The BBC ‘TV license’ Tax

Having a tough time paying the bills? Council tax, car tax, road tax, value-added tax, tax on earnings, tax on savings, tax on your business, tax on exports, tax on imports, national insurance tax, tax to pay for the EU, tax to pay for foreign aid, tax for people who can’t work, tax to dig up roads and then fill them back in (oh sorry I said council tax didn’t I?), green tax, carbon tax, tax for other peoples’ healthcare, tax to sit in a waiting room long after your stated appointment surrounded by people who’ve never worked a day in their life to see a doctor who has to rush you in and out as quickly as possible (oh sorry I said national insurance didn’t I?), tax on top of tax. Is it too much? Probably not. Which is why the government has chosen this time to remind you, by way of threats, that it’s a criminal offence to own a viewing screen without a license.

Yup, owning a display screen requires you to have a license. I suppose that’s fair. After all, there are many things you need a license for: driving a car, selling alcohol in a public place, having gambling machines on your premises, manufacturing and distribution of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, practicing medicine. It only makes sense that, to protect the Rights of Televisions, you are required to prove that you’re worthy to take care of one. And by ‘prove’, I mean: pay the State a yearly fee which is given to its nominated broadcaster.

A broadcaster with an anti-industrial anti-capitalist pro-Green pro-EU multicultural politically-correct Left-wing agenda. A corporation whose corruption has been exposed time and again. A corporation whose interests and services aren’t dictated by a free market of voluntary customers, but through expropriated funds to push whatever agenda its leaders desire. A corporation that is neither brimming with quality self-produced British programming, nor particularly likeable, interesting or varied approaches to presentation, broadcasting nor punditry. (The latter is a personal opinion, but compare how the BBC does sport to Sky.)

So here is the latest video campaign to shame non-payers and remind everyone that failing to have a TV license is a criminal offence:

http://news.sky.com/story/1105038/tv-licence-dodgers-excuses-in-video-campaign

Of course, that depends how you define “criminal”. In my naivety, I’d have thought that a criminal offence is one that makes you a criminal, which means there is a victim to your crime. If there’s no victim, then whose Rights have I violated? And if no one’s Rights have been violated, doesn’t that mean a “crime” is pretty much whatever the State, without representation, says it is?

I’ve written about this before (and before) of course, and of the “excuses” that many innocent citizens give for not paying their license fee, the not-so-ridiculous ones that failed to make the video are: “I didn’t pay my license fee because I want to know…

  • Why should I pay for a service I don’t use?
  • If the license fee is not a tax for supporting the BBC, why does the money from the fee only go to the BBC?
  • How many households’ worth of license fees did it take on this video campaign to warn people not to avoid paying their license fee?
  • Why does an electronic device capable of viewing live television, which we already had to pay at least 20% tax on, require a license to own?
  • If the license was originally for owning a television set, when was it changed to include any other type of display device? Why?
  • If I don’t own a TV but a computer monitor, why does that require a license? If I don’t have a monitor but have a mobile phone, why does that require a license?
  • If I haven’t violated anyone’s Rights, why would I be considered a criminal for not paying the most laughable and audacious tax in history?
  • Why does the BBC not fund itself the way every other corporation has to: by winning and keeping customers?
  • Why is ‘so you don’t have to sit through adverts on two of their stations’ a legitimate justification for tax?
  • Does it not encourage stagnation and poor service when a business is not answerable to its clients? Why should I help the BBC to maintain the status quo?
  • If the BBC is so confident in its quality programming, why not let its loyal viewers support it voluntarily?
  • Would the government or BBC agree to give the license fee funds to another broadcaster, like ITV, Channel 4 or Sky? If not, why?
  • Why does the BBC’s collection agency pretend to have TV-signal-tracking equipment to catch you when it doesn’t?
  • Why does the collection agency pretend to have the power to knock at your door and extract the fee by force, when it doesn’t?
  • Why is a third-party collection agency used at all for enforcing criminal law in this country? Isn’t that the job of the police, when an actual crime has been committed? If you set the local park on fire or run over someone in your car, who turns up at your door: a private collection company or the police?
  • If a private company demands money from me for breach of contract, can you show me the contract I signed?
  • If a license inspector turns up at your door, do they have any authority to search your premises? If not, isn’t it true we can just say ‘no’ and turn them away?
  • Why does the BBC deserve to be the State-sponsored broadcaster of choice (not ours), paid for by the already over-taxed British public? Why does it merit this privilege? How does this not constitute a coercive monopoly, the very kind that the Left Wing BBC would claim only happens under capitalism?
  • Would it be fair to say that the license fee paid the wages of those many child molesters that went about their perverted business for decades in the BBC? And the wages of those who covered it up for so long?”

***

And those are just off the top of my head. Did I miss one? What would your “excuse” be?

I object on principle to tax, of course – but in our current society I understand it is necessary (for now), and wouldn’t propose to overturn it overnight. (I am not unrealistic. Long before our political system becomes freer, our culture needs to change.) There are many governmental services we should pay for. Owning a television isn’t one of them.

In other countries, such as Finland, the license fee varies based on income, with the very poor exempt. Although that’s not how it works in Britain, you have to ask: if it is a license fee we are talking about, why should it be connected to your income? No other legitimate (or even common sense) license is “progressive” in that sense. Why? Because there is no practical reality-based reason for the State demanding money for you owning a license. (If there was, they would give one.) The license fee is not a license fee; it’s just a hypothecated tax.

If there were a reason for this TV tax it would simply be: to fund State broadcasting. Now, as much as I would still object to that, I could stomach this far better. Historically, the reason that countries introduced this tax was for such a purpose, which made sense (in context) at the time. But the TV tax does not go towards State broadcasting, which might have a place in times of emergency or national crisis (but really, with technology being what it is and the amount of money the government has as its disposal, even that is a flimsy excuse); it goes towards the BBC! The BBC taxes us to keep itself in business. So it can keep pushing its incredibly one-sided Left Wing agenda on a public that by and large still seems to think of the BBC as an honest even-minded British institution, instead of the arrogant corrupt socialist monster of a corporation that it is.

The arguments in favour of the license fee are usually collectivist nonsense like this. Notice how the author justifies everything on the grounds of the Greater Good of Society. This is the sort of rhetoric that is claimed, shouted, assumed, without argument – just put out there and hoped it will be swallowed, because it usually is. He blames the “scourge of individualism”, and claims it is growing. Oh, if only! But he’s damn right it’s individualism, and long may it live! Anyone who needs to attack individual freedom because he doesn’t like the choices you might make, doesn’t have an argument; he has collectivist propaganda. He says: “just because YOU don’t see the value in it doesn’t mean we should scrap it.” Which of course raises the question: ‘so WHO does see the value in it?’ But of course, what the author really means is: ‘it should not be scrapped, because I (the author) see the value in it.’ To which I say: if YOU see the value in it, YOU pay for it. That is after all the only meaningful definition of value. Oh, what’s that? If you gave people the choice they might not make the right one (the one the author has decreed in his capacity as spokesman for the Public Good, to be the only acceptable one)? Hmm, can’t be much of a value if people don’t want to fork out £145 a year for it. Most people spend more than that on a weekly shop, mobile phones, games, sports, hobbies, transport etc. Funny how when people are left alone they don’t have much of a problem finding the money for the values they really want…

Which again just proves: there are two ways to make people agree with you: reason or force. You can’t have both.

Of course, there are countless ways for the BBC to be funded without a gun, but the author’s primary motive? He doesn’t want to sit through adverts. Oh, well, you’ll forgive me for not rushing to open my wallet because you don’t like adverts. What’s that word when you use the State to force other people to go along with your unreasoned convictions?

My personal opinion is that lawful rebellion has its time and its place. There are of course far more important things to protest about (like our involvement/support/invasion of other countries). There are more immediate concerns over which we should refuse to cooperate with the government (like wind farms, carbon taxes, the welfare state, bailing out failed businesses). But something as small as the BBC Tax is a good place to start. It raises public awareness of just how stupid this tax is, it makes us question this immoral behemoth, it forces tough answers to simple questions, and it makes those in power realise that they cannot pull taxes out of thin air and expect us to pay up every time. We are far too accommodating and obedient to our bureaucratic overlords in this country. Once we refuse to pay this despicable BBC tax (they can’t and won’t send everyone to court, even if they do catch you with their magical detectors), we can move onto the other unwanted schemes our expropriated cash is spent on by an unelected undemocratic elite.

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Fantastic Voyage – Review [film]

About reviewing

Since this blog is about my opinions I recently realised that one area I haven’t really commented on much is entertainment media. This is because it’s really hard to say anything original; not least of all because someone working full time on this sort of thing already says it. It’s also because all I can do is give my opinion, which may or may do justice to the matter since I don’t claim to be an expert on, well anything. But at least I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

See here goes with hopefully the first of many of my opinions on something that isn’t our fascist governments.

Overview of the film

Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film and if you want any more general summations you can check out the Wikipedia page for it.

I remember seeing this film when I was very young, though I can’t remember exactly my age. At the time, I had no idea it was as old as it was. When I first saw it FV was already 20 years old, but in the 80s I really don’t think the special effects could be criticised too much. I was totally captivated and my imagination was inspired.

The film opens with CIA agent Grant, played by Stephen Boyd, disembarking a plane with an old guy. The old guy is Benes (pronounced Benesh) and Grant is delivering him back to the United States after getting the defector out from Soviet Russia – and who can blame anyone for wanting to leave there; it’s like Everton FC, only with Everton the torture only lasts 90 minutes and the occupants can at least remember being useful. Grant leaves Benes in the “safe” hands of fellow agents after a wordless man-hug initiated by the former. In the book based on this film a lot of backstory is given: Grant went to great personal risk (as per his job as a secret agent) to get Benes out from behind the Iron Curtain, and the two men exchange some words on the final flight into America, on board a plane so rickety and shed-like it will later be used as the blueprint for shuttles in Star Trek. Except this plane actually lands safely.

We soon see the CIA motorcade being ambushed by “the other side” who will be unnamed in the entire film, although there’s no doubt who the two Powers at work really are. The ambush is rather brief on screen and doesn’t really carry the sense of excitement or danger presented in the novel. In the novel one of the enemy agents happily sacrifices himself just to collide with one of the limousines, but in the film we see Benes bump his head and get escorted to another car which promptly speeds off.

As this point I should mention that the film is not based on the novel. The producers wanted to give the film some scientific credibility and approached the famous Isaac Asimov to write a novel based on the script. Asimov pointed out just how ridiculous the script was as regards scientific credibility and also some very reasonable plot holes, which we’ll get onto later. Asimov got permission to write his own take on the story which deviates from the film in some noticeable ways, especially towards the end. The book is only 186 pages long and I’d strongly recommend giving it a read. The chapters flow naturally and quickly into each other with each scene essential and fascinating, even minimalist to the exclusive of anything that doesn’t advance the plot.

Back to the movie and next up are the opening credits being typed over images of Benes in hospital being treated by doctors. The credits don’t have music, something I’ll comment on soon, but rather a series of sound effects to represent Benes’s vital signs and medical equipment at work, but they are presented in such a way as to almost be musical accompaniment, at the same time unnerving and tense.

Next, we are back in a limousine seeing Grant being escorted somewhere. He knows as much about it as we do. His escorts refuse to give him any details and finally the car stops in a back-alley and Grant is told to wait inside as the other men get out. Next moment the car sinks underground and comes to a stop as a guy in military police uniform pulls up in a buggy. Grant hops in and is driven around a bit. This scene establishes a huge underground government complex with hundreds of employees, and everywhere the initials CMDF are plastered. A General Carter finally meets Grant and explains that this organisation is the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces, a super-secret organisation with a technology that can reduce any object, living or not, to any size. Grant naturally has a hard time believing this, but his doubt only lasts a few seconds as he can tell that Carter is dead serious.

“Consolidated Mobilisation of Deliquent Females” – Grant

Miniaturisation has featured in science fiction almost since the genre began. It’s a really interesting idea and also terrifying at the same time. If you actually think about what it would be like to be shrunk to such a size that the entire world you know changes, the rules go out the window – the entire universe that you evolved to deal with isn’t the same, and the challenges and enemies you face are of an order and nature that quite frankly are beyond what can be imagined, then you can see why sci-fi has gotten such good purchase out the idea. The problem is, like most science fiction, how do you present it in a realistic and plausible way, if you bother to do so? If it’s a film like Inner Space which isn’t really meant to be taken seriously then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re going to call your work science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, and want to have some suspense, it has to have some scientific credibility. For example in Star Trek they have “warp drive” because faster-than-light travel is impossible. That isn’t to say that you always have to explain everything. In Star Wars, technology is never explained, with the artefacts and spaceships just happening, like how your imaginary games as a child might work: million ton starships just float and weave across the planet without any apparent thrusters or engines, like gravity doesn’t apply to them. Tiny fighters cross hundreds of light-years by themselves. It doesn’t matter in Star Wars because, let’s face it, it’s just a fantasy drama which happens to be set in space. They don’t bother to explain anything because they don’t care and similarly we as the audience are told that it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun. Star Trek always took itself far more seriously which turned out to be a curse just as much as a blessing.

In Fantastic Voyage (the film) the science behind miniaturisation isn’t explained, and I think it’s better off for it. In the book adaptation, Doctor Michaels explains that “hyperspace” can be manipulated (probably with frikkin “lasers”) and despite it seeming not to make sense, the maths works. In the book we are given about as much explanation as we need or could understand, just like our protagonist. In the film, because the story is a race against time, no scientific explanation is given and I don’t think it affects the movie. We are told it works and we see it happen, and that’s enough. Of course, if I was being totally critical, I don’t think it’s possible. At all. The idea of hyperspace, of another dimension being manipulated through the laws of physics to alter an object so that all its dimensions change, as if it were superimposed over this reality – is interesting. It’s like taking a photograph or hologram of something, shrinking it, then bringing it to life in its new form in this world. It’s still “itself” but in a different “phase” of reality if you will, co-existing with this one. At least that’s how I read the explanation in the book but I admit that was several Pinio Grigios ago.

Grant is taken to a briefing where we meet the rest of the cast. Obviously I’ve got to mention the magnificent Raquel Welch here. Her presence in this movie is so well known, despite being a caricature of fictional female helplessness, that a Google search for images of Fantastic Voyage yields, as the third choice, a picture of her sitting naked (alas cross-legged) in beauty makeup. Even the DVD copy I own has a thumbnail of her on the side, a large picture of her on the cover and even larger one on the back! I’m not complaining per se; she was a rather fine looking woman, and still is if you like that sort of thing, but the movie is not about her. It’s not even a tiny bit about her! The book does much more justice to the character of Cora Peterson, but even before Grant (and we) are introduced to her in the film, we have Doctor Reid complaining to the neurosurgeon Doctor Duval that “a woman has no place on a mission of this importance!” Ah, God bless the 60s.

A science fiction adventure drama coming soon to a cinema near you!

Captain Bill Owens is introduced as pilot of an experimental submarine (do you see where this is going?), and Doctor Michaels (played by the English Donald Pleasence – do you see where this is going?) starts the briefing. What we’ve already been told is that Benes has a clot in his brain and the only way to reach it is via the arterial system. Carter told Grant earlier that the plan is to shrink a submarine and surgical team to microscopic level and inject them into Benes’s body. Doctor Michaels now explains they’ll be injected into the carotid artery where they’ll make their way to the brain, dissolve the clot with a frikkin laser, and return via the venous system where they’ll be removed from the jugular vein. Simple as that, eh? They only have to: avoid turbulence, for example going through heart, avoid white cells, not get attacked by antibodies, and be out within 60 minutes or they’ll grow to normal size inside Benes.

Miss Cora Peterson, Doctor Duval’s assistance, is going along anyway because he said so. And because this movie has to live up to titillating trailer artwork.

Grant doesn’t really get the choice to back out or the chance to stop and think. The crew are ushered to the sterilisation section where we see them in skin-tight white swim suits, which are slightly more flattering on Raquel Welch than some of the male occupants.

The next scene shows up the vessel we’ll be making this adventure in: the Proteus, a small bubble-topped submarine sitting on what is either the floor section of the miniaturiser, or a prototype for the Blockbusters’s screen. Inside the sub, Captain Owens explains that the sub is powered by a microscopic radioactive particle, or rather it will be once it’s miniaturised. This particle will also allow them to be tracked from the outside.

Now the four-stage miniaturisation job begins. Some of these effects look dated, even today, and some of them are passable. I have mixed feelings about a modern remake of this film, but one of the massive pros in making a new version would be what special effects today could do with this concept. The thought of it really excites me, even if Ronald Emmerich directs it. My problem with “phase one” of the miniaturising is that we don’t get to see a lot of the shrinking. The normal-size ship begins to shrink, then the next time we see it it’s the size of a matchbox. It would’ve been nice to see more external shots. By comparison, in “phase four”, after the shrunken Proteus (about an inch in length) is put into a huge hypodermic which is then also shrunk, the exterior shot of the hypodermic is much finer and smoother and we have a good few seconds of seeing miniaturisation in action.

Finally the already tiny Proteus inside the container is reduced so that the huge hypodermic is now the size of a regular one, and the crew is informed that they “are at full reduction.” One of the interesting things in this film is that communication is only possible via wireless, and honestly I think it’s a superb touch. It really gives the sense of being out of touch with the real world and disconnected, with only Morse code tones for external help. In the book it’s explained that this is the only sort of communication that can cross the “miniaturisation gap”, and given that we’ve previously seen video calling in this film, I think it would’ve been worth mentioning here too.

The Proteus prepares for miniaturisation

Via some delicate contraption the hypodermic is taken to the operating room and injected into Benes’s neck. At over 36 minutes into the film we finally hear incidental music for the first time. Leonard Rosenman, who also scored Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, deliberately wrote no music for the film until this point, and it’s an unusual but highly effective choice. In my opinion the music for this film is perfect. It’s dramatic and often abrasive and from a modern perspective perhaps dated. If the film is (ever) greenlit to be recreated in the near future, I can’t imagine it having a score anything like this. But that doesn’t mean it’s corny, cheesy or old-fashioned. The score is one of suspense and threat all the way through. Even the main theme theme itself, heard for the first time as the crew enters the human body (all the time being one of wonder and awe), has an ominous undertone to it. Nothing about this film, which the music reflects so well, says “this is just an exciting trip! Let’s relax and enjoy it!” There isn’t a single relaxing moment in this adventure, to the credit of the film once it finally gets going after an admittedly slow start. The music mirrors this wonderfully in my opinion.

The Proteus crew encounters a seemingly endless sea of red with shapeless balloons streaming by. The effects are certainly a great attempt at presenting the human blood stream from within, albeit lacking in anything resembling reality. Asimov explains it best in the book where he says that if you were the size of a microbe, the walls of the artery would be miles off to your eyes, and the red blood cells (erythrocytes) would be huge compared to you. Also, it’s only oxygenated (or deoxygenated) erythrocytes that given blood its colour. The rest of the blood is made up of plasma, platelets and other types of cells. I’m not a doctor, despite what I told my first girlfriend, but if you were microscopic size I’d have thought the blood would actually be quite transparent given its straw colour. It’s not a problem for me as far as the story goes, but it’s one of those things I’d love to see remastered with modern day effects, not to improve the movie itself, but as a fan of science I like to see the universe presented to me in realistic ways. That is after all one of the reasons I loved this movie so much in my life and why I can keep coming back to watch it every few years – because the concept is great, and seeing the human body (which has always fascinated me) shown in this way should be awe-inspiring for anyone. To a modern audience this aspect of the film would certainly be lost, because our standards for what we accept of realism are so high that special effects have to be impeccable to fool our eyes, and even then the best CGI doesn’t always get it right.

A great effect

There is one effect I must mention; it’s so short but fantastic. As the Proteus is being injected into the carotid artery we see the ship hurtling towards the end of the syringe. It looks a vast distance off with only a red glow growing menacingly towards them. It’s cool. But as they pass into the bloodstream the Proteus emerges from the end of the syringe itself, and you can clearly see the shape of the needle and how it’s so wide compared to the Proteus. It’s a little shot but it really establishes how tiny they are.

There’s some dialogue where Doctor Duval waxes lyrically about the wonder of the human body and it’s clear he is a man of god. Michaels on the other hand, being a damn dirty atheist, merely points out that end-to-end the circulatory system is a hundred-thousand miles long. Grant just looks on like the dumb college football jock he’s initially made out to be in the novelisation.

Before long though there’s trouble a-brewing. Despite the woman not driving, the Proteus starts to veer towards the arterial wall and Owens reports that it’s unresponsive. It seems that damage to Benes caused the carotid artery and jugular vein in the neck together into something called a fistula. (I typed “fistula” into Google and…let’s just say that whilst what I got back was related to the human body, I don’t think it’s the cardiovascular anomaly the film writers had in mind…) The micro fistula caused a whirlpool in the bloodstream and the Proteus, having been sent out of control, smashes through the wall of the artery into the vein and can’t go back.

The mission is now in failure: they can’t go back into the artery and they can’t reach the clot from the venous system, and continuing on in the direction of the flow would take them to the superior vena cava which, as we all know, ends in the penis. But before then it goes through the heart, and that would smash the tiny Proteus in a million pieces.

This is where the first major plot hole appears: it’s never explained why, since they were planning to extract them from the jugular at the end of the mission anyway, they can’t just extract them now…and re-inject them into the carotid artery at a point beyond the fistula! It’s a shame this isn’t addressed in the film, or the book, because it’s so obvious a solution the story is weaker for failing to acknowledge it. If there were a particular reason why they had to be injected into a very particular place, fine. But that’s never stated. Absolutely no thought is given to taking them out and just putting them back in. It seems like a no-brainer to me. They should have said that the stress endured by the craft during, say, injection, is so great that it can’t be repeated due to micro-fractures in the hull, or something.

Anyway, since the scientific and medical geniusesss….genia…genies….people aren’t as smart as me we’re left with the only logical solution: stop Benes’s heart long enough for the Proteus to get through the right atrium, pass through the right ventricle and exit the semi-lunar valve. In true Hollywood style, the heart can only be stopped for exactly 60 seconds, but it will take 57 seconds for the Proteus’s dash, leaving only…three… seconds to revive Benes. These scenes are well done. The music is gripping as the technical staff in CMDF witness the ship moving closer, ever closer, to the heart itself. Perhaps what works for me in this movie, and of course this is just my opinion, is that the human body, our body, our ally – is actually the nemesis. We get to see just how inhospitable the human body is for something that doesn’t belong in it (well, not without a lot of lube anyway). The Proteus has become the bacteria that doesn’t belong and is afforded no special dispensation by a mindless environment that’s spent millions of years adapting itself to kill such things.

In Soviet CMDF, heart stops you!

They enter the valve and the heart just dies in the arms tonight. Painfully slowly, the Proteus glides through the huge chambers as the seconds tick away all too quickly. They approach the frozen semi-lunar valve and the Proteus speeds towards the huge gaping hole, (reminiscent of some of the images I got back from my Google “fistula” search.)

In the longest three seconds of movie history, Benes’s heart is revived in time and the Proteus, now in the pulmonary artery, continues on its way to the lungs. The arterial channel becomes narrower as they enter a capillary, one of the millions which pass within diffusion distance of the alveoli. Sure enough, before their very eyes, the deoxygenated erythrocytes (all cells in this film are called corpuscles) change from blue to red. This is a bit of a Hollywood touch keeping in line with the popular (though incorrect) notion that deoxygenated blood is blue and oxygenated is red. Of course, the former is simply a dark red and the latter scarlet.

Dr. Duval calls cell oxygenation one of the miracles of the universe, to which the unimpressed atheist Michaels retorts that’s it hardly a miracle and just “a simply exchange of gases…the end result of 400 million years of evolution.” I can get the film-makers wanting to stress the point that Michaels is an atheist and doesn’t buy Duval’s superstitious ramblings, but did they have to make him such a bore? I mean, atheist or not, you’re inside the human body seeing cellular oxygenation in action! Duval incredulously replies “you can’t believe that all that is accidental? That there isn’t a creative intelligence at work?” I was a Christian growing up and evolution was synonymous with “spawn of the devil” to me. It was so counter-intuitive I couldn’t believe how anyone, save through an act of sheer will, could bring themselves to believe that the incredible complexity in life was accidental, and how it all just works despite a billion intricacies. I admit, it is almost unfathomable to the ignorant. Now, the human body is an incredible machine, but it’s far from perfect. If I were omnipotent and omniscient, the human body would not be the apex of my creative ability, at least not on the inside anyway… For all the misconceptions and apparent inplausibilities, evolution of man is a fact as undeniable as heliocentrism or gravity. You can say that God got the ball rolling if you want, but it’s really impossible to argue for divine guidance given the fact of common descent and so many obvious design flaws in the human body.

Unfortunately Dr. Michaels doesn’t get to give us his response, as a warning alarm on the sub goes off. Captain Owens informs the crew that air pressure in the tanks is dropping, which Grant confirms. In the novelisation it was the breathable air the crew is losing but in the movie their breathable air isn’t the problem but presumably the air pressure to maintain ballast. Grant suggests that since they are so close to the lungs they use a snorkel to absorb air and replenish their supply. It’s dangerous but they have no choice. Because of the risk of missing the mark and exploding the tanks, Owens suggests everyone leaves the sub but him, leading to a slightly extended shot of Miss Peterson unzipping her onesie.

Before this however, as they prepare to depart, Grant notices the laser detached from its stand, partially unfastened, and obviously jarred by the action of the whirlpool. Cora swears she tied it down securely but Michaels and Grant exchange dubious looks.

Deep breath…

Back to the air refuel job, and Asimov noticed the problem with this story element immediately: the air molecules in the alveoli are normal size – there is no way the miniaturised crew could breathe them. In the same way the ballast wouldn’t work either, if they could even get the huge molecules into the tanks in the first place. Asimov got around this by having a tiny miniaturiser on board the sub to shrink the air as it entered the snorkel, but in the film this whole aspect is ignored.

Unable to get a stable footing from the capillary side of the alveoli wall, Grant enters the air chamber itself with a safety line tied to the sub by Duval. But just as the Proteus’s tanks achieve capacity the safety line suddenly snaps and Grant is sent hurtling off out of sight. During the breathing lull he finally comes to rest on the floor of the alveolus and quickly scrambles his way back out. The alveolus is obviously a set, but it’s done quite well. No one knows what one looks like from the inside anyway but they imagine it well.

In the CMDF control room, Carter and Reid note the delay near the lungs and the passage of time. Grant was in too much of a rush to inform them via wireless but he does so now, then we get a shot of the Proteus cruising through a long, wide and shallow space of vivid colours – the pleural cavity. They’re now between the lungs and the wall of the chest.

Duval examines the laser and determines that it’s irreparable due to a broken trigger wire, but Grant suggests that they can cannibalise the wireless for the replacement wire (somewhat ironic). Of course, this will put them out of contact with the control tower, though they’ll still be traceable due to the radioactive fuel. As Duval observes, it’s either the wireless or Benes’s life. It’s not pleasant, but the choice seems clear.

“Is this your hair?”

As Duval and Cora get to work on the laser, Grant intimates to Dr. Michaels that there must be a saboteur onboard: the laser mysteriously unfastening itself and Grant’s safety line snapping all by itself. The logical choice is Duval but Dr. Michaels, despite their personal disagreements, believes that although Duval is “under a cloud” he is also dedicated to his profession. The conversation ends with Michaels essentially talking Grant down, and Owens shouts down from the bubble that the sub is approaching something. Michaels explains it’s reticular fibres lining a lymphatic duct. Grant, as it happens, has never heard of any other system apart from the circulatory system (which he takes to be the blood), although the lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system.

They enter the lymphatic node, one of many situated in specific areas of the human body most noticeably under the jaw, armpits and the groin area. In what is apparently a redress of the heart set only with giant strings of snot, the Proteus makes its way through the node. (Funnily enough, as a kid I misheard “node” as “nose” and though the reticular fibres in this scene were actually huge snot strings.)  The Proteus starts to receive several bumps now due to turbulence from outside. Grant opines that “it’s like someone’s declared war” to which Michaels responds “that’s exactly what it is”; the lymphatic system is a vital part of the immune response and outside the Proteus antibodies are swarming over bacteria or any invader to the system. The effects here aren’t great, but it was the 60s. Having said that, despite being inaccurate they illustrate how antibodies essentially work: locking onto receptor patterns (antigens) of foreign objects and inhibiting vital functions or, if there are enough antibodies, essentially crushing them. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing and explanation which occurs naturally in the story. It will pay off soon.

Owens observes that the reticular fibres, as well as slowing them down, might clog the intake vents of the sub and render it immobile. Either way, the trip is taking too long and Duval says they’ll never make it to the clot as this rate. Grant asks if there’s an alternative route but Michaels immediately dismisses the suggestion. Duval insists that there is though: they can head to the inner ear and from there make their way to the injury site. Sounds simple enough, but Michaels explains that whilst in the ear any noise from the outside world would have a disastrous effect on them, possible destructive and fatal. They can’t inform the control tower of their intentions but the outside operatives should notice immediately the change of direction and act accordingly.

As it happens, in the control tower news of the change of course comes through and far from being surprised it seems the crew have already figured out the Proteus couldn’t make it in time and that the inner ear was their only chance. Reid heads to the intercom and announces to the operating theatre that absolute silence must be maintained whilst the Proteus is in the ear.

The eerie and otherwordly inner ear.

Another establishing shot as the Proteus floats through the inner ear, and again it’s a well-designed and realistic set. Some obvious re-uses aside, the producers do a good job making each area unlike any other. The lighting here is reduced and the area dark with lovely colours. Unfortunately, no sooner is the Proteus halfway through than it starts to drop slowly to the surface below. Sure enough, as Owens informs the crew, those reticular fibres have indeed clogged the vents and propulsion is impossible. Grant does the only thing he can do: put on a suit and try to unclog the vents.

In the operating theatre outside, the medical staff stand quietly and the CMDF control tower can only watch as the blip representing the Proteus on their tracking screens remains motionless.

It finally dawns on the rest of the Proteus crew that it would be faster if they all got off their asses and helped Grant, so they do – all except Duval who wants to remain behind to fix the laser, a statement that elicits a brief but very suspicious scowl from Dr. Michaels.

The tension here is good. We cut back and forth behind the inner ear, quiet and peaceful as the crew very slowly manage to unclog the vents, and the operating theatre. It’s getting anxious outside though, and the chief attending’s forehead is covered in sweat. Seeing this, one of the nurses (one with a vagina of course) gently picks up a towel from the nearby table, dragging a pair of scissors with it, which promptly drop to the floor in a loud clatter…

In the ear the world is turned upside down. The Proteus lurches up and down, side to side, and the crew are sent flying off in different directions. Cora is sent hurtling down towards Hensen’s Cells where she gets entwined in fibres. The vibrations finally abate and Michaels warns Grant that Cora is damaging the fibres and will be considered a threat by antibodies. They start out after her but the pressure is too great for Michaels who has to turn back. Being a frogman Grant carries on and reaches the panicking Cora who is well aware of the danger she’s in. Grant frees her and they start back to the Proteus just as antibodies show up.

“HEATHCLIFF!”

In a sequence which gives me scientific misgivings, the antibodies follow the trail and chase the two humans back to the sub, but the hatch takes time to open during which the antibodies attack Cora and begin to bind to her. (Who can blame them?)  Grant gets her inside the hatch but she is being choked and can’t breathe. The half-empty hatch is opened anyway as the other men pull her out, lay her down on the floor and start frantically grasping at her skin-tight suit to rip off the antibodies. The “crystallised” antibodies are ripped off and Cora is ok. This is another exciting scene and it’s well done, but I’m not sure how accurate it is: antibodies are nothing more than protein chains and I don’t think they could bind to the shape of the human body, at least not in the way they attach themselves to bacteria. And although they can “tag” a body for immune response once it’s been identified as hostile, I don’t think it works with them literally following the “scent” like hunter-killers shown here. It’s probably not realistic but it is good drama. (Interestingly, the actors ripping the antibodies off Racquel Welch were so concerned with being chivalrous and respecting her body that they avoided her breasts. In the end they had to be ordered to ignore their manners for the shot!)

With 8 minutes remaining the sub eventually leaves the inner ear and is on final approach to the brain. Reid informs the operating personnel that all is clear and they brief a huge collective sigh of relief, with the clumsy nurse remarking “I almost died when the scissors dropped”, to which Reid puts his cigar to his mouth and gives a small fond smile. It’s only a little thing and it’s very underplayed but it adds character. If this was a modern Hollywood movie he’d make some cheesy punch line with the camera obviously framed to tell us “this is funny”, since modern movies find it hard to go even five minutes without destroying their own mood and tension with dreadful comic relief. Fantastic Voyage is not a comedy and it’s not played like a comedy – there are no “light relief” scenes to give the audience a chance to relax between action. There are lulls between the action but the tension is never released throughout the hour and this adds to the oppressive tone of the movie. It’s quite literally one crisis after another and despite some plot holes and scientific inaccuracies, the effects and disasters contribute logically to the story.

In what is undoubtedly a re-use of the pleural cavity and lymphatic duct passage, the outside of the Proteus now shows a long channel lined with black narrow threads, unmistakably nerves, leading to the brain. In the distance is a mass of nerves lining an opening or nexus of sorts, no doubt the entrance to the brain itself. I think this is supposed to be the subarachnoid cavity. The reason I like this is because despite the obvious effort to dress this effect up as the passage to the brain, it’s just in the background outside the window. It’s understated, because the effects (despite being a massive selling point for the film at the time) are only there to further the story, not the other way around. Do you hear that, George?

The only glitch here is that as the conversation continues before the window the entrance to the brain looms ever closer, until one close-up of Grant produces a continuity error of the sub being almost at the end of the channel, and right back at the start of it. Blame the editor.

The conversation going on here is whether Duval should test the laser before they reach the clot, since repairs are finished. Michaels insists that Duval test the laser before they waste their precious last few minutes getting to the clot, unloading, only to discover that it doesn’t work. The counter-argument from Duval is that he’s done all he can to fix it; if it doesn’t work there’s nothing he can do anyway, but if it does work there’s no way to know how long it will last, so every last joule of energy should be saved, which means testing it is wasteful. Both men make good arguments, and if I was on the crew I’d be highly tempted to side with Michaels since about now I’d be really panicking as the seconds tick by in this very dangerous confined space. But since there is still time left to perform the operation, even if the laser fails, Duval’s case is the stronger. Michaels and him end the argument quite heatedly with Michaels stating that as usual Duval just wants his own way.

Grey matter

Grant eyes them both curiously as we cut to the control tower where Reid remarks “just imagine, they’re in the human mind”, and the anatomical display in the background with the Proteus marked as entering the brain transitions to another establishing shot: the sub gliding through a dark region lined with what look like cobwebs, across which spots of light flash and jump. I really like this set too, because it’s probably the best that could’ve been done at the time. Another thing I like about this, and it’s true of almost all the sets actually, is that the blocking and camera work suggests vastness; you can’t really see a wall or edge to the environment which, at the Proteus’s scale, is how it would be. In the distance Duval points out the clot, the area of damage, a large black area which looks quite spooky. As Duval and Cora prepare to leave, Michaels says they can’t possibly operate and get out before time’s up, and instructs Owens to head to the removal point. Only six minutes remain, but it will take two to get to the removal point. Michaels warns that if they overstay they will deminiaturise in moments, growing large enough to endanger the brain after which white cells will destroy them. Owens continues the order to leave but Grant cuts his power and the Proteus slowly drops to the surface as the music ominously grows. Grant whispers “Dr. Duval, get the laser”, who doesn’t need telling twice. Michaels argues with Grant even as Duval and Cora leave the sub. Michaels flames at Grant, apparently having suddenly changed his mind about Duval, declaring him “an assassin, whose only motive is to kill Benes, and now you’ve made that possible.” Grant refutes this though, saying that he’s faced assassins before and Duval doesn’t fit the bill. He announces to Owens that he’s going to try and help the two surgeons and leaves the sub, leaving Michaels to quietly fume.

At the clot the laser works, and Duval starts to delicately slice away damaged tissue to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The operation goes well but time is ever running out. Back on board the Proteus doctor Michaels calls Owens’ attention to the escape hatch: fluid is leaking in. Owens comes to take a look but gets a spanner in the head for his troubles. Michaels was the saboteur all along! (He’s the English guy, how did you not see it coming?) He scrambles up to the bubble after restoring the power and starts the sub’s engine, speeding right for the nerve!

At the nerve, with the operation finished, the three look back and see the Proteus speeding towards them. This is another great model shot which captures distance and scale without limiting the environment in any way. Grant takes the laser from Duval and asks for full power as he fires at the Proteus and rips a hole along her hull. Out of the control the sub crashes into a nearby mass of (presumably) synapses and dendrites. It’d be hilarious is if this caused brain damage to Benes requiring another operation…

In the distance, white cells are spotted and Grant enters the hole in Proteus to rescue Michaels and Owens. In the ship the conscious Owens tells Grant what happened but the crash has jammed Michaels’s hands in the steering gear. Overhead through the glass dome a white cell slowly looms down on the Proteus, as Donald Pleasance really nails the panic and horror of a trapped man who knows he’s about to be slowly eaten. The white cell smashes through the glass and envelopes him. (The white cell covering Michaels’s head here were achieved essentially by soap-suds, and Donald Pleasance’s screams here are quite genuine!)

Pleasence nails this terrifying moment

Grant and Owens exit the Proteus and join Duval and Cora as the Proteus is ingested. A couple of final shots from the laser kills one white cell, but the laser is fried…so Duval just throws it aside. Remember that for later…

Grant asks “you said there was a quick way out?” Actually, no one said there was a quick way out. Grant earlier asked “is there a quick way out?” but doesn’t get a reply as Cora points out the white cells. It’s a tiny glitch but I always noticed it. Duval does confirm that there is though: “we can follow the optic nerve to the corner of the eye.” And so they do, the music builds to a crescendo and we cut to the control room as the timer turns to zero. Time up. Game over, apparently. Carter says to Reid that they’ll have to remove them even though it means killing Benes. Reid proceeds to the operating theatre and orders the physicians to remove the Proteus immediately, and an emergency trepanation is about to be started until Carter suddenly commands them to stop. He reasons to Reid, in a wonderfully whispered and chilling manner, that if he was running out of time in there he’d abandon ship and get out the fastest possible way. Reid pieces it together for himself: the eye! He races to the operating theatre…

“Light impulses, on the way to the brain…we’re nearing the eye…”

Meanwhile the three men and Raquel Welch are still swimming towards the eye. This is another scene well done; the music captures the other-worldliness wonderfully and the eerie score and sound effects reflect the organic environment they so desperately need to escape. They reach the eye and in another nicely understated scene we see them scrambling through an opening onto the roof of the eyeball; the effect is only about two seconds long but very realistic. It’s another example of how bigger and longer is not necessarily better.

In the operating theatre, Reid uses a super magnifying glass and sees four people in a drop of water. (And slowly, and surely, he draws his plans against them.) He calls for a glass slide and scoops them up. Despite the fact they’ve been growing all this time they are still not visible to the naked eye and this unspoken point proves (to me anyway) just how tiny they really have been. Reid carefully places the glass slide on the floor of the miniaturising chamber seen early and the music hangs on a note of suspense one last time…and then totally changes; for the first time in the entire film it now turns to one of hope and relief, and our protagonists become visible again. As Reid and the command staff watch on, four tiny people take form and revert to normal size. A silent nod from Reid to Carter is enough to convey the emotion of the moment between two military professionals. (Again, if this were remade today, Carter and Reid would be 30-something Calvin Klein models high-fiving each other and making inappropriate corny jokes to break up all the boring science stuff.)

I think you’ve got something in your eye…

An overhead shot of the four survivors ends the film as they’re joined by operations personnel and doctors all wanting to congratulate them on their fantastic voyage and safe return.

Unfortunately, everyone forgot about the injected saline from the original syringe, the discarded laser and oh yes, the frakking submarine which all remained inside Benes and would revert to normal size too, resulting, in Doctor Kelso’s words, of “a nasty case of…death”. Some claim that because the Proteus was digested, it was destroyed, and therefore wouldn’t revert to normal size. This is…err, wrong, to be polite. The ship was ingested, but the molecules and atoms that constituted it were miniaturised – they didn’t cease to exist. Given the whole premise of the film was the crew having 60 minutes, no longer, before they regrew, this is pretty glaring oversight. In his novel, Asimov got around this by having the crew tempt the white cell (which ingested the Proteus) into following them out through the eye too. Also, the physicians used as little saline as possible for the initial injection.

As regards the characters, none of them are particularly fleshed out but this is an adventure movie not a character-driven plot. With so little time and so much to get through, the film can’t afford divergences to let us see the mind and soul of Grant or Cora. The film also never explains why Michaels is the bad guy either. Again, in Asimov’s short version the characters are brought to life a lot better (albeit the dialogue is clunky) with Cora initially viewing Grant as just a dumb muscle man but coming to see that he has a brain indeed, is a good leader, and is obviously grateful for him saving her life a few times. Grant’s attraction to her is written with all the subtlety of a hammer in truth, and the men find it incredulous that a girl can be incredibly clever and also beautiful… “Instead of working as protégé for the best neurosurgeon on the planet, shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your life and making the most of your important features, the physical ones of course – by, say, being a super-model or porn star?!” If this were a character arc like Battlestar Galactica, or a human story with a message which happens to have action, like Star Trek II, I’d criticise it. But it’s not.

De-miniaturisation

Review: I try to be as objective as possible, but the truth is this was an all-time classic for me and a favourite ever since I can remember. For that reason, it’s hard to not inject a bit of fondness into a review, whereas someone else might watch this and think “you can see the strings on the antibodies! That’s crap!” and promptly go back to watching Big Brother.

As far as the story goes, apart from the obvious plot holes it’s a really tight script, with the only question marks over the pacing at the start – and some of the scene transitions feel dated. Some of the special effects are clearly lacking by today’s standards but many of the sets also stand up quite well. The attention to detail is definitely there, for the most part. The film also doesn’t ram medical jargon down our throats but says what needs to be said as if professionals were saying it. It also does a pretty good job getting all the necessary information to the viewer without bad exposition. The sexism of the time is pretty evident, with the lady needing to be rescued a few times and it being the woman to drop the scissors on the floor, and Reid even saying that because this mission is so important we don’t need a woman on board, someone who’ll probably just menstruate all over the sub anyway.

The plot holes and dated attitude to women drop the score a little, but I’ll judge every work of art against what it’s claiming to be. This was a huge blockbuster which took years to make, had some big names stars, and took itself seriously as a science fiction adventure thriller. It was incredibly ambitious, and most of the elements come together superbly. The problem for the writers was that the concept of miniaturisation is so hard to translate into true sci-fi because the rules of physics themselves stand in the way – there are literally too many problems to overcome so you either: a. forget the idea, b. scientifically rationalise every single thing even if only on a very hypothetical level, or c. do what you can do to make a good movie and ignore the rest. I think the FV producers chose c and succeeded.

I’m tempted to be more generous with one of my favourites, but it has some tough competition in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I’m going to give it 8/10. A true classic. I only hope that any modern remakes do the original justice.

Final score

Cheating and hypocrisy in football

Did he dive? Didn’t he dive? Did he exaggerate a tackle? Was it inside the box or not? Did he use his hands deliberately to control the ball? Do two wrongs make a right?

Football is rife with cheating. But the worst part is that almost everyone involved in the game is either deluded or a hypocrite.

To take just one recent example: the weekend before last Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield. Luis Saurez, not exactly everyone’s favourite player at the moment, skipped through several Arsenal challenges in the penalty box and dramatically tripped over Czechny the Arsenal goalkeeper. The referee awarded a penalty. Replays showed barely any contact, yet Suarez went down theatrically as if shot in the back. Subsequent replays however showed that there was contact, and thereby by the letter of the law it was indeed a penalty. (Indeed, there doesn’t have to be contact for a penalty to be correctly given, but that’s off-topic). Incidentally, a friend of mine made the point that Suarez was looking for the dive and was on his way to ground anyway, before contact was made. The contact made it a penalty, but it was already a dive. It’s hard to disagree with this argument.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently criticised Suarez, saying “It was no penalty. Nobody touched him”, despite contact having occurred. He added “then when they roll down the sock, take the shin pad out like he has been kicked like mad. It is a bit overboard. We don’t need that.” What Wenger means here is that exaggerating a tackle (or lack thereof) to con the referee into punishing an opponent more than they otherwise would (or deserve) is a form of cheating and is therefore wrong. I totally agree. However, this would be far less hypocritical coming from a manager whose teams historically haven’t had the constitution and integrity of wet paper bags. In the same game, every slight Liverpool touch was met with dramatic collapses from Arsenal players, lying on the ground in agony, taking ages to recover from the horrendous aggressive assault on their person…for about 10 seconds after which a miraculously recovery was made. (The only actual harm caused in that game was by an accidental collision between Henderson and Arteta, the latter needing to be stretchered off…because that’s what real physical harm causes.) Surely a dive is a dive, no matter where it happens on the pitch?

Now, I’m not criticising Arsenal here particularly, and I’m not defending Luis Suarez, what I’m saying is that pretending to fake reality to gain an advantage is cheating. Trying to circumvent the rules of the game to gain an advantage is cheating. To take another example which also happens to involve Arsenal (but only because they’re the most recent ones I’ve seen do it): last night’s game against Newcastle saw Arteta take several corners when the ball was quite clearly and deliberately not inside the quadrant. This is an invalid corner and an attempt (albeit a pathetic one) to gain some distance on the set piece. This is cheating! And if you say “there’s a bit of a difference between trying to sneak a foot on a corner and diving in the box to win a penalty” then I’m sorry but you’ve missed the point. Please, tell me which forms of cheating are acceptable or not? Or do we shrug and say “that’s life” or “everyone does it” when it happens in our favour? Who am I kidding – that’s exactly what happens in football! It’s funny how every football manager is a bastion of truth and integrity when his team have been hurt due to cheating, but it’s “I didn’t see it” when it goes in their favour. Worse, they’ll just side with the player despite the cheating, as if it’s just a matter of subjective opinion anyway.

Trying to sneak extra distance on a free kick? Trying to sneak closer than 10 yards to the taker before the whistle has gone? Pulling an attacker down to prefer the red card over a certain goal? Taking the corner outside the quadrant? Pretending to be injured or have been touched in a manner that didn’t happen (inside or outside the box)? Deliberate hand-ball? Kicking the ball away to waste time? Taking advantage of the clock and certain rules (i.e. the goal kick) to waste time? Why is any one of these more acceptable than another?

Again, I’m not defending anyone or singling anyone out for criticism here, because almost everyone involved in football is a hypocrite, prepared to look the other way or sneak any advantage when the ref isn’t looking, protecting their cheats one week whilst criticising the enemy’s the week after. Whatever we’d like to think about cheating or what should be done about it, it happens. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but it’s still cheating. If you really want to stamp it out, start with the only actions you can actually control: those of yourself and your own club. Otherwise, shut up and stop being a hypocrite.

Suarez v Evra / Racism in football / Free Speech

I’m going to give my opinion on the recent Suarez/Evra racial abuse incident, racism in general and where freedom of speech and the law should come into it.

What happened between Suarez and Evra?

I’m going to assume the reader is fairly familiar with the situation, but to summarise: Luis Suarez, a Liverpool player, allegedly racially insulted Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. I say ‘allegedly’, because I think we will never know for sure what was said between the two, but having read the evidence presented to the panel and their judgement, I will say that it is hard to defend Suarez. My opinion from the start in this has simply been that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The question for me wasn’t really if Suarez is a racist or not, but whether it could be reasonably proven, since otherwise it’s one man’s word against another, something we don’t usually accept as damning evidence. I think Liverpool FC reacted so strongly to the affair because they felt a miscarriage of justice had occurred. I also felt there was a witch-hunt going on; the perfect chance for the politically-inclined to curry some favour by jumping on the anti-racist bandwagon. Whilst I still believe this, I think it’s hard to defend Suarez.

What I will say is that, ironically, if Suarez completely denied using any racial words at all, he might’ve been acquitted. He admitted using the words but denied there was racist intent. I’m not saying this excuses Suarez, but it does make the incident seem less clear-cut which probably made his supporters feel justified in defending him at first.

The handshake

On Saturday 11th February, Liverpool faced Man Utd at their ground in a League game. By an astonishing coincidence, Sky decided to switch their pre-kickoff advert run to much earlier, before the players even lined up in the tunnel (usually the players walk onto the pinch and Sky cut to commercial for several minutes, then return for the kick-off proper), which meant that the line-up and handshake could be televised live. There are some who suggest that Evra half-heartedly offered his hand or even slightly pulled it away as Suarez approached. This may be true or it might be clutching at straws. Personally, I don’t buy it: his hand is out. In contrast, Suarez made no attempt at all to shake hands with Evra and instead blanked him, continuing down the line. Evra reacted angrily, grabbing Suarez’s arm. Suarez pulled his arm free and continued on.

Now there are two ways to take this: if Suarez is innocent and was convicted on the word of another man and the reasonable certainty of a judiciary panel, his reputation has been tarnished forever. As long as he lives, wherever he plays, he will have the term “racist” hanging over him. If this was me, and I was innocent, I’d have blanked Evra too. Contrastingly, if Suarez was guilty and I was Evra, I would not shake his hand at all! I cannot understand why Evra offered his hand. If he is the victim, the innocent one, then the racist filth of another person isn’t something you should forgive and forget. Suarez should’ve been the one to offer his hand (if guilty) and Evra would’ve been fully justified in ignoring it, given that, remember: Suarez denied the charge of using racist insults, so if he’s guilty it makes him a liar on top of a racist. At the time of the handshake I was actually biased toward Suarez given how the situation played out. What I mean is, if I was one of the parties concerned, it would’ve made more sense for Suarez to not be guilty and snub Evra, than for the innocent Evra to offer his hand and then get so riled up when it was refused.

What I disliked about Evra’s reaction (and I will assume he is in the right), is that if he wanted to be the “bigger man” and offer his hand, why did he then completely lose his temper? Wouldn’t a “bigger man” have given a wry smile or shrug, and simply think “to hell with him!” with all the cameras watching? That would’ve made a bigger impression, in my opinion. His reaction, coupled with his red-mist charge into Suarez which ended up only taking out teammate Ferdinand, and his excessive post-match victory dance appeared to me, not as a man celebrating a football result nor a man celebrating a judicial verdict, but a man whose pride had been wounded and wanted to get even. Again, I could be wrong (and given the evidence I probably am), but that’s how it could look. Having said that, after months of repressed emotion and winning an important game against a fierce rival where a racist abuser tried to embarrass me in public, I might be tempted into a bit of self-righteous gloating myself, understandably.

My personal opinion is that the evidence against Suarez was satisfactory for the verdict. I personally don’t believe Evra should have offered his hand, but it was his choice and he did it. But I also think that, even for an innocent man, his reaction at the end of the game, waving his arms in circles and skipping along the touchline to his fans, inciting their anti-Liverpool venom all the more, and trying to provoke or belittle Suarez, was irresponsible. He is supposed to be a Manchester United captain. Manchester United has been the biggest team in the world for decades, and is arguably only eclipsed in its success and attractive football by Barcelona and Real Madrid – and is this the guy Man Utd fans want as their leader, their talisman, their representative on the pitch? I’m not equating his antics with Suarez’s racism and if he wasn’t the captain I’d be inclined to ignore it, but surely it was out of order and grossly unprofessional?

Speaking of which, if Suarez led his colleagues and superiors to believe he would shake Evra’s hand (which it seems he did) and then refused to – he put them in an unfair and uncomfortable situation and deserves to be punished. It was sly and dishonourable behaviour and he let himself and everyone connected to Liverpool down. He has subsequently apologised for this.

But what I have to point out is the hypocrisy of Sky: despite the presenter, pundits and commentators insisting that “we” talk about football, they did a damn fine job of talking about everything but the football. As I previously said, Sky switched their pre-match commercials to make sure they covered the handshake. They extended the post-match section of their coverage, no doubt anticipating having much to discuss. The post-match interviews glossed over the actual football so we could get to the really juicy stuff.

Reaction

Of course, everyone had an opinion on the incident. Some Liverpool fans fiercely supported Suarez to the death, simply because he is a Liverpool player. Some Manchester United fans had similar support for Evra. Extreme opinions were voiced on both sides, with many clambering to assert what Suarez should or shouldn’t have done and how he should be punished further. (Personally I think that the pre-match handshake in all football games is a farce; another example of bureaucracies having too much time on their hands to invent silly little rituals instead of being an administrative body and nothing else.)

I will always give my honest opinion and be as objective as possible: for a start, I totally reject the suggestion that footballers are responsible for the behaviour of fans, with one exception: encouraging a frenzy by running to the crowd. A hero scoring a goal and running to fans causes them to naturally rush to meet him, which is dangerous. Players are rightly booked for this. This has absolutely nothing to do with referees being “spoil sports” or politically correct or some health and safety nonsense. We have seen the injury and death that can be caused at football matches from stampedes, and they can be caused by anything from gross police negligence to something as innocent as goal scoring. That aside, if you’re a Liverpool fan who sees Evra’s post-match reaction and it enrages you so much that you find the nearest Man Utd fan and hurl a brick at him, the responsibility for that action is as follows: Evra: 0%, You: 100%. Similarly, if you’re a Man Utd fan who is incensed by Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, you cannot use this as an excuse for beating up some Liverpool fans. Crimes are not morally transferable, and only in rare and mitigating circumstances are the motives for crimes balanced against the action. Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez was a disgrace and “could have caused a riot today.” Well I’m sorry, Alex, you might be right about the “disgrace” part but since when was one man morally accountable for the decisions of another? No, this piece of nonsense needs to go from football and society: you cannot use other people as excuses for your idiotic violence. We don’t accept “he made me hit him!” in the school-ground or from our children, so why is it ok for grown adults in the society to try the same?

Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez shouldn’t be allowed to play for Liverpool again, presumably meaning that LFC should eject him. Now, whilst I agree that a club should be picky about the character of player who wears their shirt, the simple fact is: most clubs don’t give a damn who or what a footballer is, only that he makes them successful, so it’s a little odd to start getting morally uppity now, even in the face of racism. It also exposes you to counter-assertions of hypocrisy. Let’s remember that two Manchester United captains in the last 20 years have: performed flying kicks into the necks of opposing spectators and deliberately set out to cause harm to opposing players. Roy Keane’s assault on Alfe-Inge Haaland was as premeditated and vicious an attack as you could see on a football pitch. Off the pitch, this would be treated as grievous bodily harm, carrying a fine and probable jail term. In a civilised society, we allow offensive speech and ban violence, because the former doesn’t violate anyone’s Rights and the latter does. In football, it seems to work the other way around: initiating violence against someone carries a 5 match ban; a racist slur incurs 8. Imagine if the law in everyday life worked this way! Some might say that violence is violence and happens in life but racism is a social evil that should be eliminated. Well this is my opinion: both are evil but violence is socially worse. Why? Evil opinions can (and should) be legally permitted because they can be defeated by reason and non-violent means. Violence can never be legally permitted because it destroys reason, can only be stopped by more physical force, and invariably leads to more violence. I’ll go into this in more detail later, but if you disagree, think about this: would you rather someone approach you on the street and insult you, or break your legs?

On the subject of players representing a club, in football “we” seem to allow: violence, cheating, name-calling, unsporting behaviour and sociopaths, but a racist slur should be grounds for immediate dismissal? And I am not claiming that they are one and the same or morally equal, but let’s be clear what we’re talking about here: there are a great number of disgraceful things that football clubs happily turn a blind eye to. And if you think that a racist insult is necessarily worse than trying to hurt another human being, you should be prepared to fully justify that position, if you can.

The Government and Free Speech

The PFA Executive Gordon Taylor said “the situation is running away with us and this isn’t healthy for football, particularly with the government looking into the governance of football”, which probably explains why so many people in positions of power are worried about the situation. What no one is asking is why the government is poking its nose into the administration of a sport!  Don’t our politicians have anything better to do? I would think economic crisis and national security should be enough to be getting on with, but if they’re that bored I encourage them to please consider getting a proper job. If I were Taylor I’d politely tell the government to mind its own damn business, but that  might affect all the State parties and gatherings that FA executives and footballers get invited to huh?

The racism in football issue is another excuse for the government to extend its power over free speech. There are some well-intentioned individuals whose natural reaction to racism is to call for more laws and government action. You are not helping anyone. Before anyone objects, can we all just agree at the outset that racism is evil and should be socially unacceptable? Now that that’s over with, let’s get back to the very basics:

Why is racism a bad thing?

So many opinions float around in a vacuum, taken for granted or as self-evident truths. But it is not self-evident that racism is evil. It is not self-evident that rape is evil. Why? Because “racism is bad” is not a moral primary. “Rape is bad” is not a moral primary. Rather, racism and rape are violations of the most basic pro-human virtue: rationality. For example: “physical force” is not itself bad, as a primary. If it were, it would be wrong to lock criminals up or punish them no matter what they did. Physical force is acceptable, as long as it’s not initiated. Therefore, we are justified in locking a criminal up (or killing him), but not an innocent man. Therefore, rape isn’t evil simply because it’s physical force, but because it is necessarily the initiation of force against an innocent; it’s a violation. It is evil because it is anti-human.

Racism is evil, not because it violates Rights (it doesn’t) but because it’s anti-human. Racism is probably the most profound and stupid example of irrationality in existence, which says: “just because someone has different skin colour or was born elsewhere, they can be judged as individuals”. It is the judgement of a man’s character based on his geography or bloodline. It is irrational; it is anti-human; it is evil. But what racism is not, in itself, is a violation of anyone’s Rights. Fascists will disagree, but the government’s job is to protect Rights, not to police acceptable speech. This is why racism cannot be a crime.

The principle of freedom of speech is not to preserve or encourage popular or admirable opinions (although that is a natural consequence) but to prevent unpopular opinions from being suppressed, however ridiculous or inhuman they may be. The idea of free speech allowing everything, except the stuff we really really don’t like, is a contradiction in terms! Either everything is legally permissible to say, or none of it is. And before I get accused of creating a false dilemma: I’m not; there is no objective standard by which to determine what speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable, since any opinion in the world is potentially offensive to someone somewhere. All that truly exists is what some politician decides based on the votes he’s trying to win, or the “popular opinion” of the time, a fallacy which says that something is true simply because enough people think it is. Remember that in the past what we would consider racist was the general opinion, even from the intellectuals at the time. Even as recently as a few decades ago, the popular opinion of homosexuals and sexual equality was what we’d now call archaic.

The beauty of the “freedom of speech” principle is that it protects us all from whatever mob, whatever dictator, whatever bureaucrat, whatever despot, whatever faction, decides our opinion is a threat to them and wants to stamp it out. (It also prevents the government giving special favours to those opinions it wants to encourage.) The more ridiculous (or evil) an opinion, the more important it is to not censor it. Why? First, because trying to ban an opinion is impossible anyway. Opinions are individual matters which arise from a person’s choices and premises (conscious and unconscious). Second, because trying to blacklist an opinion (or anything) creates a black market; you drive it underground where it meets the worst of humanity. Third, you discourage honest debate. For example, if someone is truly racist and honestly believes that nationality or race plays a part in the judgement of another individual (these people are far more common than you realise), it is all the better to let them speak and offer their arguments so that they can be defeated. If someone says “it’s obviously true that black people are mentally inferior to whites”, do not silence him! Do not give him the “respect” that many a brave voice in history was met with: censorship. Do not plant the seed in another’s mind that “maybe he has a point?!” Rather, let him speak and explain himself, and then show why he is totally and utterly wrong. Blast the argument in public for all to see for all time. But do not simply ban it, or treat him like a criminal for holding an opinion (even an evil one).

(As an aside, I should mention that the only exceptions to free speech in any form are libel and slander, which are rightly illegal.)

We can already see around the world our governments taking measures to control speech and the mediums of speech, the best example of which being the internet. It is not that our governments are necessarily fascist and wicked (though some politicians are), but because they simply assume that moral evils are the remit of the government to police. And when the average citizen agrees and even calls for it, how can we expect anything else?

The government has no job banning and criminalising any speech. It is a slippery slope we are already going down, where the government penalising particularly motivated-actions over others necessarily leads to the home of motives: thoughts. And if the government bans one, it will sooner or later try to control the other.

Hate crime and hypocrisy

Today in England, a “hate crime” is treated more seriously than a “normal crime”. Presumably, if you violate someone else’s Rights you are super-duper guilty if you did it for racist reasons. Interestingly enough, what this means is that if you’re the same colour as your attacker he is less accountable for his violence than if you or he were a different colour. In other words, people of a different race are more or less guilty than others, all other things being the same. What’s that word for pre-judgment based on race again?

But the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, and which is uncomfortable to discuss for obvious reasons is: why is a cruel and irrational insult against a person acceptable for some reasons and not others? Some footballers have been treated to disgraceful abuse at football grounds, not because of their colour or character or behaviour, but their sexuality. Why is this any different to racism? Aren’t both attacks on an individual based on un-chosen and arbitrary traits? Aren’t both anti-human? Continuing this theme, why is it less frequently condemned when insults are for being: fat, thin, short, tall, attractive, ugly, butch, effeminate etc – most of the time attributes also outside anyone’s control? Of course most decent people would reply “well they aren’t acceptable either” – but the truth is we do view them differently and no matter how hurtful an insult is we are generally told “brush it off, ignore it”, unless it’s racist.

I haven’t established the difference clearly in my head, but if you seriously discriminate against another, or abuse them, what does the particular subject of abuse matter? I welcome an honest answer.

I have many foreign friends, and it’s not uncommon to hear “you Swedish bastard!”; “you Czech retard!”; “you Welsh sheep-shagger”; “you stoned Dutch idiot!”, between us. If any of these insults, albeit in jest, included a reference to colour they would probably be considered racist. But what is the difference? If a genuine light-hearted joke can include reference to someone’s race – then what difference does it make what the race is? I am not saying there isn’t a difference, but if there is I’m having a hard time seeing it. Again, I welcome an honest answer.

Of course historically race has been far more divisive with human beings than gender and other physical attributes – no doubt why it is such a sensitive and inflammatory topic. I can certainly appreciate the emotive nature of colour-related racism. But we’d all agree that racism isn’t primarily a “colour issue”, it’s an issue between any two peoples of different nationality, culture, location or language. So again: if racism isn’t necessarily a colour issue why do “we” assume it is by allowing other kinds of race-related banter, except where colour is concerned?

You see, there is a danger of going too far to the other extreme. In fact, the debate is not: ‘racism is ok’ or ‘racism should be banned’, the debate is: ‘free speech of any kind should not be banned’ versus ‘some speech should be criminalised and some shouldn’t’. The danger is in fact seeing the world in terms of skin colours which is just what racism is. Like any movement to counter discrimination, it can become paranoid and see villains in every decision, enemies around every corner.

Racists see the world as a conglomeration of accents, nationalities, histories and colours – which of course it is, but that is all they see. They think of you, not as you the individual but you the white, the black, the Asian, the American etc; incidents outside your choice are relevant to their judgment of you. The politically-correct multiculturalists are so desperate to not appear like the racists, they pretend that there are absolutely no differences at all between people and insist on a “colour blind” world. Worse, they favour positive-discrimination which is just another form of racism.

But people are different! Not being a bigot isn’t ignoring someone else’s differences, it’s accepting that we human beings are a varied bunch – and not giving a damn about it: another person’s race, or colour, like their accent or birthplace, sexuality or gender, shouldn’t be something we tiptoe around but simply irrelevant in our judgement of them. Gay, straight, fat, thin, black, white, yellow, tall, short, intelligent or dumb – if you’re a monster you should be damned and if you’re virtuous you should be praised. Everything else, everything you didn’t choose, is irrelevant.

The Ferengi – the ultimate strawmen of capitalism

You don’t have to have seen Star Trek or even like sci-fi to find this relevant. This isn’t just about bad writing, which is an artistic crime by itself – and when the very thing you’re trying to denounce is so obviously a ludicrous strawman not only do you fail to make the point, you end up undermining your own position. It’s also about propaganda.

I am a geek, I admit, so I can unapologetically say that if you’re not, I’ll do some quick back-story for you: the Ferengi are an alien race in the Star Trek universe, introduced way back in The Next Generation’s first season. Since the Federation (sort of like all the best parts of the United States in space; in Kirk’s words a place where people had “the full exercise of individual Rights” source) finally made friends with the classic bad guys the Klingons, the show needed a new nemesis for our heroes. Now, when you consider that even someone who hasn’t watched Star Trek probably knows who The Borg are, this should give you an idea of the impact a truly terrifying enemy can have…and how far off the mark the writers were with the Ferengi. They are ugly apish buffoons (the Ferengi, not the writers – though I don’t deny the similarity). After only a couple of episodes it was clear they couldn’t be taken seriously, so much so that almost every “Ferengi” episode of DS9 and Voyager to come was written as a “comedy episode”, with one exception.

The Ferengi were shown to be a technologically-advanced intelligent species (appearances to the contrary) who could rival the Federation in space exploration and/or conquest. As I said, this didn’t last long and they instead devolved into the ultra “capitalist” exploitative bigoted idiots that would crop up every now and then to beat us over the head with the “too much capitalism is bad!” mallet. I could attribute this to just bad writing, but the problem is that the Ferengi are a caricature of everything the Left believes about capitalism, beginning with a most profound and basic misunderstanding. Of course, it’s not the Left I’m addressing this to, but the everyday person who doesn’t know any better and whose only understanding of capitalism comes from false generalisations and clichéd movie villains.

Capitalism in one sentence

“Do not initiate force against an innocent rational being.” Got that? Good, because this is the basic premise of capitalism. Of course, people will disagree and they’re welcome to. You are welcome to define capitalism as you like, but you have to justify your definition and show how it’s logically derived. This is the job of philosophy, but I don’t intend to go into that much detail here. The best philosophical defender of capitalism was Ayn Rand and it’s her understanding of the term I’ll use. Even if you totally disagree with Ayn Rand, I don’t see how someone can object to me invoking her here. After all, when I attack communism and socialism, I don’t attack what I think they are, I attack what they actually claim to be! I am happy to take a socialist’s definition of their own system and roll with it, so no one should object to me using Rand’s definition of capitalism here.

Why does it matter? Well, the “profound and basic” misconception of capitalism that I alluded to is of capitalism saying “make money!” But it doesn’t. Don’t confuse an economic consequence with a political principle. I attack socialism, not because it says “surrender all your values to the State!” (although that is a logical consequence of socialism) but because it says “the Rights of the individual are secondary to the needs of the State.” I think capitalism has proven that wealth and profit are its corollaries (hard to argue with, even if you don’t like capitalism), but the political principle on which it stands is: “leave people alone”, or “don’t initiate force against others.”

We’ll see that every distasteful aspect of the Ferengi, who are supposedly the unavoidable consequences of rampant unchecked laissez-faire capitalism, are false and even precluded by capitalism.

Sexism

In Ferengi society females are treated like second class citizens. The men run everything and exclude Ferengi women on the grounds that they are useless in business, and all the Ferengi care about is profit. This is probably the biggest non-sequitor of them all. I don’t know how someone gets from “leave people alone” to “treat women like useless house-bound tools”. Capitalism’s principle of leaving every person free to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness surely encourages respect for our fellow creatures, recognising that they are just like us and have the same potential as we do. Also, with the use of force banned, how could women be forcibly restrained from having jobs and earning money? The Western world has proven (most memorably during WW2) that having half your entire population not sitting around doing nothing, increases production and profits. Imagine if today women were suddenly forbidden from working – almost every business where gender is irrelevant would collapse! Yet we’re supposed to believe that a society so obsessed with profit as the Ferengi wouldn’t take advantage of a worker base which could in theory double its workforce? Isn’t a common criticism of laissez-faire capitalism that would it end up employing too many people that it shouldn’t, not excluding them?

Of course, as any real life rational businessman knows, there is no profit in unnecessary discrimination.

You might say that this is just an example of an alien race which is ultra-capitalistic and also happens to be ultra-sexist. But every single aspect of the Ferengi revolves around profit, so the implication is clear that their horrifically-sexist society is connected to their capitalism. But even if it wasn’t, it’s guilt by association. For example, imagine if Trek gave us an alien race who are all black, oh and it just so happens they’re thieves and rape isn’t a crime on their world. Who would dismiss this as innocently exploring ethical issues in a science-fiction format and not racist?

Exploitation

The Ferengi are open to and encourage bribery, and forever force money from their customers by upping prices, lowering wages, and denying basic commodities to their employees, since without a regulation from some Progressive bureaucrat of course, this is what would obviously happen in all companies. Naturally, all unions are banned.

Leaving aside the government support that unions have had in the Western world (which only gives one side an unfair advantage in negotiations, but since that side isn’t the evil businessmen it’s ok), with the use of force banned, how could unions be prevented? They are an obvious and natural means for employees to pool their (economic) power and lobby their employer for change. If we drop the premise that businessmen are James Bond villains or irrational scrooges, it’s clear that no reasonable employer is going to lose his staff when by making acceptable changes (or losses) he can keep them here and happy. On the other hand, he isn’t going to needlessly cut into his profits if he doesn’t have to. And implying that this is necessarily a bad thing isn’t an attack on capitalism, it’s an attack on the very inescapable nature of human trade itself!

Also, it’s simply daft to assert that a businessman can keep upping his prices to extremes. Of course, in the heads of anti-capitalists, prices are set in a vacuum and buyers are at the whims of sellers. But prices reflect costs, overheads, the affluence of the customer base and competition. Yes, if there is little competition you can get away with upping your prices, but it doesn’t mean that, for example, if I’m the only pub within a 50 mile radius I can charge $20 for a pint of ale. No matter how rich my customer base is, no is going to pay that much for a pint. And even if a tiny minority could, would that handful keep my business running? If only 1 person a day buys a $20 pint, it does not follow that if I cut my prices to $2, I will now get 10 customers a day instead of 1; in reality I’d probably get many times that, because not only will more customers be attracted to my pub, they will each spend more because the prices are good. ‘Good’ here being within the context of my customers’ affluence; in some regions I could up my price to $3 and not lose customers. In other regions I’d have to drop it to $1.50 to (counter-intuitively) make profit. But to say that the customer is irrelevant and an unchecked businessman would just irrationally up his prices is pure fantasy. Which would be fine if this was just another alien race and not an unashamed caricature of a genuinely pro-human political system.

(Incidentally, in my experience pub managers and owners resent raising prices because it simply drives customers away, which means they lose the atmosphere in their premises and lose business. Ironically, the ever-increasing costs on alcohol are imposed by government taxes, something that wouldn’t exist in a truly capitalist society.)

Corruption

The Ferengi give and take bribes like we shake hands. This is bad, naturally, because the affairs of two private consensual individuals are of course the concern of the rest of society. Oh wait…

A bribe is a bribe if it’s a way to circumvent honest trade. For example, if you’re a buyer you could be bribed to accept some poor quality stock that you normally wouldn’t, and which your company wouldn’t normally want – but you get a brown paper envelope and press the Confirm button anyway. This is a bribe. Similarly, you could be a politician with the power to use force against your own civilians, and be bribed by a business to grant them special privileges. This is a bribe. (By the way, whilst the former could of course still happen under capitalism, the latter could not. Remind me again why the Left doesn’t like it?)

But saying that any private settlement reached between two free individuals is a bribe is just ridiculous. By this reasoning, any bargaining or negotiation at all should be viewed as a bribe. Offering to give someone a bit more for something you want isn’t a bribe, it’s called trade! But presumably this is frowned upon by the Soviet Federation of Planets because all transactions are the concern of the State.

It’s either fraud, in which case it’s illegal (even and especially under capitalism) or it’s not fraud in which case it’s no one else’s business.

Obsession with profit

Everything the Ferengi say and do revolves around profit. Their version of the bible is “The Rules of Acquisition” and even their afterlife myths involve a latinum-plated vault where treasures await them. How many businessmen do you know whose every topic of conversation concerns money? How many of them actually dream about it? How many of them see it as an end in itself?

Like everything else with the propaganda of the Left, it makes no sense. Anti-capitalists think that just because capitalists want to be left free to pursue their own selfish values, which includes making money, that “making money” is therefore all they care about. I’ve seen scarecrows with less straw than this argument. It’s like saying that just because someone thinks drugs should be legalised, his ulterior motive is getting high on anything he can get his hands on. I happen to think all drugs should be legalised, but if they were I wouldn’t take them. So why assume that someone who wants property rights fully respected automatically wants to stand on the necks of the poor to make some extra cash? It’s because the Left frames every anti-capitalist argument as a matter of money, and not the principles that political systems should be based on. It is here that anti-capitalists reveal that they are the ones obsessed with profit. But whereas the Ferengi are obsessed with having more money, the Left is obsessed with making sure no one has too much of it!

Greed

This ties in with the above: that just because capitalists want to be left free, which includes having no limit or checks on the profit they can acquire, they are “greedy”, an adjective related to excessive consumption. The difference is: rational people eat until they are full, because there is a logical and practical reason to eat and cease eating when that biological urge has been satisfied. The difference with money is, there is no logical or practical point in life at which it becomes pointless to acquire more money (especially since wealth isn’t finite, it’s created). Ok, in theory you might have so much money that literally nothing is an obstacle for you – but if your productive effort reaps money then the only way to stop making it, short of refusing to get paid, is to sit on your hands and watch TV for the rest of your life, a position itself that is contrary to human flourishing. Also, the incredibly rich do seem to be quite generous with their money in real life, a fact borne out by billionaire philanthropists and mega-corporations who are the largest contributors to charity in the world.

In fact, if greed is the irrational pursuit of objectives, then why would we assume that a person who continues working with no end in sight to what he can achieve or acquire is being irrational? We don’t see the best sports stars earn enough to live comfortably and then retire, do we? And we don’t criticise the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Stephen Hendry and Lionel Messi for continuing to blow the opposition away even after achieving everything “reasonably” necessary in a career, do we? So why are businessmen with the same ruthless determination to win viewed as greedy? The best sports stars make  fortunes for themselves in exchange for a relatively limited return to their “customers”, the spectators. They smash the hopes and dreams of their rivals and seek to conquer everything and hope the other guy loses. Even assuming a businessman of equal ruthlessness, he at least brings a product to the world, not just a group of fans, and gives how many others a career and purpose along the way? And unlike a sportsman’s titles and records, the businessman’s practical achievements will live with humanity forever.

And yet, it is the charity worker which is held alongside the sportsman and businessman as the model of humanity.

Public welfare

Towards the end of the Ferengi story arc, which we see in the last season of Deep Space Nine, the leader of the Ferengi Alliance (though what he leads and how, in a system where government force is supposedly banned, is a mystery) has introduced taxation (pretty much a swear word to the Ferengi) and instituted various social reforms such as “free” healthcare and pensions. Ironically, a society where energy is free and unlimited and all matter can be “replicated” from thin air is probably the only one where socialism would actually work. But even then it wouldn’t, unless doctors and scientists could also be replicated…

Yes, the immoral Ferengi slowly begin to learn the true meaning of Christmas; that profit is a vice and the true calling of all sophisticated beings is of charity work to any potential number of other individuals they may never meet and might care nothing about.

But the funny thing is that despite the Ferengi being deliberately stacked as caricatures, they still manage to get things done! Throughout Trek, the Ferengi are never involved in any wars and their business interests are allowed to continue without interference from any aggressive power. They have an impressive military and aren’t slackers when it comes to exploration and invention. We are never shown the Ferengi homeworld in ruins, resource-deprived, impoverished or with people enslaved. In fact, in the words of Trek’s most famous Ferengi: “You’re overlooking something, Commander. Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” And despite the Trek writers giving us the kind of alien history that we can only dream about, we’re still told “but if you want all this, you going to have to take corporatism and sexism too.” One can’t help but think that if ultra-capitalism produced a world without war, slavery and genocide, maybe it’s worth a few greedy businessmen.

I’m reminded of the Caldari society in Eve Online, which is supposedly a capitalist state taken to extremes; from Wikipedia: “the Caldari State is organised as a form of statist corporatocracy, where the State itself is owned by and operated on behalf of a few trust-like megaconglomerates.” Whilst I don’t deny that such a State could exist in theory, it isn’t capitalistic. Capitalism is the separation of corporation from State. The Caldari are contrasted with the Gallente, who “favour liberal economic policies, encourage individual entrepreneurship and social democracy, and maintain a progressive approach to social welfare”. The Gallente are very much like Trek’s Federation politically, but the problem is that these “virtues” are reeled off in one sentence as if they are mutually compatible or inevitable. They aren’t. Progressive social reforms are a hallmark of Leftist politics and are undeniably fascist in origin and nature. Individual entrepreneurship is antithetical to social welfare and liberal economics, since Liberalism in the modern sense means socialism, not capitalism. Again, we see strawmen in action: the best of all worlds is a semi-socialist “liberal” democracy and anything else must necessarily be an undesirable radical society which is either fully-despotic and totalitarian or ultra-capitalistic where the mega-corporations are in charge. How convenient. But I say again: this is all based on a simple misconception of capitalism. If capitalism is the society where nothing trumps individual Rights, then please tell me, how exactly could business own the State? How could despotism come about? How could anyone be forcibly included or excluded from any activity against their wish?

Why?

Because I’m so opinionated I can’t just leave it there and point out the flaws of anti-capitalism in just two popular works of fiction. The question is: why is capitalism painted this way? Leaving aside conspiracy theories of the Left (not because the Left is innocent but because not everyone who is sceptical of capitalism is always a Leftist), I’ll suggest this: it’s easy. If capitalism was understood properly it necessarily would exclude most of the nasty stuff that people don’t want to see in politics. The problem though is that it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that people don’t want to answer, or simply can’t, like: what about education, roads, healthcare, tax? It’s easier to imagine that somehow our society just works with the balance of individual freedom and Statism, and pretend that the two are compatible or can even co-exist for a while, and anyone else must just have it wrong. And how much better does such a Liberal Progressive society look when contrasted to the strawmen alternatives?

The irony is that despite Roddenberry’s Marxist utopia, the United Federation of Planets was supposed to be the United States of America in space, a place where individual freedom was treasured and people of all races would work together, not because they are forced to, not because they are guilt-tripped into it, not because of positive discrimination or ethic-minority quotas, not because of political correctness, but simply because there is no rational reason for us to not cooperate if everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and because there is no profit in discrimination. It was the capitalism of early America that smashed slavery and feudalism and allowed men to flourish (and get rich), and those countries that followed the example (like Britain in Europe) also succeeded compared to other nations. It was the Progressives of the late 19th and 20th centuries that would re-introduce the anti-individualist God-state as the political ideal, whether as expressed fascists, communists and socialists, whether as brazen as Hitler’s Nazi party or as nicey-nice as Barak Obama’s neo-socialism. Rather than being cutting edge thought-provoking television, Star Trek is just another example of anti-capitalist nonsensical clichés. We can blame it on bad writing, but the reason for such an obvious strawman in the first place is sadly more pervasive.

Derren Brown and Hypnosis

I was always a big fan of Derren Brown. As far as his work goes, I think he’s one of the best illusionists of all time. His stage entertainment is best described as “illusion” because almost everything he does is false. Even “effects” (to use the correct phrase in magical circles)  which he hints at being due to one thing are in truth another. Years ago, I was taken in by his ability to ostensibly pick up clues in mouth twitching or facial movements to deduce what word someone was thinking of. I’m not saying he isn’t doing this in some cases, for example – asking people a series of questions and picking out the single lie from the truthful answers has a readily-observable explanation (which he provides) and makes perfect sense. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s a nice ability that anyone could do with a bit of practice in the right setting. But most of the time, if Derren Brown is giving you an answer, or even hinting at the answer, he is almost always deceiving you.

I got into a discussion with a friend recently about DB’s latest TV show. In this episode, which admittedly I didn’t watch, he hypnotised a man into believing a bath of freezing water was mild, even having him lie in it for 8 minutes without discomfort! This supposedly demonstrated the power of hypnosis, or suggestion.

As much as I admire DB’s skill and most of the effects he achieves, in recent years my interest in him has cooled. There are two main reasons for this. One is his over-(mis)use and over-misdirection of supposedly scientific means and his own mental powers (which lessens the impact of his effects), and the other is his use of hypnosis.

Contrary to popular misconceptions and what hypnotists would have us believe, hypnosis is merely socially-learned unconscious behaviour. It is a form of reciprocal role-playing based on how the hypnotised person believes they should act, and how the hypnotist believes he should act. Both expect certain results and play their parts to achieve them. Hypnosis is very much like “speaking in tongues”; of course, the holy spirit isn’t really possessing people and causing them to utter nonsensical sounds, rather, these people are so hyped up in religious fervour they believe they are overcome with holy spirit and unconsciously act how they believe they should. They are playing a role, albeit unknowingly. This is all hypnosis is. Or in the words of Irving Kirsch, it is a “nondeceptive placebo”. In other words, hypnotised people believe they are “hypnotised” and act how they have come to understand a “hypnotised” person behaves. This behaviour can be guided or moulded by the hypnotist in more specific ways.

So, when you see DB take a young lady up on stage, ask her to look ahead, then up, then at him, after which he clicks his fingers and tells her to sleep – and she drops her head and closes her eyes – you are not observing magic or any abnormal power at work. He is doing nothing that you couldn’t do. (Consider that those who don’t believe in hypnosis can’t be hypnotised.) There is nothing going on here except the power of suggestion.

Now, the power of suggestion is very real, and is probably a testament to what the human mind can achieve when so conditioned. If anything, we should really take inspiration from it as a tool in our lives, (for example by having a positive outlook and an expectancy that we can and will achieve our goals). Hypnosis is simply an elaborate game to dress up suggestion and make it appear that something deeper is going on. Hypnosis adds a sense of wonder to the proceedings, if done for entertainment, credibility, if done professionally, otherworldliness, if done for occult or supernatural reasons.

There is no such thing as a hypnotic trance, and “hypnotised” people will not perform actions that are far removed from what their regular sensibilities will allow. For example, someone under hypnosis will not shoot themselves or jump off a cliff. The “power” of hypnosis will only go so far, and is curiously similar to what the subject is prepared to do anyway for attention, keeping the hypnotist happy, entertaining the audience, or the pressure to play along. In other words, if you really don’t want to get undressed on stage, you won’t – no matter how hypnotised you are or think you are.

But Derren Brown knows all this. He knows that hypnosis is largely convoluted, but is more than happy to perpetuate the myth because he needs people to believe it works. Even if they don’t believe it, he needs them to play along.

There is more going on with a good DB effect than the effect itself. He is perhaps most famous for being the guy who achieves seemingly supernatural effects by natural means, and is firmly opposed to the harm done by supernaturalists. He can cold-read better than most of the best “psychics” out there, levitate tables and chairs, produce coins with messages from beyond the grave, and have you subconsciously intuit dead from alive merely by looking at photographs. We know he isn’t doing any of this, but the effect is powerful, and those rational in the audience accept that it’s all done naturally. It  amazes us and baffles us, perhaps sends a shiver down our spine, and discredits the fraud and evil of the mystics all in one go. We don’t need to know how he does it, all we need to know is that it’s a trick.

But when it comes to hypnosis, this is one quasi-scientific area he’s happy to leave alone. You can’t say that we, the ones in the know, us clever people in the audience, aren’t supposed to be fooled by it, because we are supposed to be. For me it’s a bit like his “prediction” of the National Lottery numbers. It seemed impossible, and the effect was amazing. But then he went and ruined it by explaining how he did it. Not because he really explained it, but because he tried to feed us the most bullshit explanation ever, which most sane people wouldn’t buy, and which he himself would never believe! It was exactly the kind of mystical anti-scientific crap he works hard to discredit! He’d have been better off not explaining anything, or actually showing us how he really did the trick. To be fair, he admitted himself he didn’t like this stunt and wished he’d have done it differently.

But the point is, don’t take anything DB does as a performer at face value. Not even the stuff you think he’s explaining. As I mentioned earlier, a favourite trick of his is to intuit a secret word in the mind of a guest by their mannerisms or face movements. Of course, no human being in the world can do this – and I challenge anyone to guess a word I am thinking of. He drops hints that he’s picking up on subconscious clues and invites us to do the same to the subject. In reality, he is doing nothing of the sort.

Similarly, an effect he performed for his original TV show had a man separate photographs into two piles based on whether he got a superficial positive or negative vibe just by looking at the pictures. At the end, it was revealed that the “positive” pile were people who were alive, and the “negative” people happened to be of deceased. (I won’t reveal how it’s done, but this trick is very famous in its original form). But, it was a better effect by not being accompanied by some pseudo-rational explanation, which would’ve been a discredit to reason and somewhat condescending to the audience.

In another effect, and a more light-hearted one, he identifies the “liars” from a row of people just by listening to their answers without even looking at them. It’s a great trick, and gets the audience laughing, as the dirty liar gets exposed from the most innocuous answers. His brilliant showman skills allude to being a master of reading people, when the secret behind this effect is incredibly mundane. It took me 10 seconds to figure out how he did this: there is more deception on deception taking place here, and a good example of taking everything Derren says with a pinch of salt. (By the way, I’ve been to all DB’s stage shows each year. Ironically, and unfortunately, the most powerful and beautiful effect he performed last year was also the easiest to explain. I won’t say which one it was. During the intermission, my friends and I figured it out – and I was disappointed, not because of how he did it, but because afterwards the emotion of the effect evaporated. I would rather not figure it out, or more precisely, not be able to. Once the mystery is revealed, the emotional resonance is lost. What remains, and is by no means trivial, is an appreciation for the technical skill of the illusionist. I should also mention that whilst the emotion of the effect was thereafter lost, the meaning and the accompanying message was still beautiful and true.)

Of course, it doesn’t matter that he’s lying – because he’s an illusionist. He’s supposed to deceive us spectacularly, and the delivery and style is unique and engaging. But do some of his alleged “powers” actually give a false notion of science and the human mind? My problem is not with any of his effects, but is it better to maintain total mystery than to hint at a lie? How much credibility should be given to the idea that words and truths can be plucked from someone’s head before it goes from “it’s obviously only a trick” to “it takes a special skill to do that” to “I can do that with people myself”? How healthy is it to lend credence to hypnosis, just for an effect, if people run off to buy books on it, or spend hundreds on classes for it, visit a hypno”therapist”, or worse, attempt past-life regression?

In one effect (I mentioned the girl on stage who was hypnotised after a click of the fingers), DB gets the subject to use “unconscious writing” to apparently divine a word or number she couldn’t otherwise have known. You can say that it’s not supernatural, which it isn’t. You can say that DB despises mediums and abhors the supernatural as an explanation of anything, which he does. But the effect is: ‘under hypnosis, this person achieved a feat they couldn’t have otherwise’. If that isn’t the effect, why hypnotise them? One answer is: he is recreating a supposedly paranormal effect using natural means, thereby discrediting the former. But this effect wasn’t even about the power of suggestion (like the bath tub one was). Hypnosis is here just a means to an end, and did it present a false image of hypnosis? Did it give hypnosis a rational scientific credibility? It surely misrepresents the power of suggestion and the capriciousness of the human mind. Now, one could object that what it really does (with stunts like The Heist, where people were “brainwashed” to perform an armed robbery), is show how gullible some people can be, in which case DB is providing a very important object lesson for us all. Though I’m not sure how positive or life-affirming it is to perpetuate the idea that we can all be controlled to varying degrees to act completely out of character, just with the right “programming”. This isn’t a healthy self-image, nor do I believe a correct one. It is a trick staged with purported rational and scientific credibility. Is DB doing reason and science good or harm here? And if he is painting a false picture of the world, how is this any different to some of the people he denounces? Again, you could say that he is genuinely able to achieve these results using manipulation alone (which is the implication) – but when so much of his patter is nonsense, how can we be expected to know the difference?

Perhaps my gripe, and it’s really minor I must stress, is personal instead of professional: perhaps I feel slightly let down because I think in some ways I’m being patronised. If you know for example that hypnosis is rubbish and have a good idea how DB performs his effects, a lot of the delivery and window dressing loses its impact. I’d rather be told nothing and be totally stumped on a mystery, than be offered some half-truth. DB invites us to “meet him half way”, between what he apparently achieves and what is really happening. That’s all well and good, but he isn’t really meeting us half way is he? Even his half is a deception, yet another misdirection on a misdirection, leaving us in the position of not being able to take anything he says with honesty. And when you do that, you start to scrutinise his effects more for the real answer, which in my experience dilutes the power of the illusion. A far simpler and more famous trick, like sawing a woman in half, is far more impressive to me than programming people to commit a crime.

Similarly, when one has achieved so many great things in a career, it’s natural to keep pushing the boundaries and going for bigger and more extravagant. I wonder if DB has reached the limit of what his amazing skills can achieve, without redressing an old trick in new garb. In my opinion, magic is best when it’s personal and confined, and the emphasis is on the emotional impact of the effect, not on the sheer size of the effect. That’s why the illusionist Dynamo is much better when he’s materialising a phone into a sealed bottle than walking on water across the Thames. The former is personal: my phone teleported inside a jar – impossible! Incredible! Right before my eyes! A man walking on water? Meh. There’s glass under the surface; the trick is so incredibly false and surreal it’s hollow. Predicting the lottery results? Not interested, but making this chair float? That’s magic! Hypnotising someone to forget how to be a pianist? Social role-playing. Winning a race with the losing ticket? Jaw-dropping!

The best effects are usually the simplest. But if DB is going to be a champion of rationality and oppose the mystical, like the Randis and Dawkins of this world, then perhaps it’s worth looking at what image he himself generates of it. DB is at his best when he’s performing the incredible and being honest about it. One example is using a voodoo doll on a New Age believer only to present a twist at the end. The New Age movement (and the subject) come off looking silly and undermined, whilst the power of belief and suggestion is demonstrated, and there’s a lovely little sleight of hand to go with it. But we know what we need to know about the effect. A better example is his use of cold-reading to recreate paranormal effects. We know that he can’t commune with the dead, and we could never hope to match his skill and delivery, but we know how it’s done; we understand the trick and skill involved, and we’re wiser as a result. We aren’t being fed some crap about lip movement or crowd wisdom.

Nor are we led to believe that a psychological response is anything other than expectancy-based suggestion. The power of suggestion is real, but hypnosis is elaborate garb which detracts from a very real, fascinating and potentially useful ability. The truth might be better served by not giving hypnosis more power than it really has. And if hypnosis is worthy of anything, surely it must be separated from those who misuse it, even unknowingly, like hypnotherapists and occultists? Just like cold-reading should be separated from communing with the dead, so should genuine suggestion be from the act/game/con that accompanies the field of hypnosis. If hypnosis has reasonable and practical applications, like any placebo effect, all the more reason to be clear about what it is, and isn’t. There’s a reason medicines are medicines and placebos aren’t. One could retort that by being totally straight about hypnosis, any power it has is destroyed. But isn’t that the point? If some get comfort from hypnotic treatment, despite it being superficial, and despite most practitioners being well-meaning people – how is this different than the comfort one might get from a visit to a well-meaning medium who isn’t aware they are being fraudulent?

Perhaps I’m just saying that Derren Brown, one of the great performers and showmen of all time, is at his best when he’s deceiving us honestly.

My Top 10 Most Annoying Things

They aren’t my Top ten to be honest, they are just the first ten that sprang to mind. In no particular order:

Parents who blame everyone, except themselves

It’s the teachers. It’s the other kids. It’s the other kids’ parents. It’s the TV. It’s the radio. It’s the footballers. It’s the celebrities. It’s the government. It’s everyone, except you.

Is your child staying out late? Not doing their homework? Has unsavoury friends? Causes trouble? Gets into fights? Takes drugs? Spends too much time behind the TV or computer? You sort it out. You decided to have the child. You brought it into the world. You raised it. You taught it your values. You reap what you sow. Do your job and stop bitching at everyone else for your parenting failures.

Shopping bags that you can’t separate

We’ve split the atom, landed on the moon, established the internet, peered into the origins of the universe itself, created antimatter, and unlocked the human genome. We even invented self-serve checkouts in supermarkets, so why can’t we create a carrier bag whose sides don’t stick together? Yes, I am that post-lobotomy patient standing there for five minutes holding up the queue.

Can’t there be little plastic lips at either ends and opposite sides of the bag to facilitate easy opening? I hate having to waste five minutes of my life picking and scratching and licking the bag all the time hoping no one is watching before I think ‘bollocks, I’ll just carry everything.’

Hip-hop /  R&B

It takes a rather broad and generous definition of music to include these two modern monstrosities of popular culture into the concept of music. If anything 50 Cent does is music then so is my car alarm.

Worse than the bland tuneless repetitive tripe that radios vomit over the airwaves is the semi-criminal underground “gangsta” lifestyle portrayed and glorified to youngsters of lazy parents. No, when you grow up you will realise that being a criminal or part of a gang, or stealing, robbing, shagging around, selling your soul for popularity is not cool or fun. It’s pathetic and parasitic. The best music humanity has to offer will not be found on commercial radio. Until then, it would be great if you just pointed and laughed at the Emperor and switched that trash off. Here’s the thing: no one really likes this “music” – everyone just pretends to because everyone else pretends to like it too!

Animal “Rights” Activists

Some humans will stop at nothing to defend the supposed “Rights” of thoughtless amoral beasts that will continue eating the grass and pooing today and tomorrow and for the next hundred thousand years, as they have done the last hundred thousand years. They’ll even go as far as hurting other humans who actually do have Rights and destroying their property, in the name of animals.

Sure, animals can be killed for a few benefits like: testing drugs, developing medicines, food, clothing, shelter, vermin-control etc. But there’s also the downsides of…wait, oh I can’t think of any.

If animal “rights” activists really care so much about not disturbing animals in any way, shape or form, they should go to a place where their continued existence doesn’t depend on the exploitation of the world around them, i.e. some other planet or reality than this one.

Do you wear leather? Do you eat meat? Do you live in a house? Do you use wood or chemicals? Errrr…stop right there. If animals have rights to all these things then you don’t. Strip naked and head off to the Antarctic (just don’t travel there by bus or plane, of course).

Insects

I know I get in a flap about this a lot, but it really bugs me. My friends know I’m liable to fly off the handle whenever one of these little three-torso’d six-legged bastards enter the room. It doesn’t matter if they crawl or fly or hop, they are all disgusting and should be exterminated. I’ve heard the religious say “ah but they’re part of nature’s balance – they all have a purpose.” Let’s swat this myth right out the sky: insects have NO purpose. If it wasn’t for rotting food and animal poo half of them would be dead – some design flaw there, God, cheers. I can’t wait for the day when we invent waste-atomisers and the insect population starves to death. If I could afford it, I’d have one of those blue electric light thingies at every entrance and exit in my house.

You know how it is: you’re trying to sleep and you hear a whine in the room. You give her a slap and listen for the other noise: some mosquito is whirling around looking to bite you and (this actually happens) when you turn the light on it stops flying and waits. Or one of those big furry bluebottles that just can’t seem to find its way out the window you’ve opened in front of it, the window 6017 times its size. Flies are stupid.

They say your average housefly lives about 20 days – that’s 20 days too long in my opinion. Any insect that violates my property rights dies. They are ugly and intrusive and have no respect. Did you know that insects are responsible for 980 million deaths a year? I can’t back that up but why take the risk?

Chain e-mails

The internet has been around for long enough now for everyone to know that if you forward it on to X number of people, absolutely nothing will appear on your screen. Luck is a metaphorical concept that can’t be transferred, certainly not by browser-based mail clients.

Chain e-mails come in many varieties, whether it be “Microsoft wants to know who is using Hotmail otherwise they’ll delete your account”, or “for every fifty people who forward this picture of a random sick baby plucked off Google Images, [Insert Big Corporation Name here] will donate 10 [enter local currency here] to [enter charity here]”, or “send this on within 5 minutes and have great sex forever” (I happen to know this is definitely false) – they are all deeply stupid. And no, it’s not “a bit of harmless fun”, it’s the perpetuation of irrational and pernicious notions. If you want to support a good cause, say so. If you want to share a joke, send it on. Drop the damn emotional blackmail or insults to our intelligence.

Blatant spelling mistakes

Ok, no one can always write perfectly, grammaratically or otherwise, but there are some errors that are truly shocking and unforgivable. I’m not talking about typos, I’m talking about the wrong freaking words!

Defiantly” does not mean “definitely”; it doesn’t sound the same, it doesn’t look the same, and it doesn’t even mean the same thing! And it’s “could have” not “could of“. And “you’re” means “you are“; it is not the same word as “your“. Could you bear being attacked by a bare bear? Was it where you expected it, or were you dreaming of wearing no clothes? Maybe there was no one else there and it’s all not their fault.

Advertisements

I am defiantly not against the nature of advertisements, I’m against the content: it is criminally lame. As the late Bill Hicks said: “if you work in marketing, kill yourself!” Radio jingles, movie ads, TV commercials – only a tiny proportion are actually clever or make sense. 99% of them are just annoying.

I really wonder what goes on in the head of the people who script, cast, act and approve advertisements. It’s like “what were you thinking? How in any way did that promote your product? It didn’t even make sense! What part of you thought ‘yup, we nailed that! Now let’s wait for the sales to flood it!’?” Perhaps they think “if we piss enough people off with this, they might buy our product hoping we’ll go away!

Relativists

Nope, not talking about Einstein here, I’m talking about the subjectivist types who either
a) explicitly think there’s no such thing as objective right and wrong, or
b) implicitly suppose that since everyone’s different, everyone’s opinion is fair and worthy of merit.

They are both wrong. If I say I can fly, or the moon is covered in gravy, or god made the earth in six days, or there are 72 virgins waiting in the afterlife – I am of course welcome to believe it. I might really really believe it. Hell I might be utterly convinced it’s the absolute truth. Does that make me right? If 6 billion people say the sun orbits the earth but I know the earth orbits the sun, who is right? Right and wrong are matters of objective reality. They are facts accepted by consciousness. It doesn’t matter how far removed the fact is from the sensory input, eventually the chain of evidence stops at someone somewhere being able to point at something and say “this is it.”

Just because everyone has a different opinion, doesn’t mean everyone is right. There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong and only one way to be right. I hate it when people are afraid of being wrong. But fear of being right is worse.

The most annoying thing about the subjectivist position is that it’s inherently contradictory. The subjectivist position basically goes like this: “all opinions (or cultures, or beliefs) are equally valid.” Err, there’s one problem with that: what if my opinion is that all opinions are not equally valid. Therefore, for your position to be true it must entail the validity of my opinion which denies your position. Subjectivism is therefore either false or invalid.

“There are no absolutes”. Grrrr. Are you absolutely sure of that??

Football commentators

Being the most popular sport in the world has its drawbacks. It means that every man and his dog has an opinion on it. That’s fine. The problem is when they give any man a microphone on a huge stage to talk about. It’s worse when they let the dog speak too (although quite frankly anything would be more coherent than John Motson). Sport commentary should be a fine skill: a commentator must assess the entire match before his eyes, the atmosphere, the implications, the talents and strategies on show – isolate the relevant concepts and dismiss the irrelevant details, and bring those points home to the audience in an engaging and unique manner. Basically, a commentator should be doing what most of us couldn’t or would find exceptionally hard to do. A commentator should not prattle on endlessly about statistics or the synchronicity of this match on this day with the wind blowing in this direction.

Football commentators are the worst of the lot. With most of them their job consists of having an enormous list of stats on each player to fire off whenever he touches the ball – irrelevant trivia that the mind glosses over and forgets a moment later – this isn’t commentary; it’s someone reading a database out to you. Others simply do “radio commentary” for TV and tell us exactly what we can see with our own eyes:

“Gerrard with the ball. Passes it to Kuyt. Kuyt crosses to Carroll. Carroll mis-controls. Opposition get possession.”

Due to the miracle of light waves impacting on my retina and being interpreted by my brain as images, I was already of that. In fact, I was aware of it in 1/10th of the time it took you to repeat it back to me after it happened.

Almost all of them avoid making firm conclusions or stating a definite opinion of their own:

“Hmm, that looked offside didn’t it?”

What? Are you asking me?? You’re the supposed expert, you tell me!

From bad puns to awful (and mixed) metaphors, to dreary or grating voices – the entire commentary industry needs a makeover in football. Perhaps that’s (yet) another law UEFA could come up with when they’re done with their racist quota systems? Which brings me too…

UEFA

No, I jest. No 11th item. Besides, this monster deserves a post of its own someday.