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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Yes Man


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

Bank loan officer Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) has become withdrawn since his divorce from ex-wife Stephanie. Routinely ignoring his friends Pete (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson), he has an increasingly negative outlook on his life...

...an old colleague suggests that he goes to a motivational "Yes!" seminar with him, which encourages its attendants to seize the opportunity to say "Yes!". Carl decides to attend the seminar and meets inspirational guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), who publicly browbeats him into making a covenant with himself. Carl reluctantly promises to stop being a "No Man" and vows to answer "Yes!" to every opportunity, request, or invitation that presents itself thereafter.


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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Freezing warmth on the way

The Met Office is predicting again:

A return to low solar activity not seen for centuries could increase the chances of cold winters in Europe and eastern parts of the United States but wouldn't halt global warming, according to new research.

The Met Office-led study, published in Nature Communications, is among the first to look at the regional climate impacts of a possible 'grand solar minimum'...

...On a regional level, the study found a bigger cooling effect for northern Europe, the UK and eastern parts of North America - particularly during winter. For example, for northern Europe the cooling is in the range -0.4 to -0.8 °C.

Winters will be warmer overall, but this suggests a relative increase in the risk of colder winters for these areas during a possible grand solar minimum.


So global warming isn't necessarily global and isn't necessarily warming. If this ludicrous and shameful mess of guesswork and bet-hedging is science then I'm a banana.

Here's the Met Office's Dr Vicky Pope in 2007  - "by 2014 we're predicting that we'll be point three degrees warmer than 2004".





It's no great surprise but here's how the "prediction" turned out.




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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Things change

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Timepieces
I presume I shall be better understood if I day that the month was October and the day October thirteenth; the exact hour I cannot tell you — it’s easier to get philosophers to agree than timepieces — but it was between noon and one o’clock.
Seneca - Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii (around 55AD)

Tanning
A terrific day when the doctor, with face tanned like a chauffeur’s, returned to Clerkenwell and resumed his work, calm, prim, impassible as ever!
Arnold Bennett - Elsie and the Child (1924)

Childhood nutrition
He listens; ay, his lips moving perhaps, and a smile on his old face like a child asking for a slice of bread and sugar.
Walter de la Mare - Music (1955)

As a child I remember bread and butter with sugar sprinkled on it. Slightly crunchy and not particularly pleasant

Distance
“How long does it take to go to Westcombe across this way?” she asked of him while they were bringing up the carriage.
“About two hours,” he said.
“Two hours — so long as that, does it? How far is it away?”
“Eight miles.”
“Two hours to drive eight miles — who ever heard of such a thing!” “I thought you meant walking”
“Ah, yes; but one hardly means walking without expressly stating it.”
“Well, it seems just the other way to me — that walking is meant unless you say driving.”
Thomas Hardy - An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress (1935)

Monday mornings
Monday morning is a strenuous but somehow a glad morning in respectable households of regular habits. The clean linen is brought out in lovely white piles from the linen cupboard and distributed over the house, and the dirty linen is collected and shamefully hurried away and catalogued in a place without honour and thrown pell-mell in baskets and despatched, and then everybody has a sweet sense of relief.
Arnold Bennett - Elsie and the Child (1924)

Transport
I have just returned from a ride in my litter; and I am as weary as if I had walked the distance, instead of being seated. Even to be carried for any length of time is hard work, perhaps all the more so because it is an unnatural exercise; for Nature gave us legs with which to do our own walking, and eyes with which to do our own seeing. Our luxuries have condemned us to weakness; we have ceased to be able to do that which we have long declined to do.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lying – it’s what we do

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What Spinoza, for example, calls ‘blessedness’ is simply the state of non-attachment; his ‘human bondage,’ the condition of one who identifies himself with his desires, emotions and thought-processes, or with their objects in the external world.
Aldous Huxley – Ends and Means

We all know that lying in all its many forms is a common aspect of human life. From exaggeration to evasion, from the sins of omission to barefaced lying we all assent to at least a few dubious narratives because we must and because this is how societies work.

To survive daily life we cannot be wholly non-attached in Huxley’s sense, so we must endure human bondage in Spinoza’s. We must identify ourselves with our desires, emotions and thought-processes, or with their objects in the external world. Hence the lies, hence the bondage.

Not so long ago, visitors to Grandson’s school told the children that God made the harvest. Was that a lie? In my book it was at best misleading. However those visitors saw their words as advocating a genuine truth, and would no doubt be mightily offended at my implication.

Worthy advocacy of noble causes is a particular problem when so few causes are really noble and so much advocacy is unworthy. It all goes to create an unhealthy culture of false virtue, armour-plated against any criticism, securely located on a mountain of furtive dishonesty.

Yet how does anyone advocate anything without so much as a hint of bias in all its many tangled forms? It is possible perhaps, but neither easy nor common. Advocacy is inherently biased because it is incompatible with non-attachment.

A few decades ago, Secretary of State for War John Profumo resigned from the government and from Parliament when he had to admit he had lied to Parliament over the Christine Keeler affair. Only a few years later, Prime Minister Edward Heath lied to voters about the nature of the Common Market as the EU then was.

“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”

Prime Minister Edward Heath, television broadcast on Britain’s entry into the Common Market, January 1973. 

Perhaps Heath saw this lie as worthy advocacy but he must have known he was lying and unlike Profumo he never resigned. Far from it – he appears to have seen his lying as an act of statesmanship.

The perennial problem is that we must advocate to live, to form stable societies and economies, to hold political debates, invest in the future, build civilisations and even cultures. So who doesn’t lie through advocacy, whether worthy or not?

As usual, the ethical folk are those who remain non-attached, people without causes, the non-campaigners who prefer not to campaign and the non-advocates who prefer to advocate as little as possible because advocacy is so intimately linked with lying.

The question of whether or not anything can be achieved without advocacy is yet another problem. Possibly not.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

HSBC - the shakeup continues...


"Right, that's the building transferred under a PFI arrangement to a trust registered in the Dutch Antilles, the headteacher will in future be paid via a personal services company in Jersey with "salary" deemed as staged loans, and petty cash stored overnight in a Swiss call account..."


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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Their despotic instincts


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In his book The Modern Regime, Hippolyte Taine spends a considerable time analysing the regime imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte and how he engineered it, his deep understanding of human weakness and how it could be used. Even two centuries later the parallels with our own time are striking.

At his first nod the French prostrate themselves obediently, and there remain, as in a natural position; the lower class, the peasants and the soldiers, with animal fidelity, and the upper class, the dignitaries and the functionaries, with Byzantine servility.

The republicans, on their side, make no resistance; on the contrary, among these he has found his best governing instruments—senators, deputies, state councillors, judges, and administrators of every grade. He has at once detected behind their sermonizing on liberty and equality, their despotic instincts, their craving for command, for leadership, even as subordinates; and, in addition to this, with most of them, the appetite for money or for sensual pleasures.
Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

In particular, the last sentence stands out. He has at once detected behind their sermonizing on liberty and equality, their despotic instincts... How accurate it all is, and how very modern. Nothing really changes does it?

When our low-information voters make their mark in the forthcoming EU referendum and opt for staying in, then maybe we should keep an eye on Corsica. Metaphorically speaking of course.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

As the culture ages

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A problematic quote for anyone old enough to observe and also inclined to deplore cultural change.

As the culture ages and begins to lose its objectives, conflict arises within it between those who wish to cast it off and set up a new culture-pattern, and those who wish to retain the old with as little change as possible.
Philip K. Dick - The Defenders (1953)

There must always be a suspicion that deplored cultural changes are merely changes to which younger generations have adapted and will continue to adapt because this is the way of the world. So any perceived decline is merely adjustment as the culture ages and begins to lose its objectives.

Certainly modern times are markedly different from the past, technology, prosperity, communications and general know-how have made it so. In which case there could be genuine problems we can’t see because we haven’t encountered them before. Not that we are much good at learning from the past, but maybe we can’t anyway because the past is too far removed from the present.

Almost two thousand years ago Seneca attributed perceived cultural decline to the vices of mankind and not of the times.

You are mistaken, my dear Lucilius, if you think that luxury, neglect of good manners, and other vices of which each man accuses the age in which he lives, are especially characteristic of our own epoch; no, they are the vices of mankind and not of the times. No era in history has ever been free from blame.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

It is as if our faults are always with us but from age to age they vary in their significance, in their contribution to the present. Things could be better but that is always the case and always will be until we evolve into something else, something better. Or possibly worse?

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.