Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My State of the Onion Address

So, where are we today, then?

The American media has totally tripped over its feet on the ‘fake news’ thing, as I (and many others) predicted. It’s currently completely unable to tell fact from fiction from disinformation and all anyone has to do to send them to a corner sobbing is to point at an article and say ‘fake news!’. It works every time and they have no defense against it. They could try solidarity, but that’s like saying the left should try solidarity. It never happens.

Of course, the media is all over Trump’s tweets, or “Look, a squirrel!” as he could well call them. This weekend, Martin Luther King Day weekend, Trump tweeted something marginally ignorant about a Black lawmaker and former Civil Rights leader. The press yapped after it like hunt dogs after a red herring, while Rex Tillerson, the architect of a $500bn Exxon deal with Russia (currently in limbo, under Obama’s sanctions) was being questioned about his ability to act neutrally towards Russia as US Secretary of State. No time for probing articles on this dilemma – we have a tweet here belittling a nice person that requires dissecting at incredible length!

One piece of news we know isn’t fake is Christopher Steele’s “piss party” dossier. The European news sources know Steele, know his integrity and believe his story, or at least believe that Steele believes it. (And, remember, the bombshell inside is not that Trump may have been filmed with micturating prostitutes – there are another 34 ½ pages in the report and many of them document Trump’s ties with Putin.) The BBC reported that there is another source for this information – and other sex tapes. It’s possible that the Russians do not mind one of their kompromat tapes being disclosed to Trump as it alerts him they may have more. It still works as blackmail. Dismissing it in the press seems to have worked as the media is currently hopeless, but that’s not who this release of information was for.

One good thing about this all is that Trump is less likely to start WWIII with Russia. Obama was gearing up to do so – did you know the US just sent troops to Poland? – and Clinton would have followed suit. Unfortunately, Trump seems to want to start a war with China instead. Putin may reel him in – Russia has been trying to friend China recently – but if not, the US is in for at least a trade war with China.

Trump’s picks for major positions in goverment all seem to be based on picking a campaign donor who has the least experience and the greatest hatred for the system he (or in one case she) will be running. This is, I assume, designed to gut the various government offices. I’m not too sure that’ll happen as governments do not shrink in size and the minions will have plenty of stalling maneuvers ready to save their own jobs. All it’s likely to accomplish is each agency having an expensive, injurious inner struggle.

In most cases a PEOTUS would pick a Pharma lawyer to head FDA, and the Pharma lawyer would automatically run the administration to the benefit of his old colleagues, both because it’s what they know and because it raises huge barriers to entry by newcomers, reducing competition. (Which is why, for instance, pharma startups are bought out by Big Pharma as soon as they have a successful drug nearing market.) Trump is apparently favoring a man who cannot stand FDA, Balaji Srinivasan, and who appears to think that getting drugs from lab bench to market quickly so that the patients can trial the drug themselves is a better way of approving drugs than the traditional (8-12 year long, $1bn-costing) New Drug Application procedure. As a fellow lab testing person, I tend to agree with his assessment of FDA but I’m not convinced that Yelp et al is the best way to trial drugs. To give one reason out of a whole basket: the people who die are not going to be leaving reviews, a well-known statistical problem literally called Survivorship Bias. As for his ability to run FDA or run it into the ground, he’s a lab guy, I already mentioned that. Oh, and he appears from his now-deleted tweets, to be a Bitcoin bro and a pro-posthuman/singularitarian bro. (I didn’t see any fedoras or MRA stuff in his tweet… otherwise, definitely a bro.)

I think it’s quite likely that the GOP know they’ve unleashed a monster and are planning to impeach Trump soon after the inauguration. I’m sure they love Pence, a joy deficient religious extremist who feels healthcare and welfare are frills, while the ‘religious freedom’ to discriminate against LGBT people is a must-have. (He also consistently votes against environmental protection bills, believes that “smoking does not kill”, that the planet is “cooling”, and is a creationist.) They'll be much happier with him in charge. On the other hand, they seem genuinely afraid of Trump - authoritarians gotta authoritate, I guess. He's the alpha and they're all currently doing a great job of cringing and baring their necks. What a world.

It's going to be an interesting four years. (If we survive that long.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Read the room, lady.

The photo is from a Twitter account called Tomsauced.

It reminded me of a time, long ago, when a friend of mine at college attempted suicide - twice. After the second attempt, the hospital asked her to go to group therapy sessions. She went to the first session and was back way early. 

"What happened? Didn't talking it out help?"

"We all sat around on wooden chairs in a circle and the group leader asked to us to think about what we really most wanted in our hearts."

"Go on."

"We thought about it for a minute, and he pointed at the first woman and she said, 'I could really do with a nice cup of tea.'"

Mind you, I've no idea what I would have said if a group leader asked me that question. I can't imagine answering it honestly, or even actually knowing what it was before deciding whether to answer honestly.  "Read the room" sounds like the best policy. 

Ethics in the 21st Century

Since I've been living in the US - almost 30 years now - and certainly since I successfully applied for citizenship ten years ago, people (and institutions) have been stuffing my head with pro-Founding Fathers propaganda.
They were unutterably brilliant, foresightful, and crafted a Constitution that was a shining beacon for all humanity, so clever and succinct and yet encompassing answers to all the little foibles and great schisms that can wrack man's attempts to craft a perfect union.
Then you read something like this where half a dozen fuckers squabble like 9 year old D&D players miffed over a poor DM decision and there isn't really a way to tell them to cut it out.
I remember seeing a little youth riot in my home town in the seventies (feat. 6 youth) and a policeman caught two of them by their collars and banged their heads together. The Founding Fathers should have thought to have that rozzer's ancestor transferred to the US so he could do it to these fucktrumpets.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Funny I saw this meme today because yesterday I realized I knew the answer. I was making scones and got the baking powder out of the pantry and reminisced that up until I was 34, I never knew there was a difference between baking powder and baking soda. 

And then I realized that was it - like most people I'd always wondered how you knew you were a 'grown up' and like most, I didn't feel grown up in my 20s, but by the time I was in my 40s I'd stopped thinking about it. And that must have been the tipping point. 

When you first realize there's a difference between baking powder and baking soda is when you become an adult.

Since I've decided bicarbonate of soda is the secret of life, here's Ivor Cutler singing about his Holy Grail, Bicarbonate of Chicken.

I couldn't find one about the Zen journey and baking powder, so this old chestnut will have to do instead.
At first I thought the wording I remembered

When studying Zen, there is a mountain
While studying Zen, the mountain disappears
After studying Zen, there is a mountain

was a quote from Alan Watts, then realized it must have been D T Suzuki, but when searches on their quotes failed I went with good ol' Donovan's wording for a pinnable meme.

Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly is 40 years old

I have always loved this book. The extended comic riffs - like the discussion about the microdot factory and the argument over the bicycle gears - are positively cackle-inducing, and yet the inevitable slow disintegration of the main character is as dark and bleak as all hell. And at the end, perhaps, a faint glimmer of hope, but not for anybody we've seen in the book. To underline that point, it ends with a factual list of the drug-damaged friends of the author, and the book is dedicated to them.
It's also one of the few books where I can recommend the movie version, by Richard Linklater, which is artistically crazy (but it works) and features Robert Downey Jr. in excellent form as the sinister narcissist Barris.

The Quietus reports on the 40th anniversary of A Scanner Darkly : Collapsed Horizon: Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly, 40 Years On  by Eli Lee , January 15th

Sunday, January 15, 2017

QMS Voldemort

Oh no ominous email received:

It turned out to be a boring article on 'dark data' such as audit trails. 

...ieee that's probably more ominous than thinking Lord QMS Voldemort was on to me

Wall of meat

Anything Trump does is my fault.

Oh look, a new tactic. 

1. Everything the Dems did is the Dems' fault. 
2. Everything bad about Clinton was going to be the Dems' fault if she'd been president.
3. Since she was bad, she couldn't win, so Trump is the Dems' fault. 
4. Everything bad about a Trump presidency is therefore the Dems' fault. 

It's always the Dems' fault. Thanks, Obama!

Since I first posted that a couple hours ago, I saw yet another one on twitter. 

Insurance for everybody, says Trump

I suspect it's only available from Big Rock Candy Mountain, Inc.'s insurance plans.
Washington Post: President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid.
Note it's "access" for everybody.  Not "available" to everybody. I personally have access to Davos and the VIP areas of SXSW - if I pay tens of thousands of dollars I don't have.  But it's hard to charge The Donald with sophistry, if only because you feel he doesn't know any three syllable words.

Post Modernism and Surkov

This is an interesting article from Jacobin but I'd quibble with the following statement: 

"The effect of the fake-news narrative was the opposite of what was intended: now the president-elect can stand behind the podium and throw the accusation right back at none other than CNN, the international symbol of American cromulence. It was an empty concept, just waiting to be recuperated by the far right."

As far as I can tell, it was invented by the far right, with exactly that outcome in mind. Here's a portion of an Adam Curtis documentary discussing Vladislav Surkov, the Russian who invented - or at least weaponized - this postmodernist confusion. 

Posting frequency update

These days I post mostly on Facebook. This is where 'They' (heh heh heh) WANT you to post, but it's inescapable as that's where everybody *is* and that's where you get the reactions.

But Facebook belongs to Whatsisface, and is carefully tailored to ensure there are walls around the product -the writer- to keep readers within Facebook itself. A few break out. I read exactly one person (out of a billion or so FBers) who can encourage me to read his blog, and one more where I'll click the 'read more' button to get the whole post because it's vaguely interesting.

But you can't find those posts again. They belong to Facebook and disappear in the swirl in a few hours. The web, where Google at least gets to index text, is a much better medium if you have something to say that is meaningful for longer than a wedding anniversary, or a birthday.

Accordingly, I'm going to try to put some of those posts here as well. Some will be pretty trivial, but at least I (and you) will be able to find them here in a week, or a month, if it suddenly becomes relevant, or a historical footnote.

Some few of you may then have to suffer through them twice. I hope this will not be too damaging.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What's your country's second language?

Fascinating glimpse into the undercurrents of the world - a map of each country's 'second language'. Mexico's is Nahuatl - no surprise there, but Australia's is Mandarin. And Mandarin China's is Cantonese (Hong Kong Chinese). Saudi Arabia's is Filipinx Tagalog, and England's is Polish.
(You have to click on it to get the smaller details.)

From the Indy. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Turtle goes green

I'm still fuming over being told that alligators have moss growing on their backs, and we know that it isn't pondweed because 'pondweed is not hairy, moss is hairy' (full story here).

So I am pleased to present a turtle with HAIRY PONDWEED growing on its back courtesy of a tweet by Chris Van Wyk.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trump official defaming science for fun and profit (but mostly profit)

This turkey is Anthony Scaramucci, a member of Donald Trump's Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee. He's just been on CNN propping up the incoming administration's desire to dig everything up and burn it by using the Alt-Right Postmodernism Challenge, which is the straight-faced proposal that no one can know anything for sure, and therefore his ignorance is just as good as your knowledge (to paraphrase Isaac Asimov).

"There was overwhelming science that the earth was flat and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world," Scaramucci added. "We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community."
Video here: http://cnn.it/2hxXEGT

He later adds he's not a scientist, so you can add the skeptics' Question One to the list of questions raised. ("Who's this 'we'?")

Science has never, ever proposed that the earth was flat, and has never even suggested that 'we' are the 'center of the world'. Even if you correct his idiotic thinko (he must have meant 'center of the universe') science has never stated, overwhelmingly, underwhelmingly or even whelmingly, that 'we' are the center of it.

What we now call 'science' is about as old as America. Until the 18th century, Natural Philosophers, sometimes known as 'men of science', studied Creation by the age-old methods of watching it a lot (or a little, in the case of the Greeks) and thinking really hard about it until blood beaded on their foreheads. The word science was used in this sense in English from the 14th century on. The word is from scientia, to know, and meant both book knowledge and being skilled or expert in something. It derives ultimately from a word meaning to cleave, or cut, which suggests the ability to distinguish, to tell two things apart. (And is therefore related to schizophrenia; take that how you will.)

Science began to break away from philosophy in the 18th century, and it took on its modern meaning of "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular subject or speculation" in 1725 [1]. We still have philosophers. For the new meaning of ‘science’, in 1833 a man named William Whewell called the ones who followed the new paradigm 'scientists' as a sort of joke. [2] (He hit another one out of the park by calling people who study physics 'physicists' since 'physicians' was already taken.)

Lots of things have been proposed by Natural Philosophers over the years. Much of it was rubbish. They proved, for example, that the world's fastest runner can never catch a tortoise if it gets a head start (which also proves that motion is impossible and therefore there is no such thing as change). [3] Even if you only want to consider more modern, European thinkers, you just need to look up a few theories to see that ancient Natural Philosophy clung on until the scientific method made it go away. Phlogiston theory [4], for example, was based on theories of Empedocles (490 BC) that there were four elements, earth, air, fire and water and it lasted until science got going in the 1780s. Or there’s the theory that bloodletting is a universal cure, based on ancient theories that the body needs to balance its contents of  the four humors, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood, as begun by Herophilus in 335 BC and lasting until Dr Pierre Louis in 1866 performed one of the world’s first clinical trials[5].

The theory that the earth is flat is not modern, either. It was generally believed in antiquity - because the earth sure *looks* flat - but support for the theory began declining with the Ancient Greeks and was pretty much gone from Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. For some reason, in the nineteenth century, scholars eager to pick a fight between science and religion attempted to convince people that Columbus and the Church had been at odds over whether the earth was flat - but the truth is, the Church had at that time believed in a Ptolemaic, spherical earth. [6]

It must be obvious to all (except people lying for a living on CNN) that the belief that the earth is the center of the universe is very old and predates any type of science. It even makes perfect sense, as one can clearly see the sun, moon, planets and stars 'going around' the earth, and equally obviously, if your tribe (or all mankind, or all life) is the favorite of your god, then he'd put earth at the center, whether it was a flat one or a spherical one. Although a heliocentric model was proposed in antiquity, it didn't get much traction. Copernicus first seriously proposed heliocentrism in 1543, and Johannes Kepler, between 1609 and 1619, published his work on planetary motion. It showed that the motion of the planets in the sky could best be explained mathematically by assuming all of them, including the earth, were in orbit about the sun. In 1610, Galileo observed that small planets could be seen in front of, and then later hidden by, Jupiter. He had discovered Jupiter's moons, and at the same time showed that not all 'planets' principally revolved around either the sun, or the earth, but could be in motion around another planet. This caused a major firestorm, but as we all learned in school, by the time Newton came along (in the 1680s), this had been proven to many people's satisfaction. The well-ok-then-but-the-SUN-is-the-center-of-the-universe people hung on for a while (because they had not read Newton properly - his math showed the sun was not at the very center of the solar system) but in short order observations showed that the business end of the galaxy (the Milky Way) was on one side of us. The earth was at the edge of the galaxy. Worse, in 1917, people discovered that nebulae were actually other galaxies, and the expanding universe theory came along shortly and declared that nothing was actually central, as the expansion was happening everywhere, rather than coming from a center. By the time the newly-named scientists were doing science, no reputable one believed that 'we' were the center of the universe (or the 'world', as Anthony Scaramucci actually put it).

'Science' has never told us that the earth was flat, or that the earth was the center of the universe. These were beliefs, and parts of systems of philosophy, but science, as in the scientific method ("a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses"[7]) has never tried to put those hypotheses out as theories. To say it did is to attempt to achieve all three pillars of Alt-Right Postmodernism in one outing:

1. To weaken the public's trust in independent science
2. To state that the truth can never be known, in order to destabilize and create alienation
3. To regularly change the meanings of words in order to make rational thought more difficult and leave people adrift, unmoored even by a solid language

We should call out this behavior wherever we see it.

[5] [3] http://www.bcmj.org/premise/roots-evidence-based-medicine

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Matris in Gremio: Ben Wheatley's High Rise (movie, 2016) (R)

I have some experience with the ostensible subject matter of High Rise, the tower blocks of the mid-1970s. I lived in the London Docklands in the late 70s to 80s, a fair proportion of that on the 11th floor. Once, desperate to get a place of my own, I’d visited a friend who lived in Balfron Tower, in Bow, the Erno Goldfinger Brutalist tower block that has been named as Ballard’s inspiration for the block in his 1975 novel High Rise. I remember taking the lift to the relevant floor in the service tower and then, when faced with walking along the connection to the main residential tower block, ending up crawling on my hands and knees, unable to face the view from the (enclosed) walkway. Needless to say, I didn’t take up my friend’s offer of his council flat (apartment), but when I found myself living on the 11th floor of a more normal block on Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs, a few years later, I had not a trace of acrophobia. It appears to have been Erno-related anxiety. I lived in that tower block as Docklands went from a dumping ground for otherwise un-housables to an expensive gentrified waterfront area, and well recall the building of new, non-council (i.e. non-projects) towers with their differential sale prices – top-earning yuppies in multi-million pound penthouses, normal bankers in fractional-million pound lower floors. I left around the time the derelict Canary Wharf was beginning to be built up. It was an odd time to live in Docklands.  Gentrification, however, was several years after the book was published and the movie is set. Ballard a prophet? Perhaps.

My tower block last year, from Google Maps Street View

View of City of London from my tower block, 1980s

View of what was actually at the foot of my tower block, 1980s

Balfron Tower, picture ganked from this article

Now, the film. It's an R. I'm not sure why - there's a lot of violence and a few rude words in it, along with a little sex. A few of the rude words may make it into the review. The block in the movie is not like the dissected Goldfinger towers of London. It’s described as “like the distal phalanx of an index finger of an open hand”, but it looks to me more like a phallus with a bad case of chordee. There are five of them in various degrees of construction in the movie, all with that crooked top. It may be that the falling tip is ‘overarching’ rather than drooping but it’s hard to tell from internal movie clues.

The movie ostensibly follows Laing, who moves into the new tower block, attracted by its claim to supply all one may need from life, from living space, to gym, to pool, to onsite supermarkets. The new building has some shakeout problems, “settling” as the home-owners are told to think of it. The garbage chute clogs up. The power occasionally goes out. Our protagonist is a middle-class psychiatrist who has just bought an apartment on a middling floor. It has the lovely Brutalist feature of sloping naked concrete beams intruding into the living space, giving Laing a sudden impulse to paint all his belongings the same shade of grey. A straightforward reading of the film is that it tells the tale of a rebellion against the upper floors by the inhabitants of the cheap (but full utilities-paying) lower floors during an extended power cut, mediated by and observed by the middle-floor-dwelling Laing. In the darkness the food-deprived inhabitants blockade their floors, restrict access to outsiders, raid for supplies and, after the supermarkets are emptied, begin to eat their pets. On the surface, this is a typical dystopian movie plot. Who will become the leader of the block? How will he protect his women? And why don't they escape/call the police/go live with their mum?

It’s a little challenging to keep track of all the characters in the film. Even with its extended running time, not everyone gets fleshed out (or their flesh taken off). In addition to Laing, there is a junior psychiatrist Munrow, the designer of the block who is often just called The Architect, his enforcer Simmons, his wife, his mistress, his wife's mistress, Laing's women, and the lower-floors leader, the impulsive and violent Wilder, who "in real life" makes TV documentaries. There is a man who is always on the telly, and several more. They have many affairs, many wives and many children.

You can’t say Wheatley and subtle in the same sentence but the stand-out vignettes include a supermarket check-out conveyor belt converted to a torture-treadmill like the one Snake Plissken is chained to in Escape from LA, and the They Live-esque fist-fight over Laing’s can of grey paint that gave me quite a laugh. It also features a soothing amount of Tom Hiddleston-flesh, ABBA’s SOS performed by a string quartet, Portishead and soundtrack-man Clint Mansell as the running theme, Surrealist treasures in the penthouse, blink-and-you-miss-it allusions to other films and some very pointed, quick fire dialogue. One that stands out is the documentary maker’s wife casually throwing away the line, “he’s lost his focus” and later there’s an extended riff on the whole movie, beginning with the architect saying of one character, “she has quite a tight c*nt” and segueing into a description of his apartment owners having “fitted themselves tightly into their slots” (in society), with Laing immediately referring this back to the structure of the building “slots designed by you”. “I conceived this building,” the architect says as in the background women talk about babies’ bottles. “I offered a means of escape to a new life,” he continues, just as a new baby is born.

I don’t see any reason why this movie was so widely panned when it has more in common with The Matrix than its usual comparator, Snowpiercer. The latter was a one-dimensional allegory with all High Rise’s problems and none of its solutions. If I had to think of a similar film, I’d point to Lindsay Anderson’s If…. and Britannia Hospital. I think High Rise has a wider range of deeper motifs than those, however. In other words, High Rise deserves cult status, but that’s not something one can predict.

I’ve seen the film reviewed as being in some way about a typical seventies fear of high rise living. Just no. Should we also assume that Ballard had a fright about the bits of grass that grow between interchange lanes in complex highways such as freeways (Concrete Island) or was worried that iguanas might colonize London (The Drowned World) or had been in a funk that the angle between two walls might not have a happy ending (the Ambit ad)? There’s obviously allegory going on somewhere. What might it be?

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. The movie makes no secret that it’s ‘about’ the British class structure. If you take the phrase ‘social climber’ and dial the setting to ‘tower block’ you get the basic structure automatically. The film constantly refers to high life, lower orders, Marie Antoinette and power failures (i.e. failures of the powers that be). Laing buys an inexpensive Riesling from the supermarket and attempts to enter a party on the upper floors from whence he is summarily ejected, for wearing the wrong clothes and for being a cheap bastard. The people on the lower floors have lots of loud children, while the upper floors’ dwellers are famous and childless, and the uppermost of all, The Architect – whose name is Royal – has a formal rooftop garden, a horse, goats that his gauzily-dressed wife herds with a Louis XVI-era shepherd’s crook, and a dozen pampered dogs. The chief of the lower floors is called, natch, Wilder. He has a pregnant wife, several children and a poster of Che Guevara. He leads the rebellion against the upper floors.

Our man Laing belongs to neither caste, but is ideally placed as a go-between.

The social order allegory also explains one of people’s biggest moans about the movie: why none of the inhabitants try to leave the building as it breaks down. Wheatley bafflingly leaves the explanation to a voice-over at the very end, long after these people will have given up on the film as unrealistic. We hear Margaret Thatcher’s voice over the radio, “There is only one economic system in the world, and that is capitalism. The difference lies in whether the capital is in the hands of the State or whether the greater part of it is in the hands of people outside of State control. Where there is State capitalism there will never be political freedom.” You must choose one, because there is no other system – there is no ‘outside’ to which to go. And given that you can only choose one, you should choose free enterprise, because freedom. In this analogy, the inhabitants have chosen free enterprise, and Laing, who is chewing on the last roast dog leg and thinking about setting up a private practice, is clearly all for freedom.  (You might argue that the TV personality guy left the block every day for work, but of course as his final scene showed, a man on the telly who is at work is equally in the apartments, inside their TVs, and cannot be said to have left the tower block.)

There’s a second metaphor that overlays the political one. It’s signaled by an early shot of a young medical doctor reading “Psychopathology of Everyday Life” by Sigmund Freud. The building itself is described in the film as a diagram of a psychic event. (This sounded very Ballardian, almost out of place, so I wonder if it’s a phrase from the book that wandered into the script.) The main character is not only a psychiatrist, he’s called R Laing, calling rather obviously to mind RD Laing, the psychiatrist who promulgated the theory that a psychotic episode is a result of a mind being placed in a lose-lose situation, a double bind, and the symptoms of which are an attempt to communicate the untenable situation. The building itself, with its bony ramifications, is a skull. We’re shown several skulls for comparison purposes. At one point, during a medical school dissection, we see the skin literally peeled back from a skull and the doctor hammer-and-chisel his way inside. Wheatley is not a subtle visual director. Laing, us, is the ego. Royal, The Architect, is the superego and the aggressive, rebellious, rapacious Wilder is the Id. The inciting incident leading to Laing's psychotic break is his very unprofessional treatment of a patient that leads to harm, and the film is on this level detailing Laing’s subsequent psychoanalysis. He checks out his own internal state and decides whether he needs the recommended treatment or not.

On yet a third level, the Architect is simply a god. Above everyone’s heads, dressed in Morgan-Freeman-God-White clothes, he’s described as the first to arrive in the building and the last to leave, one of the characteristics of Almighty God. “Alpha es et O”, as the hymn In Dulce Jubilo puts it, the alpha and the omega, “I am the first and the last”. He pores over his architectural plans like The Ancient of Days, Urizen, the demiurge of reason, laws and caste-based conventional society in Blake's mythology. He’s a Gnostic God, trapped in this reality, and his creation is, as always, flawed. (But Laing is not our Christ.) He is a Royal who uses a walking stick, the crippled Fisher King. As such, his wound has made him sterile and rendered his land barren and unable to support its people. He is also an alchemist– he says he designed the building as a “crucible for change” but he either put one too many or one too few "elements" in it. (He later comes to terms with his resulting rather leaden “gold”, as Ballard characters tend to do.)

The fourth metaphor I’m not sure was in the novel. The building, it seems, is built along the lines of Ken Reid’s famous and hilarious Nervs from Smash! comic, as well as Malcolm Judge’s earlier Numskulls from Beezer comic. The Numskulls were a collection of idiots who manned the skull of an unfortunate person, “Our Man”, operating his ears, eyes and brain, a little like the small people inside the girl in Inside Out, but less PC. The Nervs, despite their name, were little internal people who operated the entire body and brain of an equally unfortunate person, “Fatty". For example, they control the stomach acid pipeline. If you put the Nervs and the Numskulls together, you get the inhabitants of High Rise. This is not exactly a lofty literary theory, but I for one grew up reading these comics and many people my age, or with children my age, did, and it’s a visualization of the self that is certainly easy to, well, internalize. And let's face it, for every one British person who's read Baudrillard or Houellebecq there must be a dozen who read The Numskulls (and another dozen who've seen Inside Out).

We see this metaphor early on, where the blocked garbage chute (and man do I remember the blocked garbage chutes in the tower block where I lived) symbolizes not only a block in the internal workings of the body politic but also a more earthy block of the type that your grandma worries about, insisting you eat more fiber and drink castor oil to make you regular again. Much later, Lang describes himself as a blood cell, able to travel the arteries of the body by walking through the corridors. The implication is the other inhabitants perform the other functions. Rather than a beckoning finger, or a crooked phallus, the building with its rows of balconies is a human body with a series of compartments, as in the famous Dali paintings.

And the stinger is, the body, the block, appears to me to be female, as Dali depicted her. There are chronological and textual juxtapositions between descriptions of the building and a woman giving birth, for example. (See above for some dialogue.) Wilder ultimately asks Royal why he stole his wife, why he hides behind women’s skirts. He tells the architect to “sit there and think about what you have done”, like a kindergarten teacher. The architect is described as a midwife. There are maenads, nurturers, nymphs at the pool. The whole incident is described as “a children’s party got out of hand”. Despite the ego, superego and id being male-presenting, the block is clearly female. I think of this as scriptwriter Amy Jump’s little joke.

This is going to reward multiple rewatchings.


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