Thursday, March 31, 2005

Starving children in Iraq

2 years since the US led invasion of Iraq aimed at ridding the World of an oppressive dictator it turns out that the numbers of starving children in the war-torn country has actually doubled.

Figures from the UN show that some 8% of all the children in Iraq are starving and malnutritioned compared with 4% at the time of Saddam Husseins rule.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Doctor Who returns

Unless you've been living in a makeshift anti-terrorism shelter for the last few months you probably would have realised that Easter weekend marked the return of the cult phenomenon Doctor Who.

Before I go any further I should point out that I am in no way a Doctor Who aficionado. I watched repeats of some of the early 'Who' when I was a kid and I remember it scaring the life out of me and it being one of the shows that helped form my love of Science Fiction. As for the later stuff, I watched bits here and there, but it didn't really grab my attention in the same way. So I come at this as a plain old Sci-Fi fan.

First off, the music. Nostalgia is a great thing, and hearing that famous tune again, albeit slightly updated, sent a shiver down my spine. I can only imagine what my Who-obsessed friends must have felt at the start ;-)

As is common (or so I am told) with new incarnations of the Doctor, the first ep deals with the coming together of the titular character and his platonic companion. In this case, the lucky lady is Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), a pretty cockney girl with no prospects and a dead end job. The opening scenes are very well shot, detailing a day in the monotonous life of Rose. It flashes by quickly and without incident, and uses simple imagery to excellent effect.

The action soon takes over though, as Rose is thrust into the new Doctors battle with long established villains the Autons (empowered bits of plastic hell-bent on destruction). For me, this is were the trouble begins. The episode moves quickly from one set-piece to another, this probably wouldn't have been too bad a thing if the brief interludes had contained reasonable characterisation. Unfortunately, we are treated to glimpses of Roses domestic life that are so bland we could be watching Eastenders.

However, when Christopher Ecclestone is on-screen the episode does shine. This new Doctor has a wonderfully surreal personality and comes across as both detached and playful. There were a few too many one-liners but this is a minor flaw.

There are a lot of hints at much more complexity which bodes well for the future, but as a pilot episode it does feel lacking. The story is one-dimensional and seems designed purely to get Rose and the Doctor together. The result is that when Rose chooses to join the Doctor on his travels, it feels rushed and with little reasoning.

I'd definitely say that the story is aimed at children. This is certainly not a bad thing. Doctor Who has been watched by millions of kids throughout the last 40 years. It has helped push several generations of children into the world of science fiction. So it could be argued that Doctor Who has always been aimed at a younger audience.

For adults there isn't the same magic, but the potential is there. It is only episode one and a lot had to be covered in a short space of time. I'd argue that it would have been more sensible to have a pilot ep of 90 minutes. Once the show gets into its stride I hope to see some more complex storytelling, as I feel it is still possible to do this while continuing to appeal to the youth market.

In summary, I'd definitely recommend watching the first ep of this new show. It is lacking in depth and some of the dialogue is poor, but I feel you have to understand the demographic it is pitched at. My 10 year old nephew loved it, and if more children his age start watching more sci fi because of Doctor Who, then I won't be arguing.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ski Holiday

Sorry for the lack of activity recently. Been away on holiday. Pictures can be found here.

It was a good week off, and the skiing was great. Contemplating heading to Norway next year as there is apparently very good skiing there.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The terrorists are comin, run for the hills!

John Stevens says there are up to 200 trained "bin laden" terrorists on the streets of Britain. It is news that will strike fear into the hearts of the Daily Mail reading populace.

Meanwhile the Liberal anti-anti-terror law (sorry) people, like myself, have been labelled as utopian idealists for not seeing the real dangers in the world today. Funny, I thought I and many of my friends were quite clear in our view of the dangerous, bloody and self-destructive world we inhabit. Oh but wait, I'm forgetting, it's not nasty and violent when it's the Brits and Americans committing the atrocities, is it?

But I digress.

There are 100, possibly 200, al qaeda terrorists with the potential of committing crimes in the UK. OK, am I the only one who finds this number alarmingly low? I mean, after everything we've heard from Tony and his (lack of) intelligence agencies in recent years I was sure that we actually faced an army of radical extremists determined to destroy our very democracy. But enough about New Labour and their Neo-Con allies from across the pond ;-)

Possibly 200 potential terrorists in the UK. Out of 60 million inhabitants. 200. How many IRA terrorists were operating in the 1970s? I think you'll find it was many thousands, with tens of thousands of sympathisers happy to offer safe houses and escape routes. Did we have special laws in mainland Britain then?

No I'm not deluded. Yes I realise the damage terrorists did in New York, Washington and Madrid. Yes I realise that only one planned attack has to be successful to kill hundreds. However, this nation has come through decades of terrorism. These were not threats but real terrorist acts. Birmingham, Manchester and London have all suffered. Which of course brings me to Northern Ireland. For decades this small stretch of land was 'secured' under a near martial law. Did this prevent the attacks? How about we ask the families of the 3000 people killed in the conflict?

Only recently have we seen the very people who provided the support base for organisations like the IRA turning on them. This is not because of having troops patrolling the streets and shooting people at checkpoints, but because the people themselves have realised that the killings have become senseless, and the only way out is to sit down and talk.

Similarly, from Egypt to Central Africa, the people turned on the idea of Islamic Jihad long ago. What is seen as brutal action by the west both at home and abroad will only serve to drive people back into the hands of the extremists. Will draconian laws prevent terror attacks, or just make them more likely to happen?

Thankfully, at least the House of Lords has seen some sense for once.

Anyway, here's a nice antedote to all the "run for the hills" stupidity in the country right now.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Nazi threat, 9/11 and the Reichstag

Sometimes, when the chips are down and you are facing into the abyss, it is necessary to take certain liberties away from the population in order to safeguard the future.

For Britain, the most striking examples lie in WWII, when it became necessary to impose many draconian restrictions on the people. These decisions were not taken lightly, and few would agree that they were a mistake. The very fabric of our nation and culture was under threat from a very real enemy. Our fate, at that point, was very much undecided. Hardship and a change in our civil liberties were necessary; vital even, to protect us from the approaching armies of Hitlers Third Reich.

Go back now to 1933. Arsonists had just torched the Reichstag building causing panic to sweep across Germany. Hitler, used the situation to manipulate the people into believing that their very nation was in danger of destruction from the many forces of evil both at home and abroad. Driving them on with fear, Hitler tore apart his nations democracy and destroyed his peoples civil liberties.

In truth, there was no threat. It was a skillful piece of propaganda used continuously as a reason for German's re-taking of the Rhineland, annexing of Austria and invasion of Czechoslovakia. All in the name of protecting the homeland from the evils around them.

Fast forward to 2005. In Britain, our Government continues to report the dangers we face. The very real dangers of international terrorists that may strike at any time, robbing you of everything you hold dear. The basis of this feeling? 3 terrorist attacks (9/11, Bali and Madrid) which have only tenuous links between them.

Almost everyday we hear a report about how police have arrested people on suspicion of terrorism. Remember the ricin plots? What about the arrests in connection with blowing up Old Trafford? Almost all of the people arrested in these raids and others have been released without charge. Of course, nobody bothered to report it, because innocence isn't news.

With 24 hour news coverage the threat seems very real, just like it did in the 1940s for the British people staring across the Channel at a seemingly unstoppable enemy; just like it did for the people of Germany in 1933. However, one of these threats was built on fact, the other was built on opportunism.

I wonder which one is true of today. Well, that's for you to decide, but whatever happens now, our nation has taken a dangerous step away from the democratic principals we hold dear. Will we ever get them back?