive almost half of all votes cast and not have a single MP. As long as we insist on this ‘local MP representative’ schtick AV is as close as we’re going to get to have a representative government.

 

Some votes are more equal than others

A big part of the NO campaign focuses on the idea that as candidates are eliminated, those who chose them as first choice effectively get another go. Therefore, they say,  some people in principle will get to vote many times, whereas those who pick the ‘strongest’ candidate will only have one vote counted and this is unfair.

Mmmmm, votes, glorious votes

Now. This isn’t actually true. Let me explain.

In behavioural economics, we often need to determine economic decision making based on continuous variables; for instance (in my case) will individuals spend money punishing an unrelated person for a fair/unfair offer? The amount of this ‘offer’ can be from £0 to whatever (hence continuous).  Thus we often use what is called the Strategy Method: instead of asking one participant “if Person A gave £1 what would you do” then another “if Person A gave £2…” etc we present all possible situations to all participants “If Persona A give £2… BUT IF person A gives £2” etc . We get much more data per person, need less participants and  it’s far quicker than running a new round each time.

AV is basically a Strategy Method way of voting. Picking your ‘first’ choice is saying “If this person remains, I want to vote for him”, second “if first is no longer running, then I vote for this one” and so on. Your picking based on all eventualities. The thing is, after each round EVERY vote is counted again, it’s just that if your first choice remains in the running, your vote goes to the same person as it did in the preceding round. It’s just quicker than asking everyone to fill out a new form after each round.  No one person gets more votes as every persons decisions are effectively counted again. This  needs stressing.

"NO ONE GETS EXTRA VOTES" says Mittens the AV kitten

So there you have it. No reasons to vote against AV and every reason to vote YES.

 

If you’re still not convinced

It’ll help the BNP: Apparently not and correct me if I’m wrong but I believe they don’t want it. And if you must take the The Enemy of My Enemy approach to your civic duties, do you really hate Nick Clegg more than Nick Griffin?

Cost too much: Disgusting and manipulative posters aside, it may cost more, and Don’t you know, there’s a war deficit on? In the grand scheme of things a figure between £50-150million is but a small drop in the debt-ocean. And honestly, this isn’t buying a new castle for the Royal couple as a wedding present or financing the opportune bombing a North African country, this is spending money on a fundamental aspect of our way of life. It’s worth a few quid.

 

 

 

 

Why is it OK to be a communist?

Posted: 28th March 2011 by Get No Happy in Angry Rants
Tags: ,

*Scene*

Person 1: “Hi, you’re back a bit late aren’t you”

Person 2: “Yeah, I’ve just been to a meeting of the local fascist party”

Person 1:”Oh, was it fu… wait, what!?”

Person 2: “What? Our system of government is fucked. Politicians are just in it for themselves. I mean who are they? Not the best or most gifted leaders, but the ones surviving at the end of their Machiavellian games. And because they want to stay on the gravy train they just tell us what we want to hear, break their promises once we vote then eventually retire to a bank boardroom when they’re done. What’s needed is a leader who can think about the long term, who doesn’t have to worry about grabbing as much money in the shortest possible time. Someone who has spent their life learning statecraft, not how to pander to the party faithful”

Person 1:”Erm, even without mentioning a certain greasy-haired moustachioed Austrian, what about history? Kings, Emperors and dictators. Throughout history all-powerful rulers have exploited, oppressed and murdered their people. How can you say that’s a good thing?

Person 2: “Look, yes the Nazis were evil, no one’s denying that. And it hasn’t worked in the past. But that’s because the idea hasn’t been done properly, in theory it’s perfect. All we need is a completely noble and incorruptible person with absolute power surrounded by equally noble and incorruptible lieutenants who only thinks about what is best for their loyal subjects. With this in place there’s no need to vote; everyone realises the leader knows exactly what’s best and therefore obeys without question”

Person 1: “…”

Person 2:“You know, like the way royalty are portrayed in Disney films, or Aragorn at the end of Lord of the Rings”

*Scene*

 

If you heard the argument above you’d think the guy was either playing a whole supreme court of Devil’s Advocates or completely insane. Yet change the word fascist to communist and suddenly it becomes OK. Why? This has been bugging me for a few weeks now, ever since I attended a screening of “Persepolis” that was introduced by the president of the local Communist Party. Actually I tell a lie, it’s something that’s bugs me every time I walk past a socialist workers party stall (Capitalism pays your JSA! *ahem*). Seriously though, why is it not as detestable to be seen with a hammer and sickle as it would be with a swastika? Why indeed is it OK to say you’re a communist?

Though they do look a fun bunch

Lets review this glorious utopian ideology. Communism in Russia and China alone, with a giddy mixture of purges,  great leaps forwards and asking seeds nicely to grow in permafrost allowed between 100 and 150 million  people to give their lives for the cause. It ruled over two continents for six decades as a superior system of government under which there was such prosperity that people literally queued every day  to express their gratitude to purveyors of  bread, milk and razor blades for the bounty they were about to receive (I assume that why they were queuing for such basics).  It ruled with freedom and equality so unparalleled that vast amounts of resources were devoted to making sure all these lucky people never dared to question their good fortune, or if they did, were unlikely to question it twice.

If only the secret police would tell them how jealous we all are

You get my point, communism has a long enough list of heinous crimes to justify its very own internet rule, and came out significantly worse during the grand economic experiment that was the Cold War. Despite the suffering it caused, communism’s emblem is often proudly displayed, not by those with with a fondness historical graphic art (One must hand it to the soviets, they’re propaganda posters are fantastic)  but by individuals who actually believe it represents some sort of ideal end state. How little attention can a person be paying in history class to justify such support?

One  reason that is often given is “well they’re just not doing it properly. No one’s saying Stalin was a good man or that North Korea is a nice place to raise 2.4 children, but you can’t blame the theory, in theory communism is perfect”.

Anything can be perfect in theory. It’s a pitiful and desperate excuse to justify aligning oneself with an ideology that has brought nothing but pain and suffering to this planet. As my little sketch above demonstrated, you can really prove just about any form of government works as long as you’re willing to skip merrily off the cliff of reality into the sharp embrace of fantasy’s jagged rocks: Communism totally works, all you have to do is ignore all the evidence to the contrary.

Much like the existence of Atlantis and it's benevolent ruler King Triton

It’s not like the last century didn’t give communism a damn good go, and the result was always the same; oppression and death with, ironically enough, the latter coming rather quickly to the intellectuals who were the first to proclaim its virtues (Which incidentally is why I thought it odd Persepolis was fronted by a Party member). And yet go to any campus in this country, and now any protest, and you will see membership being proclaimed as if Lenin himself was marching them to the gates of the Winter Palace.  Yes there are problems with our current system, gaps between the have and have-nots that orphan kittens sometimes fall into, but these problems never have been, nor ever will be, solved by communism. If you really want someone or something to put on a banner because “a system that allows individual profit that appeals to rational self interest to foster a strong sense of social justice and obligation via the ever present Hobbsian Leviathan” isn’t easy to chant, then go for Keynes and his ‘Government exists to declaw the capitalist beast’ approach. Although he picture does lack the wizened beard of Marx and cigar chomping rakishness of Mr Guevara.

Or maybe use the Leviathan instead...

It’s about time this veneration of communism ended, it’s about time the blind spot to one of mankinds greatest mistakes was corrected and the whole horrible idea was consigned to the dustbin of history along with all the other ideologies we in the West pride ourselves on having rid ourselves of. Why is it OK to be a communist? It’s not!

A credible alternative?

Posted: 16th February 2011 by Get No Happy in Politics
Tags: ,

Well apparently the voting referendum ‘No’ campaign starts today. So I will begin my own and say “Vote Yes”.

Why should we change hundreds of years of tradition? well maybe

Because it’s more democratic.
I find it both odd and interesting that the idea of a government being representative of the votes cast has only become an issue for the majority (as a Lib Dem, PR has been tattooed on my soul for a decade) of both plebs and pundits since the Coalition took power. This is doubly odd as this government represents about 60% of votes cast yet New Labour’s 1997 landslide returned 44% of the vote, and the 2005 election saw a majority Blair government with barely 35% of the popular vote. As an aside it does somewhat make a mockery of those who refer to the coalition as “the government no one voted for” (I’m looking at you Lauran Lavern) when in fact the most representative government this country has seen in decades.

 


Sorry, but you did in fact vote for them

The AV system isn’t perfect as candidates can be elected despite being second (or even third) choices, however at least it requires anyone elected to Government to have at least some degree of support from the majority of their constituents. And it’s hard to say that’s unfair

You no longer have to vote ‘tactically’ (as much)
I’ve posted else where about the problem of tactical voting but to reiterate, the enemy of your enemy is NOT your friend. All voting tactically does is give whichever party you chose as your heroic mujahedin fighters an inflated sense of support for their ideals: to quote someone who’s name I can’t remember “choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil”, or more specifically, voting for the kitten maiming party to keep the Child homocide coalition out of office hardly represents ones true opinion (or at least I hope not).

 


Guess which is which, you may be pleasantly surprised

But under this system you can vote for your preferred party and at the same time not “waste” a vote. Should your preferred party be eliminated in round one, your second vote (Your tactical one) now stands. Thus you are now free(r) to vote for who you truly want to and then vote to keep the Carebears away from your offspring (Told ya). The system may mean an MP is elected based on second-votes, but it means they do most represent the political affiliations of an area. And whereas under a tactical FPTP system the winner can strut around like David Hasseloff on the Berlin Wall, under a AV scenario the MP is acutely aware they cannot take election as a complete vindication of their party’s campaign. Finally, it gives parties who aren’t worth voting for as they’ll never get in a way of gauging their actual level of support and can therefore target resources accordingly next time.

So, two perfectly fine reason why it’s a good idea. now to tackle some of the more common against arguments.

It will nearly always return coalition governments…
…And we hate the current one, boooooo. Well apart from reminding you of some of the specific Lib Dem policies that otherwise would not have been implemented had the Tory part won outright, repeated coalition governments need be no bad thing.

At the risk of descending into hyperbole, the strong Labour party brought in such popular policies as PFI, the war in Iraq, the uncapping of tuition fees and tried to force through draconian detention legislation that included I believe trying to bypass the House of Lords with an Act of Parliament; something really only used when considering war. Yes, constant bickering can lead to weaker government and in human psychology we do tend to enjoy the idea of the Big man in charge (but I don’t need to violate Goodwin’s law by suggesting how that can turn out), but can also lead to the blunting of the more extremes of each coalition member. Meaning policies that have to appeal to voters at large and not just hard-liners in marginal seats.

And remember that for the past few years all the main parties have been squeezing onto the middle ground like it’s the last lifeboat off the titanic; it’s been a long time since we voted for or against Imperial expansion or war with France for instance.

It will benefit the Lib Dems
To be honest, this one is a little confusing. I think the implication is supposed to be any change in the voting system is akin to a Night of the Long Knives style power grab by Nick Clegg and his sandal wearing junta.

 


As the referendum returned a ‘yes’ vote, Clegg moved to stage 2

On the one hand, yes, it would benefit the Liberal Democrats – I believe they would have won 65 extra seats at the last election had AV been in place (citation needed) – but this is because the present system is unfair, and any advantage is to lower this discrepancy rather than some duplicitous deck-stacking by a party suddenly finding itself in charge. Related to this, one reason floating about appears to be that because Clegg wants it we should vote against it, as a sort of protest vote against the Government. Not that sticking it to the man isn’t fun and all, but as the AV vote takes place with the May local elections, use them to register a protest and vote properly for voting reform!

And finally
One last thing, it’s almost to silly to mention, but a change may well see the end of election night programs. Really? That’s even a reason? Has the collective ADHD of this country got to such a level that the lack of a concise TV-friendly spectacle is a reason? If so I don’t know why politicians bother with campaigning, as filling Wembley with Illegal immigrants, bankers and lions while handing out bread would clearly be just as effective.

University Challenged

Posted: 8th February 2011 by Get No Happy in Angry Rants, Politics
Tags: ,

China announced today that it will demand all ISPs operating in the country hand over all search data collected on their customers. In addition the party chairman announced from now on the various security and police services could intercept and analyze all electronic traffic of their citizens without warrant and with very little cause. Oh wait they didn’t, it was the Labour (and Tory) party last year.

Why begin with this? Well, party because it suggest that, to many, (The Labour Party, the press, activists and students) the distinction between a freedom-stomping edict by a tyrannical government and a tedious announcement by a liberal democracy is whether the reason for it concerns a city square massacre or protecting Simon Cowell’s royalty payments. So I think this is worth noting for it’s own sake.

 


Your unauthorised access of copyrighted material
has been reported to the police

Also, it must be remembered that when the bill was announced (then later passed) there were no mass protests or marches or inconsequential minor assaults on royalty to herald its arrival. Thus, as someone who emailed, wrote and drunkenly ranted about the DEB to anyone who would listen (and gained a nice collection of MP letters in the process), I’m a little bitter the mighty cadre of students who bravely cut class earlier this year didn’t really care about one of the biggest assaults on personal liberty ever seen, orchestrated by th Dark Lord himself at the behest of an unpopular and morally bankrupt party who knew their days were numbered. However threaten to make them (Us I suppose) pay for something (eventually, if it’s useful) then suddenly it’s to the barricades before you can say October Revolution.

Suppose this really is why I’ve avoided commenting on the Coalition’s approach to higher education: Not because I agree, I don’t, but the fuss was excessive, especially when the alternatives were either a smaller HE system (but that’s unfair!!!!) or a graduate tax – ya know, paying an extra tax when your income goes over a certain threshold, but forever. Now however the Death Star of social engineering has once again entered the orbit over the higher education base on Yavin 4. Labour spent most of their 13 years in office (THIRTEEN YEARS remember) trying to turn universities into social cement mixers, but I was really hoping their departure would be the end of it. Alas not

 


Yes, lay the foundations for a devalued HE system,
but make sure it’s spread equally… *Satire*

Now, this is not to say the top universities don’t have a role to play. For instance should it be shown that while, say 90% of top A-Level students from non-state schools apply to Oxbridge, but only 10% of top State pupils apply, then this could be seen as a legitimate issue that universities should deal with. Clearly they either don’t advertise to those schools enough or state students are intimated by stereotypes of student life at such institutions. However, State student not having the grades to get into the top universities is a very different problem that is nothing to do with these institutions. This is like blaming the estuary bridge for the detritus floating beneath it. It’s one thing to suggest lack of access and inequality is due to nepotism or snobbery, but its quite another to suggest that simply having high entrance requirements is a sin universities need to be purified of.

Universities are at the end of the chain, not the beginning. The problem isn’t unequal access, it’s unequal primary and secondary education, unequal parenting and social norms. Attacking only the final & terminal stage of an illness is not the way to cure or prevent it in the first place. To shamelessly misquote myself Kicking open the gate of Rome to the barbarian hordes didn’t mean they could build aqueducts. Demanding lower standards while wielding the financial-penalty axe to affect a ideologically desire socio-economic mix doesn’t alter the circumstances that generated the perceived inequality. But I suppose forcing some faux-egalitarianism on ‘elitist’ institutions is much easier and more crowd pleasing than attributing failure to people rather than a faceless ivory tower, and not to mention a gentle sop to those appalled by Lib Dem support for the tuition fee increase.

 


The financial-penalty axe takes on social injustice

Everyone should have an equality of opportunity when in comes to entering higher education. This means admittance being influenced by nothing more than the grades required. The variables that affect these grades are the responsibility of many people: The state, the local authority, the local community, the parents and yes, the student, but not the universities themselves.

I suppose what hurts the most is this comes after I made an impassioned plea in Mr Clegg’s defense. The betrayal!

Generally I try to read as much as I can, and often get quite obsessive about it; I am more than happy to, for instance, forgo sleep on a work night if it means pouring over a particularly gripping storyline into the small hours. Also I really must read to the end of a chapter before putting a book down; stopping halfway is wrong, WRONG.

*ahem*

Unfortunately the one thing a PhD fosters in you is the unnerving, haunting feeling that if you have time to read the latest science fiction epic, you have time to read something relevant to your damn subject. Work will set you free as they say! And will allow you to justify not getting a real job to taxi drivers.

 


Seriously, I’m only alive as the boot’s full of drugged high-school girls

So now I mainly read Popular Science books, and it is one of these I will be chewing over today. For me, a good popular science book should read like a witty literature review: It should cover the subject fairly well but with the tone more akin cocktail party come-on rather than a series of formal lectures (Although there is a fine balance to strike). One should also walk away genuinely knowing something about the subject; the main concepts, terminology and maybe how all this fits into the wider knowledge of the world, and of course with a few crazy intellectual nuggets to dazzle/distract said taxi driver with.

Oh, and it should also be fully referenced. Not only because some information may be of actual academic use to the reader, but because, while flawed, the peer review process is really the only way to sort a great idea from an hour-long Dan Brown conspiracy TV special.

 


This is not how the dinosaurs “may have” died out Discovery Channel!

With all this in mind, I come to one of the more recent books to make the perilous crossing from my “To Read” pile to the coveted “Currently Reading” spot on the bedside table

War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage

I bought this book for two reason, 1) because I actually needed some background on early human inter-group conflict 2) Because I fucking hate the myth of the Noble (or Peaceful as the tagline says) Savage. Some may remember this was one of my bones of contention with Avatar and is something of a modern archetype: The dancey glowly clappy native looking sad upon the brutish gun-metal grey ‘civilised’ man.

More specifically it also reminds me of the endless nonsense I encountered as a teenager from the sort of chakra-stone wielding ninnies who’d prefer root of scum-weed over chemotherapy for that nasty tumour, and the frustration at the time of not having enough knowledge to break the childish hold the vision of a perfect eden-esque, pre-technological, existence had on their intellectually devoid minds…

 


It’s funny how often incubators are left out of lists of modern horrors

Personal catharsis aside, the book itself is very interesting. The author opens with a brief history of the study of pre-civilization warfare and the intellectual ideologies that governed it: from imperial racism to anti-colonialism and the reaction to the atomic age of the post war period; and how these skewed research in the ways you would expect. Then it’s a case of going through archaeological and ethnographic studies demonstrating that while warfare as we know it – standing armies, pitched battles etc – was very rare in pre-state societies, chronic, low level, inter-group violence was the norm. The conceit is fairly straight forward: Without the surplus of a state, long term strategic warfare is impossible. Pre-state societies did not have the men or materials for protracted campaigns, nor to decisively ‘win’ a conflict or indeed control a population should they do so. Instead they used raids and ambushes against resources and the unsuspecting: and sadly guerrilla warfare is both cheap and effective in the way taking prisoners is not. Furthermore, such low-level antagonistic activity leads to an endless cycle or revenge and counter-revenge and results in a casualty-by-population % far higher than any State Vs State conflict. In the below link Steven Pinker points out to represent tribal conflict, WW2 should have killed around a billion people.

The book pretty effectively demolishes the belief everyone lived in peace and harmony prior to the emergence of state-based civilizations, demonstrating that a golden pre-technological world never actually existed. There was no utopia where man frolicked naked amongst the beasts and all was well. It centers the view of primitive societies between the extremes; not the (to paraphrase) brutish and short existence of Hobbes, but nor the idealised natural state of Cameron’s Pandora. Turn from the wonderful Human Planet on BBC 1 to the tank-based Egyptian escapades on BBC News and it’s easy to see why a belief in the superiority of a less technological and urbanised type of society is so pervasive. However this is indeed an idealised, and dare I say it partronising, view of non-state society that ignores the negatives while playing “what did the Romans ever do for us” with the last 10,000 years of human civilisation.

The book therefore is amongst other sources (including the seminal Germs, Guns, and Steel) demonstrating quite comprehensively that returning to a simpler, ‘natural’, existence will at best do little save dramatically increase the murder rate.

 


They’ll rape us to death, skin us, then eat us.
And if we’re lucky they’ll do it in that order

Moving away from the debate itself, if the book as a piece of non-fiction has any faults they stem from the author’s apparent frustration that for many years the presented information was ignored. Information at times comes across rather franticly, like the put-upon boyfriend who’s suddenly snaps at dinner with the in-laws. Perhaps because of this it does tend to be a little dry and very information dense; you’re not going to find any witty anecdotes or incidental asides within this text, and therefore is hard going at times.

Despite the above, overall it is fairly easy read, feels complete content-wise (citing literature from ancient archaeology to the folk tales of tribal descendants), is comprehensibly referenced, and full of interesting facts like how to tell if a group has come to raid or trade (Look for rain clouds) and how to make a people-skin poncho from your enemies; something I will admit has crossed my mind from time to time.

In defense of Nick Clegg

Posted: 17th January 2011 by Get No Happy in News of the day, Politics
Tags: ,

Having managed to convince the population that New Labour hadn’t in fact been in charge for 13 years, and hadn’t overspent massively on every part of the country they didn’t sell off, Ed Miliband has claimed the victory in Oldham (Which Labour initially won by trying to incite a race war) was a strong message to the government. It is therefore time to examine this government, starting with it’s main antagonist.

It would be safe to say that Nick Clegg is not currently many peoples favourite person. In fact it would also be safe to say there hasn’t been such a speedy reversal of fortunes since Hiroshima was named ‘Japan’s Safest City’ on the 5th August 1945. However I feel much of the wild vitriol directed at Clegg is at best uninformed and unfair. So I thought I would offer up some comment for the defense of the accused. After all, despite their best effors, New Labour failed to do away with the whole pesky trail/evidence thing. If we must burn Nick for his crimes as a collaborator, lets at least do so for the right reasons.

 


and not just because he’s cheaper than heating-oil

The Liberal Democrats
The first part of this little defense concerns the Liberal Democrats as a party. Recent events have (sadly) demonstrated to me that my high opinion of Lib Dem voters was sadly misplaced, more a view generated by in-group favouritism than actual evidence. Why you ask? Well, for an awfully long time the key policy of the Lib Dems has been Proportional Representation – the crazy concept that each vote should count. The magic thing about PR is that unless the election is only between the hugs-and-love and the we-drink-the-blood-of-the-innocent parties (or held in Iran) it is very rare for a party to get a majority stake and thus each, much like a young male chimpanzee after a high ranking female, must form coalitions.

 

I’m genuinely unsure which I’d prefer to win an election

Now, it appears Lib Dem supporters were under the illusion that PR would automatically put us in power. Forever. Therefore it was a shock when the Coalition Government did things the Lib Dems, if they were in power as the elected government, would never do. Clearly individuals just assumed simply being in government was enough and the party would have a free hand to build it’s glorious liberal utopia. Without going into the specific results, for the Lib Dems to dominate decision making would ironically be very undemocratic, so it’s a little bit worrying that supporters of the only progressive & liberal party may have wanted to change the voting system on the assumption it would ensure us a reign to last a thousand years.

Boring boring facts
The Lib Dems are a party of only 57 seats (but with only 3% less of the popular vote than Labour btw…) and the junior partners of a government that is (to listen to some) one step away from flaying alive the babies of the poor. Yet here is a list of some of the Lib Dem manifesto pledges that have been, or on there way to being, made law:

Increase the income tax threshold to £10,000
Immediately restore the link between the basic state pension and earnings
Scrap ID cards
Invest £2.5bn in this ‘Pupil Premium’ to boost education spending for disadvantaged children
Scrap compulsory retirement ages, allowing those who wish to continue in work to do so
End the detention of children in immigration detention centers
Scrap the intrusive child database which was intended to hold the details of every child in England

And this is not to mention the AV voting system referendum, (which while not perfect is a significant step up from the current one) and the long-needed reforms to libel laws. These are just a few. Under Nick Clegg’s leadership the Liberal democrats have betrayed their principles by forcing the Tory-dominated Government to tax the poor less, to spend more on disadvantaged pupils and uphold civil liberties.

 


Look at him releasing children from detention. That bastard

The Faustian Pact
Now, I’m no longer a fan of the coalition (but see how I gave them at least a week to fuck it up before deciding this…): the huge cuts to higher education, the scrapping of the advanced skills teachers, the NHS reforms the Tories seemed to have dreamed up during the post-victory hangover to name but a few reasons why we should all be worried. And I’m not saying Clegg should be absolved of all responsibility; you can’t be so emphatic on an issue like tuition fees and be surprised by the reaction to your complete about turn, but I feel his and the Lib Dem’s role needs placing in perspective. Think of the position the party and Clegg were in after the election:

– He had gained good political capital attacking the illegitimacy of Brown’s government and our voting system in general, and said repeatedly he would not prop up Labour just because they weren’t the Tories
– The panicking markets demanded a strong government at a time of economic crisis. Despite the dubious legitimacy of their position to demand such things, this is the world we live in (helped no end by New Labour… just saying). This demanded a coalition government, not a minority Tory government with Harriet Harman’s goon squad voting down every budget.
– Gordon Brown was refusing to stand down as leader of the Labour Party, and thus of any coalition government.

What choice was there? Really? A weak government that may cause a Greek/Irish credit-rating scare and financial exodus ; to be ruled by an exhausted and morally bankrupt Labour party; or to make a pact with the devil. You can see his decision to enter a coalition in one of two ways: Clegg either sensed an opportunity to rule and in a lust for power threw away all dignity and morality akin to Saurman’s alliance with Mordor, or he did what may have been right for the country at the expense of his personal reputation and perhaps the party itself.

 


Although there is something familiar about the extension to Lib Dem HQ

Yes, his demonic pact has ‘shockingly’ turned out for the worse. Cameron has been very effective in using the Lib Dems to deliver bad news while he flies around pretending he cares about the World Cup. But the bile and anger directed at the Deputy by the party itself and the Lib Dem faithful let this happen, and Clegg will continue to be the Coalition flak jacket as long as this anger remains personal.

Fundamentally I believe that the vilification of Nick Clegg is unjustified. He’s been turned on because many didn’t really understand the realities of a coalition government and, quite frankly, because we’re upset Mommy didn’t throw us the birthday party she promised (A promise made before we knew just how much money Uncle Tony lost at the track I may add). Clegg had no other legitimate choice than to form a coalition government with the Tory Party. A coalition his party is a very small part of and yet, as the list above shows, has managed to place a lot of the flag-ship Lib Dem pledges (as well as a slew of smaller ones) into Coalition policy. He’s not a hero, but nor is he a villain.

Well that 2010 done. It’s been a fairly good year all things considered; take last years resolutions as evidence.

Get a PhD, even if I have to do the sort of things that would make a Liverpudlian whore blush:
Task complete And thankfully without gaining the glazed, dead-eyed stare of a sink-estate teenage girl in the process.

Find a piece of the true cross and drive it into Dark Lord Mandelson’s chest thus banishing him back to the realm of shadows:
Task complete, though I won’t bore you with specifics. However we all know true evil never dies.

Ensure my body resembles a Greek statue that is adored by men and worshiped by women:
task completed before it was begun, aha. No. Sadly. A broken foot in May and inexpensive pizza put pay to this little plan.

Of course experiencing a malicious and cold-hearted act of ultimate betrayal by the woman I loved for 5 years wasn’t on that list… but one can’t have everything

 


As I say, it was an interesting year

Anyway, suppose I better make a list of the best, worst, most interesting, silly etc things of the year gone by.

Favourite Film – Inception
Actually a tough one this as there were a lot of great films released this year. A great action thriller in the vein of The Matrix. It’s not that complex (unless you find a Wedding Cake complicated to understand) but is certainly more cerebral than anything Michael Bay has forced upon the world recently (Come to think of it, so is a wedding cake).

Honourable Mentions:
2) The Road, 2) Monsters, 3) Scott Pilgrim vs The World, 4) Kick Ass, 5) The Girl the the Dragon tattoo, 6) The Ghost, 7) Prince of Persia, 8) A Prophet, 9) Centurion, 10) Four Lions

Favourite New TV show – Spartacus: Blood and Sand
Bet you thought I’d say The Walking Dead. But no, it’s Spartacus. On the surface it seems little more than a gratuitous tripe of gore and softcore pornography. However past the first few episodes a genuinely compelling story develops containing all the Machiavellian machinations the Romans are so famous for. What is worrying however is, given this year’s cancellations (See TV tragedies), it seems the only way to fund an intricately woven story for a second season is to hide it behind a writhing mass of blood-soaked titties.

Honourable Mentions:
The Walking Dead – A surprisingly excellent and high budget adaption of the comic book
Sherlock – the BBC’s new adaptation of London’s greatest detective was also a pleasant surprise. I can’t claim to be a Holmes aficionado but I thought it an great modern reimagining of a classic character.

Favourite piece of artistic criticism – Mark Kermode’s Sex and the City 2 rant
It really must be heard to be believed. Brilliant. Another close call with the below but the caustic vitriol of the good Dr’s review is spell binding. I could listen to it on loop for hours. I hope the writers of SATC have heard it and are thoroughly ashamed of themselves

Honourable Mention:
The Attack of the Clones dissection by red letter media. The Anakin/padme romance section – “how to make a girl like you: Endorse fascism, bring a corpse home, murder women and children, have a psychotic rant” deserves special mention – but Dr K’s true disgust beats Plinkett’s considered analysis.

 


I understand why you killed the Sand-children… but why did you keep the heads?

Favourite New Album – Avenge Sevenfold – Nightmare
I must admit to not paying that much attention to the music scene this year, and a lot of the bands I did hear released LPs in 2009 (So technically are excluded). I also cannot express my disappointment with Anathema’s We’re Here Because We’re Here: What exactly is a doom metal band when they no longer sound Doom-laden or Metalic? Thankfully Nightmare saves the day with is metal/riffy madness. In my humble opinion it dies a little towards the end, but the first 6 or so tracks are pure gold: With both the eponymous Nightmare and Welcome to the Family being particular favourites.

Honourable Mention:
Florence and the Machine – Lungs:
I love this LP, but alas it was officially released in 2009. But thought I’d just say it’s great. for those who haven’t heard it, here’s the wonderfully creepy Girl With One Eye

Worst (Television) Tragedies – Syfy Channel’s decent into cancellation madness!
Caprica: What began as a failed series only commissioned due to the writers strike was turning into a real gem; a beautiful noir aesthetic, multi-layered story, crazy steam-punk VR world and the decades trope of choice; religious terrorism. And in it’s place? Battlestar: Blood and Chrome. Wow, I’m sure this will be as intelligent, serious and in no way gratuitous as it sounds.

Stargate Universe: Starring the ever watchable Robert Carlyle, this was another series that was finally hitting it’s stride: the story was coming together, they’d stop using the damned communication stones and the characters were becoming three dimensional. It clearly had to go. Religion/God was an emerging theme in both these series; so Religion = cancel, Breasts = commissioned appears to be the rule.

 


To be fair, how else would SciFi SyFy channel fund Mega-Shark vs Regular Bridge

Honorable mention:
Legend of the Seeker – another series drowned just as it was beginning to walk, this time by the insane executives of ABC. Even it’s delightfully buxom cast couldn’t save this sword and sorcery adventure

Favourite Book
Again this one suffers from publication dates. For books published this year:
Fiction – The Evolutionary Void (P. F. Hamilton): An acceptable end to the Void Saga if still not achieving the heights of The Nights Dawn Trilogy
Non-fiction – Mao’s Great Famine (Frank Dikötter). A very detailed, and often horrifically so, tale of the disaster that was The Great Leap Forward. A vital purchase for anyone with friends in the Socialist Workers Party: If they’re not convinced it’s hefty enough to function as a bludgeoning device

Most surprisingly entertaining program – The Grid (BBC 4)
At the risk of sounding a massive geek, it was really interesting series about The National Grid. And surprisingly so (hence the name of the award). Fascinating stuff about the early competing voltages, the huge undertaking of the grid itself and the resistance to the giant pylons – Something to consider in regard to the furor surrounding wind turbines – as well as the way electricity changed Britain: I had no idea that pre- consumer electronics, even the moderately middle-class had servants!

A series of unfortunate events
2010 was also the year nature fought back with a vengeance, and like any good bully did so against the weakest of it’s enemies: So while ten of thousands of people died in earthquakes in Haiti and floods in Pakistan, volcanoes and unlikely snow forced the denizens of the West to brave delayed flights, trains and endless vox-popping about how awful this was. Where was our concert eh, our parade!

 


Well played Mother Nature, well played

New Years resolutions
OK, some quick aims for the coming year
1) Get to the point where I enjoy playing guitar to an audience and not find the whole thing terrifying
2) Publish a paper in a journal with an impact rating above “Kitten Sneeze”
3) Continue my lackluster and half-arsed exercise regime

Happy New Year everyone. 2010 is dead, long live 2011!

A response to a particular person, a reference for everyone else

In life there are many troubling things: War, taxes and the horrifying knowledge all our attempts to escape the icy hand of oblivion will ultimately be in vein… Anyway, another such thing is the sad knowledge that sometimes people are just wrong about certain things and one will be left with two choices: a) accept that people have different opinions like a civilised person, or b) Explain why they are incorrect. In detail. Even if they try and leave. A) seems on the surface acceptable, damn sociable even, but would you not inform a child that Mr Fork and Mrs Power-Outlet do not want to be friends? It’s a dereliction of duty not to explain in a calm fathery tone… exactly which Star Trek movies are the best and worst!

 


Your wrongness makes Kirk angry 

I will point out that thanks to the exemplary nerdy scholarship of Red Letter Media some of the arguments here will be familiar. This is very much in the vein of ”The Simpsons did it”; it would be hard to avoid some points expressed by Mr Plinkett.

The Wrath of Khan
A good Star Trek movie must comprise of two parts: it must be a movie and it must be Star Trek (i.e. not a Sci-Fi film with a Star Trek skin), and The Wrath of Khan has these expertly covered. The duel between Kirk and his nemesis hails back to seminal episodes like “The Balance of Terror”: equal and opposite forces battling it out. Partly because of this, Khan is also a proper villain as opposed to a plot specific foil (This is also what made Dukat such a great enemy in DS9); brutally clever, motivated and quite quite mad, but a person nonetheless.

Combat-wise this film is also great. It captures the deadly elegance of pre-carrier naval warfare, of dueling capital ships in the graceful dance of combat: presenting ones best side to the enemy other such gruff sailor talk. And of course we have the final showdown that places each ship as an extension of its commander’s body; by removing advanced technology all that’s left is skill and experience.

 


Khan is shocked to discover space has THREE dimensions 

And finally there’s the general themes of age and youth. Not just in the case of Kirk and the past catching up to him, but also that war claims the young not old (The cadets) and of the sins of the father visited upon the son. Aging in particular appears in the next film on this list.

Notable moments: Spock dies a tearful death :’( and introduces a generation to utilitarianism

The Undiscovered Country
Probably the most overtly political Star Trek since the one with the half-black/white people, old enemies may be friends and society much adapt. (Of course had art mirrored life, The US Federation would have imposed draconian market reforms on the Klingon Empire and bought majority shares in all their Dilithium wells…). This also continues the merry themes of the characters (and cast) aging and a changing world they may not be able to adapt to. Kirk especially defined Himself as a defender of the Federation; now he finds himself standing alone on a deserted battlefield his enemies slain, and then forced to embrace the ones that managed to escape.

 


“At least your not fucking communists…” 

Equally while in Search for Spock the advancement of youth/modernity was kept at bay by timely sabotage, this time the contrasts between the old war horses of the Enterprise and Klingon battle cruisers and the Excelsior and the Bird-of-Prey (and therefore the new/old generation) are stalk . For the crew this is truly is their last hurrah and despite all their accomplishments they must succumb to the cruel mockery of old age.

Notable moments: Spock mind-rapes a female prisoner while everyone watches, and who doesn’t love a Shakespeare quoting enemy?

Generations
A contentious one this. While it doesn’t have the gore or explosions of First Contact, it’s actually a very good film. It is clearly an offspring of TNG while First Contact really needs a paternity test. Central to the piece are Picard’s regrets and the visions of a life he could have led: One of family and scholarship as opposed to exploration and solitude. As with The Wrath of Khan, by drawing on themes of the series it establishes a continuity that firmly places the film within the established universe. Because of this, the film has a genuine heart at its centre beyond ‘rooting for the good guys’. This culminates in the nexus giving Picard exactly what he wants, and he is once again forced to choose between personal happiness and duty.

OK the plot is a moth-eaten and it was clearly done on the cheap (and separately why would you leave the body of a great Federation Hero to rot on some dusty planet?) but as an overall experience it is a better Star Trek film than First Contact

Notable moments: Finding out which of the TOS crew needed a pay cheque, Data’s “life form” song and a woman crashes the Enterprise

First Contact
Here the firms truly begin to diverge from the source material. As pointed out by Mr Plinkett, the thoughtful philosophical Picard is replaced by a somewhat more ‘all-American’ action hero type. They also go for a laboured Captain Ahab thing (subtly explained to those not paying attention ¾ of the way through), but at the risk of being a pedant, the Borg clearly care for Picard: Queeny talks to Picard, goads him, and why keep invading the Federation when there’s a galaxy of easy-to-eat species out there if not for their own revenge?

 


“Get these motherfucking Borg off my motherfucking spaceship” 

Also (perhaps due to the success of Star Wars or cheaper CGI) the ships begin to behave like 1KM long X-Wings as opposed to the lumbering capital ships they are. While the action is fun and exciting and things certainly blow up, there not tension: especially when compared to the nebula duel in The Wrath of Khan or the cloaked ship/U-Boat action of The Undiscovered Country. Oh, and by establishing the Borg Queen as an avatar, they left the door open for Voyager to ruin the concept and the Borg entirely.

Don’t get me wrong it’s a good and enjoyable film, I’m just explaining why it’s not third in the list.

Notable moments: Picard eviscerates crewman Lynch, Data has his first orgasm, The Enterprise-E is pretty

The Voyage Home
It’s just a fun film. Again it has that ‘cinematic episode’ quality to it that a Star Trek film should have. This is also notable for the last time a Star Trek film will do whimsy well. Somewhat light-hearted compared to the others, but fun to watch. There’s not a huge amount I wanna say about it apart from There be whales here captain.

Notable moments: Scotty alters the timeline (no one cares), Chekhov can’t find his Wessels, and Kirk steals himself a piece of ass from the past.

The Search for Spock
We’re just on the edge of the ‘bad’ films here. While nothing is wrong Search for Spock as such, it’s just not very good; more a bridge between the fantastic Wrath of Khan and the pretty damn good Voyage Home. As an ‘OK’ film it occupies the spot well and it’s certainly the last one on the list I would watch out of choice rather than boredom or threat of death.

What makes this film worth watching is the first two reels. Kirk and the gang are going to steal a ship from within the heart of starfleet and there is a jolly crime-caper feel to this section as they plan, scheme and sabotage as if they’re about to knock over a space casino. It’s light hearted without being childish.

Kirks solution to the Kobayashi Maru is also a powerful moment. His love for his ship is a common theme (there was a creepy TOS episode that inadvertently suggests he’s a little tooattached) and his solution to destroy it to solve the unsolvable puzzle is a great character moment.

Notable moments: Depending on Vulcan sex-laws Spock may have been statutory raped, Kirk’s son is killed by Doc Brown

 


Jimmy, it’s your kid! I just stabbed him 

The Motion Picture
What really is there to say. It’s not a very good film. The costumes are… odd… and the whole plot is based around a stroppy NASA probe with daddy issues.

Notable moments: Ummm, the bit that’s sorta like 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The Final Frontier
We’re now getting to the dregs but have not yet hit the bottom of the barrel. There could have been a good story here; crazy cult, failed peace initiatives, fraternal strife. But instead this is the film that almost killed the movie franchise. The rag-tag crew approach worked in Search for Spock as they had stolen the ship, why exactly is Starfleet sending a half-finished, half-manned vessel into anything? I know most, if not all, the Star Trek films are filled with plot holes one could fly an Andorian freighter through, but this is pushing it. I don’t want to be mean to it because it’s just so silly. And we never find out what God wants with a starship.

Notable moments: Naked fan dance *shudder*, Kirk torpedoes God

Insurrection
Now we’re here, the ladle is trawling up more wood than beverage. What an awful film with awful moments. There is shockingly poor plot (Just watch the Red Letter Media review); why for instance is Picard rebelling; surely he should be acting like a spry 60 year old? Why not just set up a spa on another continent? Why is there a child Data tries to make friends with? The films suffers awfully from the ill-timed, ill-placed and ill-conceived levity provided by both the former and latter plot ‘elements’. Ho Ho we’re expected to cry, they’re acting irresponsibly because the planet makes you a bit younger each day and Data is admiring a child’s neuro-plasticity. What. Fun. It’s just embarrassing, like a poorly delivered joke at an office party that continues for two hours.

 


Tonight on ‘To Catch a Mechanical Predator’ 

The final insult isthe script must have been written someone who’s knowledge of Star Trek comes solely from comedy sketches about star trek or what they read about it in the TV Guide. I can see the script meeting “Ooo whats this? ketracel white? Lets put it in the script at some point”, “Nerds play video games right? Lets give the Enterprise a joystick, they’ll love it”. No, no we won’t. Eugh, I mean if you’re not gonna try we’d rather you didn’t bother.

It was dull, predictable, yet paradoxically nonsensical, garbage. I would try and be witty but there’s no point. There’s nothing funny about this

Notable moments: “Make sure to play every day Data” DIE, DIE A HORRIBLE AND PAINFUL DEATH

Nemesis
To describe how horrendously bad this film is, take this comparison. The message of The Wrath of Khan; Death and rebirth, Kirk realises his melancholy about aging is misplaced and there is still wonder to explore. Generations; Picard learns he is a man born to put duty before himself and despite all the might-have-been, he finds comfort in that. Nemesis; Picard learns that being a defective clone raised by daemons on a perdition-like mining planet may change your outlook on life.

There are gang-rapes less forced than this ‘angst’ the script circles around like a turd in storm drain. We’re supposed to believe that a man who has changed his own past on several occasions is tormented by the idea his botched MZ twin has turned out a little differently? Way to change my perceptions on the nature/nurture debate cretins.

 


Personally I blame the parents 

Say one thing for Final Frontier, Motion Picture etc, at least there was a glimmer of that elusive creature we like to callnarrative threading between each scene. This film, even more so than Insurrection, is just a collection of depressing events drawn from the idea bucket from a drug-fuelled brain-storming sessions in an insane asylum that someone had obviously been sick in. B4? A sodding dune-buggy chase? Troy rape? Eugh.

Notable moments: Watching the final twitches of the Star Trek corpse, and being almost relieved it has finally succumb to the inhuman torment of the last few years.

So there you have it. You will notice that Mr Abrams newest installment isn’t here. This is because way very enjoyable, I really don’t think it can be classed as a Star Trek film as such.

 


So endeth the sermon, go in peace to love and serve the Federation