Thursday, 2 July 2015

Yes Man


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

Bank loan officer Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) has become withdrawn since his divorce from ex-wife Stephanie.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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Heatwave Action

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

Monday, 29 June 2015

Pavlov rules

Somewhere over yonder, a distant neighbour has one of those small dogs which bark their heads off at nothing in particular. Delightful little things aren’t they? Even though we’ve never seen it we know it must be a small dog because of that completely deranged note they all inject into every bark. Breeding you see.

Round about five o’clock every day the dog seems to be ejected into the garden because it barks continuously for ten minutes. After which time it seems to be taken in again because the barking stops abruptly and is never resumed until the next ten minute garden ejection comes around.

So our unknown neighbour has probably conditioned the dog to bark continuously while in the garden because the canine curse knows it will be rewarded by being allowed indoors again. Stimulus, response and reinforcement. Or -

By its barking the dog has conditioned our neighbour to observe a strict ten minute rule for the in-garden episodes. Stimulus, response and reinforcement again.

One could also say that other neighbours within earshot have been conditioned to ignore the persistent barking because each episode is only ten minutes long - never more. As a reward, the minor pleasure of sudden silence is probably just sufficient to prevent a chap from rushing round with the coal miner’s pick bequeathed by his wife’s father...   for example.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Knock at the door

We had a visit from a guy selling some kind of solar power deal today. I can't imagine anyone buying anything on the doorstep but still they come.

These days they often begin by saying they aren't selling anything. Not a good start I always think - kicking off with an obvious lie. Anyhow I told the sunny solar chap I wasn't interested.

"Why - are you anti-green?" he asked brightly, as if such a thing was unthinkably gross but hey - I'm a grey-haired oldie so it's always possible.

"No I said, but it has to be subsidised..."

"You mean the feed-in tariff. To me that's really good because you make money from solar power which has to be a good thing. I could give you a quote to see how much that could be."

"No thanks, it's only viable because of the feed-in tariff."

For some reason that reply seemed to put him off completely. He closed down the conversation and departed as if he simply wasn't interested in presenting figures to anyone who might actually understand them. As if I'd flipped a switch on his script.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Time Trap

A guy from a bleakly dysfunctional future casually robs and mutilates a peaceful past via his ability to manipulate time. Strange how we call it science fiction because time travel makes no sense. It's just magic brought up to date. 

Well done if not hugely illuminating, but it highlights an interesting contrast between short and long films. Presumably the length of films has largely depended on the need for punters to feel they had their money's worth and making the effort to visit the cinema was worthwhile. 

Wednesday, 24 June 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.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The attractions of evil

Lindisfarne Priory

Does God exist? For an atheist the obvious answer is no while for a believer the equally obvious answer is yes. Arguments are pointless as there is no common ground on which one might be based, but an intractable problem for atheists is the transcendent nature of God.

For atheists God is an ideal they cannot borrow; a transcendent moral schema through which their secular world cannot be interpreted. Fair enough one might say. One might also say there are more gains than losses and perhaps there are but the losses are important.

The essential point seems to be the moral nature of what is lost as religious belief declines. God as an ideal is an open door to moral and social ideals. Corrupted at they are by human nature, they are nevertheless ideals which atheists are unable to replicate.

Some years ago Theodore Dalrymple had this to say in an interview.

One reason for the epidemic of self-destructiveness that has struck British, if not the whole of Western, society, is the avoidance of boredom. For people who have no transcendent purpose to their lives and cannot invent one through contributing to a cultural tradition (for example), in other words who have no religious belief and no intellectual interests to stimulate them, self-destruction and the creation of crises in their life is one way of warding off meaninglessness. I have noticed, for example, that women who frequent bad men - that is to say men who are obviously unreliable, drunken, drug-addicted, criminal, or violent, or all of them together, have often had experience of decent men who treat them well, with respect, and so forth: they are the ones with whom their relationships lasted the shortest time, because they were bored by decency. Without religion or culture (and here I mean high, or high-ish, culture) evil is very attractive. It is not boring

Atheists commonly have no transcendent purpose to their lives because there is nothing transcendent about atheism. Humanism is a pale imitation, a pallid reflection of the moral imperatives laid down by an omniscient and omnipotent creator.

Here again we can be distracted by the endless fallibility of human nature. The trouble is we atheists are still left with our lack of durable ideals, our inability to appeal to a transcendent authority vastly more permanent than ourselves. Equally important and damaging is that we have no ideals safely located beyond our reductionist methods of analysis. If it can be screwed we tend to screw it.

This has the unfortunate effect of leaving the gate open for fabricated social controls in the guise of political and ethical ideals. We don’t like uncertainty do we? We are prepared to make significant sacrifices if offered a more certain world and a more certain future. It doesn’t matter if the certainty on offer is a grossly obvious lie, it still tempts the unwary.

Neuroscientist Karl Friston thinks our brains are wired to minimise surprises. We want certainty – preferably now. This need for certainty creates a political market, a forum wherein purveyors of secular certainty tout their flaky wares to a populace hardwired to be gullible.

There seem to be two factors working together here. Firstly we have a problem in that a secular culture does not provide a transcendent moral schema, it provides laws and social prohibitions.

Secondly, a secular culture seems to offer a degree of spurious certainty. It claims to know more about the world than it actually does; claims to be more connected to the world than it actually is.

These two aspects of modern life are tending to promote a kind of rudderless moral drift which cannot be corrected and which Dalrymple so tellingly deplores. Unfortunately there seems to be no secular answer. Many atheists would argue that religious answers are no better or perhaps worse than having no transcendent answers at all and perhaps they often are. Yet a vital point is thereby missed in that secular societies seem to have only two long-term courses to steer.

Totalitarian domination of the weak by the strong.
Psychological conditioning of the weak by the strong.

Religious belief does not prevent either but neither does atheism.