Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Imagine How Hard Typing This Post Was When Your "d" Button Is Busted

So, that's the first season of the rebooted Doctor Who done and dusted, and if I could summarise it in a sentence, it'd be OBE for Steven Moffat, please.

If I was looking for an easy job in TV, Doctor Who would be about the last I'd look at. It's a family drama with an explicitly kid-pleasing remit, thanks to the vast sales of Cyberman masks etc. that have so delighted the BBC, yet it has a fanatical fanboy following who demand the show stays true to its roots. The new series' producers had to follow collossal success on a much-reduced budget with an all-new and unknown cast.

As a series it was mixed, with some weak episodes and some triumphs, but the overall standard was high and there was something for everyone - enough self-referential nudges to keep the hardcore following happy, with enough running around and monsters to entertain the kids; leggy Scottish hottie for the Dads and enough flashbang and snappy dialogue to entertain everyone else. Some thoughts, in no particular order -

- If you've followe
d the series for years, Matt Smith knocks the spots off David Tennant in the lead role. Smith's Doctor is the first convincingly alien effort since Tom Baker - in his element with technobabble and time-travel, but incapable of making smalltalk and as awkward as a priest in a knocking shop with social situations. He does gravitas with intelligence; emotion without mawkishness and comedy without mugging like a twat; all areas in which his predecessor struggled.

- That sai
d, it may take at least another series for the public to warm to him. Bluntly, the problem is that Tennant's Doctor was Mr. Sex Appeal McCool, all Sonic the Hedgehog spikes, panache and photogenic posing. Smith's Doctor is a giant, ungainly dork and a woeful geek in a bowtie.

Smith's take on the role is in character, clearly inspire
d by the Doctors of the sixties and seventies. Unfortunately, I have a horrible suspicion that the public found the action hero version easier to swallow.

- Season opener The Eleventh Hour was by far the best episo
de and perhaps the finest slice of popular entertainment on the Beeb for years. It was hugely charming, quirky and gripping, pulling off the distinctly new trick of being compelling and fast-paced without having the characters run about like dafties for the entire episode. If you didn't like the rooftop scene where Smith states his claim to the role, this series is not for you.

- Victory of the Daleks was the weakest episode, being much more in the running-about-daft while things explode vein. For that reason, I expect it'll be the one that kids bug their parents to watch again; I can't see the sweet-but-soppy Vincent Van Gogh episode troubling too many front rooms throughout the country. Victory will be the one that shifts action figures for the BBC and stumps up the cash for the next series.

- Ah, the cash. The BBC nee
d to get their finger out here, because this show pulls in gigantic revenue for the Corporation and the last series was notably cheaper than previous ones at times. You have to speculate to accumulate, guys.

- A couple of episo
des - The Beast Below, Vampires of Venice, The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood - were a bit Doctor Who by numbers. That said, they were snappy and professionally done, and wasn't a single one anywhere near as bad as, say, that Godawful one with Peter Kay. Or that one with the little girl and the Olympics. Plus, while many of the stories contained the much-lamented pish-science and plot holes, none of them featured an ancient, midget Doctor being restored in Christlike glory by the populace of Earth wishing really hard.

- I like Alex Kingston, but she could dial it back a bit on the ham acting. Just saying.

- Finally, the series produced one absolute star, and that was Caitlin Blackwood as young Amy Pond. Funny, bold and cute as a button. "You're Scottish - fry something!"

Best bits:
"I kept biting them"; The Doctor stepping through the image of all his predecessors to formally introduce himself; "What in the name of sanity have you got on your head?"; Jumping out of the stripper's cake at the stag do; Interrogating the Silurian prisoner in the church basement. Rory's inept swordfight with the giant space-fish geezer; The cast realise they're surrounded by an army of murderous alien statues; "This isn't going to be big on dignity!"; Amy disbelievingly touches the pile of dust that her fiancee just became; Menaced by an alien on a TV screen; The Pandorica opens to unexpectedly reveal the leading lady.

More, please - lots more.

Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup Losers Find Cause For Complaint

Yes, okay, it was very unfair that Frank Lampard's goal wasn't given. A crime, a travesty. We're all agreed that it was unjust.

That sai
d, the news that the Italians, of all teams, are now backing England's righteous crusade for goal line cameras exposes the related clamour as a sad sack of self-pitying bollocks.

Human error is a part of football. Take away the questionable offside calls and the disallowed goals, and it becomes an even more antiseptic, rubber-clad version of its former self. Bad decisions, daylight robberies and the nursing of resulting grudges is as much a part of the game as greasy pies and abusive singing.

I think that the Premiership's immense, ever-ballooning sense of entitlement is causing pundits to overlook one of the game's great selling points - it's all about deferred gratification. All those lows - the dull 0-0 draws, the harsh sendings off and yes, the disallowed goals - are what make the highs that little bit sweeter. It's the reason why a dire season can be lifted by a three-goal romp over your local rivals; why fans don't applaud many goals, so much as take berserk fits of ecstasy.

Example from my experience - that German striker's penalty-winning dive to win a game Scotland deserved to draw is just part of what made our later victories over France and Ukraine so utterly magnificent, since we all expected catastrophe to strike at any second. When the final whistle went at the Stade de France, the sense of disbelief wasn't just born of joy at the result - it was as much a great, euphoric relief and release, because of all those dark days it didn't go our way.

Plus, bad goal line decisions are exceptionally rare. The idea that they're a unique problem bedevilling the game is hilarious and self-serving. If FIFA are to look at the one thing that has comprehensively ruined games in South Africa, it's not disallowed goals - it's been the relentless diving and play acting. Error is part of the game, but cheating is always cheating.

It's the first complaint of non-football fans - all those grown men throwing themselves to the ground and rolling about in mock agony, only to spring back to life seconds later. Ridiculous red cards have had a crucial impact in a number of ties in the current tournament, yet I don't hear the FA demanding FIFA officials rewatch games and hand out retrospective yellow cards for cheating.

I wonder why that might be? Here's a possible explanation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Terror, The Terror

"The main suspect in an attempt to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square has admitted weapons and terrorism charges. Faisal Shahzad told a court in Manhattan he wanted "to plead guilty and 100 times more..." BBC News, 22nd June

BBC News 24's NY correspon
dent was just expressing his astonishment that Shahzad would have co-operated with US authorities for two weeks before requesting a lawyer. Apparently, it's "not clear" why he would do such a thing - mystifying, unfathomable.

Well, allow me to hazar
d a guess - facing life in the United States' rapetastic prison system and having proved too useless to make petrol burn, Shahzad would now like to appear on international television news doing his best "Wooo, I am a scary terrorist" bit.

Luckily for him, New York prosecutors
are only too happy to allow him to deliver a handwritten address to the nation he so singularly failed to terrorise. You might have thought that, if the priority here was the War On Terror, there might be some way to prevent the accused from standing up in court and delivering a half-arsed "If you kill me, Jihadist agent 008 will murder you all in your beds" routine.

We might speculate that, if the priority here were instea
d to fluff prosecutors' careers, big-up the horrifying threat of The Terror to life and limb and to shift newspapers, then having this cretin do his booga-booga stand-up piece to camera benefits others in more dubious ways.

I mean, I woul
d expect discouraging terror to be the priority here. If that were the case, you'd think a speedy, low-profile trial would be best - no fuss, no grandstanding. Just a cell and prison food, for the rest of your natural. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ain't No War Elephants In Geography Class

I'm surprisingly disappointed and disheartened by the news that the Scottish Qualifications Authority is considering axeing Latin at Standard Grade.

My reaction surprises me because I'
d have a hard time making a compelling case for retaining it; the utility of a dead language in the modern age is dubious at best, particularly with brutal education cuts coming. Take-up for classes was extremely low even when I was at school fifteen years ago. No doubt our finite resources could be better deployed elsewhere, but that's more Shuggy's beat than mine.

I went to what was an
d is a fairly well-regarded but unremarkable school that, I suspect, only retained a classics teacher out of nostalgia. I only wound up studying Latin because the teacher was renowned as a slave-driver, and even my plooky, fourteen-year-old self could spot guaranteed top marks in that class, leading to a substantial reduction in parental hassle.

All I can say in
defence of the defunct tongue is that it's been infinitely more useful to me than the thousands of hours of art, French, Spanish, maths, chemistry etc. I sat through. It taught me to think of language as a system with rules, rhythms and forms in a way that English never did; helped me to understand why words have a particular meaning. No English teacher ever had the stones to chuck the words Iambic pentameter into a line-by-line on Wilfred Owen.

Even now, I'm pretty good with unfamiliar words and terms and pick up foreign languages far quicker than I ever did when I started at secondary. I can read more or less anything written in one of the Romance languages and take a fair stab at the content. It'd be a huge overstatement to say that I wouldn't be the man I am today if I'd never studied classics, but I struggle to imagine what I would be like - far less capable and nowhere near so much of an insufferable smartarse, I imagine.

Of course, there's plenty of personal vanity here - Latin was the only subject that you ha
d to be invited to study and it picks up an illicit feeling that you're learning something rather arcane and mysterious, by virtue of its obscurity. Donna Tartt spotted this and has used it to good effect, and on the very rare occasions that I mention Latin in conversation, people respond as if I'd donned inch-thick glasses, dressed up as a Hobbit and started reading aloud from the Necronomicon in the Black Tongue.

Well, so what? The country isn't going to fall into the abyss because to
day's geeky teenage nerds can't learn how to conjugate verbs that are unheard outside of Papal addresses or sit wide-eyed through a blow-by-blow account of how Hannibal's ingenious planning led to the slaughter of the cream of the Roman aristocracy at Cannae. Call centres won't move to Beijing because the unsociable and unshaggable don't know what a helot or a testudo formation is.

The upshot here is that I love
d Latin and classics, ergo I think the state should provide classes for kids who agree. There are plenty of people waving that banner for their own causes.

d if you thought that was intolerable nerdiness, just wait 'til I start on the current series of Doctor Who. If you could flush your computer's head down the toilet, hang it on a coat-hook then chuck its schoolbag onto a roof, you'd do it before you realised you'd moved.

date! Good news for fans of Mark Twain, by the way. His autobiography - that's autobiography, which the author embargoed for a century after his death - is about to be published. If you'd like to find out just how foolish, conceited and pointless your existence is, Twain will explain at great length and in graphic detail.

Monday, June 14, 2010

U.S. Identifies Vast Quantities of Bullshit in Afghanistan

New York Times, 14th June 2010

The U.S. has
discovered huge deposits of bullshit in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and possibly enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the war itself.

The previously unknown reserves
- propagandist bullshit, lying bullshit and large deposits of hilariously transparent bullshit - were discovered via an internal Pentagon memo titled Afghanistan - a Strategy For Victory.

A Pentagon insider told this reporter that the newly-uncovered bullshit reserves could provide Western forces with enough raw material to continue the conflict until "victory".

"Our store of military
bullshit has been running low for years," the source claimed. "We've been gibbering about Al-Qaeda like demented parakeets and how we need to fight them over there, to stop the Taliban invading Bumfuck, Illinois and Dogdick, Alabama for almost a decade... Frankly, we've been starting to worry that we had almost exhausted our supply of bullshit entirely".

"Now that we've locate
d fresh stores of bullshit, we intend to start telling people that the Taliban think that Americans look like fags and that Al-Qaeda are trying to feel up British schoolchildren using Facebook".

Sources close to the British Ministry of Defence ma
de no official comment, but indicated that the fresh supply of weapons-grade bullshit could be deployed on BBC News 24, where it would be fashioned into a crude infographic reading "UK Afghanistan troop numbers sufficient for victory"...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Defence of the Scottish Cretin

Regular readers will know that I really have no truck with anybody's nationalism. Flags are good for two things, in my opinion - identifying a person or product's nation of origin, and as a last resort when the toilet paper/firewood runs out.

I'm particularly unimpressed with the nationalism of my compatriots, which focuses far too much on biscuit-tin bullshit and anti-English belligerence and does no credit to our generally genial nature. Our entirely excellent sporting rivalry with our southern cousins should be amusing and good-natured, but is all too often merely an excuse for Scottish cretins to act like aggressively stupid and nasty twats. With that in mind, it's not an entirely bad thing that our godawful football team failed to qualify for the finals.

That said, I have to explain that our behaviour is not entirely unprovoked. If I wanted to illustrate the Scottish football fan's relationship with our English pals, I'd point to the following incident, which took place on the day of the play-off draw for the 2000 European Championships, pairing England and Scotland in a head-to-head fight for the one available place.

Right after the draw, the ITV national news presenter asked their football pundit the entirely reasonable and straightforward question - isn't this the worst possible fixture, since it means that only one nation will be able to qualify?

The sports reporter, a Londoner, responded as if he'd been asked whether the players should take to the field naked. Of course not, he snorted, totally missing her point. It's a great draw - England will win easily.

This, I think it's fair to say, is our relationship with the England team in microcosm.

Anyway, enough of this self-pitying crap - South Korea are about to take on Greece in the world's premier football tournament. Despite my previous endorsement of the USA, I wish Rooney et al the best of luck in today's game and hope that England make it into the later stages, for local interest's sake if nothing else. So long as you don't win the damn thing, of course.

I hope readers enjoy it too and I'm looking forward to seeing the cream of the Premiership in action on the biggest stage of all. Here's to a seven-goal thriller, guys.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Ferguson Defence

"He's a great fuckin' player! Youse are aw fuckin' idiots... Press conference over!" - Sir Alex Ferguson defending Juan Sebastian Veron's reputation from journalistic doubters, apocryphal

I know I promised not to revisit this, but such has been the bathetic level of propaganda Fail from the usual suspects over the great Gaza aid flotilla debacle that Sir Alex looks, in retrospect, like a steamroller of remorseless logic garlanded with a thousand flowery skooshes of primrose-poetic perfume.

Not that I'm saying the Israelis' propaganda campaign has been ham-fisted - far from it. In fact, whoever orchestrated their exculpatory horseshit machine should be the toast of Tel Aviv, turning what should have been a story of naked aggression against a friendly nation into a constant rolling-news stabathon of Turkish psychosis. Whatever your opinion on the matter, you have to applaud a PR campaign that turned a calculated act of war on an ally into a fuzzy form of self-defence.

No, the really hilarious bullshit has come, as it always does, from the internet. My personal favourite was the Little Green Footballs-sourced hilarity of ReutersGate Mk. XXMVII. Summary - the news agency published a photo of a bashed-up Israeli commando bleeding all over the deck of the Mavi Marmara... But cropped out a knife one of the passengers was holding! Lord, have mercy!

Naturally, this translated into an epic wingnutty circlejerk as the west's anti-Jihadist defenders - read, "panty-hoarding sexual shut-ins go full retard during porno breaks" - mounted each other in increasingly furious attempts to pretend that, far from blanketing the news channels 24/7 with Israeli government-issue propaganda video clips, the dreaded MSM were in fact slyly keeping the truth from their audience for terroristical reasons.

If that wasn't bad enough, think of the gnashing of teeth over the treachery of Turkey. Wall Street Journal opinionator Robert Pollock knew who was to blame for Israel's attack on allied shipping - the Turks. To Melanie Phillips, the flotilla attack represented an "Islamist terror ambush" on a few choppers-full of hardened shock troopers who were lucky to escape with their lives after shooting a lot of civilians in the back of the head.

This paled into insignificance compared to the wannabe-Chalabi propaganda forum DEBKA reporting that, not only was Osama Bin Laden himself hiding in Iran, but that the Turkish government knew all about it all along, the bastards.

But as always, it wasn't the pile of non-Israeli corpses that horrified the internet's true humanitarians - it was the racism of "liberals" and the OMG Here-Comes-The-Genocide.

Maximum comedy ensued from Nasty Nick Cohen, who couldn't find space in his column to mention the flotilla raid, even though that was the reason he was asked to write the fucking thing in the first place.

Inveighing instead against the usual allegorical, anonymous liberals, Cohen enthusiastically plunged his head into a trough of chicken entrails, telepathically divining racist hatred by the bucketload, before hilariously invoking Godwin's Law to support an argument based on superfly elision of his foes with the Nazis. More worryingly, Nick also indicated that he's about to blast off into the upper atmosphere on a Eurabia-fuelled rocket with the following silly bollocks...

Instead of confronting or even arguing with the anti-liberal forces that are terrorising much of the Middle East and Asia, they appease them and offer them Israel as a placatory gesture, when Israel is not theirs to give away.

Uh, right Nick. That's totally the plan.

Not that Nick's Naziometer was waggling alone. True to form, it took Here's the bullshit - away you go, fruitcakes forum Harry's Place little time to deploy their standard response to western ultraviolence, quickly tracking down some nutter with a swastika sign, prompting semi-hysterical paroxysms over Turkey's incipient fascism.

Norm-affiliated academic Eve Gerrard took the superficially insane option of listing the crimes of Sri Lanka, Sudan, Iran and various other international villains who she feels are insufficiently demonised as evidence that pissed-off lefties were... Uh, were...

Well, she leaves it to your imagination, but you can guess. Of course, we can quibble that when Sudan decides to rub out a load of civilians, you don't often see thousands of highly-educated bullshitters leaping on their chairs to denounce critics as black-hearted racists in the quality press. Nor does the world's only superpower step in to smooth everything over for Sudan, but we'll let that slide.

The real fun was still to come, though. Were all these angry critics merely criticising a cracked and insane military operation, or was there a darker motive?

Melanie Phillips knew - it was simply a pre-pogrom atmosphere, if not a global pogrom in the making. At the HP boobyhatch, second eleven blogger Alan A. saw "further genocide of the Jews in the 21st century".

In context of course, nothing in the real world has actually changed. A lot of politicians have issued pro-forma complaints; the Turks have made a lot of noise but have noticeably done bugger all; the Americans have made it clear they're backing the Israelis to the hilt.

So intimidated are the Israeli government that they've felt quite comfortable telling the entire planet to fuck right off, while the people of Tel Aviv are so terrified they've been marching through the streets in nationalist rallies. This is before we point out that the Israelis feel so overawed by the astonishing might of their enemies that they've actually bombed the shit out of at least three of them in the last five years.

Still, the award for Golden Wingnut of the Week unquestionably goes to Mad Mel for this gem - The Derangement of the World. Because it's not you that's crazy Melanie... It's practically the entire human race who have lost their marbles. Cheers!

(Okay, last time I mention the flotilla clusterfuck. Did I mention that I have a policy of not commenting on Israel/Palestine?).

World Cup Endorsement

FlyingRodent.blogspot.com hereby endorses The United States of America for World Cup glory.

This is an entirely emotional choice, since I'm aware that the USA may struggle to get out of the group stage. Although they stunned Spain 2-0 in the most recent Confederations Cup and were very unlucky to lose 3-2 to Brazil in the final, the Americans are a fairly limited side with a couple of quality players, and one of them is a goalkeeper. Even then, the World Cup is a big step up in tournament terms and I'm fairly certain that repeat fixtures would end badly for the Yanks.

Nonetheless, I hope they pull off a big shock and manage to make the quarter-finals at least, for two very patronising but heartfelt reasons, being

1) The two week holiday I enjoyed in Boston, New York and environs in 2004, during which pretty much everyone I met was incredibly friendly and keen to offer suggestions for interesting touristy things to do. Plus, almost all the USians I've ever met in Britain have been funny, cheerful and non-judgemental people, and

2) I'm absolutely convinced that, if they put their minds to it, the Americans could develop into an excellent side that regularly challenges for trophies. Like the Aussies, the Yanks are mad about sport and insanely competitive, and they tend to excel when a sport catches on.

The US has probably one of the best infrastructures for sport on Earth, from sports science and training to a potentially huge fanbase - Europe-sized! - with enough disposable income to both fund the game at grassroots and to pack out future tournaments. Further, the Latino population is growing quickly and I have an entirely irrational and mildly racist belief that this will somehow translate into a massive resource base of young, enthusiastic players who are trained to focus on individual skill. That could mean a giant crop of talent that could grace any tournament or league in the world.

Finally, the United States are, along with India and Pakistan*, more or less the only holdouts blocking football's pandemic, Borg-like dominance of all human life. It's not a properly worldwide competition if these huge nations are watching tedious bollocks like cricket and baseball during football's premier showcase.

The difficulty is that often, the Americans simply aren't interested in things they're not instantly brilliant at. IMHO, a sport in which the US can be crushed by Iran (WC 1998) is not one that's going to appeal to Peoria, so seven points out of three games in the group stage, followed by a good win in the second round, are going to be essential if the team are looking for good coverage on ESPN.

Anyway, that's enough tendentious waffle. USA! USA!

*And Sri Lanka, now that I come to think of it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

That Unwritten Rule Violated Again

Well, hooray - after years of quietly needling Professor Norm, he responds - to a tweet shorterising his thoughts on a proposed academic boycott of Israel to "Fuck yeah, I'd have played Sun City with Queen".

It was a fairly snotty thing to say, but I couldn't resist the mental image of the Professor in a headband and spangly cloak, wielding one of those guitar-keyboards, charging onstage with Freddie Mercury - "Hello Sun City! This one's called Fat Bottomed Girls!" - and still find the concept hilarious. That said, it was a piss-poor attempt at shorterising a complex issue, and Professor Geras deserves a response.

Norm has made and continues to make a case against academic boycotts, some of his arguments being stronger than others. Me, I think the strongest case against a boycott is that it won't work and will in fact make the situation worse. As I've said elsewhere, I respond very badly to press articles bitching about Scotland/Barnett formula/West Lothian question, even if they're well-argued and entirely factual, so I can guess how a boycott will turn out in practice. In this regard, the Professor and I are on the same page.

Where we part company is this kind of thing: "...even against apartheid South Africa there was not, in this country in the 1980s, the kind of demented obsession about an academic boycott that there is in certain leftist quarters today when it comes to Israel. The Rodent might like to think about why that is".

Here's my take on why that is - it's because you have a lot of people who want to do something about a horrible situation. This is something, they think, ergo let's do that. I don't think I'm being uncharitable to Norm if I note that he himself is a great thinker-upper of somethings to do in horrible situations, those somethings often being highly dubious and counterproductive themselves.

Further, it's clear that the issue attracts a lot of people on both sides who like to see the world in very black and white terms, and find shades of grey confusing and annoying. I think that in many ways, stuff like Israel/Palestine has become a replacement for domestic politics, since the UK's national discourse has largely devolved into a glorified piss-fight over who can empty the public's bins most cheaply. Again, I have to observe that Norm himself is not entirely bulletproof against that type of criticism.

Let's just tackle this head on, though. The Prof is talking about a combination of

a) the racism, man, which he identifies by the neat trick of whapping the words "in effect" onto the end of sentences. As in, "I do not believe you are racist, but I believe that your actions are racist in effect". See also, singling out.

b) the moral relativism and reflexive anti-westernism of the bruschetta-munching blah blah blah who pay lip service to human rights while only criticising the actions of chunter cough mumble and refuse to protest the much worse crimes of wheeze splutter chuckle and will you condemn an ever-increasing number of atrocities sequentially until everyone starts banging their heads off the walls and forgets what they were talking about.

I cheerfully note that these criticisms are correct for a small number of fruitcakes who regularly show up in comments here and elsewhere. Nonetheless, I have to remind Mr. Geras that boycott calls may be related in part to Israel's official state policy of imprisoning and deliberately immiserating 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children while quietly and intentionally hoovering up as much land as possible and repeatedly launching ultraviolent, lunatic bombing campaigns on heavily populated urban areas, all of which is done with 100% total impunity thanks to unblinking American support.

While I realise that this doesn't come close to summarising the situation - after all, I fully understand why Israelis are very, very hawkish on defence, given the lunacy and depravity of many of their enemies - I throw it out there as a possible motivation for a wrong-headed policy, sought by reasonable and small-d decent human beings.

Or, you know, stormtroopers. Take your pick.