Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Alt-Right Goebbels Milo Yiannopolis Spectacularly Self-Destructs Defending Paedophilia

February 25, 2017

This week, Alt-Right ideologue Milo Yiannopolis’ career was spectacularly destroyed by the outrage over a year-old video of interview in which he defended paedophilia. I’ve blogged about Yiannopolis before. He’s another journo from the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart, who’s been very vocal in his support of Donald Trump. He’s also a walking mass of contradictions – a self-hating gay, who rails against homosexuality, and a racist, who’s half-Jewish and talks about his Black boyfriend. He’s also extremely anti-feminist. Guy Debord’s Cat has written a particularly good piece taking him and his bigotry apart at: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/lets-talk-about-milo-yiannopoulos/

A year or so ago, Yiannopolis was a guest on Joe Rogan’s Drunken Peasant’s podcast in which he defended paedophilia. Yiannopolis declared that the laws regarding consent were confused and oppressive, and confessed that he’d had a gay relationship when he was 14 with his Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael. He claimed that such relationships could be positive, and that he had been the initiator in the relationship. He also went on to claim that he had also been on Hollywood boat parties, in which ‘very young boys’ were also present and abused by the older men there.

Kevin Logan made a video of this part of the podcast, naturally attacking Milo for his vile defence of child abuse. This was picked up by the American mainstream media in the furore following Yiannopolis’ appearance on the Bill Maher Show. The result has been that Yiannopolis’ has been disinvited from CPAC, the main Conservative conference in the US. His deal for a proposed book, Dangerous, has also been dropped by the publisher, and many of the universities at which he was booked to speak have also dropped him. He has also been forced to resign from Breitbart.

Yiannopolis has now made a kind of non-apology, in which he claims it was all a joke, or something like that, and stating that he does not condone nor defend paedophilia. However, he makes a distinction between this and hebephilia, which is supposed to be sexual relations with teenage boys. This just seems to be a case of hair-splitting, as Milo is still talking about the abuse of those, who are minors under the law. It’s still child abuse, and I think under American legislation would be considered statutory rape of a minor.

Here’s a video from the Jimmy Dore Show, in which the comedian rips apart Yiannopolis’ original comments and his later quasi-apology.

Dore also makes the point that Yiannopolis has also committed an additional crime under Californian law. This obliges those, who know that child abuse is being committed, to inform the police. Yiannopolis was present at these parties where ‘very young’ – barely teenage? – boys were being abused, and did not tell the cops. I think he also claimed to know three or four other men, who were also abusing underage boys.

Yiannopolis’ defence of child abuse is disgusting, but many left-wing bloggers and vloggers have also pointed out that he’s also made revolting comments about non-Whites, feminism and ‘SJWs’, or Social Justice Warriors, the Alt-Right term of abuse for anyone concerned with minority rights and social justice. He’s always been a troll, who delights in deliberately saying the offensive and unspeakable to shock and outrage those on the Left. Dore, and David Pakman, who has also commented about this on his show, also make the point that Yiannopolis in himself isn’t really very interesting. His views ain’t original. All that makes him noteworthy at all is that he’s a gay man, saying vile things about other gays. It’s another example of the Republican strategy of taking one member of a particularly minority to criticise and attack the others. Quite often its Black Conservatives attacking Blacks. They’ve also pointed out that it also shows the great intellectual cachet Americans accord anyone with an upper class British accent. Yiannopolis’ views on race and feminism are bog-standard, unremarkable bigotry. But because he articulates them in a BBC, public-school accent, they are somehow taken to be more insightful and intellectually respectable than they are.

For the moment, Yiannopolis’ career has imploded. But one of the commenters on one of the news threads about this predicted that he’d probably be back in time. Unfortunately, I can see this being true. As for the universities that have cancelled him, I think they’re entirely right to do so. Beyond matters of principle, unis and other places of education have a duty of care to their students. Many students and staff will have children, and will obviously be very uncomfortable about the university allowing someone to speak, who believes that statutory child abuse in certain circumstances is acceptable. Yiannopolis’ views are also in strong opposition to the ethics of school teaching. These have very strong rules designed to protect students from abuse, and teachers from false accusations, which also occur from time to time. Universities aren’t schools, but at least in Britain they do run teacher training courses. The education professionals running these courses are highly unlikely to want to see invited onto campus a speaker, whose stated personal views attack the moral and legal principles they wish to impress on the teachers of the future.

In the meantime, Yiannopolis’ fall has shown that there is a line even which the trolls of the Alt-Right cross at their peril. But as the other left-wing bloggers and vloggers have pointed out, it’s a pity that this didn’t happen to Yiannopolis earlier when he making his vile comments on race and feminism.

Counterpunch on the Threat of Military Policing in America by 2030

February 19, 2017

Last week there was a chilling piece in Counterpunch by John Whitehead. The left-wing American magazine, the Intercept, had obtained a five minute promotional video by the Pentagon. This forecast that by 2030 conditions in American cities will have decayed to the point where the army is being sent in as a police force.
He writes

The U.S. military plans to take over America by 2030.

No, this is not another conspiracy theory. Although it easily could be.

Nor is it a Hollywood political thriller in the vein of John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May about a military coup d’etat.

Although it certainly has all the makings of a good thriller.

No, this is the real deal, coming at us straight from the horse’s mouth.

According to “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. military plans to use armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems.

What they’re really talking about is martial law, packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security.

The chilling five-minute training video, obtained by The Intercept through a FOIA request and made available online, paints an ominous picture of the future—a future the military is preparing for—bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots.

He then makes connections between the demands by the commentary in the Pentagon’s video to ‘drain the swamp’, with the same slogan used by Donald Trump. He also points out that Americans have become used to the all-powerful surveillance state, which can pinpoint your location and gain information through mobile phones and personal computers.

For further information, see: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/16/coming-soon-to-a-city-near-you-military-policing/

Whitehead states that it’s like the ’60s political thriller, ‘Seven Days in May’. It’s actually far closer to the urban dystopias of Cyberpunk and similar SF, like Blade Runner, Elysium, James Cameron’s Strange Days and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and its sequel, Escape from LA. This is the America the Pentagon believes will arise within the next fifteen years. Back in the 1990s there was a programme on one of the Beeb’s documentary slots arguing that the cyberpunk future that had been forecast would arise from Thatcherism hadn’t emerged, and that thanks to free market economics, countries all round the world were actually prospering. This is just right-wing biased reporting and wishful thinking. It’s becoming painfully evident that neoliberalism is destroying countries around the world, and immiserating their citizens in even more grinding poverty. But it makes massive profits for big business, so they and their shills in the media will keep that very carefully covered up. The predictions were true. They just go their timing wrong.

There’s another point to be made here as well about the brutal methods America has used around the world to enforce its domination. These have included organising Fascist coups and right-wing military dictators. Critics of this policy that have argued that in addition to the harm done to the countries that have been the victims of these policies, there is the added danger that inevitably the repressive measures empires use to oppress the indigenous peoples of their colonies return to be used on the people of the imperial homeland itself. And this will be the case in America.

Unless neoliberalism is comprehensively scrapped, wealth is redistributed and the widening gap between the poor and the rich is closed.

Here’s the opening titles from Escape from New York, to show the kind of America such SF depicts, and which may arise in the next decades unless we do something to stop it.

Lem’s Robots and Marvin the Paranoid Android

February 15, 2017

lem-pic

Polish SF Maestro Stanislaw Lem

Remember Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He was the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet, who also suffered from a terrible pain in the diodes all down his left side. I was reminded of him yesterday when reading one of the short stories in Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2016.

Lem’s a highbrow Polish SF writer, who uses his fiction to explore deep philosophical issues, sometimes stretching and challenging the conventions of the short story form itself. One of his volumes, A Perfect Vacuum, consists of reviews of non-existent books. Another one is blurbs, also for books that don’t exist. As you can see from this, he was strongly influenced by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, after whom he’s been hailed as the ‘Borges of Science Fiction’. But he could also write straightforward stories, some of which could be hilariously funny.

Two of his works are collected short stories about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines. The stories in the Cyberiad, and several in Mortal Engines, are literally technological fairytales, in which electroknights sally forth to battle robotic dragons. Or mad robotic inventors compete with each other to create the most impressive machines, machines which usually go disastrously wrong. One of the stories in Mortal Engines, ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius’, is about a journalist who goes to visit a mental hospital for robots. At the end of his visit, just as he is going out, the journo encounters yet another troubled cybernetic soul.

On my way back with the young assistant I met in the corridor a patient who was pulling behind him a heavily laden cart. This individual presented a singular sight, in that he was tied all around with bits of string.

‘You don’t by any chance have a hammer?’ he asked.
‘No’.
‘A shame. My head hurts.’

I engaged him in conversation. He was a robot-hypochondriac. On his squeaking cart he carried a complete set of spare parts. After ten minutes I learned that he got shooting pains in the back during storms, pins and needles all over while watching television, and spots before his eyes when anyone stroked a cat nearby. It grew monotonous, so I left him quickly and headed for the director’s office. (P. 131).

There’s a serious philosophical issue here, apart from Lem’s literary exploration of the kind of delusions mentally ill robots could suffer from, such as the robot earlier in the story, who believes that he’s really organic, but that somebody has stolen his human body and replaced it with the machine he inhabits. If humanity ever creates genuinely sentient machines, which are able to think and reason like humans – and that’s a big ‘if’, despite the assertions of some robotics engineers – then presumably there will come a point when these machines suffer psychological problems, just as humans do.

Mortal Engines was first published in America by Seabury Press in 1977, roughly at the same time Hitch-Hiker came out on radio over here. Hitch-Hiker is full of references to philosophical problems, such as the debate about the existence of God, so clearly both he and Lem saw the same potential for using robots to explore spiritual malaise, and the psychological implication of genuine Artificial Intelligence.

William Blum on the Police Bombing of Black Americans

February 9, 2017

I found this passage in William Blum’s America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy absolutely mind-blowing as it says so much about Reaganite and post-Reaganite America’s willingness to use deadly force, regardless of who gets killed, and the militarisation of the police.

In the chapter on human rights and torture, Blum discusses the continuing misuse of American drone strikes to assassinate terrorist leaders. These are notorious, as most of the victims so far have been civilians, including women and children. Blum mentions that Amnesty International has protested several times against their use. He makes the point that drones are only ever used against poor countries, like Yemen and Pakistan, and would never be used against America’s allies in the Developed world, like Britain. But bomb strikes have been used by the police in America against terrorists in poor Black neighbourhoods, with the resulting massive loss of innocent lives and destruction of people’s homes. He writes

Can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a house in Paris or London or Ottawa because they suspected that high-ranking al-Qaeda members were present there? Even if the US knew of their presence for an absolute fact, and was not just acting on speculation, as in the Predator cases mentioned above? Well, they most likely would not attack, but can we put anything past Swaggering-Superarrogant-Superpower-Cowboys-on-steroids? After all, they’ve already done it to their own – US drone attack killed two American citizens in Yemen in 2011, and on May 13, 1985, a bomb dropped by a police helicopter over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania burned down an entire block, some sixty homes destroyed, eleven dead, including several small children.. The police, the mayor’s office, and the FBI were all involved in this operation to evict an organization called MOVE from the house they lived in.

The victims in Philadelphia were all black of course. So let’s rephrase the question: can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a residential area of Beverly Hills or the Upper East Side of Manhattan? Stay tuned. (p. 127).

No, of course they wouldn’t.

But what in the name of Heaven is a police force doing with bombs? This whole affair reads like something from a dystopian SF novel. You know, something like Stephen King’s The Running Man, which was set in a Fascist America where the cops shoot people rioting to get bread. That one was filmed in the 1980s with Arnie. Or The Hunger Games. It does not sound like the actions of a responsible democracy based on ‘justice for all’.

I’m not disputing that sometimes it is necessary to use force against armed, violent criminals and terrorists. But I am absolutely amazed that the US police was militarised to the extent that the used bombs. As for the victims being Black, that explains so much about why so many Blacks in America hate the police, and the entire point behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

Trump Officially Declared Major Threat to Human Rights

January 30, 2017

In this piece from the David Pakman show, the presenter discusses an announcement by the respected human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, that Trump’s government and the rise of the far Right in Europe represent a major attack on human rights. The organisation publishes yearly reports on the state of human rights in 90 countries. In this year’s report, they list the threats and attacks Trump poses to human rights. These are

* Deportation of immigrants
* Curtailment of women’s rights
* Threats to media freedom
* Threats to going back to using torture
* Threats to kill the families of terrorists
* Threats to invade countries to extort oil
* Confusion about why nuking Europe would be bad.

The report notes that the combination of Donald Trump’s administration and certain far Right European politicians would lead to tyranny.

Pakman and his staff state very clearly that Trump is a demonstrable threat to human rights, because of his mockery of a disabled reporter, the family of a Muslim soldier, who fell doing his duty to America, and his jokes about sexually assaulting women. They also discuss Trump’s plans for a Muslim registry, and make it clear that they think that it isn’t just a case that Trump merely said all his illiberal nonsense just to get votes. At some level, he really believes it.

Considering that Trump has passed his ban on Muslim’s entering the US, I think it’s very clear that the Orange Duce believes all his vile, racist and misogynist policies. As one senior right-wing statesman said of Adolf Hitler, ‘This man is dangerous. He believes his own propaganda’.

Trump is a threat to human freedom. And as Pakman and his producers show, their only defence against this will be to make ludicrous counter-accusations about how it’s all biased ‘fake news’, written by the paid hacks of George Soros or some other multi-millionaire with liberal, or ‘liberal’ views, who haunts the right-wing imagination like a Bond villain. But this won’t stop increasing numbers of people across the world from rising up to oppose him.

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/10/if-we-examine-who-is-complaining-about-corbyns-maximum-wage-idea-well-know-why/

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Vox Political on Philip Davies Filibuster against Protecting Women from Domestic Violence

January 4, 2017

This is a story that’s now nearly a month old, but I thought there were a few comments that still needed to be made about it. On the 16th of last month, Mike put up a story reporting and attacking the ‘shame of Shipley’, Philip Davies, for attempting to talk out a parliamentary bill pledging Britain to support the Istanbul Convention. This is an international agreement pledging states to combat domestic violence against women. Among those, who have urged Britain to support it is the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women, Emma Watson, who you may remember played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. Mike remarks that Davies also seems to have a particular animus towards her.

It wouldn’t surprise me.

Davies is the boorish grotesque, who was elected unopposed as one of the Tory members of the women’s equality committee in the House of Commons, despite the fact that he is a raging anti-feminist, who last year spoke at a Men’s Rights Conference. Mike goes through all of his arguments against supporting the convention, point by point, and refutes them.

Davies at one stage claimed that the Istanbul Convention should not be supported, because statistics showed men were more likely to suffer violence than women. Mike pointed out that there was a difference between street violence, which was normally directed against men, and domestic violence, where the victims were largely women.

A friend of mine used to be a psychiatric nurse. He told me that he was taught that both men and women were equally likely to sent to hospital by their partners. However, men were far more likely than women to kill their partners. This fact alone demands that women need extra protection under the law.

As for Emma Watson and domestic violence against men, Watson is something of a bete noir amongst the denizens of the manosphere because of her feminist activism. However, she is not a misandrist and has stated that the issue of domestic violence against men also needs to be tackled. Kevin Logan has a clip of her making that point very clearly in one of the videos he has posted in his the ‘Descent of the Manosphere’ series. He also posted up a list of stories from the papers in which feminists also promoted legislation to protect men from rape, another issue which anti-feminists like Davies have falsely claimed feminists have ignored.

For Mike’s article and arguments against Davies’ rant, see: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/16/the-shame-of-shipley-fails-to-derail-bill-protecting-women-against-violence/

As for Philip Davies, the Tories have repeatedly claimed that they’re standing up for women’s equality with Dave Cameron and Theresa May demanding more women in the boardroom, and May’s elevation as the unelected British prime minister by her fellow Tories. The fact that Davies has also been appointed to the women’s equality committee shows how seriously they really take the issue: Not at all.

The French Astronomer Who Gave His Name to the Captain of the Enterprise?

December 28, 2016

More space/ SF stuff.

Looking through the 1982 Yearbook of Astronomy, edited by Patrick Moore, I found on the chapter for July a very brief biography of the 17th century French astronomer, Jean Picard. The piece ran

1982 is the anniversary of the death of Jean Picard, a celebrated French astronomer. He was born at La Fleche, in Anjou, on 21 July 1620; he studied for the priesthood, and was ordained, but his main interest was in astronomy. In 1645 he was appointed Professor at the College de France, and took a leading part in the establishment of the Paris Observatory. His most famous piece of research was undertaken in 1669-70, when he made a new and more accurate determination of the radius of the Earth. it has been said that it was this which allowed Isaac Newton to complete his work on the theory of gravitation, though in fact Newton’s earlier hesitation was due to the fact that one link in his chain of argument was incomplete. Jean Picard died as the result of an accident on 12 July 1682. (pp. 103-4).

Reading that, I wonder if he was the inspiration for Patrick Stewart’s character in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I’ve also got a feeling that another Francophone space scientist may also have inspired the name and character. Professor Calculus in the Tintin books by Herge is based on a real French scientist, who ascended to the edge of space in a high altitude balloon in the last century. I can’t remember the scientist’s name, but I’ve got a feeling it was also Picard.

Of course, it could all be coincidence. But considering the high standard of TV drama set by the series, it really wouldn’t surprise me if the creators and producers had done their historical research, and decided to create the Picard character partly as a tribute to these scientists.

Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Blade Runner Sequel Teaser Trailer

December 20, 2016

I found the teaser trailer for the sequel to Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, on YouTube yesterday. The film’s entitled Blade Runner 2049, and is set 30 years after the events of the original movie. It stars Harrison Ford, who is reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and Ryan Gosling. It won’t be directed by Scott, but Denis Villeneuve. Scott was going to be the director, but I think he’s too busy with other projects. While I’m disappointed that he won’t be sitting in the director’s chair, from what little I’ve seen and heard of it, Villeneuve is an excellent choice. The movie is due to open in cinemas in June next year (2017).

As you can see, the trailer’s very short and doesn’t give very much away. It begins with Deckard’s line from the original film about Replicants being like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a problem. And if they’re a benefit, then they’re not his problem. It also seems to have the same run-down, towering cityscape of the first movie, but also adds what looks like a desert. The film’s score also seems to follow the original movie’s brilliant soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, in being played on synthesiser, though it has a rougher, grittier tone. And also there’s the same vehicles carrying adverts for people to move off world. Also the desert scenes have the same diffuse, golden light Scott used to create such a moody tone in the scenes Tyrell’s apartment in the original movie, but this time far brighter and more intense.

I’m really looking forward to this flick, but I do have some reservations about it. Blade Runner is now rightly recognised as one of the great SF movies of 20th century. William Gibson, one of the inventors of the Cyberpunk SF genre, said that he felt distinctly unnerved when he saw it. He was writing Neuromancer at the time, and was somewhat dismayed to find that the film had beaten him to portraying the same kind of future he was writing about. Grant and Naylor, the creators of Red Dwarf, have also admitted that it was Blade Runner that inspired them to create their own SF show. That was very obvious in the episode aired several years ago on satellite/ cable, where the crew of the Red Dwarf go in search of their creators on Earth, one of whom is a genetic engineer. ‘Noses’, the scientist says in answer to their questions, ‘I only do noses’. Which is, as fans of Blade Runner will recognise, a parody of the line the Chinese genetic engineer gives Batty and Leon when they pay him a visit: ‘Eyes. I only do eyes.’

My fear is that Blade Runner is such a classic, and the movie so perfect in itself, that the sequel will be unable to add anything new or match the original. Part of the reason many people will terribly disappointed with George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, apart from its many flaws, was that the original films had set the bar so high, and the fans had waited so long for it, that when it came out it was almost bound to fail expectations. I hope the same isn’t true of this attempt to revisit one of the greatest SF movies.