Monthly Archives: December 2015

Politically incorrect film reviews – The Martian

Main cast

Matt Damon as Mark Watney (botanist, engineer)

Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson (Director, Media Relations)

Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders, Director of NASA

Michael Peña as Major Rick Martinez, astronaut (pilot)

Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut (system operator, reactor technician)

Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, Hermes flight director

Sebastian Stan as Dr. Chris Beck, astronaut (flight surgeon, EVA specialist)

Aksel Hennie as Dr. Alex Vogel, astronaut (navigator, chemist)

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director

Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist

Benedict Wong as Bruce Ng, director of JPL

Director Ridley Scott

Imagine Robinson Crusoe without  a Man Friday  and stranded on another planet  rather than a deserted island  and you have the plot of The  Martian in a nutshell.

Botanist Mark Watney ( Matt Damon)  is part of  the Ares III mission  which has landed on Mars and set up a temporary base there. A dust storm blows up while the crew are out on the surface and Watney is hit by some flying debris. The rest of the crew are sure he is dead, but they also have a major danger  to distract them from searching for him: the dust storm is threatening to blow over the rocket that  will take them back to their orbiting Hermes  spaceship. If the rocket topples over the crew will be stranded on Mars.   Consequently, they make an emergency take off  without Watney, get safely to the Hermes and  head  for Earth.

But Watney is not dead. He has been injured by  the flying debris,  but not mortally. The facility which sheltered the crew on Mars, the Hab, is still functioning  and there is a large Mars rover vehicle intact.  Watney sits down in the Hab and does  exactly what Crusoe does, takes an inventory of what he has then sets about working himself out of the monumental hole he is in.  This he achieves  in a series of   ingenious ways   including, again mimicking  Crusoe , by scavenging equipment  from  wrecks, in this case  from abandoned equipment  left  from previous missions, manned and unmanned, to  Mars.

Most of the film  is taken up with Watney’s efforts  to overcome  one daunting  obstacle to surviving  after another long enough to have any chance of rescue.  He starts from the bleak  point of knowing that NASA  think that he is dead.  Hence his   first need is to establish contact with Earth to let them know he is alive.  He eventually does this  by cleverly  tinkering with equipment  intended for other things until eventually he has an email  link with NASA.

After making contact with NASA,  Watney’s  most pressing problem is  having enough food   to last long enough to keep him alive until Earth can attempt to rescue him. It will take several years to send another spaceship to Mars and Watney  has food for nothing like that long. Luckily he is a botanist so he works out a way of producing water and this,  with the excrement from the astronauts acting as fertiliser, allows him to grow potatoes inside the Hab with sufficient success  to allow him to survive for considerably  longer but not long enough for the next Mars expedition, Aries IV, to arrive and save  him.

While Watney is problem solving on Mars NASA is problem solving on Earth and meeting with disaster. Their attempts to   launch an unmanned rocket with extra supplies to allow Watney to survive until Aires IV can get there  ends in disaster and all looks lost.  But eventually  the Aries III mission ship Hermes ship is re-provisioned a in space and then turned around on its flight to Earth and sent back to Mars to rescue Watney. This is done only with the help of the Chinese (note the glib  internationalism and/or kotowing to the Chinese).

After further adventures including a disaster with the Hab and a long ride across the Martian surface in the Mars Rover the film culminates in a hair raising exercise to rescue Watney. Does he make it? Well, you will need to see the film to discover that.

Damon’s performance as Watney  recaptures  the engaging boyishness of his early films like Goodwill Hunting and Rounders.   He is also decidedly funny. Without him the film would be pretty dull,  for apart from Damon the plot involving the rest of the cast is rather predictable and even those with  the larger parts such as Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders,  the Director of NASA and Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis,   the Ares III Mission Commander, are distinctly one-dimensional.  Sean Bean is horribly miscast as Mitch Henderson the Hermes flight director speaking what lines he has with as much verve as a speak-your-weight-machine .

The Martian has been criticised in some quarters for Damon’s role being too comic.  That is a mistake. Whether  or not someone in such a desperate and isolated position  would be able to maintain such an upbeat  persona with the sense of both his utter physical isolation and desperate circumstances  pressing upon him is of course debatable . But that is to miss the point. The same objection could be levelled at Robinson Crusoe.  But in both cases what counts is whether there is a good story to be told and in both cases the answer is yes.   Moreover, the attitude of Watney  is that of those with the  “right stuff”, an epitome of American can do. Nor is he  utterly alone for most of the film. To keep him sane  he has his contact with Earth for most of the time and eventually  the Aries III ship Hermes . He also records his progress on a video blog, something which would provide a sense of purpose.   It is Boy’s Own stuff but none the worse for that. Nor is it  utterly unbelievable. Think of the tone of the diaries kept on Scott’s doomed return from the South Pole or the resolution of the crew on Apollo 13 after an oxygen tank  exploded  two days into the mission and crippled the spacecraft.    Boy’s Own behaviour is found in real life.

The  depiction  of Mars is unnecessarily sloppy.  It  looks convincing as far as the scenery is concerned, but  there are   anomalies. The gravity on Mars is one-third of that on Earth yet when Damon moves around  there is no  indication of this  in his  walk ,which one would expect to be at least mildly bouncing. Nor when Damon moves things does he do so with unexpected ease as one would imagine he should with only one-third Earth gravity.   Then there is the atmospheric pressure which is around  one-hundredth of the on Earth. Would the storm which causes the Aries Mission  crew to leave really have had the energy to hurl debris as violently as it did or threaten to knock the rocket over?  The answer is no because it is the density of atmosphere which provides the “weight” behind a dust storm. On Mars the dust storm would be a  breeze not a hurricane.  As the dust storm plays a significant role in the plot this is not a small thing.

For politically correct casting  fans The Martian provides a feast.  The commander of the Aries II mission is a woman; the Chiwetel Ejiofor is  Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director, Benedict Wong is  Bruce Ng, director of JPL and there  are ethnic minority and female  bodies all over the place in the NASA control room scenes.  Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist, s the whizz kid who produces  the maths which allows the  Hermes to turn round and head back to Mars is black.  (The overwhelmingly  white  and male  reality of NASAtoday  can be seen here).

Despite its flaws  the film  is genuinely  entertaining.  You will not leave the cinema feeling you have wasted a couple of hours.

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You aint no realist bruv

Robert Henderson

The latest Muslim atrocities in the West  (ParisUSA and London) has been met with the frantic  recitation of the liberal internationalist’s favourite mantra to explain away such terrorism, namely, it is not committed by Muslims.

The attack in the Leytonstone tube station in outer London set the ball rolling in Britain when the   lone black attacker  shouted  “This is for Syria” prompting the response  “You ain’t no  Muslim bruv” from an onlooker,  a black Londoner  judged by his accent and the fact that he addressed the attacker as “bruv”, a term only common amongst blacks in Britain. The context also suggests  that the man is a Muslim.

The hashtag “You ain’t no  Muslim bruv”  was soon alive on twitter  and lavishly lauded by the politically correct as an example of how  to respond to  someone claiming to be a Muslim who had  stabbed  someone  and tried to  behead them.  The British PM  David Cameron aka NuTory Boy embraced the twitter tag using the cry while in the US Thomas Friedman came up with the all too predictable tag of “You ain’t no American bruv” to describe  Donald Trump after Trump had called for a temporary halt (note the temporary)  to Muslims visiting the USA.

To see how absurd it is to insist that that any person  who commits a violent act in the name of Islam is not a Muslim apply a few cases of  X cannot be a Y because X has committed a violent act to  non-Muslims:

– Christianity  from the time it became the official religion of the Roman Empire  was forced on people whether or not they wanted to be Christians. Hence,   none of the enforcers or the coerced  were Christians.

– The crusaders were not  Christians because they engaged in religious war against Muslims.

– The Catholic Church cannot be Christian because (1)  for the vast majority of its existence  it conducted or supported war against pagans and (2)  for the vast majority of its existence it persecuted mon-Catholics , most notably through the Inquisition.

– Protestants of almost all colours (pacifists like the Quakers are an exception) cannot be Christians because they have persecuted and fought against other Christians, both Protestant and Catholic.

Similar judgements could be made against  those who behaved in an immoral  way in the context of  other religions, for example, Buddhists who are  wilfully  violent, and  Confucians who  rebel against rightful authority. In fact there is not a religion or secular system of morality whose practitioners have not in huge numbers breached the beliefs of  their professed religious or ethical position. This is so because the history of human beings is predominantly a history of aggressive (as opposed to defensive) war, everything from the vendetta to formal warfare.

Then there is the question of the historical behaviour of  Muslims.  Islam from its beginnings was often , if not invariably, spread by the sword.  If   Muslims today are not Muslims if they engage in violence  other than in self-defence against non-Muslims, or Muslims of a different stamp whom they consider to be non-Muslims,  logically it must follow  that all those who have called themselves Muslim in the past were not Muslims if they had committed similar offences.

In short,  it is literally absurd to claim someone is not a true believer of any creed, whether  sacred or profane,  because no ideology is without its heresies,  schisms or the complications of a range of permitted belief.

There is also the ticklish problem that religions or secular ideologies often have concepts of what is moral which clash with other religions and ideologies. Those societies with the vendetta will view  revenge killings as a matter of honour and  entirely moral, while those without the vendetta will see such killing as a murder.

The claim that Muslims engaged in terrorist acts are not true Muslims is made doubly absurd by the fact that the Koran gives plenty of support to Muslims to engage in violence against non-Muslims, something which for groups such as ISIS includes huge numbers of Muslims of the “wrong” stamp.

Absurd or not the politically correct  politically correct  will continue to use the “they are not Muslims” because they desperately   wish to avoid  acknowledging  the frightening truth: that there are now tens of millions of Muslims in the West  who are there because of the immigration policies of the politically correct elites over the past 50 or 60 years . There are nearly three million Muslims in the UK , an increase of 45% since the 2001 census.  The figure for the EU including Britain is 44 million.  The USA has 2.75 million.

It would be no comfort if 99.9% of these people would not dream of engaging in terrorist acts for if even a tiny proportion of such populations   is willing to become terrorists that would mean large numbers of terrorists.  If one Muslim in a thousand in Europe is willing to become a terrorist  that would mean  44,000 Jihadis.  That is what the politically correct are hiding from and which increasingly terrifies them.

Understanding the mind of Jeremy Corbyn and co  

Robert Henderson

There will be many watching  the antics of the  Labour Party who will be wondering what on Earth is going on.  Corbyn  and his close associates  are constantly at war with most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)  including members of the Shadow Cabinet  while being regularly assailed with embarrassing political  connections from the past such as a rather cosy relationship with Irish Republicans and quotes which show them to be very  Hard Left personnel  indeed.   The unrelenting  absurdity of the situation was starkly demonstrated when  Corbyn attacked his shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn  for supporting  British military action in Syria.

The behaviour of Corbyn and those who surround him will seem inexplicably   bizarre to most, but to anyone used to the ways of the Hard Left it will come as no surprise for  Corbyn and his supporters are acting  exactly as one would expect such people to act.  They  are not interested in exercising democratically gained power because it  involves  compromising and that  would mean  they cannot remain ideologically pure. This is anathema to any true ideologue, so they prefer to behave  in ways ever more divorced from reality to remain within their ideological boundaries for that is , their first and end, to remain ideologically consistent. Consequently, they do not look at the practicality or consequences of a  policy or action  or even whether it will achieve their  overt ends. To have made their ideological statement is enough.  If they are Marxists, and most members of the Hard Left are, either self-consciously  or  simply because  Marxism  was the original foundation  of their ideology and has left its mark, they have the certainty of a believer  that although their policies may not appeal to a majority of voters theirs is the true way and the failure of the great mass of people  to recognise  this is simply false consciousness.  Best of all if they are self-conscious Marxists,  they are sure the historical process is unravelling to achieve the ends they desire regardless of how they behave,  for at best the Marxist can only hasten the process of history not change it fundamentally.  The Marxist also has no time for morality because that is merely a bourgeois  device to delay the inevitable end of history which is communism.   Because of this the Marxist never has any problem with allowing the end to  justify the means. This, incidentally, is a weakness of  the left generally.

Any normal person would be terminally embarrassed by both the lack of support  Corbyn is getting from the PLP and  the positions and people which Corbyn and others have embraced in the past.  The most embarrassing example is probably   Corbyn’s feeble  response to the Defence Review which Cameron immediately quashed by  quoting Corbyn as follows: “Why do have to be able to have planes, transport aircraft, aircraft carriers and everything else to get anywhere in the world? Why?”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world, instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces, did what the people of Costa Rica have done and abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army, and that their country is near the top of the global peace index. Surely that is the way we should be going forward.”

But  the Hard Left are not normal people.  For them the fact that they are constantly shown to be inconsistent at best and wilfully dishonest at worst is irrelevant because  the only people they take any heed of are those who are part of their group of  true believers.  Any embarrassment they suffer is viewed by them as an honourable wound in the revolutionary fight.

There are two types of people who are attracted to ideology. The first and rare type are  the intellectuals who gain not only a sense of security  but an intellectual pleasure  from mastering   the ideology and twisting it into whatever bizarre shapes ideological purity requires when faced with reality. The second  and common type are the intellectually underpowered who crave a system of thought which does their thinking for them by providing them  with answers to everything.  Corbyn gives every indication  of being the second type, the strongest  indication of this  being the feebleness of his responses to subjects such as the Defence Review  and his  evasion of debate or hostile questioning whenever he can manage it.  It is also worth noting that his academic history is  weak, the best he could  muster being  two’ Es’ at A-Level, despite having had the advantage of a private education.  This is important because the less intellectually competent Corbyn is, the more stubborn he is likely to be.

What people like Corbyn want is to use prominent public positions as a propaganda platform and bring change not through the ballot box and a majority in the Commons, but by supporting and encouraging agitation by groups  outside of mainstream  politics such as trade  unions, pro-immigration bodies and students to gain by protest and strikes that which the ballot box will not deliver.  In fact, people with Corbyn’s mentality would probably secretly welcome being overthrown from within the Labour Party by a coup staged by the large majority of the  PLP who are utterly  dismayed by him , for this would  be seen in the mind of the Hard Left  as proof of what they have always said, namely, that democratic politics is a sham.  There is also a strong probability that Corbyn would be absolutely terrified at the prospect of becoming PM because he has zero political experience beyond being an infant terrible as a back bench MP who  voted hundreds of times against the Labour whip. He has not held  even the most humble of government or  shadow positions or chaired  a Commons committee.

Ridiculous as Corbyn may seem it is important understand that he is forging ahead with remaking the Labour Party.    Since he became leader Corbyn has pursued a  classic hard left strategy. Get a foothold on the power positions in an organisation; then expel the dissenters and bring your own people in.  Of course this cannot be done overnight when the organisation to be captured  and moulded is a major party in a parliamentary democracy because by its nature such a party is a broad coalition.  Nonetheless, Corbyn has already  placed many like minded people in his shadow cabinet such as John McDonnell as shadow chancellor and  employed special advisers from the Hard Left Like Seumas Milne as  Executive Director of Strategy and Communications who unburdened himself with this in 2006 in the Guardian: “ For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment… Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west, boosted the anticolonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to western global domination…”

That is just the beginning of the Corbynisation of the Labour Party.  The Momentum organisation which has grown out of the  political engagement   generated by  Corbyn during the Labour leadership campaign.  What does Momentum seek to do? This:

Organise events, rallies, meet ups and policy consultations to encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society.

Encourage those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to get involved with the Labour Party. Assist members in making their voice heard in Labour Party debates.

Facilitate and coordinate people to build new and support existing organisations that can make concrete improvements to people’s lives. Through these actions, we aim to demonstrate on a micro level how collective action and Labour values can transform our society for the better.

So far Momentum’s main public showing has been for some members  to engage in the type of vicious trolling which taints the SNP cybernats.  Further down the line  the Corbyn plan is to push through compulsory re-selection of Labour MPs  and use Momentum to ensure the deselection of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and their substitution  with Corbyn followers. Momentum will also be working to replace anti-Corbyn candidates who are not MPs with Corbynites.

In the meantime an attempt to silence Corbyn’s  many critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party  by controlling what they say on social media. Labour’s National Executive Committee are have agreed to the creation of a code of conduct on social media for Labour MPs  which will inhibit criticism of Corbyn.

It might be thought that  with a majority of Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn it would be easy enough to unseat him as leader within the next year  for only 20% pf the PLC need to nominate a challenger.  But the politics of the situation are much too messy for that to be the case.

The first stumbling block is Corbuyn’s overwhelming victory in the leadership election. To gain nearly 60% of the vote in a four horse race is astonishing. It shows how much a large segment of the Labour Party and its supporters are sick to the back teeth  with the Tory-lite of Blairism.  Nor is that support  a passing fad.  A recent YouGov  poll  showed 86% of Corbyn supporters in the leadership election  think he is doing a good job as leader, a view  shared by 66% of Labour voters.  Corbyn’s electoral mandate alone makes it difficult to mount a challenge to him and  the continued high levels of support he is getting from Labour members  bolster that mandate.  There is also the embarrassing lack of a strong candidate to challenge Corbyn.  Alan Johnson would be an obvious choice but he has more than once made it clear that he is not interested in becoming leader.

But suppose a challenge did arise, would Corbyn be required to gain 15% of the PLP to nominate him or would he be allowed to stand simply because he is leader?  This is not clear because Labour’s “politburo”  the National Executive Council  (NEC) would probably decide the matter.  But which ever  way the NEC decided the PLP would be  in a bind.  If Corbyn  did stand he would in all probability win the contest again, for it is difficult to see how it could be run on a different franchise than the vote which elected Corbyn leader.  Alternatively, if he  was unable to run because the NEC decided he had to meet the 15% of the PLP to nominate him and he was unable to do so,  that would quite reasonably be seen by both Labour supporters and to some degree the public at large as at best shabby and at worst straightforward chicanery.

Ironically, Corbyn has supported the idea of regular  vote to elect or re-elect a leader. During the leadership  election he said this:

“I think there should be an opportunity to elect or not elect the leader regularly, every one or two years – so that we don’t go into this idea that ‘The leader’s vulnerable, we’ve got to get rid of the leader or not get rid of the leader’, because the system is already there in place. Bring back democracy into the Labour Party and the labour movement.”

But even if such a regulation  was put in place,  if the franchise remains much as it is now Corbyn would probably win.   The problem for the anti-Corbynites is the fact that,  for all the absurdity of the day to day circumstances created by his election,  Corbyn represents not just the Hard Left but also a substantial number of voters  who do not want to see Britain getting into yet another futile war, who would be happy to see the utilities (the railways, energy companies and water companies) taken back into public ownership and above all those who have found their lives become more and more  precarious over the past decade or so as inequality has grown.

There are other  methods by which Corbyn might be persuaded to go   such as a mass resignation from his shadow cabinet, a large number of Labour MPs stating publicly he should go   or a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, all depend on the man not being stubborn and resigning. If  Corbyn refused to  resign,  and I suspect he would, they would be a dead letter.

The sad truth is that the Labour Party are in serious danger of ceasing to be a serious Party.  If Corbyn remains for any extended period there is every chance that the Party will split and become as irrelevant as a contender to form a government , either on their own or even  as the dominant party in a coalition.  That would not be healthy because it is not healthy for any democracy to have only one party or political grouping which has any hope of holding office.

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