Keanu Reeves, John Cleese and, er, global level non-zero-sum co-operation


So there I am on a long plane flight home, in need of something to watch. Hailing as I do from the Global Dashboard stable, the preferred option was clear: a disaster movie. And lo, what should be playing on BA routes this month but the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

My expectations were along the lines of I am Legend or The Day After Tomorrow. You know how it goes: massive catastrophe, civilisation collapses, a veritable smorgasbord of SFX, a couple of doughty folk live to fight another day, and (as the credits roll) the prospect of a gradual rebuild.

As it turned out, this was not the case.  In a nutshell: Keanu Reeves is an alien. He has been sent here by a confederation of highly evolved alien civilisations to “save the earth” – by wiping us out, given that we’re cheerfully running our own mass extinction event. Pretty scientist Jennifer Conolly, initially part of the US government scratch team of scientists (“We need you to come with us right away, ma’am. It’s a matter of national security”) comes to befriend the alien, and must persuade him of humanity’s case; and so it goes for the next hour or two.

Where it gets fun, though, is when she takes Keanu to see her mentor, a Nobel Prize-winning uber-scientist – played, somewhat improbably, by John Cleese – whereupon the following dialogue ensues:

Boffin: Well, there must be alternatives. You must have some technology you have that could solve the problem.

Alien: The problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.

Boffin: Then help us change.

Alien: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.

Boffin: But every civilisation reaches a crisis point eventually.

Alien: Most of them don’t make it.

Boffin: Yours did. How?

Alien: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.

Boffin: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.

Alien: Yes.

Boffin: Well, that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction, and you’re right.  But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change; only on the precipice that we evolve. This is our moment – don’t take it from us. We are close to an answer.

That’s right, readers: I spent ten minutes doing pause and rewind on British Airways’ crappy touch screen entertainment system, juggling a laptop and an economy class meal, and I did it all for you. Why, you ask? Because when was the last time you saw a movie that expounds the necessity of crisis for global-level non-zero-sum co-operation – and uses Basil Fawlty to do so?

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Stop Blair? No thanks.

Now that ratification of Lisbon has moved a big step closer (not only with the Irish yes, but also the news that Czech President Vaclav Klaus is likely to bow to pressure not to hold it up), the idea of Tony Blair being the first permanent President of the European Council is looking a lot more likely. Predictably, a large strand of liberal opinion is furious about this.  As an e-petition currently being circulated has it,

In violation of international law, Tony Blair committed his country to a war in Iraq that a large majority of European citizens opposed. This war has claimed hundreds of thousands of victims and displaced millions of refugees. It has been a major factor in today’s profound destabilisation of the Middle East, and has weakened world security. In order to lead his country into war, Mr Blair made systematic use of fabricated evidence and the manipulation of information …

The steps taken by Tony Blair’s government, and his complicity with the Bush administration in the illegal programme of “extraordinary renditions”, have led to an unprecedented decline in civil liberties.

All true.  But for all that, Blair is far and away our best option for the job.

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World to America: Grow Up! (updatedx3)

As America digests the news that Chicago won’t be holding the Olympics, the right has reacted with unbridled joy, while other commentators just seem dumbfounded. I especially like Politico’s roundup, which claims that “veteran Olympic watchers” have been left stunned by the decision.

This claim rests on quotes from Olympic historian, Bill Mallon who grumbles about the voting procedure, suggests with a straight face that the IOC should be remodelled on the US Congress, and puts the whole thing down to anti-Americanism.

If the U.S. president, who is universally recognized as the most powerful person on the face of the earth, comes to their meeting and entreats them to give him the games to his own home city, which has by far the best bid, and they turn around and say not only are we not going to give you the games, but you finish last – that reveals that they’re so euro-centric and international-centric, it’s ridiculous.

Leaving aside the ongoing, and bizarre, insecurity about Europe, d0 we really have to apologize for the International Olympic Committee not acting as an extension of American power?

(Especially, when Obama told delegates “We stand at a moment in history when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations — a time of common challenges that require common effort.”)

Unfortunately, we have more of this whingeing to look forward to. The United States has had two Olympics since 1984 – with the second, in Atlanta, widely recognised at the worst games in recent times. Now, angered at not having hosted a World Cup (soccer, for American readers – you know, the sport kids play) since 1994, the US is bidding for the 2018 or 2022 championships. Obama, Disney and even Henry Kissinger (!) have been lined up in  support.

The decision is due in December, just as the Copenhagen climate summit will be in full swing. Maybe the United States should throw major sporting events into the climate negotiating pot: “every time you don’t let us have an Olympics or World Cup, then another small island state will be left to drown…”

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