September 27th, 2004


Hero: a review

Some people might find their beauty in Rembrandt, others in Pollock.  Some find it in hills and rivers, others in gothic architecture.  Some people even find it in the random twisting of a plastic bag in the breeze.

Personally, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Hero is one of the most beautiful things ever.  It's got the incredible architecture of pre-Imperial China, sixteen different kinds of scenery so gorgeous they make your head spin and some of the most luscious cinematography I've ever seen.  And while it has no plastic bags, it does have an amazing sequence set in an autumn grove where leaves swirl dramatically in the wind.  That bit's pretty too.

What it _doesn't_ have is a complicated plot.  It's a retelling of a chinese legend - of the assassins that attempted to kill the King of the of Qin.  The King is attempting to take over all of China and bring it under his rule (the first time that this would have happened), and is being dreadfully violent and totalitarian about it.  Various assassins conspire to kill him in revenge for his destruction of the neighbouring province of Zhao.  It's not a complex plot, but it is very nicely told, with flashbacks, twists and some nice philosophising thrown in.

It's also a legend - and as such is told in legendary style.  Imagine that it's being retold to villagers around a fire and you'll have the right approach - legendary fighters pull off impossible feats of swordplay, leap incredible distances and act in legendary ways.  They don't behave like ordinary people any more than Greek Gods do.

So, go in expecting a complex plot full of deep characters and you will be disappointed.  Enter the cinema looking for a legendary tale told by a master and you'll be richly rewarded.

ObComparison: Makes Crouching Tiger look a bit wussy.

Liberal Answers

In today's Independent Richard Askwith poses some problems for liberals to deal with.  I'm going to give my answers to them:

Globalisation of Jobs
I believe that globalisation of jobs is a good thing.  I think that moving jobs to poor countries is good for those countries and that the priveliged first-world countries don't have a right to those jobs.  I do, however, think that we need to ensure that the working standards in those jobs isn't terrible and that any displaced workers are given help to retrain into new jobs.

Paying for private healthcare, education, etc.
This is a tricky one - there's an argument that paying privately reduces the workload on the public services - so if I pay my National Insurance and then go to a private hospital I'm making things better.  However, private hospitals tend to have more money and can draw better workers away from the public sector, thus making things worse for patients (and workers) there.  Short of outlawing private medicine I can't see an easy solution to this one - except a complete overhaul of the health system to the continental way of working, where hospitals are effectively private, but everyone has health insurance.  In general I'd tend towards going to the NHS for emergencies and vital operations (which they deal with very well) and privately for elective surgery.  Not that I can afford any at the moment.

Green Development
I'm in favour of wind/water and solar power, with the caveat that all of these were uneconomical last time I checked - solar power in particular , where it costs more resources to makes a solar panel than to just burn petrol in the first place for the same energy (over the life of the panel).  Things do seem to be improving, however, and I'd be in favour of government-funded research into all of these.  I'm also somewhat persuaded by the argument that nuclear power is better than global warming, especially as the last couple of generations of stations haven been built to be fail-safe rather than fail-catastrophe (see Chernobyl).  the waste-storage problem, however, remains.

I used to be against the idea of positive discrimination, believing that what we needed was _no_ discrimination.  Used to, that is, until seeing a study that showed that identical CVs got very different responses when you changed the name from N'gobo Zepharia to John Smith.  I'd love to live in a world where there wasn't any discrimination and we didn't need to counter problems, but while there are people out there discriminating against part of society we need to help that part to take advantage of opportunities where we can.

Immoral Jobs
No question here - if an industry is the source of a public ill and changes need to be made, then the fact that jobs will be lost isn't an issue.  Certainly, people working in that industry will need help to be retrained, but just because your grandfather worked the boats it doesn't means you have the right to work in the fisheries when we've nearly killed all the cod.

Cheap Food
I'm in favour of Fair Trade, buying local, etc.  But not so much that I'm prepared to do much about it.  Far more would be done for farmers worldwide if we abolished agricultural subsidies that mean that some European cows get more money in a year than a third-world farmer.  I do believe that third-world farmers need protection from monopolistic practices from the food-buyers, and help to organise themselves into collectives that can bargain well for fairer deals.

International Travel
Hugely polluting, and for some reason their fuel isn't taxed.  Well, it should be, and the money used to help counter-pollution elsewhere.  The ability to travel the world is a modern wonder, but by and large it's a luxury, not a right.

Liberty vs License
Again, a simple one for me - unless something is clearly shown to be harmful to others, you should be allowed to do it.  This includes full freedom of speech (unless directly advocating violence or handing out bioweapon secrets), euthenasia, drug legalisation, etc.  Certain levels of politeness are necessary (not playing music loudly at 3am,urinating in shop doorways, etc.) in order to make people's lives livable, but in general people should be left to get on with own lives unless they are hurting others.

The example in the paper is based around we should be equally respectful of the interests of a rich minority as we are of any other minority.  And the answer is - of course.  Which doesn't, in either case, allowing free reign, but it does mean listening and considering their thoughts and actions without being biased against them just because they're part of a particular group.

I'm going to change this one to 'Religion' and make it clear that I don't judge people by the groups they belong to, that you can believe what you like, and that wearing a ballgown, a bucket on your head and praying to a sock puppet are all fine by me, so long as nobody gets hurt and nobody is forced to do it.  You're still all a buncH of wierdos though.

Humanitarian War
Absolutely, definitely positively.  When, for instance people are being marched wholesale into gas chambers then there's no bloody excuse for not going in there with a machine-gun in each hand and kicking ass.  However, most wars are _not_ that clear-cut, and there are always lines to be drawn where the cure is worse than the cause.  Where, exactly, that line is drawn is a matter for personal judgement.

Justice vs Forgiveness
Another one that's surprisingly simple if approached from a different point of view.  I'd like a quiet life.  Anything that gets me that quiet life (and by extension, everyone else one too) is good.  If violent retributive justice had been shown to bring about a quiet life then I'd be all for it (I have little to no sympathy for murderers in the first place).  However, this kind of justice has universally been shown to merely cause _more_ violence, and as I don't want any more violence, I'm against that kind of justice.  Which doesn't mean that people should be allowed to kill someone and then wander off, but it does mean looking at what outcome you want in the long run, and what will get you there, rather than simply looking for revenge.

Liberty vs Security
I'm generally all for liberty.  I'm for security over liberty only when there is a _clear_ and _present_ danger, which will be _obviously_ solved by the _temporary_  reduction in liberty.  Anyone with power over reductions in liberty needs heavy oversight in a transparent manner.  As an aside, I view freedom of movement as an essential part of liberty, I don't view anonymous freedom of movement to be so  (I'm from the transparent movement of information school of thought).

Checks and Balances
The main problem with a directly elected parliament that gets changed over every four years is that the politicians have to be careful what they say, or they'll get voted out.  While this may sound like a good idea in some ways, it does lead to people playing to the audience/public and going for things that will get them elected rather than things that are what they actually believe.  Which is fine if you believe that the general public is actually competent to run a country, but not if you have any sense.  Anyway, to avoid this kind of situation you need a second chamber that's _not_ directly elected and can point out the idiocy of the first chamber, or at least make them have a second look.  The question is - how to get people into said chamber without them being either (a) born into it, (b) put there by political parties trying to stuff their own people in or (c) letting the average person choose them (Aieee!).  I'm honestly going to have to say that I don't know nearly enough about this to have a coherent opinion.

Unwelcome Neightbours
Another dead simple one - when you need to put something (like a prison, mental asylum, home for recovering paedophiles) somewhere then choose it based on rational criteria regarding resources, cost, etc.  Completely ignore the wishes of protesters.  We need to put them somewhere and if they don't want it next door to them then fuck 'em.  Heck, I might not like to live next door to a prison either, but fuck me too - it has to go _somewhere_.  There might be a case for compensation for people right next to it, and of course you wouldn't put a paedophile rest home next to a school, but in general just put it in the most sensible place and tell protesters that if they want people in prisons then someone has to live with being next-door to a prison.

Oh.  My.  God.  Is this the most overblown issue of the last 100 years, or what?  Not only do migrants generally produce a _positive_ economic impact to society, but as Jeremy Hardy pointed out we've gone from "You can't come over and steal our jobs." to "You can only come over if you can steal our jobs.".  Oh, and the total number of asylum seekers and migrants comes to around 10,000 a year.  Which means it would take 50 years for even _10%_ of the country to be migrants.  And that's assuming that nobody over here has kids.  Which, to be honest we _aren't_, so we need those migrants to pay your pensions.

Electoral Reform
Simple - some kind of proportional representation.  There are several versions, some of which are easier to understand than others, some of which are fairer than others, but in the end, some kind of proportionality is vitally important to me.  Otherwise you take away the voice of a large percentage of the population.  I _did_ like the idea I heard recently whereby people tick as many boxes as they like.  The party with the most ticks wins.  That way you end up with the party that the most people can bear to have in power _and_ an accurate idea of how people really feel.  I, for instance, would tick the Liberal and Lib-Dem boxes, my Mother would tick the Conservative and Lib-Dem boxes and we'd end up with a Lib-Dem government that knew that people were equally split on either side of its policies.

If I don't follow the democratic process and then obey the laws passed in accordance with it, how could I expect anyone else to?  Well, that's the ideal.  In actual practice I do what I consider to be right, except when it's easier to work within the law than to avoid it.  Pretty much like everybody else.

Contact with Rogue States
I tend to believe that the EU model of offering economic benefits to countries that want to join, so long as they pass human-rights-based legislation, is a good one.  Countries that join the global community for trade reasons swiftly discover that educated people make more money than uneducated ones.  And most educated people tend towards _some_ kind of liberalism - certainly it seems that racism, sexism and other odious isms are less prevalent in well-educated societies.  I'm therefore generally in favour of constructive engagement.  Better than bombing them or boycotting them, I suspect.  Whether it would have worked with South Africa is an interesting question that will remain unanswered.

Political Correctness
There's another word for the most basic form of political correctness - politeness.  Don't insult other people unnecessarily, don't use slurs based on grouping them together in ways that have no effect on their individual characteristics, refer to them in the way they'd like to be referred to and generally act in a polite way.  When it gets pushed further than that into preventing people from speaking accurately or truthfully, then it's gone too far.

There ya go - my opinion on the many problems facing liberals today.  Who's going to be first to call me an idiot?