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.

Film review- Legend

Main cast

Tom Hardy  as Ronald “Ronnie” Kray and Reginald “Reggie” Kray

Emily Browning as Frances Shea

Christopher Eccleston as Leonard “Nipper” Read  A Detective Superintendent in charge of taking down the Krays

Taron Egerton as Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith – A psychopathic gay man rumoured to have had affairs with Ronnie

Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson

David Thewlis as Leslie Payne The Krays’ business manager

Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno – The head of the Philadelphia crime family and friend and business associate to Ronnie and Reggie.

Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson

Director Brian Helgeland

This biopic of the East End gangsters  of fifty years ago, the Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray,   contains a great deal of technological wizardry and an unusual  performance by Tom Hardy who plays both  twins.  The technology is so slick that it allows both Krays to appear on the screen at the same time without any sense that the scenes have been faked,  even when the twins  have an extended fight.

But technological marvels do not equal a good film and Legend has severe weaknesses.  Like many biopics it  tries to cover too much ground, thinking that by ticking off a large number of incidents in a life this in itself produces  the ideal telling of a life.    That may have some merit in a written biography but it is death in a film.  The Krays being violent to establish their claim to be hard men,   Reggie having a brief spell in prison, the murders of  George Cornell and Jack “the Hat” McVitie, and a good deal more simply  flash by. This gives precious little opportunity for character development or a proper examination of  any part of the biographical  subject’s life.

It is true that Hardy’s performance as the twins is remarkable in as much as he invents  two distinct personas  for the Krays; an almost rational albeit violently amoral one for Reggie and a declamatory  character with the hint of a lisp  for Ronnie, who spends the film in a perpetual  state of violence, both suppressed and realised, while hatching crackpot plans for the establishment of a Utopian community  in Nigeria or  saying things which utterly discompose other characters such as  his habit of loudly announcing that he is a homosexual.   Hardy also gives Ronnie a rich behavioural wardrobe of tics and bulging eyes that  seem to be perpetually on the point of shooting out of their sockets. This creates a problem because Hardy’s  Ronnie is so off the wall that he comes across not as a real human being, however flawed, but as a monster created for theatrical effect.

It is true that gangster films often  have a cartoonish element  because of the mixture of  the normal with the abnormal,  for example,  characters frequently engage  in incongruously  normal conversations about, for example, their wives and children during which they often assume a moral position, then engage in some horrific violence.  But such scenes do not dominate films and are often deliberately funny. The depiction of Ronnie in Legend  is neither amusing nor truly threatening.   It also detracts from Hardy’s depiction of Reggie – which is convincing enough when  taken in isolation – because  it is difficult to take seriously either of the characters when one is palpably ridiculous. ( Try to imagine Bond or  Jason Bourne acting against  Norman Wisdom playing  a villain in his  most popular character guise of Norman Pitkin).

But the main  problem with the film is there is simply too much  Ronnie and Reggie .The best gangster  films are those where  there is  strong ensemble playing. Think of the Godfather series or Friday the Thirteenth.  Apart from Emily Browning as  Reggie’s girlfriend and eventual  wife  Frances Shea  (the most convincing scenes are those  between Hardy in his guise as Reggie and Francis Shea)   and (just about)  David Thewlis as Leslie Payne the Krays’ business manager,  the other characters simply do not have the chance to develop because they have so little screen time.  Bewilderingly, the personality who supposedly loomed largest in the Krays’ minds in the real world, their mother Violet (Jane Wood) barely appears, while two  actors  with  substantial  film careers –  Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson and  Christopher Eccleston as Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read  – are variously barely used (Bettany)  or given only a series of scenes so short that their effect is  minimal  (Eccleston).

At the end of the film my thoughts turned to the  1990 film The Krays in which the Kemp brothers from Spandau ballet played  the twins.  In some ways  this was unintentionally  an extremely funny film  because it was set in an unbelievably clean East End;  Billie Whitelaw in the role of the Krays’ mother produced the worst attempt at an East End accent I have ever heard from a professional actress – right up there with Dick VanDyke’s “Gor blimey, Mary Poppins”  – and   Steven Berkoff  enjoyably went an astronomical distance over the top as George Cornell.

But the saving grace of  The Krays was  characters other than  the twins being much more developed. Moreover, the portrayal of the difference between the  Krays was less contrived. Indeed, considering their lack of acting experience at the time  the Kemp brothers  were surprisingly, indeed from their view point, perhaps worrying convincing as the Krays, with Ronnie being a much more believable  character than he is in Legend.  Hence, for all its absurdities  The Krays  is both a more convincing evocation of the twins and considerably more entertaining  than Legend , which  truth to tell becomes rather boring as the film progresses because it is all rather one-dimensional.

Legend is a not  howling flop merely  mediocre. I say this with  regret because Tom Hardy is a charismatic  and accomplished actor, probably the best English  film actor  of his generation.  The subject matter also suits him because he is a convincing hard man with a fine talent for portraying violence.  But in the end the film is too unbalanced, too unbelievable to be either a meaningful biopic or simply a first rate gangster film.

Inside Out does not know its audience

Main Voice cast

Amy Poehler as Joy

Phyllis Smith as Sadness

Bill Hader as Fear

Lewis Black as Anger

Mindy Kaling as Disgust

Richard Kind as Bing Bong, Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend

Kaitlyn Dias as Riley Andersen

Diane Lane as Riley’s mother

Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s father

Director: Pete Docter

This is a film with high ambition. It is an  attempt at explaining the workings of the human brain whilst tugging the heart strings of adults and children  by telling the story of an unhappy and insecure child.

At the centre of the film  is an  11-year-old girl named Riley. Her parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. As a consequence Riley feels isolated and lonely because she has left all her friends behind and everything else which was familiar.

Most of the action takes place inside Riley’s mind, although there are occasional  forays into the interior consciousness  of her  parents.  Headquarters is Riley’s conscious mind which contains  five emotional  personifications: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Memories are  represented as orbs  which can be changed by contact with the five personifications.   There are core  memories  housed in a hub in Headquarters  which power five “islands”, each of which reflects a different aspect of Riley’s personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island.  The Islands sit over a memory dump where unimportant or unwanted memories are placed.   Aside from all this is an area storing  long term memories.

Joy is the dominant personification and acts as the organiser of Riley’s personality and emotional balance. . Sadness is the other important personification.  A theme running through the film is the fact that   sadness is  not just an unwonted  quality  producing misery  but sometimes  a creative force  which shifts the momentum of the mind by making memories which are sad to be flavoured with poignancy of melancholy so that they become more than just sadness.

There is an oddity with the personifications. Riley’s personifications are divided between  entities which are clearly male or female. Joy, Sadness and  Disgust are female and Anger and Fear male . On the occasions when the personifications of the parents are see the mother’s are all female and the father’s all male.  Was this just slapdash or a conscious decision? I rather suspect slapdash, but either way as the difference goes unexplained it undermines the film’s pretensions to be more than just a cartoon about a child’s negotiating of a difficult period of her life.

Joy and Sadness get accidentally swept into the maze of long-term memory along with the core values.   The rest of the film is devoted to Joy and Sadness struggling to make it back to Headquarters, which they eventually do,  while  Fear, Disgust and Anger are trying incompetently  to keep Riley’s mind  normal, there attempts resulting in the personality islands collapsing into the memory dump leaving Riley without the psychological structure to keep her on the straight and narrow and temporarily depriving her of the better angel of her personality.

Treated as an Odyssey  that is simple enough  and potentially attractive as a storyline.  But there is an insuperable obstacle to the film being enjoyable  and  developing into a well  loved Pixar classic. Inside Out  is very didactic.  To understand what the film is about it is necessary for the audience to take on board the animation’s  instruction on how the mind works or at least the film’s  version of how it operates. That raises  a very awkward question, namely, what is the natural audience for the film?  Will children of Riley’s age honestly follow what is happening?  Will adults for that matter? Or will a somewhat baffled boredom be the result?

Of course there is a second element to the film, the emotional journey of Riley. Will it appeal to pre-pubescent girls  around  Riley’s age? Perhaps but  the portrayal of the girl is what girls of that age would probably see as parents being  patronising superior and “just not understanding them” . That could  either alienate them or be something which  enlists their empathy.  But I doubt whether  it will have any attraction to  boys in the Riley age group because they would  be at best  uninterested in what girls think  and at worst actively hostile.

It is also difficult to believe that either  girls or boys of Riley’s age would have found the storyline exciting.   There is a bit of routine improbably physical cartoon action with Bing Bong , Riley’s imaginary friend  from long ago, helping   Joy and Sadness  to return to Headquarters, but there is little of that and not terribly thrilling at that. The film is so intent on showing how clever it is   – gee, whiz, we’re showing  everyone how the brain works – that those producing it have lost sight of the fact that they are in the entertainment business and their clients are first and foremost children.

That leaves adults. In many modern animations there are a host of knowing jokes for adults but here there are next to none. In fact, make that there are precious few jokes for children or adults.  That leaves emotion engagement. Critics and various mediafolk have made great play about tears flowing as they watched Inside Out,  but the sentimentality is too contrived to be entirely  convincing.

As a serious exposition of how the brain works Inside Out  is a non-starter.   To be a serious exposition it is necessary to properly understand concepts like short and long term memory. Most people will simply think that one lasts  longer than the other, when   short term memory is very short indeed (a few  seconds ) and the relationship between short and long term memory is still much debated in academic circles.  The film gives an impression of certainty where there is no certainty.

There is also a problem with the personified emotions, joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust. These are presumably meant to be the primary  emotions  which can combine to produce secondary emotions  in the same way that red, blue and yellow are primary colours which can be  mixed to produce other colours. But is it  true that the five personified emotions are really the only primary emotions?  For example,  how would jealousy be created out of  two or more of them? Anger, Disgust  and Fear might be components of jealousy, but there is far more to jealousy than those emotions, for example, greed and  desire.

The animation has met with widespread , indeed fulsome, praise   from critics who see  the film as a penetrating and intelligent drama daringly dealing with the difficult and nebulous subjects of brain function and consciousness  as well as depicting an 11-year-old girl’s  interior world. This judgement I find utterly misplaced. Why has critical opinion been so adulatory? I suspect that it is a film which the chattering classes  feel obliged to praise because of its self-consciously serious intent.

Technically the film is first rate as one would expect from Pixar.  It looks superb and the actors providing the voices do their best to  imbue the characters with distinct personality.   But truth  be told the film is curiously  bloodless,  and whisper it quietly,  distinctly  dull.  In fact,   Inside Out has the tone of the kind of book  Victorian children had  vainly thrust upon them to instruct the child in moral improvement . There was a large component of children of the Riley age group  in the audience when I saw Inside Out . They were remarkably silent.  Was that because they were entranced or because they were unengaged?  I rather suspect it was the latter.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Dear White People broadcasts the wrong message

Main cast

Tyler James Williams as  Lionel Higgins

Tessa Thompson as  Sam White

Kyle Gallner as Kurt Fletcher

Teyonah Parris as Colandrea “Coco” Conners

Brandon Bell as  Troy

Malcolm Barrett as  Helmut West

Dennis Haysbert  as the Dean

Justin Dobies as Gabe

Peter Syvertsen as President Hutchinson

Director: Justin Simien

Dear White People  cannot make up its mind  whether it should be  a comedy  out of the National Lampoon Animal House stable  or a serious drama.  At one moment there are halfway decent jokes such as a college radio  broadcast  announcing  that the minimum  number of black friends a white person must have if they were not to be called racist had been raised from one to two  with white listeners  reacting in panic-stricken fashion and at another ritual  expressions of  PC horror because a blackface party organised by white students is going to be held. This is a shame because the subject  – black students in a white dominated Ivy League university – has considerable possibilities for either form of film.

The film is  set in Winchester, a fictitious Ivy league university where the majority of students are white. The university’s white President Hutchinson (Peter Syvertsen) has decided to place students in  campus  accommodation on a colour-blind basis.  This is met with resistance  in an all-black  residential house  known as Armstrong/Parker.  A film production major and mixed-race  girl Sam White (Tessa Thompson)  unexpectedly wins the election for who is to be head of Armstrong/Parker  beating  Troy (Brandon Bell),  the son of Winchester’s  Dean and uses her position to begin  agitating for  Armstrong/Parker  to remain  all black.

Sam also  has her own college radio station named Dear White People which   unblushingly pushes black stereotypes of whites such as her broadcast requests  “Dear white people … please stop dancing”, “Dear white people please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you? “  When  the black dean  of Winchester (Dennis Haysbert)   tells her that the Dear White People broadcasts are racist  she responds  “ Black people cannot be racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race “. When challenged by her  boyfriend  Gabe (Justin Dobies ) about how she would feel if someone started  Dear Black People broadcasts,  her  smug black victimhood response is “No need. Mass media for Fox  make it clear what they think of us.”    You get the idea of where she is coming from.  Except you do not get the full picture because  her boyfriend is white and she has a secret liking for Taylor Swift, a distinct no no for a right-on black.

This type of  blurring of character is used frequently  in the film to demonstrate not that  everyone is the same under the skin,  but to offer an excuse for  further wallowing in black victimhood. The black students at Winchester U cannot complain of lack of opportunity or of being treated in a demeaning way, but they can still have a great appetite for  playing the victim.  This means they have to be  inventive. One of the ways is to claim that even privileged  blacks like them are under tremendous strain because  whites expect blacks to both conform to a stereotype  and be experts on black culture,  or at least experts on  what is perceived by both black and white as black culture. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) as a black gay student  who does not feel very black is the prime example in the film as he admits “I listen to Munford and sons and watch Robert Altman films”  and is told by a white girl on the student newspaper he wants to write for  that “You’re only technically black”.

Simien  is both black and gay and  judged by the screenplay he has produced, so obsessively  concerned about both that the need for basic  dramatic structure is tossed aside.    It is also a problem that he  wrote the screenplay as well as directing. This is always a difficult duality, particularly as the film is his first attempt at feature length direction.  It was also crowdfunded so there was not the usual  studio oversight.  Having a free hand as writer and director may sound fine in theory but it rests a great deal  on the individual who has the free hand.  In this case it is a serious mistake, not least because Simien is  very green as a  director.   This  inexperience shows because he  is  clearly under the impression that cramming in everything about a subject will result in a good film. The problem with this approach is that it destroys any plausible narrative as scenes  streak by without any continuous dramatic coherence holding them together. One can imagine Simiens  whilst directing ticking off one by one the  “what blacks think of whites”  set pieces he has created.

Examples of these set pieces are :

Mixed race light skinned blacks do better in a white world that dark skinned blacks. This is hung on the difference between in treatment of mixed race Sam White  and  authentically black Coco Connors (Teyonah Parris) by a white TV producer  of  TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” following Sam’s story but , rejecting  Coco pitch for a show  “Doing Time at an Ivy League”.

Troy has a white girlfriend which is seen not as integration but simply as a ploy white girls pull when they want to annoy their parents.

There is a good deal that is deliberately  non-PC  in the  film. A  white   hoax invite to the  party which causes outrage  is sent out  with an invocation to  “Liberate Your Inner Negro”, Sam White is described as “like the pissed off child of Spike Lee and Oprah”  and   Sam’s white boyfriend says “ I’m sick of your tragic mulatto bull” . But it has very little effect both because  there are too many “outrage” words and storyline  (even the most committed liberal or black activist can only be outraged so many times) and because of the unconvincing  nature of the outrage  shown.

On top of this jerky narrative there is the crude realisations of both the  characters and the drama such as it is.  The film  is littered with clumsily constructed stereotypes. Troy (Brandon Bell )  is the non-threatening black  who says things such as “I really don’t see the issue. Never ran into any lynch mob.” ; Sam White the threatening black;  Troy’s father ( Dennis Haysbert )the paranoid black parent  desperate for his son not to give whites  a chance to belittle him by  trying to make a career as a comedy writer instead of  being in a  respectable professional  occupation;  Kurt Fletcher ( Kyle Gallner) is the arrogant white boy with a hint of racism.

The comic book nature of the film as it moves swiftly from satirical point to satirical point robs  the actors of any chance for substantial character development. Within those confines  they all make a good fist of things with  Kyle Gallner and Brandon Bell being  especially convincing as the stereotypes they were asked to portray.

What is fascinating about the film is that  it contains  considerable anti-white racism,  but  Simiens seem to be oblivious to it.  The  white characters are allowed only subordinate parts   while the black characters remain centre stage. Black characters  have many jibes against whites while the white characters are allowed only a few token ripostes  but they are very token, for example,    Kyle Gallner  ventures “Sometimes I think that the hardest thing to be in the American workforce is educated white guy”. Consequently, the portrayal of whites in the film is  ultimately derogatory  whereas the blacks who are shown in less than a flattering light are in a different category. They may have prejudices about whites but these  are presented as being a consequence of  white racism both historical and present day.   The message of the film is that blacks may be ostensibly  racist  but the should not be censured or even mildly disapproved of because of the historical legacy, but whites are there to be pantomime villains to be booed at every opportunity.  Most probably this is not  a deliberate propaganda ploy by Simien but simply an unconscious  reproducing what is the default position for politically conscious blacks and white liberals.

There is a sharp  comedy of manners to be made of the relationship between whites and blacks in a privileged situation but this is not it. Ditto a really biting satire on white liberal mores when faced with  racial questions and the comfort blanket of black victimhood.  What the viewer is left to view  is a cinematic and ideological mess which is too soft centred to even provoke outrage.

Defend your national territory  or lose it

Robert Henderson

The present attempts of migrants from around the Mediterranean and  beyond to effectively invade Europe have brought the long simmering immigration threat to a head.  First World   politicians can no longer pretend it is under any sort of control. The question those in the First World have to answer is  gruesomely simple: are they willing  to defend the their own territory as they  would if faced with an armed invader  and by doing so preserve their way of life and safety , or will they allow a fatal sentimentality  to paralyse the entirely natural wish to stop invaders until the native populations of the First World are at best a tolerated minority in their own ancestral lands and at worst the subject of acts of genocide.

The Prime Minister of Hungary Victor Orlan  has had the courage to point out  something which is obvious but anathema to the politically correct elites of Europe, namely, that  immigration on the current scale will result in Europeans becoming a minority in  their own continent with a consequent loss of European values.  Anyone who thinks that Europe (and the rest of the First World) is not in danger should think on these facts:

  • The population of the world is approximately 7 billion. At the most generous estimate only one billion live in the First World.
  • The population of the world is estimated to grow by another two billion by 2050 with all the growth being in the Third World.
  • The white population of the world is projected to be in a minority in Europe and North America by 2050.
  • The First World already has large minorities of those from racial and ethnic groups whose antecedents are in the Third World and who have had their sense of victimhood at the hands of whites  fed assiduously by white liberals for over 50 years. Once established in a First World  country they agitate for the right to bri9ng relatives over and to relax immigration control generally. A  recent report by the think tank Policy Exchange estimates that one third of the UK population with be from an ethnic minority by 2050.
  • Political power in most of the First World is in the hands of politicians who are quislings in the service of internationalism   in its modern guise of globalism.
  • Those working in the mass media of the First World share the ideology of First World politicians with bells on, missing no chance to propagandise in favour of mass immigration.
  • The First World is funding its  own destruction by feeding the Third World with huge amounts of Aid . This promotes war throughout the Third World (providing a driver for Third World  immigrants to the First World) and, most importantly, increases the  populations of the Third World which rapidly outstrip the  economic carrying capacity of their societies.

At present the mainstream media in countries such as Britain and the  USA are voraciously feeding the public what amounts to unashamed propaganda  to persuade them to accept not merely huge numbers of Third World immigrants now,  but an ongoing and ever increasing stream in the not too distant future as the invading hordes gather around the Mediterranean waiting for their chance to entered the promised land of the rich European states of the north.

It is easy to be swayed by photos of  a  young child who has died or   boatloads crammed to the gunnels with miserable looking people  to the point where the resolution to defend your native territory is overridden, but look at the aggression and sense of entitlement the invaders, for  that is what they are, as they battle to leave Hungary. They are in the position of supplicants but far from begging for help they demand as a right that they be let into the richer countries of Europe.

There are very few if any places outside of Europe and  the Anglosphere countries of the United Kingdom,  North America, Australia and New Zealand  which have any serious history of freedom and the rule of law and even amongst that group only the Anglosphere has  enjoyed  both an uninterrupted political system of representative government and been free of civil war for a century or more.  These are countries which have the very rare and valuable attribute of having worked out a social and political system which creates peace and tolerance. That seriously at risk because of mass immigration. Does anyone believe  for example, a that Britain in which there was a Muslim majority would remain a Parliamentary democracy or have any regard for free expression?

Those amongst the native populations of the  First World who propagandise in favour of mass immigration do so in the belief that they will be untouched by the immigration because they live in affluent areas where immigrants cannot generally settle. Not for these people state schools which “boast” that “there are 100 languages here”; not for these people a need for increasingly scarce affordable (social)  housing  in places such as London; not for these people having to use grossly over subscribed medical services in their area.  These people think they are safe  from the effects of mass immigration,  but if it continues their children and grandchildren will not be so lucky. There needs to be a penalty for those who promote and facilitate mass immigration, for example,  forcing them to take immigrants  into their homes and be responsible for their upkeep .

Mass immigration  is conquest not by armed force but by those who are come equipped only with their victimhood and misery and, most potently, the  mentality of the elites in the First World who subscribe to the idea of white guilt and the white populations of the First World who have been browbeaten  into believing that they cannot have any world other than a globalist world which includes huge movements of peoples. We are seeing the scenario described by Jean Raspail begin to play out.

Homo sapiens is the social animal par excellence. All social animals need boundaries to their group because trust has to exist between the members of the group. Human beings can tolerate very large numbers in their group, but there is a limit. To be a member of a functioning human group,  whether that be tribe,  clan or nation,  the members or the group must share sufficient distinguishing behaviours and  attributes to create the necessary trust. Putting huge numbers of people with very disparate background together cannot create that trust. Anyone who doubts that should try to find any society where territory is shared by different racial or ethnic groups  that does not have inter-group discord,. They will not find one in history or the present.

If you wish to save your country ignore the  misery now being waved in your face and concentrate not on the immediate present but the future.  Say no to further mass immigration by voting to leave the EU because while Britain is in it nothing can be done to stop massive numbers of immigrants continuing to come to Britain.  Leaving the EU will  remove from our political elite any excuse for not stopping the causal destruction of our country.

The Tories and Blairites were ideologically hidebound fools to underestimate Corbyn

Robert Henderson

The attitude of Tories towards Jeremy  Corbyn ranges from amused condescension to  an unseemly childlike  and profoundly undemocratic glee as they  dream of a country with no serious political opposition to hinder them .   Blairites respond with poorly disguised incredulity  to the probability  that  a man who does not buy into the NuLabour credo will become the next Labour leader and gnash  their teeth and wail that  a Corbyn led  Labour Party will be at best  cast into the wilderness of opposition for a decade or more and at worst rent asunder never to be a serious political force again. In the mainstream media, most of whom  have sold their souls to the idea of free markets, free trade and the general paraphernalia of globalism, articles and editorials  forecast the end of days if Corbyn becomes  Prime Minister.

Interestingly, this hysteria  has not diminished   Corbyn’s popularity one whit and will  probably help fuel   his rise to what promises to be victory in the leadership race without the second preferences being counted.   Why has Corbyn  garnered so much support? The quick answer is he  offers  an alternative to the free market, free trade religion which has been fed incessantly to the public for decades as the only possible economic system for a modern state.

This immediately gives  the man  pull with those who have old Labour values, but he has attracted a much  wider range of support.  The young have flocked to his meetings.  Surprising at first glance in view of Corbyn’s age, but readily understandable  when it is remembered that   British politicians generally have either failed to comprehend or refused to admit that the world they have created over the past 30-40 years is much tougher and more uncertain for today’s young than it was for them when they were young,  with housing now hideously expensive, well paid jobs difficult to come by and university education leaving graduates with a debt of £40,000 or more and no suitable jobs to go to.   Corbyn is offering concrete policies to help them, not least a huge social housing programme.

But it is not just the young who are suffering.  There are millions of older people of working age through to those in retirement who no longer live a life with any real security, as they struggle with ever increasing private rents and zero-hours contracts.   Corbyn speaks to them as he speaks to the young.

Finally,  there are the huge numbers of people from  across the political spectrum who detested the  wars which Blair dragged Britain into and have a strong animus towards Blair himself.   Corbyn shares their views,  going so far as to state  that Blair should be tried for war crimes.

Why did the  British political class so misread Corbyn’s potential?  The Tories as a breed are simply insensitive in their approach to the poorer sections of society.  This is epitomised by their inability to understand that to those  living lives of great economic  uncertainty  there is nothing more enraging than to be constantly told  the colossal lie “We are all in this together” by rich politicians, as happened  in so often Britain after the Lehmann crash in 2008. They simply assumed that those who were not comfortably off and secure in their jobs and housing  could be ignored.

The most striking thing about  the Corbyn phenomenon is not that he looks as though he will win the leadership election with policies which bear some resemblance to Labour’s old core values. No, the real eye-opener is  how out of touch the Labour elite have become with the lives of ordinary people.  They  either believed  they could manipulate the vote to get the result they wanted  no matter what the electoral process was or so believed the Blairite gospel  of free markets and globalisation that they simply could not conceive of people voting for someone who had the audacity to suggest that Old Labour ideas of state ownership and a disengagement from military adventures  were the way forward.    Whichever reason it was, the Labour leadership was willing to agree to a new electoral process which chooses  the party leader  on the basis of  a  one man one vote  with the vote   granted   to  not only existing party members , but also to affiliated union members and every Tom, Dick and Harry who coughed up £3 to register as a supporter..

The potential dangers for the  Blairites in such a system (entryism from the left, enemies of the Labour Party voting and so on)  should have been obvious,  but they would have remained unimportant  had  Corbyn  been unable to get sufficient support from Labour MPs to go on the ballot form. If there was no Corbyn in the race all that would have been left were varieties of  Blairite to choose between.  The Labour elite’s blind belief in the unshakable dominance of Blairism is shown in the readiness of Labour MPs to give Corbyn enough votes to put him on the ballot.    Many who gave him their  vote  admitted it was simply to ensure there was a left wing candidate in the leadership, race much as Diane Abbott  was placed on the ballot for the previous leadership election.   When Corbyn entered the race his candidature was treated as a joke by the Tories and as of no more than a sentimental wave to Labour’s past.

In summary Corbyn is running rings around the other candidates because:

1) He offers something different. With him there is an alternative. The Blairites have been so  feeble because like all dominant politicians they have not had to argue their case within Labour  for a very long time. They ended up believing their own propaganda. Moreover, their case was never strong because Blairism is essentially Tory-lite plus political correctness writ large.

Blair hollowed out the Labour Party of all its core values: Thatcher did the same for the Tory Party. All we are left with are two neo-liberal internationalist parties wedded to globalism and political correctness.   Corbyn is offering the  chance of restoring some of those lost values to Labour.

2) Blairites and Tories are portraying Corbyn as  a member of the extreme left. This is objectively wrong.   Had Corbyn been putting forward his present ideas  thirty years ago as Labour MP he would have faced accusations of being a centrist sell-out. Worse for the Blairites they do not understand that many people who are  not rabidly left wing would welcome the energy companies, water companies, the Royal Mail and British Rail being returned to  public ownership because they understand instinctively that absolutely essential aspects of the economy should be in public hands. For such people this does not seem like leftwingery but a government just looking after the national interest. Ditto protectionist measures to protect British industry.

3) The people who attack him including the other candidates and many Labour MPs  offer no real argument against him. All they do is point at him  and say either that he is absurd or is living in the past.  They offer no  real argument against what he proposes. On economics his opponents simply assume that anyone who does not unreservedly  buy into the laissez faire religion is either mad or bad. The Tories and the Blairites are both making the mistake of imagining that pointing at Corbyn and shouting “socialist”, “looney left”, “nationalisations”,  “unions” will make him   profoundly politically toxic to the British electorate.

4) When he is attacked over potentially seriously damaging  issues such as  being rather too eager to sup with  terrorists or  the anti-semitic,  his accusers go way over the top.  For example, on his supposed  equivalence between Isis and the USA in Iraq, Corbyn has condemned Isis pretty emphatically and simply said that where the USA has behaved badly it is reasonable to say that should be condemned as well. Or take his wish to see the railways renationalised by letting the licenses run out. All the laissez faire gentry are saying it cannot be done because of the cost and legal quibbles over ownership of assets such as rolling stock.   This is obvious nonsense because the East Coast line was taken back into public ownership without any cost or difficulty and run efficiently.   The effect of such exaggeration negates the criticism which could reasonably be put on Corbyn.

5) In the present circumstances Corbyn has the priceless asset of not having an aggressive personality. That makes the increasingly angry  attacks on him seem absurd.

6) Corbyn actually answers questions rather than trotting out soundbites. Moreover, his answers mostly show he has been well prepared on anything which is likely to crop up. You may  not agree with his policies – I disagree with many of them – but at least Corbyn presents a coherent plan of action for this policies.

7) He doesn’t panic when asked awkward questions.

8) Unlike the three other candidates Corbyn is a recognisable human being, someone untrammelled by focus groups and advisers or years in office being controlled by the party elite

  1. The other candidates haven’t got an ounce of personal authority between them. You watch them robotically trot out the NuLabour mantras and think, God, is this the best the Labour Party can do for a leader?

All that Corbyn promises may well turn out to be pie-in-the-sky. But that is to miss the valuable public service the man is doing.  If Corbyn becomes leader, and perhaps even if he does not but makes  a strong showing, the timeworn  consensus between the Tory and Labour Parties will be broken. That alone  would be a healthy development because it would force not merely the Labour Party to develop and justify its ideological position but also shift the Tory Party from a blind belief in laissez faire economics.

Corbyn, although a strange bedfellow, also has great utility for those who wish to leave the EU. He has given strong indications that he might well move to the OUT camp. To have the leader of one of our two major parties  campaigning to come out would be a massive boost to the OUT campaign.

Abolishing National Insurance would be a tremendous gamble  

 

Robert Henderson

George Osborne is thinking about abolishing National Insurance (NI)  as a separate tax and incorporating it into income tax.  The implications of such a move would be very  far reaching    because  the basic  NI  rules are complex  and effect far more than just NI deductions and the practical IT  difficulties it would create for both the government and employers, both public and private, are immense.

The most obvious and pressing reason why the idea should not go ahead is the fact that NI is one of the big earners for government. In the 2014/15 financial year it brought in £108 billion – see page 15.  Only  VAT  (£113.9 billion) and income tax (£163 billion) provided more tax revenue to the Treasury. To make up for the loss of the NI contributions income tax would have to be increased  massively if  income tax has to raise the £108 billion currently raised by NI  in addition to the £163 billion it currently collects.  That could only be achieved  by getting most of the extra money by  raising the basic rate (currently 20%)  massively, probably doubling  it,  because those paying the  40% and 45% income tax rate are not sufficient in number  to be able to bear the brunt of the increase. Moreover, once tax rates go beyond 50%  they become psychologically  difficult and increase the likelihood of evasion. In addition, the present government is deeply unsympathetic  to raising the higher income tax rates. The situation is further complicated by the government’s stated intention to keep on raising the personal allowance which at least in the short term is likely to reduce the income tax take.

The options  for raising some of the £108 billion by raising other taxes are limited.  VAT could be raised,  but that would be regressive because it  falls on everyone and would almost certainly suppress demand.  The next  two most productive sources of tax revenue in 2014/15 were  corporation tax  (£41.4 billion) and excise duties (£47.2 billion).  The fact that both  bring in so  small an amount in relation to what needs  to be raised means neither could  supply more than a small part of the lost  £108 billion even if their rates were raised substantially.  Moreover, raising corporation tax would go directly against Tory policy of having a low tax burden on business and increased excise duties would again be regressive.

The next  obstacle is the incompatibility of  the income tax and NI systems.    NI operates on a radically  different basis to income tax. Income tax is simple in principle, the complications which arise come not from  calculating the tax due but in deciding what is liable to income tax. There is the personal tax  allowance which exempts a certain amount of earnings  from tax and   three rates of tax (20%,40%,45%)  for three bands of earnings. The operation of NI is much more complex, involving  both employees and employers,  with a  link to benefit entitlements  and  NI rates which do the exact opposite to income tax rates, namely, the NI rate decreases as income  rises.

The NI system is too complex to give exhaustive detail here  but I shall outline  a few of the basic  NI facts to give a flavour of its complexity.  Currently NI  is not paid by anyone earning less than  £155 per week, although someone earning £112 per week  (the Lower Earnings Limit)  gets credit for benefits such as the state pension as if they were paying NI.  Those earning  £155 per week (the Primary Threshold) begin paying NI. When they reach £156 per week (the Secondary Threshold) the employer also begins paying NI.   This employer’s contribution is in addition to the employees and is a payroll tax.  When  the employee earns £815 per week (the upper earnings limit) or above they pay a reduced rate of NI.

People who are employees  pay 12% of their pay between £155 and £814 per week and 2% on their pay above £814 per week.  The employer will pay 13.8% on all earnings above £156 per week.   Benefits in kind, for example use of company car, attract  employers  but not employees’ NI at the rate of 13.8%.  This is a big saving  to an employee  enjoying substantial benefits in kind. There are separate rules for the self-employed which the government has pledged to alter during the course of this Parliament.   As can be seen the NI situation is very administratively messy.

If income tax  and NI are amalgamated a problem arises with pensioners over the state retirement age.    NI is not paid by those over retirement age, but income tax is. Hence, if NI is abolished and income tax is raised to compensate for  the ta x revenue  loss, many pensioners would be left paying far more tax unless the government exempted all or part of their income. But to do that would be incredibly messy, not least because large numbers of pensioners pay income tax.  It is also worth noting that more and more pensioners are working past retirement age.  If the income tax rise to compensate for the loss of NI revenue means a rate of income tax which makes those over the retirement age more expensive to employ, this will probably mean fewer OAPs working or having less income, either of which would create greater eligibility of benefits.

The payment of benefits generally would also create difficulty. At present NI contributions count towards  entitlement for:

Basic State Pension

Additional State Pension

New State Pension

Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance

Maternity Allowance

Bereavement benefits

The position with the new  state pension is complicated because , contrary to government suggestions that it would provide everyone with an enhanced pension,  this appears not to be true  with perhaps two thirds of pensioners not receiving the full pension.

Any consolidated system for tax and NI would have to either take into account the entitlement to benefits or the benefits would have to cease to have any connection with what the individual pays in  tax.  There would also be the complication of how to treat the entitlements built up prior to the abolition of NI.   The present  system of National Insurance numbers would have to be retained because they are tied in so firmly to the access to the British welfare state.

Creating an entirely new computer system  to accommodate both the new amalgamated regime  and the present stand-alone system  for income tax and NI  would be daunting at best and probably impossible. ( In this context it is  worth bearing in mind the lamentable record of British governments of all colours with massive computer systems.) It is likely  that both the old and new  Government computer programs would need to keep running.

Then there is the IT problems  and additional costs which would be faced by employers, the vast majority of which, together with  many of the self-employed,  use computerised accounting and payroll systems. All of those would have to be  updated or new systems bought, installed and staff instructed how to use them.  Many current systems would not be updated because they are either too old or the software company which created them has gone out of business. Public service employers are particularly vulnerable as they often  use bespoke systems, that is systems developed for them alone,  which are often very old in origin with many updates patched into them over the years.

Finally, there is the problem of ensuring that the additional income tax revenue is actually collected. There is also  a very real general  danger that a switch to a consolidated income tax/NI tax would not  produce the same revenue even if the Treasury calculates that  it would on paper.  The Treasury might simply get their sums horribly wrong because of the complexity of the integration they are managing.  Alternatively, smart   accountants may simply find ways of minimising any additional  income tax.  The beauty of NI from a tax collection point of view is that it allows much less  tax evading wriggle room compared with income tax.

National insurance is a far from perfect system, but it is difficult to see how it is radically unfair or its operation radically administratively inefficient. Its purpose is a sham in as much as there is no managed  fund created to pay for specific services and benefits,  and the link between NI and earned benefits is increasingly tenuous. But so what?  It is a major revenue source which regardless of the fact that it goes into the general Treasury pot is major part of the funding source of the Welfare State. Moreover, any government could decide to make  NI an hypothecated tax allocated to particular circumstances.

As for being administratively simpler, this  seems wildly improbable  when our past experience of large scale  government  IT systems is of consistent failure and  there will be undeniable extra costs for employers.

At best the abolition of NI  would be a tremendous gamble and at worst unreservedly reckless. Government  policy should never be about gambling.

Greece and the Eurozone : holding tight to nurse for fear of something worse

Robert Henderson

The   Greek referendum on the terms for a further  financial bailout was potentially  a clever move by  Alexis Tsipras and Syriza. If the result of the referendum   had been  YES to the terms put forward to deal with the Greek debt , Tsipras and his government were off the hook for reneging on their election promises. If there was  a NO to the conditions, Tsipras could  play the democracy card and challenge the Eurozone to go against the democratic will of the Greek people or simply walk away from the mess and  pass the poisoned chalice to his political opponents.

Having asked for a rejection of  the terms offered  by the Eurozone in the referendum and  got an emphatic  61% vote  for rejection,  Syriza   could  have  called the Euro elite’s bluff from a position of strength.   Regrettably for Greece’s hope of recovery they have not had the courage to do so.  Instead  they have  humiliatingly capitulated by signing up to an even more severe  austerity deal than  they could have concluded with the movers and shakers  in the Eurozone a fortnight ago. The stark realpolitik of the situation was epitomised by the Greek prime minister  Alexis Tsipras appealing to the Greek Parliament to accept the deal with the words   “We don’t believe in it, but we are forced to adopt it,” The Parliament  accepted by  his plea by voting 229 for and 64 against, but it required support from the opposition because over 30 Syriza MPs either voted against or abstained. From provisional acceptance by the Greek government  to acceptance by Parliament took three days.   Shotgun marriages often take longer to arrange.

Greece is no longer in control of its economy or its political system.  It is having forced upon it huge changes to pensions and public sector salaries, large privatisations,  and perhaps most humiliating, to sell off €50bn of Greek assets , the proceeds of which will be partially used to guarantee repayments on debts owed to the EU and the IMF. The detailed new requirements are:

“To unlock a fresh €82bn to €86bn bail-out, Greece has until Wednesday to pass laws that:

  • implement VAT hikes
  • cut pensions
  • take steps to ensure the independence of Greece’s statistics office is maintained
  • put measures in place to automatically slash spending if Greece fails to meet its targets on primary surpluses (revenue minus expenditure excluding debt servicing costs)

It has until July 22 (an extra week compared with a draft statement) to:

  • overhaul its civil justice system
  • implement the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) to bring bank resolution laws in line with the rest of the EU

Greek MPs will also have to stomach a move to sell off €50bn of Greek assets.”

This is not the end of the matter. At best the Greek problem and the problems of the Eurozone generally have been simply been kicked down the road. The madness  at the heart of this settlement is that Greece is being further burdened  by a huge amount of extra  debt when the general consensus amongst economists is that the existing  debt was more than Greece could ever hope to repay.  Disobligingly for the Europhile elite,  the IMF  has made it clear since the agreement between Syriza and the Eurozone  that Greece requires a great deal of debt relief and that unless this is forthcoming  the IMF will not take part in the overseeing of the agreement.    But the agreement makes no provision for overt debt relief, although fiddling with the period of repayment and interest rates payable may reduce the real value overall debt (principal and interest)  somewhat.  Nor is this position likely to change, because some Eurozone countries, most notably Germany,  are determined to continue to resist overt  debt relief if Greece is to continue within the Eurozone.  At the same time Germany have made it clear that they want the  IMF involved in the realisation of the agreement. In addition to these obstacles all the other Eurozone countries have got to sign up to the agreement  and this will require some countries, including Germany,  to get parliamentary approval to the terms.  Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has even suggested that Greece leave the Euro for five years.

But even if the Eurozone votes collectively to accept the deal and the IMF  difficulty is overcome,  there is no guarantee it will be realised  for two reasons. The Greek people may be driven by  desperation to  resort to serious violence after they realise that voting changes nothing in Greece and the severe austerity programme takes effect , effects which are aggravated by the fact that   Greece has no real Welfare State.  This could drive the Greek political class to hold further elections with the result that a government is elected which will not implement the deal.

More mundanely,    Greece’s  politics and  public services are severely tainted by cronyism and corruption.  The country  may simply  lack the bureaucratic  structures and expertise to  implement the  complicated and far reaching reforms  which are being sought by the Eurozone.

The sad  truth is that Greece is a second world country which has been masquerading as a first world country.  Before joining the Euro it got by because it had its own currency and  received very large dollops of money from the richer members of the EU.  In those  circumstances its lending was circumscribed by the fact that its debt attracted a high rate of interest because it was seen as a bad risk.  Once Greece had smuggled itself into the Euro by falsifying its accounts,   it was treated as safe a bet as Germany  for creditors who rashly  reasoned that the rest of the Eurozone would ensure Greece did not default.

How difficult would it to be for Greece to re-establish the Drachma? The Czechoslovakian split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 provides a reassuring  example of how it might be done.  Initially the two new countries were going to share a currency but within a matter of weeks they came to the conclusion that this was unworkable and decided that each country should launch its own currency. This was accomplished with very little trouble:

 The two countries already had capital controls, but all cross-border money transfers between them were halted to avoid further speculative flows into the Czech Republic. Border controls were tightened.

Komercni Banka, a then state-owned commercial bank, glued stamps, printed by a British firm to ensure secrecy, on 150 million federal banknotes. These were trucked around the country with the help of police and the army.

The exchange for notes stamped by Czech or Slovak stamps, at a 1:1 rate, started on February 8 and was completed in four days. Later in 1993, the stamped notes were replaced by new ones.

People could swap a maximum of 4,000 crowns — then worth $136 (87 pounds) — in cash. They had to deposit the rest. The old money ceased to be valid immediately the switch started.

The whole process, which required 40,000 people just on the Czech side, went ahead smoothly. An opinion poll showed 86 percent of Czechs experienced no problems in the operation. Capital controls were essential to stop bank runs. Secrecy in the buildup was paramount.

The Greek situation is not an exact parallel with that of Czechoslovakia because of the massive debt the country has acquired. Nonetheless, if Greece did relaunch the Drachma creditors would be forced to decide  between accepting  the new currency even though this would certainly mean them receiving far less than the face value of the loans  or in all probability getting nothing.

Would Greece out of the Eurozone be a better bet for Greeks than what is on offer within the Eurozone?  It is difficult to see how things could be worse because , as things stand, Greece is locked into many years of austerity at the least. . Most importantly outside the Eurozone  the Greeks could take charge their own destiny. Most importantly they would be able to control how much of and at what rate they would repay their national debt .  Holding tight to nurse for fear of something worse is not the answer here because long experience shows the something worse will always be the EU.

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.

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