Passing over many excellent choices, I’ve decided to try another genre – also an S, ska.
This is a great song, Ghost Town by The Specials. Its very much of its era, redolent of the mass unemployment and racial unrest of early 80s Britain.
I remember sitting in a bible study where one member, an elderly ex-Lord Mayor*, said that if there was one thing that would make the world a better place, it would be that everyone followed the Ten Commandments.
Now, it’s hard to disagree with many of the commandments. I disapprove on the whole of people going around killing each other, stealing, lying and all that sort of thing; although I’d be rather flattered if anyone coveted my ass.
I think he wanted the commandments to be drummed into everyone’s ear at school, and then for people to be constantly exhorted to behave better. It’s a nice thought, but I’d doubt it’d work. People tend not to like being told what to do.
There is another school of thought out there. I have recently been re-reading Steven Landsburg‘s The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everday Life.
Most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” The rest is commentary.
And in economics, incentives tend to work through the price system.
There has recently been an experiment** comparing these two approaches – (i) appealing to morality to change behaviour (called moral suasion), and (ii) using economic incentives. It had nothing to do with any of the commandments, but to do with discouraging people using electricity during peak hours***.
691 households in Japan were assigned into three groups, and their electricity consumption was monitored each day over a period of peak-demand:
Guess which method worked best?
The blue line (moral suasion) is lower than the green line (control group) – so asking people to behave differently has some effect. But clearly the red line (economic incentive) is lowest of all. When people have to pay more for doing something, they do less of it.
God had a hard time with the stiff-necked Israelites, and wasn’t averse to using incentives himself. Pretty big ones. A plague here. Dropping some manna from Heaven there. But they were a little too irregular to have any real effect. Maybe he should have used some economics?
In my last post, I worried about pictures of the future that might not come to pass.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.
What has come to pass is less terrifying, but perhaps a little depressing…
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a phone camera pointing at a pouting human face – for ever.
Yesterday, I went to see the re-release of the classic sci-fi film Blade Runner* at the cinema.
The plot goes a little something like this… A technologically advanced mankind has reached the level where it has built robots, called Replicants, so life-like that only specialised tests can tell them apart from humans**. These robots are used to do hazardous jobs on off-world planets.
The trouble is, the Replicants have become so ‘human’ that they are asking deep, existential questions of themselves. Why should they only be used as short-lived slaves? Why can’t they have a more fulfilling, self-determined existence? Some have even gone so far as to rebel, with Sparticist uprisings taking place. Replicants have killed their human masters and made a bid for freedom.
As a reaction, all Replicants on Earth are illegal. Any that are found are tracked down and murdered retired by the ‘Blade Runners’, special assassins devoted to tracking down the robots.
The film follows one Blade Runner, Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), called out of retirement to track down four Replicants who have made their way back to Earth.
It is a visually stunning film; strange, moving and thought-provoking. While it has some great action set-pieces, nerve-tangling tension and some shocking violence, it’s quite a slow-paced philosophical film. The Replicants are set out as the villains of the piece, and indeed they commit do commit two murders in the film. But it is hard to condemn them – they’ve merely returned to Earth to find their creator, to see if their measly, pre-programmed four years of life can be extended. For this crime, they must be ruthlessly hunted down and shot.
In fact, the arch-villain, brilliantly portrayed by Rutger Hauer, emerges as the real moral hero of the film. Despite having seen his loved ones killed like animals at Deckard’s hands, he takes mercy on Deckard in the film’s climax after beating him in a thrilling to-the-death chase.
Here he delivers his wonderful last lines – written by Hauer himself – just as his life comes to a natural(?) end:
“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”
One thing I did find quite shocking was that the film was set in 2019 – only 4 years away now! Flying cars***, space travel, colonies on other worlds, human-like robots – they all feature in the film, but I doubt we’ll see them in the next few years.
Despite this, what I sometimes worry about is not the pace of technological development, but whether we will allow them to have the transformational effects they could potentially have. While our forebears took a rather laissez-faire attitude to technological change – allowing steam engines, cars, electricity and the like to transform our world within a few generations – we seem much more cautious.
We have invented driverless cars, but we are being very slow in allowing them on our roads. Similarly, unmanned aerial drones also present a challenge for our regulators.
I doubt the sprawling cityscape depicted in the film, with giant skyscrapers, electronic billboards the sizes of football pitches and motorway lanes extending miles upwards, would get planning permission. Are we in danger of regulating the futuristic future out of existence?****
I first read about it on April Fool’s Day, and thought it might just be an inspired prank; but he gave the interview several days previously and it seems to be legit. The Daily Mail even put together this handy graphic, showing their joint family tree:
It’s strange how the ‘Giant Arse’ gene can express itself in such different ways, isn’t it?
In a recent post I alluded to a recent law ensuring plain cigarette branding, with only brand names and health warnings allowed.
This is to make cigarettes less glamorous, so smokers don’t think they look like this…
Regardez-les! Regards impudents,
Mine coquette! Fumant toutes
Du bout des dents, la cigarette.
Dans l’air; nous suivons des yeux la fumée,
Qui vers les cieux monte, monte, parfumée.
Cela monte gentiment à la tête, tout doucement,
Cela vous mets l’âme en fête!
Look at them! Impudent glances,
Flirtatious looks! All smoking,
At the end of their teeth, a cigarette.
In the air, we follow with our eyes the smoke,
Which towards the sky, mounts, perfumed.
It climbs gently to ones head, sweetly
It puts your soul on holiday!
Absolutely beautiful. I’m surprised the tobacco industry don’t take it up as their theme song.
I mention this because yesterday I went to see the Welsh National Opera perform a show called Chorus! at the Theatre Royal. It was a selection of opera’s chorus numbers, with Lesley Garrett providing the occasional solo.
Other highlights for me were the Spinning Chorus from Wagner‘s The Flying Dutchman:
And finally the Anvil Chorus from Verdi‘s Il Trovatore:
It was a wonderful show, and I look forward to watching the same company perform Mozart‘s The Magic Flute tomorrow.