Monthly Archives: October 2008

Fictional meme letters

Okay, I got this meme from Andy Hinton (not to be confused with Alex Hilton – learned that lesson!):

1. Comment on this post.
2. I will give you a letter.
3. Think of 5 fictional characters whose names begin with that letter and post their names and your comments on these characters in your LJ blog.

Because this is Quaequam Blog! I thought I would limit these to 2000AD characters:

Rogue Trooper: the gayest strip in 2000AD’s history (that’s not a criticism by the way, just an observation), the original run by Gerry Finlay-Day was about a genetic infantryman who is the lone survivor of the infamous Quartz Zone Massacre. Determined to track down the traitor general who sent his “buddies” to their doom, he goes rogue, kept company only by the personality-encoded “biochips” of his best friends. By astonishing coincidence, he is called Rogue while his marksman friend is called Gunnar (his chip is in Rogue’s rifle), his quarter-mastery friend is called Bagman (his chip is in Rogue’s, er bag) and his, er, fairly useless friend is called Helm (can you guess where they keep his chip?).

A typical GF-D strip would feature Rogue encountering a woman, flirting with her, his “buddies” getting outrageously jealous and for her to turn out to be an evil traitor. Seriously, I don’t think there is a single female character in the original run (up to the point when they track down the traitor) who doesn’t turn out to be a villain.

If that isn’t homoerotic enough for you, how about the fact that the lead character runs around topless (in a warzone – very sensible).

Original artist Dave Gibbons eventually did a reboot of the character (called War Machine), which was actually very good and reprinted in Heavy Metal. Sadly, the ongoing series that came out of that was Terrible McTerrible.

Durham RedDurham Red: Johnny Alpha’s putative replacement sidekick (after his, very-obviously-boyfriend Wulf was killed off). Shortly afterwards, Johnny went and died himself and Red decided to go into suspended animation to emerge, millennia later, as possibly the most obviously sexy character ever to appear in the comic, as drawn by Mark Harrison. In the future, apparently, clothing can defy gravity.

Not surprisingly, Durham’s reinvention was an instant hit with both boys and girls alike (even if the strips were rather shallow and not up to writer Dan Abnett’s best), but Mark nearly went bonkers drawing her mind-bogglingly complicated CG strips. He now appears to eschew Photoshop in favour of good old fashioned paint.

Rico DreddRico: sort of a two-for-one here as Rico can refer either to Joe Dredd’s twin brother or Joe Dredd’s rookie. Given that all three are clones of each other, the distinction is a fine one, although Rico Dredd becomes evil while Judge Rico is (at the time of writing) one of the good guys.

The whole “what’s it like being a clone?” thing has been used to good effect by John Wagner over the years. The exact reason why Rico Dredd went bad has not been fully explored, by Wagner at least. But Rico was originally created by Pat Mills, who had a go at the character in 1995 (during his chaos magick weirdie phase), which was not entirely successful and seems to have acquired apocryphal status during the years.

Rico occasionally appears in one of those dreadful “rogue’s gallery” type stories where Dredd is either haunted by popular villains past or, in the case of Helter Skelter by Garth Ennis, parallel universe versions of them actually team up to kick his arse. Generally speaking, if Wagner isn’t writing it, involving Rico in a story is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

Ro-JawsRo-Jaws: a waste disposal robot who spends most of the strips he appears in rummaging through the contents of a bin or “cludgie.” A gloriously loveable character from the early days of “Tooth,” who ended up a character in search of a plotline.

Tyranny RexTyranny Rex: an earlier attempt at a “sexy” female character in 2000AD, this time from the fevered imagination of erratic genius John Smith. Half “Saurian” Tyranny is just your ordinary, green, girl-about-town who happens to have a whopping great prehensile tail. Not sure the tail thing went down well with the boys, to be perfectly honest.

Tyranny’s strips were Smith’s first attempts at a regular character, the first strip of which was about music piracy with a twist (“home cloning is killing music”). Very quickly her strips morphed into the Indigo Prime series. The promised ongoing series (featuring a transvestite dog apparently) which was to appear in first Crisis and then Revolver never emerged. I can’t help but feel this is a character which could get surprise us. It is certainly the case that Smith has got it in him.
Rogan GoshRogan Gosh: technically not a 2000AD character but I’m including it here since I couldn’t think of any more characters with the letter R and the strip appeared in one of 2000AD’s sister magazines, so it counts. Milligan and McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh is, in my opinion, by far the most successful thing to come out of Fleetway’s brief experimentation with “adult” comics (with Skin – also by Milligan and McCarthy – coming a close second even if they did chicken out of publishing it).

It’s genius because it works on so many levels – is it an hallucination by Rudyard Kipling, the adventures of two blokes in an Indian restaurant or the product of the imagination of a boy committing suicide? All three narratives merge into one. No-one had ever tried doing Anglo-Indian comics before (there have been attempts since but they have been nothing like as successful, namely Grant Morrison’s Vimanarama and Pat Mills’ Black Siddha). One of the absolute highlights of my teenage years.

Anyone else want a go? Just follow the instructions above.

What do the Scottish Greens and Guido have in common?

Both today are calling for Land Value Taxation, or at least they seem to be.

The Scottish Greens certainly are. Municipal tax reform in Scotland remains in deadlock and dependent on at least one other party agreeing with the principle of local income tax. That seems unlikely at the moment, even if the Lib Dems capitulate over the SNP’s insistence of greater centralisation (which does not look likely; what would they gain except appalling policy?).

Meanwhile, Guido is raving about the reprinting of Fred Harrison’s Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010 (Guido also pats himself on the back at his prescience for predicting the housing crash in September 2007; modesty prevents me from mentioning that my first blog post on the subject was July 2006 and frankly I could have told you what was going to happen a long time before then).

Fred Harrison? You might remember me linking to this video earlier in the year. Harrison, aka the renegade economist, is a keen exponent of land value taxation and regards it as a crucial tool in the armoury against boom and bust cycles (actually, as the video indicates, he goes a lot further than that).

So yes Guido, Gordon Brown was very very wrong. But somehow I doubt your mate Gideon Osborne is going to be interested in Harrison’s prescription. The son of a baronet and Shadow Chancellor for the Conservative Party, it is his job to protect vested interests, not challenge them.

In defence of Sarah Palin (sorta)

Bloggers have been lining up to expose the “hypocrisy” and “stupidity” of Sarah Palin calling Barack Obama an evil socialist for calling for redistribution, while supporting it herself:

“And Alaska – we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

Hat tips all round to Stephen Glenn, Jennie Rigg and Andrew Ducker, but they all got it from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and his delivery is quite entertaining so why not enjoy it for a few minutes?

But I feel the need to defend Palin here because it is just possible she is making a distinction between redistributing income and redistributing wealth. Alaska’s system works by redistributing the revenue raised from Alaska’s natural resources, specifically oil and other minerals, while Obama’s proposals are to switch taxes from people on low and middle incomes to taxes on high incomes.

Obama’s plan sounds very moderate and reasonable to these European ears, but it has to be said that it is very different to the Alaskan system that Palin is referring to. What’s more, it would almost certainly be a good thing if the Alaskan system were used more widely.

Of course, McCain isn’t campaigning on such a promise, and Palin and her Republican colleagues have repeatedly attacked the very concept of “redistribution” as leftwing and “totalitarian,” so we can safely say they themselves fail to understand the difference. But there is a fine distinction and we should give Alaska credit for having a sensible policy.

Clegg, cuts and communication

The Lib Dem press office has just issued a press release about today’s PMQs. In it, he accuses Gordon Brown of deliberately misrepresenting Lib Dem policy on tax and spend:

On numerous occasions you have deliberately misrepresented Liberal Democrat economic policy in the House of Commons, claiming that we propose a £20bn cut in public spending:

As I have repeatedly made clear, Liberal Democrat policy is to identify £20bn of Government spending which is either wasteful or ineffective and to re-allocate it to Liberal Democrat priorities in areas such as education and care for the elderly.

If there is money remaining once Liberal Democrat spending priorities have been met we propose to increase the funded tax cuts we are already offering to those on low and middle incomes.

Is Gordon Brown deliberately misrepresenting party policy? Of course he is! But the fundamental problem here is that Clegg hasn’t repeatedly made our policy clear; quite the opposite. What’s more, it had another opportunity at PMQs again. Brown made the accusation after his first question and Clegg did not respond, instead robotically going into his second question. Yet this was a pretty predictable accusation to come from Brown; so why wasn’t Clegg better prepared?

It really is time Clegg got his act together on this issue. It’s been a problem for months now and he can no longer afford to let it get in the way of our broader message.

The Daily Mail: the paper for pervs

I’m struggling to avoid writing about the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair, but it has to be said that the Daily Mail really do take the biscuit on this one. In it, Georgina Baillie calls for Brand and Ross to be sacked for leaving her grandfather ‘utterly horrified and disgusted’ after ringing him up and claiming that Brand has slept with her. Of course, it happens to be true and the Mail see fit to print several pictures of Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter which might conceivably also ‘horrify’ and ‘disgust’ him, but sod that – BURN THE WITCHES!

To be fair though, that story is being printed in most tabloids today. It is to another story we must turn if we want to really uncover the dark heart of Dacre. Today the Mail also prints a story about teachers having sexual relationships with their pupils. Under the headline “Dear Sir, I really thought you loved me…,” it includes several soft focus pictures of girls in school uniforms and paragraphs like this one:

Awkwardly, 14-year-old Laura Walker sat down on the log, among the dark trees, her thigh just brushing against that of her 32-year-old teacher, Steven Edwards.

‘I had butterflies inside my tummy,’ she says. ‘I knew what was coming.’

The mature man bent his head and kissed the young teenager – ‘snogged’ is the word she uses.

‘I was so excited,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t believe that he was interested in me, but he was clearly showing that he was. The kiss was very passionate.’

Do we really need this level of detail and flowery prose in an article which is supposed to be about exposing child abuse? This isn’t the first time I’ve read stories in the Mail which are ostensibly censorious but appear more than a little salacious. I recall reading an article about an actress a couple of years ago who was apparently raising her child with a gay man which went into an inordinate amount of detail about her physical characteristics and naked frollicking.

But the killer, for me, is the change in tone when the story examines the case of a female teacher sleeping with a male pupil:

Looking at Dean Dainty – a normal, spiky-haired, slightly scruffy schoolboy – you wonder how any grown woman could think it appropriate to view him as a sexual being.

The relationship began when Dean was 15 and the teacher gave him a mobile phone ‘for doing so well in her class’.

On it, he found her own personal mobile number, and they began texting each other. The texts quickly became sexual. No doubt the schoolboy could not believe that this pretty, blonde teacher might be interested in him.

‘We arranged to meet up, and she swore me to secrecy,’ he says.

He went to after-school break-dancing sessions with her, and she took him into a pub.

The affair was clandestine, with the pair – Dean was by now 16 – snatching sex wherever they felt they would not get caught.

Where are the references to his thighs? Or the talk about how ‘passionate’ their kisses were?

This ambiguous attitude towards paedophilia is of course nothing new in the Mail – it was one of the things that Chris Morris’ Brass Eye Special a few years ago both parodied and highlighted in its immediate aftermath. But we should never forget that these self-appointed guardians of moral virtue are uncomfortably close in attitude to the very people they claim to be condemning.

Lembit finally answers? Sort of.

Lembit has now answered my questions, after a fashion. Linda Jack has rephrased them and got a response. But neither he nor his campaign team have deigned to even refer me to them.

Is this what he means by “courage” and campaigning in “primary colours”? Is this “I’m not talking to you” act not just a teeny bit childish?

I’ll respond to them another time since I’ve been concentrating on other things today, but meanwhile I wouldn’t want you to be deprived.

Prof Dawkins vs Prof Dumbledore – AND ONE MUST DIE!

Apparently Richard Dawkins thinks that Harry Potter damages children. Except he doesn’t.

Dawkins’ views on Harry Potter remain to be seen. Personally, I think the politics of Potter are slightly iffy (being a paean to meritocracy in which the bad old elitists get their comeuppances while the good new elitists get to inherit the earth and lord it over the “undeserving” muggles), but fail to see how anyone could describe it as damaging (that’s the role of religious nutjobs anyway). However, it does take me back to my undergrad dissertation in which I commented on Dawkins’ 1997 Reith Lecture (which, annoyingly, doesn’t appear on the BBC’s website and is misdated on RichardDawkins.net) where he said:

How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium — in which case it’s depressing to realise that the millennium is still three years away [it was four years away! Sheesh!]. Less portentously, it may be an attempt to cash in on the success of The X-Files. This is fiction and therefore defensible as pure entertainment.

A fair defence, you might think. But soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticised if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment”.

This of course is utter bilge. Generally speaking, the formula of the X-Files was that a rational theory and a paranormal theory was presented, both of which turned out to be cobblers, and a third, semi-scientific explanation was found. The monster wasn’t a figment of people’s imagination or a wolf, but it wasn’t a spawn of hell either. Generally speaking, these things were explained as freaks of nature.

In other words, while rarely ascending beyond its pulpy origins, the X-Files formula was the very epitome of scientific method. But Dawkins couldn’t see beyond the fact that it explored the supernatural and space aliens. He should have been celebrating a series which was, at its best, profoundly scientific and prised out these underlying themse. Instead he denounced anyone who enjoyed the show as lunatic irrationalists. Thanks a bunch.

So if Dawkins is to turn his attention to Harry Potter et al, I hope he will be paying a little more attention than he was back then.

Global Peace and Unity: only connect

On Saturday night, I was on a Northern Line train heading back to north London. At Charing Cross, a group of Asian youths got on the carriage, five girls and three boys. The girls were all wearing headscarves and trousers, but had full makeup on. The boys were manhandling the girls in a way reminiscent of, well, most horny teenage boys – and were hardly being put off.

I mention this because one of the girls – and manhandlees – was wearing a tshirt that identified her as a warden of the Global Peace and Unity Conference which I happened to be aware was taking place because of this piece on Lib Dem Voice. That debate – essentially over whether the Policy Exchange should be “privately briefing” against the conference and whether Clegg (along with several other senior politicians) was right to attend the conference – has continued raging over the last few days. David T from Harry’s Place has been wading in to criticise Clegg for attending the event, likening it to a White Supremecist rally.

It all sounds rather reminiscent of the debate over the 2003 anti-war demo. Back then I was on opposite sides with Harry. Now I am… erm…

Having looked at the Policy Exchange document (word file here, still not available via main PE website as far as I can see, cheers Alex Hilton Andy Hinton), I agree it is somewhat dodgy. Some of the biographies are tenuous at best and criticising people for selling shahadah headbands on the basis they are associated with Hamas is desperate to say the least. But for all the fluff, there are some genuinely concerning people mentioned on that list.

But you have to weigh that up against the fact that it is a genuine opportunity to engage with tens of thousands of British Muslims. This includes the teenagers I encountered on the tube on Saturday night. If they were hardline Hamas supporters, they had a funny way of showing it. Should we really write off an opportunity to connect with them, show them solidarity, because there are other people on the platform we don’t approve of? Should Clegg really have used his ten minute slot, as David T suggests, to hector the audience about the ne’er-do-wells they may or may not have listened to that day as well? What would that achieve apart from earn Clegg a few brownie points in the blogosphere?

There are no hard and fast principles Clegg should be sticking to here, only rough and messy pragmatism. If politicians are serious about engaging with the Muslim community, they have to go to them; the mountain must come to Mohammed. The potential reward? The opportunity to pull people away from the extremists.

Is it comparable to Clegg (or anyone else) attending the BNP’s annual Red, White and Blue Festival? No, because mainstream white Britons don’t attend it in any significant numbers. The Lib Dems should engage with BNP voters, but the way we do that is on the doorstep.

Back in 2003, we were told off by Harry’s Place and others for participating in the anti-war demo on the basis that it was also attended by Muslim extremists and the far left. As anyone who was there can tell you however, all those groups were drowned out into insignificance by the large numbers of ordinary members of the public. I very much hope that after this latest event and the controversy surrounding it, Clegg, Jack Straw, Dominic Grieve et al are getting together to discuss how they might collectively encourage the GPU event further into the mainstream. But start boycotting it? They’d be insane to.

Grassroots beats astroturfing – official

With apologies for running two Lib Dem presidential election stories in one day – I am trying to cut down – promise!

Remember Lembit claiming he was set to win because he had more members on his Facebook group than the other candidates? Of course, since anyone can join a Facebook group, it turned out that Mark Littlewood for one was only registered so he could get more information, and a large number of other people appeared to simply be members because they were nutty-bonkers students, it didn’t mean very much.

But it is pretty significant when even Lembit’s attempts at astroturfing pale away into insignificance compared to Ros’ attempts at recruiting actual supporters:

If I were running Ros’ campaign, I’d be on the blower to the BBC to insist they do a piece on this, for balance.

Oh, and don’t forget to join my new group.