Friday, 29 April 2011

Pretenders (BSDA #19)

I've pointlessly spent the last few hours reading several Wikipedia articles on the lines of succession to various monarchical countries, and, in particular, pretenders to such thrones. A pretender is basically someone who believes they have the legitimate right to a particular throne. Examples include the Jacobites, who felt the exile of James II and VII, and his replacement by William and Mary in the 1688 "Glorious Revolution", was illegal and that therefore his descendants were the rightful kings of England and Scotland. Jacobite spirit was a huge part of the lives of many Scots in the eighteenth century, affected as they were by the awful Highland Clearances, which explains the massive support for the Jacobite pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie in the rising of 1745. Charlie's army marched down from Scotland, gathering hugh support, but, facing the military might of the British king, they stopped at Swarkestone Bridge (near to where I live, in Derbyshire) and then went home. The Jacobite succession currently rests on an obscure German aristocrat called Franz, Duke of Bavaria. Thankfully I think there is little likelihood of him trying to regain the throne any time soon.

Other interesting people are the Carlists, in Spain, who argued that Philip V's Pragmatic Sanction of 1830, in which he gave the succession to his daughter Isabella, was illegal as, following pure Salic law, women could not take the throne. They supported instead the Infanta Carlos and his descendants, and were a major part of Spanish politics until the restoration of the monarchy in 1975. For example, they were part of the broad coalition who supported General Franco throughout his fascist dictatorship.

Even more interesting are the four different claims to the French throne, the legitimists, the Orleanists, the Bonapartists and the Jacobites again. This, however, is so incredibly confusing that you should go to Wikipedia now, as you basically have to understand in detail a century of French history, if you want to make sense of the different arguments. And let's not even get involved with English claims to the French throne, or French claims to the Spanish throne, or Spanish claims to the Dutch throne....

Obviously today was some wedding or something. I like the couple, and by and large I liked their wedding. Republican I may be, but I do feel that the presentation of William and Catherine as just two ordinary people highlights their appeal to the public. I don't begrudge monarchists their day of fun. The support for William and Kate is based in a pure utopian "romantic nationalism", just as were the fantasies of the Jacobites about the King Across The Water. These myths and fantasies draw us together, give us hope and even write stories for us about good and evil. In an age of bland media saturation, cynicism and worldwide coverage of the horrors that humanity is capable of, we all need stories that make us feel good, that make us fight for what we hold dear, that make us think life is worth living. These stories may be just stories, but they're damn good stories.

I just want to, you know, have a choice about who our head of state will be. (Did I mention how much I enjoyed the music at the wedding? It was good. Although the number of conservatives who seem to misunderstand the radical socialist sentiment of Jerusalem continues to annoy me. It should be England's national anthem, you know. Because it's bloody progressive.) 

Follow, comment, happy dance. Twitter: @antmoorfield.

Ridiculous post (BSDA #18)

I won't actually achieve my pathetic target of 20 blogs in April without something short and snappy now.

Click that link.


PS. Pahahahahahahaaha....

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The case for a British republic (BSDA #17)

As frequent readers of this blog will be aware, I am in favour of the abolition of the British monarchy. I want to explain why, and, rather than boringly explaining this in the conventional way, I am going to make my points as responses to common monarchist arguments in favour of the monarchy.

Monarchist arguments, and my rebuttals

1. Monarchy provides stability.

Inaccurate. There is an ongoing political crisis in monarchical Belgium which has resulted in there being no government for the eleven months since their last general election. Monarchies have fallen in Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy and numerous other countries. It is not true to say that monarchies are more stable than republics. The stability of a nation is based mainly on its prosperity, the unity of its citizens and its geographical location. There is no correlation between type of head of state and stability.

2. Monarchy is good for tourism.

Inaccurate. Of the top 20 British tourist attractions, only one is a royal residence - Windsor Castle at number 17. Windsor Legoland is ten places higher on the list. By that logic, we should have a Lego man as head of state. (Which would be ironic, as we haven't had Danish leaders for nearly a thousand years - in that time we've had French, Dutch and Germans instead...)

3. Monarchy, as a British tradition, is a good thing.

There are two assumptions at work here, both inaccurate. One is that monarchy is a British tradition. In fact, all the great political reforms in history - Magna Carta, the 1640s revolution, the Glorious Revolution, the development of parliamentary superiority in the 1700s - have been as a result of We The People fighting to gain power from an unaccountable hereditary leader. British traditions include democracy, the right to social mobility, religious pluralism, accountability and choice; all of which are incompatible with monarchy. Secondly, there's the notion that tradition is in itself a good thing. If that were true, we'd still have slavery, women wouldn't be able to vote and lords would still own our land. Oh, and we'd still be going around the world invading less powerful countries for their natural resources. (Ahem....) There's nothing implicitly good about  tradition itself - the past is only good when it's still relevant in the present and future. Monarchy is not.

4. A hereditary monarch is a unifying symbol.

This is a daft statement. A hereditary monarchy, in going against all British principles, is hardly a symbol that can be considered as unifying the nation. I think we acknowledge as a people that election is the only meaningful way of establishing who has power. So whatever we think about David Cameron, we acknowledge he has the moral right to be prime minister, as he's leader of the Conservative party, which has the most seats in the House of Commons. What physical right does Prince Charles have to become our next king? Also, can you really argue that the monarchy is unifying when the symbolism of the Crown, the flag and the monarch were such a part of the Troubles in Northern Ireland?

5. The royal family work hard for our country.

Hardly. They cut a few ribbons, go on fabulously expensive trips round the world at our expense and invite foreign despots and murderers to their weddings. This argument implies that the royals work harder than our great scientists, our artists, our engineers and builders. Anyone with half a brain knows this isn't true. Furthermore, the royals do nothing that an elected president could not. Or, indeed, anyone with half a brain...

6. Electing a leader would result in president Blair or president Thatcher.

The number of people who've said this to me makes it fairly certain that there wouldn't be, if either of these two ever chose to stand for election as a president. It seems absurd to suggest that these would be the only kind of candidates - the last two presidents of Ireland have been a barrister and a charity campaigner. We have plenty of these, and I think most would make fantastic leaders and role models to our citizens. Monarchists seem consumed with a self-loathing which makes them hate the people they themselves elect, and they therefore seem to think the random chance of birth can make better decisions about who's fit to rule than the people of Britain.

7. The monarchy has no power.

Probably the worst lie of all. In fact the monarchy has a massive and dangerous amount of power, which is vested by tradition in other parts of the government. The royal prerogative means that Tony Blair could go to war in Iraq without consulting parliament first. The monarch can choose anyone he/she wants as prime minister (see 1957 and 1963 for examples. Go on, look 'em up). The Crown-in-Parliament principle means that Parliament can pass any law it likes - meaning our liberties can never be guaranteed. All these intolerable abuses of power could be checked with a written constitution and a president to defend it. Finally, the monarch can legally do no wrong at all. He/she cannot be charged with any crime, impeached or tried in any way. Is that acceptable in the 21st century? I think not.

8. The monarchy is value for money.

Inaccurate. The monarchy costs over 100 times the Irish presidency, and is considerably worse in constitutional terms. In any case, democracy shouldn't be tempered by questions of cost. Democracy is a right, and we should defend it wholeheartedly.

9. People in other countries love our royals.

So it would seem. The sycophancy of the American press regarding the royal wedding is rather worrying. But you don't see Americans advocating a return to monarchy. Why? Because more than a foreign monarchy, they admire their own Constitution, a great document which sets out a republican system that has served the country well for more than 200 years, and has allowed even poor farmers like Abraham Lincoln, born in a one-room cabin in Kentucky, to rise to their nation's highest office. And anyway, are monarchists really suggesting our democracy is of less value than the ability to write fairytales for foreign television?

10. Having a president would result in a system like that in the USA.

No. I'm not suggesting that we move to a presidential system. I would see the parliamentary control over the executive retained, meaning we'd keep the post of prime minister. The president would be an impartial leader who would be tasked with preventing abuses of the constitution. When it gets written. The exact system I advocate is outlined here:

There are many more arguments for the republic, which I don't have the time to go into here. Any questions, put them in comments - I'll answer them all. Essentially, my view is that election is the only patriotic, democratic, modern and fair way to decide our head of state. For more information on all the questions of this complex debate, go to and join the campaign to change Britain for the better. Also, if you go back to March in this blog, you can find a two-part rant on the ways that the monarchy retains its power and stifles any debate about itself.

Follow this blog if you like. More politics to come! Twitter: @antmoorfield. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Impossible Astronaut (BSDA #16)

Yes, it’s Doctor Who time again. One of sci-fi’s greatest shows smashed back onto our screens tonight with The Impossible Astronaut, the first of a two-part episode, set, for the first time ever, in the United States of America. And now I’m reviewing it. SPOILERS. As River would, and did, say.

The episode begins with the Doctor sending four blue envelopes to certain people, asking them to meet at a particular time and location, which turns out to be the middle of the Utah desert. Amy and Rory, River Song, and an elderly man called Canton Delaware III all turn up to see the Doctor… die. Wow. I mean, wow. What a dramatic opening gambit from Steven Moffat, to kill the central character 10 minutes into the show! The death scene was suffused with a real sense of emotion, helped by some powerful sobbing from Karen Gillan, who’s finally made the role of Amy her own. But what really made it was the utter bathos of having the Doctor spring back into the show two minutes later, bouncy, arrogant and two hundred years younger. He himself was the fourth person invited to his own funeral, and, arriving after the fact, “can’t know” how he dies.

Then it gets even more interesting. The Doctor visits President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office and has to deal with mysterious voice who keeps ringing the President’s direct number. Weird. I can’t write any more about this strand of the plot at this stage, because I know as little as you. So then we meet the aliens, who are creepy. They are a very Moffat creation, scary by concept rather than by physical appearance; their unique twist is that you can only remember them when you are looking at them. (An interesting inversion of the Weeping Angels, really.) I have to say, I like this idea a lot. I hope it’s explored more next time because it is, really, brilliant.

America The Beautiful. This episode didn’t mess about with its presentation of the USA at all. All the classic elements were there – the stetson, the Mustang, the yellow school bus, the diner, the Oval Office; a veritable smorgasbord of Americana. Added to this, the production team managed to find some staggeringly beautiful locations to film in, with a wonderful sunset (or, in fact, sunrise, according to the behind the scenes footage on Doctor Who Confidential!) illuminating the Doctor’s cremation gorgeously. The brightness of the Utah sun really gave this episode something more in visual terms, and the whole thing had a wonderfully filmic quality about it.

It’s now clear to me that Doctor Who has completely left behind the Russell T Davies era. The kitschy set design, bright colour palette, soap opera characters and bombastic plotting all belong to the past. This is now definitely Steven Moffat’s show, and, as such, it’s cleverer, darker, more humorous, more experimental and more cinematic. I personally like this style A LOT more. It feels more like science fiction, and seems both more modern (or even a bit postmodern) and more traditional in terms of the show itself – I was recently watching 1980’s Full Circle, and you can definitely see the similarities with 2011 with regard to the pacing, dialogue, visual style and concepts. In short, this is Doctor Who again. Similarly, Matt Smith, who I confess took a while to get used to, has now leapfrogged David Tennant and Patrick Troughton to move from fourth to second in my list of favourite Doctors. He now sits below only Tom Baker. And, as his Doctor develops, I think he could have a real chance at the top spot.

Overall, this was a wonderful episode, though not without its flaws. It was so very different from any other season openers that it’s difficult to compare it to anything, but nevertheless, I’m going to compare it to something. You have to question how much of the plot would have been understood by younger viewers and the fact that it raised SO MANY questions while providing so few answers must have been disconcerting to people used to watching episodes as discrete stories in their own right. I guess I need to wait until Day of the Moon to see exactly how good The Impossible Astronaut was, but, on the whole, I was thoroughly impressed.

Verdict: 9/10

Other things I didn’t have time to write about: the Doctor and River flirting, the reusing of concepts such as secrets and hidden memories, the awesomeness of Mark Sheppard, the fact that Stephen Milligan looked more like Lyndon Johnson than Richard Nixon, and Amy’s pregnancy.

Your thoughts would be welcome in comments. Follow this blog, tweet me @ antmoorfield, and be back here next week for the Day of the Moon review. In the meantime, politics. Because.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Week-long shenanigans (BSDA #15) - first version

Are you getting withdrawal symptoms? Have you missed me? Have you fallen down wells and drowned? (Cos that's what you want me to do, according to the poll. And with groovy visuals, apparently.) Anyway, fear not - I have returned. And this is what I've been doing.

So there's this thing called the Duke of Edinburgh's Award which is something many people my age do, because of its legendary capacity to instantly make university applications sparkle with desirability. Basically, it's divided into three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold (original), and in each, you have to provide a period of community service, do a sport, learn a skill and go on an expedition into the wild. I already had the Bronze and Silver awards, and had finished those four parts of the Gold. There is also an additional requirement to finish the Gold award, namely to go on a five-day residential. So I did just that.

Green Action, as it was named, was a mix of adventure activities such as abseiling and caving, and conservation, like chopping down trees and doing awesome things with willow. It was really rather good. I mean that. Great people, great activities, a damn good experience all round.

Nine cool people. Or something. And a bridge. You can't beat a bridge. Except with a river.

A rebuilt wall. Drystone, held together by genius and gravity. 

I make dragonflies too.

How to build a wall. Lean on it and look at the gap bit until it disappears.

I am the mad axe murderer. Of trees. Not of people. Though I'd be lying if I said I didn't have targets. Like people who keep repacking bags until tired o'clock in the morning. Not mentioning any names.

Have blog, will follow? Twitter? Comment, rate, vote, talk to me? C'mon

Monday, 18 April 2011

British politics, part two (BSDA #14)

Today - it's the crazy bit. Let's talk about the ridiculous elements of British democracy, most of which are characterised by their lack of democracy. We begin in the upper house of our national parliament, where, upon the red seats, in their ermine robes, our Lords carry out their work.

There are 792 of them currently, making the UK one of the few countries in the world to have more members in the upper house than in the lower. What are they doing there?, I hear you mumble disinterestedly. Well, I say, with gumption, 90 of them are there merely by who their fathers were. The hereditary peers of the land, of whom there are about 900, elect their ninety representatives to the house, which, in a peculiarly British sense, makes them the most democratically legitimate of  all the members. Only here.... Secondly, 26 of the lords are not lords at all, but bishops, the most senior within the Church of England. What are they doing there? Well, good question. There is no separation of church and state in the UK, meaning this unwelcome invasion into politics by members of a single religion, and also explaining why the odious national anthem contains reference to God. (For an atheist, republican and pacifist, my anthem is borderline offensive. I think the only word I relate to in it is "happy". And I'm that precious little, as well.) Finally, the majority of the Lords are simply chosen by the party leaders, who twice-yearly fill the house with their largest donors, most successful party apparatchiks and most irritating failed MPs. Ironically, this ramshackle bunch actually do a damn good job of preventing the occasional lunacies of government policies from becoming law, though they are ultimately subservient to the lower house due to the Parliament Act of 1911. This gatekeeping job means the Lords are actually more respected than the Commons by the vast majority of the population. Only here....

So that's that done. The monarchy, as you are no doubt aware, is an expensive joke. While the Queen's job as figurehead is undoubtably important, the idea of selecting a head of state based on whose womb they came out of is as repugnant as it is outdated. Secondly, the fact of the monarchy, far from being a safeguard on insanity, actually worsens democracy. The Royal Prerogative refers to actions which are consitutionally carried out by the monarch alone, which in this day and age means at the total whim of the prime minister. These include DECLARING WAR. Yes, the PM can, if he or she so desires, and they often do, declare war on another country without asking parliament at all. And they say the system works....

Finally, let's explore the minefield of devolution. As you know, the UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It may interest you to know that the latter three all have their own parliaments, national, proportionally elected, with powers over health, education and the like, while England does not, having to make do with the UK parliament, which of course has members from all four nations. Isn't that blatantly unfair?, I hear you scream through gritted teeth. Well, yes. In an attempt to cool the flames of Scottish and Welsh independence, and continue the peace process in NI, the last Labour government introduced these devolved parliaments, and, in a spirit of progressivism, made them proportionally elected (24th, guys!) and fair. Why is this a problem? Well, back when Labour introduced university tuition fees in England, the parliamentary vote was so tight, only a 20 vote majority, that it wouldn't have passed without the votes of Scottish MPs, whose own constituents WERE NOT AFFECTED thanks to their devolved parliament continuing to fund their students through university. MAHHH! Doesn't that make you insane? It does me.

Three examples of sham democracy there, folks. Join me again, probably on Saturday, when I'll maybe tell you what I have been  (will have had been?) doing this week, and will certainly review The Impossible Astronaut. For I am a Whovian. Follow, twitter, blah blah, OK zzzzz.

EDIT: Also someone vote on the damn poll, willya? Kthanxbai.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

British politics, part one (BSDA #14)

The first thing to say in any debate on this topic is that the British political system, forged from more than 800 years of continuous development, is a hugely complex beast. Today's post is devoted to the easy bit, you'll be glad to know. The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled is the full title of the lower house of the national parliament. It currently has 650 members, elected from all four corners of the United Kingdom. Nice and easy. The first partially-elected parliament (of England) was called in 1264 by Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman who led a rebellion against King Henry III and became the effective king after his victory at the Battle of Lewes. While he was later killed at Evesham, and King Edward I took the throne, the position of the parliament was now established and over the next few centuries its powers grew and grew until it was acknowledged as the most important part of the constitution during the nineteenth century. During that period, England unified with Scotland in 1707 and Great Britain with Ireland in 1800. In 1922 five-sixths of Ireland became independent (this is just history, you don't need me here). 

The current membership is divided between three main parties, and a few others with just a couple of members each. The government of today is what can only be described as an uneasy coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, while the Labour party, who governed from 1997-2010, provide the Official Opposition. Of these, the Conservatives have the longest history, being ultimately descended from the Tories (they are still often called by this name) who sprung up in the later seventeenth century in support of the right of royal succession to fall to anyone, even a Catholic, during the Exclusion crisis of the 1680s. The party that supported the removal of James, Duke of York from the succession because of his Catholicism developed into the Whigs, and over the centuries these two parties began to solidify into movements we'd now describe as liberal and conservative, with the Whigs supporting constitutional separation of powers (in a broad sense) and the nonconformist tradition while the Tories supported the monarch's power and the high Church of England. These parties renamed themselves into the Liberals and Conservatives in the Victorian era. 

From the early 1900s, the incipient trade union movement began to get more and more members elected to parliament, and the socialist Labour party emerged, first taking government in 1924. Labour quickly supplanted the Liberals as the second party, so much so that in the general election of 1951 95% of voters supported either Labour or the Conservatives, and the Liberals won just six seats - in five of those there was no Conservative candidate. At this point, it would be clear to see genuine ideological differences between all three. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative leader, became prime minister. She was a radically different leader, moving the Tories into a new era of libertarian neoliberalism based on the ideas of Friedman, Hayek and others. In an attempt to combat this, Labour elected Michael Foot as their leader in 1980, the furthest left leader for many years. This was the last straw for many in the moderate faction of the Labour party. Four senior party figures left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party on the European model. While they hoped to wrestle the mantle of official opposition from Labour, it quickly became apparent that they could not and so the SDP formed an Alliance with the Liberals, who were experiencing a slight revival themselves. This Alliance grew in power over the following years, and the two parties eventually merged to form the Liberal Democrats, despite the opposition of SDP leader David Owen, who remains an independent to this day. Neither Labour nor the Lib Dems could provide a credible challenge, however, to Thatcher, or her successor Major. 

In an attempt to become electable, Labour elected Tony Blair as their leader, and effectively renounced socialism, most notably via the elimination of Clause Four of the party constitution, which committed the party to nationalisation of industry. (Note: loads more stuff happens before this, as this is very simplistic, but you can find that out yourselves, I'm sure.) Labour was elected in 1997 and effectively continued the radical policies of Thatcher and Major, deregulating banking, supporting private industry at the expense of the state, and so on. Many felt that the Lib Dems had become the real party of the left, by continuing to support wholeheartedly the welfare state, high taxation and progressivism. However, the Orange Book of 2004 in fact showcases the Lib Dem commitment to radical centrist policies. It is therefore possible to suggest that all three parties are of the radical centre to centre-right, at least at the leadership level, though there are signs that new Labour leader Ed Miliband is attempting to move back to a more defined centre-left social democratic tradition. 

Man. That was LONG. And I only covered half of what I wanted to. Questions? Leave them in comments. Follow this blog, go to twitter, and dance like a kangaroo.!/antmoorfield

Observations on political systems. (BSDA #13)

One of the questions that has always fascinated me, ever since my interest in politics evolved into a dangerous and maddening obsession about three years ago, is that of how people in different countries relate to their political systems. I know far too much about this kind of thing, and I've decided to make the next few blogs purely informational ones about the practical and constitutional differences between different systems; namely, those of the USA, Britain, Germany and possibly any others that strike my fancy. That said, I thought a good way into these would be to try and tackle the question on a purely subjective level, by considering how the political cultures of different nations are borne out in their attitudes to their elected representatives.

So. A day or two ago I was watching a video on Youtube in which a young woman declared that since her leader, US President Obama, is a Democrat, this makes her a Republican. This is, in many ways, an extremely odd pattern of thought, yet extremely common, I have noticed, in my admittedly few dealings with Americans, and in other political debate. It is interesting, because such a logic implies that, firstly, there are only two answers to any political question, and, secondly, opposition to a single person and his/her policies means opposition to his/her broad position on the political spectrum. Duverger's law (more on that another day, when I will get terribly nerdy about electoral systems) tells us that in first-past-the-post systems such as that used in the USA, political thought inevitably polarises around two extremes, two political parties, with little possibility of compromise or cooperation. This incident, and, in a wider sense, the near-total hegemony of Democrat and Republican, two parties who often seem to be bitterly opposed to each other on fundamental levels, seems to be the apotheosis of such a concept. 

This phenomenon can be witnessed in the UK too, where we often hear such talk as "Labour caused the financial crisis" or "the Tories will wreck the NHS" (neither of which statements are totally wrong, or totally right), although here it is tempered by two factors - the disdain of the public for any party politician, whatever the stripe, and the widespread feeling that all three major parties are less than a gnat's wing apart from each other. Where in the USA Democrat and Republican seem implacably opposed to each other, here in the UK the parties are often considered too close to each other for any meaningful debate. It appears to me, and again this is based on purely circumstantial evidence, that such a feeling is not so powerful in those countries which have proportional representation. This system, which requires coalitions, cooperation and the willingness to listen to other shades of opinion, seems to me to foster a culture of understanding and of unity, which ultimately leads to a better politics. 

So there are some opening observations. Over the next few days of this blog, I will attempt to impart some of what I know, in a hopefully useful fashion, in the following order. I hope you are willing to keep reading, even in the scary bits. Out of the frying pan into the fire, as one might irrelevantly say.

April 16th - the British political system, part one: the House of Commons, the Cabinet and political parties.
April 17th - the British political system, part two: Lords, kings and devolved parliaments.
April 18th-22nd - I'm not here. Do something with your lives.
April 23rd - to break it up, a review of the first episode of Doctor Who! EXCITED.
April 24th - political systems compared across the world. Or something along those lines.
April 25th - the aforementioned nerdy electoral systems post. Be happy.
Et cetera.

Any suggestions, questions, criticism or whatever - either scribble down below or hit me up on twitter. You should follow me in both places too. Cos, you know. That's how we roll round here. 

This blog was inspired by an impromptu twitter conversation with all-round interesting person Julia Taylor. Linky.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Firefly. (BSDA #12)

When I was younger, my dad tried to introduce me to Buffy - I did not like it at all. Now I simply cannot work out why that is, because after it being recommended to me by the world of internet geekdom, I decided to get Firefly, Joss Whedon's next series, a western in space, on DVD. And ohmygoditsoneofthebestthings-iveeverseen!

Wikipedia's synopsis tells us that the series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things". The show explores the lives of some people who fought on the losing side of a civil war and others who now make a living on the outskirts of the society, as part of the pioneer culture that exists on the fringes of their star system.

So that's a decent summation. But what it doesn't tell you is how brilliant this show is. I mean, incredible. Its colourful, complex, funny, wonderful characters, who speak Whedon's trademark cool-but-unusual style of language - "corpsifying" - inhabit a world which is as familiar as it is original, a quite genius mix of the American West, traditional oriental culture and the classic world of conventional sci-fi, all of which influences are melded into something consistently fascinating. I've only seen 5 episodes so far (come on, the box came 26 hours ago and I had to sleep and go to school in that time!) but this upcoming Easter break will see the rest demolished with glee. (No, not with Glee. Just - no.)

OK. That's enough lyrical waxation. Follow this blog, follow me on twitter, yadda yadda. And I leave you with the theme tune, written by Joss Whedon and performed by the wonderfully-named Sonny Rhodes. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

I like funnies, me. (BSDA #11)

Hey, you! Yes, you! Wanna hear a fairly good joke? No? Oh well...

A cow and a chicken break out of jail and a road is the only thing between them and freedom. The chicken then tells the cow to cross it, but says that he will turn back. When questioned why, he answers that if he crosses the road, it will raise many questions.

Not bad, I hope. Anyway so today I was thinking about the kind of humour I like and if there's any meaningful way to differentiate it from what I don't. Let's break it down via genre. (All UK, sorry. Foreigners, go down there for some video links....)

I'm a massive fan of Monty Python (I ordered a T-shirt of the Black Knight from Holy Grail off TeeFury!), the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Goon Show, the Mighty Boosh and similar comedy in the absurdist vein. I also like wordplay-based comedy such as the legendary Two Ronnies, Fry and Laurie (yes, the guy off QI and the guy off House used to be a double act) and lots of literary comedy. Thirdly, I like what used to be called alternative comedy such as the Young Ones or, say, Stewart Lee (whose show returns to the BBC in May!) and I like well-written sitcoms such as Blackadder, Red Dwarf and Coupling (the last of which is basically a better version of Friends, written by current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat). Finally, I like real political/social satire - Charlie Brooker, Chris Morris, Rory Bremner et al. (No, not him.) Oh, and the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre? Heard of them? Thought not. They're brilliant. I need to see them live as a matter of urgency.

That seemed messy and kind of hard to follow, but we shall press on nonetheless. That which I do not like can be summarised as follows: - comedy which tries to be foul-mouthed without any reason other than to shock (Frankie Boyle), conventional sitcoms, anything that plays on stereotypes unintelligently (Al Murray) and anything that uses stupid gimmicks (95% of BBC comedies of the last few years...).

It's about quality, people! Here is some quality for your delectation.

This is so violating copyright laws.

And if you want any more, then @reply me on twitter for some links! Of course, you'll have to FOLLOW me first - antmoorfield. (Shameless plug is shameless.) And you should FOLLOW this blog. I might write about sci-fi or something tomorrow. You just never know.

Me in the twitter:!/antmoorfield
Anything else, google it. I mean, come on.

A Quick One While He's Away (BSDA #10)

Which is the title of a song by the Who. In all seriousness, I can't be bothered to blog tonight. So here's some light music. (It's like I've put you on hold for, like, a day.) Nice thumbnails too. :)

These songs I was listening to in history today while writing facts about the economy, society and politics of America in the 1920s and 50s. Did you know the first year without a lynching in recorded American history was 1952? (Inside joke.)

I'm sometimes more interesting on twitter. And it's only 140 characters. Hit me up there at antmoorfield. And follow this blog. If you want. After all, you have... (musical change of pace)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

When you think too hard when listening to OK Computer. (BSDA #9)

There's been a lot of philosophy sloshing round my head lately. Due to the influence of the work of Myles Dyer, which continues to interest, and also partly bewilder, me, and the upcoming practical events about which I have been moralising, that is, the royal wedding, the AV referendum and my exams, I've been rather too often contemplating the major metaphysical and philosophical questions of today, as opposed to, you know, revising, or some other socially useful activity. (Also my sentences are getting longer and more convoluted. Can you tell?)

Two days ago I managed to get a copy of OK Computer by Radiohead onto my iPod. This was necessary as I have effectively exhausted the capacity of my other examples of what I call thinking music, such as Sigur Ros, to direct my thoughts and emotions. Like any other human being of the last two decades, I have of course previously heard the album, but only in segments and without the time to give it the clarity of focus that is really necessary for an artwork of such stature.

Wikipedia suggests that the album contains references to themes of consumerism, social disconnection, political stagnation, transport, technology, insanity, death, modern life in the UK, globalisation, and political objection to capitalism. All of which are very interesting. As with all great art, however, as an independent piece it kind of falls apart. It is only when considered as part of the society it critiques that the album's genius can be seen. And this is what this last weekend has enabled.

I went to an aristocratic stately home, redolent with the imagery of a decaying and outmoded class, while all the same still occupying a privileged position within the society of Britain today, a view which can be clearly extended to the royal family, about whom I have previously made my feelings clear, the privileged bourgeoisie, who David Cameron laughably calls the "sharp-elbowed middle classes" and the hyper-wealthy, a group most clearly defined as City bankers, who of course take home sickeningly fabulous profits from their pie-in-the-sky gambling games with ordinary taxpayers' money, despite a failure so dramatic that it caused the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. (We learnt today, incidentally, that the ostensibly Independent Commission on Banking has refused to recommend legislation to separate the commercial and investment arms of our banks, which would have created a system similar to that in the USA after FDR's Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which perfectly controlled the excesses of the banking system until its repeal in 1999. Though sadly none of the other excesses of American life.)

Similarly, I've been taking more notice of advertising and in particular the perfect, impossible images of what one should aspire to that it creates. One thing that is incredibly irritating in this regard is when adverts are filmed with actors clearly only mouthing, and the sound is later dubbed on in some metropolitan studio. Maybe it's just me, but I find this effect extraordinarily dehumanising and asocial, perhaps a reflection of the essentially impossible task of living up to these created visions of social worth, a choice that regrettably we all seem to partly subscribe to, however powerful and positive the expansion of subcultures to include the previously marginalised is.

Which leads me to the internet. I have a truly ambivalent relationship with the rapidly changing internet society, caused by an essential ambivalence toward technology and its power to effect social change. While we have seen some momentous developments in recent months, which were at least in part to do with social networking sites (I'm thinking of course of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia), there are so many examples of the way in which the internet now only serves the interests of the established status quo - by bringing us closer only to the minutiae of celebrity lives, Twitter has further distanced us from any meaningful control of power, and the fabulous profits now made by the major social networks at the cost of any real affinity for the consumer seems to indicate only the reification of the human beings who are ourselves continually creating such possibilities.

OK Computer, more than any other recent album (though there has been some magnificent work even this year, so anyone who tells you music is dead is a liar), makes me think about things - especially the individual and his relationship to a rapidly changing, information exchanging, power controlling new consumerism whose only unique selling point is its facility and meaninglessness. While not as dismal as The Bends it is nonetheless profound, and to me it presents in musical form the feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball and wait till it all goes away. As I said, I think too hard. It deadens my head, actually.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Explosions of the mind. (BSDA #8)

For the last few hours, while reorganising my history revision notes into things of true beauty, I've been watching Rory McIlroy, the 54 hole leader and favourite, implode mentally in his fourth round at the Masters. He never really got going and after a freak tee shot at the tenth, which hit a tree branch and ricocheted to the left, leaving him out of position and able only to get a triple bogey, he collapsed over the next few holes, missing easy putts left right and centre to put him well back on the leaderboard. It is all too similar to his second round 80 at the Open at St Andrews last year, after his record-equalling 63 the previous day. What can we learn from this? Only, I think, that it is a mental issue, nothing to do with ability.

I have experience of this myself, though naturally not on the scale of McIlroy today. In exams, interviews and other important events, I have found myself vulnerable to mental collapses when considering the scale of what I am attempting. This year, with exams approaching apace, I am trying to fully relax myself by only revising when it feels right to do so, rather than forcing myself into it at inopportune times, and by organising my notes into something I am totally confident with, rather than the confusing mess they ended up as last year. Clearly whether this will work is something I will only discover on results day, but I am far more confident as a result of these measures that I hope I can realise my goals and prevent a recurrence of previous explosions of the mind.

Finally, congratulations to Charl Schwartzel, whose composure has been in my view the deciding factor in his Masters success.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Antidisestablishmentarianism. (BSDA #7)

Today in my sociology class a guy known only to the world as Fonzie, for reasons very complicated to explain to anyone who doesn't know him, randomly shouted out the world antidisestablishmentarianism during a game of Pictionary. I can't really remember why - and often with him one simply cannot understand, one can only accept - but it was nonetheless hilarious and, more importantly, gave me something to talk about here. Since no-one I have ever met, seemingly, seems to understand what it means, I would like to attempt to define the word antidisestablishmentarianism now. Because it is an agglutinative construction, built from adding prefixes and suffixes onto an original verb, it can easily be broken down to aid understanding. GO.

Begin with establish, a word everyone knows, meaning to begin or create something.

Add -ment to create establishment, a word used to describe the act of setting something up, or the thing that has been created, or, in this specific case, the concept of having a state religion which is tied to the national government of a country.

Add dis- for disestablishment, the idea of, in this case, removing the legal connections between religion and government - something which happened in Ireland in 1871 and in Wales in 1920 but has still not happened in England.

And anti- to create antidisestablishment, the word for opposition to disestablishment.

Add -ary to create antidisestablishmentary, which means of or pertaining to antidisestablishment.

Add -an (and change the spelling slightly) for antidisestablishmentarian, or one is an opponent of disestablishment. Now to finish the pudding...

Add -ism to end your word. You now have antidisestablishmentarianism, which clearly means, as this staged procedure has shown, the movement or ideology of opposition to disestablishment.

There. That wasn't so hard, right? (Many people within this movement are hard-right, however.*)

I think I should finish this blog now, because I have hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.**

*That was a very little pun.
** And that a very little joke.

Follow this blog for more pathetic jokes and pointless stuff you could have found out on Wikipedia. I will not see you and you will not see me, but you will read me (maybe) next time on antmoorfield takes on the world. Goodbye.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Superpowers. (BSDA #6)

Today I was having a conversation with a friend which revolved around the age-old question "what superpower would you have"?   My answer was, verbatim, "to be able to fly quickly. To get to Texas in like 20 minutes or something." This provoked great hilarity in my colleague because of the seemingly arbitrary nature of that restriction - why not instantly, he said, if any power is available? I didn't have a ready answer to that, because it is in a sense what superpower is considered to mean - the exercise of some power above and beyond conventional laws of physics implies a total freedom of choice as to how to operate and dominance over people without such power.

But does it?, I asked myself later, in a moment of deep and tranquil thought. The constraints of comic book fiction mean that no character is universally powerful; all superpowers fail somewhere. X-ray vision can't see through lead, Pyro in X-Men can only replicate flame rather than actually create it himself and shapeshifters are often forced to change back whether they want to or not. So superpowers in the classical sense are themselves constrained by what Terry Pratchett calls narrativium, the physical requirements necessary for a story to operate within an understandable world.

And this set me thinking. Most people, when asked for what they'd like to have most in the whole world, ask for some mechanism to easily create wealth, or the ability to stop time to allow them more opportunity to do what they enjoy, or a way to influence the emotions of other people to create a positive outcome for themselves. (Yahoo Answers knows all.) It occurs to me that these desires, perhaps manifest in superpowers, relate only to one's current set of values. They're a way of solving the problems we currently face in our lives - not having money, or time, or friends, or a lover; why else are all Marvel superheroes either computer geeks or wealthy businessmen? Surely if the concept of superpower is taken to its actual extreme, then the only useful desire would be to totally remove all of society's barriers to success, so no longer would one have to worry about having enough cash for the latest car, because the production process that created it could be controlled in its minute details by and for you. There would never be any reason to need something, or to exercise some power in order to get it, because a proper superhuman would ensure those barriers to success simply didn't exist.

This is the aim of Dr Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's interpretation of the Faust legend. His ambition on first reading seems pointless and without drive, since he is concerned not with money, nor with love, nor especially with knowledge, but with a totality of power that is quite hard for readers to imagine. He wishes that "all things that move between the quiet poles / Shall be at my command", a desire that is in every way superior to the arbitrary desires in comic book fiction, which seek only to propel the character upwards within pre-existing social structures, rather than rejecting them entirely.

It seems therefore that "what superpower would you have" is a really rather complex question. Our answers illuminate our seeming willingness to accept the arbitrary structures of society, governed ostensibly by competition, so long as we can be seen as atop that particular pile. My laughably pointless restriction of the power to fly seems absurd, but it is no more in contrast to the concept of holding power itself than the notions of conventional superhero literature. Superheroes are in many ways conservative; despite holding, between them at least, the power to reorganise society in its entirety, they as characters, and therefore us as readers, are content with realising only their own goals within the confines of their particular societies. A superpower reflects only the desires of the person who desires it, and by demanding, in our fiction as in our lives, only the power to improve within the social world as it currently exists, rather than to reform and innovate, we are failing ourselves.

There occurs a flaw in this argument - whoever spots it and comments will win an entirely arbitrary prize. Also, FOLLOW please. It's nice to see such shining happy faces.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Baader-Meinhof Complex REVIEWED. (BSDA #5)

So today I watched a film called the Baader-Meinhof Complex, about the Rote Armee Fraktion, the extremist left-wing terrorist organisation which operated in Germany mainly in the 1970s. Let's start with the simple bit. It was an extremely good film which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in terrorism (not in that way, you understand), late German history or social revolutions. Or indeed simply if you like good films. (Parental advisory, of course, given the copious amounts of violence, drug use and nudity.)

Fred Kaplan of the New York Times said that "when the film opened in Germany last year, some younger viewers came out of theaters crestfallen that the Red Army Faction members, still mythologized, were such dead-enders. Some who were older complained that the film had made the gang look too attractive. But they were dead-enders, and they were attractive. A film about them, or any other popular terrorist movement, has to account for both facts if it seeks to explain not just their crimes but also their existence."

I think this is a brilliant review, hence the shameless stealing. The best thing about this film is that it neither totally glamorises nor totally pathologises the RAF - instead it gives you the whole story. The violence, the sexual freedom, the casual misogyny, the brutal murders, the disdain for the law both from the RAF and the authorities, the madness, the Marxian politics and the wider picture of the radicalised German left of the time. There's very little in the way of moralising here; some have argued there's too little. It is the viewer's decision as to how to interpret the actions of the RAF: are they just brutal killers? Sexy freedom fighters? A group with ideals gone wrong? To me, the latter seems the case, but this is a matter of individual interpretation. 

Despite the German film industry only having about four actors, the movie is superbly acted throughout. Even the guys in bit part roles manage to fill you with an understanding of their characters' complexities and the difficulties of living in such a radical and brutal world as that of the RAF. I did however think some of the characters' roles were underdeveloped, and too many characters simply popped in and out of the action randomly, though this is probably a necessary consequence of trying to summarise the actions of a movement over ten years within two and a half hours. 

Whether you watch it as a study of a hugely controversial group in recent history, or as a crime drama, or as a political thriller, there is very little wrong with this film. It was a worthy recipient of its many awards, and is only a part of the 21st century renaissance within German film which happily shows no signs of abating.


Oi oi oi. If you enjoyed reading this, there's only one thing to do now. No, not hijack a plane or storm the German embassy in Stockholm. Follow this blog. And good stuff will probably happen.

Monday, 4 April 2011

On Animal Noises and Eighties Divas. (BSDA #4)

I discovered two awesome things today; both are characterised by their lunacy, which is at the same time brilliance, as the two concepts are extremely close together. As Oscar Levant famously said: "There's a fine line between genius and madness."

So, to Awesome Thing #1. Beatles songs done with animal noises.

Animals sing the Beatles. (There's a pun there too.)
Youtube channel of the BeatlesBarkers.

I love this album for its utter absurdity, and the way that, while most of the lyrics are delivered by dogs, timely-placed sounds from different animals can bring the house down. Also it's ironic that the Beatles themselves used animal noises in Good Morning Good Morning on Sgt Peppers, so I like to think that John is looking down on the Barkers with approval.

Awesome Thing #2.

This has been on the internet for two years, or in online time about four and a half millennia. Nonetheless it's worth sharing. Bonnie Tyler's surreal video for Total Eclipse of the Heart is given the literal treatment. And given it well.

Aside from a noticeable drop in quality in the middle third, this video does what most literals fail to: satirise the content while retaining the spirit of the original. As a result it is really terribly funny.

That is all for today. Join me again tomorrow for another episode of Animals Do The Funniest Things. Or something.

Well. I hope you all enjoyed that very much. Maybe you should follow. I mean really.

I'm the Duke of Earl? (BSDA #3)

I was listening today to my latest iTunes download, La Carotte Bleue by The Ghost Of A Sabre Tooth Tiger, which is the project of John and Yoko sprog Sean Lennon and his girlfriend (don't worry, it's actually brilliant), and fulminating on what it was I liked about the band. Was it their slightly ridiculous hipster name, their sometimes French language lyrics (always a necessity for the higher echelons of pretension society), or the fact that at least 98% of the people I know won't have heard of them. In fact, it is option D - I love their sound, which is, it seems, simultaneously marijuana-fuelled aristocratic garden party and disturbing noirish horror flick, while at the same time is drenched in a foam of echoing vocals and soft organ (you'll never read this sentence again, you can be sure of that!), which, at the simplest level, I like.

The above paragraph oscillates tremendously, because I'm really a terrible writer, but I suppose the conclusion I'm trying to steer the semantic ship towards is that while I'm generally a fan of obscure music, it isn't that quality of such bands I like, rather their music - which is, it would seem, not always the case with some people. You must be aware of the guys who always drop the most unknown names into a conversation merely to seem better than you; against whom a brilliant tactic is to simply put together two random words and try to pass off the result as the latest undiscovered Belgian sensation.

What the hell am I talking about? This is what happens when you sit down to write a blog without a plan and just spew. Which is all the time.

Anyway, part two - in which I talk about the opposite to obscure hipster chic, the humble twelve-bar standard. So Hank Green recently made a video showing the waiting world how many different songs have been written around the so-called Ice Cream Changes, I-vi-IV-V, including Reel Big Fish's ska classic She Has A Girlfriend Now, the Police's stalker anthem Every Breath You Take and even Justin Bieber's Baby.

Delightfully, however, he started at the dawn of musical time with the Penguins and Dion & the Belmonts, and, a magnificent singer of whom I had never heard called Gene Chandler, whose lovely Duke of Earl is a beguiling satire on the interbreeding of the British aristocracy. (Late April fools... or something. It isn't, anyway; that was a poor joke, which is what you get when you write blogs after 11 in the evening. Soz.) So afterwards I had that song's refrain in my head ALL FREAKING DAY, after which it slightly started to lose its sparkle, I'll be honest.

There was a point to this blog, but it has temporarily escaped the author's mind. Something to do with the difference between obscure and well-known music and how it ultimately comes down not to the label you give a song, but to the musical quality it has of itself.

Yeah. Kinda got away from me.

Follow me please, or a thousand thousand slimy things will crawl upon the slimy sea. (Coleridge, now. Anyway now I'm off to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Who the hell do I think I am?) 

Saturday, 2 April 2011


In which an embarrassing but true story is recounted.

Random acts of violence are a part of my life. Rarely a day goes by when something isn't amusingly stolen from me, necessitating the most vicious and vindictive of reprisals. However, the other day - I took it to the next level.

Let's set the scene. Four guys clustered, seated, round a table. Three on the south side, one on the other. I the middle one of the three. Atop the table - a few books, a ring-binder folder, and a pencil case with a zip, currently opened, inside which sits an innocuous grey hole punch. And, unusually, a teacher, standing, conversing, immediately to the right of the solo sitter.

The solo sitter, who for the purposes of this blog we'll call Will (cos that's his name), enjoys stealing things from me, to which I conventionally respond with mock violence. Today he does just that. He reaches forward, takes from my case a pen, leans back with it solely in his grasp. The teacher continues talking, slowly, achingly slowly, the time  before I can lunge for the pen stretching away far into the distance. Eventually I can bear it no more - I must have it now! I know the best way to recover it, I decide: smack Will's arm with the pencil case. A foolproof plan, I think. I seize the case and lift up my arm to strike.

I thump the case down violently; Will retracts his arm with lighting speed; the case hits the table; and, horror of horrors, the hole punch jumps free and whacks the teacher hard on the hip.

The shriek of pain she gave could have awoken the very hounds of Hell. The world is over, I think; Lucifer and all his friends have come for me - I'll burn my books! (Yes, I make obscure Kit Marlowe references too.)

In actual fact, this story has a happy ending. When the pain had thankfully receded, the teacher took it in good spirits; laughed about it, as did my friends for the next three freaking days. (And counting.) But the emotional torment it created within me may never go away, for, you see, dear friends, I punched someone.

(Come on, you knew that pun was coming, right?)

Blog Some Days In April needs readers! If you value your sanity, but especially if you don't - follow this blog. A thousand glorious things will happen when you do. Or six.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The visual and narrative conventions of documentary television. (BSDA #1)

[So I'm attempting BSDA, my own acronym for Blog Some Days in April, a kinda cop-out version of the internet tradition. Two reasons why I can't do every day - I'm away from the 18th to the 22nd, and, well, I have a life. Not to mention revision. My challenge is therefore to do 20 blogs this month. I hope you'll join me in my quest. If you want to, please follow. Now - on with the rant.]

I really hate watching Andrew Marr walk around shopping centres. By this, I don't mean that I occasionally see him perusing the shelves at Topman or whatever, because I don't go to those kind of places. And I'm sure he doesn't either. What I'm talking about is documentaries. It seems that today it is absolutely essential for every director on the BBC to fill at least 40 minutes of their hour-long shows with fatuous nonsense, moody music and presenters walking around NOT SAYING ANYTHING.

Yesterday I watched a programme about the census with Marr and one about employment practices through the last half-century with Kirsty Young. They were an hour long each. I managed to watch them both in 37 minutes. Why was this? Simply, I fast-forwarded through any pointless scene-setting or conclusive narration (the BBC seems to take the philosophy of "tell them what you're going to say, tell them, then tell them what you've said" to ridiculous levels by giving each the same amount of time), transitional shots of the presenters a) walking through busy streets b) waiting for trains or c) driving massive cars through the countryside (green credentials writ large), and any attempts by the presenter to talk to a non-expert in the middle of the street, or, worse, their cosy suburban households. I simply hate listening to people tell me about their own life as if that somehow illuminates a wider social change (because very often this leaves gaping holes in the argument as the presenter searches desperately for some way to qualify a personal anecdote as though it were an established social trend). All these things are, it seems, held to be necessary for people to remain interested in a programme for a whole hour, a timespan so immense in the days of 24/7 television that it's necessary for newsreaders to tell us the time four times in every broadcast, as though we were fruitflies and might die, unfulfilled, before the next announcement.

Another tremendously irritating convention is to send your superstar presenter all around the world to film tiny little segments of to-camera work in front of as many different examples of "nature" as possible. The rockstar-turned-physicist Brian Cox has fallen victim to this, with his latest series Wonders Of The Universe featuring him making sandcastles and smiling inanely into camera in the Namibian desert. Not Brighton, not Blackpool, not even a freaking studio but a country thousands of miles away whose only connection to a spiel about entropy seems to be its larger collection of sand. Despite that, he still used a regular bucket.

I like TV documentaries. I like their capacity to inspire, educate and entertain, in the great Reithian tradition on which public service television was founded. So it really hurts me to see directors waste their presenters' talents by filming them silently reading train timetables or standing in front of Patagonian glaciers as though that in itself were somehow information. This madness has got to stop.