Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven's Secretary of State for Justice

Today has seen the news that Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma Code, has been given a royal pardon.

This is technically an exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, which the Queen exercises on the advice of the Lord Chancellor/Justice Secretary - in this case Chris Grayling.

Turing's pardon is exceptional, as the Queen has only pardoned people who have been found innocent after they have been sentenced - and in two cases, these have been posthumously after the death penalty. Turing was never found innocent - although what he was sentenced for is no longer on the statute books.

This is one aspect of the justice system - you can be found guilty, and your only hope is mercy. And it is a Royal Prerogative - up to the Queen ultimately to grant or not to grant. You can't make her, you can't force her hand.

The Bible tells us that we have all fallen short of God's standards:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His Grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

The solution God has provided is a simple one - His exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. It is up to Him to decide whom he shows mercy to. We can't demand it.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom. 8:34)

Now, you could argue that fair enough, Jesus is Heaven's Justice Secretary - albeit one who takes the punishment for us, which is not what Grayling ever does - but that God the Father could turn round and say "no". Or that we cannot be sure if Jesus will ask for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to be exercised on our behalf.

Jesus Himself assures us:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent Him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:22-24)

So, judgment is entrusted to Jesus, and this is His criterion for deciding whether we have eternal life or not - whether we believe Him or not.

We are assured that:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)

While tomorrow the focus will be on the baby Jesus, remember why He was born. Remember that a third of a century later He was crucified for our sins.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Sorry Lefties, But It Was The Tories Who Gave Me The Chance To Go To University

I remember it was either 1989 or early 1990. The Chair of our college student council wanted to inform the rest of us that the Conservatives were going to abolish the student grant and replace it with a loan. By the time we would start university, there would be no grant.

I wrote to the late Michael Colvin, at the time the Conservative MP for Romsey & Waterside, and he replied to outline the plans:

  • The grant would be frozen
  • A student loan would be introduced, and over time increase
  • A point will be reached where the loan equals the maximum student grant
  • In future years after that, they would go up in line with inflation

At the following student council meeting I read out Colvin's letter. The Chair explained to the council that actually the Conservatives planned to abolish the student grant, while Labour would increase it.

Yesterday I had a Twitter debate with a couple of Labour people, who were worked up that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government tripled tuition fees. Well, asked the question which party/parties tripled tuition fees. I gave the correct reply - Labour.

The Teaching & Higher Education Act 1998 was introduced by Labour and did two things related to student finance:

  1. Introduce upfront £1,000 pa tuition fees
  2. Abolish the student grant and replace it a loan, to be repaid when earnings were above £10,000pa, at 9% of the amount earned above this

Funny that they had forgotten that.

Next, it was Labour who introduced variable top-up fees under the Higher Education Act 2004, breaching a manifesto commitment not to. The defence from these Tweeters can be summed up as:

  • The universities forced this move onto a Government with a landslide majority of 167
  • It's the universities who decide how much to charge
  • "That's different" from the current Government

Well, how a Government with a triple-figure majority can be weak enough to be forced - by a group of academics - against its will to introduce something it has explicitly promised not to is beyond me.

As to it being the universities - rather than the Government - deciding how much to charge the BBC published a list of tuition fees for those starting last year, and, as you can see, there is a range in how much they charge. Indeed, my alma mater, the University of Oxford has decided to reduce its fees for people from low-income families.

Then, I am supposed to be grateful that Labour supports people from my sort of background going to university by having maintenance grants and scholarships. Well, firstly, Labour abolished the grants in the first place, so I can't get excited about them later bringing them back at a much lower level. Secondly, scholarships have been around for decades - so, sorry, not going to thank Labour for that.

What really pisses me off is this idea that I am supposed to be grateful as the Conservatives only support university education for the rich (hey, why not say "toffs" and "the 1%"?) while Labour supports education for all.

Under the Conservatives I was able to go to university with a student grant, no fees and leave without being in debt.

If I had been 10 years younger, I would have been put off by my family having to find £1,000pa upfront to pay for Labour's tuition fees and put off by Labour's abolition of the student grant.

I know which party helps people like me go to university.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

They Don't Know What I Did Last Summer - 10 Weeks Missing From My Life

Finally, I had struck success with jobhunting. On Friday 13th, I was offered a job to start on 6 January, subject to compliance checks. And then yesterday the email confirmation that all the compliance checks had been completed and we were ready to roll. I had already stopped jobhunting - after all, if you've got a job in the pipeline, why waste your time applying? Not everyone takes that approach - in one job, a couple of colleagues had already, even when they started, accepted other jobs. In one case it was someone who had taken a graduate job from that September, so was there for a few months waiting to start that. The other guy was only with us a fortnight - it was just a two-week filler role as far as he was concerned, until he could start the better paid job he had also accepted.

I was brought up with the old "jobs for life" approach - my dad had over 45 years with the same firm. That was the era of the generation above. So you stuck jobs out. I have noticed that even when in a temporary job, I didn't start looking until the job had finished. Find a job with another employer and hand in your notice - well, that's just disloyalty.

The other thing that I was brought up to believe is that study hard at school, work hard, and you'll succeed. That, sadly is simplistic. Sometimes life throws you a blind side, something comes out of leftfield at you. And 2013 was that year for me.

Yesterday afternoon, I popped down to the city centre, caught up with a friend, and then got home to another email.

Apparently, I had not passed the compliance checks - there is the issue that I don't have a continuous documentable 3-year record.

Now, I know that already in the USA, some firms have things along the lines of "Unemployed persons need not apply". In my case, I am not expected to produce a 3-year record of continuous employment. What I have to provide is documentary evidence of what I have been doing the past 3 years - so basically times when I have not been employed, I need to provide evidence.

Due to my health, I didn't start jobhunting until I knew what was wrong - and so this wasn't until mid-September. And herein lies the problem. One bit of useful advice I got was that there is often downtime between jobs, and just say that I had done travel. And indeed, I did some - day trips to local places, a few days catching up with family in Yorkshire, visiting family in Devon etc.

But that's travel. It's not travel-travel. With the compliance, if you have a period of being out-of-work and you are travelling, they expect travel-travel. Documentary evidence from your passport and flight tickets and boarding passes, and ferry tickets etc. that you were off in exotic locations doing things. Day trips here and there in the United Kingdom don't count.

One thing that can document what you were doing is a letter from the Department for Work & Pensions, stating when you started claiming benefits. As I have mentioned, I didn't start to claim Jobseekers Allowance as I wasn't looking for work. I suppose, given that I didn't renew my contract due to my health, the Monday after leaving work, I could have made a claim for Employment & Support Allowance and when/if that got turned down, try for JSA. But I didn't think of it.

If I had done this, I would have had a continuous documentary record. But I didn't, and I haven't.

This then is the problem. I have 10 undocumentable weeks. I have no salary from then as I was unemployed. I have nothing from the DWP as I didn't contact them till mid-September. I have no passport stamps or plane tickets as I was in the UK throughout.

Technically, I have not failed the compliance checks, and can still start on 6 January - subject to having passed the compliance checks. The problem is that to pass them I need to provide documentary evidence relating to 10 undocumentable weeks.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A Christmas Mawkathon - It's On The Cards

I was staring at the collection of Christmas cards. With Our Love Across The Miles, You're Like A Mummy To Me, A Caring Message.

Feeling my breakfast making its way back up my throat, I dared not open the cards, lest I was confronted with the Helen Steiner-Rice-style purple prose, with the saccharine heaped on with a trowel.

All I bought was one Baby's 1st Christmas - it's OK, an 11-month-old is unlikely to be able to read. Although if I, when a baby, had seen some of the stuff that is in Christmas cards, I would have made the there-and-then decision not to learn to read, so I would never have to endure reading the things that goes inside modern Christmas cards.

Went to another card shop and was confronted with the same. I asked one of the staff whether they sold non-mawkish cards, and had to explain that I am from the pre-Diana era, where you simply send people cards saying "Merry Christmas", without loads of OTT prose, and commented that if you wouldn't say something to someone's face, don't have it in a Christmas card. She didn't understand what I meant. I did eventually find, hidden away, boxes of standard Christmas cards, and bought a couple of these.

Isn't this a danger in the churches, where we allow the real news of Christmas - God sending His Son, Jesus - to be overshadowed by the soppy sentiment? Reducing God's love, which is tough and strong, to a matter of feelings and mawkishness?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Run, Gordon, Run

In November, there was the sad news that Labour's Helen Eadie, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Cowdenbeath, had passed away after a battle with cancer. She was one of the few Labour MSPs left from the original May 1999 intake, and the fact that she held onto her seat while safer ones were toppling to the Scottish National Party speaks volumes about her commitment to her constituents.

And on 23 January 2014, there will be a by-election. Curiously, the last by-election was in October, in next door's Dunfermline, which saw Labour win the seat from the SNP.

At the May 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament, Labour made a mistake. They had failed to win the May 2010 election to the House of Commons, and so should have accepted they would be out of power in Westminster until at least May 2015, and hence have made recapturing Holyrood a real priority. There were Scottish politicians who would not hold office in Westminster again - so why not put former Home Secretary John Reid and former Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell at the top of the Scotland Central list, while giving Liddell the task of recapturing Falkirk West from the SNP and aiming for Reid to replace the former First Minister, Jack McConnell, in Motherwell & Wishaw? And in the Lothian region, let Edinburgh Pentlands see a battle between sitting Conservative MSP David McLetchie and Labour's Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, with both of them guaranteed to become MSPs via being top of their regional lists.

Either the SNP would have led the Scottish Government - and Alex Salmond, the First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East, would be facing Reid and Liddell - or else Labour would have led the Scottish Government, with Iain Gray, the MSP for East Lothian, having the option of bringing people with years of Westminster ministerial experience into his Cabinet.

In the same vein, seeing that the sitting Liberal Democrat MSP for Ross, Skye & Inverness, John Farquhar-Munro, was retiring, why shouldn't that party have run Charles Kennedy, its former leader and sitting MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber, as its candidate in Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch?

Picture Scottish politics like that - Gray as First Minister, Kennedy as Deputy First Minister, with Darling, Liddell and Reid sitting at the Cabinet table.

I see that Labour have chosen Alex Rowley, leader of Fife Council as its by-election candidate. Good luck to him - as someone who is Unionist first, Conservative second, I genuinely mean that. But I wonder if, instead, he could have been held back for the House of Commons' Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath by-election?

At this point, you will ask - what Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath by-election?

Its sitting Labour MP is the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. If you look at the 2010 general election result in Scotland, you'll see he did well. He increased Labour's share of the vote, as well as increasing its number of MPs by 1 compared to the May 2005 general election (the BBC lists Labour as having 41 MPs at both, but in 2005, Glasgow North East was won by Mr Speaker seeking re-election.)

While in England and Wales, Labour lost seat after seat after seat, in Scotland Labour did not lose a single seat. Yes, Brown alientated Middle England - but Scotland isn't Middle England.

In Scotland, Brown is a winner.

Hence, Brown should contest the Cowdenbeath by-election. Now, to show he is serious about this, he should have to resign his Westminster seat and allow Rowley to stand as the Labour candidate in that by-election. Could it be possible to have both by-elections on 23 January?

The rules for the timing of by-elections to the House of Commons are based on a timetable in the Representation of the People Act 1983, which allows the Returning Officer some leeway. The by-election is the 8th, 9th or 10th "working day" after the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers. The gap between the moving of the writ in the House of Commons is from 3 to 7 "working days".

That Act had quite a broad definition of "working day" - it was tightened up by the Representation of the People Act 1985 by redefining a "working day" to be any day that wasn't one of these:

  • Saturday
  • Sunday
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • A day of public thanksgiving or mourning
  • A Bank Holiday in the part of the United Kingdom where the by-election takes place

There was a minor amendment due to the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which removed Maundy Thursday from this list.

So, for 23 January to be 8th, 9th or 10th working day after the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers, then this deadline has to be Thursday 9 January, Friday 10 January or Monday 13 January. If the deadline is as early as 9 January, and this is between 3 and 7 working days after the writ is moved in the House of Commons, then the writ could be moved as late as Monday 6 January or as early as Friday 27 December (remember that in Scotland, Thursday 2 January is a Bank Holiday). While for a 13 January deadline, the relevant dates are Wednesday 8 January and Tuesday 31 December.

This is where there is a slight snag. The House of Commons rises on Thursday 19 December and returns on Monday 6 January. There would be a tight - but do-able - timeline.

The simplest way for Brown to cease to be an MP, and to set the whole timetable in motion, would be for Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to appoint him Steward & Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern - a post currently held by former Energy & Climate Change Secretary, the Liberal Democrats' Chris Huhne. There is no point in Huhne remaining in that role any longer.

With it being possible to do this, the question is why should Brown seek to become an MSP?

For the first reason, we need to look at the elections to the European Parliament next May. If we look at the current crop of Belgian Members of the European Parliament, we have Jean-Luc Dehaene of the Flemish Christian Democrats (who was Prime Minister from March 1992 to July 1999) and Guy Verhofstadt of the Flemish Liberal Democrats (who was Prime Minister from July 1999 to March 2008). Indeed, Verhofstadt is leader of the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe MEPs, and wants to be its candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission - the post for which Dehaene was vetoed by former Conservative Prime Minister John Major in 1994.

From July 2009 to January 2012, the President of the European Parliament was Jerzy Buzek, of Poland's Civic Platform. But go back to the period from October 1997 to October 2001, and Buzek was the Polish Prime Minister.

Now consider it's 2018, and the Conservative party is choosing its candidates for the following year's European elections. You are a Conservative member in South East England and through your letterbox drops a booklet with details of those Conservatives who want to be on the list for the region's MEPs. You flick through it, and one bio starts:

I was elected MP for Witney in June 2001. In December 2005 I was elected leader of the Conservative party, and following the May 2010 general election I was appointed Prime Minister.....

You couldn't imagine it, could you? In the United Kingdom, the European elections are treated as a bit of light-hearted fun, while in other countries they are so important that ex-Prime Ministers are happy to stand.

To run a big beast in an election is to say that this is important, that you are taking it seriously. In the political jungle, there is no beast bigger than a Prime Minister.

We go back to the European Union for the second reason. The letters page of the local paper often publishes letters from UK Independence Party activists, and then I have to write in to correct their facts and they respond with a pile of twaddle. But there is one thing I notice - the ad hominem comments. In their world, no-one can seriously think that the EU is in the United Kingdom's best interests, so anyone who supports membership must have some naked self-interest at play. Politicians who support membership - well, it is clear that they are only supporting membership because they are looking for a cushy Eurojob.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear he will not have a debate with Salmond, arguing that instead Salmond should debate with Darling, as chairman of Better Together. Of course, it would be in Salmond's interests to have the case for the Union made in the debate by an "English toff".

Now, Darling is an MP (although if Labour had had the foresight to take the strategy I outlined earlier on, he would be an MSP), and so he takes his pay from Westminster. He has much to lose, financially, if Scotland becomes independent. Let's face it, if Better Together puts forward any MP or peer, then the critics can say, "well, they would support the Union, wouldn't they? Just think what happens to their bank account if we break away."

Consider instead Brown - having resigned from the House of Commons and having won the Cowdenbeath by-election - facing Salmond in the debate. He - unlike Darling, or indeed anyone that Better Together could produce - has experience of these sort of debates (remember the leaders' debates in the run-up to the last general election). He could point to the letters MSP after his name and state that he is a Scottish politician, that he has no "selfish, strategic or economic interests" in remaining in the UK, but that he passionately believes that this is in Scotland's best interests.

And there is no way that Brown could be described as English, Tory or toff.

The third reason is to do with Cameron. A major case made by Labour for devolution was that the Conservatives were running Scotland from May 1979 to May 1997 with not much support in Scotland. Parts of the SNP argument for independence rests on a democratic deficit, namely that decisions are made in some areas by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government with only 12 of Scotland's 59 MPs, with independence being a long-term solution to a short-term issue.

Brown's presence would remind Scottish voters that there have been, in recent memory, Labour Governments, and - as much as it pains me to say this - there could be Labour Governments again. As Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, Douglas Alexander, recently wrote:

This coalition government will have less than eight months of its mandate left to run on referendum day. The polls indicate that the prospect of a change of UK government is real. And on that referendum day a 16-year-old voting for the first time will have had a UK Labour government for three-quarters of their life. As Scots, we understand the difference between anger with a transient Tory government and supporting the permanent break-up of Britain. The Nationalists say "walk away and all will be well". Yet while the clear majority of Scots, myself included, want change, we do not judge independence as the route to achieve those changes

Running Brown would be a bold move, and a real game-changer in the run-up to the referendum.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Which Classic Doctor Who Adventures Would Fail The RTD Test?

Last Saturday saw Doctor Who's golden anniversary, and with it the adventure The Day of the Doctor. When the programme returned in 2005, I remember reading that the then-showrunner, Russell Davies, had a simple rule - namely that adventures had to be about humans.

In the programme, we do get a broad sweep of human future history. Some point in the mid third millennium, humans expand across the Milky Way, form colonies and then there are solar flares - and we see the consequences in The Ark in Space and The Beast Below. Humans evacuate Earth, and prepare to return, but in The Sontaran Experiment we see that humans have already returned - these are colonists, for whom Earth is simply where their ancestors came from, in the same way an Australian isn't going to get all that nostalgic about "Mother England" and doesn't see independence from the United Kingdom as a temporary measure.

We then get the interesting Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways at the end of Season 27 - a season from which one thing becomes clear. Well two things, which are the flip side of each other. Humans abandon Earth and Earth abandons humanity.

What we see in that story is that by the year 200,100, most humans are living off Earth, and so using the delta wave would only kill the humans still living on Earth. Earth, by that point, had become simply one planet with humans on it.

And earlier that season we have The End of the World - and it seems that humanity are not the only civilisation to come from Earth. After all, Jabe could trace her ancestry back to the Amazon rain forest. In this we are simply a species which existed on Earth for a couple of million years, tops, a blink of an eye in the long story of our planet.

So, what adventures from the classic era would fail the RTD Test?

In Season 1, we have The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction (maybe) and The Keys of Marinus. To misquote the Master from The Five Doctors, a Doctor Who without the Daleks scarcely bears thinking about.

But I am sure if the RTD Test had been in place then, there would be a workaround. Skaro as a human colony planet, with two groups that slowly diverged and ended up at nuclear war with each other? The Thals being human colonists oppressing the native Kaleds (not yet named) who chose to fight back? - well, imagine what the third Doctor would make of that, considering his stories like The Mutants.

The Edge of Destruction - well, I suppose in the RTD Test there is an emphasis on humanity, and this is the one with the Doctor learning that Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are useful to have around.

Near the end of Season 1, we have The Sensorites - the first one featuring humans to be based off-Earth and the first one featuring humans to be based in the future. This is actually the seventh story, while these days we are used to new companions having present-day (Rose, Smith & Jones, Partners In Crime, The Eleventh Hour), historical Earth (The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code, The Fires of Pompeii, Victory of the Daleks), and future humanity (The End of the World, Gridlock, Planet of the Ood, The Beast Below) as their first 3 adventures - interesting to note that both Martha Jones and Donna Noble have their first future adventure as a sequel to one of Rose Tyler's (New Earth and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit) respectively. Interesting that by the time we get to Clara Oswald and Season 33, this pattern is broken as Clara's third and fourth adventures - Cold War and Hide - are in the recent past, her sixth (The Crimson Horror) is also in the past, and she has to wait until her seventh adventure (Nightmare in Silver) before travelling to see future humans. The RTD Test is also being broken by this point.

In Season 2, we have The Web Planet (one where the TARDIS crew are the only humanoids) and The Space Museum.

Season 3 gives us Galaxy Four and (potentially) The Celestial Toymaker - although the characters whom Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet encounter would be familiar to viewers, including the character who was not based on Billy Bunter. While not one about Earth or humans, it draws from British culture such as clowns, playing cards and Billy Bunter.

Season 4 is the one where Patrick Troughton takes over as the Doctor, and this is an all-human series. Even ones set off-Earth (Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror) are human colonists, and Season 5 is the same, with the off-Earth ones being The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Wheel in Space - again, both featuring human explorers or scientists.

Season 6 sees a return to alien races on alien planets, with The Dominators (on Dulkis) and The Krotons (on the Gonds' home planet) being ones where Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot are the only humans. There is also the weird The Mind Robber, which - like The Celestial Toymaker - is in a fantasy world with figures from British culture.

Seasons 7 to 9 are Jon Pertwee's, with the Doctor exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. Despite this, in Season 8 (Colony in Space) and Season 9 (The Mutants), the Doctor and Jo Grant are sent by the Time Lords to Earth colony planets. Season 9's The Curse of Peladon has a more tenuous link, with Peladon preparing to join the Galactic Federation, and the Doctor being mistaken for the Earth ambassador. Easy mistake to make - after all, sometimes a Spanish ambassador will be mistaken for a Time Lord.

Season 10 sees the Doctor able to travel again. While Carnival of Monsters is not Earth-based, there are humans (namely, those on board the SS Bernice) trapped in the Miniscope. Planet of the Daleks is the first human-free one (apart from Jo) since The Krotons - even The Curse of Peladon had a cameo by the real Earth ambassador - although it does carry on directly from Frontier in Space which covered Earth's dealings with the Draconians.

Season 11 has The Monster of Peladon - although Sarah Jane Smith is the only human, we can put it in the same league as Planet of the Daleks in being a sequel to a Season 10 adventure.

Season 12 brings us to the Tom Baker era, where everything changes again. Genesis of the Daleks fails the RTD Test spectacularly, but it's such a great adventure, we can overlook it.

Season 13 has Planet of Evil, with a Morestran expedition in a story where Sarah is the only human. But it's The Brain of Morbius which introduces a change, with the character of Solon. Up till now, future human stories had been groups - colonists, explorers, scientists. But here is a human with no other humans around him.

Season 14 sees Sarah depart, ending a run of companions from Earth - we will have to wait over 4 years for the next, Tegan Jovanka. And indeed, marking the end of a run of companions, period, as we have The Deadly Assassin, set on Gallifrey and composed of Time Lords (and no Time Ladies).

After that we have the introduction of Leela, the first future human companion since Zoe. Her debut, The Face of Evil, was set on a future planet where the people were descended from an Earth expedition. Some of her adventures - The Robots of Death and Season 15's The Invisible Enemy (in the 51st century, the era of Jack Harkness and River Song, a time where cutting-edge design is robot dogs that are "disco") and The Sunmakers - involve future humans, however in Season 15 there are a couple (Underworld and The Invasion of Time) where she is the sole human.

Season 16 introduces us to Romana, the first non-human companion since Susan Foreman, and Earth and humanity play a smaller part. While The Ribos Operation has a couple of human conpersons, The Pirate Planet, The Androids of Tara and The Armageddon Factor are human-free. Things don't improve in Season 17, with Destiny of the Daleks, The Creature from the Pit and The Horns of Nimon being human-free.

Do things improve in Season 18? Well, The Leisure Hive opens on Brighton beach and did have a handful of humans on Argolis, while Meglos does have a human, we are then into the E-space trilogy of Full Circle (which could have been Earthified (??) by having the people on the Starliner believing they were from Earth originally and then learning they weren't), State of Decay and Warrior's Gate. In State of Decay, the three vampires (including Queen Camilla. Ahem) were originally from Earth. I'm not sure if Rorvik and his crew in Warrior's Gate were human or not, but the following adventure (The Keeper of Traken) is human-free, and the following one, Logopolis, is mainly set on Earth and finally sees a new human companion.

We now move on to Peter Davison's debut in Season 19. Castrovalva begins on Earth, but just ties up loose ends from Logopolis while there. The following, Four To Doomsday, at first glance appears to have humans, but they are androids. However, it is a very human-focussed adventure and deals with a threat to Earth. The rest of the season are all Earth-based, with The Visitation being the first trip to historic Earth since The Talons of Weng-Chiang 5 years earlier.

In Season 20, Arc of Infinity's action is split between Gallifrey and Amsterdam. Snakedance has no humans, other than Tegan, in it, but like Planet of the Daleks and The Monster of Peladon it is a sequel to a story (the previous season's Kinda) which does deal with humanity's future. In Terminus, I think Olvir, Kari and the Lazars are human. Enlightenment sees human sailors in space.

Davison's Season 21 adventures are almost all Earth-based. Frontios is a human colony, and Planet of Fire is one of those - like Logopolis and Castrovalva - where the action begins on Earth before going to another planet.

The final adventure of Season 21 is Colin Baker's debut The Twin Dilemma. Although mainly set on Jaconda, most of the non-Jacondan characters are human.

Now onto Season 22. Attack of the Cybermen follows what must by that stage have been a reasonably familiar pattern - the Doctor encounters something on Earth and that leads to him going to another planet. In Vengeance on Varos, Varos was a human colony. Timelash is primarily set on the non-human world of Karfel, although there is a scene in Victorian Scotland and a human (Herbert). Revelation of the Daleks was set on a human-colonised Necros.

Season 23 goes under the umbrella title of The Trial of a Time Lord. At first, The Mysterious Planet might appear to have nothing to do with humanity, but it emerges that Ravalox is a future Earth.Mindwarp is on Thoros Beta, and like The Brain of Morbius, has a rogue human scientist (Crozier). However, it falls into the same sequel category as Planet of the Daleks, The Monster of Peladon and Snakedance, featuring Sil from Vengeance on Varos.

The Ultimate Foe's action is split between the courtroom and the Matrix.

Now on to Sylvester McCoy's first season, Season 24. Time and the Rani - again a non-human world with non-human characters we cannot relate to. In Paradise Towers, the inhabitants might have been human, and it is possible that in Dragonfire, Iceworld had human customers.

Season 25 has two Earth-based stories - Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis. The Happiness Patrol is clearly on a human colony planet and some of the members of the Psychic Circus in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy could have been human.

Season 26 - the end of the classic era - was more simple, with every adventure exclusively or primarily set on Earth.

So, we can identify a number of adventures which would definitely fail the RTD Test:

  • The Daleks
  • The Keys of Marinus
  • The Web Planet
  • The Space Museum
  • Galaxy Four
  • The Dominators
  • The Krotons
  • Planet of the Daleks
  • The Monster of Peladon
  • Genesis of the Daleks
  • Planet of Evil
  • The Deadly Assassin
  • Underworld
  • The Invasion of Time
  • The Pirate Planet
  • The Androids of Tara
  • The Armageddon Factor
  • Destiny of the Daleks
  • The Creature from the Pit
  • The Horns of Nimon
  • Full Circle
  • The Keeper of Traken
  • Snakedance
  • Timelash
  • The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp
  • Time and the Rani

This is where I get controversial. I can think of two points of classic Doctor Who which were low periods. The first was the second half of the Tom Baker era, and the second was the end of the Colin Baker era and the early part of the McCoy era. The first of these is an era with a higher proportion of adventures breaking the RTD Test. What is the programme by that stage? A couple of aliens visiting alien planets populated by aliens and dealing with alien threats. Is it too much to suggest that Doctor Who hits its low points when it forgets - or sidelines - the human aspect?

Consider other TV programmes. Merlin had a consistent universe - set in and around Camelot. There would not be an episode in which a spell of Morgana's sees Arthur on Bowie Base One, wondering what Queen Annis is pointing at him and answering her questions with "Arthur. King. To get back to Camelot." None of the Doctor Who substitutes - Robin Hood, Merlin or Atlantis - have this potential for flitting around in space and time. They are limited to a time and a place.

Unlike these, Doctor Who has the danger of moving away from a human focus.

What about its early sci-fi rival, Star Trek? Now, Doctor Who has a positive view of humanity - described as "indominatible" in The Ark in Space and Utopia - but it isn't starry-eyed. Sorry, but Star Trek came across as having a "White Person's Burden" approach - visit an alien planet, have the events there a metaphor for a contemporary issue, and let the enlighted humans sort it out, because education and science will have made politically incorrect viewpoints an embarrassing thing of the past.

Doctor Who, meanwhile, is more realistic about humanity.

Now, a programme about aliens on an alien planet dealing with aliens could be of interest if a realistic world was created. But in Doctor Who, the Doctor moves on all the time, with no chance for us to understand Chloris or Dulkis. The 3 from Season 16 that have no human connection are at least part of a plot arc - that of the Key To Time. And from Season 17, Destiny of the Daleks can be just about Earthified by the fact that Davros is going to be taken to Earth for trial, so again this is part of a plot arc. But there is no such excuse for The Creature from the Pit or The Horns of Nimon. Now, the later part of the Pertwee era was moving the Doctor away from contemporary Earth-based adventures (normally involving UNIT), and it seems that by the later part of the Baker era this had gone too far.

Now we need to ask whether the RTD Test is still being passed, and this brings us to the Matt Smith era. In Season 32 there is The Doctor's Wife. Not set on Earth - not set in this universe - and the only humans being the companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams.

Moving on to the most recent season, Season 33, we have Asylum of the Daleks, for which the only human connection apart from the TARDIS crew is the spaceship Alaska. In The Rings of Akhaten, this is a world with no human connections, and it is unclear if the salvage team in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS were human (they may have been - this is the only Doctor Who recently that I have thought so bad that it's not worth watching to the end).

We shall have to see what direction Season 34 and the Peter Capaldi era takes it in.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

I'm Not Bothered By Your Ps, But Please Mind Your Queues

OK, something happened today that was really annoying. I was shopping at the local Sainsbury's and was at the front of the queue. The lady in front of me had finished her shopping, and had just paid, collected her vouchers, when a man rushed up with 4 tins of soup and handed them to the cashier. After he had been served I explained to the cashier that there was a queue of people waiting and she had allowed him to queue-jump.

She was sorry that I felt that way, but he was with the woman in front of me, and therefore it was not queue-jumping.

I have a simple philosophy on shopping:

If you have started putting your shopping on the conveyor belt, you have finished shopping. If you have forgotten something you can either:

  • Put the stuff back into your basket/trolley, fetch the item, and then go to the back of a queue, or
  • Wait till you get to the till, pay for what you have got, and then go back for the item, joining the back of a queue and paying for it separately

It is annoying when the person in front of you abandons their shopping, rushes off to complete their shopping, and their stuff gets to the till - but the shopper isn't there. So the cashier and the people in the queue have to wait until that person has got the rest of their items...

Sometimes cashiers support queue-jumpers. I was in a WHSmith just before Christmas a few years back, and it was a system of several tills with one snaking line, with one of those automated "Please go to till number...." announcements. One young cashier, I guess a college student earning extra cash on a Saturday, allowed one of her friends to come up to the till ahead of the rest of the queue. After I had been served, I went to customer services and asked to speak to the manager. When he arrived I explained what had happened, and he asked which cashier. I pointed over and said "that woman at that till".

He explained that by saying "that woman at that till", I was verbally abusing her. Staff do not come to work to be verbally abused. The issue for him was not that she had allowed one of her mates to queue-jump but that I was verbally abusing a member of staff - whom I had not actually spoken to. To be honest it's a casual phrase - no different to "that young man at that till" or "that dark-haired woman at that till". As I had verbally abused a member of staff he had no choice but to ask me to leave the store.

When I got home, I phoned a central complaints line for WHSmith and expressed my concern, not just at the queue-jumping being allowed, but the store manager's quite OTT response to me complaining.

Another WHSmith store with long queues. I get to the front of a queue and an old lady had walked through the front door a few moments earlier. Marching to the till she beings "A Euro..." and the cashier gets on with scanning my items.

"Excuse me, I was here first", the old lady says.

The cashier tells her that she wasn't and that there is a queue. Old lady gets a manager involved, who foolishly allows her to go to the front of the other queue and buy her Euromillions lottery ticket ahead of people who had been waiting patiently. So her reward for trying to queue-jump is being allowed to queue-jump.

One of the most annoying was at the Co-op (although I tend to pronounce it monosyllabic, which is appropriate as this involves chickens).

Some shoppers get to the till and cannot make up their minds.

She had - among other things - 2 chickens. The shopping is complete and the cashier tells her the amount.

As she had 2 chickens, she felt she should be entitled to them at a discount. No she can't, so off she toddles to put a chicken back and the new amount is rung up. She spies bananas, and takes them to the till. So they are added. Then she decides she doesn't want the bananas, so takes them back and the amount is taken off her total. She sees chocolates, and goes to examine them. Wisely deciding that avoiding a riot is more important than chocolate, she goes to the till and pays. Finally.

Reasons For Thanksgiving

Now, I have to begin by saying that I am not American, although I do have relatives who moved across the Atlantic as a result of the potato famine. I have been to the USA, and really liked the place. It comes across as a nation which lives big - I don't mean the meals! And when the police call you "sir" it takes a while to realise they're not being sarky.

And there is one American tradition I have started to observe - and that is Thanksgiving, with the turkey (OK, a pack of turkey breasts) sitting in the fridge waiting to be cooked this afternoon.

And what do I have to be thankful for? I know that "count your blessings" can come across as frightfully twee, but:

I'm alive

OK, it amuses people sometimes when I reply "I'm alive" to the question "How are you?" But I will then explain that some days "I'm alive" is the best you can hope for, and while there's life there's hope. Sounds negative? Well this year has been a very odd one, with it being - on paper - a bad year for me. And there have been moments when I have been in A&E and - let's be blunt - not sure if I'd survive. The day after that is always weird and special as you notice the small things. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider what if this was the final year of your life - what would you make the most of if it was your last summer, or last birthday or last Christmas?


Following on from this, while there have been some doctors who are total chumps - and indeed, one GP (I left the surgery after an appointment with her) who covers up her incompetence by being rude and aggressive - on the whole it has been good. I have a surgery which concentrates on patient health, and it is easy to make appointments. I can get the inhalers and tablets I am prescribed. I have a major A&E very close to me. My health is kept as good as it can be. In many countries I would not have this.

I have eyes

Don't knock it. My hobby is astronomy. I use a computer a lot. I watch TV. I love the natural world. So much enjoyment and essentials would go if I couldn't see.

I can walk

I see people in their wheelchairs and mobility scooters and think what a restriction that must be on life. There have been times - such as when I put my back out or when I have leg problems - that walking has been painful, so I am glad that most of the time it isn't.

I have family

However frustrating they can be. My childhood was very much one of family shrinkage, as we would receive yet another phone call about an elderly relative dying, and I was used to seeing older family decline. Since then it has been the reverse, as there have been marriages and a new generation being born. In addition, this has been the year of tracking down wider family that we've had no contact with for decades.

I have friends

I was the archetypal friendless swot at school. Now I have a wide circles of friends, with some really close friends.

I have a home

It's small and it's rented. But I have a roof over my head. That is more than millions of people around the world have.

I live in suburbia

Cue Terry & June music and thoughts of middle-class tweeness. But I have a good bus service (less than 10 minutes to the centre of Southampton). Less than 75 minutes walk to an aiport which could take me almost anywhere in western Europe (in response to their recent consultation, I have suggested they get Icelandair to run flights to Reykjavík on the grounds that this is a gateway to North America). I have a selection of supermarkets in walking distance - I remember discussing this with one friend who lives in a rural area and realising the amount of planning that goes into shopping for him, as he cannot nip down the road to a supermarket. I am close to a major railway station, so when jobhunting I know I have a wide range of location options. If I were at my parents', I would be restricted in where I can jobhunt. I can travel widely - if I plan it, I can go by train to many major European cities.

I live near to rural areas

New Forest, Test Valley, South Downs - all easy to get to.

I live in a climatically and geologically stable area

The United Kingdom is safe. I don't have to worry about tornadoes or tsunamis or earthquakes. Although we can get hot summers and snow in winter, we don't get the extremes in weather that there might be across much of North America. We can see disasters strike around the world and realise we don't have to face those risks.

I live in a politically stable country

I can vote. I have a democratically-elected city council and a democratically-elected House of Commons. This is a democracy. There are a few rotten apples in the police, but the forces of law and order do not oppress people - please avoid hysterical talk of need for a "British spring". Look at countries like Syria and Egypt. No government in the UK is going to gas its people.

I have freedom to worship

I can own and read a Bible. I can discuss it online without state censorship. I can attend church - the sort of freedoms many Christians would (and in many cases, do) die for.

I live in a country with a Christian heritage

A bit of a curate's egg (pun intended). The Church of England does jump on bandwagons, and although the Christian influence has declined, our laws were based on Christian values.

I do not go hungry

Supermarkets, fast food shops, department stores with customer restaurants....

I speak English as my first language

This is not the most common language but is the international lingua franca. Things are so much easier knowing it.

I have a computer and internet access

When my last computer broke down permanently, I realised just how important this is now. It is very much a lifeline to the outside world - if I need to apply for a job, order something, organise something....

Jesus Christ died for me, and I have the assurance of eternal life through Him

The Lord's Supper, instituted by Him, is where we have a Thanksgiving of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross, with the bread representing His body broken for us, and the wine His blood shed for us.

Friday, 22 November 2013

How Many UKIP Peers Should There Be?

One thing I have seen recently is that the Government's Programme for Coalition contained this commitment:

We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is re£ective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

I have already had a look at the (now aborted) plans for House of Lords reform and how it could be salvageable.

The current distribution of life peers in the House of Lords is:

  • Labour - 217
  • Conservative - 173
  • Liberal Democrat - 95
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 2
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • UK Independence Party - 1
  • Independent Conservative - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent UUP - 1

There are in this list Independents who have lost/resigned the party whip. In addition there are non-affiliated peers, who are distinct from the Crossbenchers.

Some of these can be allocated to party groups:

[* Kalms is a bit debatable. He was a Conservative, but was expelled after encouraging people to vote for UKIP at the June 2009 elections to the European Parliament.]

Next we have the ineligble peers. One of these, the Liberal Democrats' Sarah Ludford, is disqualified as she is a Member of the European Parliament for London.

The ones we are interested in are party peers on a Leave of Absence:

With this, we can now give a number of life peers for each party (whipless and non-affiliated ones could return, as could those on Leave of Absence or disqualified):

  • Labour - 241
  • Conservative - 184
  • Liberal Democrat - 100
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 4
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • UK Independence Party - 2
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1

The next stage is to look at the results of the May 2010 general election:

Party Life peers Votes Votes per peer
Conservative/Ulster Unionist Party 189 10,806,115 57,175
Labour 241 8,609,527 35,724
Liberal Democrat/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland 100 6,879,586 68,786
UK Independence Party 2 919,546 459,773
British National Party 0 564,331 N/A
Scottish National Party 0 491,386 N/A
Green Party of England & Wales 1 265,247 265,247
Sinn Féin 0 171,942 N/A
Democratic Unionist Party 4 168,216 42,054
Plaid Cymru 2 165,394 82,697
Social Democratic & Labour Party 0 110,970 N/A

Now, you'll notice that the number of votes for some parties doesn't tally. In Northern Ireland, the Conservatives and UUP fought as a single party - and the UUP does have quite a high number of peers for its vote, which doesn't reflect its recent electoral collapse - and the BBC also counts John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Buckingham in the Conservative tally.

I have combined the Liberal Democrats and APNI, noting that former APNI leader, John Alderdice, takes the Liberal Democrat whip in the House of Lords.

The BBC totals ignore the fact that there are 3 Green parties in the United Kingdom - there are separate ones in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

With this we find the lowest number of votes per peer is Labour's 35,724. If this ratio applied for all parties then we would have:

  • Conservative/Ulster Unionist Party - 302
  • Labour - 241
  • Liberal Democrat/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 193
  • UK Independence Party - 26
  • British National Party - 16
  • Scottish National Party - 14
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 7
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 5
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3

We currently have 539 party life peers - the above would raise it to an unmanageable 817 (an increase of 278).

Now, not all of these parties would accept peers - the Scottish National Party and Sinn Féin would not - but this can be worked around. For example, the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland could be asked to nominate 14 and 5 Crossbenchers respectively. If the Social Democratic & Labour Party doesn't take its peers, then Labour should appoint 3 peers from Northern Ireland, such as Belfast-born Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall.

The thought of BNP peers turns my stomach, but that is democracy.

So, how many extra peers would each party get?

  • Conservative/Ulster Unionist Party - 113
  • Liberal Democrat/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 93
  • UK Independence Party - 24
  • British National Party - 16
  • Scottish National Party - 14
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 6
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 1*

[* The BBC suggests that William Hay, DUP Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, might become a peer next year.]

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rose And The Bad Wolf

I have allowed myself a moment of überfandom, and am trying to buy all 12 versions of Radio Times. There is one image in it which sticks out, which is the tenth Doctor and Elizabeth I having a picnic.

Now this clearly puts it between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time.

Tenth Doctor: For once I'd like to know where I'm going

Eleventh Doctor: No, you really wouldn't

This exchange makes some sense if the tenth Doctor is at the point where he is trying to avoid Ood Sigma's summons to the Oodsphere.

Also, if The Day of the Doctor is the tenth Doctor's penultimate adventure, then this means his last two adventures are related to the Time War. If - as some as suggested - the three Doctors we see collectively use The Moment to end the Time War, then by the time of The End of Time his emotions must be in turmoil. He is running from his past, he has destroyed Gallifrey twice already (knowing he'll do it again), he is running from his future ("He will knock four times") and to cap it all, it looks like Rassilon, the Time Lords and Gallifrey are coming back. In The Beast Below, the eleventh Doctor is quite relaxed about Gallifrey - he has seen the consequences of Gallifrey not being destroyed, seen Rassilon's plan, and realises that he did the right thing.

But if, from the tenth Doctor's perspective, this is near the end, then it means one thing - Rose Tyler is not his companion.

Looking at the trailers, I don't think we see Rose alone with the tenth Doctor. If anything, she is with the missing Doctor.

In Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, Rose becomes the Bad Wolf, and what does she do? "The Time War ends" - the Bad Wolf's role is to bring it to an end by destroying the Daleks. In Turn Left, the Doctor tells Donna Noble that the "Bad Wolf" messages all over the place mean the end of everything - and this follows on to Rose's return and the Daleks undoing some of the Time War.

In Boom Town, the Doctor seems perturbed by a potential nuclear power station called Bad Wolf (in Welsh). But why? Why all this stuff about seeing it everywhere when the only earlier time he came across it was Bad Wolf TV in The Long Game? Something deeper was happening.

I will stick my neck out here - the Bad Wolf is, I suggest, a mythical figure from Time Lord legend representing destruction.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Be Careful With Water, Electricity And The Bible

One man I know is heavily into DIY, but he once told me there are two things for which he will call in a professional.

The first of these is water. One mistake, and a place can be flooded, with the possibility of an insurance company not paying out. Safer to get a plumber in.

The other is electricity. One mistake can be fatal. Safer to get an electrician in.

Water is essential to life. And in the modern Western world, electricity is a very important feature. Ever had a power cut and realised just how much we depend on it?

Water and electricity are both dangerous, and they need to be treated with respect as a result. I like swimming, but can never totally relax in the water - if anything goes wrong the consequences can be serious.

Last week I was at a course at church on How To Teach The Bible, and I realised that I actually enjoyed it - looking at a passage, seeing the main points, devising a structure, thinking about how to apply it to our lives, what examples there would be etc. And when I saw the list of indications that one might have the gift of teaching, I found myself thinking, yes, that's me.

There are two extreme poles on the idea of the gift of teaching. On one end, there is the idea that if there's any Bible teaching to do, well that's what the dog-collared Rev is there for. I remember mentioning to one clergyman about 15 years ago that I was wondering if I had this gift and making the terrible faux pas of suggesting I combine it with secular work. Very quickly I find that the two types of ministry he takes a very dim view of are Non-Stipendary Ministers and Lay Readers. It was clear that as far as he was concerned, these were the people who wanted the glamour of being up there at the front leading or in the pulpit, but were not willing to put in the hard slog of day-to-day parish work. So I left the idea.

There is another end, and for this I need some background. I love Maths, and when I was young I wanted to grow up to be a Maths teacher. And when I became a Christian as an undergraduate, quickly came across what we can call "the Four M's" approach to careers. Mission, Ministry, Medicine, Minds. Basically, you are called to become a missionary overseas, or be a vicar/rector (if a man), work as a doctor or a nurse, or a teacher.

Well, I don't like hot countries, so that rules out being a missionary. Couldn't see myself as a vicar. Am squeamish with blood. So by default that left teaching as the only career option for me. And I did start a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) but realised it wasn't me, so withdrew after the second term.

As a result I was unemployed until I started temping in the secular world of factory work. Two things would grate. The first was when well-meaning Christians would ask whether I had considered teaching as a career. The second was when this was followed up by a comment about how Christians find teaching easy. Yeah, thanks for that.

But it is easy to see where this comes from. I didn't grow up in a Christian home, so a lot of things are alien to me. But I would get the impression that helping out at Sunday School was very much a rite of passage for teenagers from Christian families - hence the idea that teaching was a gift everyone had.

And in Bible study groups it is normal for everyone to play their part in leading.

There were a few things that struck me about what we learned. The first is the benefit of teaching through a book of the Bible Sunday-by-Sunday. That way the preacher doesn't choose his favourite passages. Nor can anyone feel singled out - and I can give a practical example from yesterday.

After my PGCE I did factory work, but there were also in that 18-month period between that and starting an MSc in Astronomy times when I was unemployed or only working part-time. And there was a small group of young Christians who got very hot under the collar about "the sin of unemployment". Two passages would be shown to me:

Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, (Ex. 20:9)


Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. (II Thess. 3:6-14.)

In their worldview, being unemployed was an deliberate lifestyle choice, not something that happens to someone, and the way it should be dealt with is via church discipline - in particular the "have nothing to do with him". This would mean an unemployed man should not be allowed to become - or remain - a church member, and that he and his wife and children should be excluded from church activities. Excluding the family would help shame him into becoming employed, as he would realise that his remaining unemployed had consequences for those who meant the most to him.

Last week I was due to have my interview about becoming a church member (this is how we do things in the free churches) and before it I decided not to go ahead as I was unemployed and had this all going through my mind, with it keeping me awake quite late the night before. The reassuring email was that it was OK, I wouldn't be barred from membership for not being able to find work.

I spent Sunday with at my parents', and went to the main morning service at the Anglican church in their village. The preacher preached on the Thessalonians passage. Now, I could have thought that it was chosen because I was there - but it was simply what was the Epistle reading in the Lectionary.

The second thing that struck me is that a preacher needs to avoid a hobby horse, with the example of a preacher who could drag baptism into every passage - we need to draw out what is in the passage, not read in. One example springs to mind, a Baptist church, where the minister and elders made the controversial decision to nominate a woman to fill the vacancy in the presbyterate. And the Sunday before the church meeting with The Vote, the sermon was from Nehemiah 3, the rebuilding of the Wall.

And the key verse was verse 12:

Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

There we have it, in the buidling of the Wall, there were no distinctions between roles men and women had. And so in the building of God's Kingdom, yep, you've got it. Loaded Sermon Klaxon.

I have to say the best sermons on giving are on days which are not Gift Days.

What have I taken away from the training? The thing is that if I do indeed have this gift then, however awkward it would be, I have to use it:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Pet. 4:10)

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:6-8)

One thing I need to carefully consider is what my motivation would be. Last year, we had a school reunion, and I received an apology for one man for bullying me at school. My reply was, "I deserved it".

I was very talented academically - at secondary school at the end of year exams, I once came top in every academic subject. The other two years where we had end of year exams, one girl came top in at most three subjects (cannot remember exactly). And this made me arrogant.

This is my fear. Those who preach and teach can be put on pedestals, and I have known preachers who have done terrible things and prior to that been seen with respect. At primary school, some books we read would be quite old-fashioned (why, oh why, was "Grandmother North" insistent that just because it was wartime, there was no reason to stop having dinner in the dining room?), and in some we would come across the idea of the "Sunday best" with clothing. And sadly, there will be preachers who have their own "Sunday best" of piety and appearing spiritual.

If I have a gift, I don't want to use it in a way that puffs me up and doesn't point people towards Jesus.

If I were to teach the Bible, I would have to make sure, above all, that I was teaching responsibly. It is a dangerous book:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12a)

Like anything dangerous, it has to be treated with respect when being handled.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

How Close Did The USA Come To Being Leaderless In January 2001 And Could A Goode Man Have Prevented It?

Anyone who follows my blog knows I have an interest in politics, and this includes American politics. One thing I was recently looking at is the November 2000 federal election.

This is famous for the then-Governor of Texas, George Bush, defeating sitting Vice-President, Al Gore, due to a controversy over hanging chads in Florida. But there was much more going on.

In the Electoral College, Bush got 271 votes to Gore's 266, with one Elector - in the District of Columbia - abstaining, despite being pledged to support Gore. Florida, with its 25 votes, would have enabled Gore to win by 291 to 246.

However, the states where Gore won by the narrowest margins - New Mexico, Wisconsin and Iowa - had 23 votes between them. If Bush had won these (which could be achieved with just 5,112 voters - less than 0.005% of the total voters - switching), with Gore winning Florida, then Bush would have 269 votes to Gore's 268. Before you assume that Bush could have claimed victory, remember Gore's faithless former friend. Her vote has to be taken into account, and Bush would win 269 votes out of a possible 538.

To be elected President at this stage, a candidate needs an absolute majority - so 270 or more votes. If no-one manages that, then the matter is referred to the House of Representatives that was elected at the same time. There crucial thing here is that votes at this second stage are cast by state delegation.

The House of Representatives elected in 2000 had 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats, as well as 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders, who was the sole Representative for Vermont, which he now represents in the Senate, and Virgil Goode, a Representative for Virginia who represented the area around Charlottesville, and who had been originally a Democrat but by the November 2002 election was a Republican).

But more important than the numbers is where they represent. If a state had a Republican majority in its delegation, then it would have voted for Bush. If a Democrat majority, then Gore. If evenly split, then it would have abstained.

The numbers give us:

  • Bush - 28
  • Gore - 18 (including Vermont)
  • Abstained - 4 (Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Nevada)

Just as with the Electoral College, what matters here is getting an absolute majority, i.e. 26 votes. Given that states may have to abstain, we can see that it is possible that even with 2 candidates, there is no winner. Bush only needed to lose 3 states for this to occur.

What we need to look at are states where the Republicans had a majority of 1 or 2 Representatives. If they had a majority of 1, then the loss of their most vulnerable seat to the Democrats would flip the state delegation to voting for Gore. If a majority of 2, then (except for Virginia), this would lead to the state delegation abstaining.

The states with a majority of 1 were Alaska, Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming, while those with a majority of 2 were Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia (which is the only one of these to return an odd number of Representatives).

And we find there are 3 seats in these states where the Republican lead is less than 5% over the Democrats:

  • In Missouri's 6th district, Sam Graves had a majority of 11,133
  • In Montana, Dennis Rehberg had a majority of 30,447
  • In Virginia's 2nd district, Ed Schrock had a majority of 7,528

This situation could arise with just 24,556 voters switching.

Graves and Rehberg failing to be elected would lead to Missouri and Montana voting for Gore, bringing him to 20. If Schrock failed to be elected, Virginia would return 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats and 1 Independent. Goode would be in the incredibly powerful position of whether to give the state delegation vote to Bush (in which case he would have 26 states and win) or Gore (in which case the House of Representatives would have failed to elect a President).

Oh well, if there's no President, then at least the Vice-President can take over till the mess is sorted out. With the Electoral College failing to choose one, all the Senate needed to do was to decide between the Republican Dick Cheney, at the time a former Secretary of Defense, and the Democrat Joe Lieberman, at the time a Senator for Connecticut. And as a result of the election, there were 50 Republican and 50 Democrat Senators. Ah, a tie. There is an interesting article on what happens if there is a tie in the Senate.

It would not have taken many votes to change hands in 2000 for the situation of both the Electoral College and Congress failing to elect a President and a Vice-President.

What I expect the sequence of events would have been is this - Dennis Hastert of Illinois, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, would have found himself on Inauguration Day as the highest person in the line of succession, and therefore he would have taken the oath as Acting President. He could then nominate a Vice-President - logically either Bush (as a fellow Republican) or Gore (as winner of the popular vote). Once ratification was complete, there would be someone higher than Hastert in the line of succession (Vice-President is above Speaker) and whomever Hastert had chosen would complete the term of office.

The Opinion Polls With 18 Months To Go

One thing that I realised recently that if we were still following the normal-ish pattern of 4 years between general elections, then this would be the stage when the parties would be really looking to it. Manifestoes prepared. Government introducing populist legislation....

But instead we know the next election will be May 2015, and so we are now in the final 18 months.

With that in mind, it's time to look at the opinion polls. I have provided details of how I do this and - in order to get a larger data set - I have been combining opinion polls, with this now being the time to add a fourth poll - namely ICM.

ICM divides Great Britain up in a different way to Populus and YouGov, and we can compare these:

Region/Nation Populus YouGov ICM
Scotland Scotland Scotland Scotland/North
North West England North England North North
Yorkshire & Humberside North England North North
North East England North England North North
Wales Wales & South West Midlands & Wales Wales/Midlands
West Midlands Midlands Midlands & Wales Midlands
East Midlands Midlands Midlands & Wales Midlands
Eastern England South East Rest of South Midlands
South West England Wales & South West Rest of South South
South East England South East Rest of South South
London South East London South

Note that for ICM, both Wales and Scotland appear in two regions - which we can see if we look at the latest poll, and consider the figures for Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. To get the numbers for the North (without Scotland) and the Midlands (without Wales), it is a logical step of subtracting the Scottish and Welsh figures.

The second poll we look at is the one from ComRes.

Thirdly we look at Populus, which involves combing two recent polls:

Date C Lab LD UKIP
Friday 8 - Sunday 10 November 31% 39% 11% 10%
Wednesday 13 - Thursday 14 November 31% 40% 11% 10%
Average 31% 39.5% 11% 10%

And this brings me fourthly and finally to YouGov. Due to the frequency of their polls, we have 5 to consider:

Date C Lab LD UKIP
Tuesday 12 November 33% 40% 9% 11%
Wednesday 13 November 32% 42% 8% 10%
Thursday 14 November 31% 39% 9% 13%
Friday 15 November 32% 40% 10% 13%
Sunday 17 November 33% 39% 10% 12%
Average 32.2% 40.0% 9.2% 11.8%

The result of the 2010 general election is:

  • Conservatives - 306 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Labour - 258 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Liberal Democrats - 57
  • Northern Ireland parties - 18
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Greens - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

As before, I will assume that there is no change of Speaker of the House of Commons, so John Bercow would be re-elected in Buckingham as Mr Speaker seeking re-election.

As a result of the opinion polls:

  • Labour gains 73 seats from the Conservatives and 18 from the Liberal Democrats, but lose 2 seats to the Scottish National Party - a net gain of 89 seats
  • The Scottish National Party gains 6 seats from the Liberal Democrats and 2 from Labour - a total gain of 8 seats
  • Plaid Cymru gains 1 seat from the Liberal Democrats
  • The Conservatives gain 31 seats from the Liberal Democrats, but lose 73 seats to Labour - a net loss of 42 seats
  • The Liberal Democrats lose 1 seat to Plaid Cymru, 6 to the Scottish National Party, 18 to Labour and 31 to the Conservatives - a total loss of 56 seats

This gives a result of:

  • Labour - 347 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Conservatives - 264 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Northern Ireland parties - 18
  • Scottish National Party - 14
  • Plaid Cymru - 4
  • Liberal Democrats - 1
  • Greens - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

In terms of share of the vote, Labour would be on 36.3% (their best result since the June 2001 general election, and slightly higher than their May 2005 general election result), the Conservatives on 31.7% (their worst result since the May 1997 general election - but only just doing better than then), UKIP on 11.6% (the best result for any party not winning any seats, and the lowest third-party share of the vote since the Liberals in the June 1970 general election) and the Liberal Democrats on 10.8% (their worst result since 1970).

Friday, 15 November 2013

European Day of Multilingual Blogging

Today is the European Day of Multilingual Blogging.

Днес е Европейският ден на многоезичен блогове. (Bulgarian)

Danas je Europski dan višejezičnog Blogging. (Croatian)

Dnes je evropský den vícejazyčných blogování. (Czech)

I dag er den europæiske dag af flersprogede Blogging. (Danish)

Vandaag is het de Europese Dag van meertalige Bloggen. (Dutch)

Täna on Euroopa päev Mitmekeelne Blogging. (Estonian)

Tänään on monikielistä eurooppalaisen päivän blogin kirjoittaminen. (Finnish)

Aujourd'hui, c'est la Journée Européenne de blogs multilingues. (French)

Heute ist der Europäische Tag der Sprachen Bloggen. (German)

Σήμερα είναι η Ευρωπαϊκή Ημέρα των γλωσσών στα ιστολόγια. (Greek)

A mai napon az Európai többnyelvű bloggolás. (Hungarian)

Inniu, tá an Lá Eorpach na Blagadóireacht Ilteangach. (Irish)

Oggi è la Giornata europea delle lingue Il Blog. (Italian)

Šodien ir Eiropas diena daudzvalodu emuāri. (Latvian)

Šiandien Europos diena Multilingual dienoraščiai. (Lithuanian)

Illum huwa l-Jum Ewropew tal-Blogging Multilingual. (Maltese)

Już dziś jest na Europejskim Dniu wielojęzycznym bloga. (Polish)

Hoje é o Dia Europeu das Blogging Multilingual. (Portugese)

Astazi este Ziua Europeana de Blog multilingve. (Romanian)

Dnes je Európsky deň Multilingual blogovanie. (Slovak)

Danes je evropski dan Večjezični Blogging. (Slovenian)

Hoy es el día europeo de blogs multilingüe. (Spanish)

I dag är den europeiska dagen för flerspråkig Blogga. (Swedish)

Heddiw yw Diwrnod Ewropeaidd Blogio Amlieithog. (Welsh)

It has to be said that one has to be careful with translation, especially when it comes to Hungarian....

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Latest Day Of The Doctor Trailer, And Thoughts On Rose's Return

I recently looked at the first trailer for The Day of the Doctor and the BBC have now released a second one.

As always, all images are (c) the BBC.

The Doctor (I guess the eleventh) has now listened to Idris/the TARDIS from The Doctor's Wife and accepted that a police box's doors open outwards.

This reminds me of Rassilon leading a group of Time Lords into what I assume was the Council chamber in The End of Time, so this must be Gallifrey. The figure on the far right reminds me of the figure I thought could be a Sontaran in the first trailer. Presumably the Capitol Guard uniform is of that style - and the thought came to my mind whether an unregenerated Maxil were still a there. Come on, give us Colin Baker in a cameo as the Castellan.

Great men are forged in fire - hmm, so this is the Day of the Doctor, the day he is forged in the flames and becomes who he is.

The first time I saw this, I thought the lady running was Clara Oswald.

I don't think it is, taking another look, but this got me wondering. In The Name of the Doctor, the Great Intelligence enters the Doctor's timestream, to turn all his victories into defeat, and Clara follows him/it to undo this. But she didn't encounter the missing Doctor while doing this.

Does this mean that the missing Doctor had no victories that could be turned into defeat? Surely, even during the Time War, he must have had some victory that could be overturned? Or did the Great Intelligence assume that in the light of the Doctor's ultimate defeat in the Time War, any victories in it were insignificant?

This then raises another issue - surely there were pre-Time War victories for this missing Doctor? Which brings me to an idea floating around in my mind. We know, from The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords that the Master was resurrected for the Time War, as a perfect warrior. Is it a case that the Time Lords were not just bringing back to life those they thought would be suitable, but making existing Time Lords suitable? How would this be done? Well, in regeneration, a Time Lord's personality and character can change somewhat. At the end of The War Games, part of the Doctor's sentence is to change his appearance - indicating that the Time Lords have the power to not only enforce a regeneration, but to decide on its outcome.

We don't know much about the eighth Doctor, but suppose he was not considered suitable for the Time War, and therefore the Time Lords carried out a forced regeneration on him. If so, then the missing Doctor was only the Doctor through the Time War, and had no victories that the Great Intelligence could turn into defeats, and therefore no reason for Clara to meet him in one of her parallel existences.

Yes, I know the fan speculation that this is the eighth Doctor, which would give some sort of backing to my idea above. Is that Clara behind him? After all, they must have met at some point.

I've put these two together although this goes a bit out-of-sequence. We have seen the eleventh Doctor ride a motorbike in The Bells of St John, so guess this is his one from that.

Familiar from the newspapers. Guess this is outside the National Gallery, where the significant painting is. But why is the eleventh Doctor visiting it? I presume that is a UNIT helicopter airlifting the TARDIS. And why is the telephone panel open?

This starts to clear things up. In the previous trailer, we had the tenth and eleventh Doctor in the forest, and the tenth Doctor saying "You've certainly come to the right place" - presumably to the missing Doctor. We also saw Elizabeth I running through a forest. With her in the background of this scene, it is clear that this is the same forest.

This is interesting. UNIT base? I presume the women are Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. And the obvious explanation for there being two of her is that one is a Zygon infiltrating UNIT.

On the board on the right it is clearly Kamelion - but how did UNIT know about him?

And what is the 00:56 on the clock? Is it 56 minutes after midnight? Or is it a countdown - and if so, in minutes or seconds?

The "Oh, you've redecorated.... Don't like it" is, of course, the second Doctor's line in The Five Doctors and the eleventh Doctor's in Closing Time. The three Doctors with Clara in the elevent Doctor's console room - but where is Rose Tyler?

The three Doctors together - looking at the board behind them, I guess this is the UNIT base. What is the image on the screen on the right?

Tenth Doctor: For once I'd like to know where I'm going

Eleventh Doctor: No, you really wouldn't

Interesting. Does the eleventh Doctor have memories of this adventure from when he was the tenth? Or is the tenth Doctor - knowing that his song is ending and that "he will knock four times" - want some information about his personal future?

One issue that has been asked is when is Rose from? In Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel the Doctor tells her and Mickey Smith that, with regards to parallel universes (and they had landed in the one that Rose would eventually stay in):

Used to be easy. When the Time Lords kept their eye on everything, you could hop between realities, home in time for tea. Then they died, took it all with them. The walls of reality closed, the worlds were sealed. Everything became that bit less kind.

And in The Stolen Earth/Journey's End the walls of reality are opened by Davros' work on the reality bomb, and by the end, the walls are closing again. But if the Time Lords were keeping their eyes on everything, then you could travel across realities.

If this is set in the Time War, then it is before the Time Lords died and the worlds of reality closed. So, Rose could be able to return into the Time War itself - and maybe this is how to get round the War being time-locked. She is the Bad Wolf after all.

A related issue is - where is Gallifrey? If parallel universes are caused by time travel altering reality, and Gallifrey is the first planet to develop time travel, then I wonder whether this places Gallifrey at the point where parallel universes meet, and that in some sense the same Gallifrey exists in all parallel universes, so you could not have a parallel Gallifrey. Otherwise you could have it that the Time War only affected the Gallifrey in our reality. And if it's a Time War, and parallel universes are caused by time being altered, then does this mean that the War produced and/or destroyed many parallel universes?

There is a final thought. This is the seventh season of Doctor Who since it returned. American sci-fi shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and 3 of the Star Trek spin-offs (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager) ran for 7 seasons, and the Star Trek ones ensured that a finale more-or-less wrapped everything up. Is the same happening here?

After The Day of the Doctor, we have the Christmas episode. I have heard rumours that it'll be called Silent Night - sounds logical, as it's Christmassy title and also the eleventh Doctor had to tackle the complicated and, to some extent, unresolved matter of the Silence. Why did they believe silence would fall when the question was asked? In The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People the Doctor knew about the Flesh and wanted to cut off the link to Amy Pond - and the Flesh played some part in Kovarian's plans in A Good Man Goes to War. Why did the Silence want to make the TARDIS explode anyway? There are these eleventh Doctor loose ends to be wrapped up.

An episode covering the Time War closes a major thread from that spring evening in 2005 when Rose was shown - and we are now as far from that point as Jo Grant is from a junkyard in Totter's Lane.

And so I wonder whether the Christmas episode is there to end Doctor Who as it is now - tying up all the remaining loose ends.

If we look at the history, there seem to be phases. The first, from An Unearthly Child to The War Games, was the Doctor on the run from his own (unnamed) people. I have been watching the latter of these, and trying to imagine the little thrill that would come from having some of the Doctor's back story explained. That was 6 seasons.

Then we have the UNIT years - running from Spearhead from Space and up to Terror of the Zygons, so covering 6 seasons. I know that by the time you get to the fourth Doctor's era, UNIT features less. But Robot does have him, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan leaving UNIT HQ, and intending to return. Yes, Terror of the Zygons does lie in the following season (the thirteenth), but I believe it was designed to end the twelfth.

Then the Tom Baker era from Planet of Evil to some point in the eighteenth season. You could put it right at the end, with Logopolis, or you could argue that it and its predecessor, The Keeper of Traken, were putting the elements in place for the fifth Doctor era - introducing Nyssa and Tegan Jovanka, bringing back the Master - to enable Peter Davison to hit the Castrovalvan ground running.

Then we have the fifth & sixth Doctor eras, covering 5 seasons. Finally, the darker Doctor of Sylvester McCoy, cut short after 3 seasons.

So this is what I think it would be - tying up the loose ends, revolving all plot threads, and clearing the decks for the Peter Capaldi era.

Spoiler - it's going to be fantastic.