In many ways this is George Clooney’s creation. He’s listed as one of the producers. Producers are the guys (and it is usually men) who get the money together to make a movie. Because he’s George Clooney he can do that kind of thing. Other people will fling money at him, because it’s a no-lose situation, a film starring George Clooney is bound to make money, and if it’s any good, it’ll make a lot of money, but the stars need to be aligned.
George Clooney stars with different haircuts and uniforms, but the same sugary smile he’s perfected over the years. His character Lyn Skip Cassady is ex-American army, and there are flashbacks to the time when the US military set up a shadowy organisation to create psychic warriors and conquer hearts and minds by making love, not war. Army maverick Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) led them to places they couldn’t have dreamed. Bridges re-jigs his role as The Dude, but in army military bases. But The Men Who Stare at Goats is much more fun than The Big Lebowski. I laughed aloud several times, and that doesn’t usually happen unless an old woman falls in front of a truck after jumping over a skipping rope.
We know all this because Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) tells us about his journey with Cassady on the road to enlightenment in an Iraq that is being liberated or conquered by American troops (depending on your point of view). There’s the realist tone Umberto Eco adopts in his masterpiece Foucault’s Pendulum with the ridiculous rubbing shoulders with reality. Cassady regrets, for example, under military orders letting his ego run wild, staring at a goat and stopping its heart. He admits that it might just have been coincidence, him staring and the bleating animal’s heart stopping, but he doesn’t believe in coincidences.
Cassady’s mission is so hush-hush, he’s not even sure what it is himself. He needs to find his former guru, The Dudeless Bill Django in a desert without road signs. The right road is often the wrong road as they are taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists. But that’s a mere blip in Cassady’s inner radar, as Bob Wilton makes the inner journey from sceptic to true believer.
Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is our Judas and nemesis of free-love and free-wheeling Django and Cassady in the military and world at large. (This was before Spacey was publically shamed, some would see that as proof of the dark side. Other examples being the large numbers of cast members that died in strange circumstance after making The Omen).
Whatever—this is a great and fun movie. George Clooney has never been better as George Clooney, Ewan McGregor even gets in on the act. Well worth watching for Dude-less fans. Try it.
Writing a review is straightforward. Beginning, middle and end. Often in the shape of a triangle or baggy diamond—if you get too wordy—before you reach your conclusion. You become an expert in your field with a certain gravitas. The problem here is I can think two (or more things) at once. Cognitive dissonance is a way of life for Catholics, with virgin births, saints, angels and demons, and life ever after. Heaven and hell is up for grabs, literally and metaphorically.
Mr Jordan, my primary seven teacher, for example, told us that a haggis was a wee creature with one leg shorter than another so he could run uphill. He drew what a haggis looked like on the blackboard, and sure enough, one leg was shorter than the other. When I’m up the Old Kilpatrick Hills I still look out for haggis men showing their bum as they run uphill.
Similarly, I remember the clip showing how the Italian spaghetti crop had failed. Sure enough, on Nationwide, they showed stringy bits of pasta falling from the pasta plant. I wasn’t overly concerned, because I’m a potato man. The average potato farmer before the Great Famine ate 14lbs of potatoes a day, but I ate more than that.
Uri Geller said he was taken up in a spaceship, and that allowed him to start clocks and bend spoons. He teleported to every chat show in the world simultaneously and showed how it was done. All over the world we could hear the sound of ticking clocks and spoons went wonky for the Israeli and his followers. He even had a car with spoons attached to show how much money he’d made. Secretly, I knew he’d never be able to keep it clean, because jet wash hadn’t been invented. Spoon bending didn’t work for me, but that didn’t mean I didn’t believe him. I just was made of the wrong kind of stuff.
I was an avid reader of books like Colin Wilson’s The Occult. Sure it had me shitting my pants. But there was a bit of envy, I admit that. Nothing would teleport, unless I kicked it with my size ten boots. I couldn’t read people’s thoughts, or get girls to undress by staring at them. Mind-bending just didn’t work for me. And I could only see if I put my specs on. I was familiar with all the hoo-ha. Ironically there’s a film on BBC 2 tonight that encapsulates this theme that I’ll watch and laugh at. Dramatised and directed by George Clooney, based on a book by Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats.
It’s utterly ridiculous. Superhuman is filled with marvellous people with shiny white teeth. No fat people. No black people. People with straight hair. People we can trust.
Let’s start with remote viewing. Actress Naomi Grossman gets a few dos and don’ts from a former member of the groups mocked by Ronson and Clooney. She’s able to locate and draw things such as a circus carousel Caroline Cory was seeing and sitting on. Not only is Grossman able to describe these artefacts, she can feel them too, rough or smooth, big or small.
Grossman’s ex-military CIA man is able to tell us the viewers, how during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency they planned to construct bunkers in which to launch IBM missiles at the USSR, but not all would have nuclear missiles. They’d move the silos about to fool the Russians, so they could get first strike (or second strike—which is called the end of the world). But those trained in remote location viewing where able to tell with almost 100% accuracy whether the silos were armed or not. President Carter shelved the plan.
The problem with following this logic is the follow-up experiment in which Cory tried to block where she was, and Grossman was unable to locate her. If such a unit of the American army did exist (and I’m sure it did) then it would have therefore been relatively easy to block remote viewers from other nations viewing something they didn’t want to see. In this case, where’s Wally, with nuclear missiles able to blow up our planet?
In other experiments Cory is able to change the Ph balance of a substrate. Make it more alkaline by thinking about it, by willing it. A bit like Uri Gellar, but without the spoons. In terms of biochemistry, proof positive of how you think influence how your body reacts. Thinking yourself better, or healthy, works is the message.
Cory also shows telekinesis at work. There’s no Stephen King Carrie moment: she’s not drenched in pig’s blood, nor does she pick up cars and hurl them at those that can’t take a joke, or take no for an answer. Cory simply sets a lightweight arrow inside a glass vacuum spinning. Nothing spectacular, but the fall of how we understand physics works (don’t ask me, I failed first-year secondary school physics).
Actor Corey Feldman gets in on the act. Two voice recorders are placed next to each other. One has the batteries taken out. Yet, information is somehow passed from the voice recorder with batteries to the one with no batteries. A message from the other side, what nineteen century scientists called the ether. It just doesn’t make sense.
These are mere trinkets and tricks (even if they’re not). The finale is spectacular. Children that can read books through blindfolds Run around with blindfolds. Go shopping, blind. Play table-tennis, and other ball games, blind. Truly, a wow moment. Either it’s a setup, or it isn’t. I’m still undecided. Certainly, Caroline Cory has a lot of very beautiful people doing strange things. But that’s not as spectacular as the failed pasta crop, because I love pasta now. One sure thing during Holy Week, as I search for my relic of the one true cross sold to me by a genuine monk, who wouldn’t tell me any lies, Cory’s trinkets are sure to sell like wildfire. I’m sure there’s courses up and running. How not to get to heaven but how to dip your pockets. Catholics, like me, have been schooled in it. Everything miraculous ends in tears or the end of the world. Don’t crucify me for telling me what you already know.
Around 20% of us are unlikely to take the Covid-19 vaccine (there are more than one type of vaccine, but it is highly unlikely you’ll get a choice—unless you’re rich—which propriety brand you will get inoculated with). These are a vocal minority, let’s call them I’d-rather- smear-my-face-with-shit group. Our French compatriots numbers are higher.
Around 15% are unsure. We’ll wait and see group numbers could swell if there are reports of side-effects. Mavericks are sure to spring up such as Andrew Wakefield who claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and childhood autism. He was struck off by the General Medical Council and his claims disproved, but he remains unrepentant.
My medical experience comes from playing the side of Dr Finlay’s head as an extra in Dr Finlay’s Casebook. So you could say, I’m a medical man, and I’d treat Wakefield’s claim with the contempt reserved for the moron, moron’s claim that injecting yourself with disinfectant was a cure for Covid-19.
But we all like the narrative of the underdog, the whistle-blower willing to take on the establishment and tell the truth. A.J. Cronin who wrote Dr Finlay, as a Scottish doctor, wrote what he knew. Dr Andrew Mason’s character, the narrator of The Citadel, for example, was portrayed as having working-class origins in the hungry nineteen-thirties. He is about to be struck off by the General Medical Council. But instead of apologising, he rises up and castigates them.
‘commercialism? the usual guinea-chasing treatments, the unnecessary operations, the crowds of worthless pseudo-scientific propriety preparations we use…The whole profession is far too intolerant and smug…For years we’ve been bleating about the sweated conditions under which our nurses work, the wretched pittances we pay them.
Louis Pasteur, the greatest figure of all scientific medicine, was not a doctor.
The deferential era in which the characters Dr Andrew Mason, or Dr Findlay, or indeed the author A.J.Cronin steps forward, was one when if a medical doctor told his patient to smear his or her face with shit you’d be sure to make a good job of it has passed is also a myth. Our gods are just different gods. Who is yours?
Who can we trust, when ‘I’ the online warrior knows best? (ironic since I’m writing this online).
I’m no different. I’m not the exception to the rule. Keyboard warriors believe there’s a conspiracy to keep them quiet. Like Dr Andrew Mason they’ll have their day, and their say. They’re called trolls for a reason. They won’t be struck off. They won’t be silenced. They’re the rightist of the right.
Carl Sagan’s invisible imaginary dragon is always a step too far. Fake authority is easily bought. George Clooney goes at it with brio as a tobacco lobbyist in Up in the Air/Thank You for Smoking.
‘You can’t prove anything/ You can prove everything, given enough data’. Thought provoking killer cliché.
In Martin Ford’s apocalyptic vision in The Rise of the Robot, Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, what we’re left with is our planet (and the planets closest to earth) cannibalised as the cuckoo in our nest, the next generation of robots work to eliminate uncertainty.
We don’t know if the current Covid-19 vaccine will limit the spread of disease. What we have is best guess. Those inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to studies have lower viral loads than those given a placebo. This suggests they are less likely to spread the Covid-19 virus.
We wear face masks not to protect ourselves, but others, getting inoculated helps to prevent the spread of disease. In the same way, I wouldn’t cross the road while holding a three-year-old girl’s hand (Tilly) while standing at the traffic lights until I hear the beeps, because it also sets her a good example. I might get hit by a truck but I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m following a code that can protect both of us. That doesn’t mean I won’t also be looking right or left and stop listening for traffic.
Philip Knightley (1997) provides a case study of all the familiar ingredients of how pharmaceutical companies evade responsibility. The Thalidomide Scandal, Where We Went Wrong. Blaming the victims. Court injunctions slowing down disclosure, while accepting no responsibility and extraneous factors as causative. Creating a Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze to rival that of Grenfell victims—before and after. Class played a large part. The richer and more vocal middle-class victims were more likely to obtain compensation. Negligence and ruthlessness of establishment forces to finalise a settlement. In many ways it mirrors the hostile environment our Home Office and Priti Patel helped create for immigrants seeking British citizenship.
Politics is about power. It doesn’t surprise me that Boris Johnstone’s cronies are handed tens of millions of taxpayers money for providing (fill in your own example here, such as Personal Protective Equipment) while not giving any of us a real choice. Drug companies cash in on their monopolies to hike up prices. That doesn’t surprise me either. That doesn’t mean the product they’re selling doesn’t work. American steel monopolies created quality steel. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is new technology. Cutting edge.
Robert A. Caro says in his introduction to Working: ‘Political power shapes all of our lives. It shapes your life in little ways you might not even think about.’
The I’d-rather-smear-my-face-with-shit group, don’t want you to think. Don’t want you to read. They have their own agenda and want simple answers to complex questions. If an airplane made of millions of complex parts becomes grounded for mechanical reasons that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fly. Our bodies are made of billions of cells. Pharmaceutical companies and epidemiologists are the ground crew telling us they can fix it and it’s safe to fly. Sure we’ve had setbacks and crashes. But it’s not all about you, you, you, or I, I, I. We need to look at the larger community. What’s the point of clapping NHS workers while ignoring their advice? When you, your daughter or son gets sick and can’t breathe, don’t phone an ambulance. Tell them it’s just a giant hoax. The one and half million dead are faking it in the same ways six million Jews didn’t perish in death camps. The true figure is only known by us right-wingers. A vaccine is for losers. You know best. Hey, I’m going to fly. I want to get as far away from those right-wing loonies as I can.