Monday, June 19, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

Parasites on Parade

Anybody unlucky enough to have turned on the Telly too early for the footie yesterday would have had to endure the spectacle of the 'celebrations' of Bett Windsors OFFICIAL* birthday
Part of the finale of this charade was the foie de joie, in which the massed ranks of the tin soldiers alternated singing the national anthem with setting off massed volleys from their automatic rifles.

Ninety soldiers, Ninety rifles, three rounds each,

One Hundred And Eighty rounds in total!
What a criminal waste

* Monarchs have birthdays like hobbits have breakfasts- one is never enough!


Sunday, June 18, 2006

thanks sir

AC Hayman CBE looking remorseful - he went on a police media training course to learn how to do it.

'Thank you for my CBE, I fully deserve it for all my police service in protecting the public, but it should have been a knighthood. And by the way, sorry for letting my trigger happy goons shoot whomsoever they feel like. But hey, what you gonna to do?'

Catch the Piglet

Ian Blair congratulates his Deputy on his award

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, Ian Blair's right hand Mutt in charge of counter terrorism, and the man behind the police murder of Jean Charles De Menezes, and the Forest Gate fiasco has received a CBE in Betty's birthday honours list.

This is despite his distinctly sweaty appearance on the TV last week apologising to the occupants of the two houses that 250 Brave Boys in blue stormed two weeks ago in a blaze of publicity (and 9mm automatics), for "the hurt that we may have caused."

Well a bullet through the shoulder does tend to offend.

The BBC were quick to point out that the award was for Andy's handling of the 7/7 attacks, and not in any way connected to either Forest Gate or the Murder of Jean Charles, AC Hayman's part in which is still being investigated.

So having totally failed to protect Londoners from one terrorist assault, and then having gunned down one innocent on his way to work and then another in his pyjamas the man responsible is rewarded with a medal.

Is any one else reminded of Dick Dastardly's faithful sidekick Mutley and his constant hunger for medals?

Mutley, you snickering, floppy eared hound.
When courage is needed, you’re never around.
Those medals you wear on your moth-eaten chest
Should be there for bungling at which you are best.

So, stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon (6x)
Nab him. Jab him. Tab him. Grab him.
Stop that pigeon now

Dastardly & Mutley in their Flying Machine
by Joseph Barbera & William Hanna

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The da Vinci code

Yet again, the actions of religious extremists are making headlines. Yet again, religious types are crying blasphemy. The latest mote in god’s eye is the big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling pseudo-religious whodunit, The da Vinci code. Even the usually mild-mannered archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has joined in, using his easter sunday sermon as a platform to condemn the book and the film for encouraging people to treat christianity as “a series of conspiracies and cover-ups.” While the church of england is able only to utter a fairly meek squeak of indignation, elsewhere in the world protests have been far more vociferous. There have been prayer vigils outside cinemas, two councillors in Italy publicly burnt copies of the book and various spokesmen from the Vatican itself have condemned it, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone describing it as “a sack full of lies.” Dan Brown is no doubt thankful that christians no longer burn heretics, and is no doubt equally grateful for the effect that all this free publicity will be having on his bank balance. The popularity of the book, which sold 60 million copies, always guaranteed that the film would make money, but, thanks to the faithful keeping the controversy going, The da Vinci code took a whopping £119 million at box offices on its opening weekend.

Frankly, finding out what the controversy is all about is just about the only reason to go and see the film. The da Vinci code clocks in at a bum-numbing 2 hours and 50 minutes long and is really rather tedious throughout. I found the experience akin to being stuck listening to someone who thinks that they are far more intelligent and interesting than they actually are, and is desperate for you to share their inflated opinion of themselves.

The plot itself is fairly standard fare. A man is murdered to protect a secret, and the protagonists get caught up trying to find out who murdered him and what secret he was protecting. In keeping with the worst examples of the genre, the murder victim manages to leave a series of elaborate riddles, while he is bleeding to death, for his granddaughter, played by Audrey Tautou and a expert in ‘symbology’ played by Tom Hanks, to solve. Credibility is tortured still further by a series of plot twists which are alternately so predictable you can see them a mile off, or so implausible that they qualify as deus ex machina.

Equally disappointing is the sheer amount of squandered talent. Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard have both made their fair share of stodgy films, but it takes a special knack to create such a lasklustre film featuring beautiful backdrops in Paris and London and starring the luminous Audrey Tautou, and the equally talented Jean Reno and Albert Molino. Even proficient performances by Paul Bettany as a sinister albino monk and an eccentric, camp, english knight played by eccentric, camp, english knight, Sir Ian McKellen, fail to rescue the film.

Of course, the popularity of the film and the book is arguably less to do with its artistic merit and more to do with the ‘controversial’ ideas contained within. I am sure I will not be spoiling the plot for those who have not yet discovered the joys of Dan Brown if I reveal that the central conceit is that Jesus married Mary Magdelene and had children, and that this secret has been protected by the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, who are opposed by the (real world) ultra-orthodox catholic sect Opus Dei who wish to wipe out all traces of this heresy. The clues are apparently all there in the works of Leonardo da Vinci (sigh).

Conspiracy theories are always popular, and the catholic church is a particularly fertile topic for conspiracy theorists: it is incredibly powerful, authoritarian and secretive, and through its reactionary dogma and the actions of some of its followers it has managed to upset an awful lot of people over the years. Iconoclasm and blasphemy are usually both fun and worthwhile, but The da Vinci code’s attacks on the catholic church seem rather clumsy. Not that it does not deserve it, but criticising catholicism for being a bit dodgy is rather like criticising George Bush for being a bit of an idiot: far too easy to be overly entertaining or subversive. The conspiracy theories that Dan Brown has reheated and served up as pop-fiction have been around for a very long time and frankly, are getting tired, not least because since the book of The da Vinci code was released in 2003 there has been an overabundance of related books and television and radio programmes that have jumped on the bandwagon. The appetite of a significant number of people for this fairly uninspiring conspiracy theory seems undiminished though.

The various church leaders that have got themselves in a tizzy over The da Vinci code seem to think that its popularity is indicative of the waning influence of christianity.
More than one commentator has quoted G K Chesterton’s adage that “once people stop believing in god, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” The sentiment expressed is an arrogant underestimation of the credulity of non-believers, with the subtext that we would all be better off believing what we are told to believe. However, it is true that while, certainly in western europe, the influence of organised religion is on the decline, the reasons behind religious belief remain and simply find new expressions. We are still products of an irrational society, and one which is confusing and where we as individuals have very little power. This is fertile breeding ground for belief structures that reassure us by offering a neatly packaged version of reality and meaning to subscribe to. Conventional religions such as christianity have not been able to evolve quick enough to continue to meet our needs as society has evolved, and so people turn to alternatives, whether it is a pick and mix approach to spirituality, incorporating aliens, or ghosts or crystals, or belief in conspiracy theories, or any number of other options. None of us is entirely immune to this impulse towards irrational beliefs, because we are all products of this irrational society. The left for example is certainly not immune to influences of the tinfoil hat brigade. There are those who consider themselves part of the left who believe that 9-11 was an inside job, or that the jewish community controls the world. The cpgb has itself routinely been the target of various rumours, some of which have the potential to be deeply harmful if anyone believes the deluded individuals that promote them. This is not to say that all fans of Dan Brown believe the conspiracy theories contained in his books, because undoubtedly most do not, but the attraction of such beliefs does perhaps suggest a part of the appeal of The da Vinci code.

There is then a certain irony that the key participants in the controversy over The da Vinci code are both promoting irrational beliefs while criticising their ideological rivals for their irrationality. Personally the person I feel sorriest for, more so even than myself for having to sit through the film, is Leonardo da Vinci. All reliable evidence would suggest that da Vinci was a man who, far from being part of a superstitious and clandestine sect, was an exemplar of the rigorous and enquiring approach that is the source of rationality.

An edited version of this review can also be read in the communist party of great britain's paper, the weekly worker, which is available online at:

Dr Who

BBC1, Saturday May 13 Doctor who: rise of the cybermen
BBC1, Saturday May 20 Doctor who: the age of steel

Five episodes in to the second series of the new Doctor who, and it is still going from strength to strength. The series is consistently pulling in viewing figures of over 7 million, the cybermen are on the front cover of the Radio times and reviews of each episode have become a staple fixture in every newspaper and magazine from the Times to the News of the world (whose reviewer Ian Hyland offers the incisive criticism that the cybermen are “a bit gay”). Most significantly, the show has become an accepted topic of conversation in pubs, workplaces and school playgrounds. The shows success is a pleasant surprise. Although I was never much of a whovian (I was rather young when the show was cancelled in 1989, when it was already somewhat tired after having run for 35 years); I proudly self-identify as a geek (geekhood being defined as much by avid consumption of sci-fi, fantasy and comics as it is by the mild social exclusion that invariably accompanies said pursuits). Yet the past few years have seen an upsurge in the acceptability of a genre that has traditionally been the purview of social misfits. The best indicator of geekiness having become cool will surely come when Tony Blair announces that when he wasn’t watching Newcastle united, he spent his childhood playing Dungeons & dragons.

Part of the reason for Doctor who’s popularity is that the show is very good. Gone are the days of papier mache monsters, abandoned quarries doubling as alien landscapes, lacklustre plots and miserly and unsympathetic executives. The beeb have invested a lot in the new series, reflected not only in the higher standard of special effects, but also in the quality of the writing and acting. The man who deserves much of the credit is Russell T Davies, who is who’s producer and sometime writer. Davies was behind the groundbreaking Queer as folk, the controversial The second coming (which starred ninth doctor Christopher Ecclestone) and Casanova (starring the current, tenth doctor David Tennant). Davies is an inspired choice to head the project. He has been bold enough to take the series into new territory, such as the inclusion of the bisexual Captain Jack in the last series, leading to the first same-sex kiss in the series’ history and has openly considered having a woman play the next doctor. It is almost a shame that Mary Whitehouse, who repeatedly criticised the much tamer Doctor who of yesteryear, is not around to express her puritanical indignation at the new series. Yet at the same time, Davies has managed to create a show suitable for all the family, secured the adoration of old fans and introduced a whole new audience to the Doctor who experience. And, while exploring different directions, the new version of the show demonstrates a genuine affection for the earlier series. This is no doubt helped by the fact that many of the cast and crew, including the current doctor, David Tenant, were fans when they were children.

Another reason for the show’s success is, as I’ve written, that science-fiction is very much part of the zeitgeist. Although the popularity and the quality of the genre has ebbed and flowed over the years, it has always had an immense inherent potential for creativity. Freed from the constraints of trying to reflect mundane reality, sci-fi provides both the possibility of escapism and the possibility of exploring very real issues from a different perspective.

Doctor who is no exception: while it can of course be enjoyed as thrilling adventure yarn set against a backdrop of exotic locations and alien races, it has always explored deeper issues as well. This is done both overtly (the daleks in the last series were recast as religious fundamentalists) and also more thoughtfully. In the current series there has been a recurrent theme exploring lost love and past relationships. The doctor with his unnaturally long life has left a lot of people behind. In School reunion we saw him meet up with Sarah Jane, a former companion and his robotic dog K9, with his current companion Rose realising that she too will be left behind in time, and in The girl in the fireplace the doctor falls in love with a woman who he meets at points throughout her life, who lives and dies in the course of the episode.

The series as a whole is a rich source for analysis. One particularly contemporary theme present in Doctor who is that of the concept of britishness. Doctor who, both the series and the character, is of course a quintessentially british creation. By way of comparison sci-fi produced in the US is often big-budget and overtly militaristic, it presents simplistic morality and its protagonists are often professional, square-jawed heroes. Doctor who, and british sci-fi more generally, however emphasises individuality and amateurism. Part of the appeal of the series is that it is somewhat kitsch and self-deprecating. The doctor blunders from one adventure to the next. He constantly meddles in the machinations of tyrants who would crush the rebellious individuality that he represents, and triumphs through a combination of luck and wit. The doctor is in the mold of the gentleman adventurer, the explorer, the eccentric, the visionary. It is of course no less of a mythological creation than that of britishness being synonymous with the suave killer that is James Bond or the jingoistic thuggishness promoted by the BNP, but it is a far more progressive national stereotype.

The latest rip-roaring episode, Rise of the cybermen ended on a cliffhanger. The doctor has crash-landed in an alternative Britain, where would-be dictator John Lumic (played by left-winger Roger Lloyd-Pack, best known as Trigger in Only fools and horses) has created the cybermen in a bid to take over the country (bwa-ha-ha). The cybermen have been made out of homeless people who were lured to their doom by the promise of food, and stripped of their humanity and plated in steel. As the episode ended the doctor and his companions are surrounded by the menacing cyborgs. Tune in to the next episode, The age of steel, to see if he can escape and foil their nefarious scheme!

An edited version of this review can also be read in the communist party of great britain's paper, the weekly worker, which is available online at: