Friday, 28 May 2010

The Intrusive Wireless Dongle from O2

As with the posting I wrote about ONN vacuum cleaners a while back, this one is the result of me having a difficult time with a particular electronic item.  As I have noted here, earlier this year I was living in a hotel.  It had wireless facilities but being a rambling place made up from linking together two hotels which themselves had started life as Victorian houses, it was often difficult to pick up the wireless connection.  Not wishing to spend my evenings simply surfing through reality shows, cookery programmes and soap operas, I got hold of an O2 dongle which the woman in my house had bought.  This allowed me to tap into the 02 wireless cloud over the town I was staying in.  The connection was not always brilliant but it worked and allowed me at times to connect to the hotel's wireless system too.  Of course, installing the O2 system disabled the built-in wireless system that came with the laptop when it was given to me by my boss.  When the hotel upgraded its wireless provision, I think going from G+ to at least N if not N+, I tried to go back to the original wireless connection from the computer, to save me money.  The O2 charges are not great, £15 for 1 month's connection and in fact my usage was so low compared to what they deemed normal usage for a month that it usually lasted me two months.  Anyway, removing the dongle and the software was not enough.  The laptop seemed to have given up on trying to connect to any wireless service and kept defaulting back to O2.  There is a way of doing it, but even bringing in people far more knowledgeable than myself we were unable to get it to return to the original set-up.  In the end I had to re-install the O2 connection and continue to use it.

Having lost my job, I had to return the laptop and tried again to restore the laptop to its previous settings so it could access my work's wireless network without using the dongle.  I failed.  I was able to strip out all the visible signs that I had used the O2 dongle but not get the setting back.  Fortunately the ICT staff at my work said they were going to 're-face' the laptop for another user.  I trust that they can get it back in a decent state, because I left with my dongle.  I should have been wary of using it again.  However, with everything being moved around in my house I fell back on it as an easy way to get internet connection for the computer that had been moved away from being wired into the BT Home Hub and was now dependent, for the first time, on a wireless connection.  This time it was even worse.  After one day of the dongle set-up working it decided it was not going to connect again.  Getting a wireless card fitted in the computer (which for some reason had never had one installed) meant that I should be able to access the home system, but of course the O2 set-up was not going to budge.  We stripped out the software and went through all guidance on re-installing the card's seeking of a wireless connection.  A woman who has uninstalled wireless connections from a number of laptops was brought in and spent over two hours battling with the system.

In the end the only solution was a system restore back to March 2010.  Of course, this now means I am sitting here getting all the updates to my software covering over two months.  So, if you are thinking of buying an O2 wireless dongle, please bear in mind that you may be locking yourself into a system that is incredibly difficult to remove if you choose to use a different set-up.  Other wireless dongles may also be as invasive as the O2 one, but that is the only one I can talk about from personal experience.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Dark Days Return

When Margaret Thatcher was kicked from office as prime minister by her own party in 1990, I really hoped that we would have seen the last of the nasty, selfish, hopeless days that we had seen when she came to power in 1979.  Throughout that period and as a direct result of her policies, Britain faced the highest unemployment it had ever seen, many industries disappeared and many people lived in poverty and others lost their homes.  Society became sharply divided and this was expressed by the numerous riots the UK experienced in the early 1980s.  Public service deteriorated as local authorities were compelled to take the lowest bidders for any service and they achieved this by paying poor wages; public bodies like utilities were broken off and sold off to the great benefit of speculators and already wealthy business people.  The rights of the individual were seriously eroded and it took almost another decade to even get some of these back.

Of course, after Thatcher we had seven years of John Major.  Whilst also a Conservative he did not pursue the assiduous campaign to undermine the UK.  He did not deny that society existed in the way Thatcher had done and for much of the time he had too small a majority to introduce forceful policies, though railways were privatised much to the detriment of the British economy and society.  Some of us hoped that he would fall in 1992, the last time the UK ever had a chance for a Socialist government, but through scare tactics and electoral irregularities the Conservatives remained in power until replaced by the Christian Democrat, New Labour Party which came to power in 1997.  Of course, by then the 'centre' of British politics had moved far to the right of where it had been in 1975 and now privatised utilities, even an independent Bank of England were seen as acceptable.  New Labour did introduce the minimum wage and signed up to the Social Chapter provided by the European Union but its other policies such as electoral reform and removal of the unelected House of Lords were soon dropped.

Now we have a coalition government, but as William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary noted, the 'bulk' of the Conservative election manifesto will be put into effect.  Tactical voters like myself who voted for the local Liberal Democrat candidate they thought might keep the Conservatives out of a seat now feel utterly stupid.  Effectively anyone wanting progressive approaches has no voice in this country.  Of course, that is precisely what the wealthy like Lord Ashcroft and other corrupt ultra-rich want.  The election of New Labour in 1997 was no restoration of democracy, given the deals Tony Blair had to make to get into power, it, in fact marked a further step in the erosion of the influence of ordinary people on politics.  With David Cameron in charge control of politics and the economy is now more blatantly in the hands of the elites than it has probably been since Sir Alec Douglas-Home, a former lord, left office in 1964.  Cameron is far less 'ordinary' than even Margaret Thatcher.  Fortunately a number of his 'babes', young, glamorous, privileged candidates parachuted into constituencies did not get elected, but there are are tens of MPs who owe their position to Cameron and will follow him devotedly the way Blair was able to build a large coterie of devotee MPs around him when he came to power in 1997.

Even with my fear of the Cameron government I was startled at how fast he has moved to further damage democracy, by moving to 5-year fixed term parliaments and making the dissolution of parliament require a 55% majority rather than a 1 vote majority.  Yes, of course, this brings stability in the way that a dictatorship brings stability by doing away with those tiresome things called elections.  It is interesting that even Conservative MPs are opposing this step, barely days into Cameron's government.  I just pray they give him a hard time over this threat to our polity.  Cameron seems to combine all the worst of Tony Blair with the worst of Margaret Thatcher.  This means not only will he pursue policies that will put millions of us out of work and hundreds of thousands to lose their houses, but he will expect thanks for all the suffering he is putting us through and like Blair be surprised when we complain about what he has done. 

I hope that my expectations do not come true.  I hope the Liberal Democrats and even Conservative backbench MPs can rein in Cameron's Frankenstein's monster of New Labour media manipulation, Thatcherite economic policies and an elitist focus on carrying out policies that benefit the already highly privileged.  However, what I see at least is a return to the 1980s with mass unemployment and as a result social discontent leading to increased racism and rioting.  I hate to think of how many wasted years we have ahead of us in which the average person is going to have to battle week after week just to keep a job and somewhere to live.  People have analysed how much the people born just before and during the Thatcher period have suffered throughout their lives.  I really pity the children of today who from this week onward will have their lives blighted as education and health funding is slashed.  In the course of a day, the opportunities of millions were closed down.  From now it will be the privileged who get the job, who get that place at university, not the average young person who will be marched into whatever schemes Cameron and his lackeys think up, notably the military-style national service for 16-year olds that he has already promised on numerous posters.  Cameron seems to have been raiding Mussolini's handbook for policies.  I can only hope that the day will come when I am among the crowd cheering as Cameron is strung up by his feet in Westminster.  In the meantime we have to mourn yet another lost generation blighted by economic and social policies aimed at benefiting the very rich and in particular enabling them to deny opportunities and exploit the average person in the UK. 

Emigrate now.  How many people wished they had left Nazi Germany sooner? Leave now before the UK is turned into an utter wasteland populated by a bullied people struggling just to survive as the privileged literally lord it over them as we take step after step to an authoritarian regime.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

What If Proportional Representation Had Been Used in the May 2010 UK General Election?

Back in March 2008 I produced a posting about the differences in the British political scene if a form of proportional representation had been introduced in 1918 when it had been considered by the government of the day:
This showed that the UK would have had a three-party system for much of its history and that certain extreme and regional parties would have gained seats and that for most of the time there would have been coalitions.  Of course, the very fact that proportional representation was in place most likely would have led to different parties appearing or the greater fragmentation of the three main parties.  Now with a coalition government or a minority government the only two options for government at least for the next few months and possibly, the introduction of proportional representation as the price of Liberal Democrat support either for the Conservatives or Labour it is interesting to discuss how different things might have been if back in 1997, in line with what Tony Blair promised, proportional representation had been introduced and this 2010 election had been under that format.

The approach I adopt is quite crude, it equates the percentage of the vote to the percentage of seats in parliament that the party would win.  This is basically the goal of proportional representation systems, but there are different types that have slightly different outcomes in any given case and there remain factors such as the size of constituency; currently in the UK system Scotland has more seats at Westminster than it would be entitled to if the constituencies were allocated strictly on a population basis and a proportional representation system would not be immune to such distortiones either.  Anyway, it remains an interesting exercise and allow us to compare with the same analysis that I have applied to earlier elections.

In the following list the first number is what the party would have got under a proportional representation sustem and the number in brackets is the number of seats that the party actually achieved.  Voting in the Ryedale constituency in Yorkshire has been delayed until 27th May as the UKIP candidate, John Boakes died during the election, so this seat will retain its current MP until then.

2010: 649 seats [Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition]
  • Conservatives: (36.1%); 235 seats  [306]
  • Labour (29.0%); 189 seats  [258]
  • Liberal Democrats (23.0%); 150 seats [57]
  • UKIP (3.1%); 20 seats [0]
  • BNP (1.7%); 12 seats [0]
  • SNP (1.7%); 11 seats [6]
  • Green (1%); 7 seats [1]
  • Plaid Cymru (0.6%); 4 seats [3]
  • English Democrats (0.2%); 1 seat [0]
Northern Irish Parties:
  • DUP (0.6%); 5 seats [8]
  • Sinn Fein (0.6%); 5 seats [5]
  • SDLP (0.4%); 4 seats [3]
  • Alliance (0.1%); 1 seat [1]
  • Ulster Conservatives & Unionists - New Force (0.3%); 2 seats [0]
In Northern Ireland a form of proportional representation is used anyway, which is why the figures are not massively different.  The big gainers would be the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (who must win the prize for the longest party name), probably at the expense of the DUP.

With proportional representation across the UK, the situation would not be massively different to what we have now, i.e. the Conservatives would be the largest party but lack an outright majority, there being 409 seats in the hands of other parties.  The key difference would be that the Liberal Democrats would have almost three times as many seats as they won in reality and together with Labour or with the Conservatives would make a strong coalition.  In fact, being only 39 seats behind Labour they would almost be equals in a coalition rather than a junior partner.  As would have been the case at all elections since the 1970s, the nationalist parties of SNP and Plaid Cymru would clearly benefit from proportional representation and the Green Party would now be of the size the Liberals were in UK politics in the 1950s and 1960s.  

Of course, if proportional representation had been in force since the late 1990s, let alone since 1918 they could have become an established party in the 1980s when they had an upswing of support and by now at least as important as the SNP or Plaid Cymru.  The far right in British politics represented by UKIP and the fascist BNP would have been returned with a sizeable bloc.  I doubt the Conservatives would have worked with BNP, but, given how Eurosceptic David Cameron was, he certainly could have come to an agreement with UKIP.  This result would have more accurately reflected UKIP support in the country in line with their European election result of 17 MEPs.  No wonder UKIP wanted a hung parliament and the chance of proportional representation.

If you look back at the analysis I did of previous elections, what is interesting is that for these smaller parties we see a maintenance or improvement in their number of seats.  For example with proportional representation in 2005 we would have seen 17 UKIP seats, 7 Green seats and 5 BNP.  The BNP getting 7 additional seats in 2010 under this system over what they would have won in 2005, shows us not to be complacent about their support.  The Greens might have been frustrated to remain on 7 seats.  However, given that they have managed to get 1 seat even on our current system, I think they would have been as credible for longer and, especially at this election, tactical voters may have turned to them rather than one of the larger parties.

What is interesting is the lack of any left-wing parties.  Both Socialist Labour and Socialist Alliance would have got 1 seat if proportional representation had been in place in 2005 but still would have received none in 2010.  I suppose this represents the meltdown of the Socialist Labour Party before the election was called and even the weakness of support for the Scottish Socialist Party who polled only 0.1% of the vote and would have got no seats in contrast to 2005 when under proportional representation they would have achieved 2 seats.  The Respect-Unity Party, led by radical Labourite George Galloway who returned 1 MP in 2005, himself, also fell away probably as charismatic George was not standing and in East London support for the mainstream Labour Party strengthened throughout.  It seems that for the moment Socialism is dormant as a party political creed in British politics. 

Despite the bankers portrayal of Brown as risking old-fashioned Labour principles, since the era of the Thatcher Consensus, in fact, at best his policies are old fashioned Beveridge-Keynes Liberalism rather than anything even approaching Socialism.  There is a quotation from the mid-20th century that Britian is a Conservative country that occasionally votes Labour, but now that does not seem to be the case as Labour of today is really just the Liberals of yesterday rebranded.  Of course, I would love to see some radical policies in this financial crisis to really seize back power from the bankers who exploit us and get us to foot the bill for their profitable (only for them) playing with the economy, but no-one dare off such policies these days.

So, proportional representation would not have delivered us a majority government and we would be having the same kind of negotiations now that we would be seeing at the moment, the major change being that the Liberal Democrats would be so much more powerful than they are with about a third of the seats they would expect under another system.  Certainly UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens would be sensible to campaign for proportional representation as, once they had a foothold, the way the Liberals were able just to maintain for many years, from that standing they could grow to be real players in the political system.  Of course, BNP would benefit too, even if they found it difficult to tolerate such a 'foreign' system as proportional representation.  I would only hope that the left-wing parties could cobble together a sufficiently strong party to get such a foothold but that now seems more remote than it has been even in recent elections. 

The presence of parties especially on the fringes, does influence policy-making by the major parties as has been seen with anti-immigration approaches to try to recapture votes from the BNP.  What I would also hope to see would be other specific parties, hopefully a Socialist Party, no doubt a Countryside Alliance party, a Cornish Party, a Grey (i.e. elderly) Party, a Stop The War or Anti-Nuclear Weapons Party, perhaps a Women's Party (given that they are the majority in the population but a tiny minority of the MPs), perhaps an Islamic Party.  In recent years we have seen independents often focused on local or other single issues becoming MPs and proportional representation, most likely, would benefit them, though with larger constituencies would remove that local link necessary for some.  Countries with proportional representation allow a range of voices to be heard and despite the mainstream parties saying they represent the broad population, this is in fact not the case, despite the token MPs from ethnic minorities or women.  This would promote engagement with politics more regularly not just when a crisis seems to be imminent, and for true democracy, such continued engagement is necessary.

P.P. 23/04/2011: What If AV Had Been Used In The May 2010 UK General Election?
With the referendum on the adoption of the Alternative Vote (AV) system to replace the current First Past the Post (FPTP) system, I have been reading material on what impact having had AV for the May 2010 general election would have had.  AV is a very mild form of proportional representation so its impact would not have led to a vastly different outcome to the one achieved by FPTP, but there would have been some differences.  Research by the University of Essex suggests that 43 constituencies out of 649 would have returned a different MP to the one they did.  The greatest impact would have come in London, Scotland, Yorkshire, South Wales and South-West England.  Interestingly the two constituencies covering Oxford would have both returned Liberal Democrat MPs rather than one Labour and one Conservative.  Of course, with AV in place people may have voted differently to how they did using FPTP and it is likely that smaller parties not featured in this analysis would have received more support. 

Anyway, taking the broad brush approach of this posting, the following would have been how the results, most likely would have turned out for the three main parties, had AV been used.  Note that Northern Ireland already uses the more proportionally representative STV system anyway.  In addition, the university analysis does not reflect the changes for smaller parties such as the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.  Thus, for this table, I have left all the parties, bar the three largest, unaltered.  However, the fact that changes would have impacted in Scotland and Wales in particular, there is a good chance that the votes for the SNP and Plaid Cymru would have been affected too. As before, the actual figures are shown in [ ]; I also bring down the figures if a greater proportional system was used, these are shown in { }.  The percentages are how much of the vote that the party actually received under FPTP:

2010: 649 seats [Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition]
Conservatives: (36.1%);  283 seats [306] {235}
Labour (29.0%); 249 seats [258] {189}
Liberal Democrats (23.0%); 88 seats [57] {150}
UKIP (3.1%); [0] {20}
BNP (1.7%); [0] {12}
SNP (1.7%); [6] {11}
Green (1%); [1] {7}
Plaid Cymru (0.6%); [3] {4}
English Democrats (0.2%); [0] {1}

Northern Irish Parties:
DUP (0.6%); [8] {5}
Sinn Fein (0.6%); [5] {5}
SDLP (0.4%); [3] {4}
Alliance (0.1%); [1] {1}
Ulster Conservatives & Unionists - New Force (0.3%); [0] {2}

Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats would have benefited, gaining a total of 19 seats from the Conservatives and 12 from Labour.  Labour would have gained 11 seats from the Conservatives and lost 1 seat to them, but its gains would have been outweighed by the Liberal Democrat gains.  Ultimately, even with AV, the political situation in May 2010 would have been the same as we experienced with FPTP.  Neither the Conservatives nor Labour could have commanded a majority unless they worked with the Liberal Democrats.  Consequently, we most likely would still have ended up with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that we saw for real in 2010, only with the Liberal Democrats slightly more numerous, but still with less than a third of the seats held by the Conservatives.
The main difference that a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition would have had a clear majority without involving other parties, a situation which was not the case in our 2010.  Interestingly, UKIP perhaps is another party which would benefit from AV, especially given its good showing at the 2011 Barnsley by-election.  This may split the Conservative vote, or have potentially offered a different coalition partner for the Conservatives.  You can see why the Conservatives and even many Labour supporters are ambivalent towards AV as it will certainly shift seats from them to the Liberal Democrats.  Thus, looking simply at party interests it would be foolish approach.  However, for all of those people who have voted for the Liberal Democrats only to see their vote not even attempted to be represented in parliament, moving to a fairer system is a necessary step.  

In addition, it is clear from the relative popularity of the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru that there are other broader interests receiving minimal or no representation despite the votes for them.  As I have noted before, FPTP discourages the appearance of political parties which actually speak to sizeable sections of the constituency.  Sitting to the left of the Labour Party, I certainly feel that no party even comes close to addressing the kind of concerns I have.  Having no chance of representation means parties focused on such voters do not appear, and, in turn, the other parties are not even prompted to address concerns of chunks of the electorate.

Lack of Political Maturity in the UK

Well, we had lots of certainties in the 2010 UK general election.  First it was that David Cameron would walk into office without even really having to think up any policies.  Then we had the idea that there would be a hung parliament and finally that somehow the Liberal Democrats would turn back the clock to 1906 and push Labour into third place.  As Norma Tebbit, a man I loathe, noted in 'The Guardian' today, in part David Cameron lost the election more than Gordon Brown did.  Brown was part of the party that had been in power for 13 years, he looks weary and is not charismatic, but still, Cameron could not defeat him outright.  Partly, it was because of the distorted electoral system in the UK so that despite gaining 2 million more votes than Labour and securing 36.5% of the vote compared to 29%, the Conservatives only managed to get 48 more seats than Labour.

One notable thing about this election is that in many heartland seats both Labour and Conservative more people turned out to support the existing MP or their successor from the same party, than they did in 2005.  It is good for democracy that more people voted, some constituencies were seeing a 73% turnout which is almost unheard of in Britain.  Of course, a lot of these extra votes were 'wasted' because in the UK you only need to win a single vote more than your opponent to win the seat.  Gaining an extra 5-10,000 votes in a constituency is not going to give you anything extra.  This trend was seen most in Scotland where the pattern of representation barely changed and the Conservatives still only have a single seat.  What the party leaders did well, certianly Cameron and Brown, was to alert their core supporters to the fact that if they did not get out and vote they risked having their opponents come to power.  This undermined the surge of the Liberal Democrats.  The tactical voters and their own smaller constituency still turned out, but they were now rather over-shadowed by an upswing in the number of traditional Labour and Conservative voters supporting their natural party.  Greater apathy, as is typical in British elections, ironically, would have benefited the Liberal Democrats.  Ironically, not getting as many seats as they 'deserved' might finally make at least some Conservatives see the benefits of a changed electoral system.

The hung parliament had been discussed and certainly was analysed by all the parties before Thursday's result.  However, the exact figures needed to be in to find out what needed to be done.  We could easily have seen a Conservative government brought to power by the 8 Ulster Unionists if Cameron had only fallen a little short of the figure he needed, hence his visit to Ulster last week.  In addition, with the Liberal Democrats having increased 10-20 seats as I thought they might, rather than drop 5 to 57, they would have been the real kingmakers as at present if all the 'Others' went over to the Conservatives, unlikely I know but still mathematically possible, they could out-vote even a Liberal-Labour combination.  On this basis I heard one Conservative ranting that Brown should not even be trying to form a government and should step aside, unaware that Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Green MP, the SDLP MPs and the Alliance MP (a Northern Irish party closely aligned with the Liberal Democrats) would vote against the bulk of Conservative legislation, especially public sector cuts.

Britain is not familiar with coalitions, they are seen as something weak and even more damning, foreign.  It is ironic that Britain has had coalitions at the times of greatest challenge: during the First and Second World Wars and during the Depression.  The UK was ruled by a coalition for 21 years of the 20th century, in which time it managed to win two world wars.  I suppose the fact that the last coalition ended in 1945 and the last attempt at a 'pact' ended in 1978 means that because 'the past is a foreign country' even these aspects of British history are perceived by today's electorate as being alien.  Minority governments are weak and whilst people point to the example of 1974, there is also the steps towards a minority government that John Major faced as prime minister in the lead up to the 1994 election.  The Liberal Democrats had said they would not enter a coalition and would come to deals over particular policies.  However, the British, unfamiliar with coalitions as they are would be better served by a proper coalition rather than a limping minority government.

Where the lack of political maturity comes in, is how the public and the media cannot tolerate the deals that are being worked out at present.  In continental Europe and further afield, including in New Zealand, such negotiations are common.  There are benefits in a government which represents a wider range of opinion and it tempers the kind of extreme policies the 'elective dictatorship' of the UK has seen in the past.  The right-wing newspapers who insisted that Cameron had won and now insist that he should be in office, do not want this complication.  They have done all they can to sweep Brown away and despite their slurs and whining, they too were not able to convince the bulk of the population that he had to go.  In fact, those who will suffer most from the cutbacks the Conservatives are lining up, clung to him even tighter than before.  Whether Cameron or Brown is the next prime minister, the British public needs to grow up.  Politics is an adult game, and there is no place for stamping your feet and sulking because the simple picture too many Conservatives painted all along, has not become real.  Just because you are indignant and somehow expect Brown to disappear in a cloud of smoke, it will not happen.  Negotiations are not 'shabby deals' as I saw them described on the front of one right-wing newspaper.  Clearly they expect the Liberal Democrats to say 'yes, Mr. Cameron, you are entirely right, we are wrong, we support everything you want to do, without challenge'; that is never going to happen.

Now the work begins.  Even if Cameron becomes prime minister of a minority government any piece of legislation could be voted down, so I do not see the sharp cuts he has been lusting for coming into force any day soon, especially if, as seems likely there will be an election this Autumn.  The British public has thrown itself into this election in a way it has not done for many years, but the expectation that the outcome is going to be neat and tidy is deluded and betrays the immaturity of too much of the electorate.  To a great degree this is fostered by the constant portrayal of any other political system in Europe or further afield as 'weak' or 'unnatural'.  There is a real snobbery that the UK system is the best and no other is worth even considering, despite the fact that you have to get outside the EU before you can find a system less democratic than ours (remember half of our parliament is unelected; and the head of state is a hereditary position).  Grown up Britain and engage with the whole political process and do not sulk because it did not go the way you wanted the first time round.

There are a couple of other things I would note.  First is, as in 1992, when Labour was in with a chance of gaining power, there were electoral irregularities.  This time round people being turned away from voting, sometimes on discriminatory grounds (students in Sheffield were given their own longer line to queue to vote, whereas other voters were able to vote more quickly) and often insufficient ballot papers were printed.  This is because too many returning officers had become complacent that never more than 55%, perhaps 60% but never 73% of the electorate would turn out.  That is incredibly patronising.  Given that some majorities of both Labour and Conservative MPs are smaller than the numbers of people turned away from polling stations, I trust we will have some re-run ballots in some locations, though I imagine the issue will be fudged, again showing how rickety a democracy we live in.  Fortunately the civil liberties group, Liberty seems to be mounting legal challenges.  This is the kind of problem you expect in Third World countries where democracy is new, not a country like this which has had universal suffrage for over 80 years.

The one joyous piece of news is the failure of the BNP to gain any ground.  This is reported as weakening the party and I hope it is now terminally ill.  Saying this, if they are patient, proportional representation may let them get a path to some MPs, though UKIP will probably be in the queue ahead of them.  However much I loathe the thought of BNP MPs I know, as was proven the case very clearly in Barking at this election, such a threat gets parties, notably Labour, to raise their gain and tackle the issues that drive support to the BNP.

At the end of the day, the run on the stock exchange when Cameron did not win an outright majority shows how little we the electorate actually control our democracy.  Financiers are insisting on a government being assembled by Monday threatening to disrupt the economy even further if it is not formed.  Of course, historically there was always a 'run' on the pound whenever a Labour government was elected.  Blair had to win over the ultra-rich to stand any chance of coming into power in 1997.  Now we are being told that the financiers will not accept any government that will not cut public spending sharply and they are upset that Brown who supports a Keynesian rather than monetarist approach to the banking crisis even remains on the scene.  So, basically, even millions of us (30 million people voted on Thursday) have far less clout in terms of determining the next government that a couple of hundred bankers.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Skill of the Past: Using a Cassette Recorder

Having been literally bullied sick by my boss, whose picking up on small things I may have said weeks earlier and then assembling them into a file which apparently demonstrates my unprofessionality (if there is such a word) despite her committing many of the same 'offences' such as receiving personal phonecalls at work, has driven my blood pressure so high as to leave me debilitated.   Back at home I am obviously seeing more of the woman and her 8-year old son who live in my house than of recent when I have primarily been living in another town in the very social class divisive South-West of England.  Anyway, the boy came to me the other day because his mother had said that I might have something him to record music with.  Neither his mother nor I are in a position to buy him a minidisc or MP3 recorder which would be the modern type of system.  However, I did remember that stored away in the shed was a hand-held cassette recorder that I used to use in the 1990s for recording interviews.  It was not one of those mini-cassette recorders that people used as dictaphones back then, it takes full-sized cassettes.  We have had a few machines around the house that take cassettes and my car which is now 14 years old takes them too.  However, I would not know where to go to buy a blank cassette and the only place you can get music on cassette is in the cheaper charity shops like those associated with hospices rather than the big national charities.  Surprisingly quickly I found the machine.  Usually it takes a couple of hours for me to sift the stuff stored in the shed only to remember that I gave the thing away a few months earlier.  I so regret giving away my copy of the 'Talisman' board game when I left Milton Keynes.  The boy in my house would have loved it and even if he had not given the number of expansions I had to the original I could have sold it for over £100; the basic game sells for around £30 on eBay and rare expansion sets for over £200.

I have heard that following the concern in the 1970s that traditional skills were being lost we now have more thatchers in the UK than we have work for.  Every episode of 'Time Team' over its sixteen years seems to have drawn on a different craftsman/woman able to make pottery or mosaics the way the Romans did or weave or make swords the way the Saxons did or cook or dance the way the Tudors did.  It seems that we have sufficient guardians of the 'old ways' for now.  However, what this incident with the cassette recorder showed me was how fast other technology-dependent skills are being lost.  I suppose if, like my grandparents I had lived from the 1910s to the 1980s I would have seen many skills that were no longer needed as mechanisation of all aspects of our life, notably in the home, advanced without cease.  Technology dates very quickly.  I remember the acclaim that the University of Hull received back in 1986 for putting the Domesday Book on its 900th anniversary into computer format.  By the end of the 1990s no-one had computers that could access those files (though ironically people can still read the original book).  This year it was announced that a project to update the computer files was complete.  I wonder how long it will be before these are obsolete.

What I was surprised was that a child whose reading age is well advanced compared to his physical age and is able to programme the Freeview box, search the internet for downloadable games and asks me if I use Google and Word, found it so tricky to operate a cassette recorder.  I realised that the key challenge came from that the rules of cassette recorder are mechanical rather than electronic.  He quickly mastered pressing the 'Record' and the 'Play' buttons together in order to record.  He worked out he needed 'Fast Forward' and 'Rewind' because he is familiar with video cassettes, though even his 2-year old cousin has grown up in a world without them.  What the 8-year old could not get was the concepts of how the cassette machine worked.  When he rewound to find what he had recorded, he asked 'doesn't it know where the music is?'.  Naturally on an MP3 recorder it would know.  I had to teach him about looking at the spools and how far they had wound on and matching it against the little indicators on the front panel.  This recorder had no counter but I must say I have not seen one with a counter in twenty years.  Then he complained that the music had been lost and we found out that in switching cassettes he had put it back to play the B side rather than the A side on which he had recorded the music.  He has never encountered a recording storage item with two sides.  DVDs have one side, CDs have one side, even archaic video cassettes only have one side (unless someone can show me a Phillips cassette from the early 1980s; anyone remember them?).  He even had difficulty opening the cassette box as it looks different to a DVD or CD box.  To me it was a matter of a flick of my thumb but I had to demonstrate a skill that very few people in the world know how to do.

I guess all of this is simply a reflection of me getting old.  I do not feel incapable of operating successfully using current devices but I have probably not slipped into the assumptions about all technology based on what is currently the norm.  Perhaps in the future we will be surprised to find we used to have press buttons (even if these are increasingly simply squares on the screen rather than actual physical buttons) and not command a device by our voice or our thoughts.  I do think it is worthwhile making a record of those little skills that we never even thought about when using them, such as the rules and norms around operating a cassette recorder (the fact that you will not get 'disk read error' but that the tape might snap) and a score of other devices which were once part of everyone's home and are now going the way of the upright washing machine and the valve (and even the transistor) radio.

Monday, 3 May 2010

'What If?'s of the 'Sliders' Television Series: Part 3

Back in the Summer of 2009 I looked at the television series, 'Sliders' which was the series to feature more 'what if?' worlds than any other.  See: and   I considered the different worlds the characters visited in the first three series which ran 1995-8 in the USA.  There were two remaining series first shown up to 2000.  Unlike the first three series I do not think the final two were shown in the UK, certainly not on any channel except some obscure satellite one that I was not able to receive, so I am far more dependent when commenting on these series by what I have found on the internet about them rather than mixing that with my own memories.

These final two series were more traditionally science fiction in nature focusing on the characters able to 'slide' between worlds battling against the cruel alien Kromaggs and a lot of the worlds featured were ones that had been impinged upon by the Kromaggs rather than having differences stemming from human action or some different evolution or development of the Earth to the version that we know.  I think it is worthwhile, however, picking among those episodes from the final two series which continued the counter-factual approach of the first three series.  I will not go into detail about the various Kromagg versions of Earth as there are only so many 'Earth enslaved/wrecked by aliens' that you need to explore.

Indian Biker California
In this California which the sliders stay in briefly they encounter Indian biker gangs.  This is different to the biker gangs you tend to encounter in our world who tend to be Caucasian.  There are around 2.7 million people in the USA who are descended from people coming from India (they tend to be called Asian Indians in the USA to distinguish from Amerindians).  They tend to be located in East coast cities, Texas, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco.  There is no reason why, for some reason, Asian Indian youth of California might begin organising themselves into biker gangs, perhaps to rebel against their parents or society.  The suggestion, though, is that the Asian Indian population of the USA is higher, perhaps because America remained longer in the British Empire and Indians were brought to it or due to some policy or event, say as a result of a Japanese invasion of India during the Second World War, more Indians have come to the West coast of the USA.

California of the Oracle
In this story, San Francisco and possibly farther afield is in the control of a religious fundamentalist group called The Oracle.  Whilst the religious leaders have access to technology that allows them to 'slide' between parallel worlds they keep the population's access to technology severely restricted.  Those who oppose the regime, such as the Radical Rationalists, face being 'reconfigured' having a kind of chemical brain washing or are executed through cremation.  This alternative is again based on the assumption that big organised religion restricts technological development. 

As we know from history, parts of California were involved in attempts by the Mormons to set up a separate religious state.  San Francisco in the hippie era of the 1960s and modern day Los Angeles both have been prone to having alternate religions gain influence.  It seems that somehow this religion has gained control over the region, perhaps across North America.  Interestingly, despite the persistence of many religions, theocracies have been pretty rare in history, but it does not mean they are impossible.  Perhaps some threat encouraged people to turn to the religion.  Certainly they could have gained supporters if they had access to technology of the kind that the sliders use which would allow them to do the 'impossible' and draw on resources from parallel worlds.  Commentators suggest that voter apathy combined with a more religious heritage (Abraham Lincoln's more secular liberalism is not known here) have allowed a fundamentalist group to come to power.

Samurai Imagery California
This is seen in passing so there is little to material to go on.  However, it seems that traditional Japanese culture is prevalent in the California of this alternate.  Perhaps this is because Japan did not cut itself off from the outside world for over two hundred years and Japanese settlers came to California at a time when the Europeans were only beginning to gain ground, though saying that by the 1630s when Japan closed itself off, Spain had already been in the Americas for 140 years.  Perhaps the success of the Japanese economy in the 1980s has made Japanese culture dominant across the world or especially popular in the USA.  Maybe Japan held more of the territory it gained during the Second World War and California is on the edge of a Japanese-dominated Pacific Ocean.

Tropical California
Again this is only a briefly mentioned world before the sliders go to an Earth in which humans have wrecked the planet through throwing every weapon they had fending off the Kromaggs.  It seems that California is more lush than in our world and its culture owes more to Hawaii.  Perhaps it has fragmented into islands in the way as was seen in the story at the end of series three.  The spread of Polynesian culture to California certainly would have been possible especially if European penetration of California had been delayed.  If the climate of California was more tropical, perhaps due to a different location of the continents, tilt of the Earth or simply different currents in the oceans, then they would have felt at home in California making it have more in common with Hawaii than it does in our world.

Tribal World
This is a world where technology has not advanced as fast as in our world.  There are many ways in which that could have happened.  Technological development was never a foregone conclusion.  Throughout history there has been prejudice against technology, and, as the 'Sliders' writers show on occasion, religion has often been opposed to technological developments.  These factors or things such as a shortage of food (only the city states in fertile areas were able to move forward technology, writing, etc. in prehistoric times) may have left people living in undeveloped tribes.

Virtual Reality World
In contrast, the next world that the sliders visits is some years ahead of ours in that it has very sophisticated virtual reality devices that make people feel they are really in the world they want to visit.  The character Rembrandt visits a virtual reality setting in which he is a successful family man and Quinn indulges in a sexual encounter with the woman he has long fantasised over.  Unsurprisingly such technology is addictive.  You see how much time people spent on Facebook, World of Warcraft or a string of online or DVD-based games or even blogging, often neglecting to eat so when we have technology that allows you to really feel you are in your fantasy environment it will be difficult for people to tear themselves away from.  I love wandering around 12th century Damascus when I simply watching it through playing 'Assassin's Creed' on my laptop, how much harder would it be to break away from it when I felt I was really there.  I guess this technology, which has featured in series such as diverse as 'Star Trek: The Next Generation', 'Red Dwarf' and 'Code Lyoko' will be with us soon, so this world is probably only a couple of decades ahead of us in terms of technological development.

The World of 'The Man Who Would Be King' with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart
This is a fascinating minor alteration.  In our world the movie 'The Man Who Would Be King' was made in 1975 and starred Sean Connery and Michael Caine, two of the most prominent British actors of the time.  It was based on the short story by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1888.  Set in Afghanistan, it is the story of a  British soldier who rises to become a local ruler and was based on similar true events in Borneo.  Apparently, the director of the 1975 movie, John Huston (1906-87) had planned to do a version of the movie in the 1940s featuring Bogart and Gable.  In the USA a radio dramatisation of it was broadcast as part of the programme 'Escape' (1947-54) though neither Bogart (1899-1957) or Gable (1901-60) ever participated in that story.

One could certainly envisage that they might have featured in a movie adaptation of the story.  Bogart's 'African Queen' (1951) and 'The Caine Mutiny' (1954) are of the kind of Imperial adventure of this kind.  Gable appeard in 'Mutiny on the Bounty' (1935) as a British naval officer, and played a range of characters, including a Dutch resistance fighter in his time.  So, it is quite possible in the late 1940s or early 1950s that Gable and Bogart could have been partnered to appear in a British imperial epic of this kind.  Perhaps it would have come in 1950 when a movie of Kipling's 'Kim' serial (1900-1) was made featuring another pre-war Hollywood legend, Errol Flynn (1909-59).  Anyway, in this alternate world Huston has made a version of 'The Man Who Would Be King' with Gable and Bogart but it is so rare that people would kill to own a copy of it.

Empty World/Duplicate Population World
These two worlds are connected as by tampering with his sliding device the Quinn of the first world has accidentally shifted its entire population to another version of Earth, so instantly doubling its population and completely overloading the planet to the extent that it has fallen into chaos and California seems to be a series of fiefdoms ruled over by thuggish warlords protecting the scarce resources, a little in the Mad Max III (1985) style.  This is less of a 'what if?' than exploration of a science fiction device.  Of course, a vast increase in the world population in an instant would cripple the planet and lead to warfare.  In addition, the bulk of us would have to face up to suddenly having another version of ourselves on the planet, in many cases living in the same area, with the same sort of background as ourselves.  How would you cope with seeing a version of you, probably identical to you in so many ways but in a refugee camp?

Bucolic California
This world is a kind of Amish America.  Technology has only advanced beyond that of the 18th century through the intervention of a person from an alternate world.  California is settled but it is a rural context with people with the fashions of the Amish or the 18th century for the rest of us.  They are disapproving of the kind of garb people from our world wear.  The local sheriff rides a horse.  Again, there is no reason why we had to have a technological take-off that moved us into the industrial revolution.  In addition, particularly in the USA as exists now in some small communities (brought to the general public's attention outside Pennsylvania by the movie 'Witness' (1985)) there are people who do not believe in adopting modern technology.  Given that so many earlier settlers in the USA were religious dissenters it is possible that such attitudes could have spread across the USA.  It may have been aided by technology not advancing as fast as it did in our world or perhaps some crisis encouraging people, at least in California, to turn away from such technology.  One could envisage if Puritanism had become the leading form of Christianity in the 17th century across Europe then this tendency could have become widespread.  Again, we do not know if this is limited to California or is a global trend.

Bone Graft and DNA as Currency World
This one is rather like the virtual reality addiction world in that there are technologies that we will have in a few years time but do not yet.  Simply rather than using cash or cards, grafts on your bones or DNA sampling are how you spend money.  A little this reminds me of the movie 'Gattaca' (1997) in which humans are primarily genetically engineered to be as perfect as they could be and to prove their identity have to give a blood sample, even, for example, going into work in the morning, to prove who they are.  Given smart cards and retinal scanners we could soon have this kind of technology.  Though given how much I have suffered from having my chip-and-pin card cloned, I would be worried if it would add any level of security.  As they showed in 'Gattaca' even DNA tests can be fooled.

Mosquitos are an Endangered Species
In this world, presumably because of anti-malaria campaigns being over-successful mosquitos have become rare and are a protected species.  We know that acting against one problem can create others and this is a theme the writers have touched on a couple of times.  Given the speed that mosquitos breed at it would be something virulent or persistent to keep their numbers down.  I suppose it might be a genetically-engineered predator.  The point of this 'what if?' is that bio-diversity requires that we keep alive as many species as possible to avoid a dangerous imbalance and whilst mosquitos can carry very harmful diseases they have a part to play in the eco-system.

Drug Empowerment California
This world, and it may be the whole world, not just California, is heavily dependent on mood-altering drugs.  There is a Drug Empowerment Agency (as a counter to the Drug Enforcement Agency of our world) that encourages the use of tranquilisers and people are fitted with equipment to allow the easy administering of drugs by facilitators.  This idea has appeared in a number of science fiction settings, notably 'Brave New World' (1932) by Aldous Huxley which features a dystopia in which citizens are encouraged to take Soma, because 'a gram is better than a damn', i.e. they are kept passive by consuming the drug.  Such concepts turn up in places as diverse as 'Passenger to Frankfurt' (1970) by Agatha Christie and the 'Gridlock' (2007) episode of the television series 'Doctor Who'. The same happens in this world.  In addition, the lifestyle that they want to upkeep is the kind of stylised Eisenhower America of the kind we see in 'The Truman Show' (1998) and 'Pleasantville' (1998) and innumerable advertisements.  Drugged up members of the sliders group fit into this expectations of them.  Interestingly hippies of this world are the most ardent against the drug use, perhaps favouring living a 'free' real life, and in that remind me of the RON (Reality Or Nothing) acitivists of the series 'Cold Lazarus' (1996).

Apparently this approach was triggered by Sigmund Freud abandoning psychoanalysis in favour of drug therapy when he discovered the benefits of using lithium to combat depression.  Given how many people in the USA make regular use of psycho-analysis I guess it would lead to the drug approach in its place catching on.  In the UK it is far rarer for people to use that approach unless much more severely troubled than their US counterparts.  However, there have regularly been ideas about 'keeping people quiet' by the use of drugs.  If it had become accepted practice because of the view of Freud and those who followed him, it would not be out of place to be used in society now.  As it is, tranquilisers became a common part of people's medicine cabinet in the 1960s and many people saw Prozac as a great saviour in the 1990s.  Perhaps sometime in our future dependence on drugs to control our emotions, especially all this rage we seem to have will become accepted.

Acid Rain California
Of course our Earth has acid rain, though pictures of desolate Scandinavian lakes are rarely shown these days for some reason.  I have cycled in rain in London which it is painful to have in your eyes.  In this alternate world, the acid rain is worst and has depopulated areas of California.  This region suffers more due to the effects of the El Nino current and the offshore oil drilling (something which seems a popular theme for the authors).  Certainly we could have a world where pollution controls were more lax than they are even here, perhaps where corporate interests are even more dominant.  Of course, we have no control over processes like El Nino and so it could easily worsen things no matter what we might do.  This world also features other versions of the sliders we follow appearing as 'ghosts' due to malfunctioning anti-gravity equipment used by them.  This reminds me a bit of the 'ghostly' cybermen trying to get through from another dimension appearing in 'Army of Ghosts' (2006) episode of 'Doctor Who'.

Compulsorily Hedonistic California
In this world relaxation is compulsory.  It appears as if the sliders are at some leisure resort, but the implication is that the policy is more widespread.  This reminds me of attempts in some Scandinavian countries to reduce the working week slightly, so, for example you have a week's leave every six weeks so that more people could be employed and people could spend more time in leisure pursuits and with their families which was felt to stimulate the economy, especially the service sector and through having a higher level of employment, whilst improving the work-life balance and thus the health and wellbeing of the population.   In France in the 1990s there was a drive for the 32-hour working week too. I suppose some of this attitude and there was a lot of emphasis in the UK on family-friendly policies in the late 1990s, could explain a place where pleasure could be a real focus and people would be compelled to relax more.  In some ways this is a 'what if?' that is the reverse of the corporate world with long working hourse seen in an earlier series of 'Sliders'.  I have worked for a US company but never worked in the USA so have only heard about the long hours culture and few days off second hand from friends, so I guess this world would seem even different to US viewers of the late 1990s than it would to British viewers.  Certainly it is a very feasible model of society and one we might see in the future.

Barren Earth
This world has been used as a trap to catch Kromaggs trying to leave their home world for other versions of Earth.  There is a vast labyrinth in which they and, in fact, sliding humans are caught.  It is housed on a version of Earth with two moons and a methane atmosphere.  On this Earth it seems no life has evolved.  Presumably the two satellites would make tides of liquid methane.  Mars has two satellites and is pretty stable but Phobos and Deimos are far smaller, really just trapped asteroids, compated to the full-sized moons shown here.  Earth is very small compared to the other multi-mooned planets in the Solar System.  Neptune (with 13 moons), the next largest planet after Earth has a diameter of 49,528 Km compared to Earth's diameter of only 12,756 Km so the impact on the Earth would be greater.  There was nothing predestined that life would evolve on Earth and even that its atmosphere would be as it is now.  Clearly with ozone layer depletion and global warming we may move to something less hospitable to humans and possibly all life.  There might be methane-breathing creatures out on this Earth but the sliders do not see them trapped in the labyrinth.

Divided California
In this world South California has seceeded from North California leading to a war between them which the sliders are being air-lifted out of when they slide to the next world.  The division of California into two parts has often been discussed especially as on its own, the state is the 7th richest 'nation' in the world.  However, that a war could break out suggests a more unstable or violent USA in which a state in the 1990s would fight to keep part of it from breaking away.  This reminded me a little of the secession of Biafra from Nigeria, 1967-70, or the break-up of Yugoslavia, another federal state, in the 1990s.  Given that such states even in Europe could descend into violence over territorial divisions, perhaps it is not a great leap to see the USA suffering that.  However, it does suggest that in its history there have been more wars in North America and that such civil conflict continued, suggesting a different modern history.

World Where the Aliens Went Home
This story is set on Kromagg Outpost 112.  It is another involving the Kromaggs, but with the difference that after invading in the 1980s they negotiated a non-aggression pact with the UK, run by Margaret Thatcher, and then left, though at the price of taking numerous resources from Earth.  There has been a political re-alignment with California becoming an independent country run by former actor, often in action movies, Charlton Heston (1923-2008).  It is ironic that just four years after this episode aired in the USA, in 2003, former actor in action movies, Arnold Schwarznegger (1947-) was elected governor of California.  Kromagg sympathisers have fled to California and are being hunted down there by the British secret intelligence services who are seeking to eliminate them all.  This story is an interesting twist on the alien invasion line of the Kromagg stories, showing the aftermath once occupation is over.  It certainly seems possible that if California broke away Heston could have become its leader.  However, such a break would have needed some stimulus as we see in this episode.

Apartheid California
This is a California under a dictator called Governor Schick that resembles apartheid South Africa. People have blood tests to verify their racial 'purity'.  Blacks and Asians are either expelled from the country or confined in internment camps.  Worse is the punishment for recalcitrant blacks which is that they are made into Eddies, given white plastic faces without mouths and kept like robots to do menial tasks.  We know in this world that Hitler is unknown but that the civil rights marches of the 1950s took place.  Given that not all blacks and Asians have gone from California by the time the sliders arrive suggests that the regime is comparatively new.  It is stated that the racial policy was introduced to combat economic challenges.  The story suggests that the civil rights movement was not successful and the racist policies prevalent in the USA up until the 1960s continued, having another burst of severity during the late 1990s.  The multilation of ethnic minority prisoners adds another chilling, science fiction, edge to the situation.  It seems something that could be possible, assuming the Eddies were fed intravenously.

A Black Planet
Two refugees from the last world are brought to this world where the bulk of the population is black.  This seems to be simply to provide a contrast to the previous location.  However, it may also have been influenced by things like the movie 'White Man's Burden' (1997) starring John Travolta and Harry Belafonte which envisaged an alternate USA where the position of whites and blacks in society was reversed and even the album 'Fear of a Black Planet' released by rappers NWA in 1990.  At this time there was discussion of whether there would be any white people in 2300 as it was felt that inter-racial relations would mean that most people by that year would be beige, mixed-race people.

Whilst races developed as humans altered to adjust to different climatic conditions, it is generally assumed that all humans originated in Africa.  If people had not populated colder parts of the planet or the climate had been warmer throughout then it is very feasible that only Negro people would have appeared.  Certainly black people may have settled the Americas, especially if the geography of the continents was different to in our world.  As it is, we know Ancient Egyptians had contact with the Americas.  Perhaps the ice ages were colder or longer and all races bar Negros died out during these.  Again, there was nothing predestined that there would be human races and certainly that we would have the physical diversity that we do have.  Again, while the implication is that the whole world has a black population, it may be that just North America does.  This would be a challenging scenario for US viewers but again is not an impossible outcome for the world.  There is a question whether racial tensions would be an issue in a world where people were all of one race.  I am sure it would not eliminate discrimination as that happens on basis of nationality, gender, physical appearance, social standing and so on.  Perhaps given the similarity in appearance, people would do things to make themselves more distinct.

Hunting Ground California
This is another Kromagg story on its Outpost 88.  It is an undeveloped rural California is now used by Kromaggs who have been made infertile by a weapon used by humans, to train hybrid human-Kromaggs to embrace their Kromagg side by having them hunt down and kill humans brought from a number of parallel worlds.  There is no explanation of why this California does not have humans on it already.  Perhaps they are in other parts of the world or never evolved leaving just lower level animals dominant. It is rare that nature leaves a void so some top predator would have come about but maybe it never achieved the level of intelligence of humans. Perhaps the dominant species has been wiped out by the Kromaggs.

'Lipschitz Live' Dominant Television Programme
In this California a day-time 'reality' programme, 'Lipschitz Live' is shown everywhere so that people can keep up with it.  It is very like one of these confessional shows like 'The Ricki Lake Show', 'The Jerry Springer Show' or 'Montel' or in the UK 'The Jeremy Kyle Show' or 'Trisha'.  These are incredibly popular and have been for over a decade.  Given on the UK we have had cable channels which have shown constant live coverage of the 'Big Brother' house in which people are confined for a number of weeks, I guess it is not impossible that such programmes could not increase in popularity.  I think it intentionally is focused on Jerry Springer's programme which began in 1991 and by the late 1990s when this episode aired was beating all its rivals for viewing figures.  Springer was born in Britain to Jewish parents who were refugees from what is now Poland, from the city of Szczecinek.  Hence having a character clalled Lipschitz, a Germanic-East European name (in many ways like Springer which means 'knight' as in the chess piece, in German).  As with many 'Sliders' stories this one takes a trend of the time, especially one in television and extrapolates it.  It allows confusion over alternate versions of the sliders and sudden plot changes when the Lipschitz team encounter or burst in on the sliders.

Technology has shifted since the late 1990s and watching television programmes from a television has declined.  However, there is no reason why a show like this might suddenly become more popular so that it was dominating people's lives in this way, how 'Big Brother' did in the UK to a large extent in its early years at the start of the 2000s.

Barren Breeding Colony Earth
This is Outpost 117 of the Kromaggs and is rocky and barren, though seemingly not polluted or uninhabitable.  Again that might just be California.  The Kromaggs use this place for breeding human-Kromagg hybrids in camps.  It seems that either they have used an Earth where little life developed or took the humans from here to start their breeding colonies.  Though, again, the implication is that they have drawn humans from different parallel worlds.

World Purged of Aliens
This world is Outpost 71 for the Kromaggs but has been made uninhabitable for them because a virus developed by the humans here that kills Kromaggs and their hybrids.  It shows a world under martial law.  Probably like the world discussed above from which the Kromaggs left, a rigid regime is in place to allow stability and recovery after an alien invasion and all that it did to this Earth.  This is another of the variants of seeing off the alien menace.  In some ways it is a little like the end of 'The War of the Worlds' (1898) by H.G. Wells in which the Martians are killed by some human disease and especially the 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II' (2002-3) which re-imagines the story with the humans using biological weapons against the Martians.

Cyberspace World
This world reminds me of a discussion I had when living in East London in the mid-1990s.  There was a woman I met who seemed to assume that because she got free internet access through working for a college it was free to everyone and that you simply connected to it if you had the equipment.  I told her that it was not the case and anyway the bulk of my neighbours in the area lacked the money for the equipment let alone the (at the time, dial-up) internet connection.  This was the first time I had realised that there was going to be a division between those who had and those who did not have access to the internet.  Whilst I had it at work and could access it at my local curry house, I was not have it in my home until 2002 when I had moved to Milton Keynes.  Even in the mid-1990s there was discussion of how, while the internet could bring people together across continents, it actually added to the isolation of people from their physical neighbours.  These trends seem to continue now.  A lot of people have internet access at home but it is not universal, it does isolate people and it does exclude some from accessing certain information and facilities.

In this parallel world, which has nods to the cyberpunk genre, people can wire directly into the internet through headpieces (which, interestingly, look like Art Deco-Ancient Egyptian tiaras with monocles).  However, in a rather run-down and neglected California, beside the people with the technology are those who do not have it at all and those who use it only in the way we do, i.e., interfacing just through a computer and screen rather than 'physically'.  The story is a romance about a woman who uses a headpiece and a man who 'meets' her through online discussion.  In this way it is like movies such as 'You've Got Mail' (1998) and before it 'The Shop Around the Corner' (1940), ' and 'In the Good Old Summertime' (1949) though they used letters rather than email.  Of course, today people do get to meet partners via the internet and often face the challenge when they meet physically and find they come from very different backgrounds.  This 'Sliders' story also emphasises that even in an age of the most sophisticated technologies it is real, physical contact that is what really matters (well, for most of us anyway).

While I do not think our society would develop to this extreme, there is an issue around those with and those without computer access.  It impinges now on schooling as children are expected to use internet resources to do school and homework.  People with online access can get cheaper food and holidays and find out what is going on far more than those people who do not.  Thus, it tends to re-emphasise already established social divisions rather than break them down.  With so much entertainment in our own homes there is no need to go out to the cinema let alone a disco or a restaurant.  We are obviously seeing reaction to the over-need for computers and emphasis that we need to get out and exercise.  I do not know if we will ever get physical interfaces with computers, perhaps having internet-equipped phones is probably the closest we will come for now.

High-Tech Cold War World
This is another Earth where the Cold War is still running in the 1990s, with a rather militaristic USA.  There have been three world wars as it is and nuclear weapons have been used on both San Diego and Los Angeles.  Another difference, no doubt stimulated by the demands of such a conflict, is that technological implants in people's arms and necks are used, for example for opening secure doors and as in cyberpunk, they can mesh their neural networks into military equipment, e.g. aircraft to allow faster reaction times and control..  There is an implication that the animal life has been affected as one character has not seen a horse since her youth. This story mainly on a military base reminds me a little of 'Firefox' (1982) in which the pilot can control a Soviet aeroplane by his thoughts.  There was a BBC drama in the 1980s in which Soviet soldiers in disguise came to a remote part of Scotland to track down a lost pilot who had been trialling an aircraft which allowed him to fuse with its control system, but I cannot remember the name of the series.  There was, of course, no reason for the Cold War to come to an end in 1991, though if we were entering a phase of technology of the sophistication seen in this story then I guess the economy of the USSR and possibly USA too would have been even more over-burdened, one of the key triggers for ending the Cold War.  Of course, there is an expectation that such cyberpunk technology allowing direct human-computer/device interface remains though as noted for the previous world, so far it seems to be just at the level of hand-held devices rather than actually 'jacking in' to the technology.

Anti-Technology World
The sliders come to an Earth that seems to have suffered some technological catastrophe.  It reminds me of the novel, 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' (1960) by Walter M. Miller, Jr. The consequence of this catastrophe is that modern technology is suspected and the tools people use are of a medieval level.  People possessing 'tech' are burned like heretics of the Middle Ages, though in fact by being placed to die of radiation sickness in the El Diablo nuclear reactor.  I suppose it is a bit different as in Miller's story monks keep remnants of technology alive so they can be used when mankind recovers.  It also is reminiscent of the 'The Changes' series of novels by Peter Dickinson (1968-70; television series broadcast in 1975) in which ancient forces in Britain drive people to destroy modern technology.  The thrust in our world against modern technology seems different to this kind of reaction, it is more about sustainability and not polluting the world, certainly not triggering global warming, as opposed to technology per se.  I suppose that is because we see solutions in 'better' or different technologies rather than eliminating it entirely.  I guess that is because people enjoy the comforts technology brings and know it also keeps people alive.  I suppose if we had some kind of technological catastrophe we might turn against technology, but having lived through Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, etc., it seems it is going to take a lot more than what we have experienced so far in this world.

Even More Virtual Reality World
This was the third world out of the four covered in three episodes which had a cyberpunk element.  This has some parallels back to the one earlier in the season in which people were addicted to virtual reality.  In this case they can go a step further and upload their consciousnesses into the virtual environment, so actually entering cyberspace, something that combined with cyborg implants and physical interfacing with computer systems was a core element of the cyberpunk novels.  In some of these novels some people had lost their physical form and only 'lived' in the machine.  In this story, the Chandler Hotel which the sliders have visited in many parallel worlds has become a refuge in a world which initially attacked human uploading.  The sliders actually arrive inside the system, but soon realise that their bodies are left outside.  On the outside bodies without consciousnesses are left wandering around like zombies; the so-called 'empties'.  This story has parallels in things like 'The Matrix' (1999) and even 'Tron' (1982) of people 'going inside' the machine and the challenges of that and the relationship to what is real on the outside.  It takes the story about internet users and non-users another stage and also builds on the sense that interacting with the internet can be addictive as covered in a previous episode.

Wild West Las Vegas
The sliders have a brief visit to another icy California, I have said a lot about how all of these could have come about and those explanations are pretty much the same for this parallel Earth.  They then arrived in Nevada rather than California.  It is a version of Earth probably 140-160 years behind our Earth in terms of technology.  It seems only a single Kromagg has arrived here.  However, we have a rural western USA with mid-19th century culture and technology, i.e. revolvers and single-street, wooden building towns.  Interestingly locals are being scared away from the area which Ben Siegel III, grandson of Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel, the gangster who established Las Vegas in our world, so that this Siegel can develop the gambling location some fifty years after his grandfather did on our Earth.

A recession in 1974 in this world led to the abandonment of paper money.   There are contradictions in this world.  Our Las Vegas was able to develop because cheap petrol meant people could drive/fly out to the desert city gamble and it could be supplied with the necessary electricity generated by nearby hydro-electric facilities.  A Las Vegas attempted, say, in a world with 1850s technology would not have these advantages.  The location was too barren to support the number of guests needed to make Las Vegas viable.  It is far more likely that something like that would have developed closer to the Californian coast, or, if there were political objections to gambling, over the border in northern Mexico.  Of course, it is quite possible, say due to a slow take-off of the industrial revolution, perhaps an epidemic in Europe or something like a harsher Black Death centuries earlier that could have led to the lag in technology compared to our world.  It is likely, though, that with the lag, that the desire to and even the feasibility of, creating a gambling centre in Las Vegas would not be there.  Riverboats or using some more fertile territory for the location would have been more likely.

Human Clones are Possible World
In this world advancements in medical technology have permitted scientists to create clones of people.  This allows the original person to get organs from 'themself' if they need it.  Unfortunately one of the sliders is mistaken for the clone of the version of himself from this world. Families with children with particular illnesses have been known to have another child who can then provide the bone marrow or other bodily matter required to treat the earlier child's illness. There are issues around the rights of clones, because whilst they are in effect people in their own right, there would always be a legal challenge because they are identical to the original person, though without that person's experiences.  Cloning is feasible in our world as Dolly the sheep showed in 1996.  Interestingly the cells of the clone were 'old' even though the sheep had just been born.  This suggests that are cells do have some sort of 'clock' embedded in them which may prevent steps to extend our lives, unless this clock can be 'reset'.  Dolly lived until 2003.

There are claims that humans have been cloned and it seems that if they could produce a mammal 14 years ago we could be seeing cloned humans in the near future.  The physical aspect is perhaps maybe less of a challenge compared to the fact that you would be creating a duplicate of a person some years after the original was born, but probably the same 'age' at cellular level.  The clone version would be the original person and would have the same DNA perhaps the same fingerprints, so we would have a challenge to the authorities in how to deal with two identical though different aged people especially as we are entering a period when biometric identification is becoming more important.  Could the original leave his/her estate to the clone, assuming it lived on beyond the life of the original? Of course, the two versions of the person would not be identical because they could never have the same experiences and the clone by being a clone would no doubt have a different sense of 'self'.  A book which covers the challenges of having clones of yourself and can be seen as an entry into the cyberpunk genre is 'Voice of the Whirlwind' (1987) by Walter Jon Williams (1953-) which shows the story of a clone whose memories have not been updated for two years trying to find out what happened to his original.

Town Where Emotions are Transferred
This is a small scale difference and is very reminiscent of elements of 'The Sin Eater' (2003) [also known as 'The Order']. A theme park ride called 'The Chasm' takes the bad emotions from the citizens of a town and then passes them all along to one individual to bear.  Ultimately when these become too much that person jumps into The Chasm and bequeaths the job of collecting the emotions to a nominated successor.  In 'The Sin Eater', based on actual practices in 18th-19th century Britain, one man absorbs the sins of dying people to permit them to enter Heaven without the grace of God or redemption through Jesus.  The story revolves around a priest (played by Heath Ledger) trying to avoid becoming the next sin eater.  In the 'Sliders' episode the move of emotions is caused by technology known as 'bio-energetic transmigration' invented in the 1920s or 1930s to make the local theme park the most popular.  This story draws on the kind of spiritualism that was around between the First and Second World Wars stimulated by the vast loss of life in the First World War and the thought that technology could connect to the spirit world.  I cannot envisage such technology as this certainly to 'broadcast' feelings from people to others coming about.  The world would have had to have developed along very different lines even though superficially it is not too different to our own.  This difference to our world is only located in one small town and is more like a local mad scientist testing his experiment rather than any 'what if?' on a sizeable scale.

Navajo California
In some ways this version of California could be similar to the 1850s style Nevada featured earlier.  In our world the Navajo were based in New Mexico and traded with the Pueblo people farther East, later allying with them against Spanish incursions.  With increasing demand for land after US forces first encountered the Navajo in 1846 they were compelled in 1864 to move from to reservations 480Km away in New Mexico (at the time not a state).  In this version of Earth either the Navajo naturally expanded as far as California or were driven there by incursions by Europeans.  However, it suggests that European or US control of what we think of North America is not as extensive as it was in our world.  It suggests gold was not found in California.  Given that the sliders encounter a shaman who dismantles their laptop, perhaps technology has not advanced as fast as in our world, hence my reference to the 1850s style Las Vegas seen earlier.  This has enabled traditional Navajo approaches to remain.  Again this is not an unfeasible scenario.  The Navajo were an active, expansive people and if not bothered by European incursions, perhaps due to slower technological advancements for whichever of the many reasons I have touched on in these postings, could have spread farther West.

Collapsing USA
In this world the collapse of the software company Microsoft has precipitated a stock market collapse in the USA.  This has led Mexico to invade, certainly California, capturing much of the South of it including Los Angeles, and the United Nations forces have intervened. We hear that conversely in the East, American militia have driven the Mexicans back out  of Texas.  This is a curious alternate.  I suppose if Mexico had become a more powerful military state (perhaps through retaining Texas and maybe other states) then it would invade the USA.  The suggestion is that there has been a kind of cold war between the two states with Mexico waiting until the USA hit financial difficulty.  In our world Mexico has a population of 106 million people and a GDP of US$1.09 trillion compared to the USA with a population of 307 million and a GDP of US$14.2 trillion.  At present, especially given that the USA is a nuclear power and Mexico is not, the war would be very uneven.  A wealthier, more populous Mexico would be a different matter.

Perhaps the outcome of the US-Mexican War of 1846-8 which opened up US expansion to the Pacific and confirmed its annexation of Texas in 1845 was different.  In addition, it suggests a different world.  Wars in the Americas between nations have been common since the mid-19th century and there has not even been the military build-up in the way that there was with the cold war.  Perhaps after the 1910 revolution a larger Mexico became Communist and a superpower with tensions with the USA continuing into the 1990s resulting in war when the USA was weak.  The war does have a flavour of the kinds of conflicts seen when the USSR collapsed.  It certainly can be seen why the UN would become involved, even if Mexico and the USA were the respective sizes they were in our world.  As in previous episodes there is a sense with this story that the writers saw the USA in the late 1990s as inherently unstable and at risk of crumbling or suffering inter-region/country armed conflict.  I suppose it makes for more interesting stories but also seems to be inherent in the writers' view of their country, perhaps in the context of the violent collapse of the federal state of Yugoslavia which featured so heavily in the news in the 1990s.

Bubble Universe
As I have commented looking at many of the alternate 'worlds' in 'Sliders' there is often an assumption that they are in fact that, differences that impinge on the whole of Earth.  However, as I have noted, in many cases they are changes which whilst implying some broader differences impact just on a town or parts of the state of California.  This 'world' in fact impinges just on two of the sliders.  It is a tiny universe created by their speculations around their youth and the way their lives might have turned out, i.e. as a married couple with a child.  Bubble universes are part of the speculation of Chaotic Inflation Theory regarding the nature of our universe.  This theory sees our universe as part of a multiverse and with a tendency to fractal development at the edges.  Rapidly expanding universes can create 'bubbles' of 'false' vacuum.

When discussing Michael Crichton's method of time travel seen in his novel 'Timeline' (1999) I noted how the device in that story allowed travel through this bubbles not genuinely back in our own time line but effectively into an alternate one where history was the same as ours but was progressing at a different speed, so allowing the travellers to go into a place that resembled our past.  In Crichton's book there was a closer relationship between these universes as actions in the one the travellers visited impacted on our own 'now'.  Of course, by its very nature, 'Sliders' follows the line of the concept of the multiverse.  A flaw in the latest slide creates a bubble but one driven by the desires of two individuals.  This is a scientific 'what if?'.  Even if bubble universes do exist we have no idea what could trigger them, though I guess a malfunctioning device for transporting people between parallel universes is as good a device as any.

In previous 'Sliders' stories the characters have seen alternate versions of themselves who have been compelled to or chosen to take different paths because of a different history on that version of Earth.  This episode, focusing on such an alternate created by the individuals themselves for their own benefit, however inadvertently that was, also connects to the very common 'what if?' that we all entertain which is about us taking different paths in our own lives.  In this way it is reminiscent of 'Sliding Doors' (1998).  In that movie a child taking a step in one direction or another is what triggers the divergence in the heroine's life, but this is in fact only a minor blip because the divergence is really set off by the different decisions which she takes about her life.  She could have made those decisions for a different reason than that given in the movie as all were in her capability.  In the same way these two sliders are shown how, if they had chosen, they could have lived different lives.

World of Giants
A world like this appeared previously and I discussed the possible reasons for this in my last posting on 'Sliders', such as a larger planet or an anomaly in sliding which has brought the sliders here in the wrong size.  Humans here are ten times larger than the sliders, making them something like 17 metres tall.

Boring, Dusty Earth
The sliders are trapped here for three weeks.  It might be simply that California is boring and dusty.  Given the spread of dustbowls which developed with the drought of 1934.  It led to dust storms and heavy soil erosion in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Minnesota but also Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska and as far North as Iowa.  It was generally halted by the Rocky Mountains.  These Great Plains regions had not been seen as suitable for European style agriculture but wet weather and increased demand for farmland led to increased settlement and excessive unsuitable farming.  The loss of prairie grassland due to arable farming also damaged the soil surface.  Anyway, within 6 years 2.5 million people had left the affected areas, 500,000 of them having been made homeless by storms; 200,000 migrated to California.

Whilst the valleys of California are generally well watered the region has a warm climate and water supply is a key issue.  It seems feasible that with droughts over a number of years or mishandling of water supply or perhaps a particular form of intensive farming, say growing cereals rather than fruit, could have led California to become a dustbowl itself.  The boring nature might stem from the relative poverty of California in this world compared to its prosperity in ours making its settlements resemble more the backwater towns of say, New Mexico, rather than the desirable conurbations we know.

Genocide of Aliens
This is another in the full set of different outcomes for relations between the humans and the Kromaggs.  In this alternate the Kromaggs are less intelligent than those seen in other worlds and twenty years before the sliders arrive there has been an industrialised genocide of the Kromaggs who had evolved alongside humans.  Sympathisers with the oppressed Kromaggs were exiled to other versions of Earth, such as the dusty boring one above.  This was the last story of the fourth series.

Merging Parallel Worlds Causes Weather Problems
In this story starting the fifth series the sliders arrive in a world where technology is more advanced than ours.  They are already on to cloning elephants in 1999 and have been cloning humans since 1994, whereas we were just three years on from cloning sheep.  Though maybe this is not such a big difference.  They do have a machine which allows parallel Earths to be melded together, impacting particularly on two of the sliders who end up combined.  The use of the machine has brought incessant rain to southern California which I guess would appear more exceptional to US viewers than British ones.  Given the location of southern California it seems feasible it might develop more rain forest conditions if the climate shifted, though in this case it is from a technological problem rather a simply natural or climactic alteration.

Playing with Parallel Worlds is a University-Level Project
In many ways this world is like the one the sliders have left though as yet the machinery to adjust parallel worlds is something that is simply confined to a university laboratory rather than being operated by a big corporation, but that might simply come down to people handlingthe technology in a different way or how far it has progressed.  This world might become like the previous one if the technology goes into the commercial marketplace.  A new slider sees a version of herself working at the campus and feels this one made all the wrong choices.  That might partly be the difference between the corporate/academic emphases of the two versions.

Medieval California
Rather than reverting to a 'dark age' existence this world seems to have California in a medieval setting with that level of technology.  This is feasible.  Perhaps despite advancing not so far in terms of technology, settlers from Europe have reached California.  As it is, there is no reason why civilisation of medieval sophistication should have developed just in Europe.  It could easily have evolved in North America especially if you believe in the multiple points of human development theory.  Even if you feel people just came from Africa then there was nothing to stop them heading across Asia and into America at some stage.  My view is that humans have developed in the Americas and a white race appeared.  Its development has been slower than on our world, but then again, five hundred years lag in the span of two million years that humans have been around is minimal.  If the Americas are the 'Old World', then it would be fascinating to envisage discovery of the 'New World', from California, being East Asia.

Asteroid Battleground
This one is not really an alternate Earth, it is an artificial world created from an asteroid, given Earth level gravity, rotation and atmosphere (and a moon) that is used as a training ground by the Kromaggs.  One website indicates how tough this would have been for the Kromaggs who put it into hyperspace and orbiting a white dwarf (a very powerful exhausted sun).  It seems odd that if they had such power to create planets they have not defeated the humans in all parallel Earths.  Disappointingly the original idea for this episode was a steampunk Earth but that story was not made.

Aliens Hunt Down Last Human Knowledge
Having briefly been in a tropical world where one of the sliders has been tied up, the sliders arrive in one where aliens have been victorious once again.  This time it is not the Kromaggs, but the Volsangs who have invaded this and conquered most of this Earth which had a worldwide government (a common aspiration in the mid-20th century on our world).  Given that the sliders hide out in a monastery which is the archive of a great deal of human knowledge this story has even more parallels with 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' (1960) than even the anti-technology one of before.  Perhaps the publication in 1997 the sequel 'Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman' was an impetus to the writers for this kind of story.  The geography of this California is different.  There is no Isle of St. Caroline or mainland of Anna Cappa in our world.  This suggests that not only is there such an island off the coast of California but that its history is different perhaps controlled by Latin monks, maybe suggesting it remained in Spanish lands or perhaps Portuguese or Venetian or Genoan hands in this world. 

From this world the sliders go to the third one in which they are tiny in comparison to the humans of this world.  This is more extreme than the 17 metre peopled world mentioned above and is like the 'Land of the Giants' episode I considered before.

Worlds with Nanotech
These are three versions of an alternate to our world, all exploring the theme of nanotechnology, i.e. microscopic machines that in particular can be put into people to aid recovery or give them particular abilities.  Each feature the 'Believers' and the Bureau of Internal Reconstruction (BIR).  In the first version the BIR have control of the nanotechnology and have used it to impose a totalitarian state.  In the second a civil war broke out between the BIR and the Believers with the latter winning and ultimately using the nanotechnology in a ritualistic way.  In the third world nanotechnology was investigated but not used and so no conflict has developed.

In our world the concept of nanotechnology appeared in 1974 and by the mid-1980s nano materials were being created.  In 2000, the United States National Nanotechnology Initiative was set up to see the development of such technology in the USA.  To some degree this story takes concerns of the late 1990s around new technologies, notably then, genetically-modified (GM) crops and extrapolates the responses.  Given that in our worlds states have taken direct control of embryo research and now, in some countries, nanotechnology, you can see the emergence of something like the BIR.  Conversely attacks on experimental GM crop fields and the protests about GM foods being sold in supermarkets can be seen as leading to groups like the Believers.  As with many 'Sliders' stories the writers refracted contemporary concerns through the glass of science fiction.  Nanotechnology was a reality at the time but had yet to reach the scale of scientific investigation that embryo and GM research had done.  I certainly can see governments controlling such technology rigorously though this does not mean they will become totalitarian states.  I can certainly see protests against such technology, but as with embryo research this may be led by established bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church rather than new religions.

World of Data Universal
This is a version of Earth dominated by a single company, Data Universal formed from the merging of all credit companies.  As it controls access to all funds it has ended up supplying everyone with everything.  People are known by their credit numbers rather than their names.  This is a classic science fiction totalitarian state scenario with a single company in control.  This suggests that there has been greater collaboration than competition in this world, perhaps in the way that a single world government could come about in an earlier episode.  It suggests that credit cards and paying for things in this way developed sooner than our world.  In the UK credit cards first appeared in 1966 with the Barclaycard and it was not until 1972 that another, Access, was available.  Even in the 1990s it was unusual for all but the richest Germans to have credit cards and of course they are not used by billions of people in the world.  Credit notes were known as early as the First Crusade at the end of the 11th century so if such transactions had developed maybe we would have moved to having a universal credit system now. 

Of course, in our world competition tends to predicate against such a monopoly though not always.  Perhaps Data Universal developed as the social welfare bank of a major nation so scooping in more people and then was in a position to gain autonomy and buy out other states' systems.  Certainly if the Bank of China introduced such a system, with China's vast wealth it could buy into the USA (China reportedly has enough savings to 'buy' the entire US economy), India, Brazil and Russia without much difficulty and with such critical mass could move quickly to be the dominant credit provider of the world.

Tabloid Press Even More Powerful
This one is not really a 'what if?' just a fictional twist on what we see now.  In this world through competition all newspapers have been reduced to sensation seeking rags.  I think this happened in the UK when 'The Times' became the property of Rupert Murdoch in 1981.  Anyway, scandals attract more media attention than serious news.  The USA has attacked Switzerland after it nationalised its banks triggering a global economic crisis that particularly affected the USA.  In addition, Switzerland has begun ethnically cleansing French speakers (so presumably this has been triggered by German or maybe Italian speakers in Switzerland) which I imagine would have led to France being drawn into the war.  Somehow Switzerland with a population of 7.6 million people has been able to hold off the US attacks, well, I suppose North Vietnam managed to.  As a consequence the USA is preparing to use Noxin, a banned chemical weapon.  A fabricated affair between one of the sliders and the US President is used to take attention away from the war. 

Apparently the inspiration for this story came from President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky which had come to light in 1998.  I do not really see the USA attacking Switzerland but certainly manufacturing scandal as a distraction is a regular occurrence.  Of course, with the internet tabloids have a rival and while you can find a lot of biased material on the internet, the facility it gives for free speech and reporting means we are more likely to find the 'truth' than when we were dependent on newspapers and broadcast media.

Caffeine Prohibition USA
This reminds me of the tobacco prohibition story from a previous series.  In this version not only is tobacco illegal but so are caffeine products and red meat.  This reminds me of the prohibition on sugar in the Judge Dredd science fiction series in '2000 AD' (1977-) magazine and the ban on cheese in the computer game of 'Blade Runner' (1997).  I wrote a story back in the 1980s, called 'Joint' about making meat illegal:   I suppose with increased awareness in the 1980s and 1990s of the damage that unhealthy eating was doing to us, particularly in terms of cholesterol and the risk of heart disease not aided by caffeine you could see us moving to controlling and banning these things in the way societies have been doing with cigarettes and of course, famously, the USA did with alcohol 1920-33.  Clearly the Prohibition era influenced the writers as the sliders get work in a 'speakeasy' supplying caffeine drinks and the style is very much the club scene of the 1920s.  I suppose this is not impossible given that the culture of the 1920s was the one which led to prohibition in the USA (heroin was made illegal in 1924 too) partly from the temperance culture which had grown through the late 19th century and the concern with a 'feeble' population with the growth in eugenics during this period.  It could be that these things have been delayed 70 years and combined with investigation into harmful foods have brought about such a policy.

With steps in recent years to ban smoking in public places and now possibly in cars in the UK, it is possible to see greater restriction on what we can consume in the years to come.  States are conscious of how much health care that needs to be provided for people who effectively have self-inflicted illness through bad eating, smoking and drinking alcohol.  The slowness of such developments probably stems from the vested interests of big corporations which explains why now almost 60 years since we have known cigarettes cause serious illness do they remain legal (as do guns in many countries and we have known about their harmful effects for 500 years).  So, putting aside the 1920s stylings I think a world like this may come about in the course of my lifetime.

Alien Encounter World
This is an interesting quirky 'what if?'.  In this world the German troops broke through at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and the Second World War dragged on until 1947.  General Eisenhower was not a hero and lost the 1953 election and Democrat Adlai Stevenson became president.  Stevenson's policy of open government led them to admit that aliens had landed rather than conceal them at Roswell.  Trade agreements with the Reticulans gave the USA advanced technology which through using Reticulan DNA helped eliminate diseases but with the side-effect that 0.1% of those innoculated became human-Reticulan hybrids, very intelligent but a spurned people.  Reticulan technology enabled a personed mission to Mars in the 1990s.  The astronauts (one of whom was this world's version of one of the sliders) died due to radiation poisoning due to inadequate shielding on the return journey and their deaths were covered up.  Many people in this world believe the whole Mars mission was faked, just as some in our world believe the missions to the Moon were faked too.

Open government meant that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was averted, the USA never went into Vietnam and the Watergate scandal never occurred.  I suppose this is rather wish fulfilment by the writers hoping to erase some of the 'stains' of 20th century US history.  Of course, it is my belief, that if he had lived John F. Kennedy, having tried to overthrow the Cuban government would have gone into Vietnam very vigorously escalating the war far earlier.  Perhaps, as in 'The Watchmen' (1985), using sophisticated technology to bring about victory there.  Given that the Watergate scandal was prompted by President Richard Nixon's paranoia of the East coast establishment, perhaps a more open society would have allayed his concerns.  However, I think Nixon would have embarrassed himself in some other way as his paranoia was strong and he would have sought to combat those against him.  Of course, with no involvement in Vietnam it is pretty likely after Kennedy 1961-9 we would have seen Lyndon Baines Johnson as president 1969-77.

However, going back to the original premise.  I can accept the throwing back of D-Day but the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945) was a last ditch attempt by the German forces and they lacked the resources to follow through.  Even if they had split the Allied forces they could not have removed them from France by that stage.  In addition, victory in the West would have done nothing to halt the advance of the Soviets.  By the end of December 1944 Soviet forces had overrun most of the Baltic States, eastern pre-war Poland, most of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and parts of Yugoslavia.  They stood on the borders of pre-war East Prussia.  By the end of April 1945 the Soviets were at Berlin.  A more successful Battle of the Bulge may have actually sapped troops from the Eastern Front so allowing a faster advance by the Soviets.  So, to prolong the war another 2 years would have needed greater German success against the Soviets before 1944.  In addition, it seems likely that if the war had continued in Europe to August 1945 the Americans would have dropped atomic bombs on German cities.

Putting all of this aside, the idea of a country using alien technology reminds me a little of the 'World War' series of Harry Turtledove (1994-2004, so far), to some degree 'Alien Nation' (1988 movie; 1989-90 TV series) and 'The Men in Black' (movies 1997; 2002).

No Petrol/Diesel Internal Combustion Engines
This story again demonstrates the series writers' interest in the 'Mad Max' movies (1979-85) and in this case also 'Easy Rider' (1969) as well as looking at a scenario in which something we know is bad for the world at the moment but remains legal, is banned.  It is the second story to feature a biker gang.  In this alternate USA petrol engines have been banned and only electric vehicles or those running on hydrogen-based fuels (which emit water as a by-product) are permitted; the speed of buses is limited to 40mph (64kph).  Despite this petrol stations remain and there are oil companies shipping oil that needed to be protected, suggesting that petrol and oil are still in use, perhaps by the privileged.

Rebelling against these constraints are the Smokers, biker gangs still riding petrol-powered motorbikes.  This reminds me of the role-playing game 'Car Wars' (1983) which was set in 2034 in which cars with electric engines battled each other.  In a supplement to that game, 'Dueltrack' (1986) petrol engines were featured to allow a 'Mad Max' flavour to the vehicles, though oil and petroleum were rare.  On this blog I have discussed how there was an expectation in the 1970s that oil would run out and the fact that new supplies have been found and the price fell again meant that alternate fuels have not been explored to the extent they should have been.  Now, however, Nissan has launched its Leaf, an electric car which it hopes will break into the urban small car market.  It has a range of 160Km before needing recharging.  Certainly this alternate world would have been very possible if concerns over the environmental damage caused by petrol engines, combined with a sustained high price or a shortage of supply of oil had continued from the mid-1970s or earlier.

In some ways this is a very American story.  US citizens are used to petrol which is very cheap compared to the price in the UK.  The USA currently pays equivalent to £0.49 per litre compared to £1.18 per litre in the UK.  It also touches on the American desire for the frontier spirit and to assert an individual's independence.  This is often seen as embodied in biker gangs or riding the Mid West on high-powered motorbikes, well satirised in 'Wild Hogs' (2007).  In this alternate world it is said that polygamy is permitted, which suggests that a more liberal attitude has persisted in this USA in previous decades as in our world polygamy was a real point of contention between the federal government and the Mormons leading them to move from Illinois to try to create their own independent state of Deseret and ultimately controlling Utah.  What is actually witnessed is polyamory, because it is the female leader of the Smokers who is seeking to have a number of partners.  The jousting using motorbikes I have only seen on the movie 'Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed' (2004) but I guess both these are drawing on some source I am oblivious to.

Toxic Smog California
This is a world that the sliders are only in briefly.  Toxic smog is pretty much with us anyway.  Japanese people have been wearing filters over their faces since the 1970s and in those days there were oxygen stands for police on the beat to take 'fresh' air from.  I have not heard anything about these in recent years so maybe the problems has been reduced.  We know at the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 that the authorities had to reduce traffic flow and shut down various factories to allow the atmosphere over the Chinese capital to become tolerable for athletes to breathe.  From cycling in London in the 1990s I know how painfully acidic rain there was when it touched your skin.  In Britain in the 1950s before clean air legislation came at a time when coal fires warmed most homes and coal powered power stations and some factories the death rate from respiritory illness was very high.  It seems unsurprising that in a version of our world, particularly in California with its cheap fuel and obsession with car transport (which looks mad to Britons, how short a distance Americans will drive; Britons walking along the pavement in the USA often get stopped by police as behaving suspiciously), that it could end up with toxic smog.  We do not know what the effect of different pollutant chemicals combining or conflicting in our atmosphere may have.  As often happens in 'Sliders' this is a kind of converse to the preceding world seen.

Dimension-Folding Cyborg Computers
Though this world appears to be another Earth in which there has been no or minimal human impact it turns out to be a front for Kromagg Outpost 50.  Here the Kromaggs have wired humans into computers to create so-called cyberiads which can bend realities; a former slider has been used in this way, having been transferred from a Kromagg breeder camp.  They are attempting to return to Kromagg Prime which has been closed off by humans and you use a plague to eliminate these humans.  The connection of humans into machines is another cyberpunk element.  Such use of humans by aliens also appeared in the television series, 'Babylon 5' (1993-8).  This story adds to the horror of the Kromaggs and shows their sophistication.  As yet, we are far from such human-computer interface though some disabled people benefit from computer technology, as with the blinded Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg who can 'see' with his tongue using new technology or the famous scientist Stephen Hawking has 'spoken' for many years using a voice generator.  Of course, in our world the ability to manipulate parallel worlds does not yet exist, as far as we know.

Individual Expression Suppressed
This world is a classic totalitarian state shown in science fiction stories.  The one I could think of was 'This Perfect Day' (1970) by Ira Levin (1929-2007) which showed a world ruled by a central computer UniComp.  Men have one of four names as do women.  Everyone dies aged 61-63, they are all part of 'The Family' and consume identical food on a daily basis.  Those who rebel against these facts of the regime are sent into exile on 'imperfect' islands.  This 'Sliders' episode sees a world in which individuality is suppressed and in particular artists of all kinds such as painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians (I presume writers too) are sent to asyla and effectively brain washed to remove their imaginations and so to reduce challenges to the uniformity of the world.  This story is also reminiscent of the USSR's abuse of the mental health system to suppress dissidents, often artists and writers, and Communist China's ongoing use of 're-education' camps against such people.

Thinking about it, in turn, that reminds of the Americulturation camps of 'Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas' (1987) [also known as 'The Secret Ascension'] which I have discussed before.  While we do not have a global totalitarian regime millions of people have lived under such regimes throughout the 20th century and over 1.3 billion people live in China which follows many of the same policies as the regime shown in this episode.  I suppose this scenario sees the victory of such regimes across the world and naturally that could have happened.  You only have to look at how few democratic countries there were in 1939 to see that only by good fortune did we get away without losing our freedoms entirely.

Burger Wars
This may be a scenario limited just to California or the USA.  However, it sees gunfights between rival burger chains in an effort to secure customers.  This is another like the mall world and the one with the theme park ride which draws off emotions, that sees consumerism leading to regimes in which companies battle for customers.  It is another one in which the writers have extrapolated a current trend.  The implication, is however, that the government has been bought off by these corporations so that they turn a blind eye to such violent activity. 

What they do not seem to realise, as we have seen with this recession, is that high consumption needs confidence and a feeling of security among consumers.  Perhaps that is a very UK point of view.  A British friend of mine who visited Florida last year was stunned that despite gunshots going off regularly in the neighbourhood, people were sitting calmly in their back gardens unfussed by sounds that alarmed her.  She was so unsettled by this apparent lack of concern that she came home early.  That was in a respectable neighbourhood of Jacksonville not the streets of New York or downtown Los Angeles.  So maybe Americans would accept gunfights between burger stores to capture their custom in a way that would seem impossible in the UK.

Virtual Reality is Lethal
This scenario reminds me of 'The Duelling Machine' (1963) by Ben Bova ['The Dueling Machine' in the original as American English does not doubling up 'l's], an episode of UK science fiction series, 'Blake's 7' (1978-81), the holo deck featured in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' (1987-94) and The Matrix triology of movies (1999-2003).  It also marks yet another 'Sliders' story featuring virtual reality.  In this one the Einman Entertainment corporation runs arcades in which attract millions of people because they can really feel that they are in the scenarios.  This is an advanced form of virtual reality but it turns out that it works so well as the people the customers attack in the virtual worlds are in fact the consciousness of real people hooked up to the machines.  Repeatedly being killed in these scenarios eventually kills these people wired into the machine.  The need for human computing power is like the concept of the Matrix and the fact that being killed virtually can kill you for real appears in Bova's book. 

Currently we seem to be doing pretty well in having immersive gaming without the need for hooking people up to the system to participate fully and certainly not to power the system.  We have not made the cyberpunk leap into connecting humans directly to computers and until that happens I suppose the worst that can happen is that people play so much that they neglect their health as that young Japanese man did a few years back from three days of solid gaming.  I must say that I have been frightened by some games, notably 'Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines' (2004) which is incredibly atmospheric in parts.  I suppose you could be startled into a heart attack.

World Without Aluminium
This is an interesting scenario which tends to get lost in the action of the story.  The sliders arrive in a world without aluminium though it is not clear whether this is because there is none present in the world or because people have not discovered how to derive it from bauxite.  Anyway, the outcome is that the aircraft industry has not developed and cargo and inter-continental passengers continue to be shipped by sea. What we see effectively is a system like that in the world around 1900 continuing 90 years later. This opens the trade up to more piracy, presumably aided by the fact that there are no spotter aircraft available; even airships relied a great deal on aluminium.  No-one seems to have thought of following the example of the British Mosquito aircraft of the Second World War which had a wooden frame.  Interestingly carbon fibres have been developed further than on our world and I imagine in time would feel the niche left by the absence of aluminium.

Anyway, the story revolves around the sliders being rescued by pirates and drawn into their battles with the Coast Guard, who in this world have a pirate-busting role akin to the 19th century.  At the time the programme was aired piracy, aside from some occasional incidents in the South China Sea seemed to be dead, but, of course, more recently we have seen piracy increasing in frequency especially around the Horn of Africa.  Piracy off the West coast of the USA does not appear to be impossible even today, but certainly is less likely given the technology we have available.

As it is, in our world heavy bulk cargoes such as oil, ore and grain continue to go by sea.  Perhaps the greatest difference would be that cheap holidays would not be a possibility.  It would still take ocean liners a number of days to cross the Atlantic, so, no fortnights in Florida for the average European and visiting Australia would take weeks longer than the 24 hours it takes today from the UK.  Travel would remain a privilege for the wealthy and the concept of the world 'getting smaller' would not be there.  Though telecommunications would bring people together, the speed of travel would be pretty much unchanged at the end of the 20th century when compared to the start of the century.  It is likely that we would have seen greater development in hydrofoil ships, catamarans and hovercraft to speed up seaborne travel, but it is likely that the social divisions caused by access to distant foreign travel would be as they were in our 1950s.

This world might seem a bit more feasible in the UK given the stopping of all flights in and out of the country in late April, due to the volcanic ash projected by the Icelandic volcano.  What was notable, aside from people being 'stranded' around the world, was the disruption to supply chains.  So much of our deliveries into the UK these days are 'just in time' notably in electrical goods and perishable food.   These are dependent on large warehouses around airports and road freight facilities moving things quickly.  When I was growing up 'allow 28 days for delivery' was a common statement on advertisements, nowadays the assumption is 24 or at most 48 hours delay for delivery.  Without aircraft it is likely that our consumption patterns would be different, certainly with less exotic fruit from across the world and we would more likely eat more locally grown food or at least stuff which could be transported by rail within a few hours at most; even in the 19th century fish and milk was moved this fast.  Certainly in the UK rail freight would be more common than it is now and the Channel Tunnel might have been built far sooner than 1994; it has been discussed since the early 19th century.  Perhaps there would be a tunnel linking South-West Scotland and Northern Ireland too.

Certainly it was not predestined in our world that any particular resource would be in ample supply.  I once wrote a story in which copper was rare and valuable, particularly as it had to be tended to stop its decay, whereas gold was common and, because of its softness, was not seen as particularly useful.  Imagine how different the world would be with less solid carbon around, no coal, no diamonds or if silicon had proven to be immensely rare when we needed silicon chip technology.  In the first series of 'Sliders' we saw a world in which Einstein had argued there was insufficient fissionable material in the world to make an atomic bomb.  That was not actually true, but it could have been.

World of Vibrating Crystals
This world is the writers' way of referencing Hollywood light-hearted, high class heist/crime movies, such as 'To Catch A Thief' (1955) [the episode is titled 'To Catch A Slider'], 'The Pink Panther' (1963),  'Charade' (1963), 'Gambit' (1966), 'Caprice' (1967) and more latterly 'F/X 2' (1991) and the 'Mission Impossible' movies (1996-2006).  The 'McGuffin' as Alfred Hitchcock would have termed it are crystals discovered in the Chapare valley in Bolivia that vibrate strongly and have been associated with healing and rituals before, having been adopted by Hollywood stars have become expensive jewellery; they are priced at US$9,000 per Hertz of vibration.  Aside from vibrating crystals, the movie industry is much larger than in our world.  The sliders seem to be mixed up in a pornographic movie awards ceremony.  These events do occur but do not attract much mainstream attention. 

Maybe such movies are more accepted in this world.  Actress Monique Mansfield is titled Goddess of Sex and hosts the festival.  Weirdly the next [this episode is set in 2000] James Bond movie stars American Stephen Seagal (1952-) rather than Irishman Pierce Brosnan (1953-) and is to be titled 'Midnight Never Cries' whereas in our world the 2001 Bond movie was 'Die Another Day'.  The title certainly seems feasible though Seagal seems a very inappropriate actor for the role certainly without a radical change of style (no more ponytail certainly) though his skill in Aikido would have made him convincing in the action scenes and he was almost the same age as Brosnan.

Climatic Cataclysm World
This is another Van Meer World, i.e. its history is ahead of that on our Earth in this case 400 years into the future.  Some change in the climate back in 'our' time, the late 20th century led all the land between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn to become desert; North and South of this zone the climate is temperate.  The desert zone would cover most of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique; the southern end of Arabia, so no change there; India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia and about the northern half of Australia; southern Mexico, all of Central America and South America as far South as the northern borders of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.  Interestingly, California lies well to the North of the Tropic of Cancer, only islands off the South of Florida come close of the US states.  This suggests that, despite what characters say, the change must have happened in a different location or because of earlier shifts the tropics were located differently.  Mexico seems still inhabited as it is from there (or a Mexico, perhaps located differently from the one in our world) that the archaeologists have been permitted to come.

Anyway, with extensive desertification for regions around the Equator, the world would be radically different with the loss of rain forest especially in the Amazon Basin, central Africa and South-East Asia probably stimulating intense global warming and rising sea levels.  There is a good chance that California would, thus, resemble the tropical island version visited previously.  However, perhaps with the Americas being farther South, California is under sand and the Chandler hotel that the sliders regularly stay in is being excavated from the sands.  The North and South poles have switched which they do periodically.  The last time it happened on our Earth was 800 million years ago and other planets in our solar system have also experienced it.  The poles wander up to 1 degree per million years and have probably moved 5 degrees in the past 130 million years.  There is a lot of pseudo-science suggesting greater pole or rapid pole shifting that 'Sliders' writers may have tapped into.

This world has had some other features like a Renaissance not occurring until the late 16th century, though why is not explained.  Perhaps the unstable poles and abrupt climate changes hampered human development.  There is an additional science fiction element in that the archaeologists digging up the hotel find a human in suspended animation suggesting that centuries before, despite a slow development, this world actually had technology well ahead of what we have today.  Perhaps it is alien technology and it is their tampering which mucked up the poles and caused the climate change.  Some of these things do not seem to have been worked out.  However, as we know from El Nino and the ice ages, the climate can shift greatly and wipe out civilisations.  The region which now holds the Saharan desert once supported a third type of elephant and was a fertile grain producing region even at the time of Carthage let alone in prehistoric times.  This story reminds me a little of When the New Zealander Comes' by Blyde Muddersnook, published in 'The Strand', September 1911 and collected in 'England Invaded' (1977) gathered by Michael Moorcock.  In Muddersnook's story a New Zealander arrives to explore the abandoned ruins of Britain many centuries after it has gone into decline.

Superstition World
The sliders are in a world less than developed than our own which seems to have pre-Columbian Mexican culture.  This suggests a California that in a world where technology has not advanced and people live in small villages and pray to local gods who they feel control the weather.  After a drought the sliders witness a flash flood which the locals feel they have brought about.  Apparently this location is familiar to many Americans as part of a Universal Studios theme park ride which undermines their view of this setting.

Bubble Experimentation World
This is a small artificial world, just covering three blocks of a US city, located in hyperspace created by Dr. Geiger, the man from the Merging Parallel Worlds location above.  He is seeking a way to stabilise his own existence after he was left in flux when the sliders left.  He is experimenting on humans brought to this world from other parallel Earths.  However, when the sliders arrive his bubble of universe is collapsing.  Fortunately they managed to restore the surviving abducted humans back to their own worlds.  The original idea was to have a composite world drawing characters from other versions of Earth that the sliders visited and give it a 'Casablanca' (1942) style, but it was all too self-referenctial.

Sliding As A Religion
In this world a clairvoyant has been able to follow all the adventures of our sliders, managing not to get mixed up trailing their alternate versions, some of whom have been sliding themselves.  The sliders have almost become a religion with their exploits followed like adventures of Homer's tales, recounted to the people of this world through the drawings of the seer, Marc LeBeau.  On this world the Kromaggs were defeated by a synthetic virus.  The remaining original slider from series one, Rembrandt Brown, played by Cleavant Derricks, goes back to his world, i.e. our own, to combat the Kromaggs there with it.  So the series comes to an end, probably not before time given how tired some of the stories were becoming and how repetitive things like giant, cold and tropical worlds were appearing.  The series ends on a cliffhanger which was encouraged by Derricks and some of the creative team.  However, it seems appropriate not to have ended it with everything all sorted out which is, however, what American audiences seem to insist on in their television series.  I prefer to think of the unresolved cliffhanger leaving it up to the imagination of the audience and in my defence would point to the end of the television series 'Angel' (1999-2004) which ended with the heroes going off to battle the latest of their demon opponents, because, as the writers noted, their mission went on, even if we stopped witnessing it.