Monday, March 29, 2004

The wind of political change...

After the shock of the Spanish general election which saw a centre-right government ousted by a left wing socialist party, Europe woke today to the news that another major government was on the brink of being ousted.

Jacques Chirac, the French President, is facing calls to hold a general election after the combined might of the Socialists, Communists and Greens destroyed his right wing Union for a Popular Movement party in regional elections. They took 20 out of the 22 mainland regions, and sent a clear message to Chirac that his time may be running out.

Chirac may have been against war in Iraq, but his recent domestic policies have been immensely unpopular. Whether this success will turn into similar gains in a general election remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that this result will send shockwaves through the leading governments of Europe.

Whether it's unity brought about by unpopular invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or anger at increasingly oppressive domestic policies, one thing is certain. The political left is undergoing a unified resurgance unseen in my lifetime. I can only hope that this one voice does not fragment into petty squabbles in the coming months. I can only hope that the traditionally apathetic people of Britain will take a lead from our European partners and oust Tony Blair, while simultaneously destroying Michael Howards Tories in the general election. It may only be a dream... but at least it keeps me happy!

Monday, March 15, 2004

Battlestar Galactica 2003

When I heard the news that cult Sci-Fi Battlestar Galactica was being remade it sent a shiver down my spine. Here was a show, which despite it's aging through the years still invokes happy memories of childhood in me. It was the show that first got me hooked on science fiction and the television industry in general.

Then as the first pieces of information began to leak out my shiver turned into fear and in the end anger. How could they make Starbuck a woman? How could they have some Seven-of-nine look-alike as one of the main villains? A move clearly designed to appeal to the 14 year old boys out there.

Of course, all this was based on not actually seeing the 3 hour pilot and more importantly, ignoring the most vital piece of information, who was making it. Ron Moore is one of the best popular science fiction tv writers of our time. He was one of the main reasons for The Next Generations brilliance and Deep Space Nine's diversity.

And so after watching the pilot I should have not been surprised to find how good it is. Intelligent, well written, well acted (by most, not all) and well executed.

The original story was always supposed to be dark, but due to 1970s storytelling and popular culture it was far hammier and nicer than it ever should have been. This modern version is very dark.

Like all remakes, there is going to be contention about the changes. The biggest talking point which surrounds the origin of the cylons is understandable, but makes for very good storytelling. The master/creator story has been done many times before, but it still feels fresh.

The struggle between reluctant president (Roslin) and aging warhorse (Adama) is well played out and this relationship I'm certain will be of great importance as the show develops.

The relationships between the characters seem to have taken the primary role in the story, and this is long overdue. If there is a criticism of the original show, it's that the main characters were too happy and friendly. Not in this Galactica. Apollo is arrogant and self righteous (although clearly he has a soft side). Adama is stubborn and reckless, but loyal. Tigh (I'm still angry about them changing his skin colour to white) is weak and full of pain, but this adds depth to a character that deserved more focus in the original.

The introduction of human looking cylons is a nice touch and certainly saves on special effects! I was somewhat disappointed with the decision to have a sexy woman to appeal to the boys, although I was impressed with the dark sides to her character.

And finally to Baltar... his characters motives are clearly still open and the depth of his personality is far greater than that of the original. But again, the jury is still out. It's a smart angle that Ron Moore has taken with this character, and it's a risky one. Most people (myself NOT included) demand a single villain to hate. This is why the borg queen was created for First Contact. There is no single villain with the cylons, yet. And I applaud this move. Of course, I look forward to seeing the direction in which Baltar goes.

The direction of Galactica is another success. It's raw, with an almost student like intelligence. The space battles have some excellent camera movements, and this combined with the simple but gripping soundtrack is mesmerising.

Anyway... I really enjoyed this. Galactica had it's flaws, but for once I am not going to dwell on them, because it deserves recognition for taking such stick over the months during production and emerging with a well-rounded sci-fi story.

How could I have doubted Ron Moore...

A message to right wing governments everywhere...

The shock result of the Spanish general election brings with it a day of jubilance in the midst of tragedy. The ousting of José María Aznar's People's party is a victory for the people of Spain who have been seflishly ignored by a man more concerned with his own place in history.

The long term ramifications will affect more than just the Spanish population. As early as Monday afternoon, new Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapater was promising to withdraw his troops from Iraq should the UN not take control of the situation by June 30th. The effect on the Bush alliance could be disasterous. Bush is in the middle of an election year, and the recent bombings in Madrid have brought global terrorism back to the agenda.

If Al Qaeda is responsible, then Spain was probably targeted for Aznar's strong support for the current US foreign policy. The people of Spain seem to have realised that, and have responded in the best way they could.

As with the bombings in Bali and Turkey, which targetted mainly Australians and British interests, these recent attacks have been clearly co-ordinated against one of Bush's stuanchest allies. In reality, the 'alliance' only consists of 5 major nations. The US, Australia, Britain and now Spain have been hit hard and with an election possibly only a year away in the UK, I have to wonder what the odds of a major terrorist attack on the British mainland are.

It is easy to get bogged down with fear. Unfortunately, the more attacks that take place, the more hard-line our governments become. But, as we've seen in Spain if a government remains blind to the people it will be toppled.

Thursday, March 04, 2004


The words immigration and asylum seeker have become dirty in this country. Being still quite young it may be that they've always been dirty words, I just didn't notice it. It seems not a day goes by without either the Daily Mail or Daily Express pronouncing how our entire way of life is under threat from the invading hordes of foreigners who are only intent on suckling on our already overstretched benefits teat. These two bastions of the right wing press have set their stall out with the clear intention of spinning the news against asylum seekers and misguiding their readers into believing that all who come to our shores should be turned away.

How have they managed this? Through the art of spin writing. A story about a woman being raped, while shocking, is not front page news in this country. It happens on a far too regular basis. Change the headline to "Girl raped by asylum seeker" and suddenly you've got your front page. Of course these newspapers don't say that every asylum seeker is a rapist, but by writing the story in a certain way they get their readers associating rapist, or thief, or benefit cheat, with asylum seeker.

After seeing so many headlines about how these immigrants are going to destroy our NHS it was refreshing to see a newspaper choose to dedicate its whole front page to quashing the myth that these people are a waste on our nations resources. The Independent printed a front page article on Tuesday highlighting how the NHS was being kept alive by some 44,000 immigrants who live and work in this country.

They are of all colours, all backgrounds and from all points of the globe. Some came for love, some for money, some for a better life, but they are all working for one purpose to keep the NHS going.

Home Office figures show that 44,443 healthcare staff from countries outside the European Union were issued with work permits last year, a 27-fold increase on the number in 1993.

They fill every role in the health service from doctors and nurses to pharmacists, radiographers and occupational therapists. They go where British professionals are reluctant to work traffic-choked inner cities and grimy housing estates and they perform the essential caring tasks that their British counterparts are reluctant to take on.
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The asylum issue is a controversial one. To announce that you want to tighten security on our borders can be seen as racist if taken out of context. Similarly, to say that you have liberal views on asylum can be interpreted as meaning you are happy to let anyone who wants to move here come on over. This is not the point. New laws and procedures aimed at improving our immigration system merely make it harder for genuine cases to enter this country.

Britain is a mongrel nation. That isn't something that's happened in the last 50 years. We have been like this for thousands of years. Britain has always been a refuge for those escaping persecution. It is one of our oldest and greatest traditions. Given that the Daily Mail launches a letter writing campaign whenever the government threatens to modernise one of our great traditions, it seems ironic that they should choose to campaign to destroy this one.

To turn a person away who is desperate for help. Who, on returning to their homeland will be tortured and persecuted does not put across the image that we are a civilised nation. Closing off borders was one of the first policies launched by Adolf Hitler in response to a terrorist attack on his nation. We all know what that led to.

We have a duty to protect those in need be they from this country or another. Our population is not going to triple because of immigration. People in nations like Slovakia often refuse to relocate from within their own nation because they enjoy a sense of locality. To assume that they will immediately up sticks and move thousands of miles to Britain in the summer is ludicrous.

Asylum seekers should not be feared. They should be welcomed. Those who can work here should be put on the road to work. Those who are unfit, through illness or injury should be cared for by our benefit system.

We are all of immigrant stock in this nation. Just because my family has been here for hundreds of years, does not make me more worthy of living here than a family who have been here for 10.