The Grandmothers of Invention, Band on the Wall, 24/04/18

It’s been twenty-four years since I last saw the Grandmothers, and given that this show was billed as their last ever English show, it’s likely I’ll never see them again.

Part of the reason for me not having seen them since the second gig I ever attended, back in 1994, is that this group, which at various times has featured ex-Mothers of Invention members Don Preston, Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Roy Estrada and others, and which currently consists of Preston, Gardner, percussionist Ed Mann (who played with Frank Zappa from 1977 through 1988) and drummer vocalist Chris Garcia, has had a variety of names to go with its revolving personnel — it’s been billed at times as “The Grandmothers”, “the Grande Mothers”, “the Grandmothers of Invention” (the current name), “the Grande Mothers: Reinvented” and so on, largely depending on what particular lawsuits the famously-litigious Zappa Family Trust have brought against them at any particular time. Given that, it’s been fairly difficult to have alerts for tickets for them, because you never know what the name of the band you’re looking for is.

But I’m still delighted I finally got to see them one final time, at the Band on the Wall on Tuesday.

There’s a minor industry of bands playing Zappa’s music, usually featuring one or two musicians who played with him — there’s Zappa Plays Zappa (run by Zappa’s son Dweezil), The Band From Utopia, Project/Object, The Muffin Men, and many more — but most of those bands are guitar/bass/drum bands, concentrating on the song-based rock material of Zappa’s later years. The Grandmothers are very different. Having initially also been a rock band (though one only playing material from the original Mothers lineup), they are now making a very different kind of music.

This is because to characterise them as a band playing Zappa’s music at all slightly misses the point. Preston and Gardner have been playing together for sixty years (they’re both eighty-five years old and started performing together before my mother was even born) and are both serious jazz musicians — Preston is one of the great masters of jazz synthesiser, and has played with Elvin Jones, Meredith Monk, Nat “King” Cole, and many others (he also made a *great* piano/bass/drums trio album, Transformation, a decade or so back), while Gardner (who plays tenor sax and flute) is best known, other than his work with Zappa, for playing on Tim Buckley’s Starsailor album.

They played together for years before meeting Zappa, and played experimental improvisational music with Zappa before he invited them to join the Mothers for the band’s second album, Absolutely Free, and when they joined the band was also when it expanded from being merely a rock band to being something altogether more interesting. Preston and Gardner are not, primarily, rock musicians — indeed, the reason Preston didn’t join the Mothers until their second album was that he couldn’t play “Louie Louie” properly, being unable to do dumb rock music at the time — they’re from an avant-garde jazz tradition.

And so when Preston and Gardner take to the stage with Ed Mann (who plays an electronic mallet-based percussion instrument I’ve never seen before, but which at various times can sound like a marimba, a vibraphone, a glockenspiel and so on) and Chris Garcia, what they’re *not* doing for the most part is playing Zappa’s rock songs. In fact, with no guitar or bass, they *can’t* do that.

Instead, they’re taking Zappa’s melodic themes (as well as a few of Preston’s own compositions) and using them as a basis for extended jazz improvisation.

Which isn’t to say Zappa fans won’t find much they recognise here — the band *do* perform several of Zappa’s vocal songs, and do so well, splitting the vocals between Garcia (who has a similar Mexican-Californian accent to Roy Estrada, and so can vocally get across much of the same attitude that Estrada and Ray Collins put into their vocals on the early Mothers albums) and Preston (who weirdly sounds *exactly* like Peter Tork of the Monkees sounds now — so much so that I spent much of the show trying to figure out why his voice is so familiar). And even when they’re playing Preston’s compositions or in an extended improvisation, it still *sounds* like the Mothers — Preston’s melodic sense is very similar to Zappa’s, with lots of extended modal melody lines and chromatic runs, while Gardner’s unique saxophone tone is one of the most characteristic sounds of the Mothers’ 1966-70 discography.

And they’re all excellent musicians, too — quite shockingly so given their age. Preston is definitely showing his age in other ways — a couple of times, as he was about to start a song, he had to ask one of the other band members “remind me how this one goes?” and they’d hum a couple of bars. But as soon as he actually started playing, he was astonishing, combining a Cecil Taylor style keyboard attack with his own unique sense of phrasing and use of sound effects. Gardner was able to go from playing those horribly extended melodies (which must be absolute *torture* for anyone playing a wind instrument, let alone someone in his eighties, just because sometimes you’d have as much as sixteen bars of fast quavers without a chance to draw breath) to some fantastic atonal skronking, Mann got to show off his soloing prowess in a small group in a way he never really got to when playing in Zappa’s larger, more rock-focussed, bands, and Garcia on drums managed to guide the band through the ridiculously complex time signature changes while never losing sight of the groove.

The band sounded marvelously full, too, considering what a small group it is, mostly because of Preston. He was often playing a synth with multiple patches, playing a Fender Rhodes part with his right hand while playing a Moog bass with his left — and often, during the extended solos, he would record himself playing a repeated bass figure and loop it, essentially allowing himself to play with three hands during many sections.

It was, in short, one of the most exciting gigs I’ve been to, and one that was about as far from being a “tribute act”, which is how this band are normally thought of, as one can imagine. The only thing which marred it at all, slightly, was the portion of the audience who acted like this wasn’t a musical performance but a trivia quiz, and like any time any of the band members said anything the audience’s job was to interrupt it by shouting out a line or catchphrase from a Zappa song which was somehow connected to what they were saying.

The setlist below is only sort-of-approximately what was played — in particular, I *know* they played at least one more of Preston’s own pieces than I’ve listed here. There was one I recognised, I think from Preston’s album Vile Foamy Ectoplasm, but I’m not very good at linking instrumentals with titles. Also, most of these were just starting points for improvisation, and often they’d introduce snippets of other well-known pieces, usually as little musical jokes — I noticed bits of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Peter & The Wolf, “Take Five”, and others, and no doubt there were bits of other things that I didn’t notice. Basically there were four or five big blocks of music, which occasionally resolved themselves into recognisable themes.

(My memory is also playing tricks slightly, because I bought a couple of Grandmothers albums at the show and have listened to them since, so now I’m not absolutely sure if some of what I remember them playing is just stuff on the CDs that wasn’t in the show — for example I *think* they didn’t play “King Kong”, and my memory of them playing it just comes from having heard it on the CD, but I’m not 100% sure).

The band came out wearing spangly blue jackets, introduced themselves as Ruben and the Jets, and (to a cheesy karaoke-style backing track, with only Gardner playing his instrument) sang “Stuff Up The Cracks”, with Garcia on lead and Preston grumbling the bass vocals before taking their places at their instruments and (with the exception of Preston) getting rid of the jackets.

There was then a performance of “Debra Kadabra”, with Garcia on vocals. They then segued into some Varese-style percussion experimentation, which slowly resolved itself into a melody I didn’t recognise at the time, but which I now think was Preston’s piece “Free Energy”, the title track of the band’s new album. “Duke of Prunes” followed, with if I remember rightly the vocals switching between Garcia and Preston, and after that came a medley of “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” and Preston’s piece “Ruth” (dedicated to Ruth Underwood, with the band describing themselves now as Ruth-less).

I’m *pretty* sure that “Dupree’s Paradise” came in around here, too, but it may have been between “Debra Kadabra” and “Free Energy”. And I think the first set ended with “Dog Breath In The Year Of The Plague”, with Garcia singing.

Set two opened with Preston and Gardner coming out and performing George Carlin’s “I’m a Modern Man” monologue as a dialogue, before they talked briefly about how Zappa was known for stealing other people’s tunes, before playing a medley of “Hey Joe” (sung by Preston, and at the same tempo as Hendrix’s recording) and “Flower Punk” (done as a duet between Preston and Gardner). I don’t think this is *entirely* fair to talk about as “theft”, because I doubt there was a single person who ever heard We’re Only In It For The Money without realising what Zappa was parodying, but then I’m not the one who had to sue Zappa for unpaid royalties on recordings, which Preston and Gardner did.

After this, much of the second set was made up of long improvisations. There might have been another Preston song in here, but there was definitely a performance of “Pound For A Brown On The Bus”, and a medley of “Holiday In Berlin Full Blown”, a generic twelve-bar blues with “woke up this morning” lyrics sung by Preston, “Little House I Used To Live In”, and “Overture To A Holiday In Berlin” (I think performed in that order). The show ended with an encore of “More Trouble Every Day”.

I would say for my readers to go and see this band any chance they get, but since this is their farewell tour, there may not be many of those chances. However, Gardner and Preston still clearly love performing, so if you’re in the US there might still be more chances to see them either as the Grand(e)mothers (of Invention/Revisited) or with their “Don & Bunk Show”.

Either way, I’m massively glad I got this chance, and sad I didn’t get more of them — and I hope if I live to be eighty-five I’m a thousandth as good at what I do then as Preston and Gardner are at their jobs now.

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Basilisk Murders Goes Wide

For those of you who use ereaders other than the Kindle, The Basilisk Murders has now dropped out of Kindle Unlimited. I initially intended for it only to be on KU for three months, but accidentally set it to autorenew for a second three-month period.

(I won’t be putting any further books into Kindle Unlimited. My moral objections to it still stand, but I thought that given how many authors seem to rely on it for their money I should see if it pays enough to quell my objections. As it happens, I made about four quid total for the six months of exclusivity, so for me at least it’s not only ethically dodgy but also financially worthless.)

So now it’s no longer Kindle-exclusive, here’s The Basilisk Murders from your ebook store of choice… (more shops will appear at that link over the next day or two as things update)

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Hugo Blogging: Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

This year I am again going to try to blog about the finalists for the Hugo Awards. I might not cover all of them (I haven’t in previous years) and in particular I might not be able to cover the novelists decently — I normally rely on the Hugo Packet, and this year almost all of the finalists in that category are with Orbit Books, who don’t normally allow their books to be included in full. I’ll read the excerpts they provide, but I may well not manage to read the full books if I have to buy copies and the excerpts are unappealing.

But oddly this year I have experienced all of the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form candidates — most of them even before the nomination list came out. I have *opinions* about all of them, and as always I will rank them below in the same order in which I’m ranking them on my ballot…

To start with, we have the two episodes of The Good Place, which is my favourite TV series of recent years, and which may well be a candidate for the best TV series ever:

The Good Place: Michael’s Gambit

It’s very difficult for me to talk about this episode without SPOILERS… and even the fact that there *is* a spoiler is, in some senses, a spoiler, so my apologies for that. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I apologise in advance if you’ve still not seen all of season one of The Good Place and this acts as a spoiler for you. If it helps, it’s still *definitely* worth watching even when you know what’s happening.

But that said, the twist here is so good that there’s actually a viral video of the cast members discovering what the twist is and their expressions of shock. So, you know, it’s a good one.

Both of the two episodes of The Good Place included on the ballot are the two episodes I would choose as the standout episodes of the series as a whole. I’m planning on writing a *lot* more about this series soon, but “Michael’s Gambit”, the season one finale, is one of the best episodes of television ever made (although it relies a lot for its impact on having seen the rest of season one — *SERIOUSLY*, voters, *WATCH THE WHOLE SEASON BEFORE WATCHING THIS ONE*. It’s about six hours of TV, but otherwise this will episode will MASSIVELY spoiler everything before, as it’s a pivotal episode which turns the whole premise of the series on its head.

But with that proviso… this is the most astonishing piece of television I’ve seen in years, perhaps even in decades. It’s so good that I seriously considered nomination *one twenty-second snippet* of it for the award. The scene where Michael smiles (those of you who have seen the episode know the scene I mean, and the smile I mean) is so good that that scene — that shot — deserves an award in itself.

(I’ve said that before, and people who haven’t watched the episode thought I must be exaggerating. And then several of them have independently told me that after watching it they had to rewind and rewatch that shot seven or eight times in a row. I’m not exaggerating).

The Good Place has continually pulled a rug out from under itself and destroyed its own premise, and it took something that could easily have been the premise for multiple seasons of TV and threw it away completely after a handful of episodes, but up until this point there was still the possibility that there was going to be some kind of reset button, and there was also the possibility that the series makers had not rigorously examined their premises.

Instead, it *did* hit a reset button — not the only reset button to be hit in the latter part of season one, some of them actually literal reset buttons — but in doing so it showed us that the programme we thought we’d been watching all along wasn’t the programme it actually was. It’s brilliant, diabolical, and it instantly turned The Good Place from an interesting, mildly amusing, way to pass the time into a masterpiece which stands with the best things the television medium has ever done.

I cannot say enough good things about this episode, or about The Good Place as a whole.

The Good Place: The Trolley Problem

In any series which *hadn’t* produced “Michael’s Gambit”, this would have been the best episode of the year if not the decade. It’s The Good Place at its most Good Place — making the most both of the show’s SFnal conceit and of the fact that one of the things the show exists to do is to explain and discuss philosophy at great length.

In this case, the whole episode is largely devoted to a discussion of the trolley problem, and to actually acting out the emotional drama of the philosophical concept. I’ve talked in the past about how much TV has fallen over the decades — how in the 60s the BBC could commission Jonathan Miller to produce an adaptation of Plato’s Symposium, as a TV drama to be shown in the evening to a casual audience. This is essentially the same kind of thing — this is a philosophy lecture given dramatic form, and even with the names of philosophers and books to check out given so that viewers can do further reading. Yet it’s also ridiculously funny, advances the series plot, and manages to be one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen.

I’ve seen people criticise The Good Place as being only “philosophy 101”, and it is — but at the same time, it’s not an exaggeration to say it *is* philosophy 101, in that it actually does cover the topics you might expect from a university-level but undergraduate philosophy course. It’s a series that’s had plot points depend on the characters’ shared understanding of the works of Kant and which is willing to have characters discuss, however superficially, the resemblance between David Hume’s ideas and Buddhism.

It’s a flawed series — the humour is of a particular US sitcom type which not everyone will find particularly funny, and to my mind it works better as a drama (and in particular as a textbook on how to do cliffhangers) than as a sitcom. But compare this to literally anything else on the list and you’ll see instantly why I get so disappointed with the majority of modern TV. When it’s possible to do *this*, why settle for *that*?

This episode manages to do real character development, to have the humour come out of the characters, and yet also to have a strong plot and most important of all to deal with ideas. Most TV programmes do everything they can to avoid dealing with ideas, and those that occasionally have to, such as modern Doctor Who, try to play it down and say “this is all so confusing and only for nerds, am I right?”

While Eleanor sometimes says things like that, the fact is that this series is on the side of Chidi more than anyone else. It says that ideas *matter*, that they *change people*, that actually thinking about both abstract ideas and one’s own actions is an unambiguously good thing. And this episode epitomises that more than any other. You’ll never find a funnier lecture on consequentialism.

Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,”

Discovery is a series that I think has been doing a lot of interesting things, but which I don’t think was necessarily doing them intentionally. There are whole plot strands that appear to have been created by Bryan Fuller when he was showrunner, and which appear to have been kept in after Fuller’s abrupt departure, but by people who don’t fully understand what it was he was doing with them. It’s a show in tension with itself, which doesn’t appear to know what its own strengths and weaknesses are, and it will be very interesting to see what happens in season two when Fuller’s initial plot arc is over and the current team have the ability to create something with a unified creative voice. I suspect it will be much less interesting, but probably more coherent.

In the first series, though, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is the closest thing to a non-arc episode, and so probably the one that makes most sense to include in the Hugo nominations. It’s the episode which, as an individual episode, sticks most in my mind, as it’s the closest thing to an old-style Star Trek one and done — the Discovery is trapped in a Groundhog Day style time loop by Harry Mudd, and the characters have to break out of it despite having no memory after each reset.

(I might place this higher had The Good Place not also done an episode with that theme last year — the season two premiere — and also done it much, much better).

The Deep by Clipping

This is more or less an arbitrary placement, as I simply don’t have the aesthetic ability to judge this. “The Deep” is a hip-hop track, which can be found online easily enough, and I know less than nothing about hip-hop as a form. It’s not to my taste, and I don’t understand it at all. I don’t have the tools to tell what counts as good or bad in that genre, and my judgment of its musical merits would be made from a place of complete ignorance. I’m not competent to judge what it’s doing, so I’m just sticking it in the middle — it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off the ballot because of a fault in me, but nor would it be fair to place it particularly high when it could be crap for all I know.

I was quite tempted to give it a higher place just for the concept, though — it’s taking Lovecraftian horror and making the implicit racism even more explicit, linking the origins of the creatures coming from the depths to the slave ships and the founding horrors of American society — the Lovecraftian horrors here are the children of pregnant African women thrown overboard. I can appreciate that, even if not the music — and as with The Good Place, but so rarely in the Dramatic Presentation categories, this is something that’s actually dealing with an idea, and an important one, rather than just going for whizzbang action.

But fundamentally, it’s not something I like, but that dislike isn’t the fault of the music. So, right in the middle it goes.

Black Mirror: “USS Callister,”

I’m not a massive fan of Black Mirror, even though I admire it quite a bit — there’s a bit much of the “what if phones, but bad?” as Daniel Ortberg so memorably put it, and it’s also, in general, just a bit grim. I tend to like pitch-black comedy — I loved Four Lions, for example — but Black Mirror is just that little bit too cynical for me to love, even though I can fully see that it’s very good.

This episode, in particular, I thought was not even particularly good by its own lights, though it’s certainly not *bad* — it just repeatedly pulled its punches. The work environment, which was meant to be somewhat creepy, unpleasant and soulless, was in fact much, much more pleasant than many tech jobs, to the point where I half found myself thinking “I wonder if they’re hiring?” — having a digital clone of oneself forced to play-act at Star Trek at the whim of a mad CTO is still, frankly, less toxic than several workplaces I’ve had in the past, and considering it’s a games company (notoriously the worst places to work even by the dreadful standards of the tech industry) it seems frankly amazing. People being given time to do the work that’s necessary! Release dates being put off in order to have a bug-free release! Where is this utopia?

And the relaxed, fun, atmosphere of the place is reflected in the diversity of the people working there. I saw more women in technical roles in this hour-long episode of a TV show than in the five years I worked at a large multinational tech company whose name you definitely know. A workplace where only *one* person in management is creepily inappropriate with the female staff? Oh Charlie Brooker you sweet summer child.

Callister, if you’re hiring, I’ll ping you my CV.

There’s another decision made that seems to pull punches, for what I think is a rather better reason. The kidnapped digital slaves being put under the control of an angry god-programmer are very explicitly *not* being sexually violated by him. This is, frankly, a *good* decision to make, given the dominance of rape as a theme in genre fiction generally, but it’s… it’s doing something strange with asexuality and stereotypes of nerds that I’m not entirely sure I like, even though I definitely appreciate the motivation. (I still would *definitely* not recommend that anyone who has experienced gaslighting or emotional abuse ever watch this episode though).

It also gets the science wrong, but then again, what SF show doesn’t?

But on a deeper level, I have a serious problem with this as a piece of television. Well, two problems. The first is the style of storytelling. The episode itself is seventy-six minutes long. There is no more story in it than in the forty-five minute Discovery episode, and frankly less than in either of the two twenty-five minute episodes of The Good Place on the ballot. Now that’s not to say that story density is everything, but Black Mirror in general goes for a soporific pace which is televisual shorthand for “this is all very serious now”, but which frankly makes it dull. You could easily trim twenty-five minutes from this without losing anything at all.

The other thing is that… well, the plot line itself is so Star Trek in its essence (people trapped in a world run by a malevolent idiot god is about the only idea Gene Roddenberry ever actually had) that one could have easily spent some of that twenty-five minutes parallelling the story the characters are in with the Star Trek-esque TV series their virtual reality is based on. Instead, the events that are shown in their Space Force world are… well, not really very Star Trek-esque, to be honest. There are all sorts of things you can do with the idea of “Star Trek fan traps people in a Star Trek world, and behaves like a Star Trek villain”, but the episode doesn’t seem to be as interested with playing with the idea as with just sort of laying the idea in front of you and saying “look! An idea!”

This episode could, with a bit more work at the scripting stage, have been really, *really* good. From the same basic premise, and in the same running time, you could produce something that was a devastating critique of toxic nostalgia, of tech culture, of the assumptions of Star Trek… something that paralleled the multiple narrative strands, something that dealt with questions of identity and humanity… but as it is, this is basically Redshirts remade as a Tharg’s Future Shock, and then stretched out to an hour and a quarter by someone who read a Philip K Dick book once and has seen The Matrix.

The sad thing is, that still makes it merit a place on the Hugo shortlist. We’re so starved of televisual and cinematic SF that deals with ideas *at all* that even a style-over-substance piece like this, which takes an overused idea and doesn’t even begin to explore its potential, has a reasonable enough claim to be one of the six best pieces of dramatised SF of the year, so this still places above No Award.

No Award

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike much of the Doctor Who that’s been broadcast over the last thirteen years — I find much of it ethically reprehensible and aesthetically dodgy, and I think it has few of the things I love about the series as broadcast from 1963 through 1989. That said, Steven Moffat has on occasion actually produced good work — both the original TV version of Day of the Doctor and the more recent novelisation are Quite Good, Actually — and I’d hoped that given the brief of not only leaving the show himself but also writing Peter Capaldi’s last story as the Doctor (and Capaldi has been horribly served by his scripts — there’s a great performance in there struggling to get out from under the drivel he’s been performing, and the same could also be said for his predecessor in the role), *and* writing a story which would, in its last moments, introduce the first female incarnation of the Doctor, we might get something worth watching.

Sadly, what we got instead was a repetition of something Moffat has done all too often — an attempt to overwrite the Hartnell era of the programme, and get Moffat’s fingerprints all over it. An attempt that is made worse by the fact that Moffat himself clearly doesn’t actually understand the Hartnell era on any real level. If you’re going to try to rewrite something, you’d better understand what it was doing in the first place before you try to improve it, and Moffat doesn’t.

Frankly, this story is a total mess, and its only appeal is to people like myself who think that “oh, it’s a clip from The Tenth Planet” or “look, the Mondasian Cybermen!” are in themselves selling points. To people who *haven’t* watched a fifty-two-year-old black and white serial whose last episode is missing from the archives, these are not selling points at all.

Unfortunately, for people who *have* watched that story, and who understood it, and who watched other stories containing William Hartnell’s Doctor and understood them, there is nothing to appeal in this story either, because it shows that Steven Moffat doesn’t understand who Hartnell’s Doctor was, and wants to make his ignorance known to all of us. It’s a story that’s *about* nothing other than Doctor Who, but it doesn’t even understand what Doctor Who is. And the use of the 1914 Christmas truce to make a point about Doctor Who is simultaneously something close to sacrilege and also just crushingly banal.

Andrew Rilstone’s review of the episode describes it better than I ever could, but to me this epitomised pretty much everything I loathe in modern TV, and indeed in modern storytelling practices. I hear Paul Cornell’s novelisation is much better than this, but the only good thing about this was Jodie Whitaker appearing at the end, showing the possibility of another fresh start, even if it will likely be just as awful. Such a shame about Capaldi — he’s so good in the role, I just wish he’d been given a chance to show it in his last episode.

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The Day of the Doctor

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read anything I’ve written about Doctor Who over the last few years that I am not a fan of Steven Moffat. I think much of the work he has done on Doctor Who is both ethically and artistically dodgy, and… well, there are a lot of criticisms I could make, most of them ones I already have made in the past.

However, there are some things he’s done right. His casting of the Doctor was always superb (I was unimpressed by Matt Smith at first, but part-way through his first season I realised how good he was, and obviously there is nothing negative one can say about either Peter Capaldi or John Hurt), and I was also impressed by The Day of the Doctor. It’s the one script of his where I can’t really pick any holes — he had a job to do, to celebrate Doctor Who both old and new, and he did it perfectly. Yes, there were things I would have done differently, but he managed to create something that was honestly a good story and which felt like it made sense within the larger series.

So when I saw that Moffat had written a novelisation of the story — one of a handful of novelisations of post-2005 episodes which came out this week, most of which I’m not very interested in reading — I thought I’d give it a go, and actually I’m quite glad I did, with one big proviso (for which, see below).

The Day of the Doctor is an… interesting… book more than it is a good one. It’s especially interesting for me, because its flaws are precisely those flaws I can see in my own work. In fact, to put it bluntly, this reads like me trying to be Lawrence Miles and failing. 

I say that upfront, because I’m going to analyse this in a fair amount of depth, and I’m absolutely certain that the half dozen of you who’ve read The Basilisk Murders or Head of State will be thinking, throughout, “I know you are but what about Moffat?” whenever I say anything negative. So just accept up front that any flaws I point out here are ones I know exist in my own work. 

Put simply, Moffat is a show-off. Throughout the book, he does quite a few things that are… not innovative, but the kind of tricks with narrative that are fun to play with. Chapters numbered out of order, footnotes referring to books that are only available in alternate universes, the kind of playing with viewpoint and narratorial person that Alfred Bester did in “Fondly Fahrenheit”. 

All of these things are fun, but then Moffat tells you that he’s doing them, or that he’s about to do them, and tells you how clever he’s going to be. Now, to an extent, that is a sensible thing to do — partly because at least one of the first-person narrators is himself an ostentatious show-off who likes to tell people how clever he’s going to be, and partly because one can expect this book to be read by people with a wide variety of ages and reading abilities, and flagging up the narrative tricks you’re going to play will help younger children get a handle on what’s going on. But I also suspect that Moffat, who is not known as a prose writer, is simply eager to show people how clever he’s being in case they otherwise wouldn’t realise it.

That’s something that many people are going to dislike immensely about this book, and with good reason. For myself, I like this kind of thing — and I would certainly far rather have ostentatious cleverness than an equally ostentatious stupidity, which is more the cultural norm at the moment — but I can certainly see how it might be wearying, especially to anyone who has read enough literary fiction to find the tricks fairly banal.

(For myself, much as I can listen to competently-performed twelve-bar blues all day without wearying of the formula, so I can happily read knowing, meta-referential, self-satisfied cleverness all day without tiring of it. That’s a personal aesthetic preference, though, rather than a judgement of the work’s quality.)

In the unlikely event that Lawrence Miles were to read this book, I suspect he would be angry, as he often has been, at his apparent influence on Moffat. There are passages in here that read very much like parts of The Book of the War, and more generally this reads like the Eighth Doctor Adventures did during the period where Miles was a major influence on the series. Some of this, of course, is just because any book dealing with a time war will deal with some of the same concepts that those books covered, but there’s also a sense here of Moffat paying tribute to a book range he genuinely loved.

Moffat seems to really be having fun with the book, as well. There are tons of jokes in the novel, of which my favourite is probably one that appears early in the book — “It was a book of complex temporal theory, and he’d already lost several days trying to find Wally. He was starting to think that Wally wasn’t actually in every book, but how could anyone be truly sure?”

There are jokes about Doctor Who continuity, and about the Cushing films — Moffat has the Cushing films (the posters for which appeared in the background of the TV story on which this is based) as films that exist “in-universe”, and has the Doctor and Cushing becoming friends as a result of them (and Cushing journeying with the Doctor, which is why he managed to appear in films after his death) — and there’s a playful meta-reference to the absence of Eccleston from the TV story, in the strange business of Chapter 9.

It’s odd, in fact, reading this book, because the playful metatextuality of it seems perfectly appropriate for the story — and indeed the only way such a story could be told in prose — while reading it, and it’s only after putting the book down and comparing it to the original televised version that one realises that the original story was very, very, far from being this metatextual or postmodern-seeming. Indeed, one of the principal attractions of The Day of the Doctor on TV is how straightforward the story actually is, whereas here it wants to be something much cleverer and funnier.

But here we come to the big proviso. There’s one joke which I’m ashamed to say I missed completely when reading this book until it was pointed out by a trans friend (warning for transphobia in the quote ahead):

‘Oh, forget the play acting, I’m on to you. Sorry, dear, but the performance just isn’t good enough. Even Alison saw through it!’

‘Alison?’

‘My horse.’

‘My dear, that horse is male.’

‘Yeah, and he’s called Alison. Don’t box him in, he’s very easily triggered. I was going to call him Trigger, actually, that escalated quickly. He didn’t want to carry us both out here, but I told him it was going to be an Earth defence picnic and that’s the only reason he let us both on.’

I don’t know how I missed that on first reading — the only thing I can think is that I must have actually looked away from the screen for a moment and then looked back at a different part of the page and carried on reading without noticing I’d skipped. At least, I’d rather think that than the alternative, which is that I could read that passage and not immediately notice how dodgy it is…

Yes, that’s the Doctor making transphobic “jokes” (the same one made by the eleventh Doctor in a non-Moffat script, so not even original to him, though it may be that that joke was one that was inserted by Moffat into that script during a rewrite) and also putting in digs about being “triggered”. 

There are other things not to my taste as well, but none that make me actively go “Oh God, just stop it…” like that passage. (At least not on my initial reading — who knows what other cringeworthy moments I may have inadvertantly skipped over if I could miss that?) River Song has been inserted into the story because of course she has, and the tenth Doctor’s relationship with Elizabeth I is… a lot more psychosexually odd than in the TV version of the story.

(On the other hand, Elizabeth I is portrayed as far more of a monster than she was in the TV story, as well, and the Doctor’s relationship with her as being based on him trying to extract information rather than necessarily out of a genuine affection for her. This goes some way towards fixing a problem I’ve had with Moffat’s work ever since The Girl in the Fireplace, which is that his Doctor has genuine love for historical figures who committed monstrous acts and who, were he to show any consistency in character, he’d treat in much the same way he treats Davros.)

On matters which will attract strong feelings from other people, Clara is given a little more to do in the plot, and her bisexuality is mentioned without it being the occasion for cheap digs, so people who have strong feelings about Clara will be able to have strong feelings about the book.

So, again, this is a book that is in some ways exactly what you’d expect from Moffat — self-satisfied, ethically dubious at points, and containing jokes that punch down and also just aren’t as funny as its writer thinks. On the other hand, while it’s not as clever as it thinks it is, it’s cleverer than I thought it would be going in, and it shows some signs that Moffat has been thinking about the criticisms that have been aimed at him (not always coming to the conclusions one would hope, but thinking about them), and it also contains some actually funny jokes.

It’s a book that has all the normal first novel problems (Moffat has never written a novel before) as well as all the things I’ve mentioned, and so it’s not a book I can recommend unreservedly — and in fact I’m not even sure I’d recommend it reservedly — but it shows Moffat at his problematic best rather than his unambiguously-awful worst.

But… I don’t think I wasted the five quid or whatever the ebook cost, I’ll probably read it again at some point, and it’s certainly a better last Doctor Who work from Moffat than the egregious last episode of his run on the TV series. It’s the kind of thing that should be an averagely-entertaining Doctor Who story rather than one that stands out from the much lower baseline we’ve had in recent years, but it is an averagely-entertaining Doctor Who story, and it does stand out from the much lower et cetera. So if you like your glasses half-full, then you’ll probably enjoy this half-full final glass of Moffat-era Doctor Who.

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Forever Changes: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

Today sees the release of the fiftieth anniversary box set devoted to Forever Changes, Love’s third and, to many, best album.

I say “to many” because while I think Forever Changes is a magnificent album, it’s also one which, like Pet Sounds for the Beach Boys (or to a lesser extent Village Green Preservation Society for the Kinks) has been allowed to overshadow a body of work containing much else that is excellent, discouraging people who dislike it from a wider examination of the band’s work which might lead to them liking other work (I have a friend, for example, who was unimpressed by Forever Changes but absolutely loved Love’s eponymous first album). I tend to get a little contrarian about records like that, and want to insist to people “there are other records!”

That said, Forever Changes is still a classic album, and its place in the canon is, unusually, roughly commensurate with its quality. It’s a dark, depressive, hallucinatory album, and one of the few 1967 albums to acknowledge the dark edge of paranoia that was always there in the hippie dream (the only other one I can think of is We’re Only In It For The Money, a similarly magnificent record).

So it makes absolute sense that it should be commemorated with a fiftieth anniversary box set, going into the album in the same sort of detail those other records have had.

That said, one might argue that this release is a little padded, in order to make it seem more like a luxury item. While Pet Sounds had long, intensive, sessions with multiple vocal overdubs and different instrumental arrangements, and Village Green had dozens of unreleased tracks to fill out a box set, Forever Changes was recorded relatively quickly, and there’s very little from the sessions other than the album’s eleven songs — only the single “Laughing Stock”/”Your Mind and We Belong Together” and the outtake “Wonder People (I Do Wonder)”.

So here we have a six-disc set of which three discs contain exactly the same material — the first CD, the DVD, and the vinyl album all contain the stereo album, as remastered in 2015. (The DVD also contains one video, for “Your Mind and We Belong Together”, but otherwise the content is the same as on those other two discs).

There’s really no need for this — the vinyl is nice for vinyl fetishists, but not for anyone who prefers vinyl for the sound quality as, as is the case with most current vinyl, it’s cut from a digital master rather than the original analogue tapes, and so it will inevitably have the worst aspects of both formats without the benefits of either.

There might be a benefit to having the DVD audio as well as the CD audio (though frankly that’s a bit of a lost opportunity not to do a surround-sound remix for those who like that — though in my own case I don’t have the equipment to reproduce that), but if so it’s a marginal one — essentially what we have here is a four-CD set marketed as a six-disc one.

But still, forty quid is reasonable enough for a new four-CD set, so let’s treat the other discs as nice bonuses for those who want them for whatever reason, and concentrate on the music itself.

Disc one, the original stereo album, should at first seem the least necessary of these discs. Anyone buying a giant box set devoted to Forever Changes is likely to already have a CD copy of the album (I have two — the original CD issue and the 2001 reissue with bonus tracks), and so could be presumed to not need another. In fact, though, this remastering is quite astonishing.

I often wonder, when I’m discussing new remasters of old material, if I’m willing myself to hear differences that aren’t really there, in order to justify repurchasing music I already own. This is especially true since I have neither very good stereo equipment (in fact I usually listen to music on my laptop, though I do own and occasionally use a proper stereo) or particularly sharp hearing — I’m no audiophile and while i have preferences I generally find that I’m as OK with a decent-bitrate MP3 as I am with hi-def DVD audio or half-speed-mastered vinyl or whatever.

In this case, though, there is a very noticeable difference. I’ve listened to Forever Changes… maybe five hundred times in total? That order of magnitude anyway, in the twenty-one years I’ve known the album. And yet when I put the remastered disc on I had to stop it and take it out to check that it wasn’t one of the discs of alternate mixes — the level of additional detail that was audible just on the intro to “Alone Again Or”, that mass of guitar arpeggios, made me certain that this wasn’t the same track I’ve known for my whole adult life.

There are, actually, some minor differences in the mixes here — just things like fades coming a second or so later than they otherwise would, the kind of thing you get when you go back to the original stereo master tapes for a new remastering for CD. But sonically, the whole thing just sounds infinitely better. I’ve noticed lots of the little things you sometimes get when dealing with a much better mastering of something — finger noise, room sound, that sort of thing. On “Alone Again Or”, for example, the guitars are mixed to one side while the rhythm section is mixed to the other. On the intro on the previous CD version, the left channel (the rhythm section one) is dead until a fraction of a second before the rhythm section comes in. On this one, the audio comes in on both channels simultaneously, and so while the bass and drums aren’t playing you can still hear the leakage from the guitars and the room ambience in the left channel. It creates a more spacious sound — the room sounds much *bigger* this way — and I’m not certain that I can’t even hear the snare rattle in sympathy with some of the bass strings. It also changes the whole rhythmic drive of the track during that section — the reverb in the room is so great that you hear a note in the left ear after it’s finished in the right ear, making some of the more emphasised notes sound like they’re actually travelling through your head as they’re being played.

In general, there’s more reverb and more top end, creating what sounds like a much wider stereo spectrum and a more spacious sound, while also creating a more organic sound — the instruments sound like they’re in the same big room, rather than recorded in several different small rooms and artificially placed in the stereo spectrum — and again, this is when listening on very sub-par equipment.

Disc two, the mono mix, is interesting in its own way. This is the mono mix that was originally released on vinyl in 1967 but quickly deleted — and rather oddly, it turns out that it’s a fold-down mix of a stereo master, but *not* a fold-down mix of the stereo master used to create the stereo album. For some reason, they mixed the album into stereo twice, and then further mixed one of those stereo mixes into mono.

As you’d expect from a fold-down mix, there’s quite a bit of tape hiss compared to the stereo version — not enough to make it sound bad or anything, just rather more than on the clearer stereo mix. In general it’s a rather muddier mix than the stereo — there’s less top end, but also the strings and horns are lower in the mix, and the bass and drums up, making it sound much more of a conventional rock album than the stereo version does. The muddier sound gives the tracks an oppressive feel which goes well with the paranoid nature of the lyrics, but which ends up being not as interesting as the combination of those lyrics with the lighter, almost Muzak-y, feel of the stereo mix.

The mono mix is interesting, but it’s not revelatory in the way that some other mono mixes of the period are, and I doubt it’ll ever supplant the stereo mix as my preferred version — but it’s good to have both.

Disc three is an alternate stereo mix of the entire album (plus an alternate stereo mix of “Wonder People (I Do Wonder)”, which was apparently created in 1967 but which even the engineer Bruce Botnick couldn’t remember when presented with it years later. This was apparently released a decade ago as part of a two-CD release of the album, which I was unaware of until now, though I’d heard one or two tracks from it as bonus tracks on other releases (most notably the version of “You Set The Scene” which includes Arthur Lee rapping at the end).

These mixes tend to be longer than the finished versions, with longer fades (and often with count-ins), and were it not for the fact that things are relatively carefully placed in the stereo spectrum I’d have guessed that they were just basic faders-up mixes — everything’s given roughly equal prominence in the mix (so things like Don Randi’s piano, which on the finished mix of most of the songs he plays on is just mild colouration in the bass end, here have equal weight with the string overdubs), there are several parts that were mixed out altogether or mixed far down in the finished mix (notably several backing vocal parts and bits of double-tracking by Arthur Lee, but also an acoustic guitar coda on “The Red Telephone”), while at other times instrumental lines that are meant to be prominent are buried (for example the guitar countermelody on “Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”) and there’s a general sense that this was something done as a quick dump to stereo, possibly in order for the band and engineers to have something to listen to while figuring out exactly what they wanted to do with the final mixes.

And finally, disc four is a selection of the other odds and ends one gets in a project such as this — the single mix of “Alone Again Or”, the “Laughing Stock”/”Your Mind and We Belong Together” single, the outtake “Wonder People (I Do Wonder)”, a couple of instrumental backing tracks, and some bits of session chatter. Much of this is familiar from the 2001 CD, although it’s all had the same kind of sonic upgrade that the original album has, and there’s more of it — notably stuff like a joking, giggly, clearly-stoned, run through of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ “Wolly Bully”. Some of it’s quite nice, like the attempt at an electric backing track for “Andmoreagain”, which sounds very early-Beatles, but none of it’s jaw-dropping.

In the end, this isn’t a collection I would recommend to the casual listener. It doesn’t do what the Pet Sounds Sessions box does and allow you a deep delve into the recording of the album, and nor does it do what the Village Green Preservation Society box does and give you a load of otherwise-unreleased great tracks to listen to. Rather, it presents the same album multiple times, in subtly varying ways. For the vast majority of listeners, those subtle variations simply won’t be worth getting this for, when you can get every actual performance that’s on here (modulo a few incomplete attempts) on the widely-available single-CD version of the album.

Rather, this is closer to the Project/Object CDs that the Zappa Family Trust has been putting out — recordings whose whole purpose is to highlight those tiny differences for people like me, who get great pleasure out of such things. If you’re the kind of person who *honestly wants* to hear what the reverb in the left channel sounds like at the start of “Alone Again Or” before the faders come up on the normal CD version — and I am that kind of person — then this box set is for you. For everyone else, you’ll probably be perfectly happy with the CD you already have (and if you haven’t got a CD of Forever Changes at all… then you’re probably not thinking of spending forty quid on a box set of it).

This whole review may have seemed like damning with faint praise, but it really, really, isn’t. Forever Changes is a great album, and this is a great box set. It’s just a great box set aimed at a very specific niche, and I don’t want to give any other impression. But for myself, I’m very happy in that niche.

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Autism Accwaretance and TERFery

[Trigger warnings: Ableism, anti-autistic bigotry, transphobia, suicide mention]

So today, again, is autism acceptance/awareness (accwaretance) day, the day when tons of “allies” and “autism families” talk over autistic people to “raise awareness”, while autistic people instead call for people to accept us for who we are. It’s also part of autism accwaretance week and month, when neurotypicals “light it up blue” to signify their support for genocide, while autistic people like myself show our tolerance for the poor benighted neurotypical majority by supporting the “Tone it down Taupe” campaign.

This year, however, I want to talk about one of the biggest things I have learned from being autistic, something that a lot of people apparently need to know. It’s something that sounds simple, but really isn’t, even though it can be encapsulated in a few words:

Other people are not you, and have different experiences.

Autistic people (for the most part) learn this from a very early age, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that most neurotypicals (and people socialised as neurotypical, which is a thing I will have to discuss in future, because I’ve had some interesting realisations about that…) don’t really understand it at all.

And the reason this is important right now is that trans day of visibility came in the middle of autism accwaretance week, as it does most years, and this year that day came after several months of relentless, bigoted, attacks on trans people’s very existence.

Now, I am a cis man, and I’m going to stay in my lane and not speak for trans people here, but one thing I have noticed is that, with very few exceptions, the transphobic bigots are also anti-autistic bigots and vice versa, and I think some of this comes from those people lacking that very basic understanding.

To explain with an analogy about something a little less emotionally intense… I once had an Internet argument with someone about whether I can hear music in my head. I am capable of hearing, in my head, entire records I’ve listened to enough, including all the details of production and arrangement. I also pretty much always have a background soundtrack playing in my head — sometimes music I’ve heard before, and sometimes music I’m creating myself in real time. Whenever I’ve written songs and produced tracks before, it’s just been a matter of catching that soundtrack and trying to replicate what I’m hearing. I might be walking down the street and hear, in my head, a record by, say, Jerry Lee Lewis, even though Lewis never made that record.

This is just a fact about how my brain works. It appears to run in my family, whether through genetics or socialisation — my mum has said to me before that on long car journeys she can play the whole of We’re Only In It For The Money by the Mothers of Invention in her head — and it’s a fact that seems to be true of other people too. Yet the commenter in question was absolutely convinced that I was lying about my own subjective experiences, because he (and, it would appear, most other people) doesn’t have that.

Meanwhile, it was established in the late nineteenth century that people have wildly different experiences when it comes to visualisation, with some people being able to picture things in their minds and others completely unable to form an image in their head at all — and most people just assuming that everyone else’s brain works like theirs.

And this is something that trips autistic people up all the time. As children, and for some of us even as adults, we make the same assumptions that the way we experience reality is the same way everyone else does — I was quite shocked when I finally realised in my twenties that not everyone is constantly aware, at all times, of the pressure of their toenails on their toes, for example — but we are also usually constantly reminded that this is not the case. The idea that other people have very different experiences is one that comes naturally to most of us.

But most neurotypicals don’t have that constant barrage of reminders that other people’s brains differ from their own, and so in my experience they’re likely to assume that anyone claiming to think or feel differently from them is lying and probably malicious.

At one end, this can be as simple and relatively harmless as the person I remember saying on a message board once “you can pretend all you like that you don’t like Bon Jovi, but if you say you’ve never got drunk and sung along to [insert Bon Jovi song whose name I can’t remember] you’re a liar” (I have never got drunk *or* sung a Bon Jovi song, let alone both at once). But when that neurotypicality comes into conflict with experiences that matter, it can be deadly.

And here’s where we get to gender, and where I worry that I’m straying out of my lane. But this is the best understanding of TERFery I’ve been able to form…
I have no sense of gender. I don’t even understand what it would be to have a sense of gender. This may be because I’m a cis straight man, and while I don’t perform masculinity in the Top Gear-watching, beer-drinking, football-supporting sense, my interests and the way I relate to them are ones that most people can understand as masculine ones (for example I do fandom mostly in the collecting-all-the-facts way other men do rather than the creative subversion way many women do, even though I think the latter is objectively better). So I may not have a sense of gender in the same way that fish have no sense of water — I’m the default, and that’s the end of the matter.

Or it may be that there’s some macro-scale component of my brain that is actually different from other people’s, and I’m actually not physically capable of feeling gendered — that were I to wake up tomorrow in a body with a different set of sexual characteristics, I’d just think “oh, that’s interesting” and carry on as normal.

Either is, from my internal point of view, entirely plausible — but either way, I do not know what it means to “feel male” or “feel female” or “feel nonbinary” or anything else.

Yet, because I know (unless literally everyone in the world is lying, consistently, for no reason other than to fuck with my head, which seems unlikely) that other people often have brains that work in very different ways than mine, when someone says “my own experience of gender doesn’t match the one I’ve had assigned by other people, and while I may look like gender X I’m really gender Y”, my response is to say “oh, OK, that’s one of those different things isn’t it?” and just get on with my life.

(NB that description is not meant to say that people’s descriptions of being trans and/or nonbinary which don’t match that description are invalid. It’s one that I have heard some trans people use, but I know it doesn’t fit all of them. The wider point here is that whatever the reasons trans people have for being trans, they’re not ones I can understand but they’re ones that clearly matter to them).

On the other hand, having spent much time recently dealing with the foetid swamp that is TERFery thanks to a concerted campaign of TERF harassment against some of my trans friends (and also against some of my cis friends who the TERFs incorrectly think are trans while also incorrectly thinking they have infallible transdar that can detect trans people from a thousand miles away), I think they’re almost all suffering from neurotypicality and assuming their own sense of gender is the same as everyone else’s.

Some seem to be people like myself, who have no strong sense of gender at all and thus assume that everyone who claims one is a liar and must be doing it for some nefarious reason. Others seem to be people who are very strongly gendered and assume that that strong sense of gender is one that comes from having the particular genital configuration they’re born with. And saddest of all, some seem to be closeted trans people who assume that literally everyone feels the same way they do, and that most people just put up with it and if they have to suffer, so should everyone else. (I say saddest, but I still have no sympathy for them given the immense damage they do).

And all of them are proceeding from the assumption that everyone else is like them, and that anyone who claims differently is a liar — and doing so so thoroughly that they are unable to see that their own allies are saying something radically different.

And they believe this so strongly that they are happy to join in massive hate mobs and harass people, sometimes to the point of suicide, rather than just accept that their experiences aren’t universal.

So this autism accwaretance month, if you can learn one thing, learn to *believe people when they tell you what they’re thinking*. You’re not normal, and neither is anyone else. Once you understand that, you can start to have actual empathy, like autistic people do.

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My Response To The Lib Dem Policy Consultation on Immigration

This is my response to the Lib Dem immigration policy consultation paper. I have also posted it on my blog, as I believe this issue deserves a rather wider audience.

I will note first of all that I do not know if this has missed the deadline for the consultation, as the deadline given, Friday 31 March 2018, does not in fact exist, at least on my calendar. Perhaps it does in the world in which this consultation paper is fit for a party that claims to be liberal, as that world differs significantly from the one in which I find myself.

If I have missed the deadline, I apologise, but ask that I be excused on medical grounds. I suffer from hypertension, and after reading the consultation paper several weeks ago my blood pressure got so high that I have waited until 1AM on *Saturday* 31 March in order to start writing this, in the hope that I shall not actually have a fatal stroke brought on by the egregiousness of this consultation.

To start with, my credentials for writing this — I have been a Liberal Democrat party member for twelve years, and have been married to an immigrant for a few months longer than I have been a party member. I have thus seen first hand what the immigration process does to people who choose to come to this country, and the way it destroys the mental and physical health even of those, like my wife, who are in the comparatively privileged position of being white native English speakers. I cannot claim any expertise on the subject beyond that, but that still gives me more understanding of the immigration process than, say, the people who wrote this consultation paper, because I know for example that we don’t have a “citizenship test” in this country — rather we have the Life in the UK test, which needs to be passed before gaining Indefinite Leave to Remain, which is not citizenship, though it is a prerequisite for it.

In the same way, much as I am no expert on immigration but still have a better understanding than the people who framed this set of leading questions, I am also no expert on the Liberal Democrats, but unlike the people who drafted this insult to basic human decency, I have actually read the preamble to our constitution, notably the part that says “Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services.” Had the people who wrote this consultation had access to this document, I believe they would either have formed a very different set of questions, or perhaps have just joined a party more amenable to their views — I believe UKIP is still welcoming new members.

Either way, I suggest pointing the framers of these questions to the Lib Dem constitution preamble, which at the time of writing can be found at https://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution . There is much in it which is worthwhile, and might be taken into consideration when acting in an official capacity as a Liberal Democrat.

I shall not be answering the individual questions that have been posed, because they are not intended to be answered honestly. They are leading questions, mostly of the form “is the current system of immigration enforcement too lenient or much too lenient” and “should we make a minor tweak to the ways in which we punish people for that most unforgivable of crimes — being born outside the UK — or should we continue punishing them as we are?”.

Where the questions do acknowledge that immigration might not be *entirely* a negative, that it might not be a scourge to be wiped from existence much as smallpox was, they frame the benefits entirely from the perspective of the native-born, and entirely from the perspective of economics. At no point in the entire document is the possibility of immigration being beneficial to the immigrants themselves raised (although given that we currently have a country where even our most pro-immigration party is releasing obscenities like this I would question whether it *is* currently beneficial), and at no point are such non-economic benefits as love, or familial affection, or even friendship mentioned.

My wife being here has brought me untold benefits, even though by any purely economic cost/benefit analysis I, as principal earner in our household, am down many thousands of pounds by her presence (many of those thousands being money paid to the vicious bureaucracy that this consultation paper presupposes needs only minor tweaks). Perhaps the people in charge of this consultation believe I should send her a bill for the tens of thousands of pounds I have spent on her over the years, for which all I have received in return are love and affection and companionship and other such trivialities which affect the exchequer not one whit.

Along with these two types of question — “should we hurt immigrants a little more or a lot more?” and “should we maybe not hurt some immigrants quite so badly if they give us money?” there is a third type of question being asked here — the question of fact. Fully a third of these questions by my rough reckoning are questions about matters of fact that could be found in academic studies or from government statistics. Apparently rather than look into these things, the people putting together this policy consultation believe it would be better instead to go with the “what some bloke told me” approach. This is a novel and most interesting approach to policy-making but, again, one I think would be better suited to UKIP rather than to a party which, for all its recent decline into centrist managerialism, still has aspirations towards liberalism.

I urge that this consultation be dropped as the appalling piece of racism appeasement that it is, and that those responsible consider the idea that at a time when the country is about to go through the catastrophe that is Brexit because for the last thirty years nobody in the mainstream of politics has dared to stand up and tell racists that they might be wrong about anything rather than pandering to their so-called “legitimate concerns”, when even the economic profit and loss calculations that this consultation prizes so much more highly than human beings are being destroyed thanks to hatred of immigration, it might — it just might — be time for a political party to suggest trying something else instead?

From a purely electoral standpoint, appealing to the UKIP vote won’t work when Labour and the Tories are already on that overcrowded spot, but appealing to the votes of decent human beings might. From a practical point of view, a policy that is based on actual facts rather than kneejerk bigotry is more likely to have the desired effect. And from a point of view of basic humanity, a policy that is willing to accept the current status of immigrants as vermin to be driven out rather than as people to be welcomed is inhuman.

I urge FPC to reject the results of this consultation, and I urge the party to reject any policy that comes from it. And I urge those responsible for this squalid, foetid, mess of a paper to consider carefully whether they belong in a party whose constitution, in every sentence, opposes the implicit beliefs in every sentence of this.

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