Friday, 9 June 2017

Who is going to hold Trump's hand now?

After latest UK general election Trump's leading international ally, Theresa May, is finished politically.
Nigel Farrage's UKIP party is completely wiped out.

I'm thinking Trump's schmoozing with Farrage and Theresa May might not have been great for UKIP and the Tories.

Picking a fight with London in the middle of a terror attack.. days before a general election.... He's a real strategic genius isn't he?



Sunday, 14 May 2017

The best way get over ALIEN3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION is to accept them in all their grim ugliness

Best way to get over depressing experiences is to accept them and learn from them.

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

I was not alone in disliking Alien3 and Alien : Resurrection at the time of release. They were, and remain, grim experiences but for different reasons.

Alien3 Assembly Cut

There is perhaps no movie sequel with a worse reputation for following the narrative of the previous movie. After investing ourselves in the survival of beloved characters through the nerve shredding final hour of Aliens, moviegoers all over the world were astonished to find Hicks, Newt and Bishop butchered off screen at the start of Alien3. It was perhaps the most infamous piece of movie franchise suicide in history.

From the outset Alien3 has everything against it


  • The worst premise of any movie sequel in history
  • Lousy effects
  • 3rd hand script (who are those characters at the end?)
  • Stupid pacing and development
  • Only character worth identifying with, Charles Dance's Clemens, dies in first half
  • Needlessly Sadistic tone - Autopsy on Newt?
  • Abuse of a great director to be in David Fincher
And yet, despite all that, the Assembly cut of this butchered movie is not bad at all. The stunning  opening shots of Fury 161 hint at the level of bleakness you should be expecting.

This is a funereal movie, because it hints heavily that THIS IS THE LAST ALIEN FILM. There is obviously a real determination to finish the franchise on a particular tone. (Completely undermined by the cynicism of A4 but we'll get to that)

Fincher really created an atmosphere comparable to Scott's film, and like Alien it is immeasurably better on a big HD screen. Suddenly we can appreciate breathtaking set design, a great setting and some riveting performances.

We still can't escape the flawed concept and the production hell which resulted but separated from the two previous movies this would be a cult classic. A London Shakespearean version of Outland?
If you picked a scene at random someone who didn't know and turned off the audio it does look like an extremely radical Shakespeare adaptation - but what play?
Macbeth
The Tempest​​
Titus Andromicus
Midsummer Nights Tale
As You Like It (???!)

(We can safely say it's not Hamlet unless the  dog/cow alien variant is Hamlet)

This comparison falls apart quickly. Shakespeare's plays stand out because they are the vision of one man from conception to execution. Part of the magic of Elizabethan theatre, is that the artist produced  work directly for mass audience with no filter.

Whereas

The average Hollywood script which reaches the screen is more like a monstrous hybrid of committee ideas that have absorbed and corrupted the world of many talented contributors into a series of experiments until something accidentally stumbles onto the screen.
Let us bow our heads briefly to
Vincent Ward's Alien3
William Gibson Alien3

In fact the best 'Assembley Cut' of this movie was only put together by someone else, Charles de Lauzirika, as David Fincher absolutely refused to return to the project - so actually my Shakespeare comparison could not be farther off, Elizabethan theater is the complete opposite of Alien3, and it's similarly compromised sequel.

Assembly Cut?
A vast improvement over the original release, which makes the most of a great setting and provides a reasonably coherent storyline from one of cinema histories great production car crashes.

Alien Resurrection Special Edition

In 1996, still heavily within the shock and anger of reaction to A3, Alien Resurrection somehow appeared, again with Sigourey Weaver with a big producers paycheck, this time shot in LA.. because.."..decision to film outside of England was influenced by Weaver, who believed that the previous films' travel schedules exhausted the crew".
In tone it tries to recapture the action and emotion of the James Cameron sequel, without unfortunately any unconvincing action or emotion.

Unlike Fincher's doomed movie it seems to have a lot going for it from the credits


  • Soon to be great screenwriter Joss Whedon (I am another priest of the church of Whedon)
  • Great experienced director Jeunet  (go and see Delicatessen and City of Lost Children immediately if you have not already)
  • Great cast
  • Not terrible concept - the human alien hybrid is even worse than the aliens.


But, and here is the main issue, Jeunet's great gallic sense of humour might have transfered to Pinewood but it sure doesn't fit in LA. Right from the off the 'bug opening' gives it a definite Abbot and Costello tone, which was a slur ironically applied the first Alien vs Predator film,  and I think we can now comfortably say that was a real step up on virtually every level from this.

The LA shoot obviously killed this movie right off the drawing board. Looked at now the movie functions like a two hour ad for Pinewood Studious and British effects crews. Whole production screams cheapo exploitative LA knockoff, Roger Corman's Alien - but without anything like AIPs panache, featuring fake looking firearms and occasional model shots that would look unconvincing in Blakes 7.

Not that the script is without blame. I've not read the original and I'm a massive fan of Whedon so I'll go easy but this is even less satisfying than the butchered schizo tale in Alien3. I'be heard  Whedon defenders its best seen as a dark episode of Firefly but it wouldn't even be a good episode of Firefly. We get the least convincing 200 year time jump ever, with only slight changes in costumes and hair style over centuries. Bare hints that Earth is a hellhole are never explored.

Perhaps most irritating, if you are directly comparing with previous installments, the Alien's acidic blood, a major plot point from the first movie,  is selectively forgotten about.

At worst this produces a jokey self referential fan film tht shouldn't be seen outside a scifi convention. Most obvious in jokey self referential dialog which I just don't have the enthusiasm even to repeat.

but

like Alien3, we just have to accept it, on some level, to get over it. and we can. Alien Resurrection is a far better a horror film about great concepts and characters exploited by a cynical movie corporations than it is about fictitious characters exploited by fictional aliens and corporations.


Like '8' herself Alien Resurrection is a abortive experiment which should probably never happened but did. The self referential quote we should be referencing a quote from Aliens
"You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage"

When the Newborn butchers the Alien Queen we are forced to conclude human cynicism is even more powerful than the Aliens themselves, but by then the existence of the movie itself has made that obvious. It appears the only way to go after undermining the honest desolation of Alien3 is jokey cynicism on very level, and the jokes aren't even funny.

Ironically the best scene, when '8' finds her predecessors in room 1-7, hints at the creative waste and loss behind the scenes. You can almost see ruined sequel concepts and great ideas suffering in the background and perhaps Ripley/Weavers realisation of how much she has exploited and tortured a character that built her acting career. It's the best  scene in the movie by a light year, perhaps because it is the only scene with Weaver seeming to care.

Special Edition?
I'm obviously not a fan of this movie but the changes made in this version at least make it more Jeunet, so it is at least more honest. Apparently the painfully un-amusing 'bug' opening scene got Jeunet the job. "Jean-Pierre Jeunet allegedly secured his position as director by explaining the "bug opening" he planned to incorporate to 20th Century Fox executives. Ironically, the sequence was ultimately cut from the theatrical release of the film due to budget constraints"


Jeunet at least gives us Earth - and Paris! I bet they can see the Luc Besson museum from there

The other meta movie industry story here is all about Hollywood Star Power.

Surviving actress from classic movie is granted greater and greater creative control over subsequent installments allowing some bizarre selfish creative decisions (Alien3) and some selfish production mistakes (Alien : Resurrection badly shot in a murky LA shed because transatlantic travel deemed an inconvenience).
Haggling over money before committing to Alien3 killed at least two promising scripts (William Gibson's Alien3, featuring Newt and Hicks without Ripley was a casualty) and her subsequent commitment to Alien4, for a bigger paycheck, undermines most of the final funereal intent of Alien3.


Alien 'Directors Cut' and Aliens Special Edition


Ripley dooms Hicks, Newt and Bishop by momentarily losing control in ALIENS

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

Alien 'Directors Cut'

Ridley Scott's Alien 1979 is still a Rolls Royce of a horror film and is a stone cold cinema classic on any level, comfortably head on shoulders above the other movies in this series. Acting. dialog, set design, soundtrack, direction - you name it.



It wasn't quite so appreciated in the year of it's release. The 51st Academy awards, the year it was released, only recognised Ridley Scott's Alien for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.

In a year when  the Vietnam experience finally broke through into Hollywood cinema I can see how The Deer Hunter and Coming Home would clean up the actual awards, but here are the 1979 movies nominated for Oscars instead of Alien in various categories
I must watch An Unmarried Woman - it must be a hell of a movie.

and
The Swarm (Best costume design)*

Directors Cut?
Changes are minimal, even the inclusion of the Dallas cocoon scene is truncated and explains little.

Aliens Special Edition

In 1986, in the immediate aftermath of it's release, James Cameron's classic sequel, often name checked as the best ever sequel, was considered the equal, if not an improvement on Scott's first film. Now I have to say it's growing old fast. and increasingly relies on some great comedic performances. And they are great, one classic line after another performed with engaging conviction. Even those of us who know the dialog well enough to see it coming still laugh at the sames scenes, surely is a tribute to magnificent comic delivery and commitment of the actors and their director.

But even even the fantastic model work is looking creaky, and the stars on stripes the 'US Colonial Marines' looks very out of place. It looks like very conventional 80s  action film.

Some of this must be down to the medium on which we now what these films. In the 80s and 90s, seen on VHS and DVD usually on small screens, Aliens is comfortably a better movie than the original. Today, on HD full size screens, Alien looks like the grand gothic space opera that it is, and Aliens looks like a fun tv show in comparison, even when it has perhaps the greatest pacing and character interaction in movie history.

It's a shame Cameron's classic looks so flat and conventional compared to Scott's film but ironically it may be enhanced long term by way it set's up the once much reviled Alien3. Seen between two restrained atmospheric suspense films, Aliens is a cathartic monument to thoughtless uncontrolled violence. This is  ironically is the downfall of the characters, setting up the tragic events which begin the next installment.

I am positive that James Cameron did not intend this ....but when watched and accepted as a long narrative Ripley Newt, Bishop and Hicks are effectively doomed in Aliens, in the first confrontation with the Alien Queen.  Ripley has rescued Newt, and should hurry back to the Dropship knowing the imminent destruction of everything around her is about to happen in a nuclear explosion. This would obviously destroy the nest and dormant Queen she leaves behind.



Instead, when backing out of the egg chamber, this most controlled of female characters loses control of her emotions and stops to open fire on the egg chamber with flame and gunfire. The Queen survives this of course, and by provoking it and turning it into an enemy that pursues her into the Sulaco she almost certainly sets up the tragedy at the start of Alien3.

I explained my theory of Ripley's tragic loss of control to a friend of mine in the pub the other day - his response was "That's easy for you to say, you weren't there"

Special Edition?
Before James Cameron's Aliens it was naturally assumed that any movie sequel would be inferior to the original, Four years later the Special Edition of this movie also proved that a later release with added scenes could also improve on the original (notably the Special Edition of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind had not been been an improvement).
This version includes several scenes which enhance the original release, we get to see the fate of the world Ripley left behind, 60 years in the past, and a mini introductory battle featuring drone sentry weapons which really puts the scale of the threat in perspective.


* The Swarm is a notorious stinker but I love it



Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition

A L I E N 1-4 watched back-to-back revealed a lot

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge improved them all.

Alien 'Directors Cut' and Aliens Special Edition

Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition

In an attempt to distance myself from this I watched the alternate versions of these films rather than the original releases which I knew well. They are all longer than the originals, and I think improvements, even when the directors (Jeunet and Scott) still prefer the original release.

An example, above. This is a brief shot of the Royal FaceHugger Alien (and actor Christopher Fairbank, recently seen in Guardians of The Galaxy) cut from the butchered cinema release of Alien3, but restored for the Assembly Cut. It effectively covers one of the many plotholes in the original version of the movie.


These movies are so familiar to me it is very difficult to sit outside the effect they had on my life at various times. My first exposure to Alien 1979 was through books and Jerry Goldsmiths incredible soundtrack, I was too young to see it at the cinema. I saw Aliens in Leicester Sq with a raucous group of college friends. Alien3 I watched in disbelief with everyone else but knew what was coming as I'd heard the rumours at work at Forbidden Planet. Resurrection was a sad end to a film series and for me a post college life about to change.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Republicans of 2017 (and Russians) should beware the Republicans of the 2020s

When the dust settles on the Trump administration a new McCarthyism could be next.

As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost there appears to be no limit to the opportunistic treason of the current Rep party, particularly in the wake of the sacking of the head of the FBI.

I feel sorry for the historians that will have to explain this Comey business,

HISTORY STUDENT FROM 2025 : "so.. just before an election Comey announced to the press that thousands of security risk emails had been forwarded to a private account.. 
.. but didn't announce to the press that the Russians were attacking the election..
...then it turned out that the emails weren't a security risk and there weren't thousands of them...
WWWHHHAATTT?!?
What was everyone on in 2016?"

The very least you would expect this to do to would be to call into question the fairness of the last election. Even for Republicans. Even if there was no Russian interference (see below) the FBI has obviously disastrously undermined the voting system.

But no
the current Republican thinking seems to be
"lets move on"

And since the Democrats have allowed them to control all branches of US government it would appear they will be able to do that, at least until next years mid term elections.

HISTORY STUDENT FROM 2025 : ".. so yeah...Trump fired the man who made him president...
 the head of the FBI...
to cover up the evidence of it ever happening 
WHHAATT?!"

Rather than ask current Republicans and supporters to be non partisan and consider the long term health of their own democracy
which, on current form, is laughable
I would ask them to consider their own self interest, because there is no way this is going down well in the long term for you.

I imagine the Democrats in the next few decades will be pretty much what they are now, trying to be non-partisan, trying to do the right thing and failing miserably at both.

In the bitter aftermath of Trump I see most of the serious reaction to be from future Republicans, who I'm sure will have been convinced by then that Trump and his fellow travelers, like Bush II, were never a real Republicans anyway. That way of thinking would insulate the future GOP from contagion with the current generation.
History won't paint you as Republicans - you will be
 'Trump supporters'
something else entirely.

Who should really be worried though, in the long term, are the Russians. A country economically the size of Italy who it would appear are earning the long lasting enmity of a scientific and economic super power​.

I have a lot of personal goodwill towards Russia and Russians. I studied their history intensely at school. It's my favourite classical music. Some of my favourite movies are Russian.
My grandfather served on Arctic convoys in WW2.

Putin might have looked like a political chessmaster last year, now he's starting to look like a midget cheating at cards with a powerful drunken paranoiac who is too focused on his drinking - right now - to realise what is happening.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto   said this much more eloquently after December 7th 1941
"I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve"

Americans are lousy at getting over history - some of them even like to imagine the Revolutionary War was somehow equivalent to the Eastern Front 1941-45.

Even allowing for the fact that the United States has attempted to do similar (as has my own country)
I think we will all be long dead before the US gets over the history of 2016. The reaction in next couple of decades could make McCarthyism look mild. Intelligent Russians must be horrified as to where this could eventually go. They are going to be the conspiratorial boogeymen of the next 2 or 3 generations - even the Chinese might find dealing with them toxic.

One intelligence analyst on CNN suggested the Russians had only intended to empower Trump, not get him elected, making this one overly successful intelligence op that has run way out of control. Of the two Russian intelligence agencies that helped Trump into office "Fancy Bear" and "Cozy Bear" - which one was the Sorcerer and which one was the Sorcerers Apprentice?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Relax, James Burke says everything will turn out fine -- if humanity can manage the introduction of the Nano Fabricator

"These major problems ... will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years" - James Burke

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is finally getting the attention it deserves as the best history podcast. His other series Common Sense is also good for provocative political comment. A recent episode featured legendary BBC mind blower James Burke, really I think just to get Burke's take on Brexit and Trump. Burke talks about using AI gestalts for everyday voting, dereliction of the press, and his new Connections app.

But his response to a question about oncoming doom has stuck with me and I've tried to use it to lighten up every gloomy pub conversation since.

About 33 mins in responding to a question about climate change denial
http://www.dancarlin.com/common-sense-home-landing-page/#1489641597761-6eb3932e-085a

"These major problems of .. things like climate change and pollution and over population and so on
these will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years and yet we are busting a gut in some cases doing serious harm socially and economically to our societies in order to solve these problems when the problems will be gone in 50 years time when the Nano Fabricator arrives and blows them all away.... and everything else in the present day economy"

Dan Carlin responds somewhat skeptically that he'd heard his uncle predict the end of cancer, only to die of cancer, but Burke thinks is possible and is worth researching right now.

"If the United States decided to run a project with all the intensity and involvement that it ran the Apollo project on bringing the Nano Fabricator into existence sooner than 50s years.. putting money into nano technological resource then we would know fairly rapidly if it is going to happen, and if it is we could start planning socially for what we'll do when it turns up.. because it's going to cause, like all technological advance, massive social ripples....What do we do when the Nano Fabricator gives you everything you need using dirt air and water and a minor amount of other things that most people can get hold of for nothing?"

He talks about this here on New Mexico in Focus, with correspondent Gwyneth Doland
at 17.17


And again on Eddie Mair's droll PM show on Radio 4


and this article by James Evans in the New Statesmen
http://www.newstatesman.com/business/2013/09/forty-years-until-we-get-personal-nanofactories




When I try and explain this optimistic future
(in the pub)
the next thing mentioned, with regard to the Nano Fabricator is this..




Crazy eh? that'll never happen









Saturday, 8 April 2017

Fusion Reactors are now a thing - and they will fit in a van apparently

So
Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration experiment (PFRC-2) magnetic confinement fusion team

PRINCETON FUSION ENGINE














is bench testing a fusion engine which works. It's small, only a few metres in length and apparently cannot be scaled up but it sounds like you could fit it in typical American van.


TYPICAL AMERICAN VAN


It runs on Helium 3. I'm not sure if that counts as unleaded. I would imagine so.
Cleaner than the Tocamak reactors being developed at huge cost in France and I'm sure cleaner than diesel.
I certainly trust Princeton on mileage more than Volkswagen right now.


Here is the engaging Dr Steph from Princeton Satellite Systems talking in full about her fusion rocket. The fusion specifics start at about 6.48.



You might enjoy how they spend about 5 seconds on the real world implications of actual fusion power on Earth...

And then 15 minutes  explaining how to on strap it to a space probe and send it to Pluto

Colour shade on electromagnetic spectrum indicates proximity to genuine Mad Science






















ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

​​This post is a horrifyingly dumbed down version of this post by Zain Husain
https://brownspaceman.com/direct-fusion-drive/


PintofScience is a thing
I'm more Pint than Science myself but I like to be supportive

https://pintofscience.com/


Princeton are obviously awesome (is that scientific?)


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Think Big for Brexit Deal : UK, Ukraine, Turkey and Libya could be the EU's 'Interface States'

One way out of the morass of Brexit talks and Article 50 is to call the bluff of the Europeans who promote the big vision of their transnational project. The UK, to EU eyes, is currently an inward looking organisation reducing the great problems of the world to local issues from an earlier age.

We could counter that one of the reasons UK has lost interest in the EU project is that the EU has been sidelining a few issues on it's borders recently.  Ukraine to the east and Libya to the south are both gripped by civil wars, both of which the EU (including the UK) has some responsibility for igniting.  On Europe's south east border economically booming Turkey is sliding into authoritarianism.

Ukraine and Turkey have both been offered the carrot of EU membership in the past in a frankly unrealistic and disingenuous manner which did nothing really but cause them further internal turmoil.

The Prime Minister talks, inspirationally, of the positives for Europe which could come from a good Brexit deal. The future of the world economy is obviously that of large distinct trading blocks and we have to ensure relations between these blocks are not harmed by the encroaching isolationist sentiment.



Perhaps we could offer a blanket solution to the EU's problem border states with other trading blocs which would also invigorate world trade and resolve Brexit?

UK, Ukraine, Turkey and Libya could be defined as 'Interface States'. 

'Interface States' would have

  • Hybrid of local/EU trade rules (as the UK and Turkey currently have anyway) featuring favourable trade tarrifs with EU, to be particularly applied to transit goods coming in from outside the EU from larger trading blocs.
  • The option of using the Euro. Currency policy such as interest rates would still be controlled by the ECB and it would be made clear to all that no bail out would ever be offered to states outside the EU. Large parts of Africa already have their own currencies pegged to the Euro and there are ten nations currently using the US dollar without any control or influence on US monetary policy.
  • By default no free movement of Labour - which has been the major stumbling bloc for integration with UK and Turkey and would be with Libya and North Africa. This could codify rules to protect EU frontiers.

Ukraine would be the interface with Russian bloc, and could include a wider trade deal initially more favourable to Belarus and Georgia than Russia, with an inducement to Russia for further progress if the current semi-Cold War improves. (This would at least provide some positive way out of the current impasse with Putin).

Turkey would be the interface state with the Middle East - as it effectively is at the moment but without the formal status and guarantees it probably needs to work effectively long term.

Libya, or perhaps in the short term Tunisia, would be the interface state with Africa, A semi-Eurozone in North Africa could only be good for local stabilization and might encourage economic migrants to trade and proper instead of risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

UK would obviously be the Interface state with North America and the Anglozone and the Commonwealth. (It wouldn't have to adopt the Euro).

We could go farther.

Cuba could be offered Interface State status to become EU's favoured partner in Central/South America, which would be a huge diplomatic gain for the EU in that area.
US objections would disappear as this inevitably improved Cuba's internal politics.

A comprehensive oil/gas deal in the South Atlantic could be offered if the Falklands became the EU's Interface State with South America. If the Falklands retained British sovereignty and security guarantees but adopted the Euro and in every other economic respect became a controlled conduit for EU trade how could that be a bad thing economically and politically all round?

This could be applied further as well, out beyond the EU.

By sidelining national politics completely Taiwan could be the Interface State between North America, Japan and China, leading to a wider solution which would lesson tensions in the area.

Afghanistan or even Kashmir could be declared Interface States between South Asia and China, allowing an influx of trade and investment which would undermine the political problems.

To codify this Interface States could even be given their own trading organisation and forum at the UN.

I've heard this idea promoted before as 'Britain as the bridge to the Americas' but it seemed an ambitious idea wrapped in British self interest. We should avoid being portrayed as little Englanders, recover the internationalism of our forefathers and be prepared to roll this idea out on a global scale - with the help of the Europeans.

I'm sure  cynical post Brexit Europeans will be suspicious of this, thinking perhaps in terms of Perfidious Albion

(I voted Remain by the way and consider myself a committed European)

but the message endlessly disappointed Europeans need to learn is on the front page of every self improvement book -

"Learn to accept the situation the way it is"

The bloody vote happened.
Most people really don't like the result.
Let's get on and make the best of it.

If the Interface States idea seems hopelessly impractical and optimistic consider the state of Ireland after Brexit. With no hard border to the Republic in the south, Northern Ireland is likely to become a  test case 'Interface State' between the EU/UK whatever happens.

And in any case I think right now the world needs all the optimism it can get.

The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, 13 September 1782. By John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The breathtaking, treasonous, self interest of the US Republican Party is probably unique in world history

You have to admire the Russian operation of 2016 - which perhaps in the long term has fatally damaged faith in both U.S. political parties,
and Wikileaks,
and the concept of truth itself.

But to achieve this it has had the help of what is perhaps a uniquely dedicated political institution, the Republican Party, an organisation which historically has risen above petty concerns like the good of its own country and citizens to embrace naked self interest in a way I don't think I've ever seen in any other historic example anywhere in the world.

I was shocked by the House Intelligence hearing into Russian hacking hearing a few days ago. I shouldn't have been.


Despite broad consensus of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Republican Trey Gowdy only wants to prosecute those 'leakers' trying to expose the extent of the conspiracy. Even the Russians must be embarrassed to watch this.


Treason is harsh dirty word not really used in UK politics since the Elizabethan era - but it seems inadequate now to describe the acts of politicians quite prepared to cover up and even encourage malign foreign influence if it helps them prosper politically. It is almost pantomime villain territory and would  be difficult to believe had not the Republican party been quite capable of similar in two previous historical examples.

In 1968 Republicans working behind the scenes sabotaged the Paris Peace talks to ensure the Democratic government at the time did not get credit for ending the Vietnam War. The war by then had already killed 30,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese.Thanks to Richard Nixon's successful electioneering tactics the Vietnam War would go on until the disastrous collapse in 1975.

In similar fashion - it is alleged (by many) - that Republicans prolonged the Iranian hostage crisis in 1981, again to ensure a Republican victory in the election of 1980.
 "Allegations that the Reagan administration negotiated a delay in the release of the hostages until after the 1980 presidential election have been numerous but unproven. Gary Sick, principal White House aide for Iran and the Persian Gulf on the Carter administration’s National Security Council, claimed in his book October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan that CIA Director William Casey and possibly Vice President George H. W. Bush went to Paris to negotiate such a delay. Many others have made the same allegations."

We could perhaps add the Southern Strategy to this. Though it does not include the collusion of a foreign power it does indicate the Republicans willingness to undermine social and racial cohesion within their own nation if it suits their political agenda.

And don't think that sacred constitution is safe either. More recently the Republicans, who routinely wave around the United States constitution as if it were personally handed to them from Mount Sinai,  have also sought to directly undermine that supremely sacred document to their own political ends. The Founding Fathers enshrined within the constitution checks and balances to moderate the influence of the Presidency, such as the Congress (the lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber) and the creation of a independent Supreme Court. Membership of the Supreme Court is for life and it is with the power of a president to replace Supreme Court members if one should pass away.
Or it was.
Until 2016, when a President elected with a substantial majority in 2012 was blocked from appointing his own choice of Supreme Court judge by Republican Congress, an act which directly undermines the obvious written intent of the US constitution.

It would seem, for the purposes of the Supreme Court at least, the United States is already a one party state.

Republicans are enabled in this by the other party, the Democrats, who have seemingly fallen off their high horse so many times now they have serious concussion. "We go high, they go low" might be a noble policy when dealing with normal political opponent but when dealing with an opposition quite happy to even collude with a hostile foreign  power and cover it up, ongoing Democratic ineptitude and weakness must hover around treason itself.

I'm not being naive about my own country. The Conservatives have rigged at least one UK election  and members of the Labour Party and the Unions that backed them in the 1970s have long been suspected to be under Russian influence. Perhaps Nazi influence on British society in the 1930s or German influence on the monarchy before that could also be cited as examples of recent political treachery in the UK.

But these are individuals, not an entire organisation with an established record of doing similar. There is nothing, I think historically in any nation which compares with the naked greed for power AT ANY COST which can be seen in the Republican Party right now. I'm sure in future they will defend themselves by hiding behind the breathtaking incompetence of the current occupant of the White House, but this is a much bigger issue than one man. He is a bumbling opportunist who was presented with the opportunity to become the most powerful man on Earth - can we really blame him for taking that opportunity?

The ones who will ultimately carry the can for this are the ones who enabled his rise - and somehow future historians will have to explain how they chose to do this at the expense of the country they swore an oath to protect.


Friday, 17 March 2017

Netflix IRONFIST is not bad (but you should be watching LEGION)

Netflix's new Marvel series, IRONFIST, is getting a critical pounding. Don't believe the hype. It won't win any awards but it's far from the worst superhero show on tv.

Confession - I've read the comics.

As is, Danny Rand is a long way from the most original comics character of all time. A clumsy amalgam of Bruce Wayne and the 'lost in ShangriLa' legend used for The Shadow and more recently Dr Strange, there is little new about him beyond the elevation of a martial arts concept 'chi', into a full blown super power, the IronFist. He's a bit dull, and obviously in the long lead up to THE DEFENDERS, you can see why Netflix chose to get to Danny Rand last after Matt Murdock, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

That said, after his rehabilitation in 'Heroes For Hire' team up comics, where Rand and Luke Cage setup a mercenary superhero team, some talented comics writers have had a crack at the character over the years and by concentrating less on the Shadow/Shangri-La/Dr Strange/Martial Arts yawn background and more on the Rand family saga, and interaction with other (better) characters like Colleen Wing and Luke Cage, he now has his own identity.

They've obviously tried to go some way with this in the new Netflix series with, I think (up to Ep 2 anyway) some level of success. It's a fairly pedestrian version of something like BILLIONS with some fairly likable characters that might grown on you. This series probably only exists to setup Danny's friendship with Luke Cage - it not is not meant to be the definitive statement in any way on Marvel martial arts characters. Yes it does have a white western guy teaching martial arts to an American Asian, but it's not like the villain is a fiendish Mandarin supervillian with a stringy mustache and long fingernails*

IRONFIST is definitely a notch below in every department DAREDEVIL, LUKE CAGE  and especially JESSICA JONES but
trust me
it's a hell of a lot better than MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD. Perhaps that's the main issue with IRONFIST, it's Netflix expectation. Their standard level of product is so good the merely mediocre looks terrible in comparison.

Mainstream tv critics who've embarrassed themselves over admitting liking the other Marvel Netflix shows are particularly laying into this one for a variety of reasons and should really get over themselves. DAREDEVIL  is good but seriously overrated for me - sliding heavily into repetition and wasting great acting talent. LUKE CAGE starts magnificently before running into blaxploitation parody. Only JESSICA JONES really sustains itself until the end of the run.
Those looking to punch IRONFIST for not being on the same supposed level as DAREDEVIL should be looking at FX's breathtaking LEGION, which quite frankly is making them all look like children's tv.



*The premier martial artist in Marvel's universe of superheroes is of course full blown, 100% Chinese Shang-Chi, who has no super powers beyond being THE Marvel Master of Kung Fu - which keeps him surprisingly competitive in a world of genuine gods and monsters.

Shang-Chi, a son of Hu'nan province, will initially have little in the way of racial complication for his screen depiction unless we get as far as his parentage, at which point the racial correctness movement will no doubt go into meltdown. For the most part the character is a close analog of Bruce Lee's character from ENTER THE DRAGON, but Shang-Chi's father is no less than the arch-devil of racially insensitive western depictions - the Fiendish Fu Manchu!

Tilda Swinton was the best thing about DR STRANGE.



Monday, 27 February 2017

Beyond The Wall of Sleep 4

Finalising the war on insomnia, from 6 hours sleep a night to 8 hours a night

In previous blogs on this subject I've explained that I used to be a very bad sleeper going back to childhood (as were my parents). When I say bad sleep in childhood I mean I grew up living above a pub  in the 1970s - so smoke, noise, overworked parent. Sleep was always a precious thing to be grabbed at, which made it all the more stressful later when I couldn't get it for whatever reason.

And over the last decade I've managed to overcome this with the aid of audiobooks and personal media players (thank you Steve Jobs) to get a regular 6 hours per night. This is a big personal achievement as I'm really Mr Hyde when tired.

An updare earlier posts is due as I have been refining this method. Lately I've been getting occasional 7 hours a night over the last week I've had two instances where I've gone right into 8 hours, smashing personal records.

Should say I'm about 50 years old, and track my sleep using a fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3).

What has made the difference?

Light exercise
Light exercise rather than heavy exercise - heavy exercise, like walking more than 10 miles in a day, will sure knock you out easily when your head hits the pillow, but that later sleep (where I am now picking up the time) will be affected by painful muscles. You might sleep better following nights but it is not guaranteed.
So light exercise, about an hour before bedtime, like a walk in the fresh air for 20 mins or so.

Later Sleep
my sleep 10pm-3pm remains as before. The difference now is I'm sleeping in much later than before. Part of this is recognising that sleep does come in two parts
http://slumberwise.com/science/your-ancestors-didnt-sleep-like-you/
with an intermission. And when you reach that horrible 'hour of the wolf ' in the middle the last thing you should do is lie there in bed. Get up, do ablutions in semi illumination and eat something. Toast or banana works for me.

Coffee builds up in the system
Not had caffeine (other than tea) for nearly two weeks

Change of listening material
In earlier posts I described how listening to audiobooks and podcasts were very effective in not only kicking off sleep but sustaining it long after you might otherwise have woken up. The more sensitive fitness tracker I had (Jawbone UP3) recorded how I would often kick into REM sleep at stages of the night when I new I'd woken and started up an audio book. I said some are better then others and this may be a personal thing.. I find Lorelei King's voice incredibly soothing to sleep to. Her voice on the BBC adaptation of Pattern Recognition and several other William Gibson sources make her No1 audio source for me.

This 'friendly voice to fall asleep to' phenomena would of course be hugely magnified if it were a close family member. I have suggested to grand parents that I know that they record their favourite poems or short stories for their family for this reason.

Refresh the listening material
The audio input must remain somewhat interesting and fresh - if you are are bored with listening, the mind (subconscious?) gets disengaged, wanders and insomnia is allowed back in. So you ideally need a regular source of audio input.
Radio! I can hear you say and many use this to fall asleep to - but the nature of live radio is that you cannot rely on the broadcast. A sudden news feature with harsh audio can really wreck your sleep over the night. I can remember being woken by the news of Princess Diana's death - that was rough - and Radio 5Live were nice enough to broadcast the news of Fay Wray's death with audio of her famous scream in King Kong.

Best example of this is the BBC Radio4 Today Show (6am -9am) which you might regularly find yourself dozing to in it's quiet moments until - usually American politics - jerks you into reality with all the gentle subtly of the electric chair at San Quentin.

Ideally you would have a regularly updated audio, perhaps with the gentle well spoken stars of the Today Show  which runs for hours on semi interesting subjects but without live broadcast interruptions or irritating trailers.

Ladies and Gentlemen - let me introduce you to The Economist Audio Edition
http://www.economist.com/audio-edition
this is the entire magazine, every week recorded onto audio by familiar R4 news announcers. Approximately 8 fresh hours of audio every week. You might be thinking "Oh god - The Economist. That would be dull. I couldn't listen to that" - well, remember this isn't to consciously get you listening, its to make you fall asleep, and I personally find the mix here is right on the edge of engaging and ZZZZzzzz which is just enough to engage the troublesome demons in the mind and stop them from causing trouble in the conscious.

As a bonus parts of The Economist, particularly the Science and Technology, really is worth listening to (hi The Economist!) and you may find yourself listening to particular bits again during the day.

After 3am
I've found that regardless of the subject, if I find it vaguely interesting and I've not heard it before 15 mins controlled by timer on my media device (still an Ipod Classic) will knock me right to sleep after 10 in the evenings. 30 mins will knock me right to sleep after the 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission (+ banana) and here is the latest finding.. if I wake 5-6ish again as normal if I then let the media device run without a timer and start to doze the next time I wake it will be daylight outside, which I have to say personally speaking is INCREDIBLE way to greet the day after 40 years of insomnia.

And here is the interesting thing
 - If I use a timer at this 5-8am doze time I will awake immediately after the timer stops the audio.
If I let the audio run without setting the timer I sleep on about 1+ hour later. The audio actually prolongs the snooze.
Some part of the subconscious which ordinarily is getting ready for the start up into conscious mode seems to get pre-occupied, delaying the wakeup. Is it actually distracted with audio topics - or more likely cataloging human conversation? I don't know - I have varied awareness of what is being said and often get great REM sleep (as confirmed by my sleep tracker).

It;s possible this is all very personal to me - I've been told I'm naturally a great listener and it it has become a central part of my business
http://corben-dallas.co.uk/
but I now know of at least two of my friends who control audio in this way to prolong sleep,

Dreamlands explorers kit
fitness tracker (Jawbone UP3)
Media player (Ipod classic or old smartphone with sleep timer app)
Eye shades
earphones (best for comfort sleeping after 3am Hour of the Wolf intermission)
small speakers around bed (best for kicking off sleep initially and later morning snoozing)
Economist subscription

for snacks -
bananas
bread
toaster

Of course you may have a partner which objects to all this.  Or they may find your new refreshed self an improvement in terms of moods and life quality. If not there is always separate beds, which might liven the sex up as well!

Downsides?
The downside of exposing your subconscious to this regularly is that possibly you find yourself heavily heavily immersed in current events and find yourself for example, on holiday volunteering to help a foreign political campaign.

Other wierd sleep notes
For some reason dieting often has me awake early in very low emotional states, to the extent that I often I cry or scream myself awake.
I cut down on the dieting.
It stopped :-)

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901)

Sunday, 26 February 2017

IMMORTAL BELOVED (1994) reignites optimism for the future of the past

IMMORTAL BELOVED (1994)  is a great intro to a haunted, superhuman musician, and the disillusionment and hopelessness of Europe under Napoleon. It features career best performances from Gary Oldman & Isabella Rossellini and comes from noted horror film director Bernard Rose (CANDYMAN).

It's not perfect, it has a few ripe moments but is always entertaining and never dull. The presence of Barry Humphries as Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich should be an indicator of how bonkers/fearless the movie is. Imagine Ken Russell's GOTHIC turned down to 11, with an even better soundtrack :-)

But the date it was released, 1994, is of more significance.

Immortal Beloved's musical climax is a German masterpiece for humanity, the 9th Symphony. This piece of music is used as the EU national anthem, and is hinted at in the movie when one scene cuts directly to a field of stars, highlighting whole plot as a story of painful but triumphant reconciliation.

 1994 might be seen as a peak period for the EU and reminder of the optimism of the time. It was the year Schengen Agreement started and the year before Srebrenica. The introduction of the Euro was five years away. It seems an aeon from from our new world of dangerously imbalanced Eurozones and what will doubtless be corporate Anglo-American trade areas.

Despite the events (so far) of 2017 the optimistic worldview of 1994 still inspires. Exposed so much to politics I've lost myself in music recently and it's hard to listen to 9th Symphony without thinking that the vision of international reconciliation and harmony IS inevitable over a long period. I'm also reading Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, which has a similar "we will overcome - together" optimistic worldview.

One of the supposed ongoing threats to the human race is the Emerging Virus. A biological time bomb, like Ebola, which waits for the encroachment of civilization to emerge and attack human society. They are dangerous but unlikely to be fatal to the human race as a whole. We can wait them out.

Perhaps the idea of the Emerging Virus could be applied outside the biological, and applied to ideas, religious and political. What if the political turmoils of 2017 are just virulent viruses exposed by expanding civilisation to the sunlight before they dry up and blow away?

It has been obvious for years that the last decades struggle with Muslim fundamentalism is a predictable clash between what are now excepted values of human rights and the final holdouts of medieval culture. What were impenetrable parts of the world  are now permeated by the internet, much to the frustration of those power structures which would seek to perpetuate them. To consider them a long term threat to our way of life is to give them way too much credit. Their desperate struggles to survive are, like the Populists I will get to in a moment, merely hastening the end of their own dead ideas.

Looked over a long term we can see the beginnings of the final death gasp of organised religion, and that the persistent image of religion going forward will not be the crescent or the cross but two burning towers. The horrors of ISIS and Boko Haram and the others might seem intimidating in the short term but these actions will resonate through the generations. The future vision of the human race, if there is one, won't come from a cave in Afghanistan, and the last spasms of ISIS and their ilk make this obvious even in our short term perspective. Over a long period we can perhaps see the War on Terror as an inevitable reaction to the remorseless sweep of modern civilization over the globe from the most reactionary areas. A doomed reaction as the death gasp only highlights the redundancy of the medieval ideas it seeks to protect.

I think we can just start to the same with what they are calling 'Popularism':  the forces of Trump, Farrage, Le Pen were always likely to crawl out from under a rock in reaction to some crisis but are clinging to a nationalism which cannot survive the end of this century.  Under pressure from environmental and economic factors the sums just do not work for isolationism going forward.

And, real decider of course, the glowing elephant in the room with regard to nationalism, is nuclear proliferation. Nationalism and atomic weapons are a fatal mix - certainly for Nationalism in the long term. In the same way that the Twin Towers will be the image to define and warn against the influence of religion going forward, Trump and his followers will fill history books about the fall of the nation state.

I would seek to preserve my culture and your culture as much as we possibly can, that is what keeps us human after all. But if the alternative is Radioactive Ruins and Cockroach Culture, the flags and the d**kheads who wave them will be gone before long, one way or another.

Arthur C Clarke was a good judge of the future events. In 3001: The Final Odyssey he predicts the end of the nation state at 2050 (see below).

I'm more conservative, I'll say 2060.



from
"3001: The Final Odyssey," (c) Copyright 1997 by Arthur C. Clarke

She was the first visitor with a fluent command of Poole's own
English, so he was delighted to meet her.
'Mr. Poole,' she began, in a very business-like voice, 'I've been
appointed your official guide and - let's say - mentor. My
qualifications - I've specialized in your period - my thesis was
"The Collapse of the Nation-State, 2000-50"