Thursday, June 08, 2023

The perfect bar doesn't exi...

In the absence of something so heaven sent, herewith my own current list of preferred drinking holes around ‘this region’…
La Rana Dorada, Panama City
Tántalo Rooftop, Panama City
Stiefel Pub, Otoya, San José, Costa Rica
La Cueva, Trinidad, Cuba
El Barón, Cartagena de Indias
Beer Lovers, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias
Tap Ten, Cartagena de Indias
Tokyo Music Bar, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Pata Negra, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Sabina Sabe, Oaxaca
Cafe Bar Revolución, San Cristóbal de las Casas
Pipiripau, Mérida
Xtabay, Campeche
Caiman Tugurio, Playa del Carmen
The Little Wine Bar, Placencia, Belize
Barefoot Beach Bar, Placencia, Belize

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The White Ship by Charles Spencer

Diana’s brother Charles has no need of a ghost writer, unlike his nephew Harry. 


His highly competent popular histories have hardly strayed beyond his own family’s apogee, e.g the reigns of Charleses I & II.

Yet it seems he has a fascination with this, one of Medieval history’s dopey yet highly significant misadventures which occurred in 1120, when roughly 300 members of the ruling Norman elite, including the royal heir, set off from Barfleur in the Blanche-Net, the majority of both passengers and crew a little bit juiced up, choosing speed over caution in an effort to catch up with the King’s own vessel, thus encountering some rocks. The only survivor a butcher from Rouen who had boarded in order to chase his bills. 901 years later Spencer led the expedition which located the wreck.

“Game of Thrones, but in the real world” says the dust cover. (Oddly enough, today’s versions attract dust as opposed to repelling it like the old paper ones.) Thrones was based — loosely, let's say — on the Wars of the Roses, a later conflict aroused and fed by the awkward presence on the throne of the two least effective Plantagenets, Richard II and Henry VI, whose impact, domestically and abroad, encouraged their geographically-entrenched relatives to seek alternatives.

“The anarchy” which followed the sinking of the White Ship and the ascension of Stephen* — first (and last) of that name — was instead rooted in earlier dynamics which differed from GOT. The key players changed sides far more often. And if there was one thing the Norman nobility hated it was open battle (except when the other side was obviously French), so we see here how on two significant occasions the antagonists were encouraged by their aristocratic allies to sit down and parley.

Most conflicts that didn’t result in treaties were characterised by a string of sieges. Other than Masada, these have never made for good TV.

But there is some fun stuff here, including a defenestration enacted by the future Henry I himself, the victim a commoner (merchant) who had forgotten the golden rule of feudalism — flexibility was for the landed elites only, everyone else had to abide by their oaths, or else.  
* Only a bad case of the runs had prevented the then Stephen of Blois from boarding the doomed longship at Barfleur.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Hypnotic (2023)

"Preposterous tosh from start to finish" was Mark Kermode's take. He's not wrong, though we did kind of enjoy it.


I was thinking about the recent unfortunate cancellation of 1899, supposedly because a statistically-significant portion of the audience somehow lost the will to continue after an episode or two. 

Right now we are watching Apple's Silo and the phrase Dark for dummies springs to mind. 

And so perhaps we might describe Hypnotic as Inception-lite. 

Perhaps ironically when I watch a Christopher Nolan movie or a Baran bo Odar series, my inner mental state could well be represented thus...


With Hypnotic the only real swirling confusion surrounded the lackadaisical nature of the underlying ground rules and crucially, I never felt the urge to reach for my notebook because an interesting thought had been prompted to pop up inside my head. 
But maybe there really is a market for middlebrow mindbenders, and Netflix, having been burned by 1899, might be best placed to find it.

Minor spoiler alert: I did enjoy the way Robert Rodriguez taunted viewers for much of the movie with the sheer corny fakeness of everything (Mexico in particular, which should have hoisted a few fed flags), only to have an answer ready as the third act kicked off...though this was a new form of silliness.


After WWII Isaiah Berlin finally made it to Moscow. Following the cacophony of the United States, it was the silence he found there that was most disturbing. In November 1946 he wrote that the “slow humiliation of poets and musicians is more awful in a way than outright shooting”.

He was aware that Russia had always favoured authoritarian rule and that the Tsars had attempted to suppress creativity, yet in the nineteenth century this had had the effect of turning that nation into an almost unprecedented creative and intellectual hothouse. 
Something was different under the Soviets, he speculated, something that permitted him to conclude that not all authoritarianisms are equal in this respect, be they political or religious, and the defining factor had to be the ideological component. 
This ties back to my observations yesterday about the suppression of free discourse at places like the Oxford Union. Those whose point of view is backed up by a rigid, take-no-prisoners ideology usually don’t even wait to hear what potential opponents have to say before silencing them.
For it is one of the key assumptions held by those under the sway of Marxism, for example, that you can tell if someone deserves to be heard just by noting what sort of person they are — their socioeconomic (these days also identitarian)...and therefore historical status is the very gist of their winning/silencing argument.





Outside the arena of elite sporting competition this is a matter of frankly marginal importance for the majority.

Yet it is generating an undoubted hubbub, which is permitting the louder voices on both the left and the right to distort one of the really fundamental truths that ought to be understood by all members of a functioning liberal democracy: neither your tomes of sacred ideology nor your peer-reviewed books of agreed facts will dispense with the contradictions of either present day life...or history.



As many of us as possible surely need to be vocal pluralists (and part of that commitment involves acknowledging that it will never be all of us), which means recognising the need to balance and sometimes revise the assumptions that make collective existence bearable. 
People at the political extremes want to pretend that the world can somehow be made to reflect the simplicities of their own thought processes and that they owe respect only to those who are similarly, single-mindedly convinced.

Men are men and women are women is an over-simplification. Yet so too is men can be women and women can be men. 
There is clear and obvious room for open discussion here and the spaces where such parley traditionally occurs need to be protected from the authoritarian minorities. 
Look under the bonnet of anything coherent and you will soon spot incoherence. Similarly, anything apparently trouble-free rather often portends a good deal of trouble. 

With rationalism there is always an element of prejudice dressed up as common sense.  

The hard truth is that neither off-the-shelf theories nor rational guidelines absolve us from the need to acknowledge, even cultivate complexity even at its most awkward. 
And right now, this is what we are losing track of...again!


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Influencer (2022)

Influencer has one or two minor plot holes* and based on what occurs prior to the opening credits, the ending is 100% predictable, yet none of that spoiled our enjoyment of this this well-shot and well-plotted Canadian thriller, set almost entirely in Thailand. 

As the title suggests, there is an element of satirical examination of the engagement-craving Instagrammer, but this is not handled in the heavy-handed or snarky fashion that one might tend to anticipate. 

Director Curis David Harder seems to be saying that these are in the end, just one variety of needy traveller with perhaps a peculiar set of vulnerabilities which 'CW' — played with deliciously apposite levels of attractive creepiness by Cassandra Naud — has elected to exploit. 

That everything she possesses and in a sense, everything she projects as her self, has apparently been accumulated from her past interactions with influencers is one of the most intriguing aspects of this antagonist. 

The absence of explicit exposition was a very effective choice here.


* Including one unused Chekhovian pistol, sort of. 


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Beurokeo/Broker (2022)

On the face of it this is pretty standard Kore-eda fare, an empathy-squeezing, mildly comic drama about an ad-hoc 'family' group, several of whom are in the midst of leading a criminal lifestyle.

Yet there are some deviations. The location and language are Korean for a start. Was Kore-eda attempting to cash in on the success of Parasite, or merely covetous of an opportunity to work with that movie's stand-out star, Song Kang-ho?

In the Guardian Peter Bradshaw flags up another issue, one of tone. These would-be loveable rogues are murderers and child traffickers. Tut tut. 

"What sort of people might want to pay top dollar for a baby?" he asks. Well, a decade or so ago one only had to board any US-bound flight out of Guatemala to mix with such gruesome folk. 

At the time I had very strong opinions about this trade, so it might be supposed that I'd side with Bradshaw on this, but I can tell the difference between fiction and reality and for that reason choose not to immediately censure the Japanese director for his approach here.

Yet the following question does arise — what kind of wrongdoing cannot be redeemed in this manner?  

I recall how Robby Collin of the Telegraph recoiled at the way JoJo Rabbit turned Nazis into figures of ridicule. Nevertheless, last year in Colombia I met an historian who had just published a book about the Nazi education system of the 30s and she recounted to me how her American publishers had ’encouraged’ her to explicitly tackle 'the Jewish question' even though it was only rather indirectly relevant to her topic. 

There is no question that we are now inhabiting a cultural environment where certain gatekeepers (not just the Twitter mob) determine what can — or indeed must — be said and in which form, so Kore-eda's determination to sidetrack certain ethical preconceptions is refreshing. 

And I think he is quite explicit here in the distinction between people who do bad things for complex reasons and those who are instead just sociopathic by nature and should not be celebrated in any way. 

Kore-eda is one of my favourite directors and although this is not up there with his very best work, it's not to be discarded. 

Surrounded by more established Korean stars, Lee Ji-eun is revelatory as So-young.

Saturday, May 20, 2023



— No child born today in Germany is in any way responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust.

— I should not have to apologise for all the times my mother was rude to people. *

These seem uncontroversial statements to me, but the urge to impose guilt and contrition where none are due has become a worrying feature of contemporary debate.

Just yesterday Joe Biden had to shake off pleas for a formal “awfully sorry” for the first atomic bombing.

It seems to me that many politicians are torn between knowing how nonsensical this is (and toxic to any grown-up understanding of history) and the underlying desire to openly wallow a bit in inherited, institutional or ethic/tribal guilt, an icky form of virtue-signalling that many seem unable to decode.

If I can thus point to some underlying disagreeable intentions, there are nevertheless plenty of largely decent ones in play here too, which makes this bunk an even more urgent candidate for de-bunking.

* Even though in Britain it is still considered a matter of everyday politeness to say sorry to someone who has just hit you over the head with a baseball bat.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Sisu (2022)


A kind of made to order cult movie from Finland, combining the moods of Sergio Leone and Wolfenstein.

When it was completed the makers sent a screener to Tarantino. One wonders whether he wet himself from joy or vexation.

This is just the kind of thing he's been trying to confect for years, yet somewhat less successfully. Turns out his problem, of all things, was too many words!

Superficially a compound of familiar tropes, this tale of a Lapland loner with a bag of gold nuggets taking on a company of retreating Nazis, feels utterly fresh and inventive for the entire length of its running time.

Monday, May 15, 2023


One of the most toxic pieces of nonsense peddled by Meghan Markle in her Netflix whinge last year was that the Commonwealth is really little more than a rebranding of the British Empire. Kind of like United Fruit going around blithely 'uninformed' under the badge of Chiquita or Hugo Boss making subliminal Nazi uniforms in the disingenuous form of contemporary fashion.

Oddly enough, in the same series she described herself as a gift to that very institution that the British people and their nasty mouthpieces of vile hackery (i.e not the Commonwealth itself) chose to spurn.

On Coronation Day David Olusoga, fresh from his stint as ‘expert’ support for the Sussexes, turned up on the BBC in more conciliatory mode. He observed that in spite of all the efforts of historians like himself to write off the Commonwealth, it appears to continue to thrive anyway. (Indeed, several countries that were never part of the British Empire have recently successfully petitioned to join.)

One of the many things that the Duchess of Sussex failed to grasp about the milieu into which she had married, is that the fundamental proposition of the Commonwealth is not racial diversity, but human and cultural diversity in general.

This is what in fact distinguishes it rather sharply from any kind of empire (OK, maybe not the Austro-Hungarian) which are generally grounded in the imposition of a level of uniformity in both administrative practice and underlying core values.

In this respect, the Commonwealth has evolved into a kind of anti-empire, presenting a contrast to the larger power blocks around the world today, such as the US, China and Russia.

Or indeed to the dogmas of ‘woke’ which inherently tell us that there is only one way to think, only one way that ‘progress’ can go, even as they contradict themselves with platitudes about diversity, which on closer examination are never as tolerant, inclusive and non-hierarchical in intent as they might otherwise appear.

There is an important historical lesson to be learned by all here. If there is something in the collective world that we don’t like, taking a doctrinaire stance at a distant and opposite point may not be all that desirable.

After all, at ground level both poles are pretty similar in terms of unpleasant iciness. Refashioning the institutions and the symbolism that already exist to better fit our world and its current aspirations is the smarter play.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

An 'unsurprising' end...


For English schoolsprogs of my generation this two volume Ladybird edition, 'Kings and Queens of England', was the go-to reference tool, pretty much up to A-level. First impressions of all our monarchs were fixed for life here.

The illustration above features a piece of misinformation, for William Rufus took the wayward arrow in the chest. His initial reaction was to reach down and snap the shaft. But he then sank to his knees and toppled forward, landing on his chest and pushing the arrow-head deeper, which killed him immediately.

In that instant all kingly authority and mystery vanished — and as with his father, Rufus’s lifeless corpse was treated as awkward junk to be despoiled and quickly disposed of, his brother Henry riding off ahead of the news to seize the Royal treasury at Winchester.

Ladybird took the line that the Conqueror's second son was most interesting for his 'unsurprising' end and for some sartorial updates around his kingdom.

By the time I reached university Rufus had become one of my favourite early medieval monarchs, largely because of his non-normative approach to the role, and because he had overseen the construction of both Westminster Hall (where he sat on a marble throne) and the wall around the Tower, but I do have to recognise that were I say Welsh or a devout Christian, I might have formed a rather different opinion.

His interference in Scottish affairs is also suggested in this text. In spite of what Shakespeare later had to say, Macbeth was a decent enough ruler up there. He even paid the Pope a visit in Rome. The Normans however, sponsored Malcolm "Canmore", Duncan's son who, having defeated and decapitated Macbeth, swore fealty to Rufus in 1091 in return for a range of benefits which the King of England of course reneged on. When Malcolm III and his son came south across the border to have a good old Scottish moan they were ambushed and killed in Northhumbria.

It was Rufus's treatment of his Archbishop of Canterbury that I used to find rather drôle. Just prior to a significant naval expedition, Anselm offered to bless the King's fleet and Rufus is said to have scoffed: “As to his blessings and prayers, I utterly abominate them and spew them from me!’

Now that's how to deal with "thoughts and prayers"!

The Archbishop was soon a refugee crossing the channel in a small boat, but in the opposite direction to the one we are currently familiar with. Before being allowed to set off, Rufus's men made him wait on the beach at Dover while his bags were searched for illegal correspondence.

The man who copped the blame for the apparent hunting accident which ended this colourful reign, a knight named Walter Tirel, insisted until his dying day that he was not responsible and had been hunting in another part of the New Forest that day.

Legend has it though that on the morning of the hunt a blacksmith approached the King, at that moment frazzled by a nightmare-hangover combo, and offered him six arrows. Rufus is said to have kept four and handed the remaining pair over to Tirel with the words, "It is only right that the sharpest arrows should be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.”

Friday, May 12, 2023

How Awful?

I might have described the Duchess of Sussex as ‘awful’ the other day on el feis, but this does not mean that I regard her as solely responsible for the simmering feud which currently divides the Royal Family. Blame for that can be far more widely shared.

That Meghan was a self-constructed work of status in progress, or put it rather more cattily, a social climbing wannabe Hollywood somebody, must have been strikingly obvious to all concerned from fairly early on.

That was her thing and she was clearly dead set on doing her thing, unless carefully directed to do otherwise, and so in a sense, she is one of the least responsible for what transpired, even though first she trod all over her own family before focusing on her husband’s.

Does anyone really think her personal agenda included a lifetime of dedicated service to Britain? Even Harry must have understood early on that she was highly unlikely to put the interests of the institution above her own and that he might have to be wary about trusting her with some of its secrets. What he described as her ‘successful career’ was at that stage just a well-defined tendency. 
Much has been made of her non-appearance at the Abbey and how much of a dead loss that made her husband look, with the most widely-shared analysis of the decision suggesting she wanted to avoid all the boos. There may be truth in that, but I have a hunch she also wanted to avoid being caught on camera mouthing the oath of allegiance to her father-in-law.

It is nevertheless not a given that her aspirations were entirely incompatible with a gently modernising Monarchy and its relationship with the British people. However, there is very little sign that any of the influential people around her had anything like a plan in place for addressing a problem which was bound to progress.

The individuals that social climbers rub up the wrong way tend not to be those at the pinnacle, but dug in a bit further down at a level the arriviste must traverse.

So insert Meghan Markle, trepadora de lujo into an institution like the Monarchy and you can easily anticipate how the long-term inmates amongst the Royal staffers and courtiers might react. This would then release the gas of previously trapped snobbery, which Meghan would then be bound to characterise as the whiff of another kind of even less rational prejudice. All so predictable.

Harry has been unable or unwilling to understand the full dynamic here. In the version of events that makes the most sense to him, the UK media moved on effortlessly from hounding his mother to death to shamelessly bigoted attacks on his wife.

When he tells this story he sounds utterly sincere and believable, because he really does believe it. There is genuine pain there, and so one is obliged to empathise. (And along with Harry's hurt, it's not hard to tune into Meghan's all too real insecurities.)

Compare Andr-eeeeeew, who simply can’t avoid sounding like someone who knows he’s telling porkies.

But My Truth is not necessarily the Truth, at least not all of it, and the Sussexes' counter-attacks on the media represent not just a threat to the  Monarchy, but also some of the press freedoms that we all need to be careful with, even when abhorring some of the opinions we encounter. And we have an ancient right to practice irreverence that we can never allow to be swept aside by bullies and dogmatists.

Yet journalists have undoubtedly been mixed up with the impellent forces here. This was always going to become a sort of death spiral: Harry and Meghan would start to act more like self-aggrandizing celebrities rather than Royals and sections of the media would duly push back to the limits of the legal. Someone had to break out of the chain; a behavioural or attitudinal shift was required. Appearing to censure or punish the Sussexes seems only to wind up the mechanism.

Like any member of the hereditary elite Harry was, at least in theory, better placed to simply turn away from the media coverage. But Meghan's whole sense of who she is has always depended on the perception of others. These anxieties took a more toxic shape within their relationship because of Harry's residual feelings about the treatment of his mother.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Abasing Ourselves Again

"In 1965 the people of Britain may have been poorer, smaller, shabbier, dirtier, colder, more set in their ways, ignorant of olive oil, polenta & - even - lager. But they knew what united them, they shared a complicated web of beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, loyalties & dislikes." > Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain

Downhill from here...
From the tone of much of the reactionary, old-gitty discourse in today's Britain one could imagine that each time we gather (albeit virtually) for one of our tentpole events we feed the copy that came out of the copier last time back into the machine, resigned to the incremental deterioration in fidelity to a lost original.
I'm not sure this metaphor really works for me. I thought long and hard and came up with what I think is a slightly better one.
Watching the 'Coronating' of Charles in the small hours of Friday night/Saturday morning here I was reminded of the experience of having once been to see a smash hit West End show - like Cats or Les Mis - and then, many years later returning to the same theatre to witness the same numbers being performed in the same costumes amidst the same sets.


Any perception of immanent decay is subliminal, imbued with nostalgia. One perhaps misses the original cast, the ones on the LP, but not everyone is second or third tier (apart from the Archbishop) and there are some striking new performers on stage (Penny Mordaunt).
Another level to this, at least for the TV 'guests', can be suggested via recollection of Peter Jackson's 4K Ultra HD take on hobbiting. A modern production inevitably exposes some of the artifice, such that the most real sometimes also manifests as the most fake. 
For me, and I am guessing for many of my generation, the wedding of Charles and Di was peak Royalty, peak oh-so-deceptive sense of national unity. Remembering this now alerts me to the problem of mis-remembering...


Many moons ago V and I went to see a recital by Sviatoslav Richter at the RFH. The Russian master was already pretty old and somewhat error prone, yet his interpretations of certain pieces by Prokofiev and Bartok have stuck with me for life. I can return to the concert hall for a note-perfect, utterly competent rendition of these same compositions today and come away slightly disappointed. 
What am I really remembering here, the actual notes or a kind of composite myth of my own making? As one grows older one discovers that this is not a problem limited to live performance. 

Friday, May 05, 2023

Is there any space left on this bandwagon?

How unlike the Guardian to fail to contextualise the remarks of Belizean PM Johnny Briceño who, before opening his mouth to patronise Rishi Sunak over his Indian heritage, might have paused momentarily to engage brain...



Belize became a crown colony AFTER Britain had abolished both the slave trade and slavery.
According to the Garifuna's own version of their history, they were never really enslaved. In that narrative a slaver was wrecked on Saint Vincent and the surviving West Africans blended with the warlike Caribs on that island (who had only recently completed the extermination of the native Arawaks). Under pressure from both Britain and France they subsequently got in their boats and set off for the Bay of Honduras. They still speak an Amerindian-derived language. 
A chunk of people in Belize are descended from soldiers who fought under Lee in the Confederate Army and were resettled after the Civil War. Do they deserve their share of reparations? 
A significant number of Mayan Belizeans arrived in the 80s having fled the genocidal policies of Guatemala's military regime. Would Guatemala need to chip in? 
Northern Belize's population is weighted towards those descended from refugees from the Caste Wars, in which the Yucatán, at the start an independent state, was attempting to put down a revolt amongst its indigenous population. Who's on the hook here? Spain, Mexico or the Governors of Yucatán and Quintana Roo? The UK provided sanctuary.
Perhaps ironically, there is one large, ethnically-homogenous group in Belize which might get some mileage out of a gripe about British imperial policies, now the country's most economically-powerful demographic: the Cantonese. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Three days to go...

I'm not a doctrinaire monarchist. It's not a system of government that I could honestly recommend to any new nation. 

In the case of my own nation however, I do appreciate how it forms a sort of glue holding the entire rickety contraption together.

And I'm with Aussie singer-songwriter Nick Cave when he says he's on board for the strangeness, driven by an 'inexplicable emotional attachment' to the royals and the show, ceremonial, shit etc., which goes on around them. 

Having a family as the head of state has certain functional advantages for the UK over an appointed or elected one. Come Saturday, when the most personal and irrational aspects of the constitution are on display, we may be tempted to forget how it is the impersonal nature of the system, the way that it transcends transient public officials and their partisan gripes, which characterises this form of 'rule'. 

Speaking of gripes, those made here by a GB News gribbly repeat some familiar Republican misdirections. The monarchy is not fundamentally a failing scheme for bringing in the tourists funded by taxpayers. 

The Crown is an wealthy institution managed by the state, which collects the income and pays a salary to working members of the royal family. Most of the value of that work occurs not in the tourism sector, but around the services and the voluntary sector and involves genuine effort. Princess Anne participated in 214 separate events last year. 

Coronation-pooper here is typical of a certain sort of Tory voter who disagrees with state hand-outs in principle, be they to the hard-up or the occupants of palaces, for their worldview is essentially selfish and invisible-handy, and the voluntary sector is not something that keeps them up at night. 

The irony here is that the notion that membership of the Royal Family entails a premium luxury, instagrammable lifestyle paid for by the dumb British proles was exactly what led to the Meghan problem. Yet the moment it dawned on the Duchess of Sussex that things were in reality a tad more complex (and potentially onerous - the dumb proles actually expected something in return), she hot-footed it back to California.


Tuesday, May 02, 2023

“The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.”

Sir Tristan/Tristram and Sir Lancelot (right), seen jousting here might have been mythical members of the Camelot community, but their official heraldic arms have been legitimately on the books. 

Knights, rather like the later and typically more proletarian Pirates, were a well-defined roughneck subculture within western society that in theory lived according to high, almost utopian ideals, but in practice generally didn't.

Tristan,son of King Meliodas, was always my favourite Arthurian hanger-on, clearly less intrinsically dickish than Lancelot, Gawain and oh-so-bloody perfect Percival.

In Malory I always looked forward to his periodic encounters with Palomides, the box ticking Middle Eastern infidel at the Round Table, notorious for his unrequited hankering after Iseult. (One felt for him as no magical love potion was required to make him keen for the bean.)

Artifice Girl (2023)

The 'action' here has been divided into three distinct chapters, sadly an over-used ploy by independent film-makers, which often ends up making all too clear the sense of diminishing returns from a single conceit, leaving the viewer with a firm idea which of the acts they might watch again and which they'll readily forget about almost immediately. 

The concept here, the use of an AI which appears on screen as a lifelike 3D-modelled teenage girl in order to trap kiddyfiddlers in chat rooms is at its most fascinating in the Now+ context. This, we surmise, might just be about the happen.  

The speculation is carried forward first twenty years and then fifty. The AI, Cherry, has 'matured' into a super-intelligence with feelings so well simulated that even 'she' cannot tell how they might differ from ours. 

And yet she has also remained a particularly entitled-seeming, whiny, white American teen. 

The movie is spatially and visually sparse, which means that the content is above-averagely talky. Indeed the second act feels like a compact convention of Basil Expositions on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Again, this stagey-ness worked best in the first chapter, where I was reminded of a certain kind of highbrow television play that we used to see more of in Britain of my childhood. 

Although there are some hefty ethical issues on the table, it's the ones under the table that started to bother me as the movie progressed. 

And the story did not seem to allow for how the world outside these rooms might have changed across the decades. For example, twenty years after the first deployment of the entrapment by CGI avatar ploy, would it still be just as effective?

Yesterday's news suggests that we may soon be collectively convinced that almost everything online is some sort of AI fabrication or 'hallucination'.

The trouble with these fictional narratives about future consciousness is that a contemporary human writer can of necessity never fully get inside a mind which has transcended human intelligence. All the smartest dialogue in Artifice Girl came from the wetware. 

I wanted Cherry to tell us more about being a mind with no body. After all our physical forms are really a key part of our perceptional apparatus. 

I've been wondering myself if the tipping point for this technology will come when it steps outside the position where biological life has evolved to exist and survive within a reality which has been partially 'imagined' by nervous systems. 

There's a clear difference between reality as it exists objectively (and yet can never really be comprehended by our current empirical approaches) and reality as we perceive it. What if AI could self-evolve from its protected environment and take up residence at a wholly novel and distinct point between these two?

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Text in a Notebook

I’ve been carrying some existential niggles since my recent trip. In such circumstances, rather than diving into highbrow non-fiction tomes, I will tend to seek relevant associations and validation in fiction, specifically the minimal kind.

With Cortázar, one does not have to limit oneself to finding those jolting, epiphanous intuitions between the lines, because his stories are suffused — as Anatole Broyard noted in back in 1983 — with “imminent metaphor” (did he mean immanent?) and a “musical expectation”, though adding that for him they work better on the level of hypothesis than literary synthesis. I’d maybe agree that Cortázar isn’t one of those writers who necessarily ought to be read in the original (like Garcia Marquez), though it helps to know a bit about his locations. 

This collection lacks the two small tales I often return to: Axolotl, possibly my favourite short story not written by a Russian person, and Casa Tomada. But it does have one which has hijacked my attention this week, Texto En Una Libreta (Text in a Notebook), set in Buenos Aires at the time my father was living there at the end of the 40s. It too begins with a jolting premonition which, by the last lines, has become all-consuming…

It has come to the narrator’s attention that more people are entering the A Line on the subte than leaving it. Initial explanations include bureaucratic incompetence and ‘atomic attrition’, an esoteric scientific hypothesis involving the nullification of individuality in large crowds.

Through a process combining speculation with investigation, he realises that a disturbingly expanding pool of citizens, pale and sad, have chosen to live a limited life in constant motion, literally below the surface of the mainstream. Downward Mobility.

That’s the simple synopsis, with its uncertainty as to whether we are dealing with individuals who have lost touch with reality or whether reality itself has chosen to ghost them — and given that 75 or so years on we now inhabit a society possessing AI which capable of experiencing “hallucinations”, I’d say Julio deserves his place as one of my bathroom books.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

'Melanated Sister'

Colourblind casting, even in a supposedly fact-led docuseries, is often to be least when adequately buffered from nationalistic and racialistic point scoring. 

From a 'neutral perspective' this newsworthily controversial example is no sillier than Welshman Taron Egerton playing the Dutch-Indonesian lead in Tetris recently. 
The problem seems to be however that it reportedly comes with a provocative Afrocentrist soundbite, plus the fact that most Septics will not begin to appreciate even the upper layers of this issue.
Cleopatra was a Ptolemy, descended from one of Alexander’s generals via some very resolute in-breeding, and so Greek, no hang on a sec, Macedonian. (Cue tedious Balkan bust up).

The Ptolemy clan didn’t marry out much, even affairs were conducted within a very select gene pool, but let's allow that she conceivably may also have been just a tiny bit Egyptian, whilst not forgetting that the Arabs were later, medieval entrants onto the continent, invaders and colonisers, so we are left to conclude that there might just have been some Coptic optics (most honkytonks: huuuuh?). 
That most unfortunate term ‘African American’, used typically as a euphemism for schematicised racial polarities in the US, inevitably initiates a form of invisibility for many indigenous ethnic groups on that continent. 
The director of the series has only gone and made this oh-so-explicit with her tactless and gobsmackingly patronising comments following the inevitable fall-out on the Nile: Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister?...I have asked Egyptians to see themselves as Africans, and they are furious at me for that.”
Oh deary dear. So now the only authentic way to be African is to look like someone descended in the main from black Africans from the western side of that continent? 

There is a bit of a backstory here, because for much of the late twentieth century African American counter-culture appeared to admire and lean towards the Islamic identity of North Africa, but has since turned a little more lukewarm on the matter. 'African Americans' are nowadays more likely to be found asserting their birthright to be as culturally insensitive and blithely ignorant as any other sort of American. 
Right now there is a superficially progressive tendency for ‘African Americans’ (presumably Rami Malek does not identify as such) to seek out historical narratives beyond the Atlantic slave trade and the struggle for civil rights as a wider source of pride, yet there is obvious potential there for exporting cultural distortions and simplifications which are inevitably going to rile North African peoples for whom ethnic frictions often run deeper and are in a sense more ‘live’ than Netflix/Hollywood is ever going to allow for. The detail is never superfluous…but try convincing that lot. 
And observations from series director Mahmoud al-Semary such as "Why do some people need Cleopatra to be white? Her proximity to whiteness seems to give her value, and for some Egyptians it seems to really matter," are unhelpful at best given that perhaps the more pertinent issue is why people apparently need her to be black, for that is the more obviously counterfactual position. 
Anyway, let’s face it, how could this role ever be cast today without setting off a chorus of complaints?
That said, if you make a historical documentary about someone else's history and offend them, you surely need to show a modicum of appreciation of how their discomfit might not be fully explainable within your own models of skin tone biases.
I guess the best ever representation of this Queen will remain the one in the Asterix books, pointy nose and all.