Author Archives: markyg101

Fuck off Tories!

vote labour

Here we are again with the prospect of another hung parliament. The viable choices: Tories + UKIP or Labour + Greens (or possibly SNP).
Leading up to the 2010 general election the Tories presented their austerity program to the electorate as being something that was unavoidable. Despite Tory claims that Labour were ‘deficit deniers’ Labour were also planning cuts of their own. The main disagreement between the two main parties was the extent and the timing of the cuts.

So who should we trust with our economy? To get a wider context on the UK political landscape let’s briefly consider some relevant history.

After the Second World War there was a broad agreement between the main political parties that capitalism should be moderated by some form of state intervention. Capitalism was seen as a necessary evil; an economic system that was far from ideal but arguably better than the alternatives. But it was generally agreed the state should actively mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism using policies which act to redistribute wealth more evenly across society. This was the so-called social democratic post-war consensus.

This broad political consensus persisted for some time, right up to the years immediately preceding the Conservative Thatcher government in fact. Then things began to change. The UK economy was impacted by the effects of globalization, resulting in a sustained period of soaring inflation, rising unemployment and a stagnant economy. People naturally questioned why this was happening, but unfortunately got all the wrong answers. It is at this point the Thatcher government comes into the picture.

The Thatcher government succeeded in convincing people that the previous Labour government’s socialist policies; government subsidies to vulnerable industries, inefficient nationalized industries, welfare dependency etc, were all to blame. The reality however was that the economic downturn was more to do with the effects of globalization (the UK had already started the process of outsourcing much of its manufacturing base to developing economies such as China for instance). But this did not stop poor people getting the blame for many of the problems.

Hence began a period of privatisation of key industries, deregulation of the financial sector, withdrawal of government subsidies from vulnerable industries, and reduction of trade union power. A culture of blaming individuals for their circumstances was carefully nurtured by the government and right-wing media, downplaying or ignoring altogether the wider economic factors leading to unemployment and welfare dependency (ironically many of Thatcher’s policies directly led to a rise in unemployment).

At the heart of all this was an individualistic worldview, an idea that ‘there is no such thing as society’. This was mirrored across the Atlantic with the Reagan administration, where ‘rugged individualism’ was championed by the Republican government of the day, and resulted in the wholesale deregulation of the financial sector (amongst other things).

A key government strategy for generating widespread support for ruthless right-wing policies was to demonize the poor, which means persuading people it is their fault if they happen to be living in poverty. If they are poor they must be doing something wrong – which then justifies not helping them! Does this view stand up to close scrutiny however?

On a global scale this almost certainly can’t be true. Consider the starving people of Africa. Is it really their fault they live in such conditions? If you agree that it is not then the above question reduces to – are poor people who live in Western capitalist societies to blame for their own poverty?

It seems to me that blaming people in capitalist economies for being poor is more or less equivalent to blaming runners in a marathon for not all coming first, or in the top few percent. A race by its very nature will produce winners and losers. It is an intrinsic part of the nature of a race to do so. To not understand this fact is equivalent to not understanding what a race actually is. Similarly, not understanding the fact that a capitalist system will produce poor people is equivalent to not understanding how capitalism works. Capitalism by its very nature relies on a certain percentage of the population not doing well in economic terms. It is built into the very nature of capitalism. Some degree of exploitation is inevitable (I believe Karl Marx made this point). In fact some analysts claim that full employment is not compatible with a capitalist system, as this would produce upward pressure on wages due to the forces of supply and demand. There allegedly has to be an excess of labour to drive down wages.

Another factor to consider is ethnic-based inequality. Consider America for instance. Statistical data consistently exposes an ethnic-based inequality running across American society. Is it really the case that a particular ethnic group just happens to be lazy? This can be the only conclusion if one chooses to cling to the idea that people are always responsible for their own circumstances.

So I think it is reasonable to conclude that people are not necessarily responsible for their economic plight – even in Western capitalist societies!

How do the governments and the right-wing media succeed in convincing so many people that poverty is self-imposed? Time and again the same tactic is used – focus on the lowest denominators and then make unfair and misleading generalizations based on these few extreme and unrepresentative cases.

The Tories are ideologically opposed to state intervention in economic affairs (or at the very least policies which redistribute wealth). They claim that nationalized industries are always inefficient so therefore need to be privatised. And this includes healthcare. You will never see this in a Conservative manifesto of course as they know they will never get voted in. So they used backdoor privatisation by inserting the purchaser/provider system into the NHS. As my partner works for one of the Healthcare Trusts that has been affected by this I am aware of the negative impacts this restructuring has had on the health service. Ironically the level of bureaucracy has actually increased, contrary to the Tory claim that efficiency would increase. And the level of paperwork has in fact increased markedly. More time and resources than ever before are now spent on form-filling and administration, with client care suffering as a result.  This is largely owing to the pressure on healthcare providers to attract purchasers by looking good on paper. Looking good on paper however is not the same thing as being good in practise. In fact there can be an inverse relationship between the two things, as this case well illustrates.

NHS privatisation aside, who actually believes that privatising the UK energy and transport industries has increased efficiency (or at least efficiency which has translated into consumer benefits)? The fact is that increased efficiencies generally tend to involve cutting corners, the corresponding financial gains immediately going to the top (and staying there). It will rarely, if ever, translate into benefits from either the consumer point of view or the point of view of the average employee working in the associated industry. This is just a myth perpetuated by right-wing political parties.

The global financial crisis happened just a few years ago but many appear to have forgotten that this is the reason why all this austerity has been imposed upon us in the first place. The Tories would have you believe the financial crisis was all Labour’s fault. But all Labour did was recapitalize the banks and then attempt to stimulate the economy Keynesian style, using monetary and fiscal stimulus. Whether or not you agree with this approach, one thing is for certain – the massive budget deficit did not come about as a result of excessive public spending by an overzealous socialist government.

In retrospect the UK’s sustained economic boom that essentially started in the 1990s clearly relied on factors that were unsustainable. We enjoyed consistently low inflation (in no small part due to the huge influx of cheap manufacturing goods from places such as China), increased expansion and reliance on the financial sector, and a housing market where property prices consistently outstripped the rate of inflation. The growing reliance on the financial sector was partly based on financial products which eventually had catastrophic consequences for the UK, and made us ever more susceptible to the financial crisis that eventually occurred in America. However once the Tories succeeded in creating this false link between public spending on vital services and the budget deficit, the solution was manifestly apparent – make cutbacks on vital public services! This was however a clear cut case of penalizing the less well off in society for the mistakes of the financial sector, since they are disproportionately more reliant on such services than the more affluent members of society. It effectively empowered the Tories to finish what Thatcher started in the 80’s under the guise of there being no viable alternative. But make no mistake – irrespective of what the Tories claim these cuts are ideologically driven!

The oft used ‘balancing the books household analogy’ used by Cameron and his sidekick Osborne is severely misleading. A single household budget is much simpler than a national economy. Net income and expenditure dictate the financial health of a family unit. The complexities of a national economy however have a whole multitude of factors than cannot naturally be applied to the simple concept of a family budget. Simply put, there are many long term feedback mechanisms in a national economy that are not present in a family budget situation. Although stimulating the economy invariably incurs short term costs, there are often associated long term payoffs – generating jobs, increasing tax revenues, and driving down the welfare expenditure. This process has no obvious parallels in the context of a household budget.

Another related point is that policies which redistribute income do not necessarily adversely affect the economy. In fact the reverse can often be true. It is usually implied that welfare expenditure somehow results in money leaving the economy. However the reality is that the money is fed straight back into the economy, usually via the purchasing of staple products. The money is simply redistributed – nothing more and nothing less. It does not ‘leave’ the economy so therefore does not ‘cost’ the economy, contrary to popular perception. And the wealth is usually redistributed in a manner which has direct benefits to the economy anyway. To illustrate this point consider the case of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the event which precipitated the global depression of the 1930’s. Gross inequality was at the heart of this crisis. In the time period leading up to this tragic event, mass produced goods rolled off the assembly belts as fast as consumers could purchase them. And there was no obvious reason to believe this process would ever grind to a halt. But grind to a halt it did. Basically it was only the relatively small wealthier section of American society that was in a position to buy all these mass produced manufactured goods. But once these wealthy Americans had bought all the consumers goods they needed they stopped buying (this was before the advent of built-in obsolescence). Once the shareholders realized what was going on it was already too late. Suddenly realizing their shares were soon to become worthless they panic sold, hence creating the Wall Street Crash. If wealth had been distributed more evenly across America it is likely the Wall Street Crash could have been averted altogether – along with the global depression which followed. And what eventually got America out of the depression? Fiscal stimulus! And this came about in two stages. Firstly there was Roosevelt’s New Plan, generating thousands of jobs by government investment and subsidies to failing industries (this stood out in sharp contrast to the previous Republican Hoover administration who basically sat back and let people starve because of their dogmatic stance on rugged individualism and laissez-faire politics). And secondly there was World War Two. This abruptly ended the recession by providing fiscal stimulus in the form of mass government spending on weaponry.

Let’s finally consider UKIP – the single-policy far right-wing phenomenon that has enjoyed a significant rise in popularity over the last five years.

There has been some lengthy debates over whether or not Nigel Farage is a racist. Ostensibly UKIPS policies are not racist. And UKIP certainly can’t be accused of not taking reasonable measures to distance themselves from accusations of being a racist party, such as prohibiting former BNP supporters from party membership for instance. However the question remains – is this simply because Nigel Farage is a more shrewd version of Nick Griffin? Some people suspect so (myself included). He is certainly smart enough to know the only plausible path to power lies in convincing the majority of the electorate that he is not racist, and his party is not racist either. Realization of this fact does not in itself entail that Farage is a racist of course, but it is certainly noteworthy that any time Farage is caught out uttering a borderline racist remark he turns round and uses the excuse that he was ‘a bit tired’ at the time. From my experience however people are more inclined to tell the truth when they are ‘a bit tired’. Being knackered leaves one’s defences in a somewhat compromised state, occasionally leading to a bit on unintentional truth telling.

Racism aside however, UKIP are clearly a party which relies extensively on scaremongering, scapegoating and political rhetoric, to persuade people that the economic woes of this country are primarily down to immigrants. And this is despite a number of independent studies conducted by various universities demonstrating the net positive economic impact of immigration on the UK.

The bottom line is that policies should be based on rational debates, not scaremongering and scapegoating. There is a clear and distinct difference between rationally debating immigration policy and blaming immigrants for clogging up the healthcare system, nicking all our jobs, placing an unsustainable burden on our infrastructure, being responsible for crime epidemics, anti-Semitism, traffic jams, and all the other zany things that UKIP have accused immigrants of.

The issue of immigration is complex and nuanced. Farage is not.

Regarding the accusation that immigration is having an impact on healthcare, ask virtually anyone who works in the NHS, including UKIP supporters, what the problem really is. They will concede that the crisis in the NHS has much more to do with an ageing population due to people living longer than it has to do with immigration.

Cameron has repeatedly played into UKIPs hands by pretending he can renegotiate the terms of our membership of Europe. I think virtually everyone knows he cannot really do what he is claiming he can do. Realistically the only way to curb immigration is to leave Europe. The main political parties are reluctant to have a referendum on the issue of European membership because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the general public is not really capable of making an informed choice on this. Whether they are correct on this point or not however, one thing is for certain – if you believe the issue of European membership is a simple black and white issue then you probably haven’t grasped all the subtle nuances and ramifications of leaving Europe. And UKIP have certainly been guilty of portraying the UK membership of Europe in simplistic black and white terms. The reality however is that there are many pros and cons to factor into this decision. It is in fact one of the most complex and thorny political issues of recent times.

Perhaps you don’t believe that any of the major political parties offer a genuine way forwards. I am not altogether convinced of this either. But there is nonetheless a clear choice to be made here – voting for the lesser of two evils. The Tories will without question continue to zealously pursue their ideologically driven program of cuts and continue their wholesale dismantling of our public health service. And they will continue to target and demonize the vulnerable and poor in society in order to justify their savage cuts. They will continue to insult our intelligence by claiming ‘we are all in it together’ whilst giving tax breaks to their wealthy friends and ruthlessly taking away the safety net protecting the most vulnerable and needy people in our society. They will continue to attempt to convince us that the economic hardship experienced by the average person has nothing to do with the Britain’s richest 1% have more wealth than the poorest 55%. In fact they will try to persuade you that such inequalities are good for society because the wealth will eventually ‘trickle down’.

To date, sixty people have died as a direct result of ruthless welfare cuts and brutal welfare reform policies. And many more have been made to suffer needlessly as a result of these reforms, including people with severe disabilities. In the sixth biggest economy in the world we now have well over a million people using food banks, many of whom have full-time jobs but are trying to survive on a pay packet below the living wage. And this situation will get a whole lot worse if the Tories are permitted to carry out their next round of even more savage cuts for the next five years.

If this is the kind of society you want then by all mean vote Conservative. But if you feel that this does not represent the society you wish you and your families to live in, then vote Labour. It is the surest way of getting the Tories out of power.

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Better Together Campaign

scotland-referendum

I entered into a Primark store for the first time yesterday and bought a few items of clothing – something which is out of character for me to do. Normally I avoid this store like the Ebola plague owing to the conspicuous lack of ethics displayed by this shameless company.

What I am referring to is their dodgy supply chain, consisting of a number of unscrupulous third world companies who provide very little in the way of basic workers rights and decent working conditions for their employees.

But alas, yesterday I experienced a temporary mental aberration. A moment of weakness, just lasting long enough for me to succumb to the temptation to acquire new clobber at a price costing less than my bus fare into town.

It was an impulse thing. Honestly. One minute I was strolling past the shop as normal, and the next I found myself waiting in the checkout queue with a basket chock-full of garments most likely originating from some sweat shop located in Bangladesh.

But here’s the interesting thing. Whilst in the store I noticed a number of signs placed strategically around the store. The sign read something like this:

          “We are doing our upmost to ensure all the companies comprising our supply chain are            continuing to uphold excellent working conditions and workers rights for all                            employees concerned.”

Upon reading this sign I felt somehow queasy, a deep nauseating feeling swelling up from the base of my gut. This happens to me sometimes when I feel my intelligence being violently offended.

Less you be under any misconception about this, let me explain. There is no way on god’s green earth that Primark has the slightest intention of proactively take steps to improve working conditions for employees incorporated within their supply chain. The reason? Doing so would sharply conflict with their primary objective of making as much profit as possible. (Basic capitalism 101).

Primark maintains its market position by undercutting most of its competitors. And it manages this by deliberately selecting third world clothing manufacturing companies who exploit their workers for the sake of higher profit margins. Here is the economic theory behind it:-

           Profit = Sales revenue – total expenditures

           Therefore:

           Smaller expenditure  = greater profits

           Therefore:

           Invest little or no money in anything not directly related to the creation of higher profits    

           (such as working conditions etc)

           And voila:

           You achieve your aim of greater profits

(Was that a bit patronizing?)

So what is going on with all these signs? Well in reality they are nothing more than a manifestation of Primark’s sensitivity to bad publicity. Concerned about recent negative exposure in the media their solution is apparently to do a bit of in-store PR. The basic idea I think is that people will read these signs and say to themselves “Hey, check this out. Primark are an ethical company after all. I can continue shopping here in good conscience now, and even inform all my friends who have previously boycotted this store on ethical grounds.”

This is what really rattles me. Primark violating the public’s intelligence in this way. How stupid do they think we are? This company has not turned over a new leaf. Make no mistake about it. They don’t give a monkey’s arse bone about where they get their merchandise from. This company would purchase items of clothing from ISIS if they thought they could get a good return on it.

So anyway, later the same day I arrive home just in time to switch on the TV and watch David Cameron on the news deliver his nauseating “heartfelt speech” to Scotland, where he pleads with the Scottish people from the “bottom of his heart” to remain in the United Kingdom. At one point old Cameron gets really choked up, the depth of emotion clearly overwhelming him. It was moving to watch. It moved me. Or at least it moved my stomach. Then I moved to switch the TV set off. For the second time that day I felt that familiar retching in the pit of my stomach, resulting from the flagrant violation yet again taking place on my fine intelligence. Talk about déjà vu.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is no question that David Cameron feels very strongly about Scotland staying within the United Kingdom. And without doubt he is experiencing some strong emotions relating to this issue. But his reasons are purely political in nature, and not anything all to do with the welfare of the Scottish people, as he was trying to make out in that speech. All we were witnessing here is a carefully choreographed speech coming from a man well versed in the effective use of PR.

So why does Cameron feel Scotland’s independence poses any problem for him? For one thing he is smart enough to realize that Scotland’s departure from the UK under his watch will ultimately, when the dust has all settled, mark the end of his political career. His premiership will no longer be a tenable possibility. Additionally he is worried about the possible economic ramifications to the rest of the UK. Financial markets bear a similar relationship to uncertainty as do Republicans to diplomatic solutions. The unpredictability, and hence lack of control, gives them the real jitters. Responding to complex dynamic situations in a level-headed way is simply not in their DNA. And financial markets are not much better. Also, Britain’s stature in the world will likely take something of a battering. The UK is well known to punch above its weight when it comes to international politics and power games. This has been partly achieved by cozying up to the United States (as exemplified by Tony Blair) and has resulted in the UK getting dragged into some crazy and futile conflicts, much to our detriment. These conflicts have had the net effect of increasing the UKs susceptibility to terrorist attacks. And the public’s ensuing fear of the heightened risk of terror attacks makes further conflict seem a more attractive option. Ultimately then, the effect feeds back into the cause. Simply put, the more we bomb and invade Middle Eastern countries the more radicalization we create. And then the more we feel we have to carry on bombing them. It is both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating.

This kind of self-defeating cycle of violence has been witnessed many times throughout world history in various guises; attempt to get rid of one immediate problem through violent means and sow the seeds of yet another (sometime worse) problem further down the road. It happens time and time again.

In fact the United States war on terrorism is about as self-defeating as their equally unsuccessful war on drugs. And why is their war on drugs self-defeating? The war on drugs was designed to tackle two separate but related problems. Firstly to reduce the harm inflicted on users. And secondly to tackle the politically more important reason of reducing the violence and crime associated with the drugs trade.

Drug users frequently fund their addictions through criminal activity. The primary strategy of the war on drugs is to restrict the supply of drugs (usually by punitive means). But let’s consider this strategy for a moment through the lens of economic principles relating specifically to free market systems (which in the relevant sense is what the drugs trade is). When supply is restricted in any free market system it will produce an excess demand (or in other words a shortage). And whenever an imbalance occurs between supply and demand in any free market system it will act to change prices (in this case exerting upward pressure on prices). And whenever prices increase in a free market system supply will inevitably increase as a result. This comes from the fact that more and more people are prepared to go to greater lengths to supply a product which will ultimately provide them with ever higher sources of revenue.

This is all bad enough, but it gets worse. Demand for drugs is relatively unresponsive to price change (‘inelastic’ in the language of economics). Think of cigarettes for instance. People will nearly always find the money to smoke irrespective of how expensive the habit gets. This same principle applies particularly to harder drugs; providing a person is sufficiently addicted to some powerful narcotic they will somehow find the money to finance their addiction. And this commonly comes about via some form of criminal activity. Very rarely would a drug user respond to a price increase by saying “Oh well, time to give up my incredibly addictive class A drug habit I suppose. It’s getting a bit expensive now.” No. Instead they will go out and rob someone’s house or hold up a gas station or something.

The combined effect of a modest (an optimistic term) decrease in demand and a significant increase in price will ultimately mean that substantially more money is spent on drugs overall. And the more money spent on drugs the more associated crime there will be.

So the very political reason that the war on drugs exists in the first place – the reduction of associated violent crime – will ironically be exacerbated further. This is a classic catch-22 situation. Even if you win you lose. If you succeed in what you are trying to achieve – a reduction in the supply of drugs – then you push up prices and ultimately push up supply again, but at a higher market price. And levels of crime get pushed up along with it.

So what is the solution? To target demand rather than supply! And this is the only viable solution. You invest as much as reasonably possible in education, rehabilitation, and most importantly tackling the underlying social conditions commonly leading to pervasive drug use in society.

This may not work you say. But even if it doesn’t work you haven’t made the problem worse! And if you do succeed in your aim – to reduce the demand for drugs – then you have actually improved the problem! Contrast this to ‘succeeding’ in the first case – reducing the supply of drugs. As we have seen, if you succeed in achieving this then you create a bigger problem. In other words, even if you win you lose.

(This reasoning uses nothing more than the immutable and universal laws of supply and demand. Basic economics 101.)

Anyway I digress. Back to Scotland.

So what was really behind David Cameron’s so-called ‘heartfelt speech’ to the Scottish people? There are two basic facets to the issue of whether or not Scotland should become an independent country – an economic one and a political one. The economic argument is complex. In reality no one really knows what the economic ramifications for Scotland are likely to be. At least in the short term. There are just too many variables to consider. The political argument however is much simpler – Scotland gets to control its own affairs. In practical terms this translates into Scotland being free of successive conservative governments who the Scottish people never vote for.

The economic argument could reasonably be considered to be a matter for the intellect. And the political argument could be more considered a matter of the heart – for instance what it means to be Scottish. Alex Salmond has quite shrewdly focussed more on the latter than the former. He has been trying to appeal to the hearts of the Scottish people. He has also had to present an economic argument of course, but as much as reasonably possible he has tried to focus attention more to the emotional debate. Westminster politicians on the other hand have tended to focus more on the economic argument, whipping up scare story after scare story and devising ever more scary scenarios of rampant fiscal horror. This has been interpreted by many in Scotland as propaganda and scaremongering to intimidate voters towards the ‘Better Together’ campaign. And perhaps there is a large element of truth in this. After all, if Scotland is intrinsically a financially weak nation, aren’t they more of a liability to the rest of the UK than an asset? Why then would Westminster politicians be trying so hard to keep the Union together? Because they like the Scottish people so much? I don’t think so!

The Westminster politicians, having finally cottoned on to all this, zip off to Scotland as fast as their chauffeur driven limos can carry them and present the Scottish people with the mother of all bullshit speeches, packed full to the brim with emotive language, as much in fact as could possibly be squeezed into the space of twenty minutes or so (“our family of nations” and “I would be absolutely heartbroken to see you leave us” and so on, ad nauseam). Basically Cameron is attempting to respond like for like, matching Alex Salmond’s emotional appeals to the Scottish people with his own emotional rhetoric.

So how do I feel about the prospect of Scottish independence? Somewhat ambivalent to be honest. I genuinely feel the Scottish people will be better off not being controlled by successive Conservative governments which they didn’t vote for. I appreciate the fact that independance is terra incognita for Scotland. But there are always risks associated with change. Without question some of these risks have been overplayed for political reasons. But no one is saying independence will come without any risk whatsoever. As always when making life changing decisions one has to balance potential risks with potential payoffs. And in this case, doing so should orientate people more towards independence than staying in the union, and the chance of a brighter future that this could potentially bring.

From what I can see Scotland has a much stronger sense of what a fairer society means. One that does not constantly blame the poor for the wrongdoings of the rich, and does not keep sending their working class men to fight and die in futile self-defeating conflicts. No, they want something better. And who can blame them?

But here’s the rub. The rest of the UK will likely keep getting stuck with the same Etonian Westminster politicians who do not identify in the slightest with the working class of Britain. The problem is that without the relatively left-wing Scottish electorate offsetting the more conservative affluent regional pockets in England, we are going to get more and more governments like the one we currently have, headed by out of touch ex-public schoolboys who are really only interested in looking after their own kind.

I hope for the sake of Scotland they vote for independence on September 18th. But I hope for the sake of England they don’t. I think that neatly sums up how I feel.

“A core message is we create our own experience. We create our own reality. So if we want to talk about a war on this and a war on that we’re going to be creating a war on this and a war on that. Whereas if we begin to think differently about who we are and what we are, and what we’re creating, then I think we can create something much more harmonious and much more beautiful to experience.”    Natalie Sudman, The Moore Show, June 2014

My Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

pota2

Is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the best movie of the year so far? Yep! Is it the best sci-fi movie to be released since the epic 2009 movie Avatar? Yep! Is it the best sci-fi movie of all time, second only to Avatar? Yep! (ok, that’s enough of that.)

The level of realism of the apes in this movie hits you like a smack in the mouth. I personally suspect Matt Reeves has actually trained monkeys to speak at some point in time and given them acting lessons. I can hardly bring myself to believe these incredibly complex eerily real-looking creatures are mere pixels within a computer. Seriously, these monkeys appear to have actual souls. Their eyes convey a depth of emotion never before seen in CGI characters. I thought the first movie had superb effects, but this amazing sequel ramps up the CGI to a whole different level! This movie does not represent a mere increment in special effects so much as a full-blown quantum leap. One that should hopefully set the precedent for future film makers.

Read pretty much any review of this movie and you quickly realize this is not your typically dumb summer blockbuster movie. This Simian vs. Sapien movie has an intelligent and character driven plot, something that is quite rare with big budget movies since film studios are often prone to believe they need to make a relatively stupid film in order to appeal to a sufficiently wide demographic to get their money back.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy big dumb-ass movies. My most recent excursion to the cinema prior to watching Dawn of the Apes was when I went to see Transformers: Age of Extinction. I have no prejudice about such movies. They are dumb and you know in advance they are going to be dumb. You only go out your way to watch a Michael Bay movie if you want visual spectacle alone. You know he will deliver this one thing by the bucket-full. You simply won’t expect anything else. Or get it either. The only sign of competent acting in any Transformers movie is the actors/actresses abilities to keep a straight face whilst delivering some of their many zany lines. (The actor behind Frasier Crane features in this latest Transformers movie and most impressively keeps a totally straight face whilst delivering lines such as “the original Bumble Bee was inferior in every way, but alas, is now a force to be reckoned with.”)

This is not an inherently bad thing. You don’t see a movie such as Transformers to be intellectually stimulated anymore than you go to see a fireworks display to be mentally stimulated. No. You go for the visual spectacle alone. Michael Bay’s raison d’être for being on the planet is to make Transformers movies. End of. He was created by god for this one reason alone. And his sole purpose for making any Transformer sequel is to make it bigger and louder than its predecessor (so far so good!) You have about two minutes of dialogue at the start of a typical Transformers movie after which a big badass Decepticon robot suddenly soars onto the screen like a f@*k rocket and destroying pretty much the entire planet. (Spoiler!)

Having said all this it is still nice once in a while to have a big-budget effects movie which also possesses intelligence. And this is where Dawn of the Apes comes in. Dawn of the Apes delivers both spectacle and intelligent scripting by the bucket-full, the layered and complex plot subduing even the most egg-headed of critical reviewers (even those egg-heads from the Guardian newspaper!)

Ape films are ripe for metaphor, something that Matt Reeves has exploited to the full in this latest planet of the apes movie. There is certainly no shortage of speculation as to what social/political commentary is going on behind the scenes (gun control being a common claim). One thing is clear however. The nuanced nature of the two opposing camps makes it difficult to identify one or the other side as being good or evil. You don’t find yourself rooting for any side in particular. The only thing you end up rooting for is a chance for peace (quite a rarity with these kinds of movies as most audiences just want to see a good arse kicking). There are rational level-headed individuals on both sides trying to avoid violent conflict. But it is not to be! A series of unfortunate (and somewhat contrived) events coupled with disproportionate responses from some mentally unstable characters from both sides eventually results in all out war. This is not an easy aspect of the film to watch as it is clear from the outset that this unfortunate and tragic situation is entirely preventable.

Mutual fear is depicted as being the primary driving force behind the cascade of events leading to conflict. Both sides contain individuals who stereotype the other species, believing them to be inherently bad and dangerous, and never to be trusted. The reality is that neither side (on the whole) wants anything more than to just survive and co-exist with the other species. But a few bad apples of both sides mucks it all up. Whilst some individuals oppose the warring actions of their respective leaders and stand up to them, many others are only too willing to obey their leaders out of fear of the consequences to themselves, or simply because they buy into the consensus view of their society (remind you of anything!)

This is not an uplifting or feel-good movie in any sense. Whether intentional or not (and it is almost certainly intentional) there is overt social and political commentary going on within this movie (and about on the same level of subtlety as it was in the epic James Cameron movie Avatar). Parallels to real world events are clearly evident. I don’t wish to be specific here as I don’t want this review to turn into a political statement. But you will see for yourself when you watch the movie.

Generally the most visually stunning aspect of the movie is when we get the close up scenes of the apes faces. Their intricate CGI mugs manage to convey a range of emotions normally associated with human people. It is an extraordinary feat! The motion capture technology is utilized like never before in this astounding film. I never believed someone ought to get an Oscar for their ability to pull faces, but my view has changed on this. Andy Serkis, the real life actor behind the motion capture of Caesar, delivers his most powerful performance yet as the pixel pusher behind the facial expressions of Caesar. For me, one of the most memorable scenes in Rise of the Apes was when Caesar was abandoned in the monkey sanctuary by his disempowered owner Will Rodman (James Franco). There is a roughly five to ten second scene where the young Caesar presses his tormented face against the glass partition in a desperate attempt to appeal to his owner to release him, not understanding that his former owner has no control over the situation. It is at this point you begin to realize the true potential of the underlying motion capture technology. And seeing this second movie confirms the fact that this harrowing and emotive scene was a sign of things to come for films utilizing motion capture.

In an effort to promote a visceral feel to the film the director chose to shoot in real locations rather than in front of a blue screen. This has not previously been done using motion capture technology. Matt Reeves dragged the entire cast of the movie out to the Vancouver Island rain-forest, along with all the technological paraphernalia, and made them act in a real life location (how quaint!), undeterred by the adverse weather conditions and all the soggy cameras. He then shot off to Weta Digital (the New Zealand based effects company responsible for most of the CGI in Avatar) and commissioned them to produce effects the likes of which has never been seen before on the big screen. And boy did they deliver!

This film has deservedly received widespread critical acclaim from all quarters of the film-critic world for its amazing visual effects and existence of an actual plot. The end result is so impressive in fact that Matt Reeve’s film company signed him up to direct the sequel before he could say “cheque please”.

If you leave the cinema and find yourself not to have been emotionally impacted by this movie then you will probably need to check your pulse to see that you are still alive.

Don’t be like some people who prefer to watch this movie in 2D just to save a couple of pounds! There is no justification for such thriftiness! Pay the full whack and deservedly enjoy the visceral, absorbing and immersive experience that is Dawn of the planet of the Apes in full 3D!

Never Underestimate the Power of Denial

070306BushBlair

My jaw dropped violently upon hearing the latest astonishing statement issued by former PM Tony Blair regarding the escalating violence in Iraq – “We must liberate ourselves from the notion that we [he] caused this.” Blair went on to say the belief that the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq caused the escalating sectarian violence in the country was “bizarre.”

Bizarre! What has this man been smoking??? The “bizarre” thing here is the outlandish claim also made by Blair that the failure of the West to intervene in Syria is what has caused the current crisis in Iraq. What absolute codswallop!!!

Blair! You need start paying attention to details! The West was never going to intervene on behalf of Assad against the rebels. Quite the reverse. The West was poised to side with the rebels against Assad! And by ‘rebels’ of course I mean (amongst various other factions) Isis Jihadist fighters! The West’s intervention in Syria was only ever going to bolster the Isis rebels, not weaken them. Even George W. Bush knows that (probably!)

Was it not just a couple of years ago that America was harshly criticizing President Putin for providing the Assad regime with attack helicopters to assist him in fending off the attacking rebel fighters (Isis Jihadists). And was it not a few years prior to this that George W. Bush was branding Iran (apparently America’s new ally as they now have a common enemy to unite them) as being part of the “axis of evil”, along with of course Iraq and North Korea.

Sometimes it is said that America and her allies blundered into Iraq without fully understanding its historical context and complex sectarian demographical make-up. This was definitely not the case however. I can confidently assure you that the analysts advising the Bush administration were acutely aware of the balance of power that existed in Iraq prior to invasion, and the potential catastrophic consequences of disrupting this balance of power and thereby creating a power vacuum ready to suck in any extremist faction that happened to be in the neighbourhood at the time.

In fact Iraq is not even a nation state! The geographical absurdity which is present day Iraq is just one of a number of artificial countries created by the British at the end of the First World War out of part of the former Ottoman empire. As complacent as could be those British buffoons cobbled together the mad mash-up of different ethnic groups which currently comprise Iraq, each of which possesses polarized religious and conflicting ideological views. In other words; a random hodge-podge of people not naturally predisposed to get on with each other. Saddam Hussein held together this inherently unstable ‘mix & match’ of cultures by ruthless oppression. I am not condoning Saddam’s control-freak oppressive OCD type behaviour but just highlighting the absurdity of the claims made by Blair and Bush just prior to invading Iraq that they would be creating a more stable and peaceful country by doing so. Yeah right! Pull the other one! I don’t think even they believed what they were saying. Some things are only obvious in hindsight but other things are obvious both in hindsight and foresight, this being one of them.

Interestingly many anti-war demonstrators were aware of all the aforementioned details prior to the invasion, and actually predicted the current situation that would tragically ensue from invading Iraq and destabilizing it, along with the surrounding region. But the fact is that the welfare of the Iraqi people was never paramount in the minds of the Blair government and Bush administration. And it was highly improbable there was ever any serious concern amongst cabinet ministers and US senators that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with Al-Qaeda. There was not so much as one single solitary snifter of evidence to suggest this. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Al-Qaeda overtly did not exist!

And did the politicians ever believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. Well how much intelligence did they have to validate this view? I don’t know about America but in the UK we had a cracking college dissertation written by some college kid as our source of intelligence, reliably informing us that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and were able to launch and deliver a deadly chemical attack on the UK mainland within the space of 45 minutes! And who are we to argue with some hard-working geeky college kid trying to earn his degree. Couple this with all the excellent resources this young lad no doubt had at his disposal whilst sitting in his bedroom writing his dissertation, such as Wikipedia for instance. This was intelligence information of the highest calibre, fully justifying the invasion of a sovereign state located in one of the most unstable regions of the world.

And what if Iraq did possess WMDs. America had them. And used them. That’s right. Contrary to Obama’s recent bullshit claim that America “does not use chemical weapons on children” (referencing the Assad regime in Syria) America has in fact used napalm (chemical weapons) on villagers in Vietnam. Additionally America to date are the only country to ever fire nuclear weapons in anger. Not once but twice. America singled out the most densely populated city in Japan they could find and nuked them. And what did America do next? Recoil in horror at the resulting carnage and human suffering resulting from the aftermath of a 15 kiloton nuclear explosion. Did they hang their heads in shame at what they had done? Nope. They singled out another densely populated Japanese city and nuked them as well. But I guess that was a legitimate use of WMDs since this was after all ‘war’ and not ‘terrorism’.

But that was a few years ago. America has been quite well behaved since that time haven’t they? Well perhaps in some weird quantum-string dimension they have, but certainly not in this reality. During the 1980’s their frequent support of various tyrannical despots within multiple Latin American countries resulted in several unelected brutal dictators murdering and torturing their own people, effectively making America accomplices in crime. Britain and America also organized a military coup which displaced the democratically elected leader of Iran resulting in the installation of the unelected Shah, a leader well known for ruthless oppression, torture, and keeping most of the country in abject poverty.

Ironically it has also been confirmed that both American and British troops have been using depleted uranium shells (chemical weapons) and white phosphorus (chemical weapons) in military assaults in Iraq over the last ten years of occupation, inevitably resulted in dramatic rises in the rate of birth defects and certain types of cancer within the Iraqi civilian population.

So please Obama do not say that “America does not use chemical weapons on children”. This is an outright fib.

Every country has a right to defend its citizens from external existential threats, but America might just as well have invaded Greenland, a country having about the same level of connection to the 9/11 attacks as did Iraq.

I want to be clear that I am no way siding with or condoning the actions of the ISIS Jihadists in Iraq and Syria. They are a group of people so pathological that even Al-Qaeda washed their hands of them because they were deemed to be too violent to be affiliated with. When an organization who crashes a commercial plane into the biggest building they can possibly find and massacres over 3000 people tells you they cannot be associated with your organization because your organization is too violent, you know you are probably mixing with the wrong bunch of people.

I recently spotted a quote from the conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke on someone’s website, I believe in connection with the 2003 invasion of Iraq – “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Whilst true in some situations it is nonetheless dangerous to regard this as some kind of universal principle that can be successfully applied in any given situation. Doing nothing might sometimes be the best option if the doing something alternative leads to catastrophic consequences. It all depends on the specifics of the situation. But I do not necessarily advocate doing nothing in the context of reacting to atrocities and crisis situations around the world. In many people’s minds however doing something seems to be synonymous with a violent course of action. There are other ways of dealing with a situation other than through violent means. Whilst these peaceful alternatives might not always work out, violence doesn’t always succeed either. Not by a long way in fact, as 20th and 21st century foreign policy has repeatedly shown us time and time again. Looking back over time you can see how one conflict causes or in some way precipitates a later conflict. The First World War gave rise to World War Two (pretty much), the Second World War created the conditions for the Cold War and many of its associated proxy conflicts. And the invasion of Iraq has been utter disaster for everyone concerned (apart from ISIS).

America in particular has continued to have a foreign policy of fighting fire with fire. Some prominent American statesmen seem to think violence is the answer to almost everything. If a movie was produced which contained a fictional character mirroring the personality of Senator John McCain, you would interpret this character as being some kind of caricature. John McCain pretty much wants to bomb everyone who is not American. His answer to almost all situations (within the context of foreign policy) is violent aggression. Whilst many Americans are not quite as extreme as him there is nonetheless an all-pervading culture of fighting violence with violence in the US. America is currently one of the most violent places to live on the planet, perhaps only second down to the countries they have stuck their oar in and messed things up good and proper (like in Iraq for instance).

Violence begets violence. It always has and always will.

Tony Blair has been on the defensive since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Every time something happens in the news which seems to suggest he made the wrong decision by bombing Iraq he immediately goes on the defensive and tries to reassure everyone (including himself, or perhaps more correctly particularly himself) that he still made the right decision by invading Iraq. I wonder if he really believes this deep down though. Maybe on some level he actually realizes this is not the truth. Denial can be a powerful beast. What person wants to face up to the fact that he is partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including many innocent civilians. Tony Blair has a vested interest in staving off this notion with all the mental energy he can muster. He can’t afford to allow himself to slip into this way of thinking. Because the minute he does he has to face up to a horrific reality – he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

I don’t personally believe we are judged by some all powerful deity after we die and sent to purgatory/hell or heaven depending on our actions during our life time. But I think in the final analysis we end up judging ourselves, and ultimately from a very different perspective than we had when we made our decisions. In this sense I believe we all have our day of reckoning.

It should be made clear that no single person can be exclusively blamed for the tragedy in Iraq. In the UK around two thirds of the labour party voted in favour of war and all the conservatives aside from fifteen. The liberal democrats were the only mainstream political party who unanimously voted against the war (partly due to the party whips do doubt). I don’t know what the breakdown of votes was in the US Congress and Senate, but again the blame can’t be entirely pinned on George W. Bush. Or even the Bush administration for that matter.

I want to believe we learn from history. But we never seem to. We keep making the same mistakes over and over in different contexts. It seems that violence is in our blood. We consistently and instinctively look to violent means to resolve issues in many different contexts. And I’m not sure it will ever be any different.

Finally, the words of Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, speaking about the current situation in Iraq –

“We are reaping what we sowed in 2003.”

Some Bush quotes:

“Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country.”
– George W. Bush, 2004

“The best way to fight evil is to do some good. Let me qualify that — the best way to fight evil at home is to do some good. The best way to fight them abroad is to unleash the military.” – George W. Bush, 2002

Gormless Gove

Michael Gove

Well we are only a few days into 2014 and I have already broken my new year resolution. You see I resolved last year to post more positive things on my Facebook wall, and stop having a go all the time at the conservative clowns running our country. But alas, I have already failed. Just a few days into the new year and one of those Tory toffs has already got my back up. The culprit this time – the infamous education secretary Michael Gove.

He has been winding me up for some time now in fact, as he has many other people with his constant interference and meddling in the UK education system. I understand there is a problem with Britain’s schools. We are being outsmarted by developing countries, in no small part due to our schools being so crap. However bumbling Gove seems to just come up with one silly idea after another, seemingly having no coherent sense of direction or purpose. It’s like he wakes up on a morning with some freshly formed half-baked idea in his head, and just blurts out whatever he happens to think at the time. You almost have to admire the sheer consistency of his crap ideas though.

This time my hackles have been raised by his criticism of the teachers who have been using the final episode of the ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ TV series as a learning resource to aid in teaching children about the First World War. The reason this galls Gove so much is because of how effectively this TV series portrays the historical reality of an out of touch elite class recklessly sending millions of young working class men to their death, shamelessly using war mongering propaganda to entice young uneducated people into fighting under what was more or less false presences (sound familiar). Gove much prefers the patriotic version of history where Britain were the good guys fighting the newly emerging aggressive expansionist German nation. And sure, the newly unified Germany was of this ilk. But was Britain really any better???

Just prior to the outbreak of the First World War Britain was nervously looking on with growing alarm as Germany built up her navy, increasingly fearful that Germany had the firm intention of nicking some or all of Britain’s overseas colonies. This resulted in a frantic arms race between the two great industrial powers. Britain was determined to stay ahead of the arms race and quickly built up her fleet of warships, introducing the fearsome Dreadnought warship for the first time. Also both countries formed a system of polarized military alliances, a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. And go off it did, requiring only a relatively minor incident in the Balkans to create the pretext for the two opposing alliances to throw everything they had at each other. The troublesome Balkans were not really a fundamental cause of the First World war. They were merely the blue touch paper, a barely needed spark to trigger a full blown global conflict that had been simmering under the surface for some time.

But did the aggressive posturing of the newly unified Germany justify Britain declaring war on her in 1914? Well, how do you suppose Britain acquired her huge empire in the first place, so vast in scale it covered one fifth of the land mass of the Earth! Did they wander over, greet the indigenous populations, and ask them kindly if it was alright if they seize control of their natural resources and exploit their country for all it was worth? No of course not. They used military force. And they were more than willing to use military force to hold onto their precious colonies as well. And who can blame them. Just consider the benefits to Britain. They could take from their colonies all the natural resources they wanted and force the colonies to buy their manufactured goods in exchange. Moreover they could charge whatever they wanted since Britain prohibited other countries from trading with her colonies. India was a classic example of this kind of exploitation. Britain grabbed from India all the raw cotton it could and sold them back cotton cloth at a price which reflected the deliberately imposed lack of trading competition. It was quite a handy arrangement for Britain, and if you have ever heard it said that Britain became wealthy off the back of her colonies it is this fact this statement refers to.

In fact Britain was the most imperialistic nation of modern times. As mentioned above her empire at its peak covering around one fifth of the land mass of the Earth. And let’s not forget Britain’s totally despicable Opium wars with China, arguably the single most shameful incidents in all of British history. Now couple all this with the fact that Britain allied itself with Tsarist Russia during the war. The idea that Germany could legitimately be blamed for the war, and could legitimately be labelled as the villains while Britain were the good guys, starts to look a bit silly. But it is precisely this that Gove and the out of touch tossers of his Tory party would have you believe.

Now let’s take Gove’s outrageous statement that “it was just a war” (direct quote). For one thing there is never “just a war”. War acquires zero moral legitimacy by virtue of being state sponsored, something that many people still forget to this day. But if there were such a thing as “just a war” this certainly wasn’t it! This war destroyed pretty much an entire generation of young men, and helped to sow the seeds of future conflict. For four years a war of attrition was fought. The military and political leaders were unable to break the stalemate, unwilling to negotiate a peace, but prepared to expend men on an industrial scale. Just a war! – I don’t think so!

Gove goes on: “even to this day there are left wing academics who are prepared to feed these myths” (myths basically referring to the idea that the war was not in fact a case of good vs. evil, as he alleges). That’s right. He regards anyone who sees the war for what it really was – a totally unjustifiable conflict of almost incomprehensible scale and of unimaginable horror – as being “left wing”.

When is this man going disappear from whatever dark corner he crawled from? Perhaps Gove should be made to fight in a war himself. This might be a great learning resource for Michael Gove, providing a means by which he can better his own personal education. And I guarantee it would present a very steep learning curve for him.

Big Government

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        It is commonly assumed that people on the left of the political spectrum support  big government whilst those on the right do not. This assumption is not entirely true. In reality both sides of the political spectrum support strong government. The difference lies only in which particular contexts a strong government is considered to be beneficial.

           Conservatives generally support a strong and powerful military (as a matter of interest America’s annual military expenditure exceeds that of the next 10 highest countries combined). They also tend to endorse a criminal justice system that is relatively hard-line, and designed to proactively discourage the committing of crimes by members of the general public. Undeniably both of these policies are manifestations of a strong, powerful, and interventionist government. In other words big government.

        People on the left however generally feel that governmental power should also be used to mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism, and the ensuing inequalities created from such an economic system. Capitalism is viewed as a system that by its very nature is exploitative (Marx) and left to its own devices will always result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

      Other people argue (perhaps with some merit) that capitalism is still better in pragmatic terms than many of the alternatives, but nonetheless should be accompanied with appropriate checks and balances, primarily in the form of such things as regulatory legislation and appropriate redistribution policies. It is suggested that this then helps to assist in the partial alleviation of some of the gross inequalities resulting from the operation of an otherwise purely capitalist system. (This kind of thinking is generally known as social democracy, and is essentially synonymous with social justice).

         Governments in Western democracies have a tendency to pander to the whims and prejudices of the electorate with the express purpose of either gaining power or remaining in power. They play on (often with great effect) the various misconceptions that exist in society regarding certain issues. For instance, it is commonly assumed that the major recipients of government welfare programs are the needy and poor. This is a complete fallacy. In reality government programs benefit corporations far more than they do poor people (certainly in America they do). Federal and state governments understandably welcome the presence of big business and major corporations within their frontiers. But this has a number of unintended consequences. Invariably if a company announces a willingness to relocate, government welfare and support comes flooding in. This takes the form of huge tax reliefs, free utilities, ridiculously low-interest loans, and many other benefits to boot. It could of course be argued that due to the prosperity businesses typically generate within the region they operate, this government intervention benefits everyone. But I am simply addressing the widely held misconception that government programs and benefits are generally targeted at poor people. This is patently not true. By any reasonable level of thinking the government benefits listed above all constitute forms of government welfare (semantic arguments aside) and of course comes directly from the tax payer’s wallet. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the wealth generated by such companies and corporations has a tendency to stay disproportionately at the top, and does not ‘trickle down’ in the manner suggested by Thatcher, Reagan and various other right-wing politicians and economists.

                The UK is not much better. UK politicians are in the habit of perpetuating and reinforcing the generally held misconceptions in society similar to the ones detailed above. And they do so for similar political reasons. Their favourite strategy at the moment is to furnish the public with a seamless flow of sound-bites and political rhetoric that both relies on and reinforces the prevailing prejudices and misconceptions that exists in British society at this time. For instance, there has been a very strong anti-immigration mood within certain quarters of the British public in recent years. This stems from the false belief (or at least highly exaggerated belief) that the UK has been flooded with immigrants who are basically out to exploit our welfare system. The corresponding myth is that this flood of immigrants from abroad has placed an unbearable and unjustified burden on the services and infrastructure of the UK. Interestingly, in relation to this, it was announced on today’s national news bulletins that the net financial effect of UK immigration has been a positive one, with immigrants paying more in tax and claiming fewer benefits on average than Britons. Strikingly, according to this report (produced by the University College London) immigrants are 45% less likely to receive handouts than those born in the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing. They have contributed £25 bn to the country in tax and by all objective measures have made a significant contribution to the UK public finances. (I think it would also be instructive for some people to acknowledge the fact that much of Britain’s wealth was derived from exploiting the colonies of its former empire, which at the beginning of the 20th century covered something in the region of a fifth of the land mass of the world).

          Whilst we are on this subject, another interesting announcement made recently in the news was concerning Home Secretary Theresa May and the policy regarding illegal immigrants. She has now (thankfully) done a U-turn on the vans carrying the posters with the deliberately intimidating, provocative, and frankly inhumane “Go Home” posters. Days later she also announced that the plan for “high-risk” foreigners to pay a £3000 security bond when entering the UK would also be scrapped.

        The UK has to some degree a similar distorted picture regarding the primary recipients of welfare expenditure and notions of where a lot of the tax payers money goes. It is a matter of objective fact that the amount of money lost through corporate tax evasion/avoidance dwarfs the amount of money lost through welfare fraud. I am not of course condoning welfare fraud, and welcome any appropriate measures that can be put in place to either prevent or reduce it. But this issue has been highly distorted for political reasons in order to justify a series of disproportionate welfare policies supposedly linked to this, and that in reality are nothing more than part of the government’s strategy to reduce the budget deficit and score points with voters. The real injustice here is that the government has been targeting the vulnerable simply because they are an easy target compared to their corporate counterparts, who have defrauded the British public out of immeasurably more money. Also, most welfare expenditure, despite common beliefs, does not go on the unemployed. Underpaid and/or part-time workers constitute a significant percentage of the welfare expenditure and pensions constitute almost half of total UK welfare expenditure. In contrast the unemployed receive a mere 2.58% of welfare, starkly different to commonly held views of where most of the welfare money goes.

     I personally have no vested interest in misrepresenting the facts and figures relating to UK welfare expenditure, and have no personal grievance that causes me to feel strongly about such issues. I am well educated, having  gone to university after completing a National Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at college in my early twenties, and going on to successfully complete a HND in Electronic Communication Engineering, a BEng (Hons) in Computer Engineering, and a BSc (Hons) in Pure Mathematics at Plymouth University. I currently support myself with part-time jobs and additionally work as a freelance software developer. I am exactly where I want to be in life. I do not seek great wealth but only desire financial stability and security. And these things I have achieved to a very reasonable degree I believe. The probability of me ever becoming homeless or going starving is very slim indeed. And that is pretty much all I care about. All told, I would neatly conform to Mr. Cameron’s idea of a ‘striver and not a skiver.’ But being a ‘striver’ does not in any way take away from my sense of social justice. And it is this sense of justice that compels me to write blog posts such as these. But I guess the most direct motivation for me writing this blog post today (other than the fact I am not working today due to having the flu, so having a bit of spare time on my hands) is partly due to today’s news item which neatly dispels the long standing myth regarding UK immigration, and partly due to hearing an American online radio show this morning which discussed the topic of Obamacare, and made extensive use of what I consider to be fallacious reasoning. It is partly this fallacious reasoning which I have attempted to address in this blog post I have written today.

        One final point. A number of very well respected studies have been conducted which have been designed to investigate the aggregate societal effects of economic inequality. The underlying data has not been conjured up by people with an agenda but is actually the same data that is used by the UN and World Bank. These studies show a clear and strong correlation between economic inequality and such things as national rates of crime, life expectancy, frequency of mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, social mobility and overall levels of happiness within society. The graph depicted below illustrates the results of one such study.

Inequality 3

       It is not in my view misguided thinking to encourage people to take responsibility for their own financial welfare, just as it is not misguided thinking to encourage people to take responsibility for their own personal safety by taking appropriate measures to minimize the risk of them becoming victims of crime. But it is certainly misguided thinking to suggest that personal responsibility is a viable substitute for government intervention.

         Not many people would disagree with the above statement within the context of law enforcement and crime prevention. But there are still many who would disagree with the above statement within the context of social democracy (or social justice).

        In the final analysis left wing and right wing folks do not differ markedly in their support for “big government.” That is because both sides of the political spectrum acknowledge the fact that government power is the only viable means of addressing certain social problems. The only difference between the two sides is in what areas of society they believe that government intervention should take place.

      Perhaps someday we will live in a global utopia where both law enforcement and social policies are no longer needed. But today I think it is a matter of objective truth that both are required.

“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” – Bertrand Russell, 1928

My Review of Man of Steel

Man of Steel

The first trailer of this new Superman movie did not cause me to get too excited. After watching the next two trailers however I set about building a time machine in order to save me having to wait the next six months for the release date, the tantalizing snippets of awesome CGI creating within me a burning desire to see the film asap. But alas, my project failed. So I was forced to wait six tortuous months until this movie was finally released.

Just prior to watching the movie I had been somewhat alarmed by the mixed reviews. Having the very competent Christopher Nolan at the helm there seemed no way this film was destined for anything less than greatness (this is they guy who achieved the seemingly impossible task of making something as inherently absurd as a man flying around in a bat costume calling himself Batman seem quite sensible). So why all the negative reviews? Are they just nit picking or have they got a point?

The movie is basically given the same Nolan treatment as Batman –  dark, reflective, brooding, introspective – basically a sombre interpretation of the DC comic superhero. Does it work?  Well yes, sort of. At least for the first half of the movie. And this is in no short measure due to the mighty fine performance from Henry Cavill, the new kid on the superhero block. This chap was undoubtedly the right choice for the part, a thespian through and through, and more than capable of rising to the challenge of playing this Snyder/Nolan reinvention of Superman.

Things go slightly awry during the second half of the film however, when it starts to look more like a Transformers movie scaled up to crazy crazy levels. This is not a direct criticism of the epic spectacle that unfolds before your eyes. It’s just that it doesn’t quite square with the serious vibe created in the first half of the movie. It almost seems to flip genres halfway through the film, going from the characteristic brooding and dark Nolan style of directing to a Michael Bay all out maximum possible carnage and mayhem mode of directing, as Zac unleashes all the CGI driven urban destruction sequences he can possibly conjure up within the space of a single movie. And as visually impressive as all this is, it is frankly hard to take seriously.

Christopher Nolan’s directing style could not be more different from Zac Snyder’s. Nolan seems to loath CGI (or the very least excessive CGI). But he has learned to compensate for this aversion by becoming a master of practical effects. Dark Knight Rises is a good case in point. The impressive sequences involving the flying ‘Bat’ vehicle were achieved merely by dangling a physically built ‘Bat’ model from a helicopter via industrial strength cable, and then photoshopping the cable out of the picture. But the end result is surely more impressive than any CGI rendered ‘Bat’ vehicle Zac Snyder would have envisioned for the movie had he been the one directing it. Nolan seems able to create a sense of realism in his films using practical effects (enhanced slightly by a few bits of CGI here or there) that are virtually impossible to rival with even the most photorealistic CGI. The other difference is one of scale. Mr. Snyder’s huge and apocalyptic set pieces make Mr. Nolan’s action set pieces seem like minor localized disturbances in comparison. But this somewhat restrained style of action works well with the serious and grounded nature of Nolan’s approach to film making. But Snyder’s ‘Transformers style’ approach to film making does not work so well with it.

Having said all this there is more good to Zac Snyder’s reinvention of Superman than there is bad (as in my opinion is the case with Watchmen) and I feel the negative reviews are not doing justice to all that is good about this film. Very few, if any films are perfect, and the fact that this movie does not work perfectly should not prevent cinema audiences from acknowledging the tremendous merits of Zac Snyder’s work. Although the photorealism of Mr. Snyder’s effects are variable pretty much all of the CGI is visually impressive. And there is so much energy to the action scenes it is hard not to feel a sense of exhilaration at watching them. Mr. Snyder has all the fellows from planet Krypton whipping around at totally berserk speeds whilst they are on Earth battling one other, and if this hadn’t been so masterfully executed it would have looked just plain silly. But as it is Snyder is on top form with this aspect of the action sequences, the fast motion technique greatly enhancing the effectiveness of the action scenes.

            This movie is worth watching for sheer spectacle alone. There is one epic set piece after another, some of these scenes featuring some staggering visual effects. I would really love to see this movie in IMAX Digital 3D but since the nearest IMAX movie theatre to me is several hundred miles away it would not make a very cost effective trip. However I might walk there to save money.