Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Adams’

Gabriel Rockhill on the Myth of American Democracy

March 2, 2018

A few months ago, the Franco-American philosopher Gabriel Rockhill published a very interesting piece in Counterpunch arguing that, contrary to how the country sees itself, America isn’t and has never been a democracy. He notes that the British imperialists, who founded the Thirteen Colonies, weren’t interested in spreading rights or democracy, and that the Founding Fathers were also anti-democratic. They were like most of the other Enlightenment thinkers in that they were keen to defend to property from the mass of the propertyless, whom they associated with misrule and the mob. He points out that at the time the suffrage only extended to men of property, and excluded the poor, women, First Nations and slaves. The notion that the country was a democracy first appeared with Andrew Jackson, who styled himself as a democrat purely as an electoral pose without doing anything to extend the franchise. He writes

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

He then goes to argue that America today is also not a democracy. It has elections, but in fact the American people aren’t governing themselves, but merely choosing which members of a plutocratic ruling class they want to govern them. And his last point is that the anti-democratic nature of American politics is shown very clearly in how often America has interfered in the elections of foreign nations – either through manipulation, or by invasion – when those countries haven’t elected the leaders America wants.

The article’s well worth reading, and is at https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/13/the-u-s-is-not-a-democracy-it-never-was/

Douglas Adams made a similar point in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On one of the fictional worlds described by the Guide, there are two races. The planet’s society is stratified, so that one of the races is the ruling class, and the other their subordinates. But it is a democracy. Ever so often, elections are held, in which the subordinate race goes off to vote for whichever members of the dominant race they want in power. But the position of the dominant race and their right to rule is never questioned.

I don’t know whether this is one of the other Hitchhiker books, or if it was just in the radio series. But it’s a good satirical description of the way western class politics works. It’s probably more true now than it was in Adams’ time, as the Blairites and the Tories come from the same middle class, and promote the same free market, neoliberal policies, which the rest of us are expected to support uncritically. It’s time to break this class monopoly on power.

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Radio 4 Programme on Douglas Adams, and New Series of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 27, 2018

This Saturday, 3rd March 2018, Radio 4 are broadcasting a programme on Douglas Adams and his ideas for the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on papers at Cambridge University. The programme’s part of their Archive Hour series, at 8.00 O’clock in the evening. The blurb for it on page 119 of the Radio Times reads

John Lloyd explores a collection of Douglas Adams’ private papers written as the latter’s ideas for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy took shape.

There’s a bit more about the programme on the previous page, 118, which runs

Don’t Panic! It’s the Douglas Adams Papers

As part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast on Radio 4 of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a new series begins on Radio 4 on Thursday. It includes unused material held at Cambridge University by author Douglas Adams, and Adams’ papers are the basis of his friend and collaborator John Lloyd’s tribute this evening. The tribute inevitably hinges on Adams’ famous inability to write. He “got stuck”. But the results of his anguish impressed such fans as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, both of whom appear. A priceless homage to a comedy genius.

And there’s a two-page feature on him on pages 114 & 115.

The new series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is on Radio 4 at 6.30, on Thursday 8th March. The new series’ entitled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase, and the listing for it in the Radio Times runs

Simon Jones returns as Arthur Dent in a new sci-fi comedy tale based on Dirk Maggs’ novel And Another Thing, with additional material by creator Douglas Adams. It sees Arthur and the rest in an adventure involving Viking Gods and Irish confidence tricksters-not to mention the first glimpse of the Eccentrica Gallumbits.

I don’t think I’ll be listening to it, as I went off Hitchhiker and Adams way back in the 1990s. I loved the first two books, but their quality steadily went down, and I’ve had no desire to read the Dirk Gently stories or anything else Adams’ wrote. And I also wasn’t impressed by the way Adams got very sniffy in an interview on the radio with Paxman, when Paxo told him he wrote science fiction, ‘but it was good’, and Adams denied that he did. Hitchhiker clearly is SF, but it seems Adams either didn’t respect the genre due to literary snobbishness, or simply didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an SF writer. I can also remember him on another radio programme back in the 1990s telling an audience of schoolchildren that he was a ‘wordsmith’. I’m sure that’s true, in the sense that Adams was genuinely concerned with making sure his work was exactly right, but it still sounds more than a little pretentious and conceited when the uses the term to describe himself.

Trump Wants to Arm Teachers: This is Joke from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 24, 2018

Trump is apparently serious about arming teachers to protect them from another school shooting. The best solution obviously would be to restrict firearm ownership, so that people couldn’t get their mitts on powerful submachine guns, especially not criminals and murderous nutters. As for teachers with guns, I’m reminded of the Boomtown Rats old hit, ‘Tell Me Why I Don’t Like Mondays’. It was based on a real incident, where a teacher came in and shot down her class. When she was asked by the police why she did it, she simply replied ‘I don’t like Mondays’.

In fact, Douglas Adams was making jokes about arming teachers with guns as long ago as the 1980s, in the third book of his Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I’m afraid it’s so long ago since I read it, that I can’t remember what it was called. But I do remember it involved Ford and Arthur going off to investigate the re-emergence of a savagely xenophobic and militaristic race, the Armourfiends of somewhere-or-other – I’ve forgotten the rest of their name. These people are so mad keen on war and weaponry, that certain professions are armed because of their work. This includes teachers.

What started as a joke by Adams’ is now being promoted as serious government policy by Trump. Somewhere up there, Adams must be having a very dry, ironic laugh. Always supposing that heaven exists, and the Good Lord will let militant atheists in.

Stephen Hawking to Play The Book in New Series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 18, 2018

The I newspaper yesterday reported that the physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, is set to play the Book in a new radio series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Entitled ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Edition’ the series will commemorate the original show on Radio 4 back in 1978, featuring the original cast.

I loved the original series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the first two books based on the show, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. However, I lost interest in it after the third book. I tried reading the fourth, only to give up. I think by that time Douglas Adams himself was growing tired of writing them. I’ve heard someone say on an interview that he was only lured back to write his last Hitch-Hiker book by the publisher’s promise that in it he could destroy every possible Earth in every possible universe. So I’m not sure I’ll listen to it, especially as the series is being carried on by other writers.

I also wasn’t impressed by Adams’ expressed contempt for the genre he wrote in. Back in the 1990s he was interviewed on the radio by Paxo, who said his book was Science Fiction, but different. It was good. Adams replied by saying that he didn’t write Science Fiction. Which is odd, because that’s what Hitch-Hiker is. But I guess Adams wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a genre writer.

At that time the prejudice of the literary establishment towards Science Fiction and Fantasy was much stronger than it is now. I can remember seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, saying how the organisers looked on him as if he was going to talk to people about fixing motorcycles. There’s a clip of the BBC arts programme, The Late Review, in which the Oxford lecturer and poet, Tom Paulin, and a female litterateur are asked to review one of Pratchett’s books, where they both make very disparaging remarks. The woman states that she felt like writing across it in big lines ‘I cannot read any more’. Paulin compared it to lifting up a stone to find all these weird people doing weird things underneath it. And going further back to the 1950s Brian Aldiss commented in The Trillion Year Spree that at that time, despite being championed by Kingsley Amis, pornography had a better reputation than Science Fiction amongst the literary elite.

Pratchett had to fight against that literary snobbishness throughout his life, but is now being taken very seriously by critics. I think Adams avoided it. Back in the ’90s he and Hitch-Hiker were the subjects of one edition of the South Bank Show with Melvin Bragg. But perhaps the price of that critical acclaim was his denial that he wrote Science Fiction at all.

But other people are different, and so I’ve no doubt that there are millions of Hitch-Hiker fans out there, who will be delighted to hear the news. They know who they are. They’re the people, who bought merchandising, like the Hitch-Hiker bath towels. This was a large, white bath towel with the text from the HHGG talking about how every Hitch-Hiker really needed to know where their towel was on it. I found one of those in Forever People, the comics/ SF shop in Bristol. The show’s fans are also the people, who organised conventions with dubious names like ‘Slartibartday’, after one of the creators of the Earth, Slartibartfast.

Hawking is in many ways an ideal choice for The Book after the death of Peter Jones, who was its original voice on Radio 4 and then in the BBC 2 TV series. He already has an electronic voice to fit the character of an electronic book, and is a world famous space scientist and advocate of space colonisation. But you wonder how massive his ego will be after playing a publication, which the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes as, amongst some people, having displaced the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.

Share and Enjoy! The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Predicted the Tutorbot

December 28, 2017

‘Share and enjoy’ is the company motto of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, a massive robotics conglomerate best known for its incompetence and shoddy workmanship in Douglas Adams’ Science Fiction classic, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The company and its products are so substandard, that its complaints division now occupies the major landmasses of three whole planets.

And while, according to Adams, the great Encyclopedia Galactica defined a robot as a machine designed to do the work of a man, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as ‘your plastic pal who’s fun to be with’.

And we’re coming closer to that reality every day. Yesterday and today, BBC 2 have been running a short documentary series, Six Robots and Us, in which six families and other groups of people take care of six robots designed to help them with their particular problems. One of these is Fitbot, a robotic fitness instructor, which was given to a group of people trying to get fit. In tonight’s episode, the people of a shop take custody of Shopbot, are robotic store worker, to see how they get on. And there are two children with learning difficulties, one of whom is autistic, who are given Tutorbot, to see if it can help them overcome their difficulties at school.

Douglas Adams predicted something very similar in the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy way back in the ’70s-80s. In the second series of the radio version of Hitch-Hiker, there’s a device called an autoteach, a kind of computer teacher. It gives the student facts, and then starts asking questions to get the student to think through the issues. If the student gets an answer right, they get to press a button on the autoteach, which stimulates their pleasure centres. And at the end of the lesson, after the students has laughed and screamed with pleasure when they get the answers right, the autoteach asks them to press the other button. This give the autoteach itself a dose of pure pleasure, so that part of the story ends with the autoteach laughing like a maniac.

Ok, so Tutorbot, with its humanoid shape isn’t quite like that, and it doesn’t electronically stimulate the pleasure centres, mercifully. But the idea’s more or less the same: an intelligent machine to teach children.

As for the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy defined them as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks, who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’

I didn’t see all of yesterday’s edition, because I went to bed early due to this cold. The next programme is on tonight, 28th December 2017, at 8.30. Aside from the cold, what went through my mind while watching the programme was all the jokes in Hitch-Hiker about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

Here’s a clip from YouTube from the 80s TV version of Hitch-Hiker, where the Book talks about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation and robots.

Dr. Who Meets Pink Floyd

August 11, 2017

This is another fascinating and weird arrangement of the Dr. Who theme in the style of other pop/rock musicians. It’s from Taniloo’s YouTube channel, and it’s would a version by the veteran Prog Rockers Pink Floyd would have sounded like.

Well, it could have happened! Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was a big fan of Floyd. I’ve heard that they were the model for the band Disaster Area in ‘Hitchhiker’, whose songs are all about boy being meeting girl being under a silvery moon, which suddenly explodes for no very good reason. And Disaster Area’s stage act, which involves a spaceship diving into the heart of their audience’s home star, seems to me to be very much inspired by Floyd’s song ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’. Adams was also, as Hitchhiker fans and Whovians well know, also a script editor on Dr. Who.

There’s a nod to Floyd on the double album of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which came out in 1981 or thereabouts. When Arthur, Ford, Trillian, Zaphod and Marvin land on the abandoned planet of Magrathea, the background music by Paddy Kingsland and the Radiophonics Workshop goes off into echoing Pink Floyd-esque bluesy melismas, while Arthur says, ‘Ford, do you realise this robot can sing like Pink Floyd?’

‘Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With’

November 2, 2015

Okay, this is something a bit lighter. This fortnight’s Private Eye carried in their ‘Funny Old World’ column a story from the Japan Times for 27th September of this year, 2015, reporting that a Japanese cybernetics company has brought out an emotional robot, ‘Pepper’. The article states

“When people are described as ‘acting like a robot’, Masayoshi Son of the Softbank Corporation told reporters in Tokyo, “it means they have no feelings or emotion, but we start challenging this concept today. for the first time in the history of robotics, we are putting emotion into a robot, and giving it a heart. ‘Pepper’ is 120 cm tall, and costs 198,000 yen (£1,110). It can read human emotions, hold conversations, make jokes, and move autonomously, but its affability should not be mistaken for something less innocent.

“For that reason, purchasers must sign an agreement, which forbids them from using Pepper for improper purposes. the policy owner must not perform any sexual act or engage in other indecent behaviour, or must they tamper with the software to give the robot a sexy voice. Any lewd acts will trigger punitive action.”

Concern about the possible misuse and exploitation of androids in Japan has also led to the formation of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. “As humanoid robots become more widespread,” the group argued in a recent press release, ” it is necessary to develop an engaged ethical response to these new technologies. Such machines could further sexually objectify women and children, and further reduce human empathy.”

The Campaign Against Sex Robots has a very good, moral point. People were, however, making sex robots as far back as the day’s of Vaucanson and the automatons of the 18th century.

But to me, the idea of an emotional robot raises another spectre entirely. It’s too much like the Sirius Cybernetics Company and Marvin, the Paranoid Android, from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The manically-depressed robot was part of a new line of sentient machines with their own personalities. And he was a personality prototype. As he said, ‘You can tell, can’t you?’

The emotional robot is clearly designed to function as a mechanical friend, meaning that we’re back to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Sirius Cybernetics Company’s definition of a robot as ‘You’re plastic pal, who’s fun to be with.’

Which means this piece from the 1980s BBC TV adaptation of Hitch-Hiker is suddenly relevant …

The clip doesn’t include the further statement that a copy of the Encyclopaedia Galactica, which fell through a time warp from 1,000 years in the future, defined the Sirius Cybernetics Company as ‘A bunch of mindless jerks, who were first up against the wall when the revolution came.’

Douglas Adams was an atheist with an acute sense of the absurd nature of the world and humanity. He’s sadly no longer with us, but wherever he is, I bet he’s laughing.

Financial Times Review of Biography of Douglas Adams

October 27, 2015

Adams Hitchhiker Photo

Adams on the set of the BBC’s TV series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Going through a pile of old newspaper clippings, I came across a review by David Honigmann of M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, published by Hodder & Stoughton, from the Saturday edition of the Financial Times for 22nd/23rd March 2003. Here it is.

The psychologist Meredith Belbin distinguished between a range of roles that individuals could play on a team. There are the co-ordinators who keep things moving, the resource investigators who grub around for materials and cut deals, the shaper/finishers who make sure projects get completed and the plants who throw out ideas. Douglas, it is fair to say, was a plant. In a casual conversation, he could throw out enough ideas for a lifetime’s writing. It was just the actual writing that came hard to him. He was ambitious enough to live in poverty on odd jobs while waiting for his big break, with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but not ambitious enough to keep working at the same rate once fame arrived.

M.J. Simpson’s biography of Adams is surprisingly tart, coming from a fan whose obsession with his subject seems to fall just this side of stalkerhood. The charges against Adams are four-fold: he procrastinated, he was starstruck, he exaggerated, his knowledge of science fiction was shallow. That Adams procrastinated is not in doubt. He learned the habit at the feet of a master, working with Graham Chapman during Chapman’s alcoholic post-Python years. After the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all his books were delivered late – in many cases they were only begun after the deadline had passed. But he was, in general, so reliable as a cash-cow that editors and publishers were prepared to wait for milking-time. Nonetheless, at the time of his death, Adams had not completed a book for eight years, and his last project, Starship Titanic, had received only a lukewarm reception.

Starstruck, Adams certainly seems to have been. He went to Cambridge to ingratiate himself with the Footlights crowd: he wanted to be John Cleese and worked his way into at least an outer ring of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. His parties were studded with musicians from Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and Wings, and Islington media glitterati.

“The audience were more famous than the band,” recalls one of the latter ruefully. For his 42nd birthday, he was given a certificate entitling him to appear on stage with Pink Floyd. His school chaplain suspects that his atheism was caused by his hero-worship of Richard Dawkins. At best, this tendency in Adams meant that he exposed himself to a wide range of ideas, many of which he developed in his own work; at its worst, this star-spotting was mostly harmless. That Adams played up his anecdotes seems likely. Simpson patiently debunks some of the myths: the first book did not go straight to number one in the Sunday Times bestseller list; Adams did not have to fight his way through crowds to get to his first book signing; the original idea for Hitchhiker did not (probably) come to him as he lay drunk in a field outside Innsbruck. The myths became part of Adams’ brand. He told the stories well, as can be heard on Douglas Adams’s Guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an audiocassette from BBC Worldwide. In essence, they fulfilled his desire to be a performer, not just a writer.

They may have served a function as self-defence in the face of a world with almost limitless tempting distractions. And they seem to have fulfilled his need for external validation: as someone who cherished throughout his life the time when a hard-to-please English teacher gave him 10 out of 10 for a story, he succumbed to the temptation to make his career a little more successful, a little more lucky.

The final suggestion is that Adams’s knowledge of science fiction was shallow. This is probably correct: one of the characteristics of science fiction fandom is that someone, somewhere, always knows more than you do. But as a science fiction writer, Adams had the mastertouch of being able to put names on concepts that no one previously knew they needed. The number of Hitchhiker concepts now embedded in the internet (such as the Babel Fish as a universal translator) is a tribute to this. There is one strikingly sad moment in Douglas Adams’s Guide, when Adams notes, “when you pass 40 – and I’m well past 40 – you suddenly become aware that all the things on your agenda … you’re not going to do them all.”

Had he lived longer, it is doubtful whether he would have produced much more, unless driven to it by economic necessity. Simpson considers this a waste of his talent. More charitably, one might conclude that most of his ambitions had been fulfilled and a few decades of intellectual puttering about and indulging his hobbies was a fair reward.

Despite Simpson’s general diligence, there is one striking lacuna. For the last decade or so of his life, Adams had been working on a novel to be called The Salmon of Doubt. What was to be in it changed periodically but the title remained – surprising, given Adams’s general indifference to titles. Simpson dismisses it as “a meaningless phrase”, but it is nothing of the sort. The Salmon of Doubt is a riff on the Irish legend of the Salmon of Certainty, which grants whoever eats it all the knowledge in the world. The seer Fionn labours for seven years to catch it, but when he does he leaves someone else to cook it while he gathers firewood. The other man – who turns out to be Fionn, son Uail, son of Baiscne – consumes three drops of oil from the fish, and he gets the knowledge, not Fionn the seer.

In other words, what turned out to be Adams’s last project was named for the story of someone who procrastinates for seven years over a project to gain the secrets of life, the universe and everything, only to have the prize snatched away from him at the last minute. He would have appreciated the irony.

And here’s the opening titles from the BBC TV version:

Coventry Tories Attack Food Banks and the People Who Need Them

June 29, 2014

Lady Godiva posted this video as a comment to the post I reblogged from Unemployed in Tyne and Weare about one of the Tory councillors for Coventry, Lepoidevin, blaming the people using food banks for their own predicament. She claimed that some of the people forced to turn to them did so because they chose to indulge their own selfish desires for drugs and alcohol over paying the rent and feeding their children. This video shows her actually saying that. It begins, however, with her colleague, Councillor Blundell, claiming that the rise in food banks is due to the ambition of the Trussell Trust to have a food bank in every town. Blundell then says they’re going to ‘thwart’ the Trust’s ambition, partly by ‘growing the economy’. Here’s the video:

Now, as Untyneweare’s article made clear, some of the people referred to the food banks do come from an agency dealing with those issues. However, the person, who has to spend his or her rent or money for food on alcohol and/or drugs, has gone way beyond using them for pleasure. They’re addicted. There’s a lot you can say about alcoholism and drug addiction. One of the most important is that it’s not a pleasure, it’s a clinical illness. The countries that have the best recovery rates for these diseases, like Switzerland, treat it as such. And part of the reason they succeed, is that while some people might find defying the law for forbidden and dangerous pleasures attractive, no-one really wants to be sick.

And we are dealing with severe sickness here. A friend of mine once told me he knew people, who were hooked on heroin. They once literally sold the clothes off their backs for a fix. No-one ever goes through that stage of addiction voluntarily. Somebody that does clearly needs help.

As for doing it for pleasure, the impression I had from the people, who spoke at the Uni about a project the archaeology department did in Bristol with the homeless, is that many of those on the streets, who have alcohol and drug problems, have severe psychological problems. In the case of the children and young people, they’re quite often fleeing violent and abusive home. In psychological parlance, they’re ‘self-medicating’. They’ve started using drugs and alcohol as a way of escaping from some of the inner, mental torment. They’re sick on all number of levels. Councillor Lepoidevin is basically kicking people who are severely ill, based on nothing more than the folk wisdom and morality peddled by the Daily Mail and the Express.

Just before Blair won the 1997 election, Channel 4 showed a programme ‘The Dinner Party’. This consisted of very middle class types simply talking round the dinner table about, well, Life, the Universe, and Everything. But with precious little of the late Douglas Adams’ wit, humour or intelligence. Instead, it showed them as a bunch of profoundly ignorant, sneering misanthropic snobs with a complete contempt for their social inferiors and an absolute complacency about their own status in society. The picture was so revolting, that several TV reviewers joked that Channel 4 had deliberately screened it to boost Blair’s campaign by showing how utterly disgusting the Tories were.

It’s precisely the reaction I have to the crew in this video. One of the contributors to Lobster once asked one of his friends, what the global financial elite were after the friend attended a high level banking conference. The friend said simply, ‘Worse than you can ever possibly imagine’. This shows them without the mask. And it’s ugly. Very ugly.

Nixon’s Political Heirs: Convicted Tory Peer Now Campaigns for Prison Reform

September 30, 2013

I just heard this little bit on the One Show, and it seemed a very telling sign of the post-Nixon state of British and American politics. There’s a bit in the film Whoops Apocalypse where the first female president of the USA goes in search of her predecessor to ask his advice on the current international crisis. The film shows the presidential limousine going up to a grand mansion. It then passes it, to stop at a group of convicts working on the road nearby. ‘Hi, Mr President’, the President calls from her car, ‘how’s life?’. ‘Still doing it’, replies one of the convicts. Nixon’s impeachment clearly influenced Douglas Adams’ when he was writing The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (still better selling than Celestial Homecare Almanac). In it, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the extremely laid-back and highly weird President of the Galaxy has spent one of his two presidential terms in jail for fraud. In the TV series, there was an advert for one of Beeblebrox’s products, running ‘Vogon Firelighters Never Go Out’. Now here’s another case of reality following art.

Ben Miller was on the One Show to talk about his latest play, The Duck House. It’s based on the MPs’ expenses scandal of a few years ago. It’s hero is an MP, who flips his houses so that he can claim expenses, and employs his wife as his secretary and his son as his researcher so that he claim for them as well. The One Show then produced a few cases of what some of the real MPs got up to. This included a Labour MP, who fraudulently claimed £30,000 worth of expenses, and was jailed, and a Tory Peer, who was also imprisoned for falsely claiming £14,000. The former Labour MP has now disappeared from view, but the Tory Peer is now campaigning for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. Well, there’s nothing like personal experience. Clearly this has stopped one Tory claiming that jails are too soft on criminals.

It also shows just how far political corruption and jailing of MPs is now almost commonplace, after Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and the Hamiltons, not to mention the Libdem couple, have been sent down. ‘How’s life, Mr President?’ ‘Still doing it’ seems to sum exactly this state of affairs. Unfortunately, none of those jailed have been Blair or Cameron, at least, just yet.