Friday, April 30, 2010

6 of one, less of the other

I asked some friends if any had seen the remade series of The Prisoner. One replied: "The new series of The Prisoner is based around a deep, central mystery: how did Ian McKellen get involved in this load of ####?"

That may be a little unfair. Possibly only a little.

The premise of the original, as surely any fule kno: a high-ranking security agent resigns from his job without explanation; is abducted abruptly by parties unknown; and wakes up in the Village, a mysterious community where everyone is known by a number, ruled over by the no-sniggering-please No. 2.

("Who is No. 1?" / "You are No. 6" - an exchange in the opening credits of each episode that may or may not answer the question.)

They want to know why he resigned. He wants to escape. He passes his time with various escape attempts, being frightfully British and driving the current No. 2 (usually a new face each week) insane, all with different degrees of success.

I missed the first of the new series, watched the second, and thought, yeah, they've got it in a typical non-linear post-Lost sort of way. Then I watched the first of the original series, for the first time in ages, and realised how immensely superior it is and always will be in almost every way.

Things the new series does well:
  • Ian McKellen as No. 2, now a permanent fixture in each episode.
  • A bigger and better Village that looks like it could indeed support a sizeable community like this. Some of the denizens have four-figure numbers, broken into convenient couplets like 11-12 rather having to address someone as One Thousand One Hundred and Twelve every time you meet. The original Village was bigged up by clever camera angles, but in the first episode we get to see it from the air and realise how tiny it is. I like the way the new Village even has its own holiday resort, a short bus ride away through the desert.
  • They've kept Rover, bless them: the most impractical security system ever but what the heck. ("Why did you think a big balloon would stop people?" / "Shut up! That's why!")
Things it does less well ... (Note that I don't say badly because that would be unfair.)

Old No. 6, played by Patrick McGoohan, is rude, cynical, abrasive, thinks nothing of hurting the feelings of other people, and so of course is an excellent hero for a TV series. New No. 6, played by Jim Caz- Cav- him what was Jesus in The Passion of the Christ tries for the Clive Owen blokey vibe but really is quite forgettable.

Fatally, we are getting flashbacks that actually show Nu-6's life before the Village: we might even be getting the story of why he resigned. Eek! No! The whole point is that we never did find out. The Prisoner was about the telling and not the finding out, because that way everyone could form their own theories, and if McGoohan had gone and told us - assuming he actually knew, which is debatable - then 99% of the audience would have ended up disappointed and it would almost certianly not have become the cult it did. The entire story of 6's life, or rather, all we needed to know, was told in the opening credits, and that includes the first episode. Everything else that 6 had to say to the world came out through his various adventures. The opening credits took 2 mins 58 seconds, which is probably way too long for today's ADD generation: but, it means that from the 179th second of the series, 6 was trying to escape. Nu-6 took until about halfway through episode 2 to make vague gestures in that direction. Oh, come on.

No. 2 has a wife and son, or at least, a tender-faced smileless young man (the aforesaid 11-12) who is believed to be his son. Again, no. Just ... no.

For all its strengths, life in the new Village is also just too down-to-earth. Inhabitants actually ask fatal premise-puncturing questions like "do you think this man and woman had children and raised a family just so they could confuse you?" The answer to original 6 would have been a resounding "yes!" The series was all about Patrick McGoohan, so, yes, why not? Fact is: it was colourful, surreal and sixties and it can't be recreated in any other time period.

And finally, though some might call it nit-picking: there's no tune. Oh, there are closing credits and some kind of music plays over them but, like most such things nowadays, they are designed to be shunted over to one side of the screen so the next programme can be advertised, or an announcer can chat over them, or ... look, they're a contractual obligation for the actors and production crew, that's all. Whereas in the olden days no episode was over until McGoohan's face had flown at the camera, away from the Village, blocked at the last minute by bars that clanged shut, and then you'd sat through the credits too, watching a surreal penny-farthing bicycle assemble itself for no readily apparent reason while Ron Grainer's infuriating tune plays at you with no instrument playing a bar for quite long enough.* Without that level of understanding of the original, any remake is fundamentally flawed and doomed.

*Like this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The sun brings them out

Languishing at home today with an upset stomach but at least I get to enjoy the election media of the also-rans.

The UKIP leaflet is a tad simplistic in bright, primary colours and looks like nothing so much as a supermarket flyer, especially with that pound symbol that tops and tails it. I expect the small print beneath "Vote UKIP" to add "and we'll give you a box of washing up powder."

So, about what you'd expect. This one from the Animal Protection Party is much more fun.

Doctor Death is none other than our very own local MP Dr Evan Harris. He is a vocal supporter of Oxford Uni's secret animal research programmes - so secret they have vocal supporters. He is apparently pro-fluoride, "a waste product of the aluminium industry" and "of no benfit (sic) to teeth". He is an "aggressive secularist" (seemed quite a mild one when I met him) who attacks "anyone (particularly Christians) who allow their faith to challenge his views"; and most devastating of all, on page 2 (which I didn't have the heart to photo) he "uses his position to attack herbal remedies, vitamins and homeopathy". The swine, the swine, the utter swine.

The implied conclusion I draw from this is that, um, Christians do believe in herbal remedies, vitamins and homeopathy, are against a secular society, and don't use fluoridised toothpaste? Oh dear. Where do I hand my faith in?

I have no beef at all with Dr Harris. I like the fact that when I hear of him in the public media he's generally doing something sensible and pro-science. A colleague at work, who is a school governor, tells me he's not that hot as a constituency MP: missed appointments, unanswered letters and so on, in lamentable contrast to his predecessor, who may have been all for teaching more hellfire in RE to combat youth delinquency but at least answered his letters. I can only say that of all the MPs I've had representing me, he is the only one who has ever actually turned up on my doorstep - and that wasn't even in an election year. I forget what he was canvassing about but I was impressed.

I also know what he looks like, which is more than I can say for our Animal Protection Party candidate unless the latter bears a strange resemblance to a tortured monkey; and, possibly uniquely for a Lib Dem, he has managed to upset someone. Bonzer!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unsure of how to vote?

Let Vote Match take the strain. You answer a series of policy questions and it matches your responses against the stated policies of the national parties. I wasn't that surprised to find that I agree with:
  • Conservatives 42%
  • Lib Dem 40%
  • Greens 39%
  • Labour 33%
  • UKIP 28%
You can choose which parties you would and would not like to be associated with and I asked for BNP to be excluded from the final reckoning. Then, out of morbid curiosity, I asked for them to be included. This gives a rather worrying:
  • Conservatives 42%
  • Greens 39%
  • Lib Dem 38%
  • BNP 36%
  • Labour 32%
  • UKIP 27%
Hmm. Where did that 36% come from? I always thought the only difference between BNP and UKIP was the rapid [EDIT: or even rabid] xenophobia. I didn't think I was remotely xenophobic, even though you will have to pluck my right to make jokes about the French, Germans and Americans out of my cold dead hands. Is it because my answers suggest I would have no problem with the idea of repatriating an immigrant who breaks the law? That of course would refer to a persistent recidivist, not someone who, say, gets caught doing 32mph in a 30mph zone. This is not entirely facetious: I recently read of a Mexican woman in the US, who has lived and worked legally there for 40 years, and whose children and grandchildren are US citizens, who has had her green card revoked because she walked across a neighbour's lawn and got sued for trespass. That is silly (or to give it its fuller name, mindless petty spite). However, at the other end of the scale, someone who enters the country as an immigrant, gets the right to reside and sets themselves up as a crime lord running a drugs and prostitution ring should lose the right to residence. Is that a problem?

Therein lies the problem with any site like this: you can give general answers to general questions of policy, but that always assumes the legislation would emerge from the Parliamentary process framed and phrased in a reasonable way. Nothing I've seen in the last 13 years, and very little in the last 31, convinces me this would be the case.

I will now save this post, if I can get my right hand down from its 45 degree angle to move the mouse.

Victory of the Angels, failure of the BBC

So, last week's Dalek blip was just clearing the pipes for this week's Angel winfest. They're back. River is back (if, in the logic of timey-wimey wibbly wobbly, she ever went away). Moffat is back. All is good. "Time of the Angels" bears the same relationship to "Blink" as Alien did to Aliens: not just more of the same but a larger-scale, different approach to the same enemy that makes it a separate entity to be enjoyed in its own right.

Especial points to note. The Church Militant of the fiftieth century, bizarrely armed with P90s as modelled by SG1. The traditional, old-school assistant gets into peril scene, with the modern sensibility of the assistant also solving the problem. Moffat's cheerfully logical, thought-through attitude to the whole nonsense of time travel thing. Possibly the first ever mention on-screen of the TARDIS noise, done in a way that was hilariously funny (I have often wondered why a machine that is designed to blend into the background inconspicuously also makes enough noise to wake the dead whilst doing so.) And, for the first time in a Moffat script, people dying.

But please can the BBC identify and shoot the moron who thought it was a good idea to put an animated Graham Norton cartoon on screen during the last 30 seconds as the episode builds to a climax, to advertise the ghastly reality-TV-showbiz-whatever load of twaddle he perpetrates with Lloyd Webber. For reasons I will come to this didn't affect me as badly as it might, but I'm outraged on principle and I'm not the first to be irritated.

It's worrying that there are people working at the world's greatest public service broadcaster who fail to grasp the fundamental difference in the natures of Dr Who and Who Wants to be a Friend of Dorothy or whatever it's called. The latter is mindless froth designed to be dipped in and out of at ease. The former is a carefully constructed drama with a beginning, middle and end that people want to watch as an uninterrupted whole. As it is, the Beeb's scheduling people regard it all as homogenised televisual product to be stuffed into the available Saturday evening slots, with as much discretion and acuity as Microsoft's unlamented paperclip: "it looks like you're watching TV on a Saturday evening. You will want to watch this too." These clods cannot comprehend that I would watch Dr Who whenever it was shown, or on catch-up if unable to make the original broadcast, whereas I would pay good money not to have to watch Graham Norton ever. (Actually with one exception: he was very funny as Father Noel.)

The reason it didn't affect me directly was because of subtitles ... I don't know if it's old age or what, but my ears or my brain or both sometimes just cannot process rapid, quick-fire dialogue like they used to. Sometimes I have to put the subtitles on. Sad but true. However, the subtitles did blot out all but either end of the Graham Norton animation. My outrage still stands.

If no one looks at Graham Norton, perhaps he'll go away.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The boy stood on the burning deck

For many years I genuinely believed the poem began:
The boy stood on the burning deck
The ship was sinking fast.
And as he stood there sinking too
His captain floated past.
In fact it's a little more Poetic than that. The poem - which, face it, just asks to be parodied - is "Casabianca" (not to be confused with the Bogart movie with a very similar but not quite identical name). The boy is the son of Captain Casabianca, captain of the French flagship Orient. The deck is burning because it's the Battle of the Nile, and in a few short minutes the flames will reach Orient's gunpowder stores and the ship will blow up quite spectacularly, killing the captain, the boy and most of the rest of the crew. True fact.

(The French fleet had moored bow-to-stern parallel to the shore, so that any enemy attack would have to be along one side only and they would have a reasonable chance of fighting off any aggressors. Nelson disgracefully worked out that there was space for some of his ships to sail between the line and the shore, so the French ships were attacked from both sides at once. Of such base, deceitful, unsporting treachery is one of the Royal Navy's greatest victories made.)

The boy cries out during the poem to his father, asking to be relieved of his station, but his father is either already dead or at least unconscious. No order comes, the boy holds his station to the bitter end and *BOOM*. With a choke in its voice and a catch in its throat, the poem concludes:

There came a burst of thunder sound
The boyoh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

Hmm. Let us leave aside such unPoetic questions as: how does the poet, who wasn't even there, know what the boy was doing? And, is that penultimate verse really meant to make you giggle?

Wikipedia tells me two useful things. One is Samuel Butler's thoughts on the poem:

"the moral of the poem was that young people cannot begin too soon to exercise discretion in the obedience they pay to their papa and mamma."

The other is that, during the action, the boy's leg was apparently blown off. All of a sudden another possible explanation for his immobility becomes apparent.

The boy lay on the burning deck
His other leg lay near ...

I'm probably missing the point entirely.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fancy the contents of a Swedish farmhouse?

With my father-in-law safely installed in a home for retired Vikings, the contents of the farm are being auctioned off. If you have a krona or two to spare (exchange rate 10.44 to the pound, according to the Post Office a fortnight ago) and are so inclined, the goods are available to view.

Some particular items to draw your attention to:

How much do I have to pay for this not to be delivered to my front door?
Handy for the shopping
Those were the days

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Keep calm and ex-term-in-ate!

We have a crisis in the time-space continuum. Daleks just aren't scary any more, and apparently not even the Moffat Magic can make them so.

Or maybe it can, it just chooses not to. Whatever the facts, Moffat Daleks have inherited the biggest flaw of RTD Daleks, which is that they only exterminate the unimportant people, for no other reason than Plot.

In days of yore, the Daleks were frightening in part because all the actors acted as if they were frightening. Especially the Doctor, because he had seen their bad side once or twice before. We the viewers knew they were touchy inferiority-complex ridden psychopaths with hair-trigger death rays and we held our breath whenever it looked like one of them might get more than slightly grumpy, because we knew someone was going to get it.

Almost always, the Doctor sidled into their foul schemes undetected: they had invaded or annexed somewhere for their own nefarious purposes, often making an alliance of convenience with the worst examples of humanity which would all end in over-exposed negative-effect tears, that being the best effect the Beeb had in those days for death rays. Somewhere along the way there would be a slightly potty scientist who begrudgingly, reluctantly came over to the Doc's side and probably paid for it with his life.

Of all the New Who adventures to date, Victory of the Daleks really was the one that would have benefited most from the old school 4-part, 25 mins each treatment. It bore a strong resemblance in places to Power of the Daleks, an adventure sadly lost to the video archives but still available in audio format (which is how I first heard it), and could have learned from it. In that one the Daleks also ingratiate themselves into human affairs, aided by the worst examples of humanity for the latter's political reasons, and of course it all ends in over-exposed negative-effect tears. With Victory of the Daleks in old-school format, the Doc would take at least two episodes to establish his good guy credentials, with even (or perhaps especially) a highly sceptical W. Churchill ranged against him while all around him strange things were happening that the powers that be just didn't get. He would have been incarcerated at least twice. Those two eps would also have been used to establish the spin-off Dalek tech also in use by the British during WW2. And there would be extermination, left, right and centre. It would start slowly, mysterious death by mysterious death, with victims gradually increasing in importance.

Maybe the cliffhanger at the end of part 2 would have been the veil of niceness being withdrawnand the pepperpots revealing their true colours, about to zap the Doctor. Though to be honest it could have been spun out to the end of part 3. Instead of zapping two extras, as shown, the Daleks would turn their guns on the entire British high command, Churchill included, and it's in saving them that the Doctor proves his point.

Part 4 could go pretty well as the rest of last night went, except that if the Doctor simply had to have a long talk with them, he could do so from within the safety of the TARDIS forcefield.

And the potty scientist would have paid for it all with his life.

Let's not do it down entirely. There were some good lines and an especially good portrayal of old Winston. The new Daleks look funky and hopefully will revert from now on to suitably Dalek-like behaviour. Indeed, the whole concept of WW2 Daleks in olive green, offering cups of tea, was wonderful. It's shame it was dispensed with in the first ten minutes.

It's also a shame we never got to see the answer to the biggest question of all, which is how exactly does a Dalek take stuff out of the webbing pockets around its waist? The most logical solution is that they pair up and take stuff out of each other's pockets, which is a bit too like a party game to be all that serious.
  • Update: see here for unkind but funny speculation about the nu-Daleks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Better start doing it right

There is a paradox that while the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis was undoubtedly their most inspired, their best album was A Trick of the Tail, which was their first post-Gabriel's departure.

My opinion, anyway.

The first track of which was "Dance on a volcano". Can't think why it's been on my mind over the last day or so. Dual drumkits, everyone with long hair, Mike Rutherford almost dwarfed by his double-necked guitar ... It's the seventies!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bit of a let-down

Can I just say that if all UK air traffic has to be grounded due to the presence of a vast cloud of volcanic ash in the skies above us, the least it could do would be to look exciting? You'd think? Something vaguely glowy, looming and pyroclastic, maybe? Huh?

However, Best Beloved did recently spend 6 days in Sweden and I'm very glad the volcano waited to blow until she was back.

In completely unrelated news, but it saves me doing a separate post: from the Department of How Do You Solve A Problem Like the 5-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, what the world needs more of is kung fu nuns. Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

London in 2014

A bid is in for London to host the world science fiction convention in 2014. This would be 9 years after the UK's last worldcon outing in 2005, which itself was 10 years after the previous in 1995. So, the cycle is about right and I intend to support it. (If Best Beloved reads this at work, it will be the first she's heard of it: well, I would have told you this evening, my love ...)

Here's the official site, and here's the excellent promo video. Geeky points increase for identifying every programme or movie used. (Excluding possibly generic aerial shots and combining multiple scenes from one show, I score 18 known [with a lot of Dr Who] vs probably 14 unknown and a couple of guesses.) It's astonishing how badly Big Ben comes out of all this ...

From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome ...

Long-term readers may remember I had a five-day holiday in New York with Bonusbarn back in 2008, after which he flew home and I flew on to Denver. I had heard Things of US Immigration and I was acutely aware I would be travelling with a minor (albeit a 16-year-old minor, legal for most purposes) with whom I had no legal or blood connection. We went in on the visa waiver programme and I took with me a letter signed by his mother, saying he was travelling with me with her permission, and I was married to her, and giving precise itinerary of places, times, dates and flights plus her contact details for home and work. We tried to get it notarised but left it too late so we made do with a witnessed signature.

And I never even needed to take it out of its envelope. The Immigration guy at JFK looked at us together and said, "family?" I didn't want to make a technically incorrect statement on the record so I stated, "stepfather and stepson." He looked at me and said again, in the kind of voice that positively sheds hints, "family?"

"Family," I agreed. And lo, we were in.

All comes to mind because within the space of the last month I've read three very harrowing tales from the US border, one by someone actually known to me, none with happy endings. The utterly lovely Cheryl Morgan, caught in a perfect bureaucratic storm that means she will probably never be able to return there; SF writer Peter Watts, who actually managed to fall foul of border guards whilst leaving the country [and the result]; and a Kiwi lady I've not heard of before, whose tale linked from Cheryl's blog sparked off this train of thought.

No big conclusions to draw: just the reflection that we might have been much luckier than I realised.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You know you've hit rock bottom when ...

... the Ku Klux Klan disowns any association with you.

Such is the fate of the Westboro Baptist Church - the church led by the not very Revd but extremely revved Fred Phelps that engages in such entertainments as picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq, said deaths being a sure sign of God's judgement on the US for its toleration of homosexuality.

Though that's not the only thing they picket. According to their schedule this month they intend to picket sundry churches, schools, synagogues and (yes, really) Bon Jovi. Their language is coarse, vulgar and abrasive; you get the feeling they are the kind of people who can only speak by thrusting their faces an inch away from yours and challenging you as offensively as possible on everything. There is nothing remotely Christ-like about them. See, for example, their subtly woven, intricately crafted exposition of why John 3.16 actually means that God hates (most of) the world. (Maybe they have a similar way out of Colossians 4.6: "Let your conversation be always full of grace ...")

I first heard of these individuals, I think, when they unleashed God Hates on the interwebs. Having a Swedish wife and a half-Swedish stepson I was curious to find out why. Apparently Swedish police had arrested pastor Ake Green who was laying down an OT-oriented view of homosexuality (and even he, I gather, has since repudiated this lot). The case was reinforced with cast-iron supporting evidence showing photos of King Carl XVI Gustaf looking "goofy" and Crown Princess Victoria in a low-cut dress. Well, that proves it.

This was followed up by God Hates (did I mention half-Swedish Bonusbarn is also half-Irish?). An Irish student union had invited Phelps to present his idiosyncratic viewpoint to a meeting, which he interpreted as a cunning plan to lure him out of the US so he could be arrested under Irish anti-hate laws.

After that they decided to go the whole hog with God Hates the, where you can click on any country of the world (work still in progress) to find out why God hates that particular place. To save my UK readers (the majority) the trouble, he currently hates us because their church was banned from entering the country to picket "the fag propaganda play, The Laramie Project" in Basingstoke. Remember what I said about their way of speaking:
"You British Bastards will not have Jesus Christ to rule over you, and think you can issue bans and pass laws to remove God's word from the landscape. You do greatly err, not knowing the power of God; and, you do that against your own interests. It is a great kindness to have God's prophets in your land. But, you ungrateful brutes despise knowledge. It is too late for the UK. God Hates You! God's wrath and destruction is all that's left for you, thanks to Secretary Smith. Toodles!"
Sighs. I'm a Brit. It's our nature to mock our enemies. It's what we do. I remember a couple of Dave Allen jokes from my childhood (I know, he wasn't a Brit but he had a good audience here) which actually served to increase my awareness of the world. In one, God asks a rather depressed Catholic outside Ian Paisley's church why he's upset.
"He won't let me in!"

"I know, I've been trying for years ..."
In another, a Dutch Reformed pastor is horrified to see an African kneeling in front of his altar.
"Oi! What are you doing?"

"I'm just cleaning the floor, sir."

"Oh, that's okay, I thought you were praying ..."
For the same reason we had Spitting Image and Dead Ringers and we could sing "Hitler has only got one ball" during WW2. But even that individual had some comedy value, if you looked deep enough. Maybe I'm just not looking deep enough here but I'm really not seeing that much.

William Holman Hunt's 'Light of the World' illustrates the words of Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." It shows a rather drippy, pre-Raphaelite Jesus knocking at a door. There is no outside latch on the door - it must be opened from inside, or not at all - and the door is half overgrown, suggesting Jesus has been knocking for a long time.

There must be a veritable forest outside Westboro Baptist Church by now, but Jesus has long arms.

Editorial note: due to the unusually large proportion of links to utterly loathsome web sites in this post, I've coded them all with - just in case this blog shows up in a Google Alert somewhere for all the wrong reasons.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Brits in spa-a-a-ce ...

After due consideration following my earlier post on the topic, I've decided I'm not going to sue Steven Moffat.

I'm going to let George Lucas do that instead, for pinching not one but two of the iconic Star Wars scenes and combining them. His lawyers are much more high powered and it will be far more entertaining.

But while it lasts, this guy is good. "The Beast Below" could have been so unbearably silly: in fact it was just enjoyably silly, and moving at the same time. The scene where the Doctor talks about not forgetting, in a gentle, kind, wise voice that politely chides Amy while also making it clear she has done a very silly thing - that could have come from any Patrick Troughton episode. Any other Doctor bar 2 and 11 would have just lectured, over-acted, postulated or otherwise just not done it so well.

Yep, this guy is good. And he'll have to be even better to stop me yawning when guess-who glides back onto our screens next week ... Which he probably will.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Every cross is a burning cross?

The Bible is quite big on the Cross, and why not? It's kind of the point of the whole thing, really. I have a palm cross by my desk at work - not for the supernatural aura of protection that it exudes, but for conversation, and to remind me that there are higher things than the latest quarterly report, and (oh, all right) for decoration. And when I think of everything it's meant to mean, I actually feel quite proud of it.

I hope I would have the humility to remove it if anyone found it offensive, though. From this I discount my former Jehovah's Witness colleague, because lovely guy that he was, I don't care if I wind up the JWs in general. At least, not in any areas of specious and/or totally made-up theology. But in other areas ...

All this sparked by a recent blog post from Hal Duncan, a writer with whose work I am not familiar. An Open Letter to the Usual Suspects is a little more polemic than I would usually go for, and probably contains no words that your children don't already know (but let's not pass judgement), but it makes a couple of good points that I have not thought of before.
  1. The recent hoohah over the nurse forbidden to wear a cross with her nurse's uniform tends to miss the point that dangly jewellery is a good vector for germs and diseases, and her freedom to witness to her faith is not the same as her freedom to give her patients MRSA. I don't know if this has been taken into account or not, but feel it's worth mentioning.
  2. (The big one.) The cross really is offensive to some people with good reason - specifically, as cited by Mr Duncan, gay or transgendered persons who have been on the receiving end of so-called Christian hate. I also think of Palestinians who lost loved ones in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, children abused by priests ... I suspect the list could go on. Wearing a cross really is not going to get you any friends here. Hal puts it thusly: "every cross is a burning cross."
Yes, yes, the burgeoning black pentecostal church, made of people whose forebears were persecuted by the Klan, seem to have got over it. Not the point. The getting over it was up to them, not imposed on them by others. I'm not taking my palm cross down on the off-chance that someone who once heard that Christians aren't meant to approve of Teh Gay and fancies people of the same gender might get hurt. Hopefully exposure to me will by contrast bring a bit of love and light into their life, and if that positive exposure is amplified by contrast with their initially negative expectations then so much the better. But Hal's post gives me cause to think twice before keeping it up, and to tune the antennae more sensitively should someone pass by who really has been hurt in the past.

St Paul can bang on a little about the virtues of the cross, and he was no great fan of homosexuality, and if you asked him about transgendered people you would have just got a blank look. But he also gives the exemplary advice of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33: our freedom to do stuff with a clear conscience does not come at the expense of other people's hurt. Other people are more important.

I heard Nurse Chaplin on the radio this week saying that she put her cross on when she got confirmed and doesn't want to take it off again. She is proud to witness for her faith. Well, fair enough. But putting your cross away, if it genuinely hurts people, is a much more powerful witness than displaying it come what may.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dumbing down (21 points)

It's a good thing we had Nan the Great cremated. Otherwise the people of Salisbury would currently be experiencing minor earth tremors due to a rapidly rotating body in a grave somewhere. The makers of Scrabble, so the Today Programme reported this morning, have changed the rules to allow proper nouns. To put it another way, for the benefit of the kind of people who need this rule change, you can use names now innit.

Nan, who would pass the time by memorising the approved list of two letter words (and there are a surprising number of them), would not approve. In fact she forced us to introduce a new family rule, which is that the player of the word must at least know (or have a good idea; appeal to other players is permitted) what the word actually means. That way we might still have all been thrashed on a regular basis but it was with a bit more dignity. And educational.

One of the reasons I dislike point-and-shoot video games is that you might get hit and killed by the enemy, but guess what, suddenly you're back! Or you can carry an infinite array of weapons around that you change with a click. This is not challenging. Games are meant to combine a measure of luck (e.g. what letters you have in your bag) with skill (e.g. what you do with them) and those two factors combined make it a challenge. This rule reduces the challenge level of Scrabble by about 75%. I will stop now before I start sounding like the Daily Mail. I have my pride, in case you hadn't gathered.

One question mark over the BBC report: it says Mattel are bringing out a version of the game with new rules but will continue to sell the old version. Presumably the only difference between the two is the rulebooks and the boards stay exactly the same? Hmm. It couldn't be a cunning marketing ploy aimed at the kind of people who need to use proper nouns ... could it?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Dr Who: the Inside Story

Okay, the world can release its bated breath now because I'll tell you what I thought of the new Dr Who.

And what I thought was good, made better by the fact that my approval went steadily up as the episode progressed. Pre-credits: oh dear, oh dear, yet more of the RTD-era (see how it's already an era?) codswallop. London by night. Doctor doing silly things with TARDIS. Oh come on.

Thankfully it ended, progressing into the new credit sequence which was ... um. And ahem. Endoscopic is the first word to come to mind. And indeed the last. I mean, did Moffat have a certain procedure performed whilst exercising his brain as to how the new sequence should look, and happened to glance at the screen, whereupon he leapt off the couch (ouch!) shouting "That's my new sequence!" We may never know. This is probably good.

But then we get some classic Moffat - lonely little girl, creepy house, things unseen - only briefly interrupted by more RTD silliness (I thought the food gag would never end) and then it started getting really good. And what makes it better is: it wasn't just good because it was a Moffat script, it was also good because it had a darned good actor in the leading role. The Doctor of old always had a certain authority that let him walk into any situation and, sometimes unaccountably, be taken seriously. Tennant, for all his strengths, never quite had that. The Boy Smith does. He also has nipples and a scattering of chest hair, not that we needed to know that. (Mind you, so did Pertwee - and a tattoo, if you look closely around the 50 second mark.)

But, back to those credits. The very first Dr Who credits were simplicity itself yet hugely evocative: abstract whooshes and curls generated by the simple feedback of pointing a camera at its own monitor. Thereafter they got more sophisticated - Doctor's face added, introduction of colour, then slit-scan - until their apotheosis in the Baker-era credits, which are timeless even today. But always abstract. This came to a screeching halt at the end of the Baker-era with the introduction of new, computer generated credits - that's 1979 computer generated - which looked rubbish and dated from the word go, emphasised the space bit as opposed to the time bit and from which the series never really recovered. The New Who credits went some way towards rectifying this - they kept the space but brought back the abstract - and now ... well, I'll say this much, it's new. Neither time nor space, just ... endoscopy.

I await the fan fiction with interest.