Addicted Parents: Last Chance to Keep My Children, BBC 2, 9pm, BBCiPlayer.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b08ywk09?suggid=b08ywk09

I wouldn’t have watched a programme like this on Channel 4 or 5. I’m biased that way. Hate those that pedal welfare porn and mock sympathy with smattering of right-wing agenda. Trumpet at a them and us world and look at the money we’re wasting on scum. I’m not really sure this is much better. I know the script. Phoenix Futures Specialist Family Services in Sheffield offer addicts the last chance to keep their kids.

Drugs of choice: opiates, mainly heron and over-the-counter derivatives such as co-codamol. Amphetamines. Crack Cocaine. Alcohol. Cigarettes don’t count as an addiction.

Issues to be dealt with and confronted: physical and sexual abuse. That old favourite low self-esteem and low self-worth.

First up Tracey who has eight children, seven of whom have been taken into care. She provides the kind of parenting that politicians such as David Cameron and half man half slime George Osborne loved to put centre stage at Tory Party conference with the headline: Broken Britain. And she really is broken. She’s a mess. Her eight-year-old daughter acted as surrogate mother to the kids younger than her. That’s the real tragedy. She’s completed the first stage, been successfully weaned of co-codamol. It costs around £1000 a week, funding comes largely from local authorities, to keep her at Phoenix and her child out of care and progression to the next default stage of being put up for adoption. Three-quarters of those that attend Phoenix successfully complete the course and leave with their child or children.

Statistics like that always make me sigh. Of course taking addicts away from the environment in which they have ready access to drugs and into a leafy borough with a structured routine and…well, need I go on? If we are going to tell stories I prefer the one about rats weaned on cocaine took drugs obsessively, ignoring food placed in their cage, until  watered-down cocaine, killed them. Rats are social animals.  Placed in a different environment rats ignored the watered-down cocaine and drunk ordinary tap water and recovered. Those soldiers in Vietnam that came home no longer saw the need to get rat faced and take heroin. Most of them didn’t end up as popular myths or Tom Cruise. The best myth of all is it’s some kind of weakness, like a faulty ball-bearing, and they’re just happy to roll about in their own muck.

Another popular statistic those in the know have often quoted at me is a third of addicts remain addicts, a third float between addiction and non-addiction and a third make it to the promised land of sobriety and non-addiction. You know what I think of that? Go and waffle yourself.

So let’s put on our serious and concerned social worker faces and go down the bookies and put our cash on who will and who will not make it. After all this is entertainment. Tracey won’t make it. She’s had seven strikes and she’s out.

Sian, from London, two kids under two. Supportive family. She’s a maybe. Yeh, she’ll finish the Phoenix Course and she’s already detoxed and its blah, blah, blah. Let’s do what they did with 7-UP. Go back every seven years. I wouldn’t put money on her not relapsing.

Natalie and Natalie A. The first Natalie has two kids, one at fourteen, the other three. She seemed to do well. Made her way through the Phoenix programme. Good support from her parents. A good bet, until you hear her talking about going home to a small village. Ho-hum.

Natalie A is more straight forward. She relapsed while on the programme. Bought cocaine while out at the supermarket and tested positive. All residents are regularly tested. She was given another chance. She didn’t take it. But she was allowed to leave with her children. She was-temporarily- straight. Certainty to go back on drugs.

Five residents are filmed, can’t remember who the other one was. I’d guess three or four will relapse. We can’t save everybody, but we’ve got to act as if we can. It’s not just about the mothers. It’s about the kids. Between twenty-five to fifty percent of the prison population is made up of those that were in care. We really don’t care. Phoenix is a sticking plaster, but even that is better than nowt. As that old addict Whitney Houston used to warble. ‘Children are our future’. What we do with them now matters. I’ll watch the next episode with interest. Fingers crossed it’s a happy ending.  I don’t know the answer, but I do know that filming people changes their behaviour.  I’d be interested in what happens after.

I Know Who You Are, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Ivan Mercade and directed by Pau Frexias

 

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08yrc78/i-know-who-you-are-series-1-episode-1

I must admit to overdosing on Cardinal recently and watching a whole series into the early hours. The premise of this Spanish drama is pretty simple but very complicated, because it involves memory and not remembering. Juan Elias Castro (Francis Garrido) may or may not have killed his niece, the beautiful Ana Saura (Susana Abaitua). Ana sent a phone message to her brother/mum/dad. You know the kind, plenty of screaming, car tyre and please, please help me and whimpering noise. The Saura family are powerless to do anything, but they demand justice and want Juan locked up immediately. The evidence is overwhelming, Juan’s car has been found, his niece’s blood in the backseat and he admits she was with him. The police are looking for a body. We’re up to day 2, no body as yet, and Juan still in the dock. But his wife, Alicia Castro (Blanca Portillo) is a high-flying judge with plenty of powerful connections in the judiciary and Juan is also a lawyer with his own firm, rich and powerful in his own right and he claims he had amnesia and can’t remember what happened. One of the few things he can remember, is he had an affair eight years previously with one of his law students, the gamine Eva Duran (Aida Folch) and even with memory loss she is pretty and pretty hard to forget. But there’s a bit of power play going on between the victim’s family and possible perpetrator. Alicia’s sister is married to  Ramon Saura (Nancho Novo) who is a professor at the university and he knows what his brother-in-law says doesn’t add up. And Eva Duran, who happens to be working as prosecutor, but she’s part of a low-grade firm that doesn’t get much prestigious work and this job could make or break their firm. That’s leverage and Ramon is using it to hire her indirectly by hiring her boss David Vila (Carles Francino) to work on the case and make sure Juan gets his just deserts, which doesn’t include to her chagrin Eva Duran, but every other striking looking female in sight, including the prosecutor, but hey, a bit of love lost and found does no harm for drama. David Vila is the brain-dead totty, which is the opposite, but the same as dizzy blonde.

Who are you? Interesting question. Umbero Eco tackles it in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loma. It starts with Eliot’s The Cruellest Month and a polymath bookseller, very much like echoing the Eco, and narrator of the novel trying to piece together his life broken up into silos by a stroke. He pieces together his life by the books he read as a youngster and the girls he loved and the music he didn’t dance to. Memory is a trick.

Christina Ricci, who also happens to be very pretty turned up in some small English village onscreen last night too in a film called The Gathering. This was classified as a horror. I’ve been more scared by a golf trolley I’ve bumped into in the dark. But Cristina’s character is hit by a car and although the driver thinks she’s killed her,  the girl is fine and, of course, you never leave anything you hit lying on the road for foxes, so she takes Christina home to babysit and act as nanny to her two children. There a number of different kinds of memory and Christina probably wanted to forget the one where she has lived for 2000 years with the memory of gawping at the crucifixion of Christ and didn’t do anything, not even throw her five-foot, five stone body at the might of the Roman empire and cause them severe brain damage. The bastards that crucified Christ. So God decides to punish all the drive-by gawpers by making them live through all the low points in history. The Gathering is like the worst top ten hits played over and over in your ear. Not be missed. Worse even then, fill in your own memory here…

‘And what’s your name?’

‘Wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue.’

That’s how Eco’s book begins. Remembering is something we do. Reaching for something we’ve placed on a shelf. Sometimes it’s out of reach. There are different kinds of memory and if I’m repeating myself there’s a very good reason for that, which I can’t remember. Memory doesn’t work in conventional ways. Short-term or working memory is the one you use when you’re making coffee and tea and put coffee and tea into one cup and nothing in the other. Or one of my favourites putting the softner in the washing machine but putting it in your tea instead. That tea does taste funny. Dementia. That’s the worry. But you might disguise it by reaching for stuff from the top shelf. When I write about Clydebank in the early nineteen-seventies it is all top shelf stuff. Dinners were basic. Anything without a potato wasn’t dinner and everything else was foreign muck. But we’ve got time machines. They can’t take us back to the death of Christ, but you can see the Osmond brothers on Top of the Pops in blue spangly suits and a group called The Jackson Five in checked shirts and flares and big enough afros to disguise wee Michael’s disbelief that he’s black. That’s not really what interests me. Those pretty girls in shot, who dance on the sidelines as if they’re trying to put a bicycle in the centre, but grab its handlebars and wheel it left and then change their  mind and wheel it right. They’re doing their seventies thing.

The zeitgeist book of the seventies was, of course, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. A classic book not about bikes but about the narrator trying to discover who he is and what Quality means. It doesn’t help that the narrator’s brain has been zapped by a few thousand volts to cure him of his sickness of thinking too much. (Don’t plug in at home).    Quality does that to you. An ill-defined notion that is neither object nor subject, but is somehow out there, but in there too, kinda of like sex without the sex, or Pirsig’s analogy the Hindi notion of zero and nothing to do with sex. Phaderus the ancient Greek philosopher who stalks the narrator’s journey and might even by the narrator himself that claims the idea of zero was familiar to Hindi thought but not Roman or Greek. They stumbled along bumping into increasingly large numbers and so no need for zero tolerance, because they didn’t know what it was. I can’t imagine that, but I can imagine somebody handing my mum a bottle and saying you can’t fill this with tap water, because it’s not good for you, buy this stuff in a plastic bottle and it’s really good for you and costs only a few quid. An oxymoron.  She hadn’t heard of lol either. In the digital age 1 and 0 rock our worlds. Little rockslides of self falling away every day into the abyss and you know what I Know Who You Are. I’m glad at least one person does.

Aliens: The Big Think BBC 4 10pm and BBCiPlayer

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0788q6m/the-big-think-aliens

‘If ET is not out there, the earth is some sort of miracle.’ This isn’t a Uri Geller soundbite but a quote from  Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research, Seth Shostak. Here we have Professor Martin Rees, former astronomer royal, looking at the evidence for alien life on other planets, but we don’t mean primordial slime, we mean intelligent life, but not as we know it captain, startreking across the universe. The numbers don’t add up.  Two Billions of stars in the galaxy similar to our sun (the number keeps growing as our apparatus becomes more sophisticated) but some of them two or three billion years older than our sun, the Fermi paradox suggests the high probability of circling planets with intelligent life, but with little or no hard evidence of it yet. Perhaps not only in the wrong places, but in the wrong way. Poets and physicists help you to see things anew.

To think about aliens is to think about our place in the universe. The Big Bang or the Bounce. The Goldilock zone (fresh air theory).  From single cell organisms, phagocytes and primitive life on our planet. The past walks with us. Every organic creature in our planet is made out of stardust. Out of this structure intelligent life was formed. Stephen Hawkins aphorism, ‘I believe intelligent life is quite common in the universe. Less so on earth…’ holds true.

With the moron’s moron leader of the most powerful and technocratic nation on earth a case in point. Communication with aliens and morons is the key. Everything is very very in the moron’s world multiplied by good or bad.  The stupidest thing the moron’s moron did, or did not do, was sign the Paris accord on global warming which will trigger very, very, very bad things, with tens of millions dying. What this programme shows quite clearly is that burning fossil fuels is to live in the past. The future is green and harnessing the power of the stars. That’s what physicists are looking at, fluctuations in energy, which may or may not show that something, possibly robotic, possibly an advanced civilisation may have been doing that. Certainly Dr Ander Sandsberg was able to show that spikes in planet KIC 8462852  radiation couldn’t be accounted for. One hypothesis was something massive and non-cylindrical had passed in front of it. Aliens?

Intelligent life on our planet will be artificial intelligence with non-organic parts. That’s the same kind of mixing and matching as Fermi. But it’s happening now. Sometimes we don’t see what’s in front of our eyes. Any good alien knows that. But it’s the bad aliens we’ve got to worry about. The cuckoos breeding in our nest.  I’m more worried about slime Trump ending intelligent life on this planet, but I’ve never claimed to be intelligent. Is there intelligent life out there. Yes, I think there is. Vast distances between planets makes communication difficult. And technology tends to destroy its creator. The rise and fall of a planet technologically in a few thousand years is infinitesimally small in terms of the universe. Compare this with the growth of our planets technology which has given us the capability to look at other planets with any detail in the last 20 or 30 years. Not only is life on earth a miracle. Our technology is a minnow. If other technologies find us they will have the capacity to swallow us up. Stephen Hawkins used the analogy of white men meeting native American Indians or perhaps aboriginals. But that’s just a guess. Nobody knows. Not even Stephen Hawkins. No evidence means very very very small results have very very very big implications, like global warming.

 

 

The Betrayed Girls, BBC 1, 8.30 pm, BBC iPlayer directed by Henry Singer.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08xdh9r/the-betrayed-girls

Ironically, the lead story BBC Ten O’Clock News which followed this programme was a report calling for the demolition of Haut de la Garenne home in Jersey. Children weren’t listened to. Children were abused. Seventy years of failure: The Jersey Way.

Can we demolish Greater Manchester Police? Maggie Oliver one of the few who can hold their head up catalogued their failings from the inside as a young office investigation these child abuse allegations and noted how often young girls she worked with had been let down by those supposed to protect them, by the police, by social services, by the community. We know all of this if we watched, as I did, the dramatization of their story, Three Girls, shown recently on BBC 1. But here it is Assistant Chief Inspector Steve Haywood speaking to the press after the successful prosecution of nine Asian men of Pakistani origin giving the usual reassurances to the public. The same Assistant Chief Inspector Steve Haywood that had discontinued the first investigation four years earlier. The same Assistant Chief Inspector Steve Haywood whose force conveniently lost a catalogue of evidence collated for them by one of their outstanding officers Maggie Oliver. She too was betrayed. This is an issue of class. White, working-class girls, trouble.

‘It’s no wonder they come to us,’ said ‘Daddy’ a nickname for one of those successfully prosecuted.

Although a convicted paedophile and rapist ‘Daddy’ does have a point.

Can we abolish the Rochdale Care System? This is shown graphically when the mother of one of the girls that is being raped and abused by men says something that is not politically correct. ‘What are you going to do about those Pakis abusing my daughters?’ she asks social workers and care workers involved with her children. She is removed from the meeting and not allowed to attend further meetings. We can’t have working-class mothers calling paedophile rapists Pakis.

The British National Front and English Defence League filled their boots with the images of Pakis raping young white girls as young as thirteen. We know this for sure because the father of Girl A speaks hear on camera and says they were the only ones that listened to what he had to say and believed him when he told them how his daughter was raped.

Thirty more prosecutions have been made since that case. That’s meant to reassure us. But if we listen to Sarah Rowbotham who made a spider-chart of all those mentioned by the girls in Rochdale and catalogued who they were and how they were connected and estimated such abuses had been going on for a minimal of ten years or more, if we listen to Nazar Afal, who, as public prosecutor estimated that 100 000 girls are abused every year, then 30 doesn’t seem that big a number. In fact your chance of getting prosecuted for raping young white girls works out at 0.0003. There’s more chance of getting hit by an asteroid. Perhaps one day we will have justice. The Betrayed Girls are still being betrayed. That shame is ours.

Robert Jeffrey (2009) The Barlinnie Story.

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I don’t know why people keep giving me books about prisons, gulags and death camps (often the same place) and say things like ‘you’ll like this’. Perhaps it’s because, to nick a quote from the Paul Ferris trial, I’m not fully ‘compos mental’. I’ve had a few drinks sitting in the company of murderers and had pals like Terry Ross who I went to school with and were in and out of prison. A kind of detox from normal society in which he came out fitter and faster.  Total institutions do interest me because that’s where all the bad things happen, but it’s not necessarily regarded as a bad thing, an ethos of indifference that radiates outwards and also inwards. The Sunday Mail, for example, has a front-page headline ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, a lifer in Low Moss. The subtext is look how easy these murderers and scum get it in jail.  Low Moss isn’t Barlinnie. Bar-L or Barlinnie is the Big House. But the narrative was the same for Jimmy Boyle et al and the Special Unit. Prison as lifestyle choices. Them and Us. Fling away the key. And anything that happens inside is too good for them.

Robert Jefferey is a former journalist with a number of books skewed towards Glasgow and its people. The Barliinnie Timeline is impressive. From 1897 when a plot of land was bought for £9750 outside Glasgow and 1882 when A Hall was commissioned. Victorian planners were criticised for spending too much public money and thinking big, but never thought big enough. Cells designed for one prisoner routinely held two or more. Overcrowding from 1897 to the work ending on E Hall in 2007, and when the Timeline ends in 2007 has been, and continues to be, a nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century problem that doesn’t go away. And it wasn’t until the twenty-first century that sloping out was abolished when prisoner began to receive compensation for such practices – ‘lock away a couple of prisoners in a tiny cell for ten hours or so with no access to toilets, hand washing, clean towels or disinfectant and let them defecate and urinate in front of each other’ –  but note these prisoner’s cases went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. It’s doubtful with Brexit that this would be the case now and prisoners would still be sloping out and it would be regarded as too expensive to change things. And anyway throw away the key. They deserve it. Politicians looking to amend Britain’s commitment to the idea of universal human rights comes into the same category of it doesn’t affect us. Policy creep can work in different ways outside prisons as the Grenfell disaster shows.

Voices such as George Wilson a lay preacher that regularly visited the Barlinnie Special Unit are rarely heard and even less likely to be listened to, drowned out by tabloid bile.

What I discovered was that there were powerful people who wanted him [Jimmy Boyle] to fail in order to prove their own theories that the likes of Jimmy Boyle wouldn’t change.

In other words people like us deserve what we get, so people like them can say I told you so. Every programme about Welfare in the title sells the same message. Look at them smoking and drinking. They are other and we pay for them. Give them less. Jail the scum. Propaganda coming from the top from David Cameron and George Osborne which shaped public policy and witch hunts of the poor and working class and below them those that break the law. That shame is ours, not theirs.

The Barlinnie Story is our story but a mixed bag. Duplication not only the narratives of old lags, but of whole pages inserted randomly between pages 50 and 88 and then the same pages appearing out of sequence later is unprofessional and better books than this have been pulped for less. And on page 90, in the chapter entitled ‘Dog Boxes, Chamber Pots and Compensation’ leads with: ‘ ‘sensational’ the natural way to describe the various attacks on staff, rooftop riots and assorted exercise yard rumbles down the year,s ‘[sic] is a slightly turgid way of leading into the practice of sloping out. But really, ‘year,s’? This is a stupid mistake and makes me think Jeffrey has not read his own copy and then the question arises, why should we?

Tokyo Girls, Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by Kiyoko Miyake

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08w9lvb/storyville-tokyo-girls

This is creepy and weird. Japan is the kind of insular society that a oriental version of Nigel Farage would approve. In stereotypical fashion the Japanese are polite, but they don’t like foreigners much and tend to stick to their own kind. But they have an aging population and the number of births falls lower every year. Tokyo has one of the highest population densities in the world. Old housing is knocked down and rebuilt, smaller, every thirty years. London bedsits by contrast would be seen as roomy and inexpensive. Every year there is a scandal about houses the size of a coffin None of this is in Tokyo Girls. It’s a simple storyline with the tag ‘Pop idol Rio Hiiragi’s journey toward fame’. I’m giving you the context.  She is a quite pretty girl, twenty-one when the programme ends, but ironically, far too old for many otaku, Japanese idol fans who tend to be middle-aged men with an obsessive interest in young girls.

Otaku originally described a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills. The so called lost generation stuck in their coffin-sized room, locked in with their aging parents, never meet females in the real world but have an obsessive interest in anime and manga fandom. The shy kid that doesn’t go out, but locks himself in. Pop idols like Rio are ready made anime images that they can interact with for a price. They can subscribe to their channels and even attend meets and greets, but they tend to be super-fans such as ‘Pidl’ a middle-aged salary-man who left his job to dedicate his life to Rio. He reckons he spends on average $2000 a month on following her.

Meeting idols is big business, fans such as ‘Pidl’ get to shake their idols hands and look them in the eye. A bouncer is on hand to move them along after about another minute another middle-aged man takes their place and holds the girl’s hand.

Take, for example, Amu, who is thirteen and an idol in a band called Harajuru, where each child has to compete with other children wanting a spot in the band and on stage. She is successful. Male fans get to hold her hand. Amu’s mum, said at first ‘she was scared’ but now thinks of Amu’s fans ‘as fathers to her’.  One of the father-figures declared that he preferred the much younger idols. My guess there’s a Gary Glitter on every corner and this feeds that crazy. To misquote  Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, ‘the silt of tomorrow’ grows in the shit of today.

 

Robert Lautner (2017) The Draughtsman.

the draughtsman.jpg

This is simple fiction based on a first-person account of what if, running to almost 500 pages. In a way it fits in with other books I’ve been reading, with the idea of the self and better self, living the same life, but making different -moral- choices. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First Century was at it quoting reams of Balzac and the conundrum if you needed to torture a Chinese person on the other side of the world, to get what you wanted… Julian Glover was at it in the biography Man of Iron, Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Thomas Telford’s mum reckoned if you were an honest man you could look the devil in the eye. I’d laughed at that because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I know my limitations. I’d skulk away.

But what if you were Ernest Beck, it’s April 1944, you’ve graduated from university, newly married to Etta, the honeymoon stage and your living together in a cramped room, short of money, reliant on handouts from your parents, looking for work as a draughtsman and someone offers you a dream job? ‘A contract. Real work.’

You’d take it, right? We all would. But what if your dream job is designing ovens for Buchenwald and the other death camps. Your remit is to make them more efficient. The body fats of the victims can be used as fuel rather than gas or the other less cost-efficient fossil fuels.

But what if you’d already moved into a new house, rent free, much bigger and better than you could afford. What you are doing is not illegal. In fact it is classified as so secret your boss, who runs the department under the auspices of the well know Topf’s industry, takes the file from you every night and locks it away. Topf industry benefits from contracts with the SS, but they do not run the camps. They do not herd inmates into the gas chambers. Topf industry simply fixes the machinery and suggests innovations. They have competitors and if they didn’t do it, their competitors would undercut them and step in and take the work away from them and they would lose the profit. Everything is done by the book, following the rules. German efficiency.

What if you’ve moved into your new house, outside your work, and sometimes you can work from home and your wife Etta tells she has false papers. She is a Jew. She is also a Communist sympathiser and knows other dedicated to the overthrow of existing social order.

What if your boss, Hans Klein, with the best suits, best car and a finger in every pie, tells you he put his own father in the camps because he hired Jewish workers on his farm. Your boss is as psychopathic as Donald J Trump. Would you work for him?

You know the war is coming to an end and your boss knows about you. He asks you to do a little favour for him and it ends badly. The thing your boss values most, the only thing he values, money, his money has been lost and it’s your fault, but you need his help. Do you run or do you stay?

What if you had to make a deal with the devil, what would it be?

Lautner takes us through these various scenarios. There’s echoes of  Stanley Miligram’s famous experiment. Most of us fold (65%) when dealing with authority. And the propaganda and hatred whipped up by, for example, George Osborne against the poorest in our unequal society, given the blame for making us in Britain poorer has modern day echoes. I’ve often asked why doctors worked for Atos, when, as skilled workers they could get jobs elsewhere. But, of course, it’s easy to blame others. Or in Osborne and the Nazi’s case the Other. That’s a double act as old as Old Nick. What about the compromises we make ourselves? Accepting packages and shopping with Amazon. Using Google. Eating processed meat and eggs that comes from animals bred, bled and killed in a cruel manner never seeing sunlight or grass. I wouldn’t look old Nick in the eye and I tend to look away from these things. We make sense of the world by telling ourselves lies. Don’t be fooled into thinking your any different is the message Lautner is peddling. I’m buying that one. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a happy ending. It’s one of the few wars the Americans wore the white hats, good guys, who could look at themselves in the mirror.  Can you? asks Lautner