Friday, 31 July 2015

Passaford Lane

Here’s an environment. 

Passaford Lane leading from the Devon hamlet of Passaford to Mutters Moor named after Abraham Mutter, one of  smuggler Jack Rattenbury's accomplices. 

Passaford Lane is one of those sunken lanes or hollow ways often encountered in Devon. We have a few in Derbyshire too. It is a steady climb up to Mutters Moor. Rough and stony underfoot and quite gloomy in places with all the overhanging trees, but pleasant enough in summer. Jack and his band of smugglers may well have used it on their way to Otterton.

A rabbit hops into the path, spots us immediately and hops back. So I think of rabbits and Peter Rabbit one of Granddaughter’s favourite stories which I must know by heart.

The lane is strewn with flints of all shapes and sizes so now I'm reminded of Neolithic times. Flint tools and those ancient, mysterious folk who scratched a living in these hills, using those same flints to make their axes, arrowheads and scrapers. I wonder if I’ll find one?

It's sweaty work climbing, the sheltered ground still damp, the air humid. I think of water and if it is better to stop for a quick drink or wait until we reach the moor where a welcome breeze probably awaits. 

A wren flits through the bushes lining the lane. Was it a wren? Might have been a wren but gone now. May have been a robin after sandwich crumbs. Human = sandwich crumbs - is that how it goes in the robin’s brain?

The lane is an environment. It stimulates thoughts, sweat, muscles, digestion, memories, impressions, ideas, emotions and the imagination. Environments do that.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Not an issue

The Ipsos MORI July 2015 Issues Index is mildly interesting.

Ipsos MORI's Issues Index is conducted monthly and provides an overview of the key issues concerning the country. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 989 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. The questions are spontaneous - i.e. respondents are not prompted with any answers.

Immigration seems to be high on the worry list but climate change isn't even mentioned. No mention in the data table either. Perhaps Pollution/environment is supposed to cover it these days, but where's the catastrophe? Moved over to immigration as far as one can see, Where next though?

H/T politicalbetting.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Seldom the first

When a man is appointed to a place, it is natural that he should accept the income allotted to that place without much inquiry. It is seldom that he will be the first to find out that his services are overpaid.
Anthony Trollope - Autobiography (1883)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

A view of the Lyme Regis promenade from the bus stop shelter - taken around noon today. The sea was quite inviting but we didn't venture in.

According to climate scientists the weather should improve if we pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As our Chinese chums have been doing their best in this respect, I'm not so sure the climate boffins are on the right track. Unfortunately official figures suggest 97% of them are bonkers, but surely they'll get something right eventually? 

Come on chaps -  pull your socks up!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A version

We're on holiday and today we spent a few idle hours strolling through the sunshine which isn't as fiercely tropical as promised twenty years ago but never mind. An elderly couple walked ahead of us and we'll be elderly soon enough but never mind that either.

Anyhow, the lady half of said couple who seemed sprightly enough, momentarily stepped off the kerb behind a car which was just completing a parking manoeuvre. As she was now on the road the car was reversing very slowly towards her. She saw it and promptly skipped back onto the pavement although the car was just about to stop anyway and an accident seemed unlikely.

Through the open car window she indignantly informed the driver that she'd been behind his car before bustling on, giving him no chance to reply. Her husband briefly repeated the accusation as he tagged along behind.

Even though the lady had stepped into the road behind a moving if slowly moving car, her version of events had been satisfactorily adjusted in her favour inside a second or two. She barely slowed as she lobbed an entirely unjust accusation through that open window. Maybe she spent some time in politics.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Walden Three

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.
B F Skinner - Walden Two (1948)

B F Skinner’s novel Walden Two provides a fictional setting for what he saw as a potentially achievable utopia although he was not so sanguine as to think it ever would be achieved. The book sold millions of copies and certain features of the modern world suggests many influential people are probably familiar with its ideas.

From Wikipedia
Walden Two embraces the proposition that the behavior of organisms, including humans, is determined by environmental variables and that systematically altering environmental variables can generate a sociocultural system that very closely approximates utopia.

Skinner’s basic message is not complex – a non-competitive self-governing and pragmatic society could condition its inhabitants to be contented, possibly even happy. Keeping things that way in Walden Two is the job of the Board of Planners, members of which serve for ten years and appoint their successors. These are the behavioural engineers who oversee managers who manage the various departments. Apart from these roles they are merely ordinary citizens with no special status

Although such a utopia is unlikely to be achievable globally or even long term on a smaller scale, it is possible that Walden Two has spawned a number of ideas in the minds and general outlook of elite global bureaucrats. Let us call these ideas Walden Three.

Popular assent is always interesting because it is a litmus test for power and how power expects us to behave. If a significant number of people passively assent to certain aspects of daily life then there are usually others who benefit, almost always those who planned and engineered matters in the first place. 

To take one possible example as an aspect of Walden Three. Our fake UK democracy based on passive assent makes sense if we accept that it came about by systematically altering environmental variables. An essentially two-party adversarial system is a vitally important environmental variable and there is no doubt that it is manipulated as in the 2011 AV referendum. In Skinner's terms it was manipulated by behavioural engineers. They may not think of themselves as such, but that's what they are.

In which case there is nothing to be gained from plugging radical alternatives because those who plug them cannot do it by systematically altering environmental variables. Our Walden Three democracy ticks the behavioural boxes it is supposed to tick and doesn’t tick those it is designed to leave alone such as meaningful reform. China has something similar if less subtle.

Those who weave assent into our lives are Skinner’s planners and managers, the behavioural engineers who do not necessarily subscribe to what they promote. They may or they may not, but elite Walden Three planners and managers are likely to know what they are.

What we have at the moment is far less formal and structured than Walden Two, and far more complex with a vast array of caveats and exceptions, but the basic controlling structure seems to be fairly consistently applied. It may be fallible, complex and layered but in real life that was inevitable.

What else do we see in Walden Three – what is visible now apart from the failure of UK democracy? We see an educated middle class being replaced by a more adaptable citizen class, a general lowering of expectations towards a more sustainable global citizens' lifestyle. We see the traditional role of parents replaced by official controls and responsibilities. Ultimately, as in Walden Two, parents may have few childcare responsibilities for their own children, it depends on how the Walden Three planners see it.

We see the official view of a safe and healthy lifestyles slowly becoming compulsory. We see even minor forms of dissent controlled by endless disapproval and ostracism. We see well-financed mass narratives obviously engineered to fit exiting narratives and obviously designed to further a prime social objective of global equality for all citizens. Which is why the middle class of the developed world has to go because their lifestyle is not thought to be globally sustainable.

Given the importance of our consumer society and the trillions it spends each year and given the global reach of the modern world, Walden Three seems inevitable. It may even be achievable and it isn’t easy to see how things could be otherwise if we are to have a complex but comparatively stable global society. We do not need a global society of course, but that’s not on the agenda.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Mostly sold by puffing

Fergusson Wright Hume

One of the delights of reading is discovering an author you have never read before. I realise I'm onto a potential loser here because both of my readers may be familiar with the guy I'm writing about - Fergus Hume. They will be members of the Fergus Hume Society, subscribers to Fergus magazine and avid viewers of numerous Fergus Hume TV series.

Oh well - Hume is a writer I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago. Not that this is in any way remarkable because my tastes are not particularly wide, but he wrote over 130 books.

His first and most successful novel and the only one I've read was The Mystery of a Hansom Cab published in 1886, a murder mystery which outsold Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet. It is certainly second rate but easy holiday reading perhaps. Old fashioned of course, but just about worth a browse if old fashioned isn't a drawback.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is a mystery fiction novel by English writer Fergus Hume. The book was first published in Australia in 1886. Set in Melbourne, the story focuses on the investigation of a homicide involving a body discovered in a hansom cab, as well as an exploration into the social class divide in the city. The book was successful in Australia, selling 100,000 copies in the first two print runs. It was then published in Britain and the United States and went on to sell over 500,000 copies worldwide, outselling the first of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet (1887).

Look at that moustache too. If that doesn’t deserve more renown I don’t know what does. As I’ve been an avid secondhand bookshop browser for over forty years I find it mildly surprising that I never so much as plucked a single one of Hume's books from the shelves.

Conan Doyle didn't think much of Hansom Cab though, describing it as a slight tale, mostly sold by 'puffing'. Perhaps he was right. I'm not sure if I'll read another after Hansom Cab, but having downloaded twenty onto my Kindle I may try one more.

Not quite the same as the musty delights of a secondhand bookshop though is it? We don't usually pull twenty books off the shelves on a whim. A curious footnote is supplied by Hume's 1896 preface to a revised edition of Hansom Cab written after his return to England, by which time the book was extremely successful.

Several people before and since my arrival in England, have assumed the authorship of the book to themselves; and one gentleman went so far as to declare that he would shoot me if I claimed to have written it. I am glad to say that up to the present he has not carried out his intention.  

Sunday, 19 July 2015

No apps

I wonder if I can download any apps for the phone on my desk pictured above? As far as I can see there are none available, although it does come equipped with a little drawer with a spring loaded clip for notes.

Does that count as an app? Probably not but it must have been useful in times gone. It has lasted a while too.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

What is lying?

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

“I didn’t do it Mummy,” says little Kyle as he stares at his muddy footprints on the brand new carpet.

Little Kyle is lying of course, but adults can be just as dishonest if less transparently so.

“Another bus is due in ten minutes,” Kyle’s dad assures the bus stop queue, but he checked the wrong timetable on his phone and the bus doesn’t arrive.

Kyle’s dad isn’t lying of course. He made a mistake.

These two examples are islands in a vast swamp. Clarity reigns and even Kyle is reasonably well aware of what’s what. As we all know it becomes tricky when we consider the demands of more complex situations, the need to belong and the emotional need to feel that one does indeed belong.

“I just sent the emails,” Kyle’s mum tells her boss. She hasn’t but she’ll send them as soon as her boss leaves the office.

Kyle’s mum is lying in order to seem more efficient that she actually is. A common enough occurrence and in a sense the situation demanded the lie, or at least suggested it. Or maybe the boss demanded it. Depends on the corporate culture and how it punishes lapses. Why lie at all though? Why not be scrupulously honest? Because as Kyle's mum knows too well, life frequently doesn’t work out well for honest folk. Honesty is often punished where lying isn’t.

Suppose we have two aspects to our behaviour. Firstly we respond to stimuli and our responses are moulded by the need to seek the path of fewest surprises and/or greatest benefit. Secondly, and this one seems to be optional, we sometimes veto the natural, expected or automatic response. We hold back, disengage, remain detached.

Lying often seems to be a failure to veto untruths due to the demands of a situation. So we may not always be aware that we are lying or may only be partially aware. One person may veto a lie and acknowledge that it is a lie. Another may veto any possible acknowledgment that the same lie is indeed a lie. Kyle’s mum might deal with her lie either way, although she probably knows she lied.

Lies are often demanded by common situations in daily life and the demands can be overwhelmingly strong. Everyone is at least partly aware of the demands and the lies but not everyone is in a position to acknowledge their awareness. Sometimes not even to themselves, in which case any residue of awareness seems to disappear completely and people do strange things.

The problem is particularly acute when lies are demanded on pain of exclusion or expulsion. Such as losing a job, the threat of being sidelined or otherwise punished in one of the many ways we use to punish inconvenient integrity. If we don’t veto the lies we get to stay in the job, on the career path or merely in a passably comfortable situation.

Advantages outweigh disadvantages and the lie is the path of fewest surprise, the path of least resistance. Colleagues reward the lie, punish dissent and assist in repelling outsiders, although outsiders may be repelled by the lies anyway. We don’t have to do anything to reap the benefits of lies, we merely fail to veto them.

If we look at it this way, then truth-seeking becomes detachment, a preference for veto over assent. This seems to be why cynics, sceptics and curmudgeonly doubters are often sidelined and often turn out to be right in the long run. Hem hem.

In themselves vetoes are not the answer though. Almost all of us veto certain sources of information such as certain news media or certain people yet a blanket veto is almost bound to miss something of value or interest. Even so, lying may be seen as a mode of attachment and a corresponding failure to veto its dishonesty.

In many cases, people both know and don’t know they are lying but there is no contradiction. Situations which successfully demand and elicit lies are much more powerful than the individuals they control. People could know they are lying if the situation changed its demands, but as it is they are often barred from knowing their own lies in any overt sense. All knowledge is unconscious until it is called into consciousness but powerfully dishonest situations do not issue the call and actively suppress its emergence.

Politicians are interesting liars. Extreme cynics who try to avoid direct involvement with coercive situations while repeating the lies from a safe distance so others may be blamed if things go wrong. Lies are useful.

Friday, 17 July 2015

To create minions

Whatever the ruling power may be it is repugnant to any change; never does it voluntarily restrict itself in its faculty of bestowing or withholding offices, authority, consideration, influence, or salaries, every desirable and every desired good thing; as far as it can, it retains these in its own hands to distribute them as it pleases, and in its own interest to bestow them on its partisans and to deprive its adversaries of them, to attract clients and create minions.
Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

An interesting quote because it implies that supranational bodies such as the EU and UN will attempt to reduce national governments to the status of minions. Often willing minions - as all good minions are.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Climate Fraud

As the failure of global temperature prediction becomes more protracted and obvious, outright fraud seems to be rearing its ugly head.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Greece - a not so cunning plan


Government offices are part of a great scheme for the manufacture of the mediocrity necessary for the maintenance of a Feudal System on a pecuniary basis — and money is the foundation of the Social Contract.
Honoré de Balzac - Melmoth Réconcilié (1835)

As we gaze at the EU/Greece debacle it is worth reminding ourselves that this is the kind of thing government planners bring about. Political stooges deliver the narrative but it is superior officials living lives of comfort and security who appear to imagine they have the gift of foresight. As far as one can see, to milk their golden gift it is merely necessary to gather them around a table with coffee and biscuits on hand.

The euro is a planned currency - planned by EU officials. Greek membership of the euro was a planned event - planned by EU officials. The resulting mess wasn’t planned of course, but messes, even humongous messes such as this have the “lessons learned” file already bulging with excuses in time for the next coffee and biscuits session.

That’s the link between economic disaster in Greece and those wind turbines dotted around the landscape. Plan for the future. Your future that is – not the EU planners’ future. Theirs is a life of comfort, coffee, biscuits and planning. Their future is assured.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The ghost of Billy Bunter

As a youngster I read all of the Billy Bunter books, yet decades later I wonder why. Why did they appeal to a lad brought up on a Derby council estate who knew nothing of private boarding schools or the etiquette of wealth?

Perhaps the social gulf was easily bridged by ignoring it, but Bunter was not even a character one could admire or with whom one could identify. According to those inky swots at Wikipedia -

Bunter's defining characteristic is his greediness and dramatically overweight appearance. His character is, in many respects, a highly obnoxious anti-hero. As well as his gluttony, he is also obtuse, lazy, racist, inquisitive, deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited.

His compatriots at Grefriars School weren’t much better either as far as I recall. The beastly place was crawling with snobs and fearsome beaks such as Mr Quelch. So what was the attraction all those years ago?

Looking back I think the books were straightforward stories with a beginning, middle and end. They were available from the local library and easily spotted in the shelves because of their yellow dust jackets. Bunter was good enough rather than appealing, with the added benefit of being a series so a chap knew what to expect.

Perhaps Billy Bunter brings out the mechanical aspect of reading. Beneath the literary flim flam books are usually something to do, entertainments as Graham Greene called his own output. Something to pass the time on a rainy day or when there isn’t anything else. Holiday reading without being on holiday.

There is a mechanical aspect to all forms of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be uplifting or even entertaining - available and easily digested will do. Eventually we learn to discriminate, to select according to our mood and passing inclinations, to learn, to muse, to delve, laugh, think, agree or disagree, to be angry, indignant or resigned.

Or we don’t.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Primark raid


The BBC reports

French police are hunting for three armed men who stormed a Primark store in an suspected robbery attempt north of Paris.

The gunmen fled the scene after special forces evacuated 18 people trapped inside the Qwartz shopping centre in Villeneuve-la-Garenne.

None of those released 18 people was injured. The area around the shopping centre has been shut down.

Further reports suggest the raiders got away with a huge truckload of Primark clothing possibly worth in excess of €500.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A diet too far

From the Telegraph we have yet another snippet in the long history of totalitarian creep. Or if you prefer, totalitarian creeps.

Adults and children should be instructed by the Government to halve the amount of sugar they consume and eat almost twice as much pasta, potato and other fibrous foods, an official report is expected to say this week.

The word instructed leaps out like an unwanted spurt from a lanced boil . Here's another word worth noting.

Within months, people could be told by ministers to ensure that no more than 5 per cent of their energy comes from sugars, down from 10 per cent, including those naturally present in honey, fruit juice and other foods.

So people could be told what to eat by ministers? There is no point getting all hot and bothered about this and ministers will deny that they are telling people what to eat anyway, although becoming hot and bothered could help shed an ounce or two.  

Neither is there much to be gained by elaborating on the impertinence of it all, nor the vexed question of dietary science and its unreliability. The problem is government, what it does, what it ought to do and what it should do about hordes of self-seeking loons who grow fat sucking at the teat of the nanny state.

It seems to me that obesity is a symptom of a wider problem connected with personal responsibility. The consequences of our actions, of our decisions and lifestyles have become somewhat remote and diffuse. Much of this loss of responsibility and indifference to remote consequences is down to intrusive governments and perhaps this is the debate we should be having. 

It is not entirely clear why anyone should opt to live an officially healthy life anyway, why we should not enjoy life in our own way and on our own terms. The trouble is that would require some kind of publicly acknowledged limit on what governments do and what they don't do.

This would leave almost everyone in politics with a smaller platform and even worse from their point of view, a more clearly defined platform. For a political culture grown fat and flabby on overindulgence in hyperactive interference it would be a diet too far.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bemused stare


We often take Granddaughter to a play centre if the weather isn’t fine enough for zooming around the garden. At least these places gives her a chance to run and climb and use up some energy whatever the weather. Mrs H and I take turns in following her around because there is always a spot of hands and knees work to be done.

At one point there is even a short stretch of commando-type wriggling on the belly using elbows as motive power which certainly takes its toll on oldies who never were commandos. When it is Mrs H’s turn to chase around I buy a coffee and sometimes watch the pop videos on the big TV screen. The sound is turned down low so hardly anyone else watches.

You may be more familiar with them than I am, but modern pop videos are a weird mix of the crudest sexual display with a strange kind of dysfunctional romance in the distant background. Strutting adolescence mingles with disjointed images of cool and the sentiment button-pushing advertisers know so well.

Crude as it is, a dying glimmer of lost romance does seem to shake its shroud in the background. No doubt the glimmer is partly intentional, a touch of the rose-tinted however tawdry and out of place it may be.

Superficially slick, the videos do not come across as well done to my inexpert eye. How much they cost to make I don’t know, but one is left with the entirely obvious impression that these are disposable images not to be taken seriously except by the gullible hormones of adolescence.

The female performers can be quite pretty in a somewhat flaky and excessively blatant way. The males pout, flutter their eyelashes and try to do masculine, apparently without ever having been taught how.

Quite why this depraved yet curiously sad spectacle is deemed suitable for young children I don’t know because none of them pay it the slightest attention. Neither do their phone-struck parents. All I’ve ever seen are a few bemused stares from grandparents.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

A big noise in tennis

One of many unattractive trends in professional sport is the rise of grunting in tennis, although it isn't new and with some of the women players it is more of a loud shriek than a grunt. From the BBC we have.

Is grunting louder than a lawn mower a natural part of tennis or is it unsporting behaviour?

Should it be accepted as being part of the game or should rules be introduced to outlaw players from exhaling so loudly when they hit the ball that noise levels exceed 100 decibels?

Grunting became topical again at Wimbledon when Belarusian Victoria Azarenka was forced to defend her on-court noises following a quarter-final loss to Serena Williams - and another 'shrieker', Maria Sharapova, is in semi-final action against Williams on Thursday.

I watched part of the Azarenka / Williams match and from my perspective Azarenka's incessant shrieking made the game unwatchable, but I'm not a fan and fans are wired up differently.

Although grunts and shrieks are supposed to help players hit the ball harder, gamesmanship seems at least as likely. These people are professionals and sporting ideals are not high on the to-do list.

When each player has a retinue of agents, fitness specialists, coaches, diet advisers, psychologists and managers, top tennis has become a business, not a game for individuals. Winning is the name of the game and any legitimate advantage is bound to be used if it actually works.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Blast from the past

Yes it's Hippolyte Taine again, but he blasts the political classes with such gentlemanly venom that I can't resist another quote.

Most of them are mere politicians, charlatans, and intriguers, third-class lawyers and doctors, literary failures, semi-educated stump-speakers, bar-room, club, or clique orators, and vulgar climbers. 

Left behind in private careers, in which one is closely watched and accepted for what he is worth, they launch out on a public career because, in this business, popular suffrage at once ignorant, indifferent, is a badly informed, prejudiced and passionate judge and prefers a moralist of easy conscience, instead of demanding unsullied integrity and proven competency. 

Nothing more is demanded from candidates but witty speech-making, assertiveness and showing off in public, gross flattery, a display of enthusiasm and promises to place the power about to be conferred on them by the people in the hands of those who will serve its antipathies and prejudices.

Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Problem solved

Here's a suggestion to assist David Cameron in his EU referendum "negotiations". Why not propose a scheme to eject from the EU all those countries which cause trouble and also fall below a certain ranking in the economic freedom league table.

Below is a list of EU countries in descending order of their economic freedom ranking. For example the EU could eject all those below a rank of 65 - Rwanda. So France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece get the elbow. Maybe a criterion of 65 is a little lax but it seems fair enough as a starting point.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Is your behaviour yours?

One of the most important and far-reaching developments of the twentieth century has been the scientific formulation of human behaviour. Its systematic analysis in terms of cause and effect continues to have an impact on all of our lives because in broad terms it works.

This is why the UK government has a Behavioural Insights Team.

The Behavioural Insights Team – also known as the Nudge Unit – is now a social purpose company. It is partly owned by the Cabinet Office, employees and Nesta.

In general we respond to external stimuli in a fairly predictable manner if our response is positively reinforced. Once this is known as it has been known for many decades or even centuries, then between genes and conditioning there is little room for free will. What little mystery there was has gone forever.

As we are exposed to global political trends, we are increasingly conditioned by them because many important trends have been designed to reinforce officially approved behaviour. There is nothing accidental about it. We usually accept what we can’t change and almost always accept what is beneficial or what has become familiar. It’s how we are made and how mass manipulation works.

In addition, something which has been said many times is that modern lives in the developed world are luxurious. Most of us are healthy, wealthy but perhaps not wise if we compare ourselves to ordinary folk only a few generations back. We have more freedom too, but we also have our own problems looming just below a complacent horizon.

By far the biggest and most fearsome is the slow but apparently inexorable drift towards global government. We are being conditioned towards a vanilla-flavoured humanity where having a nationality, a culture or even a personal philosophy will eventually become unusual.

Global government has been a dream of insane megalomaniacs and the terminally naive for some time, but whatever its defects we seem to be stuck with it as a slowly evolving reality. The prospect is not a jolly one.

Nations which play by the same rules but do not set those rules are not nations. Cultures which abide by the same norms but did not evolve those norms are not cultures. A personal philosophy absorbed from the same global trends is neither a philosophy nor personal.

Nations, cultures and individuals just disappear.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Enlisted sheep

Hippolyte Taine is scathing about the French electorate as it became when the franchise was extended after the Revolution. Harsh words, but the modern reader must wonder how much improvement there has been since then.

...a collective being in which the small intelligent, élite body is drowned in the great rude mass; of all juries, the most incompetent, the easiest duped and misled, the least able to comprehend the questions laid before it and the consequences of its answer; the worst informed, the most inattentive, the most blinded by preconceived sympathies or antipathies, the most willingly absent, a mere flock of enlisted sheep always robbed or cheated out of their vote.

Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Yes Man


After a sweltering day yesterday an evening slump seemed to be in order. We decided to watch Yes Man, a 2008 film starring Jim Carrey as Carl and Zooey Deschanel as Allison. As usual it was a slapstick romance built around Carrey’s particular talents.

Bank loan officer Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) has become withdrawn since his divorce from ex-wife Stephanie. Routinely ignoring his friends Pete (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson), he has an increasingly negative outlook on his life... old colleague suggests that he goes to a motivational "Yes!" seminar with him, which encourages its attendants to seize the opportunity to say "Yes!". Carl decides to attend the seminar and meets inspirational guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), who publicly browbeats him into making a covenant with himself. Carl reluctantly promises to stop being a "No Man" and vows to answer "Yes!" to every opportunity, request, or invitation that presents itself thereafter.

The film leaves one, or at least it left me with a reminder of how narrow film characters can be, especially modern female characters such as Allison, Carrey’s love interest. In our politically correct culture there is little latitude for female leads apart from a kind of feisty priggishness, predictable, uninteresting and uninspiring. Allison wasn't even priggish - just feisty and pretty as if that was enough.

After the seminar, saying yes to a homeless man's request only leaves Carl stranded in Elysian Park. Disillusioned, he hikes to a gas station where he meets Allison (Zooey Deschanel), an unorthodox young woman. She gives him a ride back to his car on her scooter and kisses him before leaving. After this positive experience, Carl feels more optimistic about saying yes

We watch few films so I've no notion of Ms Deschanel's acting talents partly because I'd never heard of her before and partly because acting talent wasn't required. As far as I could see the part could have been played quite satisfactorily by any one of thousands of actresses able to handle feisty and pretty at the same time and without sniggering. 

Admittedly Allison had some bolt-on eccentricities such as riding a scooter very fast, but for me they felt artificial. Instead she could have ridden around in a horse-drawn chaise or an antique steam car, although I suppose that could have made her more genuinely eccentric and undermined the Star.

Without any coherent moral dimension to a character, apart from the endless negatives of political correctness, fictional characters can be strangely uninteresting however many eccentricities they are given. There is nothing substantial enough to hold a persona together, nothing to suggest why one feature is more in tune with the character than another. Feisty isn’t enough.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Heatwave Action

Met Office language is interesting. A couple of hot days is a heatwave where a longer period of unusually cold weather would be a cold snap. A wave sounds as if it ought to be longer than a snap but it tends to be the other way round.