Wednesday, 6 June 2012

'A Lesson in Natural History' (Dragonball)

Possibly the only piece of fanfiction I have ever written, set in the Dragon Ball universe prior to the events of the series. The premise is an epic-ish retread of the basic setup of the universe premised upon the idea that a certain character knows rather more about the big picture than they let on in the series:


Earth ('Chikyuu') is a small, backwater planet located in the Milky Way. Its inhabitants are considerably weaker than the galactic average. It has no significant material resources other than its abundant organic life. To be frank, there are only two - okay, three - facts that would give galactic sojourners cause to even notice Chikyuu:

The first fact is astronomical. Chikyuu enjoys a full moon roughly every 28 days. Whilst insignificant to the vast majority of races inhabiting the universe, it is of immense importance to one race in particular, who take very special note of every planet with a short lunar cycle they detect.

The second and third facts require some grounding in the basic facts about the universe in which we live.

The universe is big. It used to be a lot bigger. Chikyuu scientists have calculated from measurements of cosmic background radiation that the universe is at least seventy-eight billion light-years across. That figure was accurate up until approximately five million years ago. Today, the universe is about 20 billion light-years across, three quarters burned away in a conflagation of unimaginable scale. Before the searing light from this ultimate holocaust reaches us, our tiny world will have been swallowed by its senile star.

The universe is bad. As much as we cherish the notions of peace, tolerance, individual rights, empathy, these are but a flicker in the history of our world alone. Where did they come from? On almost every other planet in the whole universe it is considered socially acceptable to kill someone you dislike. There is a reason for this.

The universe is scary. Our everyday experience is so far divorced from the everyday experience of the average galactic citizen on even a backwoods trading route that it is almost inconceivable. Without any assisting technology, a strong Chikyuu-jin (that's human to you or me) could maybe crack open the head of another Chikyuu-jin, break a wooden beam in half, crack a brick. There are nearly seven billion of us on Chikyuu-sei. The planet Vegeta harbours over a trillion inhabitants. Each one could level a fair to large-sized mountain range without breaking a sweat. In the real universe, too many "don't get alongs" result in an extinction-level event. It also means that the races which tend to survive to develop interstellar travel are the most ruthless and authoritarian, and the most socially conformist.

There are holes in the universe. Chikyuu scientists have in recent years been baffled by the vast, ragged voids where there should be healthy stars and galaxies. Words like "dark matter" and "weakly interacting particles" are thrown around a lot. At the same time, other scientists scratch their heads and wonder - if there really are aliens out there, why haven't we seen some evidence of them? The idea that one could be the reply to the other rarely enters their mind. What scientist dare assert that these gaping wounds in the universe are the cosmological Boojum - the "soft and sudden vanishing" of all civilisations blessed with a certain crutch to help them through those troubled adolescent centuries? But it is true. But don't feel too bad about it - the existence of this crutch isn't well known. In fact, those with the real power out there tend to think of it as a superstition. If they knew that we've had it on Earth for these past few thousand years, we would probably be a lot more popular than we are right now.

Here's the scoop, and it starts with global warming. Not here, of course, but elsewhere; a geological disaster that went misinterpreted for aeons. A species scattered across the universe, brought to the brink of extinction. The near-destruction of an ecosphere. This is the planet Namek, a world long forgotten by the universe and passed into the realm of legend. The Namek-jin weren't the only ones to fuse science and magic the way they did, but their exodus brought their particular brand of short-term wish fulfillment to its largest audience yet. Now, a long, long time ago, two Namek-jin and their offspring (I should point out that Namek-jin are hermaphrodites and capable, if necessary, of parthenogenesis, but genetic variety is always good) crash-landed on our own little dirtball. Now, do you remember the inhabitants of the planet Vegeta I told you about? Namek-jin are on average considerably stronger. Given the difference in power between Namek-jin and almost anything around these parts, it's hard to see what could have presented them with a threat. Namek-jin don't breathe in the same way we do, they derive most of their nutrients from water and sunlight, like Chikyuu-sei plants (and if there's one thing we can offer here on Chikyuu, it's nutrients), so we can rule out starvation. But nevertheless, the two adult Namek-jin left their ship to scout out the area and never returned. Maybe they killed each other. Whatever happened, the kid was left to fend for himself. Growing up as the most powerful being on the planet is bound to leave anyone with a few interesting ideas. A few complexes.

I hear you ask, Whatever became of him? I'm sorry to disillusion you, but that kid is the guy we've been calling God. Hey, at least he was old enough to know how to speak Galactic Standard - if he'd been a few years younger, we'd still be grunting, because we sure as hell weren't showing any signs of developing language any time soon. He gave us that. And he gave us the dragonballs; the source of the only miracles he couldn't accomplish through his own alien body. Theotechnological spheres designed to emit a signal bending the life energy of the biosphere, the planet itself, to the user's will. There is no other way to say this: the ridiculous fact is that the dragonballs summon a dragon from the centre of the planet to grant a boon from its caller. There are limits, of course, otherwise Namek would still be home to over 100 billion Namek-jin, but for any reasonable purpose their power is infinite. The Namek-jin had by this time enshrined their age-old caste system - the warriors who protected their sexless, undying race, and the mystics who created the dragonballs - into biology via genetic manipulation. Our guy was principally a warrior, but he must have gotten a little bit of mystic in him too; the creation of the dragonballs was hard-wired into his genes. That's not to say he got it right first time; his first attempt yielded a single crystalline orb, capable of summoning our planet's eternal dragon - a rather feeble being without even a name of his own, and usually just called Shenlong - as often as its possessor desired. A veritable genie in a lamp, without even the sanction of a limited number of wishes. Immortality, unlimited wealth. Power beyond your wildest dreams. The chaos this caused was indescribable, and for reasons that I'll explain later, brought us within a hair's breadth of becoming a void ourselves. Thankfully, our new Kami-Sama took the ball back and split it into seven - the traditional Namek-jin safeguard - scattering them over the planet for the most intrepid and foolhardy adventurers to discover. Now every time Shenlong was called to grant a wish, the balls would be dispersed again, meaning that on average the dragonballs were used only once every hundred years. This sufficed, as it sufficed on most planets on which the Namek-jin ended up, until the populace at large discovered the joys of high technology. But that's another story.

So that's the second secret of Chikyuu; unknown to the vast majority of the populace, there are seven magic balls on this world that when brought together can deliver you your wildest dreams. Even the greatest universal potentates would jump at the chance of acquiring immortality or the power to give commands no-one can refuse. It's not overstating the case to say that if anyone outside our gravity well knew about the dragonballs, our planet would be stripped bare to find them.

The third secret our planet holds? It's the dirtiest of all, and if anyone who's anyone out there knew about it, they wouldn't care about the dragonballs. Our planet would be destroyed in an instant because even the most malign powers out there fear what we've got stashed away deep within the crust of our world. Do you remember the cosmic ruin of which I spoke - three-quarters of the universe reduced to its constituent quarks in a blaze of insane power? Let's go back to the fundamentals of our universe.

There has always been a God on Earth, even before our slightly unbalanced Namek-jin friend decided the post was his birthright. In fact, there's a God on every inhabited planet. You see, there's a whole heavenly bureaucracy up there (by "up there" I refer to ancient, secret orbital platforms, worlds enclosed in crystalline spheres at the heart of the universe, planes of existence beyond the ken of the most powerful interstellar tyrants). You've heard of the martial arts masters? The great hermits carrying the secrets of the world on their shoulders? They're at the bottom of the food chain. Above them are the mystics, the honest-to-god real witches and warlocks consulted in secret by world leaders and the mega-rich. Above them, the kami, the spirit-creatures and minor gods around whom so much mythology has been based. Let me tell you, they're filing clerks. They're responsible for one aspect of Earthly existence and they report to the Kami-Sama, the Lord God, our planetary supervisor, in his floating palace screened from modern sensors by occult baffles and divine omniscience. But even the Kami-Sama are not without guidance in their affairs. Each must give account of their actions to the local administrator, the Kaio-Sama or Lord of All The Worlds. Each of these immeasurably exalted beings is placed in charge of an entire galactic quadrant, and (in conjunction with the local Enma-Daio, who judges the dead and administrates their corner of the afterlife) manages tens of millions of Gods. They are the ones against whose exacting standards would-be applicants to the position of Kami-Sama are measured.

The Namek-jin had to undergo a rather painful transformation to make himself "pure" enough for the job; splitting his being into two bodies, one containing his higher, more spiritually-minded aspects, the other (a significantly smaller fraction of his being) containing his lower self. This dark side was cast down to Earth and spent long centuries scheming against the one who rules in heaven. You may have heard this story already. His main competitor, a Makyo-jin (did I tell you that we Chikyuu-jin and our attendant flora and fauna are not the original inhabitants of this sphere? The species we now know as demons and monsters came to the planet long before us from the body we call Halley’s Comet, and we drove them into the caves and underground caverns) refused this separation, and so rendered himself ineligible for godhood. The Namek-jin banished him to the Dead Zone, a place that is by anyone's definition Hell - a stillborn universe that collapsed into a superdense sea of entropy where no action is possible.

Above the Kaio-Sama, the Dai Kaio-Sama, the Grand Kai, each of whom administrates four Kais. How many Grand Kais now sit on their crumbling thrones on impossible glass spheres floating in the golden light of the afterlife? Ten billion? So many perished when the universe burst into flame. And every one worships a God they have not seen, but who communicates from beyond a veil none but his servants may cross. This is the Kaioshin, undisputed master of Creation. The emperor of the Milky Way is a being called Frieza, who possesses energies so vast that when he lifts his fingers entire planets burst like rotten fruit. So great is his power that he must utilise the shape-shifting abilities that are his racial prerogative to lock away his awful strength, lest he destroy everything around him in an instant. He considers himself the god of the universe, so superior to the guardians of the worlds he conquers so casually - yet the Kaioshin could destroy him with a wave of his hand. And he is all that remains of the heavenly host. Until five million years ago there were four Kaioshin, each administrating a quarter of the now-annihilated universe. The Kaioshin - our Kaioshin - ruled the West, the youngest and weakest of their number. Each looked with blind love towards their Master, the Dai Kaioshin. Was He God? Did He make everything we see? He would certainly have liked us to think so; the truth is we know nothing beyond about 100 million years back, where the Kais place their own genesis. And there was a war in heaven. The adversary of the Kaioshin was the most powerful sorceror to ever live - the Grand Magus Bibidi. How was it that a mere mortal (albeit one with a lifespan of millions of years) came to oppose the Dai Kaioshin? Even Bibidi himself would be hard-pressed to answer that question. His ultimate weapon in this war, the trump card that claimed quintillions of lives, was an occult accident - a freak alignment of planets, galaxies, universal centres of mass. What was born was more than a god - it was a god-eater. And at first it obeyed its creator. It carved an unimaginable swath of destruction across existence, space-time itself torn and mangled by the boundless energies unleashed. It came to the realm of the Kaioshin, tearing through that golden veil like it was rotten wool. The Kaioshin died. Designed to be immortal, they had no souls - there was no afterlife for them. The god-monster's arms bled them dry. In an immeasurable fraction of time, only the Kaioshin of the West remained, trembling before the shape that had done the impossible. Then the Dai Kaioshin intervened. His Word shattered the monster, scattered it across the universe. It reformed. The Word of the Dai Kaioshin burned it with fire, vaporised the ashes. It reformed. The Word of the Dai Kaioshin seared the beast with a trillion holy abjurations, reducing it to a puddle, scoured by the wind, evaporated by the sun. The god-monster reformed. It reached out, a black and toothy hunger in the pure white light of that exalted realm, and the Dai Kaioshin was gone. Yet the god-monster was not now as it had been. Its form had changed into the likeness of the Dai Kaioshin - a fat, jolly, capracious Buddha which now had to be goaded onto destruction. Bibidi was appalled by this alteration in his creation, but pressed on with his nihilistic mission. He used the ensorcellments only he knew to force the now only intermittently obedient beast to assume a dormant, egg-like state, transporting it throughout reality upon his planeshifting ship. It was a fatal error - the last remaining Kaioshin took advantage of this weakness to slay Bibidi and took possession of that awful shell.

The secret of Chikyuu, the one that would compel Frieza himself to sterilise the quadrant if he knew? That god-monster, that killed the stars and gorged on nebulae and tore apart black holes just to see the sparkle of their evaporating event horizon, the beast that devoured the Creator and His archangels? It's here with us. It's buried beneath our feet. Kaioshin hid it here, where he thought no-one would look. Hidden for all time from the prying eyes of cosmic necromancers and vengeful magi. I will tell you its name; the name that beings who rule galaxies tremble to hear. The name is Buu.

Let's talk about planet Vegeta. For starters, its real name is Tsufuru-sei (we would call it "planet Plant"). The now almost extinct Tsufuru-jin by all accounts arose on the planet, and established a reasonably high-technology civilisation. Then came the Saiya-jin - the supremely powerful aliens I mentioned before. The Saiya-jin are just one of the myriad offshoots of one of the most common races in the Milky Way - including amongst their innumerable variants us poor Chikyuu-jin - whose original name has been lost in the depths of time. The Saiya-jin acquired their name and distinctive features on the high-gravity world of Saiya-sei - notable amongst these features are their atavistic prehensile tails and signature hair, which is invariably wild and goat black (and which unlike Chikyuu-jin hair does not grow past a certain genetically determined length). The Saiya-jin exodus from Saiya-sei has long since passed into the realm of myth, but most accounts suggest the destruction was caused by a single "Legendary Super Saiya-jin," who briefly gained power enough to rival Frieza and shattered the planet like an eggshell in a suicidal supernova of uncontrolled energy. Only a small number of Saiya-jin survived, arriving on Vegeta-sei in a rag-tag fleet of ships seeking sanctuary. At first the Tsufuru-jin were welcoming of these bestial exiles, but as the Saiya-jin multiplied the more technologically advanced Tsufuru-jin began to see this horde of fast-breeding savages as a manace. Legislation became increasingly punitive towards the Saiya-jin refugee population, until eventually they were forced into slave labour, their prodigious physical strength held at bay by the deadly weapons of their native masters.

A revolt occured - led by a cruelly intelligent Saiya-jin named Vegeta, and at first it enjoyed a degree of success. But soon the superior numbers and firepower of the Tsufuru-jin began to turn the tide. It was then that something occured on Vegeta-sei that only occured every hundred years (and one would be foolish to think Vegeta ignorant of this - surely he had been waiting for this very moment) - a full moon - revealing by far the most extreme of the Saiya-jin digressions from the baseline humanoid template. When subjected to a certain frequency of green-spectrum radiation (known by the Saiya-jin as "Bruits Waves" and usually only accessible through the gravitational lensing of solar radiation by a massive spherical object such as a moon) a gland in the Saiya-jin's tail releases a substance that triggers an astounding transformation. In seconds, the Saiya-jin transforms into an Oozaru - a massive bestial ape, their already prodigious powers amplified tenfold and their minds overcome by a senseless bloodlust (with the exception of the Saiya-jin elites, who are trained from childhood to master the Great Ape form, a transformed Saiya-jin is almost mindless). Suddenly faced with half a billion giant monsters breathing atomic fury, the Tsufuru-jin simply gave up. A few determined scientists and religious fanatics fled the planet on the few starships the Tsufuru-jin had ever cared to build, but the vast majority of the population simply accepted the extinction the Saiya-jin dealt them. In one night the Saiya-jin had killed three hundred billion, leaving only the Tsufuru-jin God as mute observer to the changes sweeping his world. The planet was theirs - after returning to their normal forms, the Saiya-jin hailed Vegeta as their new leader, re-naming the world that had been called Tsufuru-sei in his honour. The Saiya-jin had no use for the technology the Tsufuru-jin left behind - or what little of it had survived their frenzy of destruction - and so it was that in the wake of their revolt they lapsed into near-barbarism, losing even the capability of space flight. Then came the Tsiru-jin - and the Saiya-jin, for the first time in their short, brutal history, learned a word for fear. The word was "Frieza".

The Tsiru-jin are by far the least populous race in the cosmos, to the point where only a single family is known to exist in the Milky Way. But those three Tsiru-jin - a father and two sons - have a power so great that they have almost single-handedly carved out the greatest empire the galaxy has ever known. A loose confederacy of client-races, the Tsiru-jin empire operates more like a real estate letting agency than a political organism. First, surveyors are sent out to evaluate planets - worlds with particularly powerful or prosperous occupants are first extended the offer of membership. Client-races pay tribute and contribute troops to the vast Tsiru-jin military machine; in return they receive unlimited access to the technological achievements of other client-races and may bid on worlds conquered by the Tsiru-jin. Generally planets with weaker inhabitants face a grimmer fate - such planets are either depopulated and auctioned off for colonisation by a compatible client-race, or blasted to slag and its raw materials sold to bolster the Tsiru-jin coffers. The Tsiru-jin named Cold officially holds the title of "king," but it is his youngest son, Frieza, whose individual might is freakishly high even for Tsiru-jin, who is the true power in the cosmos. This is reflected in the name of the Tsiru-jin capital world, Frieza-sei - the name is a movable feast, simply referring to Frieza's current favoured residence. When the young emperor becomes bored of a planet, it is sold or slagged and his retinue moved to a more interesting venue. His older brother, Cooler - forever cursed to live in his sibling's shadow - holds a minor share in the empire's assets, but prefers the solitude of space, and is invariably found at the head of the empire's planet-subjugating fleet.

Frieza saw the power and ferocity of the Saiya-jin and rather than destroy them chose to offer them client status with certain additional strings attached. The entire Saiya-jin race became a shock force for the Tsiru-jin army, gifted advanced armour, weapons and spacecraft suitably simplified for operation and maintenance by the less technically-minded species under Frieza's yoke, and dispatched to conquer worlds in his name. The Saiya-jin, after recovering from their initial shock of encountering beings stronger than themselves, applied themselves to their newly subservient position with only a little resentment. Most races in this cosmos we call home practice eugenics with a fervour that approaches spirituality, but the Saiya-jin have elevated it to a cultural art-form. Personal power determines everything from the resolution of legal disputes to the composition of the ruling classes - the carefully shepherded genes of the royal bloodline, each puissant heir named Vegeta in honour of his forebear, are some of the strongest in the galaxy outside the cosmic abberrations that comprise Frieza's super-elite corps and personal aides. The strong crush the weak. The lower castes are winnowed like corn, every child born tested on birth to determine its suitability to inherit the promised land Vegeta bequeathed the Saiya-jin peoples. Those with a power level deemed unfitting of the Saiya-jin name are sent away like Supermen in disgrace, newborn infants plummeting through space in pods that ignore the laws of time and reality; disposable spaceships our greatest scientists would kill to examine for just five minutes. Not for the Saiya-jin the wasteful path of infanticide; no, these genetic cast-offs are put to work. For under a full moon even the weakest mewling infant the Saiya-jin race has produced outmatches the nuclear arsenal of the greatest so-called powers on our mudball world. Let that sink in. These pitiful, spurned creatures are given one last legacy by their parents - an implant filling their brains with a single murderous desire; to wipe clean that unfortunate world they entered like a falling star. When the Saiya-jin ships arrive, they find a ball of slag metal and other saleable heavy elements, its surface long frozen to ice by the vast mushroom clouds that blotted out the sun. And somewhere, the skeleton of a child, glowing ivory in the searchlights; the last solid thing in a world blasted to dust.

Evolution. These days the lines between acquired and inheritable characteristics are being blurred - "epigenetics," the study of how the expression of inherited genetics can be modified by a primogenitor's lifestyle, has become a respectable field in the scientific community. What little of Saiya-jin science is not devoted to the art of geocide and planetary resource reclamation knows nothing else. As far as the Saiya-jin are concerned, Lamarck rules supreme. In a bizarre twist on the ancient Hebrew proverb, the child of a Saiya-jin youth is less than a the child of a Saiya-jin matured in years and power. The children surpass their fathers - this is everyday fact amongst Saiya-jin. Age itself holds little sway over them compared to the average species derived from the original intergalactic Cro-Magnons; even the lower orders enjoy a prime extending well into their eighties, with the Saiya-jin elite - the forementioned royal thoroughbreds - possessing a strength that endures for over a century. During this time, a Saiya-jin will likely endure several near-death experiences, either through combat as part of the Tsiru-jin army, or simply as in the course of Saiya-jin social life. Each time they recover, they become stronger, faster, more powerful than they were before, with seemingly no upper limit. For this purpose Frieza watches the Saiya-jin, that he might have some excuse to raise his finger and blow them all to ash. Does the combined power of the Saiya-jin race transformed into their Oozaru forms yet exceed that of his elite, the Ginyu Tokusentai, together with his brother's Armoured Squadron the galaxy's deadliest fighting force? How much of his own unimaginable might would he have to unlock to obliterate these impossible creatures? For now, he tolerates them. Each year, he makes the journey to Vegeta-sei, sets down his personal mothership upon the red soil like a rotting pumpkin. He will walk into the throneroom of the Saiya-jin and watch as their King, his immeasurable pride blasted to dust, rises from his seat to make way for the diminutive Tsiru-jin. How much hesitation there? Let only King Vegeta pause one moment as he momentarily yields his throne to this monster, this alien! King Vegeta can shatter worlds with a flick of his cape. But let him show the slightest spark of resentment, of uncrushed spirit, as he bows before the child-emperor of this universe, and his whole race is doomed.

Even Frieza fears. In a universe as terrifying as the one we inhabit, even the most insurmountable superiority cannot be taken for granted. Every whisper, every rumour, every legend - each "Legendary Super Saiya-jin" or “Super Namek-jin” - must be taken with grim seriousness. Frieza is a child - his race's lifespan is well in excess of a thousand years. Yet still his every waking thought is screaming terror - of death, of the shadow of someone more powerful than himself. To die, to become subject to that antique, creaking hierarchy of oni and death gods and divine judges - at his tender age Frieza already has the blood of trillions on his vacuum-proof hands. What he desires - more than anything else in the whole universe - is what all the science of the Tsiru-jin empire, the plundered knowledge of a thousand worlds, cannot give him; immortality. He knows the stories of Namek, of course, but its location is lost in mythic fog, and in any case is supposed to be uninhabitable now.

He cannot know that one lonely survivor survived the great changes of those who chose to stay behind and has since been personally repopulating the whole planet, his descendents beginning the painfully slow task of recultivating the precious Ajissa trees which will render the planet’s atmosphere once again fit for Namek life. That survivor alone maintains with his ancient soul the last set of dragonballs known to the Namek race - the spheres that call Porunga, the dragon at the heart of Namek-sei itself. But he and his progeny dare not use them. You see, each time a wish is made on the dragonballs, an exchange is made; the positive life energy that accomplishes the wish - creates gold, imbues immortality, grants great power, even lays waste to the wisher’s enemies - is exchanged for the negative energy of the wish itself, the dark energy of longing and need. The avarice of a wish for wealth, the fear of a wish for long life, the jealousy and hatred of a wish for power… it enters the dragonballs and worms its way to the heart of the biosphere itself, slowly poisoning it. To try and use the Namekian dragonballs to wish for the restoration of the planet would accomplish nothing but to destroy it. The negative energy dissipates, eventually, if there’s still enough healthy life to cleanse it. It takes about a century per wish - hence the maths behind scattering seven dragonballs across a normal-sized world. At least, until some enterprising individual finds out that the dragonballs emit a constant pulse of electromagnetic radiation; the reflection of the heartbeat of the dragon itself. The pulse allows the dragonballs to detect the presence of its fellows - but also means a suitably sensitive radar attuned to its specific frequency can detect the dragonballs across an entire planet. You may recognise that this makes the task of gathering them up quite a lot easier. Quite a lot faster, too. Most dragonballs include a final fail-safe - each wish turns them to stone for a set length of time; usually about a year, during which time the dragon cannot be summoned. And a good thing too - if this last line of defence is breached (say, by some too-clever-for-his-own-good Namekian loading a set up with three wishes then splitting it so each wish only incurs a time-out of four months), the evil energy can build up further to the point where the dragon itself is irretrievably corrupted. To summon a dragon which has become a ‘shadow dragon’ from an endless trickle of avarice, hatred and guilt is nothing less than civilisational suicide - do you remember the ‘voids’, the missing stars and galaxies, the cosmological Boojum? They fed the spirits of their worlds a diet of pain and fear and sickness and still expected them to do their bidding. Bang. Fermi’s Paradox finds its resolution.

Don’t feel too bad - that could be our fate too, if the Red Ribbon Army or the Reich Pilaf or one of the other cheap little thugdoms the World Government fears to fight finds out about the dragonballs here on Chikyuu-sei. I rather doubt it, though. Why do I say that? Well, do you remember the first fact I told you? Chikyuu-sei is one of a number of planets throughout the cosmos with a uniquely short lunar cycle. If we’ve fallen beneath Frieza’s notice, don’t think we’ve escaped the attention of the Saiya-jin. One day soon, I fear, a child from another world will fall screaming out of the sky and that’ll be an end to it.

How do I know all this? My dear, that’s my job. My credentials? I have passed through the veil between death and life. I have spoken with the judge of the living and the dead and defied the Kais and seen the cosmos illuminated in a sphere of glass. I who am sister to the immortal Turtle Hermit and have advised the rulers of the Earth for 500 years. I am the Witch of the Wilderness. I am Uranai Baba.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - Stand ideas

Having recently come across Part 8 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure I felt inspired to post up some of my eclectic Stand ideas. For those unfamiliar with the series, 'Stands' have been the central conceit of the story since Part III (replacing the Ripple, the vampire-busting martial arts in Part II). A Stand is a spiritual guardian - possibly the physical manifestation of the user's soul - that 'stands' by you and protects you from harm. Early on Stands look the form of muscular humanoid warriors, but this quickly diversified into a much wider variety of possible forms, though they usually appear vaguely robotic or armoured. Most of the Stands in Part 3 were named after Tarot cards and Egyptian gods, inkeeping with the locale, but when the deck and pantheon ran out Araki turned to band and song names, which (apart from a brief flirtation with fashion labels in Part 5) has remained the naming convention ever since. General rules - a Stand is only visible to other Stand users (there are exceptions - Strength, the Stand of orangutan Forever, takes the form of a massive freighter; originally a small rowing boat imbued with the 'strength' of the Stand). The abilities of Stands started simple (fan favourite Abdul's Stand, Magician's Red, can throw fire and not a lot else) but became increasingly esoteric until it started to take entire forum threads to explain how a Stand worked. Anyway, my contributions, all of which are hopefully original name-wise and fairly original concept wise. A couple of similar ones, having thought these up partway through reading the JoJo saga - Weapon of Choice vaguely resembles Part 6's Jumpin' Jack Flash, and Back In The U.S.S.R. has a similar feel to Joy Division from the light novel (though rather more versatile). Still, if Araki can recycle Stone Free into O! Lonesome Me and Bast into the Boom Boom family's stand, I think I'm fairly safe. The key when creating an authentic-feeling JoJo Stand is to choose a power that is simultaneously both ridiculously specific yet utterly broken; it should be vaguely, tangentially connected to the name but not obvious (e.g. below - Bad Luck isn't the Stand that makes people die of accidents; that's Pumped Up Kicks, because it makes you have to run away from the user - Bad Luck is the one that teleports when you're not looking at it because it's based on the album 'Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell' by 'Social Distortion'). I think my least convincing ones are the most literal - Beggar's Banquet, I'm With Stupid, Let It Bleed, etc. My personal favourites are probably Abbey Road, From Then To You, Rolled Gold, St Anger and Starless.

10 CC - Victims suffer 'flat affect' and become incapable of visceral responses, even to their own injury or impending death. User can afflict themselves with it (for example, to numb pain).

30 Seconds To Mars - Makes whatever portion of a solid, inanimate object is touched fly away faster than light.

Abbey Road - Turns time into space, attacks from outside victim's lifespan.

A strong, short-ranged stand. Abbey Road appears as a large, menacing Praying Mantis with an eyeless face between the eyestalks and human legs. When Abbey Road is activated, people caught in its area of effect (a large marketplace) perceive time stopping around them. Whenever they move, reality fast-forwards or rewinds around them. If they move too far any direction their body turns into dust and blows away (though they can reform it by withdrawing).  The area (in actuality an off-centre sphere) in which they are "alive" is the spatial representation of their lifespan. Nothing they do, including throwing objects or attacking with their own Stand can affect the world outside this area. The user can move freely within Abbey Road's area of effect and can attack his victims from outside their lifespan, usually by throwing objects or darting in for hit-and-run attacks with the Stand itself, which has excellent speed. Its weakness is that the effect doesn't include light or sound, which the user needs to perceive his victims.

Another Brick In The Wall - Can create false memories which alter the victim's personality.

One of several memory stands I've thought up - Another Brick In The Wall is particularly dangerous as it lets you create custom memories at will (whereas Metro Station at best lets the user 'guide' the victim by suggesting possible options for confabulation, and Royksopp requires you to permanently destroy the thing you want others to forget about. ABITW allows you to render your opponents helpless (by implanting traumatic memories) or turn them against their allies - although you can't delete memories, even the ones you've created before, and hence can't erase comradely moments, you can retroactively sour the relationship by implanting more recent off-key moments, or even make the victim's comrades look like the memory-altering bad guys by implanting memories of them abducting and brainwashing him with false memories!

Armor for Sleep - Places victims into their own 'heaven' before killing them at their most complacent.

I imagine this as working something like Judgement meets The Man In The Mirror - you're not aware when you've entered the 'heaven'.

Back In The U.S.S.R. - Can 'nullify' the distance between two points or swap two people's locations.

Bad Luck - Stand can move instantaneously when not looked at directly, can break up its body and reconstruct it elsewhere.

Teleportation is somewhat unique - their head breaks up into lots of little heads, their arms into lots of little arms, etc. that fly to their target and reintegrate.

Beggar's Banquet - Creates illusions that cause the victim to neglect food and water.

Bullet With Butterfly Wings - Slows down objects in direct proportion to their speed, but they retain their kinetic energy.

E.g. a truck would be slowed to walking speed but impart the same impact on contact, flipping you up and over the vehicle. A bullet would be nearly stationary but if touched a bullet hole would appear directly in front of it before the bullet itself falls to the ground (having used up its kinetic energy).

Chinese Democracy - No action can be taken in its area of effect unless everyone (including the user) agrees.

Creed - Can turn flesh into the consistency of soft clay and keeps the user alive even if torn apart.

Enter Shikari - Victim's life replays and the past self's emotional state corresponds to their tangibility - at their lowest ebb ES kills them.

Appears as a golden humanoid with a long curving beak and no eyes. Its arms are boat-like crab claws which it uses to impale enemies at their weakest moment. Red and gold tangled tendrils connect the user to Enter Shikari at the shoulders.

Falco - Can create earthquakes.

'Rock me, Amadeus'. Surprisingly there does not appear to be a canon Stand with this power!

Follow The Leader - Creates unbreakable 'beams' of arbitrary length connecting any three living things.

For Your Entertainment - Merges the present and the future; objects and people from the different times destructively interact.

Makes the present co-exist with another time period, between one hour and one day into the future. The two realities destructively interact - items and people who exist in both time periods are drawn to each other as if by a powerful gravitational force, and when they collide they crumble like brittle stone. The user is sealed away within a protective sphere during this period which is the true form of the Stand.

From Then To You - Transfuses any quality from victim to user.
All My Love - Inject lethal venom into previous victims to make transfer permanent.
Best Hits - Copies powers of nearby Stands.

The user, Blondie, is a very beautiful young man with shoulder-length curly blond hair, who dresses in a fur coat and a Russian ushanka. The Stand From Then To You has three modes - the first looks like a mosquito-sized humanoid with a skull for a face and a tail resembling a hypodermic needle. It can drain any 'quality' from a living target, and inject it into the user, granting them that quality (up to 'peak human' level) for a full 24 hours or until they lose consciousness. The Stand is rather slow and weak, and relies on the element of surprise. The Stand can then assume its secondary mode 'All My Love'. In this form it reconfigures into a slightly larger form, resembling a normal-sized skull with a stinger - its sting is painful and incapacitating, but not lethal unless the target has already been the victim of 'From Then To You'. In this case 'All My Love' melts their body down into a sticky goo and makes the previous transfer/s permanent (Blondie has been around since the 1920s, but his Stand allows him to drain 'health' from others and so rejuvenate himself). 'All My Love' is incredibly fast and agile - likely as fast as Tower of Grey. If cornered, Blondie will use the final form of his Stand, 'Best Hits' - the Stand resembles its 'From Then To You' form, but is human-sized (think Hildegarn from Dragonball Z Movie 13). In this form its striking distance is that of a short-ranged Stand, but can copy the Stand powers of all nearby Stands. 'Best Hits' has a certain amount of personality, but isn't capable of telling his user what powers he possesses. Accordingly, Blondie usually likes to pair up with an expendable partner who he uses to find out about his opponents' Stands.

Goat's Head Soup - Touch induces crippling phobias of whatever the user wants.

Handbags & Gladrags - Offers victims seemingly useful items/services at ever-higher (and eventually fatal) prices.

Helldorado - Lets user "cut" actions from reality like a film director ("Director's Cut"...).

Basically a weaker, more flexible King Crimson.

Her Bright Skies - Creates a 'lens' of of air that focuses the light. Can be used to concentrate sunlight from a large region into a single point, creating a laser. Her Bright Skies cannot create light and needs a sufficiently large light source to use its ability.

Note: as a Stand that uses light, Her Bright Skies could potentially beat Abbey Road by forming the lens inside the user's lifespan and frying them with laser beams. It's a more streamlined version of The Sun, in the same that The Man In The Mirror is a more streamlined Hanged Man.

I'm With Stupid - User is supernaturally persuasive and whatever they say sounds like a great idea as long as they are present.

In The Army Now - Victim unravels: the unravelled parts can be reconstituted and controlled by the user.

Jars of Clay - Can 'stack' humans and objects inside each other like Matryoshka dolls.

Korn - Controls intestinal flora and grows it into a puppet that eventually controls the victim from the inside.

Le Tigre - Victims find a fuel indicator on their body - unless 'refuelled' by being in the user's presence it will deplete until death.

Arguably a more powerful form of Toy Soldiers, although the indicator also serves to point out the user, whereas Toy Soldiers only tells you the user is in range. If the victim's alone Toy Soldiers is also vastly more dangerous (no-one will wind them up, where with Le Tigre the user refuels her victims whether she wants to or not). Based on the lyrics to 'Deceptacon'.

Let It Bleed - Can use spilt blood as a medium to teleport, wields anti-coagulant blades.

Life Is Peachy - People in its area of effect must 'always do the right thing' or their limbs will bud and deform.

Linkin Park - Anyone who makes eye contact with the user melts and can be combined with other living things ("Hybrid Theory").

Takes the form of a powerful armoured figure with ragged butterfly wings which floats over the user. It is reasonably strong and powerful (partially because victims cannot look at the user) but its main strength is the hybrid creatures it creates.

Lostprophets - Can sever parts of its victims' bodies without them feeling it and places them into games machines; if a player wins the game the body part is restored, however they must 'buy in' to the game with things they have 'stolen' from others. These items need not be present but are lost if the player fails. The player may continue to play until they run out of stolen items, at which point the machine disappears with the victim's body part; the victim then suffers any damage that would normally occur if the part were actually severed. A player who runs out of items may buy in one last time with their own life - 'stolen time'. Lostprophets' user is able to have Lostprophets sever part of his own body, transferring his consciousness to the severed part. His body can then be 'killed', allowing the user to fake his own death - the severed part will regenerate over time inside Lostprophets into a new body for the user.

Looks like a floating cabinet covered by a cloak with a squat head swathed in bandages; its 'hands' are floating triangles of metal. The machines it creates look like odd ripoffs of popular arcade games like Street Fighter; characters may have bizarre or missing moves to throw players off, but the game cannot be 'rigged'. Quite an involved Stand power but one that I think sounds sufficient Jojoesque - the power is inspired by the lyrics to 'Can't Catch Tomorrow' and 'Shinobi vs the Dragon Ninja'.

Major Tom - The victim is unable to make others hear, understand or eventually even notice them.

MakeDamnSure - Surrounding buildings break apart and reconstruct themselves around the victims, smothering them.

Mandolin Rain - Can instantly fill any completely sealed area with water that does not affect the user.

Maroon 5 - Can teleport itself and its user between any enclosed space and any adjoining enclosed space.

Mars Volta - Can reverse 'the contained' and 'the containing' so the former is outside the latter. The 'contained' cannot be living tissue - so it cannot turn you inside out, but can seal you in something you're holding (e.g. - you're lifting a coffin - Mars Volta means you are now inside the coffin), drown you in the glass of water you've just drunk, etc. If you have a pacemaker, fillings or other artificial body parts it can also invert them, which may lead to death (for example, your pacemaker is now a thin metal filament covering your body).

Metro Station - Suppresses memories - the victim confabulates new ones, á la Korsakoff's Syndrome.

Mötley Crüe - Can replace body parts (the user's or the victim's) with inanimate objects.

 Has the power to swap body parts with nearby inanimate objects. Any replaced part functions exactly like the limb it replaces but is under the partial control of the user. The user can replace their own limbs with inanimate objects (for example, to avoid injury) - in which case the objects are completely under the user's control and can be used with almost telekinetic power (for example, replacing one's arm with a lampstand - the user can reshape the glass into sharp, shardlike "fingers"). Mötley Crüe looks like a humanoid stick insect with a grimacing tribal mask.

Alternate: Mötley Crüe must touch the victim or imbue an object with power so the first person to touch it is affected. Can replace someone's brain with an inanimate object to kill them. However, Mötley Crüe itself has little strength.

Motörhead - Invulnerable car apparition attacks victims when they cross a road after touching the user's keys.

The user, Dog Face Boy, is a stereotypical British punk rocker with a nose ring and a ripped Union Jack T-Shirt. The Stand Motörhead takes the form of a set of car keys - to affect a victim they must touch the keys. His favoured strategy is to drop the keys and wait for his victim to pick them up and return them to him. After they touch the keys they are under Motörhead's power. Every time they try to cross a road they will be attacked by a beaten-up Ford GT Convertible with a fanged mouth painted on the front. It's apparently invulnerable and will pursue the victim until they return to the original side of the road they came from. No-one else can see this car - not even other Stand users, because it isn't a Stand itself. The effect is to confine the victim to an area described by the nearest roads in all directions. Even trying to fly or burrow under the road will attract the ghost car, which can phase through earth or 'ramp' up to attack.

Mr. Rogers - Seals the victim in a shell in which they experience recursive visions of traumatic past events.

Not really the same as 'Civil War'. If you're seeing the past event you're already unconscious and trapped in Mr. Rogers' shell; the visions are first-person and feel just as real as the first time. It could be considered to be a more effective but less lethal version of Whitesnake. The Stand doesn't kill and the shell can't be broken to do harm to the victims - but neither does it dissipate unless the user is killed. Based on the KoЯn song of the same name, of course.

Napoleon XIV - Can rearrange air molecules to create invisible globes of poisonous gas.

Nickelback - Takes the form of six spaceship-like interceptors which orbit and protect the user.

Quite a boring Stand - better for a hero, I suppose. Its similarity to Aerosmith has been noted, though Nickelback is a much more passive Stand, with each interceptor having a different ability.

Nine Inch Nails - Induces agnosia in 'marked' victims towards sharp objects (e.g. nails, tacks, spikes, etc.).

Out Of Our Heads - Induces out-of-body experiences during which time user (or victim) is helpless.

A weak, long-ranged stand, Out Of Our Heads appears as a clown-like robot about two feet tall with clamps for hands. It can induce an Out Of Body Experience/Astral Projection in either the user or a target of their choice. While in spectral form, the person can travel up to Out Of Our Heads' range from their body and see Stands even if they would otherwise be unable to do so. However, their body is completely vulnerable. Out Of Our Heads must lock itself onto the person affected and cannot fight until it removes its clamps (at which point the projected spirit will return). Other people who Out Of Our Heads locks onto cannot use their Stands while in astral form. The Stand is best used to spy on opponents and immobilise others while you kill them (since the user can still move and act normally whilst Out Of Our Heads is locked onto a target). Note that Stand users cannot normally see astral projections unless their own Stands grant them some kind of supernatural perception.

Papa Roach - 'Eats away' at walls and floors and anything that touches them.

P.O.D. - Orbital stand deflects damage from the user to whoever it's currently over; user cannot move while it is away from them.

Pumped Up Kicks - Causes the nearest person from the user to be very likely to suffer a lethal accident with no range limit.

Resembles a green sphere with a leering, semi-mechanical face and a gun barrel instead of one eye - that side also has a small arm. It cannot defend the user and automatically 'targets' the nearest person while active. I envisage the user ('Foster Robert', a sullen, chain-smoking teenager in a cowboy hat) to be kept on a tight leash by the Big Bad since his Stand is so indiscriminate (perhaps by pairing him with the user of Revolver, whose Stand can protect against Pumped Up Kicks for a short time). If Foster unleashed Pumped Up Kicks in a metropolitan area, he could potentially depopulate it over time. Note: it's nowhere near so powerful as canon Stand Green Day (basically a biological WMD); it takes at least some time per victim to 'pump up' its effect to full lethality (unless they're actively trying to kill Foster), and can only affect one person at once. Its advantage is its unlimited range - but even then Bohemian Rhapsody is vastly more hax, as it affects everyone, everywhere, without giving such a strong idea where the user is (Pumped Up Kicks at full throttle would place the user at the centre of an area depopulated by freak accidents - if you want to kill the Stand user, just attack the guy next to you as if the victim is the closest to the user, that means the user is the closest person to the victim).

Rammstein - Takes the form of four indestructible metal plates about 6'' square which can be placed anywhere.

A suitably JoJo-ish subversion of expectations, I believe. You can materialise and dematerialise the plates at will (meaning if you have sufficient reflexes you can materialise them in front of an opposing Stand's fists), but can't materialise them inside living things or move them while materialised, so initially it seems they can't even be used offensively. However, they do have a lot of uses - holding doors shut, walking on them like 'stairs' to move through the air, creating a fake 'floor' before dematerialising it when your opponents are walking on it, tripping your opponents before pinning them down, etc. Also realised it can be used to convert explosives into shaped charges; since there are only four square plates you can't completely contain an explosive, but you can create a half-cube which shapes the explosion in one direction.

Alternate: Everything in its area of effect that falls with the same energy it would have if it fell its full height to sea level (so dropping a cup on the top floor of skyscraper is basically a shrapnel bomb - tripping over on an airliner results in you splattering all over the compartment). Based on 'Dalai Lama' (the song was named after the real-life Dalai Lama's fear of flying).

Revolver - Anything with a 1/6 probability or less will never occur within its area of effect.

Would work best paired with The Way It Is - Revolver's user doesn't automatically know the probability of events, only that it must be one in six or more to be nullified (the Stand means he cannot kill himself via Russian roulette). Looks like a slightly ramshackle scarecrow assembled from scrap metal - the face appears to be beaten out of a metal drum that has blown out at the back, surrounding its head with six 'leafs' of ragged metal.

Rolled Gold - Inverts the density of solids and gases in its area of effect (people turn into 'ghosts' inside solids).

A bit hard to visualise - basically when it activates the world in its area of effect turns inside-out and you're suddenly floating in the middle of a solid object. When you emerge ('inside' a nearby wall, foundation, etc.) the world is now a maze of narrow crawlspaces floating over a massive abyss (the ground, now an inverted sky). The user can, of course, just float through anything they want.

Royksopp - Whatever the Stand eats is erased from everyone's memory; only the user remembers it and can remind others.

Rubberbandman - Encases the user in a protective sphere of tendrils, which can be expanded to attack.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Takes the form of a tank which can 'pour' itself through any obstacle.

The tank's centred on the user, so it can get through any gap the user can. The user can push parts of it through smaller gaps - for example, it can extrude the cannon barrel through a tiny crack in a wall to 'see' inside and can fire as if the barrel were not squashed. It also lends traction to the user's movements and confers mass/inertia as though it were resting on whatever surface it's resting on whatever the relative direction of gravity - so he can use it to walk up the side of a building. I note this would make it largely immune to Weapon of Choice; it could just keep on coming.

Seventh Heaven - Forms a tower with seven levels around the user with different 'rules' for survival known only to the user.
Dark Heaven - The user can change the tower's 'rules' at will but must reveal them to the victim.

Snot - User can turn recipes or instructions into what they represent (e.g. recipe into fish soup).

Easy to underestimate this Stand - but when you realise what happens when they use it on the schematics for a nuclear bomb, the floorplans for a skyscraper, etc., it suddenly seems a lot more broken.

St. Anger - User is turned invisible. A duplicate user is created, which bleeds 'monsters' if injured.

Starless - Anyone the Stand touches loses all of their senses, and is trapped repeating the same actions via pareidolia.

Based on what I surmise to be the original design for King Crimson - the ultimate revelation that it 'erases time', allowing the user knowledge of the future doesn't gel with the woman Diavolo's mentor found under the floorboards of his house, apparently with all her senses erased - unless that was the power of his mother's Stand. Basically, once Starless touches you, you lose consciousness for an unknown length of time as your body reacts to suddenly losing all access to the external world. When you recover your brain manufactures input that corresponds to what you were last doing, and puts you on an infinite loop; so if you last entered a bank, made a withdrawal and left, you'll keep doing that (though in reality the user is probably lying on the ground, moving their arms and legs and talking to themselves). Any attempt to break the routine or enter a new area confronts the victim with a black void which is their own lack of senses. The victim can still control their body (albeit they have no idea whether they are in the right place, whether they are talking to friends or the user, etc.) and can warn others if they work out what has happened to them.

Switchfoot - Solidifies ambient sound into physical objects like stairs or mazelike walls.

Taking Back Sunday - Progressively erases technology (temporarily); only victims remember it.

The user, Adam Carpathia, is a middle-aged bald Catholic priest who wears a cassock and a Roman collar. The Stand Taking Back Sunday looks like a man in an old-fashioned diving suit, albeit with spiked collars (similar to inverted cilices) on its arms, legs, and spikes running up its spine. Its hands are surrounded by spinning cart wheels, and behind the helmet is just a huge, cyclopean red eye. Its power is to erase any technology it punches, seemingly rewriting history as it does so (though the effect may just be to pull all Stand users within a certain area into a parallel world). It cannot delete any technology invented before the year 1500 or any mechanism necessary to human survival (e.g. mechanisms also found in the human body), and all effects end as soon as Carpathia cancels Taking Back Sunday or is rendered unconscious.

The Avalanches - Can induce any sufficiently complex mechanism to emit paranoia-causing radio waves.

The Birthday Massacre - Causes anyone, including the user, in its area of effect to split into two. The original and duplicate are seemingly identical and it is impossible to tell which is which; but the duplicate will die when TBM is deactivated.

Works primarily by 'game theory' - both the original and the duplicate will consider themselves to be the original (having continuity of consciousness and the same memories), and may even try to kill the other; both can control the original's Stand. If the duplicate wins, the user has defeated that person, because they can deactivate TBM at any time and kill the duplicate. The Stand's weakness is the user's duplicate, who can also control and deactivate TBM. However, both user and duplicate know that if the duplicate attacks the user, both die - by working with their copy they can ensure that at least one of them survives. Based on the lyrics to Happy Birthday ("I think my friend said 'two of them are sisters'"). Basically the Stand version of The Prestige.

The Presets - Anything said in its presence echoes and reverberates so it cannot be said and heard again; eventually the area is awash with white noise.

The Way It Is - Stand tells the user the exact probability of any event.

Turmion Kätilöt - Takes the form of a crawling bonfire which grows as it consumes victims. Not entirely under its user's control.

The band name ('Midwives of Destruction') suggested some sort of Stand that gives birth to a destructive force; however this seemed too predictable (and too much like Baby Face from Part 5) and instead I went with a theme following 'Verta ja Lihaa' ("Step into the bonfire/Soul is shouting and nails are scratching/Oh, how it hates blood and flesh").

Toy Soldiers - Victims grow a clockwork key from their back and 'wind down' if it is not turned by another person.

U2 - Creates murderous clones of victim every time they move (Nude Descending A Staircase style).

Makes clones of the victim bud off from them every time they move a set distance - these clones will follow and attempt to kill the original (note that if the victim is a Stand user the clones will not have Stands). The clones will claim to be the original and will try and gain the confidence of the victims' friends. The Stand itself looks like a shiny black robot with a golden ponytail and a single horn in the middle of its forehead.

Weapon of Choice - Centipede-like Stand which nullifies gravity in its area of effect.

Yesterday And Today - Forces victims to relive the same day, which gets progressively worse.

It occurs to me most of my Stand ideas work best as villains the heroes encounter. A few exceptions -
30 Seconds to Mars, Back In The U.S.S.R., Bad Luck, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Creed, Follow The Leader, Her Bright Skies, Jars of Clay, Mötley Crüe, Napoleon XIV, Nickelback, Rammstein, Rubberbandman, Snot and Switchfoot are all suitably balanced to work as heroes' Stands. I had a dream where Enter Shikari was the protagonist's Stand, but I don't think it would be very entertaining - find out who the bad guy is, wait until ES replays the most angsty part of his backstory, then hit him while he's helpless (never mind that ES is basically Moody Blues Requiem, giving you an intimate insight into any enemy even if you don't attack). Most bad guys in JJBA or otherwise tend to have angsty pasts, which makes them vulnerable to ES; if they've had a moment of total despair or helplessness, replaying it renders them near-transparent and so fragile that a normal human could tear them in half like paper.

Best stands for major antagonists - Abbey Road, For Your Entertainment, Taking Back Sunday, Yesterday and Today. They have the characteristic time/reality warping of major villains and what seems to be flawless hax: Abbey Road is basically permanent timestop that allows you to throw stuff at your victims until they die; For Your Entertainment is potentially a world-destroying Stand; Taking Back Sunday pulls victims through alternate realities, progressively cutting off them off from allies and escape; Yesterday and Today is a more flexible Another One Bites The Dust.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Getting Korsakovia working

Korsakovia is a game about madness from the makers of Dear Esther. It's a mod for Half-Life 2 and requires Half-Life 2: Episode 2 to work. Unfortunately, when Valve updated the Source engine, Episode 2 included, in 2010 it broke a lot of mods quite spectacularly. Korsakovia's creator released a patch which did indeed make it possible to fire up Korsakovia again. Unfortunately it's still dogged by crashes. Rather more crucially, there's a catastrophic crash in the final chapter which makes it impossible to complete the game. There's a door that leads to an insanely exploded rendition of the first level's cafeteria, and as soon as you open it and walk through, the game crashes, usually corrupting one or more saved games in the process. You can noclip over the top, but unfortunately that trigger is what loads the next and final chunk of the level - even if you noclip through that portion of the level entirely, you still can't finish the game. Anyway, I managed to find a way around it - making it possible for me to complete my saved game at least - and thought I'd post my solution:

game_info.txt: rewrite contents with following:


// This is what shows up in the 'Third Party Games' area of the Steam games list.
game "Korsakovia"
title "Korsakovia"
type singleplayer_only
developer "thechineseroom"
developer_url ""
icon "resource\Korsakovia"

SteamAppId 218
ToolsAppId 211

Game |gameinfo_path|.
Game sourcetest
Game hl2
Game ep2
Game episodic


I additionally used GCFScape to copy the Scenes folder from the HL2 content folder into the Korsakovia folder, though I'm not sure how much that helped the general effort. The result is a Korsakovia that runs extremely smoothly with none of the persistent crashes of my first run-through. Not only that, but textures (like Christopher's hands when wielding the crowbar) are restored which aren't present in the 'patched' version. There are a few mostly cosmetic hiccups - the most prominent being that GFX including the electricity arcs in the last level don't show up, making it harder to complete the platforming sections, but nevertheless - a fixed and working Korsokovia! Thinking it might well be possible to patch the remaining niggles by transferring over the model/GFX/etc folders, so watch this space...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A Modest Suggestion Regarding the Formation of a LibCon Coalition Government

Well, the British people have spoken, and as expected they have delivered a hung parliament. Despite the protests of the print publications disappointed that the shameless political shilling they delivered has not translated into an absolute majority for their respective party, this is a perfectly legitimate result, and reflects the complete disillusionment with the political classes engendered over the last decade or so by scandals, opportunism and plutocracy. The Tories, presented by the media as the only true alternative to Labour government, were hit hard by some of the worst cases of expenses fraud. The Lib Dems were confident that the positive response they received from first-time voters and through the social networks would translate into a massive gain in the House of Commons - instead, although their share of the popular vote increased, they actually lost seats due to the diffuse nature of their support (something the Lib Dems have always suffered from, and which has informed their long-standing support for the implementation of voting reform). The tabloids have been quick to blame this on the unrepresentative nature of digital media, which they charge has once again proved far less influential than the print press. However, I suspect what will be revealed when more detailed statistics come to light will be that the Lib Dem demographic has dramatically shifted, skewing younger and more idealistic due to 'Cleggmania', whilst the media blitz by the Tory-supporting press has scared off much of the Liberals' older and professional base. In other words, the groundswell of support the Lib Dems gained after the first debate, propagated and sustained by the social networks and the blogosphere, cushioned them against a storm of negative publicity that would otherwise have killed them off altogether. The only party that seem to have come out ahead in this debacle are the Greens, who have gained their first MP. Even UKIP and the BNP, the parties many feared would gain from an increased protest vote, had a terrible night, with the latter losing even the measure of influence in local government they had despite fielding over 300 candidates across the country."

From the beginning of the campaign a hung Parliament has been on the cards, and I've been fairly consistent in supporting a Lib-Con alliance as the best option for a possible coalition government. Ideally the Liberal Democrats would have also taken more seats from Labour, giving them a greater voice in negotiations. However, the fact that the Liberals have come to the table, as one publication puts it, as a 'party humiliated', means that perhaps they are more willing to compromise for the sake of the country than would otherwise be likely - at present Clegg seems to be (quite rightly) holding off on making outright demands for proportional representation given that they did not receive an unambiguous mandate from the voting public. The possibility still remains that talks will fall through and the Lib Dems will turn to Labour, which to my mind would be disastrous - being seen to prop up a monstrously unpopular incumbent government, whether Gordon Brown remains at the helm or not, would forever taint the Lib Dem brand by association, and furthermore establish the precedent that the party may be called upon at any time to act as a spare tire for a discredited progressive government. The Lib Dems stood on the platform of 'change that works for you' - they are now honour-bound to implement that pledge by supporting the party that offered the most popular brand of change. To prop up a sitting government because they could offer more concessions from a manifesto voted for by only 23% of the public would be an undignified and undemocratic end to Liberal independence.

So, a LibCon coalition proving the most democratically - if by no means the most ideologically - trenchant, how best could it be employed to gain political advantage for both partners? A mere formal alliance may seem tempting to the Lib Dems, who could keep their distance from Tory politics whilst still supporting them in the (surprisingly numerous) areas where the parties share common ground: civil liberties, budget cuts, etc. However, to do so would severely weaken their hand at the negotiating table. My humble suggestion regarding the formation of a LibCon coalition is as follows:

 - That it shall be a formal partnership between the parties. As the representative of the party with the greatest number of seats and the greatest share of the popular vote, David Cameron shall become Prime Minister. The role of Deputy Prime Minister shall be reserved for Nick Clegg.

 - As regards the composition of the Cabinet, the Conservatives gained 306 seats whilst the Lib Dems secured 57. Accordingly, 17 of the 22 cabinet posts will be filled by Conservative shadow ministers (their true proportionate share is 18, but one of these positions will be claimed by Nick Clegg). The remaining four - to be chosen by Nick Clegg (excluding the Leader of the House of Commons, the First Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer) - will be determined by the share of the vote received by the corresponding shadow ministers. Which of the parties' shadow ministers gets the corresponding Cabinet job will be decided by the share of the vote: for example, William Hague could get the Foreign Secretary job, but only if he got a higher percentage of the popular vote in his constituency than did Edward Davey, his Liberal Democrat counterpart.

 - That the parties undertake to maintain a formal coalition for the next two terms of government, and no longer. The result of this proposition will be to render the next election essentially unwinnable by Labour. However, with the knowledge that the term after that will see the parties back on antagonistic terms, it's likely that a large proportion of Labour progressives will desert to the Lib Dems, putting them comfortably into second place, seats-wise, and certainly putting them in opposition after the next election cycle. However, overall the number of seats held by progressives will likely decline due to the diluting effect this would have- an outcome immensely favourable to the Conservatives. If this suggestion were to be adopted, a LibCon coalition could effectively put Labour out of power for a generation.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

UK General Election Manifesto Rundown Part 3 - Labour

And so, in the spirit of leaving things to the last moment, we come to Labour, the incumbent party and the one whose manifesto gave me by far the biggest headache. Part of this was the content, which I'll get onto shortly. It's by far the most bloated of the three manifestos*, and seems to appear in at least three different versions on Labour's official site, each with a slightly different emphasis. Accordingly, I've focused only on the main points contained within their online manifesto - consequently, there's less points listed below than for the Lib Dems or the Tories. However, hopefully what's here is general enough to provide a good idea about how Labour intend to continue running affairs if voted back into power.
Much like the Conservatives, Labour's manifesto is jam-packed full of expensive initiatives at a time when the country is drowning in a sea of debt and even frontline services are under threat. Unlike Cameron's party, however, they have justified this by arguing that it's most important to support the economy now and introduce austerity measures only when it's clear the market is recovering. Labour has made by far the weakest proposal to cut the deficit - only proposing to halve it by 2014. There seems to be no recognition that if someone is suffering from arterial bleeding, the correct response is not to 'negotiate consensus to reduce the flow by 50%'. They also share with the Tories an odd turn of phrase regarding banking reform - the Conservatives want a Big Society Bank, whilst Labour is even more explicit with a network of 'People's Banks' based on an expansion of the financial services delivered through the post office. The actual goals of these entities are suspiciously nebulous, but will be obligated to 'serve every community'.
Now it's election time, Labour have suddenly identified £950m in 'back office functions' and £500m in quangos and central budgets that could be cut. However, Labour have already spent most of these savings via the long-term benefits they want to introduce, primarily in healthcare - including a National Care Service offering free care in the home and subsidised residential care, help for ten million pensioners, one-to-one nursing for all cancer patients and a massive expansion of diagnostic testing on the NHS. It's also evident that Labour sees private care as necessary to pick up the slack - one pledge affirms the right of patients to cancer test results within one week of referral and a (decidedly unambitious) maximum 18 weeks' wait or an offer of free private care. Citizens will also have the 'right in law to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs' for appointments. Unfortunately, as far as I can see this is basically just the NHS. Also adding to the burden on businesses is a commitment to even more paid leave - including a 'Father's Month' to be introduced.
They've also made a huge commitment to spending on education - including Sure Start, 16-19 learning, and free childcare. Labour is sticking to its guns on defending its record on education since 1997 - even though the vast majority of public opinion is that its heavy-handed approach to setting targets, centralising the curriculum, and limiting the powers of headteachers has done vastly more harm than good. According to the Labour manifesto, half of all schools were below the basic minimum standard in 1997, whereas now only one in every twelve schools falls into this category. However, its is conspicuously silent on the accusations of 'dumbing down' that have plagued the administration. Similarly they claim that 'teachers (now) have the status and respect they deserve', a distinctly dubious claim given that Labour policies have tended to strip away their ability to maintain discipline - most recently with the absurd proposal that students should be able to rate their teacher by text message during classes.
Labour has promised to get tough on layabouts claiming benefits - young people out of work for six months are to be given a job 'or training place' and benefits cut at 10 months. For everyone else there's a max of 2 years out of work before a job is guaranteed and benefits disappear. More and better apprenticeships and improved vocational education are promised, but as with the Conservatives Labour also wants ever more young people in higher education - with a goal of 75% ultimately continuing after 18, a figure which is not even remotely likely to materialise, especially given that in other news Labour has planned to remove the caps on tuition fees.
Of course Labour still has a 'democratic and accountable Second Chamber' on their wishlist - something one might remember as having been one of their priorities in 1997. Still, maybe they'll have more luck now both the other mainstream parties have followed their lead. Even their ambition to 'chart a course' to a written Constitution might seem more plausible now all three parties embrace some sort of constitution or bill of rights with popular input. Consensus too, they may find on their plans for a vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16. No mainstream party currently opposes these apparent inevitabilities, which begs the question exactly how a democratic reform can be justified without a genuine popular mandate.
Some of the proposals contained within the Labour manifesto are simply hare-brained, examples of populism gone to seed. Consider their plan to support parents of young children from 2012 with the Toddler Tax Credit. At just £4 a week it's difficult to see how it could significantly help towards the upkeep of a toddler - it's not enough to feed them, certainly not enough to buy nappies... Or what about Supporters Trusts, a brilliant new scheme to enable communities to buy stakes on their local football clubs? But best of all is Community Payback, a truly demented policy that only serves to persuade me that whoever wrote this section of the Manifesto watches too much Big Brother. Under this concept, 'the community' would gain the right to vote on the work they want to see prisoners doing. Presumably one of the options will be 'fight to the death in the Thunderdome'. Seriously, wasn't this the plot to a mediocre sci-fi movie?
Labour's solution to the immigration crisis is an 'Australian points-based system' - which presumably works only if you actually know the person is in the country in the first place. It seems that Labour will attempt to continue to straddle Atlantic and European relationships, desiring to 'Lead the agenda for an outward-facing European Union' whilst simultaneously making a grandiose call for 'reform' of the UN, international financial institutions, the G8, G20 and NATO. Whew. And on top of that, the herculean task of 'protection of post offices and pubs' (but haven't we heard that before somewhere?). Labour's defence policy seems a little lacklustre - its most stirring statement: 'Use our international reach to build security and stability ... tackling climate change.' I await news that all troops in Afghanistan are to be equipped with ice-core samplers.
Yet there are things to like about the Labour manifesto. The independence and funding of the BBC are to be upheld, with more lottery funding for arts, sports and culture after 2012. Young people are to be given improved citizenship education (but what will they be taught?), whilst a statutory register of lobbyists will be implemented, banning MPs from working for lobbying companies and requiring them to seek approval for paid outside appointments. Less positive from the perspective of private property but no less high-minded is the suggestion that consent from 2/3rds of shareholders will be required in corporate takeovers to encourage long-term commitment to corporate growth. The only reservation whilst reading these points is - will Labour actually deliver, or will they break these promises like the promises made in their 1997, 2001, and 2005 manifestos? Perhaps seeing themselves in third place - or even further down, below UKIP and the Greens in some constituencies - has made them rediscover their principles. But do they deserve another chance?
Ultimately, even if Labour comes third in the popular vote, they're still likely to constitute the largest or second largest party. In the event of a hung Parliament, both Labour and the Conservatives will be seeking a coalition to build an overall majority. The general assumption has been that both sides will attempt to woo the Lib Dems as the only significant third party faction and Nick Clegg will be able to name his price for participation - proportional representation, the Freedom Bill, a rethink on Trident. But both parties have gone all-out in the lead-up to the election to persuade would-be Lib Dem voters that the party is likely to side with the other major player, as well as savagely attacking Lib Dem policies, even where they overlap with their own. With both major parties so dedicated to maintaining the bilateral status quo, are we being mislead when the media refuses to even mention the possibility of a LabCon coalition? Such a 'nightmare ticket' would have the strength to lock down politics until normality reasserts itself, and perhaps the two rivals would find more to like in each other's manifestos than they previously imagined. It would also be a de facto totalitarian state. Maybe it's time we started voting for the policies we want rather than allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the politics of fear.

1.13 likes per dislike

Realise government stakes in publically controlled banks and introduce a new global levy to reform banking rules.
UK Finance for Growth - raise £4 billion (through private backers?) to provide capital for growing businesses.
Create one million more skilled jobs.
Modernised infrastructure - High Speed Rail, Green investment bank (?), broadband access guarantee for all.
200,000 jobs through Future Jobs Fund
Young people out of work for six months given a job 'or training place' and benefits cut at 10 months.
Benefit reform - max of 2 years out of work before job guaranteed and benefits disappear (workable?).
More advanced apprenticeships and Skills Accounts for workers to upgrade skills.
Clampdown on interest rates for doorstep and payday loans.
Up to 1,000 secondary schools part of an accredited schools group by 2015.
Claim that since 1997 schools below the basic minimum standard have gone from 1/2 to 1/12 (but has the standard changed?)
Claim that 100,000 more children leave primary school each year 'secure in reading, writing and maths'.
Claim 'teachers (now) have the status and respect they deserve' - dubious!
Will save £950m through efficiency in back office functions and £500m through cutting quangos and central budgets.
More and better apprenticeships, improved vocational education.
Routine check-ups for over-40s and expansion of diagnostic testing.
One-to-one dedicated nursing for all cancer patients and more care at home (but how will this be funded?)
Vague intimations that people will have a right to a GP in their area open at evenings and weekends.
Claim that 15 years ago 'the very existence of the NHS was in doubt'.
Tougher in ensuring value for money on the NHS - patients as active partners.
End to default retirement at 65 - 'enabling more people to decide for themselves' (hmm).
Re-establish link between Basic State Pension and earnings from 2012 + help for ten million.
Maintain funding on police and PCSO numbers, ensuring they spend 80% of their time on the beat.
Australian-style points-based immigration system, requiring newcomers to earn citizenship.
Claims crime down by more than 1/3, violent crime down by 40%+, risk of being a victim lowest since 1981.
'Golden decade of sport' using 2012 Olympics for national renewal.
More independence for major museums and galleries - more lottery funding for arts, sports & culture after 2012.
The 'independence' of the BBC upheld
Digital and broadband infrastructure.
Improved citizenship education for young people.
Statutory register of lobbyists - MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and required to seek approval for paid outside appointments.
Stronger local government, increased local democratic scrutiny of services.
Strategic Defence Review + more support for troops and veterans.
Affirm the drive to achieve the Millenium Development Goals for sustainable growth and combating policy.

Support the recovery now and halve the deficit by 2014 - and continue hemorrhaging money for years.
Encouraging long-term commitment to sustainable company growth by requiring 2/3rds of shareholders in corporate takeovers (private property?).
No stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes below £250,000 for two years paid by 5% rate on houses more than £1 million (eh?)
A vaguely defined 'People's Bank' - banks obligated to 'serve every community'.
More spending on Sure Start, schools, 16-19 learning and free childcare (and this money is coming from ...?)
Guarantee of one-to-one and small-group tuition for every child falling behind & a personal tutor in secondary school
Every young person guaranteed education/training until 18 - 75% to go onto higher education.
NHS - right to cancer test results within one week of referral and a maximum 18 week's (!) wait for treatment or offer of private care.
'Right in law to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs' for appointments. So basically the NHS?
'More services available on the high-street, personal care plans and rights to individual budgets'. Sure.
Access to psychological therapy on the NHS (I disagree - all NHS treatments must be proven effective in double-blind studies)
More paid leave - a 'Father's Month' to be introduced
Toddler Tax Credit of £4 a week (...) to be introduced from 2012 to support parents of young children.
National Care Service - free care in the home + a cap on the costs of residential care (this sounds alarmingly expensive)
Government Personal Pension Accounts to be introduced.
Police performance to be improved through 'online police report cards' and allowing failing forces to be taken over by better ones.
Repeat victims of anti-social behaviour will be able to claim compensation from the police or council 'who let them down'.
'Community Payback' - community will gain the right to vote on the work prisoners do (what the bleep).
Supporters Trusts enable communities to buy stakes in their football clubs (seriously?)
Protection of post offices and pubs - well, they haven't got around to it yet.
Citizens can call for a referenda to move to the Alternative Vote for election to the House of Commons.
A 'democratic and accountable Second Chamber'
Vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16.
Parliaments to sit for a fixed term.
An All-Party Commission to 'chart a course' to a written Constitution.
'Use our international reach to build security and stability ... tackling climate change.' Defence policy at its best...
'Lead the agenda for an outward-facing European Union'
'Reform' the UN, international financial institutions, the G8 and G20 and NATO. Whut.
* As one might expect given that Labour have to defend their performance over the past 13 years as well as lay out their plans for the future.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

UK General Election Manifesto Rundown Part 2 - The Tories

With support for the Labour Party at its lowest ebb since 1918, it's difficult to understand why, on the eve of the election, the Conservatives aren't all lined up for a landslide victory. Recent polls show them with a 7% lead or even less, with the result that they're currently expected to achieve a narrow lead over Labour but falling short of a majority government without support from another party (with the Lib Dems the only significant body that could be persuaded to form a coalition government). The third-party surge mentioned in Part 1 has hit the Conservatives hard - the expenses scandals has reflected extremely badly on both mainstream parties, but for a party in opposition, losing the 'mainstream' protest vote (the people that won't vote Green, UKIP, Respect or BNP but still want to punish the incumbent party) is particularly devastating. The excesses of Tory MPs have genuinely angered the vast majority, and the party's subsequent accusations that Labour intends 'class war' ring hollow in light of the discoveries regarding the almost feudal luxuries Conservative MPs felt the public was obligated to purchase for them above and beyond their salaries. Cameron's Tories have secured the backing of Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, with the result that the tabloids have abruptly switched their portrayal of the airbrushed Tory leader from Blair Lite to hard-talking Messiah (reserving particular fury for Clegg who has snatched away so many Conservative votes - perhaps at the cost of the much-needed LibCon coalition). With their manifesto - 'An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain' - the Tories must be hoping that voters will prioritise policies over their MP's behaviour and where necessary hold their nose and vote strategically. After reading through their manifesto on the Conservative website, here are my responses:

First, congratulations to the Tories for producing a genuinely authoritative-feeling document, especially in print form. Whoever created the cover for 'An Invitation...' is a PR genius, as it feels like an honest-to-goodness movement manifesto and manages to shake off the superficial feel created by previous Conservative campaigns during this election cycle. It is an extremely voluminous manifesto - I summarise over 320 key points below - and as mentioned in Part 1 this does not necessarily inspire trust ('Well, they seem to have thought this out') so much as suspicions that they are simply throwing the proverbial mud at the wall and seeking what will stick ('That's a whole lotta promises. Most of those aren't going to be fulfilled, so how do I know the issues important to me are priorities?'). The Conservatives have paired the manifesto with a 'A Contract Between the Conservative Party and You', which outlines the core commitments the party is making - including more transparent/accountable government, immigration returned to 1990s-level, and the institution of a slightly Orwellian National Citizen Service as endorsed by Sir Michael Caine. 'If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years' time' is the contract's main sound bite. Because, clearly, a Labour or Liberal Democrat government would either put an end to democracy altogether and never hold another election, or insist that voters support them despite failing to perform... The plea for readers to share the Contract via social networks suggest that the Tories haven't quite gotten hang of the New Media, but do the more in-depth proposals in the Manifesto impress?

My specific reactions to the Conservative manifesto:

I actually found the contents of the Conservative manifesto genuinely surprising - and not necessarily in a good way. The very nomenclature of the Conservatives suggests that you know what you're getting when you vote for them, and I'm not sure that the Conservative core realises just how far the party has shifted under Cameron. The parts where I found myself agreeing with the manifesto were generally expounding old-school 'small c' conservative doctrines - cutting bureaucracy and administration costs, emphasis on charity and voluntary organisations rather than bloated government instruments, simplification of taxes and greater accountability for officials.

Other parts of the manifesto come across as, for want of a better word, leftist. The Tories want to establish a 'Big Society Bank' which will confiscate all unclaimed bank accounts and channel the money to community groups and charities. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect here regarding private property - once money is deposited with a bank, it may use that money (responsibly, of course) to lend, and invest, and make interest, which it adds to the account. Over time the value of that account - both to the original owner and the bank that holds it - increases. The money in that account, however, continues to belong to the original investor. The original investor may have signed a contract stating that his funds are forfeit to the bank should he at any time fall out of communication - and whosoever signed such a contract would be most unwise, as it incentivises said bank to ensure that he does so. But if no such contract exists, the money remains his to do with as he wishes, even if for the rest of his life he never does business with that bank (no matter the frequency or content of the bank's messages and warnings - such cannot replace the original contract without the customer's permission). If the man subsequently leaves whatever might be found in that account at the end of a hundred years of interest with his posterity, said posterity is entitled to walk into that bank with the number of that account and ask for the full sum therein as the fruit of their ancestor's labour. For the government to confiscate that labour which was in productive use as capital for lending seems distinctly non-capitalistic. Similarly dubious as regards private property and individual initiative are proposals to force infrastructure providers to allow their assets to be used for the government's broadband network, and the oxymoronic Work For Yourself programme, apparently intended to make entrepreneurs beholden to the government.

Meanwhile, the language used to discuss the various National Service-style initiatives under consideration by the party is, as I previously feared, worryingly militaristic. 'An army' of community organisers is to be trained to assist in creating new social groups. The Combined Cadet Corps will be extended into state schools - the overt rationale is to 'provide a taste of military life' and encourage enlistment. Bafflingly, even civil servants will be press-ganged into volunteering in 'social action projects', transforming the civil service into a 'civic service'. Meanwhile, we are told that 'behavioural economics' will be used to encourage us to donate more to charity, whilst a 'new measure of well-being' will be created, emphasising the social value of State action. I am not entirely convinced that this sort of language would go down well with old-school Tories. However, these concerns must be wholly overshadowed by the fact that the Conservative party is now dedicated to 'establishing a consensus' for a wholly elected House of Lords! In Part 1 I explain why the Lib Dem support for these idea is misguided - that none of the three main parties support even a shift to all 'life peers' is truly appalling.

On energy, the Conservatives seem reasonably adroit, though the manifesto seems limited to incentivising wind farms and smaller-scale energy production - all useful, but as Kunstler's 'Long Emergency' begins to set in, whichever government is in power will need a much more integrated energy policy. At least four power plants will be built directly - though the rationale is environmental rather than capacity-based. Supply guarantees will be imposed on the gas and electricity markets - presumably subsidising ever-more expensive oil for conventional plants, a sensible move as long as it's paired with an aggressive move towards other energy sources and not just treated as a band-aid. Unlike the Lib Dem manifesto, the Tories don't rule out new nuclear power - but make it very clear that any new plants will receive no public subsidy. This is to my mind almost as naïve as banning them altogether - what is needed is a massive programme of nuclear expansion, if necessary raising taxes considerably to pay for it as a national network. Otherwise it's difficult to see how the government is going to keep the lights on. The only other suggestion the Tories put forward on energy is to force energy providers to include reams of energy use data (presumably gathered from the sinister-sounding 'smart meters') and an appeal to switch to a cheaper tariff with every bill.

The Manifesto's suggestions as to how greater integration can be achieve in society are generally sensible, and I'm impressed that despite apparently embracing Blair-style spin politics they were still able to suggest measures which are likely to face a broad front of opposition: speaking English to be a 'priority' (but unlike the Lib Dem manifesto, seemingly not a requirement) for all communities, English History to be a core requirement in schools (though I wonder what the 'proper narrative' of British history will be), greater recognition for English holidays, and stricter enforcement of the law regarding religious courts. The West Lothian Question is resolved reasonably elegantly by proposing that issues only affecting 'England and Wales' be passed only with the 'consent' of their MPs - which gets the job done without overtly creating an English Parliament, which I feel is likely to presage the dissolution of the UK.

As the global financial crisis has deepened, people are no longer confident that spending our way out - at least through state initiatives - is the best way forward. A major part of Cameron's platform has been an appeal to the public's appetite for austerity measures. However, as the Conservative campaign has developed, onlookers have noted that they've protected so many areas from cuts that it's hard to understand where they hope to trim the necessary fat. The manifesto only deepens these concerns, containing as it does literally dozens of hugely expensive new projects with little or no indication as to what is to be cut to fund them. The manifesto commits to 'reduc(ing) the deficit' - when what is really needed is to create a budget surplus with which Britain can begin to pay down its crippling debts - however it also promises:

  • Real-terms annual increases in health spending every single year.
  • An increase in international aid spending to 0.7% of gross national income, whilst giving 'people in poor countries' equal say as to how the aid is spent (if the crisis worsens expect this to be the lead cause of a violent revolution).
  • £500 million to tackle malaria (presumably ignoring DDT, the only real solution to the disease) worldwide.
  • Inheritance tax to be scrapped for all but millionaires.
  • Stamp duty threshold to be raised to £250,000, taking 9/10 first-time buyers out of the tax permanently.
  • More Children's Centres to be built across the country.
  • Abolish bin taxes, bring back weekly collections nationwide.
  • Flexible parental leave, including the option for both parents to take time off simultaneously.
  • Right to flexible working for every parent with a child under eighteen.
  • Flexible working for everyone in the public sector.
  • 'Expert career advice' in every secondary school and college, plus a new careers service for adults.
  • Free nursery care for all preschool children.
  • Every home to receive £6,500 of energy improvement measures.

I doubt that even the most brutal axeman could cut enough waste to fund these measures without provoking vast rolling general strikes. The Conservatives claim they will spend £6 billion less in 2010-11 than the Labour plan, but fail to make any definite promises as to how they will attain this figure.

The Conservatives have long been opposed to some of the more egregious aspects of Labour's march towards a police state - e.g. ID cards, which they pledge to scrap in this manifesto. They also promise to 'roll back' the surveillance state, but it's hard to see how this will be done, short of tearing down CCTV across the country. The only other definite civil liberties-based pledge they make is that innocent people will be allowed to 'reclaim' their DNA from the DNA database - a phrasing that suggests it will require active participation on the part of the cleared individual to get their DNA removed. Like the Lib Dems they commit to more data protection, but make absolutely no reference to the Digital Economy Bill, the enforcement of which would inevitably remove all expectation of data privacy in the UK. Somewhat alarmingly, they will seek a 'full opt-out' from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and would replace the Human Rights Act with a 'UK Bill of Rights'.

The Conservative approach to foreign affairs is a little difficult to understand. On the one hand they will base their policy on 'a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy' - but are 'sceptical about grand utopian schemes'. They seek to 'act with moral authority' (meaningless pap if ever it existed) and 'support liberal values and human rights' - but at the same time want a 'strong and effective relationship with China', one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. As one might gather from the National Service nostalgia evident in the manifesto's social pledges, the current Conservative party is strongly pro-military, and this is reflected in their policy on defence. They commit to matching defence resources and commit to a Strategic Defence and Security review. They want to replace the aging Trident with a new submarine-based nuclear deterrent, and increase funding for army materiele. Troops under a Conservative government can expect more R&R, a dedicated military ward in every hospital if they get injured, superior voting rights to ensure they can exercise their franchise whilst on tour, a doubled operational bonus, more medals, automatic inclusion of their children in a pupil premium, and an automatic scholarship for their children should they be killed on active duty. Whilst many of these measures (with perhaps the exception of the automatic pupil premium for children of servicepersons) are sensible, they are also hugely expensive and continue to reinforce concerns that the Conservative Party simply can't commit to cuts. A large part of the Conservative budget centres around 25% savings on the operation of the MoD, but as it stands that would easily be eaten up by their military spending commitments.

Some of the language in the manifesto seems carefully ambiguous. Consider the following: the Conservative party will 'Outlaw the offence of inciting homophobic hatred'. What does that even mean? Will they abolish the offence, inkeeping with their stance against 'political correctness'? One might think so - however, another (rather bizarre) pledge will allow people with 'historic convictions for consensual gay sex to have those convictions removed', a clear indication that the Tories are courting the gay vote (to the best of my knowledge no other person convicted of a crime is entitled to have their record wiped clean if the law changes). So either the manifesto is schizophrenic on this issue or just plain poorly written.

The Conservatives have historically been EU-sceptics, and thankfully the manifesto remains true to this viewpoint. Taking a leaf out of the German playbook, Cameron proposes a 'United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill' that will affirm British authority over EU law within its territory. 'Ratchet clauses' in EU membership will be subject to Parliamentary approval (significantly less ambitious than the Lib Dem commitment to a plebiscite for each major change in Britain's relationship with the EU, but possibly more believable given British policians' record on delivering referendums). Broader 'protection against EU judges' is hailed, with the promise that only British authorities would be able to initiate criminal prosecutions. More concerningly, the Conservatives want to scrap the Working Time Directive, even though an opt-out is already possible in Britain for individual workers - which will almost certainly mean an extension of the already tenuous 9-5 working day for millions.

Contrary to tabloid suggestions that immigration is the 'great unspoken issue' in this election, Cameron has been putting it at the forefront of his attacks on Brown. However, the manifesto is cagey about how exactly his vaunted return to 1990s-level immigration will be achieved. The proposal to tighten up the student visa system will account for some reduction, but worryingly there is no mention of how migration within the EU will be controlled at all (indeed, it's difficult to see how even the most EU-phobic party could now limit EU migration without substantial withdrawal from membership). There will be an annual limit ... on the numbers of non-EU economic migrants. And there will be an English language test ... for anyone coming from outside the EU. Those voting for the Conservatives in the belief they will institute a strict quota system may discover that as regards Polish, Czech, Romanian or shortly Turkish migrants Cameron has no plan or capability to limit their numbers.

The Work Programme is the Conservative answer to both the current unemployment crisis and long-term tabloid concerns about benefits freeloaders and entitlement culture - it's also the only programme in the manifesto that spells out where its funding will come from (namely, by gutting Labour's New Deal and Train to Gain schemes). The proposal is to combine all current assistance provided by the government - including Incapacity Benefit - into a single one-side-fits all programme, where the emphasis will be 'back-to-work'. Although the manifesto includes a pledge that those who cannot work due to disability 'continue to receive unconditional support', all those currently on Incapacity will be re-assessed, and it's likely that a lot of those previously considered elegible will be told they should start seeking work. Those suffering from mental ill health look to be specifically targeted by the scheme, given that the manifesto explicitly includes a pledge that the Access to Public Life Fund will be used to oppose mental health discrimination in employment. Small and medium-sized businesses will be paid £2,000 per head to hire new apprentices - an extension of the current 'work trials' scheme which I personally view as a gross betrayal of the British worker's right to receive pay for their labour, although any measure that creates more apprenticeships is ultimately going to have a positive impact. Unemployment benefits will be privatised - the companies running the scheme will only be paid when someone gets a job. Unfortunately, this is likely to lead to even more pressure on overqualified people to accept minimum wage or labouring positions. Despite Tory warnings about the Labour 'nanny state', a lot of emphasis is placed on service, mentoring, and training schemes - including the establishment of 'Service Academies' and 'Work Clubs', with young people asked to re-train for a different career after 6 months of unemployment.

Lastly, does the Conservative manifesto show the fingerprints of their big business donors? Most notoriously the two media colossi Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere have been persuaded to put aside their differences and convert their publications into what can only be described as campaign propaganda. Such wide-ranging support doesn't come without a price tag, and one might expect the Conservative agenda to include hints that they will tend to favour the interests of their backers should they achieve a majority. Indeed, several portions of the manifesto appear to have been written in direct conjunction with Murdoch and other industry goliaths. A very concilatory approach is proposed regarding reducing red tape on businesses - including limiting the government's powers so that it cannot establish new regulations or regulatory budgets on business without removing an existing rule. In a curious piece of doublethink, the Conservatives would 'promote and protect a strong and independent BBC'  - by auditing its assets and, presumably, selling off lucrative contracts to Sky &c. A precondition of the BBC being allowed to keep its license fee would likely be to reduce or remove its provision of free online news, preventing it from competing with Murdoch's publications (due to implement paywalls this June). An interesting suggestion in the manifesto is the creation of 'commercially viable local TV stations' - potentially similar to the US model. If successful this would create a lot more entry-level jobs in the media - however, one can't help wondering if the party has already promised that these local stations will be operated under the aegis of Murdoch's News International. The statement that local media ownership rules will be 'amended' tends to support the idea that this isn't going to favour independent journalism. No mention at all is made in the manifesto of the controversial Digital Economy Bill, which enshrines Internet censorship and digital surveillance as Government policy. Indeed, from my discussions with two Tory MPs regarding the legislation, it would appear that their only real objections to the Bill were that it didn't go far enough! For me this is one of the most critical issues of the day and to find absolutely no reference to copyright law or the rights of content creators and consumers in the Conservative manifesto is deeply disappointing.

Later today - the Labour manifesto.


My raw analysis of the Conservative manifesto - as in Part 1, I've grouped the policies into personal 'likes' and 'dislikes', representing not necessarily statements I agree or disagree with but also tough measures I consider necessary, places where I detect a note of falseness or evasion, etc. I've also added some personal comments explaining my positioning of a particular item or expressing my annoyance at self-contradictory or absurd material.

CONSERVATIVES:1.54 likes for every dislike
Like (196):
Fair deal on grants for charities and voluntary organisations providing public services.
Cut bureaucracy and paperwork on charities and make Gift Aid easier to use.
Enable parents to open new schools, let neighbours take over local ameneties, make police more accountable.
Cut down on admin costs on the National Lottery and make sure 'more' money goes to good causes.
Reduce red tape on businesses and establish 'one in one out' rule for new regulation and regulatory budgets.
Reduce the number of forms needed to register a new business.
Simplify business taxes & create a Office of Tax Simplification
Extend government contracts to small and medium-sized businesses. Target is 25% of contracts.
Implement Dyson's recommendations to boost science and engineering to make Britain the leading high-tech exporters in Europe.
Make small business relief automatic.
Create more diverse sources of available credit for small/medium businesses.
Cut the number of MPs by 10%
Reduce discrepancies between constituency electoral sizes.
Restore integrity of the ballot and make MPs more accountable to voters.
New rules on lobbying and tougher restrictions on ex-Ministers.
Cap on donations and broad reform on Party funding. End of the 'big donor' era.
Local reform - public can veto excessive council tax rises and demand local elections. Citizens can table legislation (well, maybe not this bit)
West Lothian Question resolved by ensuring issues only affecting England and Wales can only be 'passed with the consent' of their MPs.
Create four carbon capture/storage equipped power plants.
Deliver an offshore electricity grid.
Make wind farms more competitive.
Incentives for smaller-scale energy generation.
Impose supply guarantees on the gas and electricity markets.
New nuclear power - but see below.
Green Deal - every home up to £6,500 of energy improvement measures paid for out of fuel bill savings (i.e. tax?).
Post Office Card Account to be reformed on energy.
Challenges 'multiculturalism' and uncontrolled immigration - clear strategy for national immigration.
English a 'priority' for all communities - but not a requirement?
History a core requirement in schools (but what will the 'proper narrative' of British history be?)
Faith, voluntary and charitable groups to be supported on effectiveness
Greater recognition for St. George's Day.
'Unacceptable cultural practices' to be 'tackled'. Religious courts must act in accordance with Arbitration Act.
Reduce barriers to business growth and creative incentives for rural development.
Lift burden of unnecessary paperwork and inspections for British farmers.
Press for CAP reforms to improve sustainability of UK farming (hope to see topsoil depletion addressed)
Honest Food Campaign - improve honesty of food labelling.
Public procurement - schools and hospitals to serve British food.
Independent supermarket ombudsman to support both farmers and consumers.
More detailed data about crime in your area.
Make Britain European hub for high-tech, digital and creative.
Create a system of commercially viable local TV stations.
Nationwide 'superfast' broadband by 2017.
Match defence resources & commit to a Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Replace Trident and maintain the submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
NATO to remain cornerstone of defence.
Make 25% savings in running of the MoD.
Maximise troops' R&R
Dedicated military ward for injured servicepersons
Change rules for service voting legislation to ensure troops can votes
Scholarship for children of servicemen and women killed on active duty (unlike generic suggestion below, this is fair)
Review medal award scheme.
Cut waste without damaging frontline services. Plan to spend £6 billion less in 2010-11 than Labour plan
One year public sector pay freeze in 2011.
State pension age to rise sooner.
No more tax credits to families over £50,000
Child Trust Fund spending scrapped for all but poorest third.
Cap public sector pensions at £50,000
5% pay cut for Ministers followed by 5 year freeze.
Reform central gov and public services for higher productivity.
Financial discipline on civil service employment contracts and implement performance targets for senior civil servants.
Restore a savings culture and encourage retirement savings
Auto-enrolment into pensions for those on middle and lower incomes
Reverse over longer term the effects of the 1997 abolition of the divident tax credit for pension funds.
Consumer Protection Agency for consumer finance - free national finance advice service. Caps excessive store card interest rates, etc.
50p tax rate to stay on the rich and ask many public sector workers to accept a pay freeze.
Reform banking system. Bank of England to have more power to ensure financial stability. FSA to be abolished.
Depositors to be property protected from risky bank activities. Bank of England empowered to impose higher standards of care.
Crackdown on bank bonuses - cash paid out to be put onto banks' balance sheets to support new lending.
Responsibility Deal on waste for producers - but voluntary.
Improve flood defences and prevent more unnecessary building in areas of high flood risk.
Maintain national Green Belt and AONB protection.
Work to reduce litter.
National tree planting campaign.
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to encourage sustainable fishing practice.
Marine Conservation Zones - but will they affect the fishing industry?
EU should remain association of member countries - no federal Europe.
Legislation to forbid the government to hand over power to supernational organisations without a referendum (e.g. scrapping pound).
United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill - ultimate authority for laws stays in Britain.
Use of 'ratchet clauses' subject to Parliamentary approval. No European Public Prosecutor.
Restore national control over business and public service legislation - e.g. Working Time Directive.
Broader protection against EU judges - only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.
Open a new generation of good, small schools with small class sizes.
Link basic State pension to earnings, protect winter fuel payment, free bus passes and free TV Licenses
Freeze Council Tax for two years
Reform admin of tax credits to reduce fraud and overpayments.
More info and advice to parents, more stable funding for relationship councelling.
Review of family law for greater access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents.
Clampdown on inappropriate advertising to children, ban on advertising and vending machines in schools.
National Security Council to integrate foreign, defence, energy, home and international development.
Commitment to transatlantic alliance and focus on non-proliferation.
Reform of the United Nations
Healthcare to remain free at point of use and available based on need not ability to pay - but Conservative MPs think otherwise.
More transparency for the NHS.
Patients more right to choose GP.
Cut NHS bureaucracy (combined two points as, insultingly, they're the same thing)
Access to a GP guaranteed from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
Voluntary insurance system so people are no longer forced to sell their homes.
Abolish HIPs.
Accurate homelessness counts & homelessness as a Ministerial responsibility.
Reward councils for building more homes and promoting local economic growth by allowing them to keep more council tax & business rates.
Local Housing trusts to protect character of neighbourhoods and villages.
Stronger powers for councils to protect 'garden grabbing' and infill development in suburbs. More family homes with gardens.
Abolish regional planning. But will responsibility now be on local communities to protect the Green Belt?
Abolish Infrastruct Planning Commission. Return power to Secretary of State.
High-speed rail scheme to be authorised.
Abolish state powers to seize private homes.
Rein in powers of entry - e.g. council tax inspectors' right to enter your home.
Reduce net immigration to level of 1990s.
Annual limit on the numbers of non-EU economic migrants (but what about EU migrants?)
Dedicated Border Police Force
Tighten up student visa system.
Promote integration - English language test for anyone coming from outside the EU (but what about EU migrants?)
Independent Aid watchdog to monitor performance of international aid.
Results-based aid - money to be handed to governments only where it will make the biggest difference.
Conflict resolution to be given more importance in foreign policy.
New Deals and Train to Gain will have funding stripped away and reallocated to the Work Programme.
End the couple penalty in the tax credits system - paid for with welfare reform.
Youth Action for Work - funding apprenticeships and work pairings.
Work Together - connecting people with volunteering opportunities.
Incentive to repay student loan debts ahead of schedule.
Abolish tax on jobs created by businesses started in the first two years of each Tory government to encourage new entrepreneurs (and re-election)
Increase prison capacity to avoid the reintroduction of early release
Introduction of minimum sentences, after which a prisoner can 'earn their release' through participation in rehabilitation programmes.
'Roll back' the surveillance state (presumably they won't take down CCTV) and introduce more data protection
Scrap ID cards
Allow innocent people to 'reclaim' DNA from the DNA database - not automatic?
Scrap plans for a council tax revaluation and higher council tax bands.
Abolish the unelected regional assemblies, devolving all powers and funding to local partnerships of councils and business.
Increase transparency of local government - councils must publish online details of all spending and contracts over £500.
Allow councils to return to committee system, promote local ward budgets and allow local residents to petition for referendums on local issues.
Abolish plans for bin taxes, stop 'unfair' bin fines, and work to bring back weekly rubbish collections.
Support for the Sustainable Communities Act to devolve down local spending.
Review and consolidate counter-terrorism and security laws by Labour
Review the Preventing Violent Extremism Strategy to avoid radicalising Muslims
Ensure all pensioners receive a decent state pension (but how will it be funded?)
Give teachers more powers - abolish 24 hour detention notice, reform the exclusion process and give headteachers the power to ban items.
Raise educational standards - but remove political interference from GCSEs and A-Levels (?)
Move to a national per-pupil funding system.
Technocratic agenda?
Block plans to expand Heathrow and integrate it into the rail network instead. Block expansion at Stansted and Gatwick.
Reform Air Passenger Duty to encourage a switch to fuller planes.
Reform railways to tackle problems like overcrowding.
Electrification of the Great Western Line.
Empower the Rail Regulator.
Reform Network Rail to make it more accountable.
Moratorium on building on disused rail lines.
Stop central funding for fixed speed cameras, focusing instead on drugalyser tests, etc.
Crackdown on 'rogue clampers'.
Introduce a lorry road user charge to ensure foreign lorries contribute towards upkeep.
Fair Fuel Stabiliser regulations.
Create a national car recharging network to facilitate the switch to electric cars.
Partnerships between bus operators and councils.
Introduce an immediate freeze and inquiry into the Governments practice of back-rating businesses rates in ports.
Retain the tonnage tax.
Improve maritime training by creating apprenticeships.
Abolish 'many' of the Labour education quangos. Cut bureaucracy and inspections in colleges.
Delay the implementation of the new funding system for Universities and work with academics to ensure it works.
New strategy for tackling violence against women - e.g. preventative work in schools.
Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance to remain cash benefits. Individual budgets for disabled people to be extended.
Pledges those who cannot work due to disability to illness 'continue to receive unconditional support ... and will never be forced to work.'
Simplify assessment processes for accessing services for disabled children.
Preserve the Child Trust Funds for the disabled.
Stop the closure of special needs schools.
'Removal of the default retirement age in principle'.

Dislike (127):
'Big Society Bank' will confiscate unclaimed bank accounts and use the cash for neighbourhood groups and charities (erm, private property?)
National Citizen Service - a volunteering programme to get 16 year olds to develop skills and 'mix with people from different backgrounds'.
Promote the delivery of public services by social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups.
Train 'an army' of independent community organisers to assist in putting together social groups.
Transform civil service into a 'civic service' by encouaging civil servants to volunteer in social action projects (what the bleep?)
Create a new measure of well-being that takes into account the social value of state action (seriously, this is Marxism)
Use 'behavioural economics' to encourage people to donate more to charity.
Stop Labour's jobs tax.
Cut corporation tax rates by multiple pence, 'funded by reducing complex reliefs'. Murdoch, is that you?
Work For Yourself programme (oxymoron?) - will make entrepreneurs beholden to the government.
Work to establish a consensus for an elected House of Lords! (AAAAAARGH WHAT THE BLEEP IS THIS AM I READING THE LABOUR MANIFESTO?)
Introduce an 'emissions performance standard' to set a legal limit on emissions from ... power stations?!
Climate Change Levy reformed - 'floor price for carbon'.
'Smart grid' and 'smart meters' technology.
New nuclear power stations to receive no public subsidy (in other words, little better than the Lib Dem proposal).
More energy bureaucracy - every bill must include information on how to move to the cheapest tariff and energy use comparison data.
Combined Cadet Forces to be extended into state schools to 'provide a taste of military life'
'Tackle all extremism which promotes violence or hatred and challenge racism and bigotry in all its manifestations'. Meaningless drivel.
Rural communities to receive greater autonomy than suburbs?
More power for rural communities.
Address lack of affordable housing in rural communities whilst protecting countryside from development imposed by central gov. Seriously?
Lies about violent crime and gives the impression it has increased (without actually saying it).
Allow communities to elect a commissar who will set policing priorities.
'Amend local media ownership rules'. Hmm.
Require infrastructure providers to allow the use of their assets to deliver broadband (erm, private property?)
Promote and protect a strong and independent BBC ... by ensuring it is properly audited (and chopped up, and given to Murdoch)
Double operational bonus for troops in Afghanistan.
Include service children in plans for pupil premium in schools (the children of soldiers do not automatically deserve special treatment!)
'Reduce the deficit' - plunge into crippling debt more slowly!
Real terms annual increases in health spending and increase international dev spending to 0.7% of GNI (WE CANNOT AFFORD THIS YOU IDIOTS)
End compulsory annuitisation at 75 (it should be brought forward!).
Raise stamp duty threshold to £250,000, taking 9/10 first-time buyers out permanently (HOW ARE YOU FUNDING THIS?!)
Only millionaires to pay Inheritance Tax (MORE expensive commitments, plus this will encourage property 'snowballing')
Recognise marriage in tax system through transferable personal allowance (complicated and the government shouldn't be in this anyway)
Higher jobs tax threshold on employers - creates jobs but at what cost? MORE expensive commitments.
Floor under landfill tax until 2020.
Water industry reforms will 'encourage businesses and households to value this precious resource more highly'.
White Paper on protecting natural environment with emphasis on restoring habitat (at what red tape cost?)
'Conservation credits' - leave this to the charities you're supporting!
Tackle illegal logging ... in Britain. Yes, this is a serious issue that requires urgent legislation :(
Full opt-out from Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Improve Sure Start and increase Children's Centres services (yet MORE expensive commitments...)
Over 4,200 extra Sure Start health visitors (AAAAAARGH - you've just signed up another 4,200 public sector workers)
Flexible parental leave, including both parents taking time off simultaneously (stop this idiocy)
Right to flexible working for every parent with a child under eighteen (whut)
Recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system (no - the government needs to get out of this area altogether)
Free nursery care for preschool children. (yet MORE expensive commitments...)
'Our approach to foreign affairs is based on a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy. We are sceptical about grand utopian schemes...'
'Support liberal values and human rights' ... 'strong and effective relationship with China'.
'Act with moral authority in Foreign Policy' - meaningless tosh counts as a negative, I'm afraid.
Greater focus on prevention to reduce pressure on NHS - in other words, more nanny state.
Increase spending on the NHS every year (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOObudget)
More single rooms in the NHS (expensive and meaningless - just scrap mixed-sex wards, which I don't see a commitment to do here)
NHS dentist for a million more people - free dental checks for five-year-olds (salutary but more expense)
Housing - 'an end to boom and bust'. Wanna bet?
Strengthen shared ownership schemes. Tenants can gain equity which can be cashed in if they want to move up ladder.
National mobility scheme for good tenants in social sector properties. Right to Move scheme.
Protect and respect rights of social tenants. - meaningless tosh at best, at worst Orwellian control freakery.
Seriously - NO mention under Immigration of controlling migration from within the EU.
'Moral and practical imperative' to throw cash at failed states.
Committed to spending 0.7% of national income as aid by 2013.
Give people in poor countries more control over how aid is spent - oh, and British people get a say over 'some' of the aid, too.
£500 million to tackle malaria (expensive rot - just give them loads of DDT and give the UN the middle finger)
Achieve 'ambitious, pro-development global trade deals' - why do I suppose this won't be raw materials for manufactured goods?
The Work Programme - one single 'back-to-work' programme from everyone unemployed, including Incapacity Benefit. (WHAT THE BLEEP)
Greater support to young employed - referred to the work programme after six months of unemployment.
Privatise unemployment benefits - only paid when someone gets a job (yes, that won't result in overqualified people in labouring jobs at all)
Service Academies in hospitality and leisure will provide training places and work placements.
Work Clubs - nanny-state 'mentoring' and skills training.
10,000 new University places. (GAH)
Replacing the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights (sounds fishy)
Allow people with 'historic convictions for consensual gay sex to have those convictions removed'. What? If the law changes you can't retroactively have your convictions erased!
Community Right to Buy to allow local residents to take over vital local services or venues under threat of closure (erm, private property?).
Raise entry requirements for the teaching profession.
KS1 Sats replaced by a 'simple reading test'.
Longer franchises to incentivise private sector investment - and reduce accountability
'Crack down on' (presumably this means 'stop') road works. Whut. Especially during the current pothole insanity this is ridiculous.
More powers to local councils to 'get traffic moving' - sounds like a recipe for a patchwork of unenforceable congestion charges.
Transport Carbon Reduction Fund ... with no encouragement to use high-speed rail. Useless.
More attention given to the concerns of cyclists (MORE?)
'Give full weight to the benefits of low carbon projects in cost-benefit appraisals'. Short-sighted.
Pay small and medium-sized businesses £2,000 per head to hire new apprentices (hugely expensive and open to abuse)
'Expert career advice' in every secondary school and college, plus a new careers service for adults. Sounds horrifically expensive.
'A Conservative government will follow a joined-up, common sense approach to women's issues and make our society fairer for everybody.' Waffle.
Support and will recognise civil partnerships in the tax system.
'Outlaw the offence of inciting homophobic hatred'. Erm, what does that even mean. 'Outlaw the offence'? Does that mean it's no longer an offence?
'Empower the police and courts to combat racism'. They already have power to tackle racism. What new offences would this entail?
Mental health discrimination in Parliament to end, Access to Public Life Fund will assist the disabled in entering politics (?) - bizarre
'Tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality' by improving schools, supporting families, etc. We've heard this before...

No mention of a simple measure that would maintain the quality of pensioners' lives - forcing businesses to continue to accept bank cheques.

Additional pro/con:
CON: Many MPs in favour of dismantling NHS.
CON: Backers will press for dismemberment of the BBC.