Sunday, February 28, 2021

Grand Re-opening

20m first jabs now completed in the UK and in The Spectator Douglas Murray has been looking forward to an un-locking of life...

"At present, if everything goes according to plan, the best-case scenario is that at some point before the summer our desolate townscapes will become revitalised again by the over-85s hitting the streets...I have nothing against the over-85s. Many of the best people I know are over 85. But the notion that the octo- and nonagenarians are going to go out and kickstart the British economy for weeks single-handed strikes me as remote. Even with the promise that they will soon be followed up by the over-75s roaring on to the scene. If I were an owner of one of the few surviving restaurants I would prepare for this grand reopening by keeping the music low and printing a lot of larger menus."

 

 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rage (2021)


This Melbourne-based oddity is constructed around one extremely intense and disturbing home invasion sequence which lasts around ten minutes. 

Everything else, both before and after, is a bizarre attempted intermixture of ludicrous concurrences and frustrating non-sequiturs. 

I suppose one can say it is part Aussie soap, part police non-procedural. 

Such is the incidence of implausible coincidence that when a detective is challenged with the query 'Were you just in the neighbourhood?' one simply willed the screenplay to proceed with the line 'yes, of course'. 


Anyone who has lived around here long enough will know that the person who observes that 'the whole department is crooked' is often the most crooked of the lot. 


Friday, February 26, 2021

What’s Your Exit Plan?


 

Éxitos Vikingos

Bloomberg is today touting Iceland as a 'Covid success story’.

Remember the last time Iceland was touted as a success story? (I am not referring to Euro 2016). 




Aside from the fact that it is an island in the middle of nowhere on the New Zealand scale, somehow I don’t imagine track and trace would be such a logistical nightmare there.

Identifying killers on this island of little over 360,000 people does however appear to remain a tricky business...








Theodicies

Those convinced that the universe starts supernatural before it is in any way natural can be both reassured and perplexed by the presence of evil in the world. 

I don't count myself among their number, as the existence of something spiritual, unitary, and omni-benevolent as the source of all physical reality is for me an interesting possibility rather than any kind of certainty. 

I'm basically on the vice versa side of believing in order to understand, but wherever you are on this, the problem of evil is usually filed under 'unsolved'. 



Recent events have led me to return to this little headache. If I examine my own thoughts on the matter I find that the conclusions I have tended to reach are neither fixed nor consistent. 

Not wanting to subscribe to the standard monotheistic notion that evil is a metaphysical force in the cosmos — out there — perhaps even personified in the form of diablos and demonios, I tend to think of evil actions as having occurred as a result of something resembling poor judgment, or even poor taste. 

An almost aesthetic deficiency in a person, if you like.

Socrates said that evil actions were the result of ignorance, but that's not quite the same thing. For what he means is that it is not possible to voluntarily do something we know to be evil. Really? Yet this can be a result of an inadequacy of reason as much as lack of knowledge. So maybe my aesthetic analogy still holds, as there sure are loads of people lacking both the good taste and the basic awareness of this lack. 

St Augustine meanwhile grew up amongst Manichaens who would have it that the whole cosmos is set up as a battleground of equal and opposite forces for good and evil. Once settled as a Christian the best explanation for BAD he initially seemed to be able to come up with was that it was all going to be for the good in the end. Right. 

He then seemed to adopt the idea that evil was a form of nothingness, a negation. 

Leszek Kolakowski explains, kind of...

What is and should be, exists; what is but should not be, has no existence. That is what Augustine seems to be saying when he talks of evil as pure negation. So both good and good things exist, and corrupt things also exist; but corruption itself does not exist. Can we make any sense of this?

No, I think the answer would be. 

Ignorance and poor critical judgement are sticky states that most individuals only rarely shake off. Augustine at least makes the suggestion that we are always free to be either good or bad at any given moment, though he thinks we are generally good when acting in a state of Grace and bad when we act out of volition, aka free will. 

In the Jewish tradition Maimonides had some similar ideas to share. Each and every one of us is born somewhere on the moral and emotional spectrum and have the obligation to nurture and develop our own character from there. If someone tells you that you are arrogant, go forth and practice humility...and so on. 


He also saw evil as arising where good was absent (later known as the privation theory) and concluded that our individual attributes were more likely to lead to bad actions than those that derive from our shared humanity. Not especially good news for people that lack empathy. 

Kolakowski again...

Strictly speaking, evil cannot be known, for one cannot know nothingness. But the possibility of evil–in other words, of decay and corruption–exists because everything except God, and thus also man, was created from nothing, and hence is subject to change.

Many thinkers, Jewish, Christian or otherwise, try to contain evil within their worldviews as an inevitable side effect of free will or at least the non-unitary nature of physical reality, and some indeed go on to posit that collectively the civilised values that we promulgate will always have a downside no matter how hard we try to be the best we can be. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support this. 

When I was first working in digital media in the early nineties I found I had a ready-made comparison to hand. The Internet was then already providing socially useful ways for people to communicate and collaborate in cyberspace, individuals who might have struggled to meet up physically and do this before. This could apply to handicapped flower-arrangers or it could apply to people who wished to copulate with dolphins. 

The freedom that the Net presaged, would always have two sides to it, but surely not equal and opposite in the Manichaean sense. Back then, the task was to convince the mainstream that the positive effects would significantly outweigh the deleterious and that draconian state censorship or surveillance was not the way forward. 

This takes me to a study I have probably cited before, contained within the 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Robert Browning. 

It tells the story of a group of former German cops from largely socialist or social democratic backgrounds that are dispatched east by the Nazis and asked to participate in atrocities. The conclusions reached here are supported by many psychological studies. Take any ten men and give them an order to do something utterly awful and eight will comply without much of a grumble. One will refuse. And the other one will go above and beyond the original order in terms of sheer nastiness. 

That's us: Humanity. But we are not always the same person in this spread. Most of us will spend our days amidst the conformist clump, but occasionally set off in the direction of one of the more stand-out extremes. This at least seems to me to be the conclusion of Browning's rather depressing study. 

One can use Google to find various interesting lists of the types of evil. Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen has four in his. 

  1. Demonic
  2. Instrumental 
  3. Idealistic 
  4. Stupid. 

Some of the evil done to me of late has featured at least three of these, often at the same time. 


Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Evilevers S01E08: Le Nettoyeur

On Saturday the 10th of August 2019 Jason Wade Lever passed on a scooter and made an explicit death threat towards me, verbally and with an unmistakeable accompanying gesture. 



At the time I was standing holding a conversation on the pavement with a local man who has occasionally helped us with our garden: 'D'. 

This was by no means the earliest example of Lever's violent intimidation directed against me*, and partly for that reason on this occasion I had made up my mind to ignore anything he said or did as I heard him coming around the corner. 

And thus I only picked up the verbal gloss on the gesture (relating to how easy it would be for him to rub me out) and did not at the same time notice the pistol shape he was forming with his hand.  



'D' however turned his head at just the right moment and once Lever had sped off, immediately inquired if I had spotted this virtual strafing. I in turn explained in Spanish exactly what I had just heard. 

I then went inside and downloaded the cam footage to confirm that 'D' had indeed identified the gesture correctly. 

Just like I had offered his wife redemption de buena fe despite her false testimony in 2018, in January last year I offered Lever an acuerdo de paz too at the Ministerio Público, based on the sole condition that he commit to desisting from acts of violence against me and my núcleo familiar. He refused. 

He was then informed by the stand-in for the fiscal that the consequence of this refusal would be an investigation. 'Fine by me' he chirped up in English. 

And the threats kept coming; I have a veritable stack of audio files now of verbal amenazas that Lever and his accomplices have since directed at either me or my wife: 

"You're gonna be punished..."

"I should have killed..."

"Mata...bruja"

"Look out...I'll fuck with you..."

And so on. Direct verbal violence, albeit sometimes hissed or whispered, couched within an on-going campaign of anulación y desprestigio

First prize for most chilling goes either to the smaller pile within this bigger one of threats shouted by Lever's tiny children — "Kill the witch" — or the one where the two words "una más" were uttered; the removal of "Ni" at the start a deliberate inversion of the proclamation which asserts a woman's right to live free of violence in this land. 

Lever ought then to consider that these episodes and any subsequent ones are a part of (also the product of) a formal process, along with the ongoing investigation by the fiscales of the MP, who have already visited our home and gathered further evidence. 

*This was only a fortnight earlier. Lever came around the same corner and swerved in right behind me deliberately in yet another drive-by intimidation/verbal insult combo. 




Season Two in the pipeline....




Wednesday, February 24, 2021

U-Turn (1997)

 



It's scary how many years have slipped by since we came across this film slightly serendipitously in the Beckton multiplex, on one of our all you can eat cinematic outings.

Roger Ebert was not impressed at the time > "Only Oliver Stone knows what he was trying to accomplish by making U-Turn, and it is a secret he doesn't share with the audience. This is a repetitive, pointless exercise in genre filmmaking — the kind of movie where you distract yourself by making a list of the sources."

Yes, it is a sort of greatest hits compilation tape, but time has shown that it is an extraordinary assemblage of parts in another sense too, for even Stone probably had no intimation of the unlikely marquee cast he had hired for his B movie, including the likes of Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix, but specifically Jennifer Lopez in pre-J Lo mode. (There's even a non speaking part for Liv Tyler as 'Girl In Bus Station').

1997 is right on the tipping point for mobile phones as plot devices, at least in American movies. Sean Penn makes several uses of a coin-operated public phone but the obvious lack of celulares doesn't feel like an absurdity as it did in Speed 2: Cruise Control, released the same year. 

Also in cinemas back in 1997 was Jennifer Lopez’s  breakthrough flick, Selena, which permitted her to cross over in slightly phantasmal fashion on the back of the late chicana singer's earlier Grammy success. (A film directed by Gregory Nava of El Norte fame.) 

But when we saw U-Turn for the first time — and we loved it then as we do now — J Lo's on screen persona was undeniably powerful, yet very different to what it would become in the noughties.  

Prior to this we'd only ever seen her on TV as one of the backing dancers on In Living Color, with the likes of another future megastar, Jim Carrey. 

In U-Turn she plays the femme fatale, a 'half breed', with possibly Navajo or Apache maternal parenthood. John Voight also shows up here as a Native American vet in a manner that possibly wouldn't get past the planning stages these days. Puerto Rico has the most genetically diverse population on earth, an unparalleled mix of African, Amerindian and European roots, and I doubt anyone could honestly say, based on this appearance, that Lopez had no business playing an Arizona indigene. 

I find I had forgotten some of the detail, having recalled more of the situation — dust bowl Superior as an inescapable maze — than the play-out of the noirish murder plot, and now discover that it is still the former elements of Stone's movie that I enjoy the most. 

Rosbifs

When did Englishness become a thing? 

The 'idea' of England as a unified political entity is said to have come to fruition in the reign of King Edgar (943-975), yet 'the peaceable' appears to have been laying an acquisitive eye on Scotland as part of this amalgam. 

After Hastings the English language would enter its wilderness years and Englishness was put on hold. 

It's hard to put one's finger on a precise breakthrough moment, but Hank Cinq's continental campaign of 1415, culminating in the battle of Agincourt, contains a number of key indicators suggesting that the process was nearing consummation.



Paris

Firstly, there's an instant when a group of Henry's young knights start speaking English, ostensibly just to annoy their French counterparts. 




And then there's the account of how the French priest and possible double agent Raoul le Gay supposedly escaped from captivity at Harfleur and duly reported to the Norman authorities that the worst part of his experience had been the English beer. 

Henry's effort to unify the states of on either side of the channel — in effect a brazen attempt to turn France's civilisation into our junior associate in a vice versa-fication of the status quo which had prevailed for nearly 400 years — would stoke the Hundred Years War, the losing of which would, slightly perversely, signal the true arrival of England as a nation state on the world stage. Though, this would also be the lead up to acquisitions via reverse take-overs, first by the Welsh (Tudors) and then the Scots (Stuarts). 

Those mounted English aristocrats of the later Plantagenet era, who spoke a Germanic language and burned young French girls at the stake in order to infuriate their near continental neighbours, had only recently been conversing almost exclusively in Norman French and their closest ancestors would in general have hailed from an area right behind what Erwin Rommel would later dub the Atlantic Wall. 




This is a sure indication of just how malleable and self-selected Englishness was to become as an identity in the future. 

By way of an aside, it can be observed that it is also for this reason in the main that the English still consume more red wine than most other Europeans (along with all that warm beer) — perhaps an oddity given our island's own damp climate — as, for a significant part of our history, Bordeaux was in all but name, part of England. 

A couple of years ago I came across this shelf in a Parisian bookshop where, rather than Dark Age texts like Beowulf, translated contemporary British and North American fiction had been collected under the heading Littérature Anglo Saxonne




It's a little ironic that it is now the French, more than anyone, who perpetuate the myth that the English (and the Yanks too) are 'Anglo-Saxons', for they earlier spent a large part of the middle ages perpetuating the myth of King Arthur, a notorious British Anglo-Saxon basher, and did so with the clear objective of suppressing the cultural distinctiveness of the society overrun and overhauled by Duke William in 1066. 

I say cultural rather than ethnic distinctiveness, because it has never been so easy to frame Englishness as a racial identity in the modern sense, no matter what a certain substratum of White Van Man would have us believe. 


Spotted on Quora recently
'More complicated than the propagandists would have you believe.'


One might say that the 'native' English have been Britons who were first Romanised, then Anglo-Saxonised, then (at least partially) Vikingised, before that famously unambiguous conquest of 1066, by Normans (French-speaking Vikings) accompanied by Bretons, descendants of Britons that had fled the Saxon hegemony several centuries earlier. This in turn led to long rule by a dynasty hailing from the aforementioned vineyard-abundant parts of France. 

Even those original Britons were themselves a compound population deriving from groups that had wandered in from the areas we now refer to as Scandinavia, Germany, France, the Low Countries and Iberia.  

The wall in Cornwall, as well as the wal in Wales, derive from a Germanic word for Celtic-speakers, which also came to refer to slaves or serfs. A reminder that for much of our early history — notwithstanding all those tales of Camelot — a Celtic identity was even less desirable than an Anglo-Saxon one*. 

Yet another incident from Henry V's campaign in 1415 reveals how Englishness was at that moment somewhat delicately poised between the enduring lure of francophone pretentiousness and the rather earthier realities of British demographics.

The defender of Harfleur, Blason de Raoul de Gaucourt (1371-1462), an English gent with a suspiciously continental-sounding name — founder member of the Order of The White Lady on a Green Shield and the slightly kinkier (and froggier) Order of the Fer de Prisonnier — believed that the ideal way to resolve a siege was in fact a tournament of mounted chivalric jousts, a l'outrance, underground. And so he had tunnels dug for this specific purpose, by Welsh miners. 



Nice Hoodie

Many reasons are cited for Henry's triumph at Agincourt, most notably his archers and the mud. It certainly also helped that the French, under the rules of chivalry that they themselves had made up, were obliged to allow their opponents the choice of battleground, a traditional gallic courtesy that Wellington would also be availing himself of at Waterloo exactly four hundred years later. We English have an enduring aversion to being out-flanked. 

It was also recorded that the flower of French chivalry, having apparently put aside many of their famed differences just in order to amass there in such superior numbers, accordingly demanded conjointly to be in the vanguard, such that this spearhead ended up stumbling over its own innumerable heraldic banners as it advanced towards the English longbowmen. 





*It is often said today that the overtly 'Celtic' identities of Wales and Scotland have been distorted by 19th century Romantic phoney-ness — and its modern rehashings — yet it is also true that the Victorians were long keen to put the Anglo-Saxons to similar use at Westminster. 


Monday, February 22, 2021

Sixth Century Holocaust

Peter Ackroyd > Anglo-Saxon civilization was created by a pandemic.

He's referring to the largely un-sung plague of the 540s, probably bubonic or pneumonic, which emerged out of Egypt and devastated the late (or sub) Roman world. 

It seems that for some reason the 'native' inhabitants of Britain, my own paternal ancestors, were more adversely affected by this pestilence than the Anglo-Saxons, at that time established mainly along the eastern side of the island. 

The population catastrophe amongst the Britons of the west permitted Saxon leaders like Ceawlin to penetrate the wealthy agricultural heartlands of Salisbury Plain towards the end of the sixth century. 

The western saxons established their own kingdom of Wessex, which would ultimately evolve into the kingdom of England. 

Meanwhile many Britons shifted across the water having concluded that life is all right in Armorica, thus founding the semi-independent cultural enclave that came to be known as Britanny. 

Some of these Bretons would be back several centuries later on as a key part of the Duke of Normandy's invading army in 1066. 

My next door neighbour during my fresher year at Girton was one Gus Le Breton. 


Monster Hunter (2020)



At the relatively successful end of a category in general peculiarised by failure — movie adaptations of computer games — Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich have been up to this sort of thing together for two decades now. It has never really been my kind of thing, but I did rather enjoy this. 

There is a but..., however. The most nightmare-inducing, viscerally frightful and gross monsters are the ones we get to see quite early on. After that, we are introduced to incrementally harder to kill beasties until eventually we get to something that resembles a near indestructible GOT dragon, the despatching of which begins to seem like a bit of a chore — though the CGI effects associated with its rampage are very well executed. 

 

Blithe Spirit (2020)

Every other year the staff at Colet Court used to put on a play. I say every other year as I can only remember two of them. Agatha Christie's Ten Little N Words and Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. 

Our first form mistress Jane Addis (a wonderful woman) played Elvira in Coward's comedy and I can clearly remember the way she wafted around the stage in a shimmering dress. 

One of my classmates in Mrs Addis's 1B (by dint of surnames in the same section of the alphabet) was Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter, half-brother of Rebecca and all round popular kid, captain of just about every team and so on. 

So, I ask myself, does he too have a fond memory of that quite lavish mid-70s production, and for that reason has chosen it for his first feature after work on Spooks (not that sort) and Downton Abbey?

It's a bit of a re-conjuring. I'm not sure how much of Coward's original dialogue has been exorcised. I suspect quite a lot. Apart from one great line about billiards, much of it seemed a tad bland. 

There was definitely a point quite early on when I realised that the thing I was most gripped by was the furniture. And its vessel, that extraordinary Art Deco villa in Surrey called Joldwynds





There are also some grass tennis courts and a river boat to drool over. Nothing to be ashamed of. 

And then there is the odd pleasure of seeing Michele Dotrice — oooh Betty — again, who would have been playing the long-suffering wife of Frank Spencer around the time I first came across Blithe Spirit at school.  

Coward wrote the play in Snowdonia after his London office and attached apartment were destroyed in the Blitz. It was first performed in the West End during 1941 as the war was about to reach its turning point. 

Edward Hall has shifted things back a bit, to 1937, perhaps because these days it would be harder to place a comedic situation in the middle of that conflict without somehow referencing it. (Though when one is smack in the middle of a world war, not mentioning it may be just what you want to do.) 

Yet in a roundabout sort of way, this story is situated in wartime Britain. 

Back in 2001 Hillary Mantel wrote a fascinating piece in the London Review of Books entitled The Dead Are Among Us, which tells the story of Helen Duncan, aka Hellish Nell, a Scottish medium who became the last woman convicted in the UK using the 1735 Witchcraft Act. In a 1941 séance, she had 'materialised' a sailor from HMS Barham, a warship that at the time the Admiralty had not admitted to having lost.

Mediums like Duncan were then flourishing again as the number of separations and personal griefs expanded. And in 1941, again, the Royal Navy recognised spiritualism as a religion and permitted its sailors to perform spiritualist ceremonies at sea. 


Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Evilevers S01E07: Meet The Cyberbullies

In the latter part of 2019 Mrs Lever made use of a dedicated Instagram account (@carmenvsb) to blare out to the whole world just how much she uncontrollably detests us. 

As the days went by, some of them featuring a little sequence of new posts of a spiteful nature usually backed up by truly perverse hashtags, I became the principal target of this torrent. 

I supposed at the time that this was some sort of cretinous attempt to get a rise out of me and that the best approach would be to simply ignore. Pissing into the wind and all that. 

And yet there can be no denying that aspects of this cybergrudge were genuinely unsettling. Someone I had barely exchanged words with was engaged in an obsessive, abhorrent and actually quite feverish smear campaign against me.  

And bear in mind that at this stage I had forgiven Mrs Lever for reporting me to the police for attacking her when I was not even in the country and had every reasonable expectation that she would understand what a near miss that had been for her and would thus do everything possible to avoid further conflict. 

And yet, just to be sure, the judge had made her sign an acuerdo in which she promised to behave in future and rein in her husband as well. 


These were some of the key take outs from her social media malice...

  • I have no talent; neither as a photographer nor as a writer. (Subjective, that one, I know.)
  • My clothes — and hat in particular — smell, and I do not bathe. (Less so.)
  • I am a 'fake entrepreneur'; indeed my whole life is one big fraud (We sold our company for an eight figure sum over two decades ago. I am no longer really any sort of entrepreneur, fake or otherwise. Anyway, under whose criteria?) 
  • I have no genitals, a negative sperm count and am otherwise infertile: ‘Microphallus Rosbif’. (Objectively false.)
  • If I could have children, they'd be inbred retards, and so the universe has done the gene pool a big favour. (Intelligence, or the lack of it, is up to 73% heritable, she would know.)
  • I am married to a "psycho hose beast" (Just horrid.)
  • The pair of us resemble a couple of concupiscent apes (Ditto.)
  • I suffer from penis envy (In fact I have never really envied any other human being for any reason, let alone for the size of their sexual organs.)
  • I am a homosexual. (And this would bother her why, exactly?) 
  • I am a nerd. (Are we still in secondary school?) 
  • I am a sociopath (See Episode 5.)
  • I have very British teeth (That one, at least, is broadly true. Ever since I have had any gnashers at all, they have been looked after by the same dentist as HM The Queen and most of the rest of the Royal Family.) *
  • I am a bitter old man that nobody will miss when he’s dead (We shall have to see, won't we?)

That last gem was posted around the time her husband made an explicit death threat against me. 

In one month alone there were 45 individual put downs of this nature. There was no other content at all on this feed. I have archived every post. 

Who really has the time in their life for so much hate? 

There was clearly a fair bit of online research involved. 

On some levels it's truly pathetic, yet on others rather obviously disturbing.

I suppose there are many of us that post something on social media at some point that we later regret, perhaps because we were a bit tipsy or just not in a particularly good place at the time, but two or three times a day, and for months?  

Much of it could be characterised as racial and gender abuse, along with other forms of discrimination (relating to my nationality, for example). In short, a cacophony of belittlement designed to demean and destroy, and not just psychologically.

This stinky chorrio of really rather pathological nastiness went on until the very day that Lever himself received his denuncia for violence against women. That sure put a cork in it. 

At first she removed only the two posts which might further incriminate him because their content tallied rather obviously with the declarations already made by my wife at the Fiscalía de Mujeres and INACIF and detailed in the denuncia he received. 

For example, the text alongside one of these posts almost perfectly matched an account given of the demented and demeaning misogynistic poem that Jason Lever had recited to my wife on March 5, 2018 and which she had detailed to investigators. (Third one down, below.)

A bit later on Carmen Violeta Solares de Lever deactivated her entire Instagram account. 

That might have given her a degree of deniability — the old 'I woz hacked' ruse — but she then resurrected it shortly afterwards as the social media front end of Roadkill Grill, the Levers' erstwhile business here in La Antigua — complete with all the followers that she had acquired almost entirely on the back of degrading us. (The clue here was that the indexation on Google was identical.) 

It was at that moment in November 2019 that I contacted Instagram with a formal complaint. I had ignored the daily drivel as it was delivered, but there was something about the notion of their use of a platform carefully nurtured via a proper hate crime to promote a shabby fast (though al fondo quite slow) food joint that really — and I mean, really — irked me. Whatever one thinks of this, there are few things lower than an attempt to profit on the back of defamation and hate. 

I do have to hand it to her though, this first example below is doing some fairly heavy lifting in as much that it manages to insult both of us, simultaneously and yet with a degree of differentiation. 











* Though I have not seen my dentist since my last visit to the UK, so my teeth could well be going a bit Prince Andrew. 

Episode 6: The Witch Hunt

Reductive Reasoning

I am currently re-reading my second favourite science book — The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch* — and in many ways getting even more out of it than I did the first time way back in the early noughties. 




The first chapter,entitled The Theory of Everything, is a stand-alone tour de force which contains one of the most elegant take downs of the reductionist approach to explanation one is ever likely to come across. 

I have chopped it up a little bit here...

Another mistaken view of the nature of science, held disapprovingly by many critics of science and (alas) approvingly by many scientists, namely that science is essentially reductionist. That is to say, science allegedly explains things reductively - by analysing them into components...

A reductionist thinks that science is about analysing things into components. An instrumentalist thinks that it is about predicting things. To either of them, the existence of high-level sciences is merely a matter of convenience.

Thus to reductionists and instrumentalists, who disregard both the real structure and the real purpose of scientific knowledge, the base of the predictive hierarchy of physics is by definition the 'theory of everything'. But to everyone else scientific knowledge consists of explanations, and the structure of scientific explanation does not reflect the reductionist hierarchy. 

There are explanations at every level of the hierarchy. Many of them are autonomous, referring only to concepts at that particular level (for instance, 'the bear ate the honey because it was hungry'). Many involve deductions in the opposite direction to that of reductive explanation. That is, they explain things not by analysing them into smaller, simpler things but by regarding them as components of larger, more complex things - about which we nevertheless have explanatory theories.

For example, consider one particular copper atom at the tip of the nose of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill that stands in Parliament Square in London. Let me try to explain why that copper atom is there**. It is because Churchill served as prime minister in the House of Commons nearby; and because his ideas and leadership contributed to the Allied victory in the Second World War... 



 

But even if you had the superhuman capacity to follow such lengthy predictions of the copper atom's being there, you would still not be able to say, 'Ah yes, now I understand why it is there.' You would merely know that its arrival there in that way was inevitable (or likely, or whatever), given all the atoms' initial configurations and the laws of physics. 

In the reductionist world-view, the laws governing subatomic particle interactions are of paramount importance, as they are the base of the hierarchy of all knowledge. But in the real structure of scientific knowledge, and in the structure of our knowledge generally, such laws have a much more humble role...

I must mention another way in which reductionism misrepresents the structure of scientific knowledge. Not only does it assume that explanation always consists of analysing a system into smaller, simpler systems, it also assumes that all explanation is of later events in terms of earlier events; in other words, that the only way of explaining something is to state its causes. 

And this implies that the earlier the events in terms of which we explain something, the better the explanation, so that ultimately the best explanations of all are in terms of the initial state of the universe

The laws of biology, say, are high-level, emergent consequences of the laws of physics. But logically, some of the laws of physics are then 'emergent' consequences of the laws of biology. It could even be that, between them, the laws governing biological and other emergent phenomena would entirely determine the laws of fundamental physics. But in any case, when two theories are logically related, logic does not dictate which of them we ought to regard as determining, wholly or partly, the other.

The truly privileged theories are not the ones referring to any particular scale of size or complexity, nor the ones situated at any particular level of the predictive hierarchy - but the ones that contain the deepest explanations.

Yet Deutsch later also clarifies that...

Holism - the idea that the only legitimate explanations are in terms of higher-level systems - is an even greater error than reductionism. What do holists expect us to do? Cease our search for the molecular origin of diseases? Deny that human beings are made of subatomic particles? Where reductive explanations exist, they are just as desirable as any other explanations. Where whole sciences are reducible to lower-level sciences, it is just as incumbent upon us as scientists to find those reductions as it is to discover any other knowledge.

Visiting Professor in the Department of Atomic and Laser Physics at the Centre for Quantum Computation (CQC) in the Clarendon Laboratory of the University of Oxford.

** No, it is not a racist copper atom. 


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Stopping Time

I spotted this captivating item earlier on the Instagram feed of @historiante_


A Roman face cream complete with ancient fingermarks. Dating to around 150 AD it might be said to have long out-survived the face that it was intended to soothe or rejuvenate. 

It was found in London at the site of a temple dedicated to the now rather topical Mars. 

The principal ingredients were animal fat, tin oxide and starch. The latter is still occasionally used here in Guatemala as a treatment for teenage acne. 


I Care A Lot (2020)

Undoubtedly entertaining, largely as a result of the mischievous central performance from Rosamund Pike, playing a professional guardian whose grift is to legally kidnap ageing wards and then asset strip them at her own leisure. 




Around her however, the action becomes tonally indeterminate, not quite functioning properly as either a dark satire or as a thriller. Some of this is inevitable in a story that has no good guys to root for. 

J Blakeson doesn't do quite enough to get over the fact that Marla is just plain nasty. (And not always 'deliciously' so.) 

He equips her with a cod version of the philosophy outlined by Thraysmachus in Book I of Plato's RepublicHe provides her with a pretty girlfriend that she obviously cares about. He makes her brave and defiant and puts her in a whole load of very tricky situations involving chaps from the Russian mob and their lackeys. 

Yet these other villains are often more silly than scary and, in a way, this prevents a proper thaw of the hoarfrost that had earlier settled on our sympathies for her character. 

And the developing plot ultimately distracts from the really terrifying hazard here, the possibility being shanghai'd by the state. 

So, in the end I'm not sure I did care a lot. 


Friday, February 19, 2021

"London Airport"

Makes me chuckle a bit now to think how my parents used to dress up, just for check-in at 'London Airport'. 




The outfits and and the vehicle typically selected might have made it look like they were off to a wedding these days...though weddings today can also turn out a bit like the bottom part of this pic.


Staying Safe


 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

La Belle Époque (2019)

The premise here is a bit like a low tech version of Michael Crichton's Westworld, in which the seriously loaded can book themselves a fully immersive historical experience. Sans robots. 



Around it we get a sort of European farce with frenetic, self-consciously smart repartee, old people sex, and all the usual accoutrements. 

A lot of it is un peu annoying, frankly. But there are some rather charming parts and almost all of these feature Daniel Auteuil as Victor, who paces and pitches his performance slightly differently to everyone else around him. 





The Evilevers S01E06: The Witch Hunt

The first time Lever was recorded calling my wife a witch to her face was on July 25, 2018.

His spouse appears to have started the witch hunt around a month earlier on June 11, when she passed in front of our house and, gesturing at its main gate, duly declaimed to her son, 'There once was an evil witch...'

I suppose, at a stretch, one could say that deliberately terrifying a toddler regarding the metaphysical status of a neighbour is a form of child abuse. 

Yet the use of this particular imputation is more generally associated with misogyny and an age-old stream of European folk persecution directed, in the main, at women — in particular those women who were otherwise socially vulnerable, husbandless or childless, or in some way refusing to conform to prevailing norms. 

During the so-called witch craze in early modern Europe, said to have been stoked by the publication of one of history's most seminal texts of gender oppression, the Malleus Malleficarum, at least 45,000 individuals met their ends following some sort of witchcraft trial. 

Yet a bit later on in Puritan New England, for example, it was recorded that most of the supposed victims of witchcraft doing all the finger-pointing, were also women. 

To name someone in your community as a witch is more than a mere insult; it is a stigma, especially in imperfectly-modern, Catholic countries like Guatemala, where there is a significant residue of superstition. 

You can call a woman many unpleasant and demeaning names, but 'witch' is one of them that will afford her a particular set of social hazards. 

The Levers did not just stumble upon the use of this stigma; they have used it deliberately and systematically as a way of causing greater mischief.

They have encouraged its use in their social circle and we happen to know that a member of their household staff has been going around the village informing some of its more impressionable denizens that my wife is a witch. And has been recorded doing this. 

And so on one occasion when we emerged out of our gate a neighbour was passing, and on spotting us immediately crossed herself before speeding up, whispering, as if to hurry away from any malign effluvia that we might have been giving off.

Jason Wade Lever himself, whose principal tactic for delaying criminal proceedings against him appears to have been to claim he doesn't speak a word of Spanish, nevertheless seems entirely un-averse to insulting my wife in that very language...





In the above clip one can observe how Lever goes up to a group of men working in the street and encourages them to join him in harassing and demeaning a local resident, at that moment the only female in the vicinity. 'Es una bruja...una bruja fea'. 

He then shouts across at my wife in English "And I definitely don't have respect for YOU". This had long been clear. 

Gender abuse, pure and simple. 

In this next video, the entire Lever family passes in front of our gate. It was the night of the Quema del Diablo, 2019.  



They had earlier appeared with a pair of piñatas, one of which was very obviously fashioned to look like a bruja, pointy sombrero and so on. They held these piñatas very deliberately up to our cameras and laughed theatrically. 

Having in effect burned us in effigy in the local parque, a scene witnessed by some of our family members, they then came back, and this time Mrs Lever was at the rear of the group with her son. 

She sets the scene thus: The witch is around...
Niño: Is this the witch's gate?
Mrs Lever: This is the witch's gate...yeah!'

And in this next clip Mrs Lever, having just returned home in her white Mazda and thus spotting us conversing outside with my cuñado appears to encourage her son to toddle outside just so that he too can publicly stigmatise my wife again as 'the witch', and in an entirely unprovoked fashion, as always. 
 





You can tell from the audio that my wife knew in advance exactly what was about to occur, because this was no isolated incident.

The pattern was being repeated online. Mrs Lever had been using her personal Instagram account — @carmenvsb — to mount a frenetic hate campaign which included numerous examples of witchcraft imagery. 

I was eventually to lodge a formal cyberbullying complaint with the US tech giant about this, requesting a full backup of the original set of files for legal purposes. (Somewhat ironically, Facebook was today accused by a UK minister of being a 'schoolyard bully'.)

 


This was one of a pair of images I learned had been immediately removed the very evening that Lever received his denuncia for violence against women. 

On this ignominious stream the hashtags were usually highly eye-catching as a result of the twisted and sexual nature of their scorn. 

With #penisenvy Carmen Solares de Lever appeared to be insinuating that my wife must have acquired a lasting attachment to the penis her husband had gratuitously shown off to her on March 7 the previous year. 


Episode 5: Echo and Narcissus