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Posts from July 2011

Primer

Sunday 31st July 2011

In my opinion, the best science fiction is something which takes one simple idea and runs with it. When the story takes a simple concept and plays with it, to look at what can be done with it or how people would interact with it. I wrote last year about Moon, which is a great example of good sci-fi for the way it takes the idea of human cloning and deals with the practicalities and the morality of such a thing. I’ve recently watched Primer, an indie film that was produced a few years ago on a tiny budget ($7000), which does this absolutely perfectly.

The premise is that a couple of engineers have built a machine which can apparently reduce the gravity acting upon an object. But after experimenting with their invention they also discover that it has another capability, and this is what the film is about. I’m deliberately being a little vague as I think it’s best to not know more than that; the way the film reveals more detail is really nice, and works well to draw you into the film.

What’s interesting is that the film really focusses on the characters; their interaction with their invention, and also their relationship with each other as they start to use it. It’s very clever how the film has been put together to bring the viewer into it, and the attention to detail that has gone into doing that is very impressive. The actual concept that the film deals with isn’t a new thing; plenty of books and films have looked at it before, and lots of them have done it very well. But the way this deals with the manner in which the characters interact with that concept, and the effect it has on their lives, is pretty much perfect.

This is not an easy film to watch, and it definitely isn’t for everyone. The plot is very complex (even though the film only lasts just over an hour) and there is a lot that is left unsaid or that is not shown, which means that you have to think about it. I’ve watched it a couple of times now and frankly it’s still pretty confusing, but I think that’s deliberate. If you like science fiction, and films which are based around ideas, then Primer is absolutely unmissable.

Posted In: Movies Tagged: | 5 Comments

Phone hacking, journalism, and the media

Saturday 16th July 2011

Watching the phone hacking thing play out recently has been fairly interesting. Obviously, what was done was fairly bad (although I would suggest that phone hacking – or other illegal activity – isn’t necessarily always unethical for journalists), and so it’s probably pretty shrewd of News International to have closed the News of the World. What will also be interesting now is to see what other papers are guilty of this; there are suggestions that it may have occurred elsewhere, at non-NI papers.

I remain baffled at the anti-Murdoch bent to the whole thing. I don’t understand why dodgy activity at the News of the World has derailed the BSkyB bid (if indeed it has for more than the short term), aside from the politics of the situation. Because the issue there was about media plurality, about competition in the sector, and not building up businesses with too high a share of the market (although if we really were concerned about such a thing, a good place to start would be the BBC). The argument has been about News Corp and the Murdochs having too much control over the media; yet the bid has actually been derailed because the Murdochs didn’t have control over the News of the World (I think it’s fairly accepted that the management of News Corp didn’t know about the extent of the hacking until relatively recently). Which is an interesting little contradiction.

What’s I find really interesting though is to compare this with another recent media scandal, this time concerning the scribblings of Johann Hari. He was caught out for plagiarism; he took things that people wrote in books, or in interviews to other journalists, and pretended that they’d said that in interview with him. Hari wrote/writes for The Independent (amongst others), which is generally held in pretty high regard. Whereas I think it’s fair to say that the News of the World was generally not held in the same esteem. Yet it’s the “good” journalist in the “quality” paper who got caught out for plagiarism, whereas the journalists from the trashy NOTW were caught out for basically trying to find out the truth. All other factors aside, surely the former is the greater crime against journalism? Plagiarism has to be worse than going to extreme lengths to investigate a story?

Fundamentally none of this changes my opinion of the papers, or the media generally. I’ve long thought that they’re all as bad as each other; that the Grauniad is as bad as the Mail is as bad as the Telegraph. They all have their biases, and all employ journalists (such as Hari) who are willing to misrepresent facts to make an argument. Which is a massive problem, because it leads to a public which is horrendously misinformed about fundamental issues. Such as this staggering finding that 70% of people think that the government is currently reducing the national debt, or the general ignorance towards technical subjects such as nuclear power or climate change (although there are certain parts of academia that are confused about the latter, so I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on the general public). That is the real scandal of the UK media, and the blame lies at the feet at more than just the Murdochs.

Posted In: Politics Tagged: | 2 Comments

The iron must have been hot yesterday…

Friday 1st July 2011

…because there was a lot of striking going on. That, or people are massively, horrendously selfish and blinkered.

I wanted to post this yesterday, but I’ve been working away oop north where my only connection to the internet has been flaky 3G reception on my iPhone. Which basically meant that I couldn’t be bothered to write a blog post.

Anyway, read this post from another blog, which gives a taste of what public and private sector pensions are like. An idea of the massive difference between the two.

The crux of the matter is that public sector pensions are massively generous compared to those offered to the private sector. It’s worth remembering that private sector employees contribute more in tax revenue than public sector ones (there’s more of ’em), and that tax subsidises the public sector pensions.

So what the strikers want is for private sector employees (who have worse pensions) to pay more in tax during their working lifetime, so that public sector employees can continue to enjoy more money in retirement than those in the private sector can expect to get. The strikers want other people to pay for them to have a cushy retirement.

It’s not as if the government’s proposals are stingy; as I understand it they’re still way better than what the the majority of people in the private sector receive. So those striking would still get a comparatively brilliant pension, just not as amazingly good as before.  They’re already in a position of privilege, but they still want more.

If anyone wishes to try to justify this, good luck. Personally, I cannot see how there can be any possible justification, because it’s just naked, unadulterated self-interest, with scant regard for equity. I think it’s disgusting and contemptible.

If you need a measure of how unjustified the strikes were, look how eager the Labour leader has been to distance himself from them. He essentially won the position because of the support of the big unions, and here he is condemning their actions. That tells you something (and as a sidenote it’s disappointing that the broken record act overshadowed what he said, because for once he is right. The first glimpse of the opposition doing its job half decently; we should celebrate!)

What amuses me is that most of the people who support this, are also likely to be those who denounce the activities of greedy bankers. But it’s hugely contradictory to support this behaviour from the public sector whilst ragging on bankers. Hell, at least bankers try to make it look like they deserve it, and don’t (usually) force it from other people.

Apologies if this post isn’t as eloquent as it perhaps could be. To be honest this sort of thing makes me properly angry, so it’s all I can do not to fill the screen with a string of expletives.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 2 Comments