Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hangi time again

Hangi day - I gotta go pick up the kai this evening :)

Urgent shopping too - ran out of food last night (I made the last of it into a very large, quite strange, pizza). And it is dry enough to start planning exterior cleaning

Smeagol is very well settled in now. I had a cat door installed and he has been nipping in and out happily and chasing mice. In the evening, he settles at the foot of th bed with me. He'll come to be cuddled, and will even meow a little at dinner times. This is a cat who is known for a retiring nature. Clearly being without the other two, and being back in the bush, has been good for him.

Seeing as this is the Royal Forest and Bird Reserve at Onetangi, it is as well he shows no interest in birds. At least, not that I've seen: he actively hunts (and catches) mice. With luck he'll branch out to rats, which are a major problem.

Christianity Question #8

Who is Jesus?

I don't think this is a question that would bother an intellectual - one may ask: "who was Jesus?" or "who do you mean when you talk about Jesus?", as ways of clarifying the terms of the conversation. For instance, the conversation would go very differently if the reply were along the lines of "Oh, 'Jesus' is this guy who lives next door to me ... and he pronounces it 'hey zeus'", or "'Jesus' is the name of our rottweiler."

There is a lot of stuff about the historical Jesus, the mythical Jesus, and so on. It seems that Jesus is all things to everybody - pretty much what you'd expect at the center of a major religion.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cats Home

I have been back to the mainland to pick up a whole bunch of stuff I've left behind. Only thing left is a heavy park bench I had restored some years ago. Cathy is selling her house in Orewa, s I'll have to move fast.

As a side effect, my slinky black sable burmese, Smeagol, gets to join me. He is a private and reclusive character normally. He went to sleep on the trip home, but, on arrival, got all excited to see his old territory again.

Smeagol was adopted by our other two cats as a stray kitten, an unusual enough occurrence, but has always been the low-status cat in the group. back on Waiheke and away from the other two he has really come out of himself. He stays around the house now, has set himself up on some spare bedding in a spare room, and has started catching mice. He's even been coming for cuddles.

Christianity Question #7

How could any intelligent 20th century person believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead?

The short answer is, of course, that intelligent people can deceive themselves too. There are indications that very bright people are also better at self deception that stupid people. Of course, the trouble is that intelligence testing, IQs and all that, is itself a pseudoscience - which is to say: empirically meaningless.

However, the question is deliberately phrased black and white. We can more meaningfully ask about the likely-hood that a bright person will also be a Christian or, more generally, a theist.

Burnham Beckwith's article, "The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith," (Free Inquiry Spring 1986) provides a meta-study of intelligence+religiosity  studies appearing in the literature. The studies use a wide range of different measures for intelligence or intellectual ability - usually performance on some standardized test.

Beckwith concludes:
 The consensus here is clear: more intelligent people tend not to believe in religion. And this observation is given added force when you consider that the above studies span a broad range of time, subjects and methodologies, and yet arrive at the same conclusion. 
Theists point out that intelligent people are struck by the anecdotal evidence of the resurrection presented in the Bible. If the Bible is a reliable record of Christs ministry, then the detail of the Biblical account of the resurrection must lead one to suspect the resurrection to have happened in fact.

But this is just detailing how intelligent people go about fooling themselves. For some reason, theists believe accounts of Christ which they would dismiss out of hand about anyone else. Rather than engaging in a dispassionate assessment of the available facts, they view accounts through their cultural conditioning. Thus, if in a Christian society, they lend credence to Christian accounts, if another religion is dominant, then that one will appear more believable.

Interestingly, when examining religious attendance vs education, Glaeser and Sacerdote [1] point out that bright people tend to profess Christian beliefs for the social advantages this provides. In a society of Christians, it is best to be Christian. (This generalizes to any religious culture.) As Machiavelli observes, it is smarter to pretend piety, in a religious culture, without being pious, than it is to actually be pious.

[1] Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce, Education and Religion (January 2001). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1913. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=263258 or doi:10.2139/ssrn.263258

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Fighting to get out of school

From the news - which, yet again, gets their stories off YouTube. Again with the Aussie schoolgirls!

Girls pick fights, allegedly in order to get suspended. But what should be done - the fights occur outside school grounds and hours. Personally I am cynical about the effectiveness of suspensions in changing behavior - the punishment part is when the police are involved.

Possibly the school could require that the students be dropped off and picked up at the gate, and escorted around the school grounds? But look at the manpower involved, and a personal minder would just be an extra bit of notoriety. So basically it is lose lose no matter what. Suspension + Police removes the student from the student body (thus somewhat protecting likely victims) while they come to grips with the seriousness of the offense.

So the responsibility ends up with the students and how the police handle things.

There is also the question of why these students would choose this method to buck for a suspension. I suspect teenage risk-taking and bravado - teens seldom think past the immediate results.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Students and School Dances

There was a bit of a fuss about those Aussie girls that were not allowed to attend a school ball. Maybe because one of them was underage for the ball, maybe because they wanted to go as partners. Thing is, I believe the girls; especially since the school insists on emphasizing that the event was for heterosexuals "but we don't discriminate". The student can attend the ball, but her same-sex date cannot join her. I think it is clear that a same sex date would not be acceptable even of the right age, remember: dancing together does not mean sleeping together.

The revealing part for me was that it was a private Catholic all-girls school. I've experienced those. This sort of doublespeak is normal. But the thing to realize about these posh schools is that their balls are all about breeding. The idea is to get the girls to mix with "the right sort of boy" in the hope that they will marry well and have the right sort of kids. It's all very Jane Austin.

Nobody talks about it like that though. Instead they talk about providing social experience. And this is important - however, secondary school children are quite capable of going to the mall or wherever outside school hours. It wasn't a boarding school. If you are serious about social education, you make your school co-educational.

Some people question whether a 16yo even has a sexuality at that age. Yet this point is moot surely? After all, sexuality was the primary entry requirement for the ball. Heterosexual girls could bring a date. Yet why are these girls being labelled "heterosexual" if their sexuality has not developed?

The age limit excuse was a good one and the school could have avoided a lot of bother just by invoking it. However, I doubt they wanted to open the door to same-sex couples at an event which is supposed to support the breeding-stock approach to upper-class reproduction.

There are good schools which provide a decent education, but most are all about providing the next generation of supporting wives for powerful husbands. Academic excellence is assured by filtering the intake of new students to the ones that are almost certain to succeed. I have seen one where admission to the senior school (where national exams are taken) is restricted to top performers in the junior school.

It is very hard to judge schools - the ones with the best education can take poor students and make C students out of them. The top schools take A students and make A+ students out of them.

Christianity Question #6

Is the New Testament Picture of Jesus Reliable?

Short answer: No.
The grounds for accepting the New Testament as trustworthy compare very favorably with the grounds on which classical (Greek, Roman) scholars accept the authenticity and credibility of ‘reliable’ ancient documents [like Julius Caesar's "Gallic Wars]". -- F. F. Bruce (1981)
Taking this example - is the Gallic Wars picture of Julius Caesar reliable? Same answer: no. All Bruce was talking about was that the modern New Testament story is bibliographically reliable. It is reliably close to what the original authors wrote by the usual standards of scholarship for classical documents.

Bruce is inviting us to consider the biblical account of Christ by the same standards that we consider other historical documents. OK. So lets:

If Julius Caesar claimed a virgin birth and a bodily resurrection we would not believe it. The Caesars were called "God" and "Son of God" but do we believe this to be literally true? By the same standard of scholarship, we should disbelieve those claims about Christ also.

It is not clear why Christians feel they need an accurate account of Jesus, after all we are happy with inaccurate accounts of classical times and of Julius Caesar.

Bruce F. (1981) New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.

Christianity Question #5

Doesn’t the inherent subjectivity of morality prove that God does not exist?

Short answer: No.

However inherent, any subjectivity suggests that morality is, to some extent, a matter of free will.

If morality is completely built-in, then it looks bad for God Who is unique and created all the built-ins of the universe, since everyone should agree on moral right and wrong just like everyone has weight. But this is not insurmountable - humans are imperfect, and not all human morality follows God's built-in morality. Isn't everybody a sinner?

We do see a lot of similarity in morality between different cultures. That does not indicate that God exists either - just that humans are pretty similar to each other. If any creature wants to live in a group, then they are going to have to be nice to each other. That's all there is to it.

Thus the similarities and differences in morality merely reflect similarities and differences in people.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Christianity Question #4

Can god make a rock so big that he can’t lift it?

This is a question about the nature of God. It basically suggests that for God to be literally omnipotent involves a logical contradiction. Schaefer agrees:
God is omnipotent. But omnipotence does not mean that God can do literally everything.
... so God is not omnipotent. QED.

Being limited only by logical consistency is not all that much of a restriction.

The trouble is that once you start thinking that God is limited in any way it opens the door to other limitations. For instance: since the laws of logic are also created by God as part of creating the Universe, then this is like saying that God is restricted by His own Laws within Creation. (If the Laws of God are extensions of God's nature, then this is just to say that God can only act like God.) But this means that God cannot do anything supernatural. There are lots of Christians who will have issues with this. It means you cannot have a literal virgin birth or a literal resurrection.

Of course we can just say that God mostly obeys His own Laws, but may break them when it is important - then look to the Bible for examples. This misses the point: limiting God even a little bit opens this sort of can of worms in all kinds of areas.

Theists are better off asserting that, yes, God can create logical contradictions. Whether or not God does create such things is another question.

Website's Back

The HBCLinux website is back after a mixup over domain registration. Since this is mainly the HBCLUG website, I'll need to find someone who actually lives there to take it over. At some point the site will vanish otherwise.

I'm organizing some other place to keep the Oolite files. The journal is now on blogger. I don't live in Whangaparaoa any more. So I don't really need it.

On the other hand - Waiheke Island has a Linux group now: WaiLUG.
Unfortunately, "WaiLUG" is already taken by the Wairarapa Linux Users Group - but that only exists as a mailing list. I'll have to let them know ;)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Christianity Questions #3

Who made God?
It's a little over-simplistic and invites the response "God did not need to be made". To understand the issue, we have to realize the question usually comes up in context with the Cosmological or Teleological arguments for the existence of God. Thus:

Everything has a cause, God is the first cause for everything in the Universe, what caused God? Nothing? If it is acceptable for God to be a causeless cause of everything, why cannot the Universe be it's own cause?

The Universe shows elements of design, this implies a designer, the complexity of the Universe means the designer must be especially great, that's God. But the same reason we argue that the Universe must have a designer means that God must have a designer as well. Any argument that shows God does not need a designer works just as well for the Universe.

We have to bear in mind, though, that talking about the Universe having a beginning in time is a bit sloppy. The reason is that the Universe does not exist in time, but time exists within the Universe. Before the Universe there was no time to have a before in ... much more of this and we'll need a drink.

In order for the likes of Stephen Hawking to talk about the beginning of the Universe, they have to use tricks in topology like proposing a kind of cosmological hypervolume for the Universe to exist "inside" of but understanding that this is just a crutch for the math: the Universe is "all that there is", by definition. So the Universe can have a "start" with respect to a time-like dimension of the hypervolume.

What all this means for us is that the Universe looks like it has a beginning from anywhere on the inside, but from the POV of the Universe itself, it is eternal, transcending time and space. Sound familiar? The Universe itself has the minimum qualities required for the creator of the Universe. From Occams Razor, we should accept the Universe as it's own causeless cause until some further evidence comes to light to suggest otherwise.

The atheist answer though is very simple: God is a fictional character whose original authorship is lost to history. They do not actually need to have a theory of creation to replace God because "I don't know" works too. This is a field of active scientific research and we have a lot of clues, wait and see.

Wow: Summer

This place really comes into its own in summer. Light, leafy, warm, everything. I'll have to start spending more time at the beach. Late evenings have a salmon sunset through trees.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Christianity Question #2

What about Adolph Hitler? Wasn’t he a Christian?
So what if he was Christian? Does that mean that intelligent people should not become Christians? Of course not!
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
- Larry Niven, Niven's Laws #16

I normally see this the other way around: Christians claiming that Hitler was an atheist. It forms part of a reductio ad hitlerum argument and Godwin's law says the discussion should be terminated as soon as you hear it. On the other hand, Hitler's religion is a legitimate target for scholarship. Generally we attempt to infer a historic persons beliefs from records of what they say and do and what other people thought of them. For example:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew.
- Adolph Hitler
Quoted in: "Hitler's Table Talks: 1941-1944" published in English 1953. Table Talks is full of this sort of thing, recalled by various people at dinner conversations. Hitler was brought up Catholic, and became increasingly frustrated that the Catholic Church didn't endorse him and his ideas. Wikipedia has a nice discussion. From the same volume:
The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.
When we realise that he also made very Christian statements in private, we see that the apparent anti-Christianity in the other quotes can also be understood as anti-church ranting. Do we imagine Hitler, in these private talks, calmly and politely proffering philosophical arguments, or thumping the table and red in the face after someone comments on the church snubbing him yet again? Probably a bit of both.

Publicly we see lots of statements like the last quote (above) from Table Talk:
What we have to fight for is the necessary security for the existence and increase of our race and people, the subsistence of its children and the maintenance of our racial stock unmixed, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator. 
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 8
Even today I am not ashamed to say that, overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time. 
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 5
It is pretty clear that Hitler, like many many politicians, was willing to manipulate the religious beliefs of his audience to achieve his goals. In public, he would use the rhetoric of Christianity. In private (talking to anti-Christians like Borman) he would denigrate Christianity or profess belief where it suited him. It is the assertion of Atheist activists like Richard Dawkins that religious theistic beliefs are inherently susceptible to this sort of manipulation. Atheist beliefs and practices, it is asserted, contain a core of free-thinking which makes a Hitler-esque mass manipulation less likely to succeed.

This would suggest that, even if Christian beliefs should turn out to be true, the tendency for organised Christian religions to undermine free and critical thought through dogma should be resisted - especially by the faithful.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Christianity Questions #1

Is it possible to be a scientist and a Christian?

Yes: all kinds of people can suffer delusions, scientists are not exempt.

The question usually comes up in the context of scientific scepticism. Scientists who are Christians usually compartmentalise their beliefs - following scientific method when they practice science and suspending it when they practice Christianity. Often they will denote some areas of knowledge as "outside science" or "unknowable to science" as a way of jusifying this. The challenge they face is in showing that their Christian beliefs are scientifically sound.

This produces some problems:

Amongst other things, Christians must believe in the God of the Bible, the Virgin birth, bodily resurrection of Christ, who is the Son of God, and God, the immortal soul, and salvation (via the crucifiction). This also means a belief in the continuation of the person (as a soul) after death, heaven, hell, and salvation. Disbelief in any of these things stops you from being a Christian. (If you disagree, then you are also at odds with most Christians.)

Scientists are supposed to accept empirical realism as the path to truth, or, at least, less untruth. Christians are supposed to accept the Bible, particularly the New testament, as the revealed truth of God, ahead of empirical discoveries. This is a basic point of epistimology which forms the main problem with attempts to reconcile science with religion. It is difficult to see how these can be reconciled without resorting to compartmentalization.

Christianity Questions

I've recently had a paper by Henry Schaefer brought to my attention. It's a list of "Questions Intellectuals Ask About Christianity" - supposedly a bunch of questions that Schaefer thinks are serious stumbling blocks preventing smart people from forming a relationship with God ... for goodness sake!

There are 18 of them, all very dull, and none any actual impediment even to children with a passing acquaintance with the Bible. They are either straw-man questions, or misunderstood. So I'm offering my own set along the same lines, and see how well I do.

It's sad really, Schaefer was never much as a critical thinker (read his scientific papers) but his conversion to Christianity seems to have reduced his ability to zero.

None of the answers proposed can be considered complete or definitive. These conflicts have been ongoing for a long time and no single blog post can be expected to put them to rest.

Phone Scammers

Waihekeans have been struck by phone scammers targeting, you guessed it, Windows.

Mac users are very smug about this, they got the phone calls too. Someone claiming to be from Microsoft has rung them warning of an urgent vulnerability in their (Windows) PC --- which is a bit of a giveaway really.

This is a classic social engineering attack - windows users are conditioned to think of their systems as being  constantly under threat but otherwise out of their control. Thus they have to rely on outside experts doing obscure things to their computers. Once the scammers have taken you in, they get you to drop all your expensive security so they can install malware to your computer.

Microsoft are advising people who are taken in by these scammers to completely reinstall Windows.

Thing is, windows is the heart of the problem: why reinstall it?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Fourth Kind

I saw this movie a while ago because Milla Jovovich is hot in any role. UFO abduction films usually annoy me, and this one was no exception, but I wanted to wait a bit before writing about it because I didn't want to do the usual knee-jerk debunking. I think the movie attempts some subtle things that deserve a more careful approach.

The Fourth Kind goes to extraordinary lengths to give the appearance of a greater basis in fact than is usually the case. They provide to-camera statements by Milla Jovovich and the producer to the effect that the events in the film are dramatisations of archived footage. Sample footage is shown alongside part of the dramatisations, apparently to validate the dramatisation. The actors in the archive footage are not credited.

This is an innovative example of a kind of film-making where a fictional story is dressed up as discovered or documentary footage. Examples include The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfeild, Paranormal Activity, and Quarantine. Usually the footage shown takes the form of cheap video-cam footage and exposition to camera. The images are usually distorted and dramatic moments or the camera is not quite pointed in the right direction, forcing the audience to fill in the gaps.

The technique is not unique to film. Camp-fire spooky stories have taken this form as long as spooky stories have existed.  The pilot which launched The X Files TV series pilot opens with a statement that the episode was based on documented cases; the storyline involves extraterrestrial abductions. When this approach is used, it can be controversial. Orson Wells received criticism for the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. There were reports of listeners responding as if the alien invasion was actually happening even though the program was part of an advertised broadcast of fictional dramas and repeated notices that the broadcast was fictional.

The trouble with making spooky stories seem real is that some people will believe them, even against evidence to the contrary. Spooky tales can take on a life of their own. As a result, verité-style dramas are usually careful to drop hints that what you are seeing is not real.

The X Files makes no attempt to appear other than a series of spooky tales. Cloverfeild includes the destruction, by nuclear weapons, of New York City - so the events are clearly untrue. Blair Witch was billed as fiction, and the filming techniques were publicly discussed by the film-makers. Quarantine was fronted by a well-known actress clearly playing a role, as well as being billed as a fiction. Paranormal Activity was Blair Witch indoors, the cinematic release ends with clear CGI, and the cinematic techniques were openly discussed in public.

The verité style features ordinary locations, bad photography, art-school acting, and a plot which exploits established, cliché, motifs. The Fourth Kind mixes the verité "found footage" style with the more familiar, "based on a true story", dramatization. This is the opposite of what we are used to: documentary style presentation with "recreations" added to illustrate, otherwise boring, reports.

The archive footage follows the standard verité, found footage, approach. The footage is of remarkably poor quality, there are scanning artefacts, the colours are washed out, and the camera is mostly static - on a tripod some place or mounted on a patrol car. There are some tell-tales in the footage which suggest it is not intended to be taken for real life: the same props appear in different scenes, some of the footage is full screen at 16x9, which we would not expect from a c.2000 video camera, and some scenes show CGI effects like the enlarged eyes on Dr Tyler's interview. (Note that high quality video was routinely available in to 00s, washing out the colours and such artefacts are used by film-makers to indicate age in a recording just like flicker indicates old films, static indicates old sound recordings and sepia colours indicate vintage photos.) The Nome Alaska of the footage is not the real-life town (Nome is quite flat while there are mountains in the footage.)

The themes in the film follow standard abduction motifs and an underlying theory (aliens started human civilisation) even more well worn, in keeping with the reliance on cliché common to verité films. The alien smell comes from Communion, an early work featuring alien abduction, the washed-out colour is also a feature of The X Files, though not so extreme.

There are clues, via anachronism, in the plot as well. Possibly the most clear is the extraterrestrial language. It is presented as identical to ancient Sumerian, a dead language nobody knows how to pronounce. For the sake of study, an arbitrary, academic, pronunciation is accepted ... and this is what the extraterrestrials used in the film. The movie Stargate avoided this anachronism by making the ancient Egyptian language unintelligible until it was noticed that the native speakers were just pronouncing it differently from academic norms. More subtly, the most likely skeptical explanation of Dr Tyler's experiences, sleep paralysis and displacement psychosis, are introduced as themes early in the movie.

That this is 100% fiction aside, The Fourth Kind is strikingly true to the stronger accounts of alien abduction, as a phenomenon.

The film is fairly accurate in its depiction of the subjective reports of sleep paralysis and what comes out when these cases are investigated under hypnosis by people who believe in alien abductions, particularly when the therapist is also suffering some sort of trauma. That is what happens in the film.

Dr Tyler has a history of sleep paralysis from when she was young, she is also a suggestible personality as evidenced by how easily she can be hypnotised. Her husband, Will, commits suicide while she is asleep, but she hallucinates or otherwise becomes convinced that he was murdered in a manner inconsistent with the suicide. (He shot himself in the head, but she imagines a knife attack to the stomach.) Her son is hostile but uncommunicative and her daughter has hysterical blindness as a displacement psychosis. For some reason, her doctor (who also appears to be a colleague and mentor) has failed to confront her with the facts of her husbands suicide ... or, perhaps he has tried before and the results were somehow discouraging, perhaps he is too close to his patient. Whatever the reason, Tyler has been encouraged in her delusion. She has also been receiving hypnotherapy by someone who is encouraging the delusion.

Prior to his suicide Will was researching sleep disorders in Nome, a small town in Alaska. He has found some patients suffering insomnia and sleep paralysis who share an hallucination of an owl. Tyler decides to continue this research.

She proceeds to hypnotise the target subjects. These are not virgin subjects: they have already been part of Will's undocumented research. Shared hallucinations are common in sleep deprivation and sleep paralysis. The commonality comes from shared culture - perhaps the subjects have come across a folk myth concerning a white owl? Cultural conditions is a strong part of sleep hallucinations. In other cultures subjects report seeing angels or demons and imps. If this possibility was investigated, it did not form part of the film.

The first subject is easily hypnotised. He shows the usual strong response indicating he has been suffering sleep paralysis. He goes on to have a psychotic break in which he kills his family and himself. Tyler witnesses this and shows strong guilt, as a psychologist, over her failure to anticipate the break. She becomes convinced that the events are related to her husband's "murder" but does not explain why she believes this. In events leading up to the murder/suicide is the first Tyler come across some syllables which are later discovered to be a bit of disjointed nonsense in the Sumerian language.

Tyler is in the habit of recording her impressions on tape before going to bed then giving it to an assistant to be transcribed the next day. For some reason, one night, she failed to turn the recorder off. After her comments, there is a short pause, then dramatic screaming mixed with distorted glossolalia-appearing sounds, some of which appear to be like the Sumerian syllables before. The tape recorded sounds made by Tyler while asleep. It is not surprising that she was having nightmares themed around the previous dramatic events.

The second subject is hypnotised in the presence of a witness - Tyler's doctor - who plays the Scully (tame skeptic) role in the film. The subject is aware of what happened to the last subject, and is apprehensive. The session is characterised by violent convulsions. Wikipedia claims "levitation" occurred and levitation claims are common with violent convulsions though I did not see that on my viewing and the tame sceptic does not comment on it. Overall he is a bit of a wuss and his unwillingness to credibly challenge Tylers ideas contributes to the developing conflicts.

Tyler, influenced by a book of Will's linking extraterrestrials with ancient Sumer, decides to contact the author to help "translate" the weird syllables. Naturally he provides an interpretation consistent with his own obsessions. Our Scully should have suggested consulting another expert to corroborate the conclusions of the first.

The second subject is hypnotised again, in hospital, with the Scully and expert in attendance. The camera shows much the same convulsions (dramatisation shows supernatural levitation, but the archived footage camera footage is inconclusive due to a bad angle) as before, more glossolalia which is again interpreted as ancient Babylonian. The archive footage becomes extremely distorted towards the end. The convulsions are so severe the subject suffers spinal damage and is paralysed from the neck down.

Naturally these incidents are of concern to the police. Though her witnesses tell the police that she did not cause the injuries, she is kept under house arrest with a single deputy stationed out front. The sequence is recorded through the patrol cruiser's roof camera. (The house and mountains in the police camera footage are in Switzerland, not Alaska.) Initially all is quiet, then there are sounds of panic coming from the house. The deputy exits the car, but stops as the footage becomes badly distorted. He yells that an object has appeared over the house and the occupants are being dragged out. The visible part of the footage shows a round silhouette obscuring part of the sky. The house and trees also show as silhouettes in the footage so it is impossible to tell where or what the intruding silhouette is. The most compelling part of this scene is the deputies statements - since he is not looking through the camera. Later the deputy says he was confused and didn't know what he saw. We discover, through dramatisation, that Tyler's daughter is missing. Hysterical Tyler describes her daughter as having been taken in a beam of light from a UFO. The deputy did not report a beam of light.

Tyler is convinced not only that aliens have abducted her daughter but that she can contact them through being hypnotised herself. For some reason her doctor decides to help her in this and hypnotic regression is attempted to the time of the audio recording (the one with the screaming, after subject 1). The regression reveals only what Tyler has already decided has happened. There is more distorted Sumerian, which is clearer than previous examples, accompanied by convulsions and a hugely distorted audio/video recording.

Tyler reports that all three (herself, her doctor, and the Sumerian expert) were abducted, but only she remembers it. When finally confronted with the facts of her husbands suicide, she appeals to the recorded footage, arguing that just because she hallucinated that one event does not mean the rest was hallucinated. There is left hanging the possibility that Will's suicide had similar motivations as subject 1 - if the extraterrestrial hypothesis is accepted. This echoes Robert Anton Wilson in Werewolf Bridge: "Do not discount what I say because I am mad, I am mad because what I say is true."

On the weight of the evidence, and notwithstanding further statements from the deputy, what we have is a traumatised therapist transferring aspects of that trauma to susceptible patients via hypnotic suggestion. Herself suggestible, and delusional, her psychosis was reinforced by a well-meaning friend and an academic keen to reinforce his own ideas. Her daughter's mental disorder was a source of emotional pressure. It is unclear whether the daughter left (by the back way) by herself or was murdered and carried out. In Alaska, people wander off into the wood and die quite often. Some of the bodies go missing for years. However, foul play and a subsequent psychotic displacement cannot be ruled out.

I should repeat here though that the overwhelming evidence is that the "archive footage" is undeniably part of the fiction of the movie. The real Dr Tyler of the archive footage was played (uncredited) by Charlotte Milchard who was also in Mindflesh and Sunstroke. She even lists the role as "Co-Lead" in her CV. There are lots of photos online.

I don't think the archive footage is intended to be taken for "real". However, there has been a dearth of statements from the production concerning this (compare Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity). I would have expected to see Charlotte and Milla in photos posed together at some point, for example. I suspect that much of the criticism about the "faked" evidence is more to do with a feeling that the film-makers are insulting the audiences intelligence by overtly dressing the archive footage as factual. Had the statements to camera not been made, the film would have received more praise. I would have liked to see the film finish with an interview with a skeptical expert providing an analysis similar to above pointing out the sleep disorders and the problems with hypnotic regression in abduction claims. It could be framed as an independent report and would have tied together the films main themes nicely.

Overall the movie is fairly tense, and novel enough to be worth a look. It should be coming off the overnight rentals in NZ now - check it out. Just remember: it is entertainment.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Last Session

Last family planning session today. After making a lot of progress identifying the core issues Cathy has called the whole thing off. All that remains is to finalize the division of property and go our separate ways.