Our Mythical Film Industry

 

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Arguably Scotland’s most famous Academy award winning  film – not made in Scotland, ‘Braveheart’, a film about a revolutionary who owned the only razor in Scotland

An alert reader noticed a comment from (I think) a BBC spokesperson apologising for the absence of any drama about, produced, and made in, Scotland since 2014.

Actually, it’s earlier than that. It takes over two years from green lighting  a project to the finished article, longer if waiting for transmission, or cinema release. This is why we are startled to see our favourite actor grey haired at interview. He made the drama years back. (Maybe he was grey then but dyed it for the role.)

One reason for the situation is ventured by a BBC executive, “There isn’t the talent in Scotland.” If I identify him it will only cause him acute embarrassment, but he deserves to be named and shamed.

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Master filmmaker Satyajit Ray – his homeland was his entire creativity

He is not the messiah

The story of Scotland’s cinematic output is one of still birth, followed by a new messiah who is lured to London, and then to Hollywood, get’s praised by Scotland’s media, and then gets fired from a big budget film. Scotland leaches talent to another’s culture.

Though master filmmakers encounter Hollywood at some time in their career only to get ripped off, they tend to remain with their homeland because that’s where inspiration springs eternal: Satyajit Ray in Bengal, Kurosawa in Japan, Sergei Eisenstein in Soviet Russia, Truffaut in France, Bergman in Sweden, Pedro Almodóvar in Spain, too many to list in Latin America. Scotland’s directors go abroad, and usually stay there.

Television pays upfront, movies hope for box office luck

If you decide to stay in Scotland and want to be a filmmaker you compromise – television drama, documentaries, and commercials – if you can get them. Mostly, you can’t. Scotland’s oft cited industry is really a smattering of projects for film and television. There isn’t the quantity of commissions for a filmmaker to specialise.

A justified reaction to the article’s title, therefore, might be, what film industry?

A cottage industry

We have a cottage industry of sorts, the equivalent of one-and-a-half resident film crew, few producers, and even fewer directors. For the most part Scotland is a backdrop to a foreign filmmakers film.

We are a service industry. We locate for other people’s films. We supply the catering. What self-generated productions exist, exist against the odds.

Resident practitioners appear and disappear each decade as people move to London, or just give up on the profession. If you want to make film the money is in London. The power is in London. Distribution is in London.

Last in is a sissy

The discrepancy is partly the fault of Scotland’s broadcasting companies, their misguided commissioning procedure. For example, an English-based producer can pitch a project to BBC Scotland, and conversely, a Scottish-based producer can pitch to BBC London. Scottish producers not part of the fashionable metropolis have little chance of winning what is an elimination contest. It doesn’t help, of course, that BBC reduced the post of head of drama to commissioning editor, under the direction of BBC London .

Channel Four, once the saviour of the English film industry with a solid policy to encourage new filmmakers, (I was one) hardly participates in Scottish drama. STV made endless series of Taggart, eventually in modern dress. It did that because the ITV network guaranteed to buy them and transmit them.

Try being a Scottish-based producer, one able to bear the costly expense of London travel and meetings, but up against a hoard of experienced London-based companies well networked, and see how far you get with your Celtic subject matter.  There’s the barrier to surmount of English disinterest in anything of a Scottish character.

Conversely, English producers have little competition in Scotland. BBC’s cliché of a ‘level playing field’ is hogwash.

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Far too much talk and not enough calls of ‘Action!”

Build it and they will come

Resident companies in Scotland make the same claim on public finance as they did when I decided to close down in Edinburgh and set up shop in Los Angeles: we need a film studio.

It’s a recurring plea. Every few years somebody announces an intention to build one. Even Sean Connery tried his hand with Sony, but that too evaporated in a stream of conjecture, and criticism over grabbing green belt for its location. (The Royal Bank of Scotland somehow got the land!) Studios have catches attached, like the extra land needed for a hotel, and houses. Creative Scotland is, as they say, actively looking into the matter.

In the age of storytelling expressed through the moving image all nation states need film and a film studio. Ireland has its Ardmore studios, England has Pinewood, Norway has three studios.

What kind of film studio?

A film studio can be a simple ‘dry wall’ building of large proportions, and soundproofed; four walls with a lighting gantry and some state of the art computers for graphics enhancement. It should be kept apart from aircraft and road noise, but close to motorway access, and near woods and a hill for cheap outdoor scenes.

Next comes the question, who pays for skeleton staff to run it, and rent it to indigenous and visiting production companies? Lastly, just as important, what tax advantages are available to encourage productions to shoot in Scotland?

When planning a film shot in Australia, (about an errant Scottish pioneer) the state film fund offered me up to three quarters of the budget, so long as two thirds of the film was shot in Australia, with a proportion of crew and actors Aussies. You were also expected to use as many local facilities as possible. However, editing can be done in another country.

The lack of bureaucracy is impressive. “You’re shocked, mate! We offered money before you made your pitch, right? We make films here, we don’t talk about the bloody things.”

There is a similar situation existing in New Mexico, USA, which attracts a lot of Californian productions, the recent excellent Hell and High Water (2015) shot there by director, David MacKenzie. We could offer the same here, only if tax dividends go hand-in-hand.

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Pinewood Studios. When an extension was sought to house more studio space I proposed it could be built in Edinburgh as part of Better Together’s ‘pooling and sharing’ doctrine.  (It was a test more than a hope.) The resulting howls of laughter could be heard in Orkney.

Setting up a studio is a comparatively easy task, one that asks only for the political will and enough finance. The hardest part of sustaining a film industry, even a small one, is who sells Scottish films when edited?

Distribute the film but keep the talent

Having no distributer leaves a small nation producing expensive home movies. To some degree the Norwegian model overcomes that problem. Laudably, it subsidises all its films, as many as a dozen a year, ensuring the producer gets the most from box office so he or she can invest in another film together with government grant aid. The films get distributed in Scandinavian countries. A few make it to Europe.

But generally Norwegian films don’t travel very far. Does that matter? It does, if Scotland wants to speak to other nations, not just to its self. We like to think we speak a kind of intelligible English that doesn’t require our dramas subtitled or dubbed.

Having our own distribution arm for film and television production supposes there is enough activity to justify its existence. That means subsidising production to stimulate product. Here lies temptation on capitalist  lines.

Government investment has a tendency to lead to hard-nosed commercial subject matter. If not a government grant the film has to make a profit, unless, that is, the state decrees a healthy level of ‘art house’ subject matter alongside populist material, the kind concerned with mature adult issues, and not super heroes running down corridors chased by fireballs. But the state should not choose scripts. It should back its indigenous filmmakers.

Broadcasters to the rescue

To make all that work we need one terrestrial broadcaster mandated to invest in and transmit indigenous film, once cinemas show it. Any profits can be used to sustain the distributor, with a good portion reinvested in Scottish-made movies.

If a state run distribution entity doesn’t exist we have come no further than the days when STV rewarded master documentary maker, John Grierson, with a television series to show documentaries, but never once invested in his work. He ended his career early, talking about filmmakers, not making documentaries himself. That’s the Scotland I know – ever keen to praise international names, but cringes when it comes to elevating our own.

In time, if all those things come to pass, we will benefit from establishing an ‘Academy of the Moving Image’, run by and for its filmmaker ‘academicians’, existing to nurture interest in film, and honour our practitioners.

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‘Trainspotting’ made most of its $70 million profit not at the box office, but by Blockbuster rental. Not a penny came back to Scotland

Adult content only

As a side issue, but one that arises from the loss of talent: we cannot keep making mostly ‘yoof’ films, one every two years, and not much else. The list is almost endless, and I contributed to it. There are so many: Bill Douglas’ trilogy My Ain Folk; Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling and Gregory’s Girl; Rat Catcher, Small Faces, Restless Natives; Conquest of the South Pole, like Trainspotting set in Edinburgh’s port of Leith, Sunshine on Leith, and so on, and so forth. Even the much praised television political thriller shot in Glasgow, Brond, my own production, contained a student as its central character.

Youth obsession arrives with monotonous regularity because  it embodies happenings and adventures immediately close to the rookie filmmaker’s life experience, the graduate from film school. And they are the cheapest to fund. Young actors don’t cost as much as star actors. My own cinematic film was a little under half-a-million pounds.  (The television drama was £2,2 million.) Youth orientated stories ought to be a strand of our output, not the be and end all, child-centred material too.

A child among adults

Child-centred films are something else. There is a distinction between that genre and youth films. They’re invariably concerned with adult issues, the behaviour of adults as perceived by the child, and as they mould the child.

Fine examples are Brian Forbes’ Whistle Down the Wind, (1961) the Spanish Victor Erice’s  masterpiece The Spirit of the Beehive, (1973) and a wonderful masterwork from American actor and newcomer to direction Brady Corbet, Childhood of a Leader, (2015) about the making of a fascist.

What’s the point?

To be a mature, enlightened, liberal nation is to be free to choose your own artistic standards and subject matter, not have them imposed from outside. If all we do is copy what ‘they’re’ doing, or want they want, we restrict creativity, and block originality.

Scottish drama ought to be, and is, as universal as any other.

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Sean Connery, once a milkman. If the opportunities are there the lowliest of us have a chance to develop our skills, just not in Scotland, not yet

Scots don’t make movies. We go to see them.

And yet we have writers and novelists of the highest ability able to create the stories of our time, and stories filled with symbolism of our past.

Ready to collaborate are our painters, graphic artists, cartoonists, and camera crew, composers, and a legion of superb actors. No wonder their contemporaries elsewhere are lauded and venerated. They have the opportunity to develop and grab it with enthusiasm.

For my part, I accept reluctantly that many of my best Scottish projects won’t be realised. At the very least that’s a lost opportunity for the employment of talented contemporaries.

(An abridged version of this essay appeared in the June 2016 edition of  iScot magazine. Don’t forget to take out a subscription!)

Posted in Film review, Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

The Childhood of a Leader – a review

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The boy as budding psychopath

This film is a riveting study of a psychotic child living with dysfunctional parents, learning how to disrupt, and in so doing, how to control adults.

I’ve met that child. My years as a drama teacher in the east end of Glasgow were exciting.  Pupils rushed to my classroom relieved of being fed stultifying mathematics, arid Protestantism, and turgid English history. “Why do you enjoy my classes?” I asked one twelve year-old from a tenement home. “Because it makes me confident, sir.”

They enjoyed my kicks at authority, my  subversive instincts. A teacher with no tie and designer stubble was a threat to good order, according to the harpy on horseback that was the headmistress. No corporal punishment. No homework. Fruit to eat. I told the children they were worth something valuable to society. And they smiled and blossomed.

But one boy troubled me. He defied the class, the lessons, the improvisations, and me. He was a threat. I can see his face to this day. A stubby shaped boy, with hair cut by a blunt kitchen knife, shiny, threadbare trousers, eyes without emotion, face hardened by poverty and snot. He made sure he sat at the back of the class, coiled as if to spring on anybody who dared approach. No amount of cajoling, private chats, or witnessing the pleasure of his classmates making a video drama, enticed him from his seat.

In those days pupils exhibiting anti-social behaviour were removed to the naughty room, or worse, belted to blisters by the headmaster, a sure way of teaching the rebellious that exercising power and pain pays dividends.

I am reminded of that memory by the exquisite acting of Tom Sweet who plays the title’s main character, a little psychopath in the making, remote, detached, ready to show spite. However, my obnoxious pupil didn’t share Sweet’s angelic face. Not in the least.

The Childhood of a Leader is a timely right-wing allegory of our troubled age. From an 27-year-old novitiate, Brady Corbet, born in the cowboy town of Scottsdale, Arizona, a former jobbing actor, the film is a tour-de-force.

In content and style it’s far more European than American, a courageous calling card for a budding director in Hollywood.

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Brady Corbet on set; not much to look at, ladies, but an incisive intelligence

Corbet spent more than a decade acting in films for celebrated auteurs: Michael Haneke (Funny Games), Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin), Lars von Trier (Melancholia). “Since I was young I took pride in my work. I want the majority of things I do to reflect my interests.”

He lambasts the left-wing media as well as the right for all the Trump image-building, and his views on cinema are just as principled – Corbet is all but dismissive of mainstream entertainment. If it’s not art, walk on by. “I wish our biggest talents would be more radical” he opined in a recent interview. Corbet demonstrates his somewhat hubristic views by leaving untouched the film’s clunky title.

The screenplay is a cooperation between Corbet and his partner, Mona Fastvold, the work based on a 1939 short story by Jean-Paul Sartre. Set in post–World War I France, Sartre sketched a fascist leader’s early childhood, the incidents that enforce and motivate, the inherent qualities missing from his character, such as empathy and compassion. When his parents impose good behaviour through physical discipline the boy interprets it as power over people. He’s a quick learner.

When he sees his mother discomfited by his father’s sexual approaches, the boy tests his nanny with the same move, and sees the result. When he refuses food and is confined to his room until he finishes his meal, he sees his nanny eat it as a shared secret, and realises he too can make adults do as he wants. The little fascist is understanding human nature quicker than the adults around him.

Corbet and Fastvold saw contemporary parallels in the work. The project took ten years to reach fruition, from inception to Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival.

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Co-writer Mona Fastvold; a lot to look at, gentlemen, but what an incisive intelligence

The fact that the film proceeds from minor incident to minor incident without attempting an arc of dramatic development or drive is one of its riskiest conceits. And it takes lots of risks in transition from scene to scene, camera lingering on a face, and in pacing scenes.

The film is full of cinematic novelties and experiments, and they work. Each scene is shot as if in real time, at an unhurried pace, and the pay-off is that we are drawn into the child’s world as if a household servant of many years. Interestingly, this is done without our being encouraged to identify with any of the main characters; we get close to them even while continuing to observe them from a distance.

Stylistically fearless, the film announces its historical setting with a barrage of newsreel images (Citizen Kane-like) set to pop innovator Scott Walker’s crashing, thundering, clangourous score, which sounds at odds with the film but is gloriously right. Walker is one half of the sixties Walker Brothers, who has taken the path of the avante garde.

In a peaceful French village, children in costumes are preparing for a Yule pageant. It is Christmas 1918. The turmoil of the Great War is all around but at a distance. Among the village children is an effeminate, long-haired little boy, (Tom Sweet) who looks like a girl because he refuses to cut his hair. He leaves the festivities and, irrationally, begins hurling stones at the others.

Newly arrived in France, the family of three is displaced both mentally and physically. The patriarch, (Liam Cunningham) is a high-ranking bureaucrat helping Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state bring about peace and reconciliation in Versailles. Correct and matter-of fact at all times – the type of man who folds his trousers before getting into bed with a lover – is nevertheless blind to the fierce animosity fought under his own roof between his German wife and son. We get glimpses of affairs happening, the moments a child sees.

The son’s misbehaviour – throwing rocks at fellow churchgoers, refusing food, groping his tutor – slowly advances from naughty child to boys-will-be-boys shenanigans and then to something more troubling, more foreboding.

Corbet takes pains to make his characters human, all too human, although the boy kept reminding me of the blonde children from John Wyndham’s  The Midwich Cuckoos, steely, cold, and emotionless. Characters with empathy and compassion are soon banished.

Corbet has assembled a terrific cast of character actors: Bérénice Bejo as the boy’s mother, Liam Cunningham as his father, Stacy Martin as his French tutor and the object of his burgeoning sexuality, plus hairy-scary Robert Pattinson in two roles!

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The main cast, almost the mirror image of the Adams family

Sweet, like Corbet also making his debut, plays the 7-year-old of the title, whose name is withheld until the end, done, I suppose, so we don’t identify him with any living fascist of today. Sweet speaks quietly so that everyone including us the observers, leans in to listen. He doesn’t strike the stereo-typical Hollywood sociopath-in-waiting figure – he doesn’t toy with knives or pistols, rip up his bed sheets, torture the cat, or piss in the cook’s soup. He exhibits an alienated sense of detachment.

As you absorb the story and get sucked in you begin to get a strong feeling of dread. You hold your breath. I kept saying, “This can’t end well.” And it didn’t.

It isn’t a criticism to say little of what happens comes as a shock, but Corbet’s narrative restraint, coupled with cinematic daring and fine acting, makes for a gripping experience.

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Photo call at the Venice Film Festival, director Corbet far left

The film is broken into four chapters — the First Tantrum, the Second Tantrum, the Third Tantrum and a New Era – each section carrying a subtitle that points us further in the same thematic direction. If I have a criticism it’s the ending, right as a theatrical punch to the heart, but too indistinct to offer a satisfying understanding. Judge for yourself.

Cinematographer Lol Crawley makes great images out of interior scenes appearing to have been shot without spotlights, while Walker’s ominous, ever-present string section builds to an unhinged crescendo that keeps pace with the film’s hellishly stomach-turning coda. (I’ve not aware of Walker as film composer, but readers will keep me right.)

Very late in the film, we hear the child referred to by name once: Prescott. (His parents are never named.) But we know it isn’t two-Jaguars John Prescott British ex-Labour MP. This begs the question, which leader’s childhood are we witnessing?

Is it Trump, (his father was an alleged serial womaniser) Pol Pot, Stalin, Indonesia’s dictator of 30 years, Siharto, Chile’s Pinochet, Spain’s General Franco? There’s any number from which to choose.

The boy is given to reciting the fable of the lion and the mouse, whose last line is on the nose stirring: Little friends may prove great friends. He himself has few, which  he isn’t likely to forget as he ascends to power.

The downside is the film is firmly slotted into the art house circuit. Unless your local multiplex is liberally-minded, you’ll have to seek it out. Just don’t take your kids along.

  • Star rating: Four and a half
  • Cast: Tom Sweet, Robert Pattison, Bérénice Bejo, Yolanda Moreau
  • Director: Brady Corbet
  • Screenplay: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold, from a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Cinematographer: Lol Crawley
  • Composer: Scott Walker
  • Duration: 116 minute

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Posted in Film review | 1 Comment

The Shallows – a review

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Blake Lively in The Shallows – even the wardrobe budget is rock bottom

Many moons ago, desperate for an idea that contained one character, one location, and so cost tuppence to make, (a Scottish malaise born out of financial necessity) yet be packed full of drama and tension, I wasted two days pacing up and down in my office, scrubbing my designer stubble, staring out windows, doing endless computer Solitaire, to no result.

No sooner had I given up when a film premiered almost its entire length devoted to a man incarcerated in a coffin, and his futile attempts to navigate help by screaming into the fading illumination of a flip phone. The rest was pitch darkness. The film was the thriller Buried, (2010) directed by Rodrigo Cortéz.

Ingeniously, the coffin was constructed so the camera could shoot from any angle. Damn! Why hadn’t I thought of that?  It starred Ryan Reynolds, his cigarette lighter, and a battery depleting cell phone. At the time I thought it a four star winner, but now we have a female version of lonesome peril we can see Buried is very good but The Shallows is a gem.

Some critics report the film as a minor masterpiece. I’m not sure what that means. I assume they think it small scale but perfectly formed. So was the harrowing Son of Saul but that is a masterpiece. This film is expertly shot and crafted and great entertainment, a real feat when you consider how jaundiced we’ve become about shark stories, but the silliness of the premise and the implausible last minutes let it down.

The heroine is a feisty actress new to me called Blake Lively, a movie star name in the tradition of Gale Storm, Slim Pickins, and Rip Torn. Coincidentally it’s the creation of another Spanish director, Jaume Collet-Serra, whose iridescent, cool approach made the silly horror flick Orphan worth paying top dollar to see. Even more of a coincidence, Blake Lively is married to Ryan Reynolds. How’s that for monopolising one-person movies?

This time Collet-Serra serves up a hundred per cent silly movie that’s an absolute winner. Without an ounce of body fat on the script, or on Blake Lively for that matter, slim as a stoat, in real life a mother of three, all lively Lively kids, this is well-timed to float past a summer of absolutely puerile blockbusters, boring reboots, and squishy sequels, not to mention redundant alliteration.

For a slick 87 minutes, The Shallows delivers on its testosterone male grabbing promise: Blake Lively, in a bikini, fighting a shark. That’s about the gist of it.

There are a few minor characters, and two co-stars, the shark and a seagull. The premise reduces the enterprise to a female slasher movie, but I assure you it’s clever, smart, beautifully shot and edited, and you’ll be cheering by the end.

Nancy (Lively), photographed in a golden haze, a bored medical school student on the verge of dropping out, (knowledge of the human anatomy handy for stemming wounds) thumbs a lift from a Mexican resort to a ‘secret’ beach.

The beach is off the beaten path, secluded, but Nancy has a number of photographs twenty years earlier of her equally athletic-looking mother at the very same spot. This beach is where she wants to be. She has her surf board.

Exactly what emotion she is experiencing isn’t explained. Most children I know never want to repeat what their parents did, or go places where their parents visited, not, that is, until in late middle age, feeling mortal and nostalgic, empathy their motivation.

That’s all the rationale Nancy needs to satisfy us why she wants to be there, and all we really need to know to get thoroughly involved in the story, but the writer, Anthony Janwinski, adds unnecessary exposition. We learn Nancy is struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother, and she’s from Galveston, Texas.

Is knowing where she was born going to make a difference to the shark?

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That holiday of  a lifetime on a desert island is vastly overblown. Spot the seagull co-star

The direction is relentless, fast-paced, the camera moving in and around the rock she finds herself stranded, circling Great White pinning her there, its black aerodynamic shape gliding silently, effortlessly around Nancy’s precarious sanctuary, safe there until the tide comes in.  The only thing she has for company is a wounded seagull, a herring gull if I’m correct, the American species. First time I’ve seen a gull as co-star in a movie.

The  camera then drops in and out of the water, sound  crystal clear and then muffled in an instant. It’s a wonderful technique for making us think we are on the rock beside her or watching from the water’s surface.

Lively does a terrific job of having us believe she has no options but an untimely grizzly death. Nevertheless, there’s hardly a moment where her character isn’t thinking through a problem, or formulating some sort of plan, or scanning the horizon for help or a solution, one moment resolved to be courageous, the next sinking into despair. As a result, Lively dominates every minute, pushing the story along without a clunky moment.

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When not in character soaked in the briny sea it’s always wise to put some clothes on

There is one sadistic scene I have to be careful not to give away.

Nancy sees a man asleep on the beach, empty bottle by his side. Finally she gets his attention, but instead of helping her he ransacks her belongings. Then he switches his attention to her surf board, the half-naked blonde on the rock too remote to stop him stealing it, the board just a stone’s throw from him. Appetite stimulated, the shark’s also, he dives in to grab it, and Nancy, a virtuous heroine, frantically warns him away.

Once the shark makes its move, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum… we forget the man’s vile intentions because we’re on our seats shouting at the idiot to stay on the shoreline and call the police. The shot stays on Lively, her hand-over-her-mouth gagging her reflexes and horror and … the shot cuts to the man’s face grimacing on the shore.

That’s fine, lean cut, prime movie making on a shoe-string, a director with an innate sense of drama, able to avoid cliché of the kind you’d expect in yet another shark movie.

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How come Great Whites always get typecast as the villain?

In a powerful image underwater, the blood from Nancy’s wound fills the screen. That’s one of the director’s signatures, digitally assisted travelling takes, which here follows the blow-by-blow account of Nancy’s first attack from the shark. The shot dips above and below the water aggressively, changing pace to emphasize in slow motion Nancy’s collisions with the sharp stoned, razor shelled, spiky ocean floor.

The plot could have been lifted from the first few minutes of Spielberg’s Jaws, stretched out into a full-length movie in its own right. We get to see the life and will power of that fated girl on the beach at midnight. In The Shallows our Nancy aims to live. The Shallows shares the same plot as Jaws, survival, fortitude, bravery, and ingenuity. And it’s the perfect length, the length of a real-time night’s dream, just under ninety minutes.

“Learning to be self-reliant takes time and hard work. Know where you’re going, and make your own decisions”, goes the voice-over the trailer, and in The Shallows Nancy proves that to be a gross understatement.

This is a film you enter assuming you’ll be scunnered by having seen it all before, but Collet-Serra proves there’s life in them killer dorsal fins. Though you’re certain such a lovely lithe body will never be sacrificed to an ugly stomach sporting three rows of teeth, safety a mere 200 yards from a sun blessed beach, cinematographically terrific shots and lots of horror filled frights put you through the wringer just the same.

By the way, I eventually thought of a one-person plot, a hit man trapped in an elevator, a fire engulfing the lift from the top floor down where he had carried out his assassination. The screenplay has been purchased, cast approached, Los Angeles locations checked out.

  • Star rating: Four stars
  • Cast: Blake Lively, Great White Shark, Seagull
  • Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
  • Cinematography: Flavio Martinez
  • Duration: 87 minutes

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Posted in Film review | 6 Comments

The Language of Bankers

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Irish banker David Drumm, pleaded poverty until US investigators found his bank account

This is a story of men without honour whose behaviour is akin to the petty thief.

It also reminds us big time bankers did their training in Las Vegas gambling casinos.

They are not the ones we meet at the bank desk, the junior and senior tellers wishing us a pleasant day, or middle-management who applaud our perspicuity for placing pounds in our savings account. They are not the women behind glass booths who count notes like a croupier dishes playing cards, the ones whom we ask anxiously if they might cash a desperately needed cheque without evidence of your identity. Those are the staff who lose their jobs because the executives protect theirs.

The villains are the senior executives, the ones who say “Aston Martins appreciate”, and “How much for a whole night?” and “Banks do not need regulation.”

Bankers are far too sensible and thrifty, never shifty, they opine, to squander money. Constraints and controls are not necessary, they repeat. Endlessly. Sometimes they pay others to say that.

To put it bluntly, the sons of bitches pulled a knife on us, and it didn’t have butter on it.

As we go about our daily lives wondering how we can make ends meet, and see the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, our ire turns to bankers who got us into this mess, and the politicians who aided and abetted them.

Iceland, how’s that doing?

Iceland was one of the earliest, worst hit casualties of the 2008 crisis. Much of the nation’s rapid growth came after the privatization of its banking sector in the early 2000s and the banks subsequent aggressive expansion nationally and overseas.

The 2008 crisis triggered the collapse of Iceland’s three largest banks. Since then Iceland relies less on fishing for its economy and has diversified with software, biotechnology and tourism. In addition, Iceland took a democratic vote – a referendum – which resulted in the refusal to pay debts accrued by errant bankers, debts not the fault of the electorate.

Iceland rounded up its bankers and charged them with recklessness and attempting to cover up their illegality. After a cull of them – there’s no other way of putting it, twenty-six were put on trial, found guilty and incarcerated – the economy has started to recover.

A ‘cull’ of bankers is an apt collective noun.

Britain, how’s that doing?

In the UK we did the opposite to Iceland, we protected bankers, gave them fifteen years to get their house in order voluntarily, whitewashed their nefarious activities in costly enquiries the taxpayers paid for, (US: inquiries) and reports, raised more taxes, and imposed brutal austerity on the population. The population paid three times over.

For deliberately selling insurance and worthless stocks and shares we fine not them but the banks who took our money. No banker need fear jail. They’re free of control.

What do they mean by no ‘constraints’? We’re not asking them to swallow birth control pills. No one has advocated discontinuing their blood type.

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Anglo Irish – now there’s a contradiction in terms

Ireland, how’s that doing?

Ireland followed Iceland’s example.

One banker Irish justice fingered is David Drumm, former chief of the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank. Drumm is charged with thirty-three counts of alleged offences, and a separate one that comes under European Union transparency directive, a charge the UK won’t be able to engage on any of our errant bankers now it has dumped the EU.

Drumm faces charges of conspiracy to defraud, and false accounting relating to €7.2 billion in deposits placed in Anglo Irish Bank accounts by the then existing Irish Life and Permanent, during 2008. With  the simple addition of an extra zero, or the numeral 1 altered to 7, these sums were allegedly shown as larger amounts in order to protect the bank’s balance sheet. Imagine if we did that without our pay cheques.

Each offence carries a five or ten year jail term, except for a single count of conspiracy to defraud, which has a maximum penalty of an “unlimited term of imprisonment”.

Drumm did what all men do keen to avoid the law, he skipped town. In fact, he hopped, skipped and jumped to Boston, followed by an extradition file to the U.S. government. Drumm was collared by U.S. Marshals in October 2015, and spent the next five months in a maximum security prison south of Boston. This is where the story really starts.

In 2010, he filed for bankruptcy under U.S. law. A Boston court dismissed his application saying he had lied and acted in a fraudulent manner.

The Massachusetts judge found Drumm had deliberately failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets, as well as almost a million Euros transferred to his wife’s account. It slipped his mind. Finding Drumm “not remotely credible,” the court ruled he could be extradited to Ireland. He’s back in Ireland facing the music. You wonder if he would be on trial at all had he moved to London and not Boston.

Drumm invoked the now classic Corrupt Banker Doctrine – nothing he did was illegal.

Men in black

We used to hold an image of bankers as men in black of immutable prudence; rather stuffy types inhabiting the great marble halls of finance, men who wore stiff collars, and removable cuffs if ink spilled on them from the quills used to fill in the week’s ledger.

As a pillar of the establishment Drumm’s behaviour pretty well sums up the image we have now, venal, avaricious, duplicitous, and arrogant.

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Men in black meet for a crisis conference on the world’s faltering economy. Please note none have their hands in their own pockets.

Prejudices and impressions confirmed

To quote the Irish comic’s catchphrase – ‘there’s more’. Other colleagues of Drumm are on trial for conspiracy to defraud. In evidence against them a tape of some of their confidential telephone discussions was played to the jury.

The language these ‘respectable’ bankers use in an effort to extricate themselves from arrest is the language of the low thief cornered.

Warning – some readers may be offended by the evidence I quote.

I’m not one to gossip, but I can tell you this

In a discussion in September 2008 about the bank’s seriously embarrassing end of year accounts,  Drumm told one colleague, a Mr Bowe, to “just leave the rating agency aside for a minute because that’s just a complete fucking nigger in the woodpile”.

Elsewhere in the tapes Drumm tells Bowe that the “bigger picture” is that on September 30 “even with the six billion fixes which Mr fucking Denis (Casey) confirmed for me this morning….we’re still fucked”.

Bowe answers Drumm in like style. “We’re still in a fucking hole”.

Drumm later tells him: “We have to get a get out of jail card before December 3rd. Unless we can fix the poxy balance sheet over year end, which is next weekend, which to me does not look doable”. And in a final flourish of James Cagney like forties movie dialogue, Bowe adds, “If we pop up with that balance sheet it’s curtains”.

Consider that phrase, the “poxy” balance sheet. Any minute Little Caesar will enter to threaten reprisal, gun in hand. Curtains.

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What a handsome guy. What woman wouldn’t want him for a husband?

What does this story tell us?

At one point in the trial the bankers discuss “wearing the green jersey”, meaning  Irish banks should support each other, a conspiracy refused by the other banks. It’s a proposal no different from a meeting of criminal gangs from different areas of a big city, gathered together to discuss pooling and sharing during stressful times, the cops closing in.

“Pooling and sharing” is a familiar phrase – aye, but with whose money?

We were told bankers look after our money as if their own. That was a lie. They steal our money, in vast salaries, excessive bonuses for supposedly doing what they were employed to do, and fake insurance policies.

We were told banks survive on the daily transactions of the small-time, ordinary saver, that is, you and me. That is also a lie. They have contempt for the small saver. Their apologists, some of them politicians, explained they only made errors of judgement, they did nothing illegal. That was a brazen lie.

They manipulated Libor, drained pensions, and gambled savings even as they knew the risks would be horrific for our economy. We learned none can be put on trial because risk is part and parcel of a banker’s decision making. That too is a complete falsehood.

We were also told by taking billions of taxpayer money and giving it to the banks we protected our way of life, and jobs. That too was a bare-faced lie. We have grown significantly poorer. Some people will never recover. And UK banks are closing branches everywhere and making thousands of staff redundant.

Governments gave bankers and financiers carte blanche to take massive risks with our money. We know the consequences. They stole it.

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Dublin commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising, evidence Ireland remains suspicious of colonial domination

‘Irregularity’ is not a bowel disorder

Anglo Irish Bank was nationalized in January 2009, but succumbed to what is categorised as ‘financial  irregularity’ two years later.

The financial crisis before and after the bank’s nationalisation almost destroyed Ireland’s economy, taxpayers burdened with over £25 billion costs to cover bad debt and repay investors. The collapse of its economy forced Ireland to take EU and IMF bailout packages of up to £77 billion in November 2010.

By hard work, massive cuts in social services and building programmes, and a miracle, it has paid back the lot early in 2016. The Irish economy is on the move upwards again, slowly but surely.

The unionist gibe tossed at Scotland as a dire warning, that Ireland and Iceland are basket cases, was just another lie to hoodwink Scots into voting against their own interests.

Some of us believed it. We know better now.

Reality – what a  concept!

 

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum | 11 Comments

Jason Bourne – a review

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Matt Damon aiding the cause of the American Rifle Association

Steve McQueen was a self-regarding, mean-spirited movie star who red penned a lot of his dialogue, or gave it to a supporting actor. This left him to play Mr Strong and Silent, a technique that guaranteed the camera had to be on him if it was to convey any of his character’s emotion to us. His character was always Steve McQueen, King of Cool, truculent rebel, with at least one motorbike chase and one car chase written into his contract. McQueen was also late on the set.

Matt Damon who plays Jason Bourne is the antithesis of McQueen. By all accounts, totally professional, generous to his acting colleagues, politically liberal, choosing scripts with a good message as well as a good story. But in his latest outing as the haunted special operations man he hardly speaks a word. This is a waste of his skill to deliver a line with weight and meaning. And there is not a moment where he can crack a smile let alone a joke. He does, however ride a motorbike in a hunt chase in the first reel, and drives a car too fast in the third reel. Something has gone seriously wrong.

There’s a moment in Connery’s Thunderball, fighting with eye patch villain Emilio Largo in his yacht, when the scene is speeded up to show us the speedboat is aiming straight for a rocky outcrop. We laugh because the special effect is so clunky. Today we are used to the subtlety of computer generated effects that can heighten real life and still make what we see seem natural. Jason Bourne is one long special effect. Everything is larger than life. That pairing down to basics is perhaps why producers gave us only his name as the title, there’s no ‘identity’, ‘legacy’ or ‘supremacy’.

A more appropriate title would be Jason Bourne Walking. He does a lot of that.

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There’s more lines on Tommy Lee Jones face than delivered in the entire film

For the first five minutes we get a rehash of key scenes from the past Bourne films. Did the producers worry they were a generation late in getting the fifth Bourne film made, no one would remember plot? This is Damon’s fourth go, he sat out the previous entry, The Bourne Legacy, which starred a capable but underwhelming Jeremy Renner.

What it signals is a reboot, and quite frankly I am getting fed up paying good money to see essentially the same film repeated, but played back to front. Anywhere else that’s called misrepresentation of goods.

The film’s biggest flaw, and it has many, is the total lack of mystery, the one quality that had us watch the last films. Bourne knows who he is, wants to be left alone, but is asked to ‘come back in’ to the agency, so they can kill him, yet again, the bad guys inside the agency worried he might reveal their dastardly plans. Well, common sense tells the stupidest idiot to leave Bourne alone and he won’t be drawn into the agency’s unethical and unlawful conspiracies, and want to do something about the sleaze.

Like the Bond movies – which this franchise frightened sufficiently for Bond’s producers to panic and alter Bond’s character out of all recognition – Bourne gives us exotic locations. They don’t make up for the lack of plot. The annoyance is Jason Bourne goes over ground too similar to its predecessors, minus the poetic urgency of Bourne’s quest for self-discovery — surely a profoundly critical element.

When the new film opens, a forlorn Bourne is adrift on the Greece-Albania border earning a living as an underground bare knuckles fighter, downing opponents with a single punch, not a great way of giving the paying, betting, braying spectators their money’s worth.

Fellow renegade agent Nicky Parsons, (the underused Julia Stiles) hacks into a government computer and digs up a file suggesting that Bourne’s father may have been involved with the program that took away the young man’s identity, a discovery which is almost all the plot. Wanting to know why his father lost his life is Bourne’s entire quest. By not giving us any back story on Bourne’s relationship with his father, we’re left Bourne bored.

Anyway, all these threads plus more skulduggery from Bourne’s agency that should know better by now converge to form a narrative curiously devoid of suspense. We get a topical conspiracy this time, a Face Book type Internet company that is in league with the devil but that too feels curiously lifted from another film, and antiseptic.

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We discover Bourne earning a living as a street fighter – no jobbing gardener he

The performances are competently unimpressive. Damon has a good line in looking quizzical and intense, and the earlier films used that quality to locate a quiet pathos in this badass character, a vulnerability. Here he just seems puzzled.

Robert Dewey, the agency boss, (Tommy Lee Jones) is reduced to staring at employees menacingly and giving out orders. He plays a variation of our own Brian Cox who was also once a corrupt Bourne boss. The normally exciting French actor, Vincent Cassel as Bourne’s deadly nemesis, is here reduced to – you’ve guessed it, walking and driving fast. In fact, Cassel is criminally underused.

There is the token bitch from hell role for Heather Lee, but she too is a one note Harridan.  Her character is a computer-surveillance expert, so we get to see her do nifty stuff with facial-recognition software, but not much of that important thing called acting.

There’s assassination in crowded streets as before, a trick to heighten the drama – where either no one notices or everybody screams and runs in all directions; overkill in dead bodies; far too many car crashes, and interesting inclusion of political riots in Athens, Greece. The camerawork is as before, hand held, shaky, and often annoyingly frenetic.

Director Paul Greengrass’s signature style is predicable, ‘keep it moving 100 miles hour on the bends and 150 on the straights’. We’ve seen it all before. Though we thought Bourne had killed off the outdated Bond, the Bond franchise may just outlive an aimless Bourne.

If asked for a one-line critique I’d say more Where’s Waldo? than Where’s Bourne?

  • Star Rating: Three stars (Almost two!)
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel
  • Screenplay: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Ruse
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
  • Duration: 123 minutes

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Posted in Film review | 6 Comments

The Folly of Nuclear War

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Brighter than a thousand suns

This is a depressing subject on a sunny day, indeed, depressing on any day.

Trident is back in the news because Westminster is determined to spend billions of taxpayer’s money on it to keep England ruling the waves, money it refused to share with Scotland for keeping people alive and well, or, if you have no interest in ‘north Britain’, lied to English voters it would spend on its separate National Health Service. No wonder we question the sanity of our elected leaders.

It does not matter how evidently preposterous and dangerous are nuclear bombs, bombs we won’t use, against an enemy that isn’t attacking us, we still want more.

We pretend we wish fervently for their abolition, but only after the other side abolish theirs first, which translated means, never. This is grown up’s version of the playground face-off, “Get yerr han’ aff ma collar.” “No, you get yoo-err han’ aff ma collar furst.”

Our nuclear enemies alter by the week, one week the nasty Russians, then Iranians, the next the balmy North Koreans. Perhaps it might be Pakistan that unleashes Armageddon, or even Israel that secretly developed its own bomb with some clandestine help from the USA, or only a Moslem with a small version in an Asda  carrier bag. Yet the only country that has had accidents with WMD, loosing two off the coast of Spain, and dropped two deliberately on another nation, Japan, is our special ally, the United States of Amnesia.

To sit at a top table with the big boys, so goes the ludicrous myth, we must have weapons of mass carnage and death. By the example of enumerable other countries we know that isn’t true, yet politicians stand up to argue for that doctrine oblivious or ignorant of the consequences.

To quote one betrayer of Labour principles, Aneurin Bevan, our representatives “do not want to go naked into the conference chamber.” Many so-called ‘socialists’ would enter now wearing ermine and red robes.

They never talk of an accidental accident, of being unable to retaliate because they know we will all be dead or disorientated hit by a first strike. The winner is the last man standing. Nor do they mention Strontium-90, radiation lingering for centuries blistering our skin, thinning our bones, until our teeth fall out and we waste away.

No one talks of extinguishing our flora and fauna that did damn all to start a nuclear conflagration.

Like birds flouncing and flapping around at each other to get the best nesting area it’s all a lot of posturing, but in humans, it’s deadly.

A Russian Attack

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Though I use Russia as a convenient ‘enemy’ for the purposes of this essay, Russia has no WMDs on any western nation’s border, but we have moved hundreds of ours up close to their border. No wonder Russians are jumpy.

Think about that in reverse, and then try pontificating about controlling Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, this is what we like to call ‘the balance of terror.’

We don’t like Russians for protecting their borders by annexing the Crimea, (2014) although it’s okay for them to invest in our bankrupt football teams. Tomorrow they will be friends again because it will be politically expedient for us to welcome them.

We were reducing numbers when Gorbachev was in power, the same number on each side, step by step. But some western MPs are terminally addicted to cold war politics, and the profits they can make from it that now we want to reverse mutual arsenal reduction.

We will never use nuclear weapons, well, maybe

A modern thermonuclear war is full of chilling uncertainties. One of them is, any first strike carries with it disastrous failure issuing from partial success. The chance of a first strike going awry are so great decision makers shy from taking it.

The only reason to go to war is when it is less risky not to go to war. That leaves aggressive nations with the problem of safety valves. You have to maintain some sort of super-alert system. But when do you turn it off? Do you relax immediately you have a partial or a full and final settlement and the other side backs off? How about a year later? When?

Hanging around on high alert duty costs a lot of money. But to keep your population in fear so they remain compliant to your aggressive foreign policy you must whip up tension constantly; advocate we remain on guard continuously if we are to react quickly. Thus, we argue for costly submarines patrolling the oceans ready to fire nukes on command.

To be conciliatory in any dispute we must first threaten to go to war and then pull back, hence Theresa May’s remark that she would “push the button.” How to make friends and not influence nations. Tomorrow she’ll glad-hand Putin, or make a trade deal with China and not think a thing of the hypocrisy.

What do we aim at first?

Enemy missiles target specific threats. Trident on the Clyde is only one. There are hidden bases of administrative decision making – government bunkers, planes that carry WMDs, silos with intercontinental missiles, strategic airfields, communication systems, radar centres, centre of finance, plane making factories, and more.

So, how many buttons do you have to push at once to wipe out the lot in one go? Ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred?

The last official estimate is, we would need to fire at least seventy-five missiles (75) at Russia to make the slightest dent in their capability to retaliate.

Twice that number will be better. And the missiles have to be fired in closely coordinated fashion which will take at least one hour or more to complete, allowing time for our enemy to send the same amount of missiles back at us. Mutual destruction is the aim, but there is a flaw in that philosophy.

We are small, they are big

For our example let’s keep Russia as the big bogeyman. Russia is a vast continent. It has eleven time zones. We have one, two if you blame Scotland for wanting daylight in winter. Even without Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, unwilling to do what England wants to do, great Britain is a very small country in comparison. Russia’s missiles will soon obliterate these isles making it uninhabitable. (Fully detached, seeing Britain toxic, Northern Ireland will demand to be reunified with the Irish Republic.)

For Russian’s part, they will retreat to the Great Central Plain, Outer Mongolia, or Murmansk, and still have room to rebuild a few football stadiums. Keep in mind not so long ago Russian territory was hit by a very large meteor but hardly anybody noticed. And they had a nuclear reactor go into meltdown, Chernobyl, but still go about their business.

What food could be grown is another question, as is how long it will take for radiation contamination to reach the furthest terrain and enter the body.

It’s a sobering thought to contemplate that a single nuclear bomb dropped on Gretna Green together with its resultant radiation ring would separate Scotland from England permanently by miles of destruction and a wall of contamination.

In the conflict of self-governance some will argue that can only be a good thing.

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Murmansk, where Russia docks some of its nuclear submarines

Stresses and strains

The entire edifice of nuclear strikes depend on accurate data. No one can calculate an attack unless the data is a hundred per cent correct. Think of Blair and his assertion a strike from Saddam Hussein was only forty minutes away. Where did he get that information? In the event, Hussein and his generals were bluffing. The Iraqi’s strength lay in pretending to have hidden weapons.

That bluff kept Israel at bay and their mortal enemy Iran, now our enemy at intermittent times when it suits Westminster to say it’s not Syria. You could describe the invasion of Iraq as a planned accident. But what if we attack a small country that we think has nuclear weapons, about to use them, but has none? What if we relied on an unreliable informant?

On our side we rely on having no intelligence leaks that give the enemy the advantage. With the Internet age absolute secrecy is an impossibility. System can be and are hacked.

We can discuss hypothetical situations and we can discuss actual situations. There is on record at last half a dozen instances when a reckless decision has moved the firing process up the line to one step away from pushing the button. In one famous case it was a flock of geese on a radar screen.

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The famous moment from ‘Dr Strangelove’, or ‘Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’

Fail Safe that isn’t fail safe

The system called Fail Safe is supposed to ensure an accident cannot happen. It is a system implemented against human or mechanical error. As we know from movie plots, the system is, proceed toward your target for a fixed number of nautical miles and then turn back if at that moment you do not get coded orders to proceed to Doomsday.

This has happened many times triggered by a false alarm, an alert created by a line of meteors, interference from high frequency transmitters, or by the appearance of foreign objects. In one instance US aircraft  turned home to their bases from halfway as soon as it became clear the alarm was false. Those who argue for nuclear bombs will suggest that that is proof the system works. Wrong. It is proof Fail Safe is fatally flawed.

These near accidents show mankind has been on the brink of a deadly war by the error of one technician, from carelessness, miscalculation, or faulty conclusion.

The money argument

The deterioration of international relations inevitably results in calls for more weapons. This is when the money threat is activated. The more our government makes public an increased budget on armaments, the more the enemy has to calculate if it is willing to do the same in counter programmes. Aggression comes down to  outspending each other.

When the world’s banks admitted they were living off a fantasy economic system we thought there was a silver lining, governments too impoverished to spend billions on war. We were wrong. They will spend our taxes on war and weapons no matter what, even if the population are lining up at food banks.

Renewing Trident accelerates the arms race, not slow it down. We are striving for overwhelming qualitative and quantative superiority over nations we think want to attack and destroy us. Our paranoia increases tension. We are our own worst enemies.

A useless debate

When Westminster parliamentarians stood up to vote for Trident, with the laudable exception of the SNP, a few Labour MPs and one Tory MP, none knew what they were talking about. We listened to hours of swagger and arrogance, the kind that leads us to the killing fields we like to commemorate annually as if we have put an end to wars.

There is no alternative to arms control but ridding ourselves of weapons of mass death unilaterally. I don’t believe we have unlimited time to do it, and I don’t believe multi-lateral agreements are the answer. That way we wait until someone drops a bomb.

There was a time the west was going to intervene in China’s upsurge of Maoist communism. Now we trade with them. We did not need to have nuclear weapons to reach this stage of friendly cooperation.

The USA talks of avoiding a power vacuum, the reason it gives to remain the most powerful nation on the planet, ready to defend democracy, American style. It forgets it was attacked successfully by a few  extremists armed with nail clippers who had learned to fly but not land an aeroplane. They had no guns, and no hand grenades.

No amount of stockpiled WMD deterred those men from destroying the Twin Towers, and the lives of innocent victims. The enormity of human catastrophe seems not to deter our own politicians who say they won’t recoil from ‘pushing the button’ – and they are supposed to be the sane ones.

We live in a dangerous age of horrific contradictions.

Further Reading

Not all these books are still available but Google or Amazon might have a copy. I find older ones by rummaging, Winston Smith-like, in second-hand book shops.

  • Security in Disarmament  Robert Barnet & Robert Falk
  • The Uses of Military Power in a Nuclear Age  Klaus Knorr
  • The War Potential of Nations  Klaus Knorr
  • Deterrence and Defence  Glenn H. Snyder
  • Power – A Social Analysis  Bertrand Russell
  • Limited Nuclear War in the 21st Century  Jeffrey A. Larsen
  • Command and Control  Eric Schlosser
  • And one for the children:
  • When the Wind Blows  Raymond Briggs

Posted in Scottish Politics | 13 Comments

Car Makers at it Again

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We are so very sorry and humbled … you suckers!

You’ve heard of creative writing, well, welcome to creative car testing.

Mitsubishi are at it again. It’s not that long ago that the CEO demanded all letters complaining of faults should be sent up the line to him to deal with personally. When they arrived on his desk he promptly hid the lot in a cupboard – for years. By that simple device Mitsubishi was able to claim their cars had the fewest faults of all brands. Where was the evidence to prove otherwise?

A few days ago their office in in Okazaki was raided by government officials. The company immediately admitted to falsifying data. The scandal engulfing Mitsubishi Motors over admitting ‘incorrect’ emission levels intensified causing shares in the Japanese carmaker to plunge to an all-time low.

Panicked by the revelation Mitsubishi had – surprise, surprise – overstated the fuel efficiency of more than half-a-million vehicles, traders rushed to dump the stock, prompting a temporary suspension of shares. (Capitalists will swear blind that we need no regulation on business practices because it’s all there in shareholder power.)

Readers might have seen a recent television commercial in which the company’s biggest heaviest and ugliest SUV, a hybrid, was purported to return gazillions of miles per gallon even when ragging the nuts off the engine. The get-out phrase used was ‘up to 153’ miles per gallon. Some gullible people their cars assuming Mitsubishi was telling the truth.

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If you want to attain genuine high mileage per gallon buy a small car with a motorbike engine

All car companies exaggerate the benefits of their vehicle over others. They couch the lies in general terms, and talk of ‘urban’ miles per gallon, meaning down a brae, on a sunny afternoon, free wheeling, engine switched off.

Drivers who find that the fuel efficiency in their new car doesn’t match up to the claims made by the manufacturer, now know it is not their driving to blame. A new report reveals that carmakers routinely manipulate official UN-backed miles/gallons tests, with a series of tricks including stripping the car down to weigh as little as possible, overinflating the tyres, and testing in thin air at high-altitude tracks.

The tricks of the trade are listed in a report by the Transport and Environment campaign group which suggests the official fuel consumption cited by car manufacturers is on average almost 25% lower than that achieved in reality, and in some cases 50% lower.

I’ll repeat that, we are being robbed as little as 25% fuel efficiency, and as much as 50%.

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The many ways you can get conned into buy a complete fabrication

Among the 20 creative but legal ways  carmakers exploit loopholes and boost official performances – as approved by government regulation – are: taping over cracks around doors and grills to minimise air resistance, using special super-lubricants, stopping the car’s battery recharging, adjusting the wheel alignment and brakes, and testing at unrealistically high temperatures and on super-slick test-tracks.

The Report concludes: “Testing and checks on production vehicles are inconsistent and inadequate, with manufacturers paying the organisations undertaking and certifying the tests.” (Put simply: you want to pay your mortgage? Add another 50 mpg to that result, pal.) The Report added that, when the tests were introduced, “no one expected carmakers to adjust the brakes, pump up the tyres, and tape up all the cracks to reduce the air and rolling resistance, practices are now commonplace, with testing facilities being paid to optimise the results of the tests.” Oh yeah, “no one expected”. Green grow the testers O.

And just as you think the ghastly truth is out in the open, I should inform readers the investigating team were given access to vehicles to test but not allowed to identify exact models in their Report. Hoo haar!

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The Mitsubishi Highlander, an SUV sporting grossly exaggerated claims of phenomenal miles per gallon

Part of the problem lies in successive  UK governments reducing the budget for their own car testing workshop, drastically, no doubt having been lobbied by car manufacturers with the lie that car makers are honest Joes, there’s no need to test claims these days beyond crash testing new models. The investigative bureau used to provide a great service to the public, the same that produces WHICH magazine published by the Consumer Association, an online periodical of tests and comparatives in electrical goods, and the like.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in the venal goings on of the Stock Exchange you’ll be shocked to learn the mass sell-off was on course to push Mitsubishi shares down 20% as trades were halted amid an overwhelming number of sell orders, threatening to wipe off one-third of the company’s value in just two days. Ever action has a reaction.

Japan’s sixth biggest carmaker said tests were falsified on four of its mini-cars, two of which it manufactured for Nissan. The number of Nissan cars affected was 468,000, while 157,000 were sold under the Mitsubishi brand. Expect Mitsubishi to be forced to pay out millions in compensation. We are still in the middle of the emission scandal with VW paying out billions to the US government for polluting the atmosphere, but defying European owners because our legal limits are much higher. VW has set aside €6.7bn (£4.8bn) to pay for the crisis and its shares are down almost one-third since the scandal was revealed last September.

Mitsubishi, keen to restore customer confidence by pulling their legs, said the cars affected were only sold in Japan. However, it said it would extend its investigation to cover cars made for overseas markets. (That was the small print you’re not supposed to notice.)

Akira Kishimoto, analyst at JP Morgan, commented “In addition to the costs of the scandal, the secondary effects on worldwide sales could be very large.”

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Nissan’s supercar; cheaper than the rest, and almost invisible unless you add gold wheels

Now, I ask you, who buys a Mitsubishi or a Nissan? What prospective big cash buyer does his homework, and against all common sense, doesn’t buy a range rover, or in supercar mode, plumps for a Mitsubishi or a Nissan over all other supercar marques?

Nissan sells their supercar at over £70,000, the GT-R. Petrolheads go all damp in the pants when they see one, which is a miracle because the car is so aesthetically bland as to merge into a crowd of Ford transit vans. What’s the point? If you’ve paid thousands for boob enhancing surgery you sure as hell want people to notice the difference – correct?

When you puff out your manly chest and tell people your own and drive a supercar, and they ask which one expecting to hear Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or McLaren, you answer a Nissan. Well, tough. You’ve only yourself to blame when the questioners fall flat on the ground writhing in hysterical laughter.

Cars: can’t live without them, can’t live with them.

 

 

Posted in Transportation | 6 Comments