Film review – Ex Machina

Main cast

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb

Alicia Vikander as Ava

Oscar Isaac as Nathan

Sonoya  Mizuno as Kyoko

Directed by Alex Garland

This is yet another film exploring the potential of digital technology to radically change our lives. The  subject  here is the relationship between advanced humanoid robots and humans, but with a twist, namely,  can sexual attraction arise between a human and a robot and can that attraction move on to something resembling deep emotional attachment?

The basic  plot is simple. A young  computer coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) thinks he has won a competition at his workplace, the prize being  a week  on an isolated  research station with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the boss of  the company for whom Caleb works.   In fact, there is no competition and he has been chosen simply as an experimental subject.

When Caleb reaches the research station he finds it occupied  by  Nathan and what he thinks is a female  Asian servant  Kyoto.   There are no other people on the research station. In fact there are only two humans for Kyoto is a robot.

Nathan asks  Caleb to  perform a Turing test. The classical version of  the test  consists of a human interacting with an artificial intelligence (AI) without knowing whether they are dealing with an AI or another human being.  The test is passed if  the human is convinced the AI is human. But this is a Turing test  with a twist.   Caleb knows what he is dealing with, a humanoid robot called  Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Caleb’s ostensible task is to see whether Ava convinces as a human interlocutor, despite the fact that he knows she is a machine.    But his real function is to see how readily  a human being will accept a machine that he or she  knows to be a machine  as a quasi-human being, or at least an intelligence which a human can relate to  as they would relate to another human being.

To make matters more complicated  Ava is physically  portrayed  as  a machine.   She , for want of a better word, is humanoid, but her  non-human   status is made only too visible with every part of her but  the  face, hands and feet  being   rather obviously  those  of a robot rather than a human,  for example, by having some of her machine components nakedly exposed.   As a further barrier to emotional involvement  there is no physical contact between Caleb and Ava because  a transparent screen separates  them.

As the film progresses Ava becomes more and more human to Caleb not only because of the developing relationship between the two f, but in the  way Ava  presents herself physically. She puts a wig over her skull and wears a dress which obscures her machine structure.  With these accoutrements she resembles an attractive woman.

That Caleb should develop  an emotional relationship with Ava is extremely plausible. Just think of the emotional investment that people make in their pets. Reflect on the habit  humans often  have of adorning inanimate objects with some of the qualities of they respond to in humans and animals or on their  sentimental attachment to objects which are associated with those they care about or of events which are important to them.  Humans have a strong innate desire to form  relationships with the external world.   That they might form  deep emotional relationships  with intelligent machines is utterly believable.  (The recent film Her which featured a highly intelligent operating system forming a relationship its male owner covers exactly this ground.)

Caleb learns  more and more about what is going on. He discovers  that Kyoto is a robot and  sees  unanimated bodies of earlier model robots. He finds out that he did not win a competition but was chosen by  Nathan not for his IT skills but for his personality and personal  circumstances, for example, Caleb  is heterosexual and   single (which makes him vulnerable to female attention). Nathan  has also used  developed Ava to appeal to Caleb by basing  Ava’s general physical appearance on Caleb’s  Internet  pornography searches to make her attractive to Caleb.

Caleb is fascinated by Nathan’s AI techniques but disturbed the way he  is being manipulated. After he has already become seriously  emotionally involved with Ava, he  is naturally upset when Nathan tells him that if Ava fails the Turing test  she will  be updated  with her memory wiped. This  will destroy her as the  personality he knows, in fact, be the AI equivalent of death.  Consequently,   Caleb plots with Ava for the pair of them to escape .  In fact, this is the  real  Turing test which Nathan has devised, namely to see if Ava can be convincingly human enough to trick Caleb into helping her escape, an escape Nathan smugly but wrongly believes is impossible.

Ava makes choices for herself in a way which is both human and inhuman. Her final actions at the research centre would be seen as  psychopathic  in a human because she single-mindedly seeks  her ends without regard to what she has to do to attain them. Ava  has  manipulated Caleb without any emotional  investment on her part.  But at the same time she has  a fundamental  component of consciousness, namely, her  own  desired ends  which go beyond mere mechanical programming. Ava wants to escape to satisfy her curiosity as well as to retain her existence as Ava.  She is not a quasi-human but something new, neither insensate machine nor  organic life.

The film ends with Ava showing what a difference there is between a machine intelligence and a human one. Caleb does not escape nor Nathan live to see the end of his experiment. Only Ava  leaves the research station and leaves it without any sense of loss or shame at her betrayal of Caleb.  But because the character is a robot her behaviour does not seem heinous as it would do in a human. It merely seems as innocent of blame as a predatory animal killing its prey.

The performances of  Gleeson, Isaacs and Vikander are all strong, not least because the film is very well cast. . Gleeson has an  appropriately  shambling geekiness  and clumsiness in his relationship with other people and   Isaac is a  dominant brooding psychopathic  presence.   But the real star  is Vikander . She  is weirdly convincing as a being who is at least half the way to being human.   Her realisation of the role  makes the robot flicker in and out of her performance. Vikander, a professional dancer, gives Ava a fluid grace of moment which does not seem quite natural; she speaks in a pleasantly modulated and controlled way but with little variation of emotion; her face is not expressionless but there is a very  restricted range of expression. The overall effect is of an  ethereal other-worldly being. The film is worth seeing for her performance alone.

The digital tyranny – The threat posed by a cashless society

Robert Henderson

We are in danger of sleepwalking into a cashless society. More and more purchases are made by electronic means , through standing orders,  direct debits, debit cards  or credit  cards.   Debit and credit  card purchases already account for over a third of UK GDP and more than three quarters of retail purchases (up from 46% in 2003), while  card and computer purchases have just overtaken UK cash sales.

The next logical step  towards  a cashless society is to have laws which allow private businesses  and any public body  which charges for  its services  to refuse cash payment.  Denmark is seemingly  taking the first tentative steps along that road.  The Danish Government has proposed legislation which if passed  will  remove the obligation to take cash from retail outlets such as petrol stations,  clothes shops  and restaurants next year.

With the combination of more and more people using  methods of payment other than cash and the willingness of technologists to  feed the trend with ever more sophisticated and comprehensive  systems of  cashless payments, there is no reason to think that this trend towards  making cash dysfunctional will stop unless governments take a hand and prevent cash from becoming  defunct by law.  This development  is alarming because the abolition of physical money would  carry  tremendous dangers in terms of  the opportunities for  state authoritarianism  and simple practicality.

The dangers  from state authoritarianism are:

  1. There would be no money which could be held which was not potentially known to the state, because with only electronic money available it would have to be stored electronically and be accessible via the Internet  if it was to be useable.

But what about using virtual currencies such as Bitcoin?  Apart from the dangers of such a means of exchange – the great volatility in value, the frauds which are occurring where Bitcoin is stolen, the lack of a lender of last resort and a restricted range of  goods and services which can be bought – Bitcoin still  needs  to be stored electronically and hence is  potentially identifiable and accessible to governments. There would also be an audit trail from an individual’s source of electronic money  to the purchase point of a virtual currency  like Bitcoin. The only exception would be if someone sold something or did paid work for someone and was paid in a virtual currency like  Bitcoin.

If Britain  went cashless and others did not the likelihood is that a black market in foreign cash such as dollars would  arise in Britain.  There would also be the possibility of exchanges made by barter or a product such as cigarettes becoming a de fact currency.

  1. A cashless system would allow the state to have all  electronic money stored in a central government controlled place.  This would leave  the  individual  at the mercy of the state which could deny electronic money to anyone within their jurisdiction by cancelling or blocking their means of payment.
  2. The state could more readily control the money supply if all bank accounts were  under the control of the state and physical cash did not exist.  The state would be able to manipulate public economic behaviour by  imposing a negative interest rate when increased spending is deemed desirable  – people save less because it costs them money – and a transaction tax every time a purchase is made  – people spend less if because it will cost them to make a purchase – if it is thought an economy is over heating.
  3. The state could remove money from your account at will.
  4. The opportunities for general surveillance of the individual both by the state and by private corporations or individuals would be greatly increased.

The problems of practicality are:

1.The idea  assumes that everyone can  afford a  computer of some sort, whether that be a mobile phone, tablet or desktop, and can afford to replace their means of getting access to the Internet  every few years at best.  The reality is that millions of people are too  poor to be able to meet such costs.  The taxpayer would have pay for access to electronic money for those too poor to buy their own.

  1. Many people cannot use the digital technology.  Huge numbers of people  are still not using  this technology. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that  11% of the UK population (approximately 6 million) has never  used the Internet.  Moreover, the ONS did not ask for frequency of use merely whether someone had used the Internet When the ONS asked whether people had used the Internet in the three months prior to the question being asked,   only 86% answered yes.  Thus 14% of the population had either not used the Internet for more than three months  or   had never used it and, importantly,  only 68% of disabled people had used the Internet in the previous 3 months. Clearly there will be large numbers of people, including  the most vulnerable in society,  who will seriously struggle to use digital technology for the foreseeable future. If cash becomes illegal many of  these people will literally not be able to live if they cannot understand the technology or have no one to operate it for them.

3.The computer systems which support a cashless society will inevitably be subject to  regular disruption, whether from hacking or simple failure because,  as we all know,  digital technology frequently goes wrong and the system downtime can be considerable.   Imagine being unable to access the only means you have of paying for something.  It would probably be necessary to have more than one electronic payment device because of this, although that would not help if the fault was not with your payment device but with that of those from whom you wished to make a purchase.

  1. Many people will have their means of accessing electronic money stolen  or lose it themselves.  They would then need to replace their equipment which allowed them to access their electronic money.  Many would not be able to afford to do so and those most likely to lose or have their electronic money access  equipment stolen  would be the old and the disabled.

A cashless society would have considerable attractions for a government. It would greatly extend the power of the state over the individual. Crime generally might  be reduced without  physical cash to oil the felonious wheels, although cybercrime would become more tempting in the absence of banks to rob and people to mug. Tax evasion would become very difficult for most people (the rich would simply move their money to other jurisdictions) .  There would also be the saving on the abolition of the need to maintain a physical money supply.  Banks  and other financial institutions would also welcome the abolition of cash as it would remove the considerable cost of physically handling cash and maintaining a branch network.

The danger is that cash will become defunct by default,  because the Government shows no interest in protecting cash and arguably is surreptitiously encouraging  its demise by making it either impossible or very difficult to access public services in any way other than through the Internet.  We could reach a point where, say, 90% of the population use electronic money  and a government simply says it is time to go cashless ignoring the fact that millions of people who cannot use electronic money will be left in the soup. Politicians need to be lobbied now to ensure that  the maintenance of cash remains a legal requirement.

But it is not just a case of ensuring that cash remains a legal requirement. Even a  widespread refusal to accept cash  by businesses and other corporate bodies which charge for their services  would be seriously socially disruptive. That idea also needs to be knocked on the head  by making it illegal to refuse cash in payment for anything.

Get writing to your MP.

The Emperor’s New Clothes (2015) – It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame.

Robert Henderson

Narrator: Russell Brand

Director:   Michael Winterbottom

This documentary shamelessly mimics  Michael Moore  with a large dollop  of  “The smartest guys in the room” thrown in for good measure.  The end  product is a tepid imitation of Moore’s style   and a rather better pastiche of The smartest guys in the room.

Like a Moore documentary there is much in the film which is shocking: the greed and irresponsibility of the bankers:  the overt or tacit  collusion of  politicians which allowed  bankers to be effectively unregulated  in the run up to the 2008 crash; the failure to punish  with the criminal law any of those who were responsible for the banking crash; the ability of the likes of  Fred Goodwin  (the erstwhile CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland)   to walk away with a pension worth hundreds of thousands a year after wrecking  through his megalomania for expansion  one of the largest banks in the world. More generally the film also makes much of the  growing inequality in Britain.

Sounds intriguing? But the problem is Brand, unlike Moore, never manages to get to quiz any of those responsible or even to  embarrass them  by getting close enough to shout questions at them.   This is in large part simply a consequence of Brand /Winterbottom choosing a subject – bankers’ recklessness –  where getting to speak  to the culprits was a  obvious non-starter.  But  that makes a large part of the  film’s  approach  an anticipatable and hence avoidable  mistake.

A fair bit of the film features Brand arriving at the head of office of, say,  a high street bank, daringly entering the  public foyer  and then hitting a brick wall of indifference as he is left to grill receptionists and security guards on the wickedness of their employers.   The result  is  underwhelming the first time he uses the ploy, but moves from underwhelming to  irritating as the  device is repeated several times.  The nadir of this  “beard them in their lairs” tactic  is  Brand’s  arrival at the home of  Lord Rothermere  (whose family own amongst other publications the  Daily Mail) to tackle Rothermere about his non-dom status. After  Brand  had vaulted over a wall to show his rebel devil-may-care  tendencies, the scene ended with him conducting a meaningless conversation with a bemused housekeeper via an answerphone.  There was a vapidity about all these scenes which robbed them of their potentially humorous situational content based on the incongruity of what Brand was asking rank and file employees.  In the end it was simply Brand behaving boorishly.

All of this tedious , ineffective and self-regarding guff is wrapped within an ongoing theme of  Brand  “going back to his roots”   to  his childhood  town of in Grays in Essex.  (Brand is part of what Jerome K Jerome  called “Greater Cockneydom”).   He is  certainly much  friendlier  in his dealing with the  white workingclass than the vast majority of those on the Left these days who  tend to approach them  with all the delight of someone trying to avoid dog excrement on a pavement,  but there is a cloying quality to his relationship with those he meets as though he is playing in a rather ham fashion  the  part of a cockney sparrow returning  to its  long deserted nest.   He is also rather too keen to prove his street cred- there is an especially  cringeworthy episode where Brand  vaults a underground barrier and claims he has dodged the fare.  More damagingly perhaps, was that  hanging over his  words on the state of the have-nots and the misbehaviour of the haves hung  the fact that Brand is a rich man, a fact he tried  to address by trying to make a very feeble  joke indeed  about the fact.

Ironically Brand  displays a strong conservatism with a small ‘c’  when he laments the change from the Grays of his youth as a place where  the shops were run by local people and  “all the money spent in the town stayed in the town” to a modern Grays of boarded up shops and multinationals who suck the money and by implication the sense of community out of the place.

That is too black and white a view of then and now, but I can sympathise with Brand’s general nostalgia for the not so distant past. My memory tells me  that people were generally more content  forty years ago.  The trouble is that Brand completely fails to do is address the thing which has most dramatically changed places such as Grays namely, mass immigration, which of course is all part of the globalist ideology he purports to loathe.    That he should avoid the immigration issue is unsurprising because it is part of the credo of the modern Left that it is nothing but an unalloyed boon, but it does undermine horribly the credibility of the film as  an honest representation of reality .

The most nauseating part of the film involved Brand using an audience of  primary school children (at his old school) to  get his message across  by feeding them with the most intrusive sort of leading questions along the lines of  “Bankers earn zillions of pounds a year while the person who cleans their boardroom takes home fifty quid a week: is that fair?”  The children were charming, but using children as ideological props is a cheap shot at best and abusive at worst.

The film is at its best  when Brand is working from a script with  crisp graphics and commentary  in the style of The Smartest Guys in the Room. The  cataloguing of  the excesses of the financial industry and the stubborn refusal of the authorities in Britain to bring criminal charges against any board member of  the institutions which were responsible,   even the banks  which required  bailing out by the taxpayer, was  angering. Comparing this escape  from punishment  by high ranking bankers (who invariably  left  loaded with huge amounts of money on their departure from the offending banks)   with the many, often quite severe,  custodial sentences handed out to the 2011 rioters for stealing items worth at most a few hundred pounds and often for much  less  showed a reality that lived up unhesitatingly to the old refrain  “It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame” .

There is also some strong stuff about the growing inequality in Britain and the thing which with frightening speed is creating a massive generational divided, namely, the grotesque cost of housing which has removed from most of this generation any chance of buying a property  and forcing people  increasingly into extremely expensive  private rented accommodation.   But here again, the immigration issue was left untouched.

The film missed  several important ricks.  One of the scandals about the way bankers have been able to walk away from the 2008 crash without any serious action being taken against them is  that there has been no attempt to apply  the provisions in the Companies  Act  relating to directors behaviour. These provisions  allow the removal of personal limited liability  from  directors  where they have behaved in a reckless fashion. Remove their limited liability and creditors, including the government on behalf of taxpayers,  could seek  every penny they hold.

Then there is the extraordinary fact that the shareholders of the bailed out banks  still hold shares worth something.  The banks  were irredeemably insolvent when the Labour government bailed them out. The shareholders should have lost everything.  This fact  went unexamined.

But the film’s greatest  failure is to spend far too  little time role that politicians played in the economic disaster through their lack of regulation and the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  For example,  there was nothing on the  Lloyds TSB’s  takeover of  the HBOS which ended up capsizing Lloyds.  This takeover was done at the behest of Gordon Brown  and turned Lloyds TSB from a solvent bank with a reputation for prudence and caution into a bank which had to be bailed out by the British taxpayer. The bank is now the subject of a civil action by disgruntled shareholders who claim they were misled by  Lloyds about the state of HBOS.

Much of what Brand dislikes  I also dislike. Like him I deplore  globalisation because it is destabilising at best and dissolves  a society at worst ; like him I think it a monumental scandal that neither the main actors in the financial crash nor the politicians who had left the financial services industry so poorly regulated  were ever brought to book; like him I am dismayed  at the growing inequality in Britain  and the particular  disaster  that is the ever worsening British housing shortage.  But the film offers no coherent or remotely practical  solution to the ills of the age. It is simply a rage against the machine and like all such rages ultimately leaves its audience dissatisfied after the initial adrenal surge of sympathetic anger.

What can we learn from the  2015 British General Election?

Robert Henderson

  1. With First Past The Post less than 37% of votes cast (and less than 25% of registered voters) can give you a majority in the House of Commons , while nearly four million votes (for Ukip) can get you one seat in the House.
  2. The Conservative performance in terms of Commons seats was better than it looks because the size of UK constituencies varies considerably and  on average it takes substantially more votes to elect  Conservative MPs than it does a Labour MP in England  or MPs  in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Had the boundary changes put forward  in 2013 to produce more equal  sized  constituencies  not been blocked by the LibDems,  this would have favoured the Tories significantly, perhaps giving them another 20 seats.
  3. The reason for the failure of the pollsters to come anywhere near to the election result is simple: they tend to rely on telephone  and online polls.  Both routinely  result in samples which are not representative of the population. Telephone polls are  undermined by  the large number of people who are unwilling to answer questions  and the time of day  when calls are made, for example, if you ring during the day you are likely to get  a different sample than if you ring in the evening.  Online polls rely on (1) people being online and moderately  IT savvy – which excludes many people – and (2) what are in effect focus groups formed of people who put themselves forward  (which will mean they are unrepresentative   of the general  population regardless of the attempt to choose them in the context of their backgrounds ) who are questioned regularly( which precludes even the basic shuffling of the sample pack created every time an entirely  new sample is questioned.)
  4. The exit poll came much closer to the actual result because (1) it was a very large sample (20,000), (2) people were interviewed face to face and (3) the people interviewed had actually voted.  The pollsters need to go back to face to face interviewing and more rigorous selection of polling samples.
  5. The Conservative Party has a formal Commons majority of 12. Sinn Fein have  four  seats and if they follow their normal practice of not taking up those seats the majority would effectively  be 16.  Add in the Speaker of the House who does not  vote except when a vote is tied,  and the majority is effectively 17  (The  Commons has 650 MPs. Deduct the Sinn Fein MPs and the Speaker and a practical majority is 323. The Tories have 331 seats. That leaves 314 opposition MPs.  The practical majority is 17).   Such a majority is just about a working one.
  6. Even a twelve seat majority is functional because though it may look fragile, in practice all opposition MPs will  not vote against the government on many  issues. This can be for  ideological reasons (they broadly  agree with the legislation), they think voting against a Bill would play badly with the public or the simple fact that the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and many opposition English seat MPs have constituencies which are hundreds of miles away from London.  Tory seats tend to be much nearer London than opposition ones. Moreover, if the government wants to play difficult , they can  always refuse to allow pairing of MPs (MPs of different parties agree not to vote, thus cancelling one another’s votes  out) .  That would put a burden on their own MPs,  but much less of a one than that placed on opposition MPs, because, as  already explained,  Tory   MPs  on average have much less distance to travel to and from their constituencies than do opposition MPs.
  7. The size of the Conservative majority will give their backbenchers far more leverage  on the government. This will be healthy because it will re-assert the power of the Commons over the executive .
  8. In the first couple of years much of the major legislation going through will command widespread support amongst Conservative MPs. However, if the Cabinet starts backtracking on their manifesto promises the Tory backbenchers will want to know the reason why  and will rebel if pushed too hard in a direction they do not wish to go. (Cameron  was rash  enough at the first Cabinet meeting  of the new government to promise that the Tory manifesto would be implemented in full – go in at 11.32 am ) .
  9. Because of the small majority, the Conservative government should push through as soon as possible all their most important legislation. This  includes the EU referendum , English votes for English laws, the delayed boundary changes and  the repeal of the Human Rights Act.  The House of Lords can delay passing a Commons Bill for about a year. After that the government can force it through using the Parliament Act.
  10. The government would be well advised to repeal the Fixed term Parliaments Act, not least because the small majority is likely to diminish before the end of the Parliament and even if it does not it will be very difficult for the government party to maintain its discipline for five years. The danger is a repeat of the last years of the Major government  which saw  constant Tory infighting and precious little being done in the last eighteen months or so.
  11. The election told us that both the Tories and Labour are parties devoid of principle. Thatcher hollowed out the Tory Party converting it from a party which stood broadly for the national interest, strong on defence, protectionist where strategic industries such as coal were concerned  , with its  natural paternalism of the past sublimated into an acceptance of the welfare state.  Blair  cut out the central moral purpose of the Labour Party (to protect the poor  and unfortunate) and replaced it with a  toxic hybrid  of Thatcherism with its the  mania for  privatisation both wholesale and piecemeal  and greatly  increased state spending, much of which was spent to no good purpose and whose justification seemed to be no more than the spending of the money for its own sake to show how “caring” NuLabour were.
  12. While the SNP remain strong in Scotland Labour has no realistic chance of achieving an overall majority in the Commons.  It is worth noting that Labour  won  232  seats  in this election compared with compared with 258 in the 2010 Election, a loss of 26 seats.  As Labour lost 40 of their 41 seats in Scotland  and only one seat in Wales this means they gained 13 seats in England. Thus there is some small glimmer of hope for Labour to if not win form a coalition as the leading party in it after  the next General  Election  if the SNP vote collapses and the  Labour vote increases by a few percentage votes in England. However, it is a very slim hope at present.
  13. For the foreseeable future Labour are only  likely to  form a coalition government  with the SNP.
  14. Labour primarily did poorly because they have for long neglected  the white working class (which was the natural bedrock of their support)   and instead pandered to a motley collection of minority interest groups,  most notably racial and ethnic minorities. Because they had split their support they ended up trying to produce a message which would appeal to wildly disparate groups. Their “core vote” strategy, which involved appealing to around a third of voters and then either adding a few more votes to gain a majority  or at worst  to  be the dominant partner in a left of centre coalition, was both contemptible in a democracy because it ignored the interests of the majority and, as it turned out, a  hideous failure.
  15. If the Labour Party had been in a position to form a coalition they would have found themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea. If they had been able to form a majority  in  coalition with the SNP that would have finished them as an English party: if  they refused to form such a coalition they would have been ruined in Scotland and damaged  them in Wales on the grounds of having let in the Tories.
  16. SNP political leverage within the House of Commons can only exist while there is no English Parliament. Create an English Parliament and the SNP are emasculated . The popularity of the SNP in Scotland is unlikely to last because there is growing dissatisfaction in Scotland at both its economic mismanagement and its increasingly authoritarian behaviour. Time is the enemy of the SNP as the dark reality of what they have created comes to fruition.
  17. It has been claimed by many political commentators that a Tory government was just what the SNP wanted because it would fan the flames of Scottish nationalism and bogus  victimhood.  If this was the reasoning of the SNP leadership it was extremely stupid because it has rendered their party impotent at Westminster .  The intelligent strategy for Sturgeon to have followed  before the election would have been to say that the SNP  would  not have any formal relationship, whether coalition or a looser agreement , but would  support any legislation which fitted in with SNP policies.   There should have been no ruling out of any agreement with anyone, no demonising of any other Westminster Party, no threatening of England, no  trying to portray the SNP  as forcing left facing  policies on England  as being for England’s good .  Had she done that the Tories might well not have been able to form a government off their own bat.  Instead Sturgeon handed the Tories a victory which, if the Party was run by someone willing to look to England’s interests,  would have left the SNP to twist impotently in the wind .
  18. Wales and Northern Ireland have no serious wish to become independent, not least because they are economic basket cases which are heavily dependent on English taxpayers’ money.
  19. This was a profoundly dishonest election. There was a disturbing lack of debate by the major parties on  important policy areas with   foreign policy, defence, energy ,  food self-sufficiency and  the imbalanced devolution settlement which grossly disadvantages England  being  barely addressed.  Other major issues, for example immigration and the still massive deficit in the UK’s public finances were mentioned often enough,  but  without any proposals being put forward which would plausibly  tackle the problems involved.  Apart from Ukip, parties were either   for open borders (The Greens)  or restricted  to promises to cut benefits for immigrants and operate a points system to ensure only skilled migrants came.( Even if such things could be done, there would not necessarily be a reduction in migrants because no upper limit was put on numbers).    Proposals for increased government spending were either not costed at all or relied on fantasy  money coming  from “efficiency savings”  within public service or absurdly optimistic forecasts of how the British economy would grow.
  20. The housing crisis is the prime toxin in not only the British economy but also British society. The absurd cost of  both renting and buying is reducing large parts of the population (and particularly those under 35 who have never got on the housing ladder)  to a miserable, insecure existence.  All the major parties made promises of building hundreds of thousands of new houses a year  without meaningfully explaining where the money was coming from.  Moreover, much of what   they did promise  – 200,00 to -300,000 new flats and houses a year  – will inevitably  be taken by  immigrants because no major party could say these homes would  be reserved for native Britons because no major party is willing to pull out of the EU. Net immigration is currently running at  around 300,00 a year . If it continues at that level new immigrants will want at least 100,000 homes a year.  This fact went unmentioned by the Tories, Labour and  the LIbDems. To put the cherry on the housing mess, the Tories attempted to bribe, probably successfully, 2.5 million housing association tenants with an extension of the Right-to-Buy to such properties (this gives substantial discounts on the market price of a property).  This will reduce the number  properties which people can actually afford to rent in places such as London even further.
  21. David Cameron sanctioned a number of very  risky manifesto  commitments such as promising English votes for English laws, a referendum on the EU and  the repeal of the Human Rights Act. The most plausible explanation for this is he  did not believe the Tories would win an overall majority and had put these items into the Tory manifesto simply to use as bargaining chips which he could discard  in the event of another coalition with the LIbDems.  If that was Cameron’s  strategy it reinforces the idea of the leading politicians in Britain being complete cynics.  The Tories also recklessly  promised no rise in income tax, national insurance or VAT in the next Parliament.  They will have to live with that millstone around their necks for five years.
  22. Political correctness still has a terrible hold on those permitted a public voice. The most notable example of this was probably when the  Ukip leader Nigel Farage had the courage in one of the leaders’ debates  to raise the question of foreign  HIV sufferers  coming to Britain for very expensive and ongoing treatment on the NHS.  He was howled at by the studio audience and berated by  other politicians taking part as though he had placed himself beyond the Pale.
  23. The fact that Ukip are routinely described as “right-wing” and not infrequently “far right” by both mainstream politicians and the mainstream media nicely demonstrates the dominance of politically correct thinking amongst those given the privilege of a public voice. Apart from their wish to leave the EU, Ukip’s policies  are not radically different from those  espoused by the Tories and Labour over the past twenty-five years.  That applies even to immigration, because neither the Tories nor Labour has ever publicly  advocated an open door policy.
  24. The party for adolescents, the LibDems, will now be able to return to their pre-Thatcher role of being able to all fit into a telephone box at the same time.
  25. The party for the pre-pubescent, the Greens, can be safely left until the next election dreaming up ever more ever more febrile fantasies  of what the electorate wants. They will have some work to put in because they set the bar very high in this election with their plea for  open borders and increased foreign aid.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Selma takes the wrong road to watchability

Robert Henderson

Main cast

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King

Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover

Tim Roth as George Wallace

Director Ava DuVernay

Selma is the latest in an ever lengthening list of  propaganda films in the politically correct interest. It is Alabama 1965. Martin Luther King is already internationally famous after his “I have a dream “ speech   in 1963 and  the award of the Nobel Peace prize in 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is meeting with resistance and black voters  are  finding they still cannot  register to vote because of the application of local electoral regulations  in ways which are comically restrictive.   King goes to the city of Selma with a clutch of supporters from the  Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)  to protest  about this thwarting of the law, but their  attempts to help  blacks  register in the city   fail.  As a consequence  a protest march  from Selma to Montgomery , the Alabama state capital, is planned.  The first march is stopped brutally, the second aborted by King and the third allowed to happen.

That is the skeleton of the film.  There is precious little solid  dramatic flesh put on the skeleton. To be brutally frank Selma   is boring. It is too wordy,  too cluttered with characters,  too  didactic and unremittingly earnest.  These are qualities guaranteed to lose any cinema audience.  The problem is particularly acute when, as here,  there is an large cast.   Disputes and debates between King  and his supporters or between King  and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) are so extended and detailed that anyone not familiar with the story would not know what to make of it  and, in any case, as anyone who has ever been involved with an ideologically driven political group will be only too aware,  of little interest to anyone who has not been captured by the ideology. Reflecting life too exactly  on film is not always the best  way to keep people’s attention.  Propaganda films do not have to be boring, although  they often are. The black director Spike Lee would have made a much less sprawling and vastly  more watchable film whilst keeping the ideological message.

There is also a woeful and wilful  lack of historical context.  This one has at its core  a  vision of wicked Southern good ol’ boys  oppressing  blacks.  White involvement is restricted to racists with a penchant for violence,  a few white sympathisers with the civil rights movement who  appear peripherally,  adorned with looks of sublimely smug  unquestioning  utopian naivety not see on film since the initial sighting of a hippy commune in Easy  Rider and Lyndon Johnson who  is shown as sympathetic to King’s views but not interested enough to risk his political future by wholeheartedly embracing the legislation which King says is necessary .  There is  no attempt to see things from the viewpoint of the whites who opposed integration, unlike, for example, a film such as In the Heat of the Night in which  Rod Steiger’s sheriff  attempts  to explain why whites in the South are as they are because of their circumstances,  for example, their  widely held and not unreasonable fear that a black population which has been suppressed may turn on whites . Instead  Selma just rushes in and  points the finger of moral shame at any white who does not uncritically embrace what King advocates with a complete disregard from the fact that  every human being  morally and sociologically has  to start from the  situation into which they are born.

The concentration of the film on a specific time and place is also  problematic, because King’s  ideological  career was a far more complex  thing than the film can show. It also  removes the embarrassment which would have hung around a straightforward biopic of King, such as  the  plagiarism which gained him a doctorate and  his marginalisation as a civil rights leader which eventually saw him reduced to going to support sewage workers at the time of his assassination.  Mention is made of his gross  womanising, but only in the context of a sex tape recorded by the FBI which was sent to King’s wife  Cora. The fact that some who were close to him said  he had a particular  liking for white women – which could be taken as evidence of racism in King if his motive was to revenge himself on whites by abusing their women –  goes unmentioned .  Indeed, it is rather odd that a man as celebrated as King is in the USA  and with a worldwide reputation should never have had a full blown biopic. Perhaps the answer is that King’s private life was too messy to deal with in a film depicting his entire public  life rather than a short period of it devoted to a specific subject.

More importantly the tight focus in Selma  means that the fifty odd years since Selma  go unexamined.  No honest  person  would deny that the position of blacks in the USA and particularly those in the Old South was demeaning at the beginning of the 1960s,  but is what has  replaced segregation and Jim Crow laws  really that much better for most blacks or, perhaps more pertinently, anywhere near what King hoped would happen? Perhaps  the answer to the first question is a tepid  yes, at least for  blacks who have benefitted from  “positive discrimination”,  but it has to be an unequivocal no to the  latter.   Segregation by choice has replaced segregation by law. Illegitimacy  and crime amongst  blacks has rocketed. A fair case could be made for  the  individual  personal relationship between whites and blacks being worse now that it was fifty years ago.

Tom Wilkinson is very decent  LBJ but  David Oyelowo  does not quite cut it as King. It is not that it is technically a bad performance, it is simply that he does not capture the charisma that King undoubtedly had.  His  portrayal of King keeps a question nagging away at one: why would any one have followed this rather drab character?  The rest of the cast do not really have time to develop their roles, although Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King and Tim Roth as George Wallace have their moments.

The insubstantial quality of the film can be judged by the  meagre  Oscar recognition and  its  popularity with the public by the money it has taken.   The film was nominated for  Best Picture  and best song but for nothing else, which is a rather remarkable thing.  Nor did it win as best picture. A public  fuss was made about Ava DuVernay and  David Oyelowo being left out of Best Director and Best Actor categories,  but only in the context of no black actors and directors being nominated.  Considering the public political correctness the American film business emits,  it is rather difficult to imagine that the tepid response to Selma by the Oscar granting Academy voters was the result of racism.  In fact its nomination as Best Picture despite having no nominations in the directing and acting categories suggests that the opposite happened, Selma was nominated for Best Picture regardless of its mediocrity as a sop to political correctness.

The public also responded in less than passionate fashion. As of 16 April Selma had taken $52,076,908 worldwide which placed it 57th in the top grossing films of the previous 365 days.  Not  bad in purely commercial terms  for a film which cost $20 million to make, but distinctly underwhelming  for a film lauded to the skies by most critics and many public figures.  The truth is that people both in the States and abroad have not been that drawn to it, whether  because of the subject or the indifferent quality of the film.  One  can  take the browbeaten horses of the Western world to the politically correct water but they can’t make many of them drink.

The pernicious nature of a film like this is not that it casts whites as the villain,  but that it gives blacks and excuse for anything that goes wrong in their lives, the prize of an inexhaustible victimhood

See mass migration for what it is – invasion

Robert Henderson

The French writer Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints describes a situation not unlike that of the present exodus from North Africa and the Middle East. In Raspail’s book the invasion is by large ships crammed with Third World migrants coming to Europe where the ships are beached and the migrants flood into Europe, a Europe which has lost the will to resist because of decades of politically correct internationalist propaganda. Europe and eventually the entire developed world falls to the invasion of the Third World hordes who are armed only with their misery and the Pavlovian response of  First World populations brainwashed to believe that they collectively are to blame for third world ills and  who  consequently  cannot morally deny the invaders entry to their lands.. This is the scenario which is now being acted out in the Mediterranean, but with, in the main, small boats, rather than large ones carrying the mi grants.

The stark truth is that mass immigration is invasion resulting in the effective colonisation of parts of the invaded country because immigrants from a similar background have a pronounced tendency to congregate in the same area. Any other description of mass immigration is wilfully  dishonest.  It is as reasonable for a people to resist invasion by mass immigration as it is to an invasion by an armed invader.

Anti-immigration parties are on the rise because all over the developed world their elites have ignored the wishes of their people and forced mass immigration on them. In Britain (and many other first world countries) this has been accompanied by the increasingly punitive application of the criminal law to those who protest about mass immigration and its effects.

Nor is it only the developed world. Everywhere mass immigration is abhorred, for example, in South Africa where the government has just had to send in the army to stop attacks on migrants

The promotion of mass immigration is a particularly deep treason, because unlike an invasion by military force the legions of the immigrant army are disparate and cannot be readily expelled. Where mass immigration is deliberately  promoted by a government, as happened under Blair according to ex-No 10 advisor Andrew Neather,   to deliberately change the nature of a  society (in Neather’s words, “to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date”)  it is the most contemptible of treasons.

Mass immigration is a form of theft by the elites who permit it.  It robs  a people of their collective and individual  sense of national security and an enjoyment of a culture and history in which all share. Mundanely it steals from it people, and especially the poor, the  things which are necessary for a decent life:  housing at a decent price, schools which are near to where children live and which do not boast “96 languages are spoken here”, ready access to GPs and hospital treatment and   well paid jobs which have not had their wages suppressed through immigrant labour.  The whole business is made even more repulsive because the elites who inflict this on their people take good care to live in very white,  and in England, very English, worlds whilst incessantly extolling the joy of diversity.    These people know precisely what they are inflicting on others.

The answer to the migrants flooding across the Mediterranean  is very simple, spend money on surveillance methods such as drones and satellites and a substantial fleet of fast manoeuvrable ships which can patrol the Mediterranean  and intercept immigrant laden boats and ships and tow them back from whence they came.  The ideal would be to unload the migrants  and then destroy the ships.

It is also probable  that  the drone and satellite  surveillance would  provide information on where human traffickers are assembling their passengers and where the boats likely to be used to transport them are harboured.  If so, action could be taken by the Western powers to destroy their boats whilst in harbour. Lest there be a wail against Western states interfering with Third World countries, those contemplating such a  complaint should  reflect on the palpable fact that the states from which the migrants are coming are either failed states or  are actively conniving with the traffickers to get migrants from North Africa and the Middle East  into Europe.

If such a scheme t cost a billion  pounds a year it would be cheap at the price.  In fact if it cost ten billion a year it would be cheap. Such a scheme would be undeniably practical.  All that is required is the political will, of elites and the governed in the West,   to cast aside the politically correct mentality  which says people must be allowed to come, must be saved from perils into they have placed themselves,   regardless of the cost to the Western societies who have until now been expected to  take them in.

Film reviews – 50 Shades of Grey (tedium)

Main cast

Dakota Johnson – Anastasia Steele

Jamie Dornan  – Christian Grey

Eloise Mumford  –   Kate

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Running time 125 minutes

Imagine a script written by Barbara Cartland  after she had developed an  interest in  bondage and sado-masochism and you will be well on the way to understanding  exactly how dire this film is as  both a dramatic vehicle and a piece of pornography.

Anastasia (Dakota Johnson)  and her  best friend Kate (Eloise Mumford)share a flat.  They are university students well into their courses but behave like excitable fifteen-year-olds, gushingly and obsessively  talking about men whenever they are alone.  Sadly, for the politically correct, this means they fail the  Bechdel Test in traumatically emphatic fashion.  (The test was devised by  the cartoonist Alison Bechdel and judges the feminist credentials of a film by the number of occasions female characters talk together about something other than a man).

The film religiously follows the romantic tosh novel plot-by-numbers template.  Grey (Jamie Dorman) is  depicted as a self-made millionaire at the age of 27, a pianist of concert standard, a helicopter pilot and a glider pilot.  This is par for the romantic tosh novelist who loves nothing more than a  fabulously rich, ridiculously talented hero.  Amazingly, the man has achieved  all this despite being the son of a whore with a crack habit who died when he was four.  Another tick goes against the romantic tosh checklist, the troubled object of female desire.

When Anastasia  (classic romantic tosh writer name) is introduced by Christian ( classic romantic tosh writer name) to his family  the trouble object of female desire theme is ramped up with Grey’s  step mother  making  jolly clear that she is so glad to see Christian with such a nice girl because he needs a rock in his life.

Sadly, in view of the film’s racy reputation,  50 Shades of Grey  engages in what can only be described as  overly extended foreplay  with audience as it crawls so agonisingly slowly towards any erotic action that nothing happens for the first hour. Not to worry,  there is an inordinate amount of staring into one another’s eyes  with what are  meant to be meaningful looks.   Again, this  is absolutely in accordance with the romantic tosh template because  love or even raw desire  is not meant to rush headlong to its conclusion.

The dialogue is screenplay writing by numbers with no cliché or hideously obvious banality safe from  molestation. Here is a sample:

I have died a thousand deaths since Thursday.”

“I want to give you the world, Anastasia.”

“You’re the only person I’d fly three thousand miles to see.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”

“I’m fifty shades of f*cked up”

The ending is classic romantic tosh novelist. Anastasia rushes from Christians flat to a lift.  Christian follows.  Anastasia enters the lift and looks out at Christian who has not entered the lift . Just before the lift door closes Christians says “Anastasia” and Anastasia cries “Christian” (accompanied by some some especially meaningful staring) before the lift  doors close and Anastasia sinks from view. There we have the frequently used  romantic tosh novel of  false lost love  ploy which experienced readers of romantic tosh novels  will realise is simply a signal for a future reunion of the ill-starred lovers.

As for the sado-masochism, this consists primarily of  Anastasia and  Grey looking at a roomful  glutted with  whips, canes, belts and so on  all neatly stacked on racks,  a few tentative smacks of Dakota Johnson’s bottom  and one short strapping sequence which was very obviously faked.

The real  pornography  in the film is not the sex but the unashamed vulgar material  excess , with Grey’s apartment and office  both in scale and the  self-conscious interior décor  falling effortlessly into the category of megalomaniac  chic.  His supposed desire for dominance is primarily displayed in inappropriately lavish and embarrassing  gifts.  When they barely know each other  Grey  sends Dakota first editions of nineteen century English writers such as Jane Austen because she has casually expressed an interest in such work.  Later he arranges to sell her  old banger of a car without telling her and replaces  it with a new and expensive vehicle.

Rather damagingly for the film, sexual chemistry between Johnson and Dornan is unambiguously absent.  Johnson lacks sexual excitement. Judged by Hollywood standards she is not ultra attractive which is what the role required as a bare minimum.   Worse,  her  character  has had  a vivacity bypass.   She is just dull, dull, dull.

As for Dornan’s Grey,  far from  depicting a dominant, charismatic man he gives the character  the persona of a petulant self-absorbed adolescent with a  most irritating  addiction to  moron’s profundity, namely, the emitting of pretentious banalities in a tone which suggests they are plumbing the most sonorous depths of  insightfulness.

The best that can be said for the rest  of the cast is that they valiantly manage to keep  straight faces whilst delivering  dialogue  which in common humanity   should have been labelled  as unfit for thespian use.  One can only hope they have not been permanently damaged by the experience.

The film fails both as a drama and as a piece of pornography, it being as  sexually arousing as an Enid Blyton story with much the same level of psychological complexity  but considerably  less development of plot.

The coming digital tyranny

Robert Henderson

The  digital start up entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox is of the opinion that everyone should be forced to embrace  digital technology whether they wish to or not.  She has just given the Richard Dimbleby lecture for 2015  entitled  Dot Everyone: Power, the Internet and You arguing for this and  in an interview prior to the lecture she made these comments  in reply to the interviewer Rosie Millard:

“There are ten million adults in the UK who don’t get the benefits from the internet. I have never seen a tool that is as phenomenally empowering as the internet, for so little effort. I have met from people all over the country, from Bridlington to Bournemouth, saying it has helped them get back to work, helped them get their life back on track. I believe it’s worth spending the time showing people who haven’t had the money or exposure, the benefits.”

What about people like my[Millard’s]  mum, who simply resists it? “It’s not enough to just say, ‘I don’t do the internet’,” says Lane Fox crisply. “We should give those people a gentle nudge.”

One wonders what the “gentle nudge” would consist of if people either will not or  cannot use  computers and the  internet? There are plenty of those, millions in Britain alone (Lane Fox estimates there are 10 million).  To see how unrealistic Lane Fox is let me list all the candidates for those who will not be able to use the Internet for reasons of incapacity, physical or mental, or for want of money:

  1. the reasons for physical and mental incapacity
  2. Roughly ten percent of the population of Britain (around six million) have IQs of 80 or less. That is the level at which most psychologists working in the field of psychometrics think that someone will struggle to live an independent life in an advanced industrial society such as Britain.  Most of these people  will   not be able to use computers or the Internet independently. This is particularly so in cases where they have to navigate the often poorly designed and confusing websites of government  bodies and large private companies, something which is becoming an ever growing part of  everyday life.    Many of those with IQs  of 100 or less will also struggle.  These people will be drawn from all age groups.  The idea that the young are always deeply learned in the ways of computers and the Internet is a myth.
  3. There are over 9 million people classified as disabled in Britain. Obviously not all will be incapable of using computers without assistance, but large numbers will, for example, around two million are registered blind. Although there are aids to allow the blind to use computers there are limits particularly if it is necessary to  do something like filling  in a form online.
  4. Age plays its part, both in terms of people’s experience and abilities. At the 2011 UK census there were 10.4 million people in the UK over the age of 65 (16 per cent of the UK population).  Consider these facts:

–  Anyone  over forty  will have grown up without the internet .

– Anyone over fifty will have had little or no  experience of computers as a child.

–  Anyone over  sixty will probably have spent their working lives without using computers            much or at all in their work.

These  facts mean that many of those over the age of forty will be, in varying degrees ,uncomfortable when using computers, with many having little experience of using them.  This widespread lack of familiarity and ease with computers in those over forty  also means that their  peer groups contain little expertise on which the individual can call. Those in younger age groups have a ready supply of  IT knowledge  from their peer group to call on.

  1. Many people in work still do not use computers routinely and are daunted by them.
  2. Sheer mental weariness being in a continuous learning process because  of the ceaseless alterations to  software, much of which people cannot readily  avoid such as operating systems, email systems and word processors.     I will use myself as an example. I first used computers in the late 1980s.   I began by learning DOS which was in effect a programming language which allowed functions such as copying and moving files, switching directories, erasing files, saving files and so on. A line of code had to be written for each function. I moved from that to a DOS manager which made things a little easier. Next came Windows 1993, Windows 1998, Windows XP Home and finally Windows 7. And that is just the operating systems I have had to learn.  There comes a point where the mind rebels against learning yet another new system.

The idea that training could be provided for the millions who are not computer literate is fanciful, but even if it could be provided it would fail simply because huge numbers of the  IT illiterate would not be able to come to terms with computers.

(B)  The causes of material incapacity

  1. The poor who will be unable to meet the cost of buying IT equipment, having it installed in their home, paying for the broadband rental and meeting the cost of buying IT expertise to install and repair equipment when it goes wrong .
  2. Paid for access at places such as Internet cafes can be too expensive for the poor and outside of large towns and cities such provision is often sparse.
  3. Free access to the Internet though public libraries is becoming increasingly difficult because of the number of public libraries which are closing or having their services cut. The time allowed per person for Internet access in public libraries is also very limited, often an hour in any one day.
  4. Much of the equipment in Public Libraries and Internet cafes is outdated and poorly maintained.
  5. There is little help in public libraries or Internet cafes to either aid the IT ignorant or to put right faults with the equipment.

What should be done?

To imagine that  almost everyone will be able to get online and handle the ever increasing demands by both the state and private business is clearly absurd because there are huge numbers of  people who are either utterly bewildered by digital technology or unable to afford it.

Yet that is what we are moving towards because our politicians are both enamoured with the idea of putting the administrative side of public services on line and stand idly by while more and more of private businesses, especially banks and retailers, are shifting their business online with the result that society, especially outside the larger cities and towns,  is increasingly ill served with villages being left without a single cashpoint and urban areas left with high streets  with half the shops unoccupied.

Government should act to ensure that no public service or benefit is dependent on the use of the Internet, that there should always be a human being who can be contacted and a paper form available whenever a member of the public needs to engage with a public body. Private businesses should have a legally enforceable  requirement placed on them to make provision for the public to be able to engage with  them without using the Internet.  That is not an unreasonable burden  because public service and  businesses of all sizes should be able to provide at least a phone number for the public to contact and dealing with correspondence  sent by post should not take much more time than dealing with emails. .

Banks should be forced by law to maintain sufficient cash machines to ensure that no community is left without one within reasonable reach.  The problem of derelict high streets could be tackled by placing a special tax on retailers operating online with the money being used to  reduce business rates on retail premises.  Pitched at the right level such a tax would also reduce the incentive for businesses to forgo retail premises  for online trading.

Unless something is done millions of people are going to be increasingly left high and dry without the means or capacity to live independent lives  simply because they either cannot come to terms with the demands of an ever increasingly digital tyranny or afford the means to access the Internet.

Film review – Still Alice

Main Cast

Julianne Moore as Alice Howland

Alec Baldwin as John Howland

Kristen Stewart as Lydia Howland

Kate Bosworth as Anna Howland-Jones

Hunter Parrish as Tom Howland

Shane McRae as Charlie Jones

Stephen Kunken as Benjamin

Directors:  Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

I am decidedly wary of films which revolve around  disability because they all too often dive into a morass of self-conscious sentimentality.   Just Alice avoids this fate  because of the excellence of Moore’s performance and the often selfish and neglectful  behaviour of her family, although, sadly,  there is a sentimental ending wholly out of keeping with the rest of the film.

Alice (Julianne Moore) is a  professor of linguistics at Columbia University   who  finds herself struggling with her memory and concentration.  At first it is just the odd word or name which escapes her, something that happens to all of us as we get older. But soon she is forgetting appointments and social occasions, finding herself disoriented in familiar surroundings and being unable to lecture coherently.  She meets people then a few minutes later has forgotten that she has met them. Worried, she sees a specialist and finds that she has early onset Alzheimer’s .

From that point onwards Alice stumbles  ever  further  into a world which  is increasingly  both incomprehensible and unmanageable.   At first she devises strategies such as writing three or four words  on a board and then covering it up for a time before trying to remember what she has written. She gives a talk to the Alzheimer’s Society which she is only able to do by highlighting each sentence as she speaks it to tell her what she has already said. She puts questions about people she knows such as their names and relationships on her phone and tries to answer them. But these exercises and stratagems become increasingly redundant as time passes as we watch a personality  shrinking as faculties are remorseless subtracted from her.

The diagnosis adds a further complication: Alice has a form of Alzheimer’s which is hereditary.  She  has three  adult  children, one of whom is pregnant with twins.  Her  eldest daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), tests positive for the Alzheimer’s gene;  her unborn twins test negative, as does her doctor son Tom. Alice’s youngest daughter, aspiring actor Lydia (Kristen Stewart) refuses to have the test.

While Alice still has most of  her marbles she tries prepare for  the time when she will not be able to look after herself. Under the pretence that she is looking for a place for her father she visits a retirement home which specialises in dementia cases  to get an idea of what the future will hold and comes away dismayed by what she sees, a host of  people defrocked  of their dignity and purpose.  Perhaps prompted by this dismal future she leaves a message for herself on  her computer  giving her future self instructions  about what to do when she can no longer answer questions such as Who is your eldest daughter?  These instructions consist of telling her where to find  a bottle of  pills (which will kill her if they are all taken in one go) and  to swallow the lot.

As her state worsens Alice forgets the recording giving her the instructions to kill herself, but inadvertently clicks on the computer file containing it when she is already well advanced in the decline of her mental powers. She  makes  several  abortive starts to find the pills because she keeps forgetting the instructions to find them on her way to the pills.  Eventually Alice  finds the bottle,  but just as she is about to take the pills someone returns to the house and the sound of them causes her to spill the pills onto the floor. The  interruption causes her to forget  why she  was holding the pills and her chance of escape from an increasingly undignified existence is lost without her even knowing that it existed.

Alice’s family are not outrageously   unsympathetic , but most of them display a greater concern for their own lives which leads  them to behave selfishly   in the face of   Alice’s growing needs.  Her husband John , a medical research scientist is negotiating a deal with the Mayo Clinic and eventually leaves his wife to take up a post a couple of hundred miles away,   the elder daughter Anna  is preoccupied with her pregnancy and  the  youngest daughter Lydia   displays the selfishness  and lack of patience of  a moody teenager, although in the end she  returns to look after her mother.

The acting is uniformly good with  Moore unreservedly first rate in her portrayal of someone shrinking from a confident adulthood to something less than a child. Just by her facial expressions she manages to give the impression as the film progresses of a mind becoming less and less functional until at the end there is little left other than vacancy.

It might be objected that by concentrating on a high performing individual the film misrepresents, even in a strange way  glamorises  Alzheimer’s,  because  someone  like Alice seems to have more to lose than most dementia sufferers , her diminishing to be of greater consequence .  This strikes me as a complaint without  substance.  It is true that the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients will be people without any special intellectual distinction and perhaps the classic patient will be someone who is poor  with little education, but  there are plenty of  people in Alice’s situation, Iris Murdock being  a recent famous example.  Alice is not an anomaly  in the world of Alzheimer’s.

If the film has a weaknesses it is the very heavy handed  over egging of the poignancy of Alice’s situation.  Her background story is just too facile,  containing as it does the grand and obvious irony  that someone who knows so much about the workings of language is being stripped of that knowledge  and in the end of language itself . I think it would have been better if she had been an historian. The irony of her position would have still been telling  but more subtle and probably more apt, because she would have been a woman whose life involved knowing a great deal of the past having that knowledge eroded to nothing.

Then there is the making of the disease Alice carries hereditary.  Alzheimer’s can be inherited but the odds in real life are very much against it, with perhaps 5% of cases involving heredity.  By introducing the  chance of the disease being carried by the children the focus is unnecessarily  moved away from Alice’s  plight which is all that really matters here.

But these  are small quibbles  when placed in the context of the general excellence of the film.

What can the quantum world teach us about reality?

Robert Henderson

If  physicists  are to be believed  the quantum world is a bewilderingly odd place where  the  common-sense rationality of  cause and effect holds no sway.  Particles can be linked at potentially any distance (a state called entanglement) so that altering the state of one results in the same alteration in the other instantaneously.  There is quantum tunnelling whereby a particle can move  itself through an obstacle which it does not have the energy to move over or around (akin to something changing its nature to go through a brick wall rather than over it) and superposition of states where an entity such as an electron or atom can be in different states and positions  at the same time.

Perhaps  oddest to the human mind is the idea  that an entity such as an electron or proton can exist simultaneously in two forms, as a wave and a particle and that when the entity is not observed it displays wave properties,  but  when measured (in this case measured meaning  to be observed) then it immediately assumes its particle form, viz: .

“When a quantum “observer” is watching Quantum mechanics states that particles can also behave as waves. This can be true for electrons at the submicron level, i.e., at distances measuring less than one micron, or one thousandth of a millimeter. When behaving as waves, they can simultaneously pass through several openings in a barrier and then meet again at the other side of the barrier. This “meeting” is known as interference.

Strange as it may sound, interference can only occur when no one is watching. Once an observer begins to watch the particles going through the openings, the picture changes dramatically: if a particle can be seen going through one opening, then it’s clear it didn’t go through another. In other words, when under observation, electrons are being “forced” to behave like particles and not like waves. Thus the mere act of observation affects the experimental findings”. Science Daily

This is as disorientating for physicists as for anyone else:

“Nothing is real until it has been observed! This clearly needs thinking about. Are we really saying that in the ‘real’ world – outside of the laboratory – that until a thing has been observed it doesn’t exist? This is precisely what the Copenhagen Interpretation is telling us about reality. This has caused some very well respected cosmologists (Stephen Hawking for one) to worry that this implies that there must actually be something ‘outside’ the universe to look at the universe as a whole and collapse its overall wave function. John Wheeler puts forward an argument that it is only the presence of conscious observers, in the form of ourselves, that has collapsed the wave function and made the universe exist. If we take this to be true, then the universe only exists because we are looking at it. As this is heading into very deep water I think we will have to leave it there and move on to the next experiment.”

The idea that nothing is real unless it is observed is worrying enough, but it also raises the difficult question about who or what constitutes an observer. Is it only human beings who qualify or can any organism? Would a bacteria or even a virus qualify or would the observer have to have a degree of self-consciousness and intelligence, for example, say all the great apes plus humans?

It would be interesting to conduct  the  double slit experiment  –  in which a single  electron is sent through two slits  in a board at the same time  when acting as a wave when  unobserved but only through one slit whilst acting as a particle  when observed –  with different organisms  present but no humans.

The question of who or what counts as an observer  has further difficulties.  Suppose human beings are the only observers who activate reality or what we think of as reality. Human beings frequently suffer the loss of faculties such as sight and hearing.  Does someone who is blind not act as a reality  activating observer?   Those who  have lost a sense  still have a solid idea of what they perceive to be the external world. Any sighted person can test the proposition by closing their eyes. They still experience what they believe to be reality through their other senses.  Not only that, but if the sighted person has an object before them which they have seen before closing their eyes,  very often they can touch it and recognise the shape of the object even if it is shifted to another position.   It is also possible for  a sighted person whose eyes are covered to correctly  identify objects they have not seen using their other senses. Moreover, those  who have lost sight  will say that they experience  the same type of sensory perception  the sighted with closed eyes experience, although  probably   with a heightened non-visual perception.

There is also what might be termed the partial perception of something problem.  We hear what we believe is a  door banging but cannot see the door,  a smell coming from a kitchen suggests bacon is frying although we cannot see inside the kitchen,  we hear voices down a telephone. What exactly is being brought into existence here if we accept that  nothing actually exists as we perceive it until we perceive it?  Does the voice at the other end of a phone call actually exists or are we simply calling into being a personality by either answering a ringing phone or making a call?

But observation/measurement is not simply a question of organisms measuring according to physicists.  They also tell us that if the observation/measurement is made by inorganic means such as a machine which detects particles  without any human involvement  the unobserved/measured wave  still collapses into a particle.

Where does this leave us? If humans can experience reality without a full set of senses this implies one of three things: that the senses operate individually as a trigger to bring reality into existence  within the limits of the senses operating at a given moment,  that the existence of a human  perceiving a situation  is what counts regardless of how the perception is made or  human minds are simply projectors  of information from an external source in the same way that a video file  plays in  Realplayer or a reel of film plays on a screen. If nothing exists until we attempt to measure/observe it any of these scenarios  is plausible.

To add to the intense  intellectual discomfort  which descriptions of  and theories about  the quantum world generates, physicists are far from agreeing  how  the quantum world operates, for example, there is disagreement over whether the wave function is a statistical tool or a physical reality and the no man’s  land between the textbook  quantum world (that is molecules, atoms and  subatomic particles)  and the arena of classic physics of Newton is undecided territory with no definite understood interaction and the  way that quantum effects bleed over into the macro world which we experience with our senses. There is also a school of thought which favours the many worlds theory in which the wave-function does not collapse but possible states, for example,  there is or is not a sleeping cat,  are realised in different universes.  Nonetheless, there is a general acceptance  by physicists  that the quantum world does not play by the rules of Newtonian physics ,  even if the weirdness is given different interpretations.

To all that weirdness can be added the general strangeness of  atoms being  comprised almost entirely of empty space. The lay human  mind naturally boggles  at how atoms which have so little physical substance  can produce  objects which are so solid and real to the human senses.

A virtual reality universe 

All this may seem to be utterly nonsensical to the human mind, but there is a rational and plausible explanation for what seems absurd from our own experience.    Ask yourself what  it is that  humans have created which  most resembles our perceived reality? The answer is beautifully  unambiguous, namely the virtual realities created by digital means,  whether they be games or simply experiential programmes.

Imagine an entity  in a virtual reality  generated by  a very advanced form of artificial intelligence (AI) which possessed something similar to the  consciousness  and intelligence  humans possess . Such an entity would be unaware that  it was  no more than a  character created  from energy living in a seeming reality which existed simply as a computer program. The character would be in exactly the same position as ourselves. Let us further imagine this artificial intelligence began to investigate the nature of the  perceived realm in which they existed  and  performed the type of experiments humans perform to look at the sub-atomic world and found that when they looked beyond the perceived reality they discovered the machine code. Would that not be the equivalent of humans discovering the weirdness of the quantum world we exist in?

if we are in a created reality akin to human created artificial realities the AI generated self conscious entity in a computer generated and hosted world would only be activated as and when the purpose of the virtual world required the activation and the entity’s  perception of its surroundings would only be necessary for when it was needed. (That is exactly what happens in a human controlled virtual reality).    Such an entity would  have a sense of time passing , but what  that would represent would not be time in an absolute sense of  immutable duration. Rather  it would   be the  totality  of the experiences  which the entity encountered.   If these experiences  were linked in seeming chronological order then the entity would have the experience of  linear time as we do, although all that would be experienced would be a series of existential episodes . That is precisely what quantum mechanics suggests is happening in our perceived reality.

If a reality is created rather than arising without any creative agent bringing it into existence, any  such reality must of necessity have the nature of  an artificial construct when viewed from outside.  The relationship between the creator and the created reality will always be the same, in general terms,  as that of  the virtual reality created by humans.

It could be that by seeing beyond the Newtonian world  of common-sense  cause and effect,  what humans are seeing is the equivalent of  machine code  for  the reality we live in and that the explanation for the reality we perceive is that we are part of a computer  generated virtual reality or something similar.  If that is accepted the quantum world becomes  far less absurd and mysterious. For example, entanglement  does not pose a problem because if we are part of a computer simulation anything can be achieved. All we have to do is believe that it is real. Billions of galaxies with countless stars  and unimaginable distances between them become only figments of perception rather than realities. If we are living in the equivalent of a computer programme then space as we perceive it would  merely be a projected illusion on to our consciousness. Our different senses of the rate  at which  time passes could be simply the consequence  of  the computer program we are operating at different rates  of event perception. Indeed, anything can be explained if it accepted that we are existing in something similar to a computer generated world.  Just as humans can  create fantastical computer generated worlds which break all the laws of Nature, so could our reality contain whatever a creator wished.

Even at the level of our perception of the universe about us there are some distinct oddities. Take the question of  the possibility of life, and especially intelligent life, existing somewhere else in the universe. Despite the fact that that  there are unimaginably immense, possibly infinite,  numbers of  galaxies  in what we perceive as our universe, we have absolutely no  meaningful  evidence of any sort of life existing anywhere but Earth.   Our natural inclination is to think that there must be life elsewhere because of the seemingly colossal opportunities for it to exist.   But if that is the case why  have no intelligent aliens been encountered, either though their  intrusion into our solar system or through messages sent  remotely? There is a plausible argument that the reason is because the age of the universe is so immense that it would be most improbable that any alien visitor would coincide with the minute  period humans have existed who could have recorded the visit. But if the universe is so vast, even infinite,  the opportunities for such an encounter would be fantastically large or even infinite.  Looked at from that viewpoint the absence of any other life in the universe showing themselves to us or simply being found seems improbable.

Infinity is the trickiest of intellectual constructs  because once infinity is brought into the picture all concepts of number, size, density, duration  or any other measurable quality become irrelevant in the context of what the totality of  measurements of a particular quality in an infinity because by definition the total cannot be calculated. For example, it would be impossible to know the combined weight of an infinite number of one pound lead weights . Claims that there are different size infinities, for example, an infinite series  of ones is smaller in total  than an infinite series of twos or an infinite number of rooms ten feet square is larger in floor area than a infinite number of rooms five feet square simply misunderstand what infinity is. What infinity does do is make anything possible although the probability of possibilities will vary tremendously.

Created and uncreated worlds

If our world is the product of a creator we are not that much further forward to what is our ultimate existential cause  because the question of who created our creator  and who created the creator’s creator and so on in an infinite vicious regression with no ultimate answer.  But what of the alternative explanation for our existence that our perceived reality simply came in existence?   There is no means of proving that this is what happened because  there could be no evidence that our reality had occurred  without any conscious creator which would not be defeated by  the question , yes, that happened but what caused it to happen?  It would be impossible even in principle to show that any event or phenomenon was without a first cause.

Why would anything  exist if there is no creator ? I suggest this. There are an infinite number of chances that something might exists and only a single chance that nothing might exist.  Perhaps there is existence simply because Nature abhors a vacuum.

What could be the motives of those who create realities if in fact they are created? It could be :

  1. a simulation to test an hypothesis.
  2. an experiment, for example, to see how human beings would evolve.
  3. a game, for example, to see  who can get their player in the  in the game to solve problem of why their perceived reality exists.
  4. An aesthetic creation akin to what we call art.
  5. Most undignified from the human point of view would be that we are simply an unintended consequence of the created reality which we inhabit like rust on a horseshoe.

Why would a creator make the structure  of the quantum and classical physical worlds  so different?

  1. Because that is simply the way things have to be if a human were to perceive the virtual reality as reality. .
  2. Because that is the most efficient way to produce a human perceived reality.
  3. Because it is the only way known to the creator to produce a human perceived reality.
  4. To hide the nature of the reality from human beings to make the working of the reality more efficient or more pleasing to the creator.
  5. Because to understand the quantum world would interfere  with the function or purpose of the created reality.
  6. As a catalyst to increase the intelligence and understanding of the intelligences within the created reality either as an experiment or as a game, the end product of which is for humans to understand the quantum world.
  7. To disguise the nature of the creator.

Solipsism and dreams

It is possible that everything we think we are experiencing is simply a product of our minds with nothing existing outside our mind.

Humans, either individually or collectively could be the product of another’s being’s mind, either consciously or in a dreaming state.

Is there anything definite we can say about existence?

I can think of only two things which are  certain:

  1. any dynamic universe, that is a universe which experiences change, has of necessity the nature of a machine and everything thing in it, whether animate or inanimate, must share that nature. That does not mean it must be run on a basis of linear cause and effect, merely that it experiences change.  Nor does it mean that the mechanical nature of a dynamic universe is predictable. Machine-like behaviour operates at the quantum level even if it is probalistic rather than certain.  Moreover, even in the macro world we experience , our definition of a machine no longer includes a predetermined result because computer programs, especially those using AI, do not give a certain result.
  2. Free will is a logistical impossibility both because of the mechanical nature of dynamic universes and as a matter of simple logic. Imagine the most powerful possible being, an all powerful, all knowing creature such as the  most awesome God of whom we can conceive. Such a being still does not have free will because any being exercising conscious choice must of necessity have a discrete mind  and a mind must be  limited by its own desires.

The temptation for humans is to simply say quantum theory  is nonsense, but nonsense when applied to facts rather than logic is what is impossible. However unsettling the quantum world is it is not in principle impossible. The weirdness of the quantum world does not mean it is not a conceivable system. It plays by its own rules but they are still rules. The collapse of the wave function is a perfectly understandable and coherent idea if it is allowed that that is how the quantum world works. In its own way it is even a form of cause and effect, the wave is observed (cause)  and collapses to a particle (effect).

I offer these thoughts merely as a possibility. I am not saying modern physics is wholly or even partially correct. What I am doing is to say that if the underlying fabric of our perceived reality is as seemingly irrational as physicists  say, even if they squabble over the details, then we and our perceived reality can be explained as being akin to a computer generated human created virtual world.

The  more I read myself into quantum physics the more rational it becomes in the sense that I can see it is a coherent physical system. I have recently finished reading a book Life on the Edge which deals with quantum behaviour within organisms. More than any other book on the quantum world I have read this explains clearly for the layman both quantum physics in general and its fascinating role in the Natural; World. Well worth a read). The fact that it seems more and more like a coherent system makes it seem less and less alien. There is as much about atoms, protons and so on  which is as seemingly fantastic as quantum ideas such as entanglement and the collapse of the wave function, for example, the that atoms are 99.99% empty space and photons have no mass. (If they had mass they would not be able to travel at the speed of light).  If we can accept that weirdness then there is no reason in principle why the weirdness of quantum theory cannot be true.

My last thought is this, I am drawn to the idea that we are living in something similar to a  human created virtual reality because it is the most economical explanation  for quantum weirdness.

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