VSX, A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist: Starbuck Powersurge - a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of Viper Squad Ten, a long-disbanded group of stranded timetravelling troubadours, formed to help finance repairs to their time-machine. Now very much stuck in C21...
All text is copyright the Viper Squad Ten blog team 2003-2006 unless otherwise quoted or credited. If we've not credited you properly, please let me know. Throw us a link if you're desperate enough to use this guff...
My regular reader will know that I'm a sucker for most "reality gameshow" experiences. Touch The Truck, Big Brother, The Farm, Celebrities In The Jungle, Back to Reality, I get sucked in by them all. Anything as long as it isn't hosted by Patrick Kielty.
In my (possible quite temporary) opinion Castaway 2007 is the finest of the lot. I'm not so bothered about the weekly BBC1 show to be honest (its mostly stuff I've seen elsewhere), but I love Richard Bacon's Sunday night Castaway Exposed show on BBC3 (Bacon: the most underrated and adaptable presenter on the box, despite his stupid shit-eating grin), I avidly soak up the daily BBC3 show with the wonderful Danny Wallace(in the more casual BBC3 format proving himself to be double the entertainment value that even two Ant's and Dec's would be worth if put together, whatever the hell that means), and I even press my red button every day for the even more casual red-button special episode!
The Root of All Emptiness?
 [WARNING: Its time to talk religion. Regular readers who are either likely to be offended or bored by this recurring topic should move along now (life's much better fun elsewhere), and the converted won't need my preaching. However those of a closed-minded bent may want to take heed of the wise words of U.S.U.R.A. Let's face it, I'm only doing this 'cos I care about you...]
I watched the venerable Richard Dawkins getting all hot under the collar about religion in the first episode of his documentary "The Root of All Evil?" on Sunday night. As pure chance would have it, I've just discovered that we watched on Dawkins' 66th birthday. Coincidence? Or something more...!
Poor chap. At least atheist nonentities like me can just try to forget about religion's deleterious effect on humankind. Poor old Dawkins - as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, he can't really escape infuriation by exposure to ardent believer.
And, when faced with Ted Haggard (hate and stupidity-filled closed-minded aggressive US Christian evangelist ignoramus, recently outed I see) and Yousef al-Khattab (formerly Joseph Cohen, an American-born Jewish Israeli Settler now converted to Islam and also a hate and stupidity-filled closed-minded ignoramus), I don't know how he managed to resist the attack urge. You could see the restraint straining across his face like a dog straining on a lead, as these highly objectionable individuals spewed out their hate-filled poisonous bile - it got pacifistic old ME shouting at the television "PUNCH HIM!"... Did I mention the phrase "hate-filled"?
Still, there's not much that I should say. Believers will ignore me, and the agnostic hopefully shouldn't need my own rationalevangelism. And I don't really want to piss off the majority of people who think differently to me on this, including most of my friends and family. But sometimes I can't help myself. Its fair to say that, for people of strong faith, their gods and prophets must be one of the most defining aspects of their being. Likewise for me my complete lack of faith is something which defines who I am, and I'm incredibly proud of this - its probably one my most best attributes (that, along with being a kind, loving, caring, funny individual, and modest with it too, ha ha).
Of course, they shouldn't need to make programmes like this. They should be properly teaching this stuff in schools, if only to promote debate. Despite coming from a religious family, I came to "My Truth" only through education, through science, through an understanding of the psychology and sociology of belief systems. In fact one of my important moments at school was when I asked to opt out of prayers during morning assembly - somehow I really felt like I had made a breakthrough life decision, a real relief, no matter how hard these thing sometimes are.
And when you hear Dawkins arguments it always strikes me how obvious it all is. Many of us have came separately to many of Dawkins arguments. However repetition leads to belief leads to truth, no matter what the real truth is. And sadly it does look like we now need anti-spiritual leaders to counteract the increasing reach of the spiritual leaders in this information age.
One of the hooks of the documentary was of religion as a danger - terrorism and far-reaching policy shaped by irrational belief and self-interest. My own concerns about religion aren't quite as sociopolitical.
I'm much more concerned with the mental health effects of belief in the irrational. If you are prepared to entertain such beliefs - whether its a god, astrology, ghosts or psychics, whether you suffer from triskaidekaphobia or you think that homeopathy is something more than placebo, then you're creating a chink in your mental armour.
If you are prepared to believe in anything on the basis of "faith" and in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary, then you are vulnerable, susceptible to doubts about all aspects of life. As the dictionary so rudely puts it, "Susceptible: credulous, dupable, easy, exploitable, gullible, naive." I feel ashamed to say it, but if I see someone poring over a horrorscope I can't help but disrespect them; meet someone who turns out to be a fellow rationalist and they start out at a point of higher esteem. Before then invade Poland, that is*
For, however strong your belief, however much you shout it out loud, deep down there must be a small part of you saying "Hmmm, but what if...", and if you can't trust in something so accepted by society, how can you trust in anything at all.
And that's far from healthy for one's mental health.
As that great philosopher Mr C from The Shamen once wrote, "Believe in yourself you know what you'll find There is no "can't" in a trouble-free mind".
And talking about vulnerability, it actually really saddens me when I hear people state that they hoped there was "something more" out there or that they wished they could believe in a god. This lack of fulfillment that too many people feel is one of those things that really breaks my heart. Its bad enough that people feel so empty nowadays within their own lives that they wish that there was some superhero (or, to be realistic should you believe the belief myths, supervillain tyrant) offering everlasting life to alleviate the pain of life on earth. Its the sort of thing that evangelical religious groups tend to seize upon to "save" or enlist the vulnerable.
As one example website that I stumbled across puts it:
Those who are honest with themselves will admit that at some point in their life they felt an emptiness that nothing could seem to fill. Most of the time some people either stay "numb" to that emptiness by trying to satisfy it artificially thru alcohol or drugs, some stay so busy with work or hobbies trying to fill that empty spot that they develop the ability to ignore it, and some even try to fill that empty spot thru various religions yet still feel like "something" is still missing.
That is because there is an empty spot in each of us that only God Himself can truely and completely fill and satisfy, anything else is just a temporary "band-aid" that only covers the emptiness but never genuinely fills it.
They may indeed believe this to the bottom of their hearts, but it doesn't stop it from being abhorrent.
When my thinking-glands are making me over-paranoid I sometimes wonder if this one reason that Consumerism is so closely entwined with US Christianity. Consumerism creates emptiness by equating happiness with an unattainable flow of material (and digital) possessions. It is, after all, the American Way - wars are fought to spread this Freedom around the world (and America is, after all, God's blessed land.) Christianity steps in to fill the spiritual void of those ripped off by Consumerist ideas, and corporate Christianity works its hardest to amplify the effects. But then I realise that I'm being a berk.
Not that all is this going to matter much, when evolution has its last laugh (H5N1 anyone?)
And one last quote from Dawkins whilst I'm here:
"We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further"
* In-joke for all those religious defenders who incorrectly claim that Hitler was an atheist, ad bloody nauseam.
A Den of Iniquity
Spotted (but not watched) on our cable VOD EPG...
One can only wonder how they achieved that 18 certificate. What budding sex industry entrepreneurs must've hawked their filthy wares before the Dragons? What scenes of drugtaking, violence and abuse must've hit the cutting room floor to get the normal episodes on air at 8pm?
A Dirty Den indeed.
And "Best Bits"? I don't want to see any of their "bits", whether it be Farleigh, Dunc, Peter Jones For Shoes, Theo, or the Lovely Deborah Meaden.
 **Interesting For Me But Not For You Corner**
Fantastic dream last night... I was at a wedding, sitting in the congregation at church, chatting with an elderly Arthur Lowe (aka Dad's Army's Captain Mainwaring)... the two of us behaving like a couple of mischievous schoolboys... lots of uncontrollable giggling... we spotted Ian Lavender (Private Pike) across the church, exchanged waves.... there was a very old chap standing with the wedding party at the front, but we weren't sure if it was John Le Mesurier (Sgt Wilson)... it looked a bit like him, but we didn't want to try to catch his attention in case we were wrong... and we didn't want to go up to ask him if it was he, in case he gave us a withering look...
... later on at the wedding reception, myself and Lowe still hanging out like best buds, making prank phone calls to friends...
I've entered Garth Merenghi's dark place... and I loved it!
The only consolation following the recent spat between my cable provider and BSkyB, is that Virgin Media have made their archive of "thousands of on-demand TV programmes" free of charge as a placatory gesture following the loss of Sky's flagship entertainment channel, Sky One.
I normally balk at paying 50p for a half-hour TV show, and I've tended to resist watching the freebie first episodes of a Video On Demand series just in case it turns out that I rather like it.
This happened last year with The Mighty Boosh. I saw the first two episodes of the first series free, then resisted watching the remaining episodes, thinking that although it would be worth the money, I'd much prefer to own the DVD at some point, and I didn't want to pay for the same episodes twice. Consequently I was left painfully Boosh-less for 10 months whilst I waited for Christmas to come round.
But sod it, I've been gobbling up all the free content that I can. And I'm overjoyed to have finally managed to catch Garth Merenghi's Darkplace, a show much recommended in the past by elements of my blogroll, and with good reason. Darkplace, Darkplace, Darkplace, Darkplace!
I know that hyperpole is my business, but business is good! So might I overexcitedly rave that its probably my favourite comedy, EVER! Probably. Such a joy, and laugh-out-loud funny, and I NEVER laugh out loud.
And man, I wish I'd seen Man to Man with Dean Learner last year, the chatshow by Garth's publisher & fellow Darkplace non-actor Dean Learner.
Favourite Dean quote (talking about actress Madeline Wool, missing presumed dead): "She was like a candle in the wind... unreliable."
Of course, that's not really Dean Learner playing Thornton Reed, its the wondeful Richard Ayoade playing Dean Learner playing Thornton Reed.
I've been seeing a lot of Ayoade of late. Likewise, the Booshes' Julian Barratt (the Padre in Darkplace Hospital) and Noel Fielding, the triumvirate of which also starred in Nathan Barley, something else I've managed to catch up via VOD.
I couldn't get into Nathan Barley first time round. It just didn't gel with me, and then I only managed to catch the few few eps before giving up on it. But since then I've fallen into manly love with Barratt so I thought I'd give it another chance. With a cast list to die for, and Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris on the writing team, perhaps I was just too much of an Idiot back in 2005. And second time round, not expecting any great LOL moments, I was delighted to find - it's well weapon!
Well I never. To be exact, I('ve) never before been contacted by a newspaper journalist , chasing up a lead - my lead! - based on some of the worthless words sitting in the VSX archive. But thet's exactly what happened yesterday.
This guy (see, even I can do a bit of investigative research!), a features writer for the Daily Mirror, emailed me about something I wrote 3½ years ago. He is compiling a biographical article on an entertainer that I've had mystical dealings with in the past, and stumbled across VSX whilst doing the Google legwork.
To borrow a phrase from the most inane of tabloid letters pages, I had to laugh when I looked at the post in question. What a load of old nelly! Its always funny looking back at old posts, especially back in the glory days of first-year blogging, but October 2003 has definitely made me chuckle a fair bit more than March 2007. So far. And always nice to see that my two co-editors were a bit more talkative back then as well. I think one of them must've died he's been so quiet...
But I digest.
When I told Mrs Powersurge about the hot (read as: lukewarm) news reporter (read as: tabloid journo) interest (read as: fishing) in my story, I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn't allowed to make up any barefaced lies to feed to him , which is a shame. I promised. No slander from me. Nose lander.
I must apologise. This article was just moving into uncharted areas of hilarity, as I entered a Ross Noble style tangent about miniature astronauts and stage hypnotists. However I've just heard that Nescafé bean-shaker Gareth Hunt has sadly passed away, which has fair thrown me off kilter, but has provided a perfect get-out-clause on this blog posting.
But be quick. You've got til 6pm tonight (13th March) to submit your words of lightening relief. So come on, you fackin' funny fathaflipping Brit bloggers, get those entries in. It's all, as it were, for charity, mate.
Rod Hull and Emusical jokes
Its the little things that tell you you're turning into an old duffer.
Standing at the checkout in Tesco at the weekend I was listening to the conversation between the the bloke on the checkout and his lurking mate. "Ah hah, a joke," I thought, as his giggling associate initiated the common root structure behind a popular form of witticism, "I like jokes!".
The joke was thus:
How many emus does it take to change a light bulb? None, 'cos they're too busy crying in the corner.
"Hmmm. Not so funny", I thought, as I pondered the 1999 roof-fall death of the popular emu-puppet-funnyman Rod Hull. "And not too contemporary, either."
Strange too, considering that the young whippersnapper of a lad on the till must've been less than 8 when his fatal Champions-League-TV-aerial-adjustment-error took place. "Guess it must've shaken the poor kid up pretty bad to remember something like that. Still, he's putting on a brave face, gallows humour and that."
The boy's mate then started pointing repeatedly at him, taunting "Emu, emu, emu. Emo."
Ah, yes. Emo. A definition of musical genre that has largely passed me by, especially in its utter pointlessness modern form. Its like when 2 Unlimited called themselves "Techno", and an entire fabulous musical genre became tainted in the minds of the ill-informed masses by the piss-stain of their cheap commercial bandwagonism.
This ain't a scene its a goddamn arseface. C'mon, techno techno techno techno.
Paxman's spot on, of course. Just look around you the next time you're out and about in GB. Whether you are a city-dweller sweeping amongst the urban detritus, or have made the great escape into the oxygen of rural lanes, its like we're turning our country into a rubbish dump. And its our populace of despondent, uncaring, selfish Stigs that're very much to blame.
I reckon that the only way we can change their unthinking ways is to confront them with the squalor they are creating for us all. Bring it on back to them, as a great band once nearly-sang. Direct action.
If I see anyone drop rubbish on the ground, I pick it up, follow them home, and then post it through their letterbox. No matter that I am now stumbling around on crutches with a broken arm, a rack of fractured ribs, and two black eyes.
Celebrities are the worst offenders, in my experience. You'd be shocked to the core at the trail of litter that Adrian Chiles leaves behind him when caught on the hop. The man's been hanging out with Radcliffe too long...
Davros and the Mechanics
 I lead an exciting progressive life.
Watching Genesis of the Daleks on DVD last night, my conscious awareness was washed with some gentle waves of memory from my childhood.
Before checking the transmission date I had assumed I must've watched the story on TV as a child, but as Sarah Jane climbed the missile gantry the memories coalesced and sharpened. Sitting in my bottom bunk bed bunk as a small child, re-reading the chapter so that I could visualise her escape as clearly as I could.
A strange but wonderful feeling revisiting a story from my early childhood memory after such a time and in a different media, though I must say that the special effects were a lot better in my 1970s imagination, the surface of quarry/planet Skaro especially.
My nephew's a big Doctor Who fan, and he'd be about the same age as I was when I first read Genesis. I'd like to think that, although many of his current memories will be washed away by the synaptic ebb and flow of progression through life, he'll still be unearthing chunks of Who memories decades down the line.
Epilogue - Why I Still Like Doctor Who So Much
It's a link to my childhood, and its something I've thus had ownership of for the whole of my life
Because it reminds me of my stag party, which took place just a few weeks into the Russell T Davies Who revival. A group of overexcited thirtysomething men whipping themselves into a sci-fi frenzy. And, as such, it reminds me of my wedding! Ahhh...
Tim Minchin review
 It's always doubly exciting (if these things can be so measured) when you book up to go see a comedian you've not heard of, only to come out raving that (s)he was the most entertaining live act you've ever seen. That was the case when myself and Mrs Powersurge went to see Tim Minchin last week.
I've got to admit that my critical opinions on culture as writ here are often a little overenthusiastic, as I get carried away on the crest of excited fervor. However Mrs P was equally smitten by this musical maestro and comedic virtuoso (she stayed fully awake throughout, a claim that Rich Hall and Omid Djalili can't boast).
Anyway, just for the record, here's my review notes as scribed post-gig:
Remarkable. Like Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Elton John, Griff Rhyss Jones, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Stewart Lee, ?Hugh Laurie?, but Australian. Extremely talented, musically gifted, very funny, and like me, so fucking rock. Not Richard Digance.
Cable customers: Sky's the limit
It looked inevitable from the start. BSkyB inflate the amount that they demand Virgin Media to pay for carrying a number of their channels, VM don't agree, both companies spin the media line to the hilt, negotiations go nowhere, and the channels are pulled from the cable feed.
It won't affect me too much as a cable customer myself; Sky News isn't a patch on News 24, Sky Sports News is my idea of hell, and Sky Travel always seemed fairly pointless (apart from for late-night viewers looking for titillation dressed up as reality documentary). The loss of Sky One's more of a bother.
We'll miss Lost quite badly in our household. As, of course, do millions of customers already, ever since Sky bought the rights and ringfenced the show away from unlucky non-satellite non-cable terrestrial customers. The same thing happened to 24 back before I got cable - the BBC made it popular in the UK, Sky outbids them, and I've never managed to properly get back into it since.
Luckily for sneaky old me the in-laws have Sky+ with a series record on Lost. And, though I've so far resisted, you can't deny the temptation of torrents.
However whatever I do, I won't buy Murdoch.
All these people on the message boards (yes, my life's that interesting!), writing that they're switching ("churning") from Virgin to Sky for their Losts, their 24s, their Galacticas, their Jon Tickle on Brainiac?. Do they not realise that Rupert Murdoch is the Emperor Palpatine of the modern day?
Those that know should realise that voting for Murdoch with your pocket shows the same self-centred selfish that allows the media baron to bulldoze his way through the scaffolding of good business.
Putting your cash behind his businesses, whether it be television, newspapers, or his internet purchases such as MySpace (via the advertising being served), is a vote against political liberty. Across the world, policies are drafted by our lawmakers' to please this Sith Dark Lord, or at least to not put his lightsabre out of joint. His non-elected influence is everywhere. Think Silvio Berlusconi without the responsibility, think Elliot Carver without the drawback of him being a fictional Bond villain.
I know I'm sounding sanctimonious, and business is business and entertainment entertaining, but those that care about human decency and democracy need to make a stand, no matter how small. Just look at R2D2.