Film Countdown: Avatar

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By now many of you will have seen the trailer for James (‘Titanic’/’Terminator’) Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. What not so many of you will have seen is the 3D IMAX footage which was first tested at the San Diego Comicon, and was yesterday released to preview cinema audiences worldwide. To be honest words fail me. The storyline seems interesting enough – an interstellar, cautionary environmental tale – but the 3D IMAX footage just blows it through your mind and out the other side. The entire production is in 3D – not just the odd wheel flying at your face or one part of an animation, rather every single thing on screen. My brain struggled to process what I was seeing, which was a remarkable experience – certainly not one I’ve ever had at the cinema before, amplified by a complete synthesis between fantasy and reality. Cameron blends CGI and live action, making the boundaries completely unclear, and delivering a whole new cinematic experience. From what I saw it’s unlikely to win any awards on the writing side (although I could be wrong), but noone will be able to avoid the unforgettable experience.

‘Avatar’ is released on the 18th December. I can’t imagine any of you will be mad enough to miss it…

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Safeguarding Should Act Both Ways

Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club looks at the Home Office guidance for the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):

the case worker will examine the individual’s ‘predisposing factors’, such as ‘those factors relating to an individual’s interests or drives’; ‘cognitive factors’, such as ‘strong anti-social beliefs’; and ‘behavioural factors’, including ‘using substances or sex to cope with stress or impulsive, chaotic or unstable lifestyle’. Drug use, sex life, favourite films… it all gets thrown into the mix.

The appendix of the Home Office’s guidance document elaborates on the ‘risk assessment models’ that case workers will use to reach a final decision on whether somebody should be barred from their job. The aim of this process, it says, it to make decisions ‘in relation to standardised points of reference that minimise subjective decision-making’.

The risk assessment model starts by identifying a series of possible ‘hazards’, which may come about as a result of a person taking a job/volunteering position, and listing them in a table. It gives the examples of ‘inappropriate physical contact with a 12- to 16-year-old pupil during a lesson’, ‘building a relationship which is exploited out of school resulting in underage sex’, and ‘taking photos of 12- to 16-year-old pupils (eg, during swimming lessons)’. Once they have identified the hazards, the case worker will give each a figure from one to five for the impact it would have on a child (in the examples above, it gives these hazards the figures of four, five and two). Then, they will give it a figure between one and five for the likelihood that the event will occur.

Once they have these two figures for each hazard, they will transfer the figures to ‘a matrix’, which seems to involve basically plotting them on a graph. So for each individual they are considering barring, they will end up with a graph with a series of dots on it: ‘The risk matrix gives a picture of the risk assigned to each hazard as a result of the likelihood and impact assessments.’ Then – somehow, it doesn’t exactly specify how – the ISA is supposed to be able to tell from this graph whether the person is a risk or not, and whether they should be barred.

Surely noone can agree this is anything other than completely insane. Any rational person should look at this and acknowledge that on a moral standpoint using society’s predisposition for predictability, standardisation and methods of control is a step too far in such a sensitive area. For a bureaucracy which one commentator believes is necessary because existing child protection agencies and policies are incompetent (rather than managing or reforming them) to make its rulings based on such guidance, such criteria and meaningless data should surely be abhorrent. The case workers won’t have any involvement in the lives or cases of those people people submitted to them for vetting, instead they will (already in many cases) destroy lives based on the appalling ‘guidance’ you see above. This is not the way to protect anyone, it won’t be able to identify abuse – after all how could the equivalent of a bean counter possibly do the work of a social worker? Yet here we are, abusing and endangering innocent adults at the altar of ‘child protection’.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.

(via James, with thanks)

It’s About More Than Damian Green

As I mentioned last year, following the victory of the S and Marper case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Home Office became obliged to remove innocent people from the National DNA Database. Not only then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith showed a lack of interest in doing so, but then this month the for-profit policing organisation ACPO outright instructed Chief Constables in England and Wales not to comply with the ruling. Makes it interesting when Tory shadow cabinet minister Damian Green then finds himself able to be taken off the database:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Green last night welcomed the decision “as a small but significant victory for freedom” but asked when DNA samples and profiles of 850,000 other innocent people who had been arrested but never charged would be destroyed.

Now why should a Tory front bencher (likely to be in government in the next 12 months) be able to force the Met to change their position on the DNA database, when so many others can’t? Green has the same question:

The home secretary is dragging his feet in producing even a consultation document in response to the European court’s ruling, which destroys the legal basis of current policy. So the policy, which intrudes on the privacy of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, could remain in place for months.

Britain is at the extreme end of this kind of state intrusion. At the end of September 2008, the national DNA database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 4.7 million individuals (more than 7% of the UK population). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country.

It’s quite unthinkable that the Home Office should so willingly ignore the ECHR’s ruling, although less so for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who contrary to popular belief aren’t even a government body. It might make political sense for both to limit their future embarrassment at a government minister with his DNA on the register, but their compliance with the ECHR ruling should be paramount. It’s a joke, as Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti points out, for decisions about which innocent people get their DNA removed from the database to be determined by whether or not they have an entry in Who’s Who! Liberty’s response has been to begin ‘DNA clinics’ in Hackney alongside local MP Diane Abbott, to begin helping people locally who have had their DNA retained illegally. Liberty says:

“If Damian Green MP can have his DNA destroyed in record time, young people in Hackney should be entitled to the same. Those without a powerful voice are just as innocent, yet the police seem to find their requests for DNA destruction considerably easier to dismiss.

Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on the database but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are. The National DNA database is one of the largest in the world, holding 4.5 million profiles – this includes around 300,000 children and approximately 850,000 innocent people who have never been charged or cautioned.

And Abbott provides an important reminder why it’s important to begin this process in somewhere like her constituency:

[But] as the Home Affairs Select Committee pointed out this month, black men are disproportionately represented on the database. In particular there are tens of thousands of completely innocent young people who have been stigmatised in this way. It is time that the government acted on the ECHR ruling that automatic retention of DNA is wrong. And I am looking forward to working with Liberty to make sure that young people in Hackney who are innocent of any crime can have their DNA taken off the government’s database just like Damian Green”

Daniel Hannan Is…

It’s about time someone told it as it was (although James Delingpole amusingly disagrees, which considering he blogs for the Telegraph must surely have been the point…)!

For the 3 of you not in the know, Daniel Hannan is the British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) responsible for:

a furious row over Hannan’s recent appearance on US television, in which he told Fox News that the NHS was a “60-year-old mistake” and urged Americans not to adopt a similar system if they wanted efficient, effective healthcare.

Hannan was rapidly slapped down and branded an “eccentric” by Cameron, who has pledged to preserve the health service, and to increase spending on it, without subjecting it to radical structural reform.

Met Police Change Tack?

Paul Lewis reports the Met will not be repeating their G20 tactics at the upcoming Climate Camp next week:

Senior officers have told representatives from Climate Camp, who are planning to construct a huge campsite next week at an undisclosed location in London, that they will be met with a “community-style” policing operation that will limit the use of surveillance units and stop-and-searches wherever possible.

In a further effort to disseminate real-time information, the Metropolitan police has activated an account on Twitter, named CO11MetPolice after its public order unit codename, which will be used to send operational information to protesters taking part in the camp.

Separately, a delegation from this year’s Climate Camp will be taken to the Met’s public order training centre on Thursday in Gravesend, Kent, where they have been asked to brief officers being drafted in from across the country to help police the event.

Activists have also been assured that there will be no “ring of steel” around their camp and that sleep deprivation tactics, used when officers blasted loud music at campers at last year’s Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, will not be repeated.

If they mean it, then this can only be a good thing, and considering how resistent the Met is to change it will be quite a significant development. But remember the police’s behaviour at Kingsnorth last year (as is mentioned in the final paragraph) – not just sleep deprivation tactics, but arbitrary (and violent) stops and searches, not to mention violent harassment of the media. If those things don’t happen again then we’re getting somewhere, if not then this is all just spin. But don’t forget the escalation of their tactics from Kingsnorth, through the G20 and to the pre-emptive arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, nor the way in which the police and government have colluded in favour of Big Energy. The Climate Camp, environmental protesters and the government have been on a collision course for some time – why should August be an exception?

Americans and Health Care Reform

If you want proof that American right wingers are essentially behaving like lunatics in the face of Obama’s promised health care reform, look no further:

Apparently health care isn’t a ‘natural born right’.

I’ve had a regular commentator on my blog and Twitter suggest that the right wing is objecting to the cost of health care reform, and where it’ll actually hit, rather than where Obama says it’ll hit. What’s clear to me however is that the real battle is on the principle of public provision of medicine. The wing nuts like Glenn Beck say it’s a bad thing, and their minions (like the mad lady above) don’t consider for a moment that 45 million people who can’t afford access to health care is something the United States should be ashamed of.

Meanwhile Obama’s getting it in the neck for verging on not being a transformational enough leader, but the wounds of 1994 run deep. Are the Democrats running scared of themselves or the right wing? If the right wing they really do need to remember that Obama ran with this as part of his platform, which was endorsed by a significant majority of the US. Consensus is one thing, leadership is another. As Jon Stewart pointed out, the Bush administration convinced the country to wage a war it neither wanted nor needed; why is going ahead with his plan so difficult for Obama now?

Sullivan has two interesting articles about the policies behind the battle here, for the minority involved in debating the how rather than the whether. He also adds:

If you have guaranteed emergency room care for the uninsured at public expense, you have already effectively socialized medicine. It makes no sense not to bring these people into the insurance system, and to offer less expensive, long-term preventive healthcare. To insist that ideology stand in the way of this piece of compassionate common sense is irresponsible.

I’ve come to accept that the fiscal and economic costs of the current system, however wonderful it has been for a few decades, simply cannot be sustained much longer. I say that not because I have become a socialist, but because the US is on the brink of the kind of bankruptcy it will be very hard to recover from if we do not tackle its source now. Taking measures to avoid fiscal collapse even greater than today’s is a conservative impulse. Letting one sector of the economy destroy the rest of it – and public finances too – is sheer recklessness.

What do you want, GOP? A permanent populist culture-war? Or actual solutions to pressing problems? Let us know when you’ve matured enough to answer that question.

Film Review: Adam (Spoilers)

Worthy, nice, interesting, well-meaning – you can say all of these things about ‘Adam’, but very little else. As a character study it’s interesting, even engaging, but it wilfully skirts the difficult questions, and leaves the exploration of Adam and his world piecemeal at best. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s high functioning, lives alone (having just lost his father), and has a rewarding job as an electrical engineer for a toy company. Enter new neighbour, teacher Beth (Rose Byrne), who takes a shine to him and forces him out of his restricted world; they fall in love. Happily ever after? Not quite…

The film for the most part is a charming look at their fledgling relationship, the compromises she and he have to make to be present in each other’s worlds. Writer/director Max Mayer parallels this with her seemingly strong relationship with father Peter Gallagher, and tensions arise when Gallagher turns out to be a judgmental fraudster. The apple turns out not to fall far from the tree – despite Byrne’s supportive behaviour, she is all-too-willing to manipulate Adam to her own benefit, yet not to sacrifice anything genuine for him. He though ultimately embraces change, largely as an effect of their relationship. That’s it.

What conflict there is is minimal, there’s very little plot and what there is doesn’t challenge the characters worth a damn. Dancy is fired by his boss, who uses his autism to get away with discriminating against him, and when he goes to Byrne’s school is stopped by the police as a suspected paedophile. Both of these are interesting sub-plots, but they’re quickly discarded. The performances however are charming – Gallagher hogs the screen as ever, and Dancy is quite convincing as a young autistic American, but none of them really grab the attention. Max Mayer gives us a gentle, overly theatrical look at a difficult, challenging subject, leaving more questions than answers, and delivers a nice but unfulfilling film. ‘I’m not Forrest Gump,’ jokes Dancy – he’s not Rain Man either. 6/10