What can we learn from the  2015 British General Election?

Robert Henderson

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

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

Robert Henderson

Main cast

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King

Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover

Tim Roth as George Wallace

Director Ava DuVernay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See mass migration for what it is – invasion

Robert Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film reviews – 50 Shades of Grey (tedium)

Main cast

Dakota Johnson – Anastasia Steele

Jamie Dornan  – Christian Grey

Eloise Mumford  –   Kate

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Running time 125 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have died a thousand deaths since Thursday.”

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

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

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”

“I’m fifty shades of f*cked up”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The coming digital tyranny

Robert Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(B)  The causes of material incapacity

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

What should be done?

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

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

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

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

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

Film review – Still Alice

Main Cast

Julianne Moore as Alice Howland

Alec Baldwin as John Howland

Kristen Stewart as Lydia Howland

Kate Bosworth as Anna Howland-Jones

Hunter Parrish as Tom Howland

Shane McRae as Charlie Jones

Stephen Kunken as Benjamin

Directors:  Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can the quantum world teach us about reality?

Robert Henderson

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

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

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

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

This is as disorientating for physicists as for anyone else:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A virtual reality universe 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Created and uncreated worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solipsism and dreams

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

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

Is there anything definite we can say about existence?

I can think of only two things which are  certain:

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

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

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

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

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

American Sniper misses  the target – film review

Robert Henderson

Main cast

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle

Sienna Miller as Taya Renae Kyle

Max Charles as Colton Kyle

Luke Grimes as Marc Lee

Kyle Gallner as Goat-Winston

Sam Jaeger as Captain Martens

Jake McDorman as Ryan “Biggles” Job

Sammy Sheik as Mustafa

Mido Hamada as The Butcher

Director Clint Eastwood

This is a frustrating film.  Eastwood as the director  guarantees that it is technically well made. It moves at a good pace, taken individually the action scenes in Iraq are dramatic  and  the subject  (the role of the sniper) is interesting in itself  and has novelty because  it is  not often extensively examined in film. And yet, and yet ….American Sniper has an emptiness, the sum of its parts being decidedly less than the parts.  The film ends up teetering on the edge of boring.

The large  majority  of the film is devoted to Kyle’s four tours of Iraq, with much of that screen time devoted to sniping and house-to-house searches.   Therein lies the first problem with the film as drama. The action  scenes become  repetitive because there is not that much difference from watching Kyle shoot one person from the top of a building and him doing the same thing to quite a few people.  Similarly, the house to house searching has a sameness about it when the streets look the same and the outcome is always  either dead bodies after an exchange of gunfire or the taking of prisoners.

There are attempts to vary the emotional content of  the sniping , for example the first people Kyle  shoots are a young boy and  his mother who are attempting to use a grenade against US soldiers. There are  also subplots involving an Iraqi sniper known as Mustapha  who is portrayed  as having a  duel with Kyle  (which Kyle wins)  and a search to find the  al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi which involves track of   al-Zarqawi’s second in command who known as the Butcher for his delightful habit of torturing people with an electric drill.

But all this generates a  most curious lack of tension because the events are rarely develop into  more than snapshots. Nor is there any sense that anything Kyle or his  comrades has any real purpose beyond the immediate end of preventing American troops from being harmed.  Ironically, what the film unintentionally does  is to provide  a depressing essay on  exactly how futile not only the Iraq war but any war fought by Western Armies in Third or Second world countries is fated to be.

The sniping action scenes are rather strange. Often Kyle is shown shooting from the same position on more than one occasion. This is a no no for a sniper unless he really cannot help it. Understandably snipers are both hated and feared by the other side for the constant threat they offer not only in reality but in their enemy’s mind.  Consequently, the enemy will  make great efforts to locate and kill snipers and the most likely way of doing that is if a sniper stays in the same position and shoots more than once. Modern sniper rifles come with equipment to dull and distort the direction of  sound  and suppress the flash of a round being fired but it is not a complete solution to the problem of giving away your position. To remain in the same position and fire other shots after the first round has been fired is just asking to be located and killed.  There is also an absurd episode towards the end of the film when Kyle shoots the sniper Mustapha at well over 1,000 yards range and in doing so alerts Iraqi insurgents to Kyle and his fellow soldiers’ whereabouts who immediately attack the building in which Kyle and his comrades are hiding.

Another baffling part of Kyle’s behaviour in the film was when he left his sniping position on his own initiative to join in the house to house searching and suffered no disciplinary action. I would have thought that going from his sniper’s position without orders and leaving the soldiers without sniper protection would have been a court martial offence.  (The idea of sniper protection in this situation is that a sniper is put on a high building overlooking the area  being searched by troops and shoots anyone who appears to be ready to attack the soldiers).

Because the film is trying to pack so many  action scenes in there is little opportunity for character development  even of Kyle who is rushed from one action scene to another  with breaks every now and then for a return to the States for leave with his wife. Apart from Cooper the only other character with an extensive part is Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife Taya.  She is adequate in the part but it really does not demand much of her beyond  her agonising over how Kyle “isn’t here”  even when he is home.  The rest of the cast does what it has to do well enough  in the very  limited and unvaried scenes  in which they appear.

There is also a frustrating   lack of  context  for Kyle being in Iraq. Kyle’s motivation is ostensibly a simple unquestioning God-fearing  patriotism built upon the Bush Administration’s  line that the USA was in Iraq to protect Americans in America. That is reasonable enough  for Kyle’s character but there is nothing to balance that mentality, no character to challenge his imple faith.

Finally, then there is the problem of Cooper as Kyle.  Cooper  strikes me as one of those actors who can only play himself. That is not necessarily a problem as many film stars have shown, but the person must have a quality which makes them interesting such as  charm, menace, sexual  attraction.   For me Cooper lacks any exciting or engaging quality.  In American  Sniper he is seriously wrongly cast for this requires not only a convincing tough guy but a character with some emotional hinterland.  Cooper is unconvincing as a hard man  and displays  as much psychological subtlety as a brick wall. His limitations are  particularly exposed   in those parts  of the film where Lyle is home on leave. These   are designed to variously show Kyle’s detachment from ordinary life and addiction to living in a warzone, but these are very cursory and unconvincing.   Ryan Gosling in the role would have made the film much more interesting because he has both psychological depth and is a convincing hard man.

The ending of the film is deeply unsatisfactory from a dramatic point of view.  Originally the ending  was going to be centred around Kyle’s shooting to death by a disturbed ex-marine Eddie Ray Routh who has just been found guilty of murder and sentenced  to life in prison without parole. But Kyle’s wife asked them to drop the scene  and the director substituted a tepid ending showing Kyle leaving with Routh  to travel to the shooting range where the killing took place with a very  anxious Sienna Miller looking on as if she had a premonition of what was to happen, something which must  surely have been a post hoc addition to the real-life  story.  One can understand the wife’s reluctance to have the murder scene  removed but presumably she must have originally given it the thumbs up.

Judged by  the box office takings American sniper has been immensely  in the USA and criticism  of the film’s subject matter  has generated violent responses in the mainstream and social media . In particular, there has been ill-judged criticism from the likes of Michael Moore that snipers are cowards because they kill without putting themselves in dange. This is double-dyed nonsense. To begin with snipers are always having to guard against being spotted and shot themselves.  In a war such as that in Iraq the risk and fear of being seen and killed is  enhanced  because it is a war fought in towns and cities where there is no readily recognised enemy who may be anywhere and come in any human form from  a young child to trained soldier.

To that rebuttal of the charge of coward can be placed a  more general  exculpation of snipers.  War has never been anything but ugly and unchivalrous.  When the crossbow was introduced in mediaeval times it was condemned  as illegitimate by the nobility because the armoured knight was vulnerable to its bolts. The weapon  also had a range   much greater than that of a conventional bow which introduced death meted out from a serious distance. Later the same sorts  of complaint were levelled at firearms.  Long before modern breech loading artillery was devised muzzle loading guns could send their shot miles.  By the late 19th century the machine gun had arrived with the capacity to mow down dozens of men quickly.  By the middle of the twentieth century  bombers were delivering  huge payload from a great height onto  civilian populations. Sniping is no more or less cowardly, no more or less brutal than war is generally.

More pertinent perhaps  are the criticisms that the Kyle of the film is a sanitised version of  what Kyle was, that Kyle was far from being the simple God-fearing patriot of the film. Indeed there are strong reasons that he was both a braggart and a fantasist who made up stories such as claiming to have gone down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and killed many of the  “bad guys” who were looting.  Yet in the film he is shown as being intensely  embarrassed when an veteran of Iraq who has post a leg stops him in a store and praises him effusively for what has  done in Iraq.

Overall the film has a nasty whiff of being a propaganda film, not intentionally but in effect.   If you go to see it bear that in mind and treat it a primer for an understanding  of the ordinary American’s mind these days.


The Imitation Game – film review

Main Cast

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke

Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander

Mark Strong as Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies

Charles Dance as Cdr. Alastair Denniston

Allen Leech as John Cairncross

Matthew Beard as Peter Hilton

Rory Kinnear as Detective Nock

Alex Lawther as Young Turing

Jack Bannon as Christopher Morcom


Like the recent Mr Turner this is a flawed  film which is worth seeing only because of the performance of the central character, in  this case Benedict Cumberbatch  in the role of the English mathematician, pioneering computer theorist and code breaker  Alan Turing. Moreover, it is worth seeing not because it represented Turing’s  personality and life faithfully,  but because the character on the screen was an eminently watchable antisocial monster, who generated both humour and pathos because he was unaware of his psychological deformity.

The main action takes place during  Turing’s time at the World War 2 Bletchley Park code breaking unit, with this topped and tailed by flashbacks to his schooldays at Sherborne where he forms an infatuation for a boy called Christopher Morcom who dies in  his teens  and flash-forwards to  his arrest and prosecution for indecency.  The schooldays and police  scenes add little to the film, indeed could be said to get in the way of Cumberbatch’s  portrayal  of a man breaking all the social rules not on purpose but simply because he does not understand how the game is played.

There is a good deal of humour in the film, most of it resulting from Turing’s supposed  extreme  antisocial personality traits.  This begins early on. When he meets  the head of Bletchley Park Commander  Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) . Turing is his usual socially dysfunctional  self. After a few minutes Denniston  looks at Turing’s CV and says sardonically, “Ah, you’re a mathematician. Now why doesn’t that surprise me.”  Turing replies without a shred of awareness  at his literal mindedness  “Because you just read it on that paper?”  he ventures pointing at the CV in Dance’s hand.  The look on Dance’s face is  priceless.

One of the  most telling and saddest  scenes in the film is where Turing tells a joke. He tells it awkwardly which is doubly poignant, because of his extraordinarily clumsy  reaching out for normal human interaction  and because  the nature of the joke is such that it is easy to see why it would have been accessible to a mind like his who would generally have great difficulty in understanding jokes because of his l his lack of psychological awareness.  The joke is this. Two men are out in the wild and a bear spots them.  One of the two starts putting on his shoes while the other says in amazement  what on earth on are  you doing that for, you will never  outrun  the bear?   I don’t have to, replies the other, I only have to outrun you.  The joke suits the onscreen Turing because it presents  him with a binary choice: two men, one bear equals only one person caught and eaten and requires absolutely no psychological insight.

But entertaining as these aspects of the film are there is the problem of veracity. The primary difficulty is the character of Turing. A certain emphasising  of character traits is legitimate as a dramatic device,  but there is always the danger that the emphasis will become so exaggerated that the essence of a person is lost.   I suspect that is what happened here. The film  represents  him as  having a startling directness which could be hideously rude,  literal mindedness, childlike egotism and manic single-mindedness.    Whether Turing’s antisocial tendencies were so pronounced is dubious . He was certainly not the easiest person to get along with,  for example, his  habit of wanting to be hands on with machinery – he was never happier than when he had a soldering iron or  a pair of wirecutters in his hands  – regularly drove engineers mad as he fiddled  with what they made or set up. He was also undeniably single-minded when he was working on an intellectual task.  Nor did  he have a deeply rooted social life which suggests introspection. There was also his excruciatingly annoying high pitched laugh, a  behavioural trick the film surprisingly fails to utilise.  However, none of that adds up to someone  with whom it was  utterly impossible to work.  The Turing of the film would have been desperately difficult to tolerate at the personal level and very disruptive of work such the codebreaking because it requires intense concentration and the exclusion of  distractions.  The Turing of the film is a past master at creating emotional chaos.

The misrepresentation of reality does not stop there. The film is essentially a biopic and as so often with such films  the director and screenplay writer take very large liberties with the truth. A few important examples.  There is no evidence that  Turing ever had much if anything to do with  Stewart Menzies, head of the British Secret Intelligence Service Mark Strong) , but there’s was a relationship of some importance to the film.  Turing is also shown working with  closely  the traitor John Cairncross, discovering Cairncross’ treason  and Cairncross  gaining Turing’s silence about his treason for some time by blackmailing Turing  over his sexuality.  There is also no evidence for this. The mathematician  Joan Clarke is shown as meeting Turing for the first time when she answers a newspaper  advert Turing has placed asking  for people who were good at crosswords to attend an assessment interview where they are asked to do the Times crossword in eight minutes. In the film  Clarke does it quickest in six minute. The reality is that Clarke was recruited to Bletchley by her old  Cambridge   academic supervisor, Gordon Welchman.  The casting the very attractive Keira Knightly as Clarke who  was  something of a plain Jane is also problematic , because it alters the relationship between Clarke and Turing in the viewer’s mind.  One of the codebreakers in the film Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard ) is shown distraught when a German message is decoded and shows a convoy on which Hilton’s brother is travelling to be the target of coming  U-Boat action. Turing argues that the message must not be used to warn the convoy for fear of alerting the Germans to the fact that the code had been broken. In reality, Hilton had no such brother.  There is also the general point that perhaps Turing was given too much prominence with  contributions by others at Bletchley underplayed or ignored completely, for example, the Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers who designed  ‘Colossus’  – the world’s first programmable computer.

Does all of this matter? It depends whether the viewer treats the film as a biopic/historical drama, a fictional thriller or merely as a vehicle to display, whether accurate or not,  the character of Turing.  As  a biopic or historical drama  it is difficult to treat it seriously because of  the  liberties taken with facts.  As a thriller it never really takes off, not least because we know the ending and  little is made of Cairncross’ treason.  As a vehicle  for an arresting realisation of a complex, highly unusual  and fascinating character it succeeds.  It might even be described as a good if bizarre comedy of manners.

The actual work at Bletchley was by its nature  difficult for the film to make much of as drama  both because the work is esoteric and because a main thrust of the film was to show Turing’s intelligence. Portraying an educated  intelligence is one of the most difficult things in acting because  simply having a character spout a few  academic facts or theories   seems trivial to those  who understand the subject at which the intelligence is directed  and meaningless mumbo-jumbo to the  majority who come to the subject cold.  (Because of this the Eureka! moments in the film when breakthroughs were made clanked in a decidedly forced manner ). The quality of intelligence needs to be shown in the quickness and certainty of a character . Amongst  modern  British actors Ralph Fiennes and Cumberbatch are probably the best exponents because both have a donnish look and manner about them.  Here Cumberbatch’s natural reserve  also played to the isolated and distracted nature of the character.

The rest of the cast are , as one would expect from an ensemble  of British actors,  all good insofar as their roles allow.  But they are all, even Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, utterly dwarfed by Cumberbatch.  They  simply do not have much chance than to be rather one-dimensional, although Charles Dance splenetic Commander Denniston  is an amusing turn and Mark Strong is his usual satisfyingly  sinister self.

Importantly the film does not spend an inordinate amount of time focused on Turing’s  homosexuality.  It  would have been very easy to make a film which was a piece of politically correct propaganda, full of angst about the treatment Turing received after being charged with gross indecency with a total disregard  for the context of the time when this occurred. But to make such a film would have been  to greatly diminish Turing as a  person, because what was really  important about him was  not his sexuality but his great  intellect and the  use he made of it. However, the film did mistakenly try to show Turing as suffering from a loss of intellectual power when Clarke visited him after his conviction for indecency. (Again, there is no evidence for this event).  The film implied that the diminished intellect was due to the hormonal treatment Turing had agreed to rather than go to prison. In fact, Turing retained his mental powers right up to his death ,  publishing an important paper on biological mathematics  The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis in 1952.

To read of Turing’s immense and broad ranging intellectual achievement, which covered mathematics, computing, code-breaking and  biological-related  mathematics  is to inevitably think of  the loss resulting from his death,  but the fact that he was prosecuted despite having like Othello  “done the state some service”  is reassuring because it shows no one was above the law.

Three-parent babies – Redesigning Nature

Robert Henderson

The House of Commons has voted  382 in favour to 128 against to allow babies with genetic material from three people to be born.  Scientists will be able to replace an egg’s defective mitochondrial  DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a female donor’s egg to eliminate genetically  determined diseases such as muscular dystrophy.  This is germline  gene therapy which results in the  genetic alteration being passed on to any  children and their descendants. Britain is the  first country to legalise the procedure.

If it was merely a question  that  the technique  will be used to prevent children  being born without a serious disabling disease it would be emotionally  very difficult to argue against it simply because of the tremendous suffering  which  such diseases cause for both the children themselves and their families , whose lives are often turned upside down with the burden of caring with which they  are left.  Nonetheless, there are possible  biological dangers of genetic manipulation because material is being introduced into a body which is foreign to it. They could perhaps cause cancerous tumours or result in rejection by the immune system.

The thin edge of the wedge

It is a certainty that if three-parent children are allowed it will be the thin end of the wedge which leads  to much more radical alterations of a child’s genome. If gene replacement therapy is deemed ethically acceptable for preventing certain  inherited diseases,  there could be no absolute  moral bar to any manipulation of genes, whether this is  either be through the introduction of genetic material from one or more persons other than the parents into the egg or sperm or to methods of  genetic engineering of humans  which do not require  the introduction of genetic material from a person who is not one of the parents.  Moreover, it is probable that in the not too far distant future the manipulation of  a person’s genes will be done either by direct restructuring of the person’s genetic material (perhaps through the   re-writing of the code of a faulty gene) or the introduction of genetic material not taken from a human  being  but created artificially in a laboratory.

The effect on the children born of genetic manipulation.

Even at its most basic, such as the proposed replacement of mitochondrial DNA to prevent diseases such a muscular dystrophy,  is it not likely that a  child born from the procedure will feel  a freak knowing that they are the product of three people’s DNA, and have serious doubts  about their identity?  Could they ever  have the same relationship with their parents as a child conceived naturally?  That is debatable because the recipient of the replacement DNA  to correct a genetically determined illness might well view it simply as being equivalent to a transplant of a cornea or heart, although there would be the difference that the replacement DNA would be handed down the generations if the person receiving it had children.

But what if  the genetic modification was much more radical, for example,  determining elements of personality, intellect and physical appearance ? That would be much more  likely  to cause psychological disturbance in both the child and the parents.     The child might feel they were not people in their own right but simply the toys of their parents, machines cut to a template consciously planned by another.  If a child’s  life  did not go well,  would not they be inclined to blame their parents for making the genetic choices that they did?   Sadly, if genetically altered children do  blame the parents,  then it is all too easy to imagine that children would sue their parents for making what the children deemed to be bad choices.

The effect on the parents of children born of genetic manipulation

The parents  could also have psychological issues. It is one thing having a child naturally who is born disabled, deformed or just   turns out to be a disappointment in some way, quite another to have a child who disappoints after the parents have made decisions which helped  to shape the child’s physical and mental  qualities.  The parents would run the  risk of  not only being disappointed ,but of knowing they were in part responsible for what the child was, something  which could  engender either feelings of guilt or the anger which can arise when someone knows they are responsible for something but cannot accept that reality. Again, the law could come into play with parents suing the scientists who had performed the genetic manipulation for misleading them.

The creation of a genetic divide in a society

If a society leaves genetic manipulation to the market with only those with the means to afford it receiving the manipulation, the difference  between the haves and have-nots  could become  so large that there were objectively   two  grades  of human beings in the society.   The mere fact that some were genetically engineered and some were not could and probably would  result in an elite which was biologically as well as materially and intellectually different from those who had undergone genetic manipulation, a difference which could translate into a caste system with the genetically manipulated only breeding amongst themselves .   An alternative scenario could be the genetically unaltered have-nots – who would be in the large majority – seeing the elite as other than human and slaughtering them without compunction.

State interference

Would governments be able to resist insisting that characteristics such as intelligence were enhanced by the genetic manipulation  of all members of a society whether or not the parents wanted it?  A  dictatorship  could insist on certain characteristics being enhanced in all their population. Alternatively, the could deny such  genetic manipulation to all but those with power . A third possibility would be, in Brave New World style,  to use the technology  to have people genetically altered so that there were people with different abilities and personality traits produced in different quantities.

Even a representative democracy  might find itself driven to act in such an authoritarian way if it was feared that the society could not compete with other societies which adopted government inspired genetic changes.

Genetic manipulation after conception

Genetic manipulation will not stop at point of conception.   As the technology advances we can expect to see opportunities for much genetic manipulation from the foetus to the aged human. However, this would be  Somatic gene therapy which would be introduced into non-sex cells and would not , unlike germline gene therapy, become part of the person’s genome and consequently could not be passed on to any children or their descendants.

In the case of those old enough to give their consent to somatic gene manipulation  much of the psychological problem which exists with genetic manipulation of the sperm and egg is removed because adults, unless they are mentally handicapped or living in a society where the state forces all to undergo such procedures, they will be able to make the decision for themselves as to whether they have  such a procedure.  Even if they do not like the result of their gene manipulation  they would  not be in a worse psychological situation than someone who has had a replacement organ or plastic surgery which does not give them what they anticipated.

The dangers of a rapid genetic alteration within a population

Rapidly changing the proportions of  characteristics in  a population could  damage the viability of the society. Very little is understood about the importance of the distribution of different qualities and abilities within  a society. Suppose a society opts to rapidly increase the IQ of its people.  A society of highly intelligent people might not work because homo sapiens naturally forms hierarchies and if everyone is highly intelligent this might  make the creation of a stable hierarchy impossible.  .  Or suppose personality traits such as aggression, caution and extroversion could be  manipulated. If the choice was left to parents the favouring of one of such traits might make a society too aggressive or too placid.

What can be done to guard against the worst possibilities?

As genetic manipulation of humans will undoubtedly spread rapidly throughout the world, there will  be no realistic way of preventing  individuals from availing themselves of the technology short of closing the borders and allowing no one to travel out of the country to have the manipulation done abroad with regular checks on every individual to make sure there was no illegal operations being done

If gene manipulation  is banned in one country, but foreign travel is not, banned those  who can afford it and think it worthwhile will go abroad to have the procedure . It would be  possible for a country to make genetic manipulation a  crime regardless of where the act took place.  But that would open up a can of worms. The manipulation would have already have taken place.  The altered human being, whether child or adult,  would exist.  In the case of a child,  the individual would not have broken the law because the decision to have the procedure would not have been theirs. What would the state do?  Imprison for life every adult who had broken the law? Take every genetically altered child into care?   A ban on individuals seeking  gene manipulation would be a non-starter.  If it is widely seen a desirable thing, the only thing which might stop gene manipulation  would be a high proportion of procedures resulting in serious problems such as tumours or deformities dissuading most of the public against it.

Guarding against state enforced gene manipulation is a more practical proposition, but only  in countries with some regard for constitutionality and the law in general. It would be possible for such countries to include in their constitutions absolute bars on any state imposed genetic manipulation.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 244 other followers

%d bloggers like this: