Thursday, July 28, 2005

One campaign ends as another begins

Today marked an historic moment for Britain and Northern Ireland. Following the release of IRA bomber Sean Kelly, an IRA statement declared an official end to the 30 year campaign that has seen thousands killed. All IRA units have been ordered to dump their arms and to work towards a political and diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Of course, only time will tell if the statement holds true. There is always a risk that splinter groups (such as the Real IRA) could derail any progress. However, this is certainly a cause for hope.

The irony of the timing of this announcement could not be more stark. As one military campaign against Britain ends, another is in its infancy. We can only hope that our leaders learn the lessons of 30 years of bloodshed and prevent this new threat from dominating our lives for another 30 years.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BSG: Valley of Darkness

Following directly on from the events of Scattered, the crew of Galactica have little chance for a breather. The joy at having relocated the fleet is short-lived as a Cylon virus completely knocks out the ships power. With Cylons having infiltrated the Starboard hanger bay, the episode becomes a race against time to stop the Cylons getting to vital systems and turning the Battlestars powerful weapons on the fleet.

The a-story, while exciting, is certainly not what draws the attention this week. The events on Caprica and, in particular, Kobol continue to intrigue. Having come under fire from an unknown force (presumably Cylons, but maybe not!), Tyrol and Cally make it back to the others with another med-kit. The events on Kobol are becoming more frantic every episode, and I think it's only a matter of time before Tyrol comes to blows with his inexperienced superior officer; Crashdown. Tyrol seems to be very much in the mold of Deep Space Nines Chief Engineer O'Brien; a man who has seen the horrors of war but is inevitably never the commanding officer.

Early on there is a truly shocking moment as Baltar, who's delusions are becoming more frequent, sees a vision of Adama taking his baby away. It is a superb bit of self-referentialism to a scene in the pilot and is so twisted that it further adds to the strength of this show both as a sci-fi and a psychological drama.

The only calm moments are to be found, of all places, on Caprica. Helo and Starbuck are searching for a ride off their former home. Despite the dangers Starbuck insists on popping into her apartment for a break. It may seem crazy but it actually comes across as quite poignant and surreal, that in the midst of this tragedy these two people can sit and just relax.

Some may find the action on Galactica a little OTT and un-original. A lot of the common plot points are there. Apollo and his team are the only ones left standing in the way of the last Cylons - check; they are low on ammo - check; the only way out of the battle for President Roslin takes them right past the point where Apollo is to make a heroic final stand - check. However, it's still good fun and it's great to see the CGI cylon centurions finally spilling a fair amount of blood.

The final scenes offer some superb dialogue between Tigh and Apollo; both men who are, by their own admission, not fit to wear the uniform.

In summary, not as polished as 'Scattered' but full of action and intrigue. As much as I love the darkness and the trauma, I have to admit that there is a danger of 'war fatigue' setting in if the rag-tag fleet don't get a breather soon.

Valley of Darkness - 7/10

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

BSG: Scattered

How long have I waited? It seems like an age. Yet in truth the first season of Battlestar Galactica finished only 6 months ago. Now, Ron Moore and David Eicks terrifying vision of apocalypse has returned to my plasma screen and all is good.

Well, it's good for me, but not so good for the Colonial Fleet. In fact it's very baaaaaad for the handful of human survivors. Season 1 left us with an almighty cliff-hanger and for those hoping for a nice and quick Star Trek resolution, you'll be disappointed. Season 1 only covered about 60 days and this new season looks set to follow that similar pattern, meaning that wounds that are fresh at the end of one ep, may take a good long while to heal.

In 'Scattered' all eyes are on Colonel Tigh, who has taken command of the fleet while Adama is incapacitated. He is given little time to settle in before a Cylon base star attacks. In the confusion of the escape jump Galactica becomes separated from the fleet without a clue how to locate them. Meanwhile the President remains locked in the brig with only Apollo for company. On Kobol the battered and bruised survivors of the Raptor crash struggle under the command of the ranking officer, Crashdown; Baltar is little help either, due to him now spending most of his time in a delusional state. Back on Caprica, the bloodied Starbuck now has to deal with a slightly love-sick Helo and Sharon the Cylon.

So all in all, the Human race is pretty screwed.

Yet again, Moore and Eick have given us an episode that offers little comfort. The victories are minor, but are made to feel huge because they are the only thing giving people hope. The truth is that the by the end of the first episode they are no better off than at the start. But sometimes, just keeping the status quo against overwhelming odds feels like a victory.

There are some good flashback moments which give us a brief insight into the mind of Colonely Tigh. He's a man at odds with himself; a man that very probably shouldn't be serving in the Fleet. Now he's in command, and that is potentially a very scary prospect.

What can I say, I love this show. It is dark, gripping and (for a Sci-Fi) very realistic. Not one of the people could be considered model citizens and that shows. Again, the performances are superb with the Tigh, Boomer, Crashdown and Tyrol standing out in particular. BSG is back, my summer is saved!

Scattered - 8.5/10

Monday, July 25, 2005

Double standards.

On friday the police shot and killed a man at Stockwell tube station. They had followed him from his home along his journey before challenging him to stop. The officers were in plain clothes and armed. The man (Jean Charles de Menezes) ran into the tube station to evade the police. He boarded a train, was cornered, tripped and shot five times in the face at close range.

Debate has raged for days over whether a shoot-to-kill policy is right and just. I have to say that if the police have a substantial reason to believe a suspect is about to cause harm to others then there is little choice, however this incident has left me shaken as to how the police came to the conclusion that de Menezes was about to cause harm.

We have been told that de Menezes was being watched on suspicion of being linked with terrorists; while being followed it was reported that he was acting suspiciously; he was wearing a large coat which may have been concealing something; and, of course, when challenged he ran away.

This latter fact seemed to have sealed his fate. But it was a judgement call that led to an innocent man being murdered in cold blood. Which leads to the question, how did the police make such a mistake?

The police seem to have based their pursuit of him on assumptions and the climate of fear that has gripped our nations capital. In the last few days I've been astounded at what seems to be the majority clearly supporting the police on this issue. Some point to the fact that the man was suspected of being linked to terrorists. My only response to this is that thousands of suspects have been arrested in this country since the anti-terror laws came in and all but a few have been released without charge. Being a suspect does not make one guilty.

Neither does the fact that someone is acting suspiciously. It might make you want to arrest and question them, which seems to be the case here, but unfortunately the police didn't arrest him; he ran. So now there are many people saying that running into a tube station in the 'current climate' is idiotic and therefore the police did what was necessary. It now appears that de Menezes was in Britain on an expired visa.

Why, if the police were so concerned about this man, didn't they surround him and arrest him? Why did they shout at him from a distance that allowed him to run? Seems tremendously unprofessional to me. Also, if you are challenged by several armed burly men in plain clothes to stop then what is your natural response? If the police had been watching this guy for some time they would known that he was from Brazil and grew up in a neighborhood where gun violence is high and when someone comes up to you wielding a gun and says stop you run like hell. Basic profiling would have made this clear. Don't the police profile their suspects and work out how best to approach them?

If they were so worried about this man, why didn't they challenge him when getting on the bus? Haven't there been two attacks in as many weeks on buses in London?

Of course I sympathise with the police. They had a difficult job to do and had to make a tough call. Unfortunately, they based that call on an assumption. For me that is not acceptable evidence. If the police have evidence that this man was actually involved in terrorism, rather than a hunch, then that would change things. But, it would appear that they don't.

To hear educated people saying that the police did the job they had to do and we should support them smacks of double standards. How many innocent Iraqis have died at the hands of US troops at checkpoints in Baghdad? Too many, and when it happens the US say that they were worried that the victims might be suicide bombers. Many people who are angry at the US for such actions in Iraq are throwing themselves into the ring to defend the police over the killing of de Menezes. I fail to see the difference here.

People are saying that anyone in their right mind would know not to run into a tube station like de Menezes did; not after what has happened in recent weeks. Does the same hold true for innocent Iraqis then? Surely all of the ones in Baghdad are well aware of what is going on around them and should know better than to ever get on the wrong side of the Iraqi police or US military? Yet somehow the innocents in Iraq keep dying at checkpoints and in their own homes; killed by those who swore to protect them.

There are those who argue that the police in this country are not used to dealing with such things. The moment you use that argument you are admitting that the police have made a mistake because they aren't equipped to deal with the situation. If they aren't equipped to deal with the situation then a shoot-to-kill policy seems fucking stupid imo.

A few months ago an Italian agent was killed in Iraq protecting a freed hostage. He was killed by US forces who wrongly thought the agent was a threat. The World was outraged; Britain was outraged. Yet for some reason, we are happy to turn the blind eye when an innocent is murdered in our capital by people who are there to protect.

Of course I support the police in what is a difficult job; but I expect a police force that is reasoned an measured. The actions on Friday were that of an overzealous mis-informed police force. Putting guns into the hands of such people will not stop this crisis; it will make it worse. This tragedy could have been prevented if proper processes and procedures for dealing with this situation were in place. They weren't; or if they were, they weren't followed. For that, questions must be asked and a proper system put in place. To blindly say "it's a shame but the police did what they had to do" completely validates what has happened and does not even go one step towards preventing it happening again.

This is a fucking tragedy, both for the police and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

RIP Jimmy Doohan

James Doohan, the man made famous for his quite appalling Scottish accent in Original Series Star Trek, has died aged 85. Never met him on the con circuit, but his characters onscreen battles with the ever-breaking warp drive ("cold start the engines... ya must be maaad!") will be long remembered.

"Scotty, beam me up!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fight terrorism with knowledge not ignorance

Superb article in the Guardian that confronts the real questions coming out of the attacks on London. While I recognise that it is only 5 days since the terror attacks the initial shock amongst many people is turning to anger and unreasonable hate.

We all deplore terrorism (even liberal lefties like myself). I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that the families of the victims must be going through. However, as a nation there are two directions we can go in. After 9/11 the American government took a radical right-wing step and launched a war on terror. In it's name they have invaded 2 nations, killed hundreds of thousands of people (predominately innocent civilians) and cost their economy hundreds of billions of dollars. After 11th March 2004, Spain took a radically different step. The Madrid train bombings occurred only days before their election. The people ousted the pro-Iraq war government and elected an anti-Iraq war government.

The choices are simple, we can continue to 'fight' this war on terror or we can actually try to get to the cause. If the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland has taught us anything, it is surely that you cannot fight terrorism by simply resorting to the same tactics. Has the war on terror helped to prevent terrorist attacks? Have the number of terrorist cells decreased? For every man and woman killed in the war on terror there are families that grow up resenting their killers. Only through knowledge and understanding can we prevent terrorism.

When Tony Blair next makes a rousing speech about how we must stay the course, ask yourself this question. If Tony Blair had not led us into a war in Iraq, would the attacks on London have ever happened?

Thursday, July 07, 2005


London was rocked today by a series of co-ordinated bomb attacks by terrorists. Coming only a day after the jubilant scenes in Trafalgar Square (following the Olympic decision) the contrasts are stunning. While I'm sure it will take time before it is officially announced who is responsible, a group linked to the Al Qaeda network has claimed it carried out the attacks.

It is a shocking and deplorable act that has left the city in turmoil and presumably cost many lives.

We can only hope that as the days and weeks pass, our government responds in a calm and patient manner. I hope that they work together with other nations both to find those responsible, but more importantly to try to gain an understanding as to the causes of these and other attacks. And only then, to take action that can help to prevent future attacks, rather than make matters worse by rushing into a retaliatory stance.

My thoughts are with the families.