Saturday, 9 June 2018

Great Women "Damed" in the Birthday Honours List

I am so inspired. Three of my favourite famous women have been "damed" in the Honours. (Yes I just made that word up - if men can be knighted then women can be damed.) 

Anyway, here they are, the irrepressible and most articulate in the defence of women's rights, Prof. Mary Beard, the unforgettable actor Emma Thompson and brave Kate Adie whose hardback I have telling of her journalistic missions to far-flung and often hostile countries. 

Just my subjective personal preferences, they are three among many creative and humanitarian people, both male and female, who have been honoured.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Whistler's Mother Gave Birth to Him Today - Born 10 July 1834

and here she is, looking relaxed, a Victorian icon, Whistler's Mother Anna
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
While most male artists were busy painting wives, mistresses and pretty models, Whistler (1834-1903) chose to paint his mother.  According to his Wikipedia page, in 1871 Anna modellled for him in Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea. She must have been very proud that her son wanted to preserve her in oils for posterity.

Although - it wasn't quite like that. There is a backstory. An MP had asked Whistler to paint his daughter Maggie Graham, according to  It appears Maggie got fed up, and so Whistler was left with a prepared canvass doing nothing.

So his asked his Mum to sit in. The result has been described as iconic as the Mona Lisa.

The ironic thing about this painting is that it was almost rejected by the Royal Academy in 1872, but ended up being widely admired and feted worldwide, which must have been very satisfying for the artist. Its permanent home, when it's not touring is in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, France.

Whistler's Wikipedia page quotes the artist after his painting began to attracted attention::

"Just think — to go and look at one's own picture hanging on the walls of Luxembourg — remembering how it had been treated in England — to be met everywhere with deference and respect...and to know that all this is ... a tremendous slap in the face to the Academy and the rest! Really it is like a dream."

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Human Enhancement - Is it a Bad Thing to Want to Look Better than Well?

Public Domain:

Genetic testing and engineering pose complex moral and cultural dilemmas for scientists, philosophers and humanity in general. Some may win, some must lose - how do we reconcile our differences?

Cures and preventative therapies to combat human diseases are helping to improve our health and extend our lifespan. There is, of course, a downside; for example, although we now live longer, we have to endure a poorer quality of life for a much higher percentage of its total span. Being human, we generally consider that life, however difficult, is better than no life at all. But human enhancement, in the sense of making us, in Michael Selgelid's words "better than well," is a subject of intense debate as discussed in his article "A Moderate Approach to Enhancement."
The following "improvements" to our lives are no longer merely speculation.We can, if we want to:
1.   Genetically test IVF embryos before they are implanted, so that only those with healthy and positive qualities are chosen.
2.   Following on from item 1, parents might eventually select qualities with which to endow their offspring, for example intelligence, height, beauty, strength, etc. These "designer" children would, of course, enjoy better quality lives.
3.   Genetic therapy might remove a "disease-causing genetic missing sequence."
4.   Following on from item 3, it might then be possible to enhance a person's genome for pure human enhancement where there is no threat to life.
Many people are comfortable with the idea that enhancement procedures could, and should, be used to combat disease providing they are safe. But - to interfere with nature merely for enhancement, just for acquiring "desirable traits" presents, for some, a moral dilemma.
So what is morally wrong with human enhancement?
The main objection put forward by Michael Selgelid is that of the social consequences. The procedures would only be available to those able to afford them, leading to an imbalance in social equality. 
"It is hard," he says, "to imagine that they would be made freely available to all via universal healthcare systems, which, due to resource constraints, are often unable to provide even necessary services to all who need them."  
It follows from this that wealthy people and their children would do better than poor people and their children, increasing the division between those who have and those who must go without.
We might now look at the philosophy of objectivism as propounded by Russian-born American novelist, Ayn Rand, who maintained that we should not sacrifice our own lives to others, nor should we sacrifice others' lives to ourselves. 
In principle, this seems rational, embodies respect for the individual, promotes personal responsibility and rational self-interest, and the constitutional protection of an individual's rights.  Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D. in "Against Environmentalism" explains her theory which claims that "things qualify as good or evil, valuable or detrimental, only insofar as they serve or frustrate the ultimate value, and the ultimate value is one's life." Rand says, in The Virtue of Selfishness, page 27: 
"Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man - in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life." 
But, here there is a difficulty; the need to reconcile asserting the ultimate value of one's own life when it actually devalues the life of another person or persons. How do we reconcile this difficulty?
Why is genetic enhancement different from other kinds of enhancement?
Michael Selgelid points out:
"We already tolerate a wide variety of inequality-promoting non-genetic enhancements."  
Selgelid is talking about the comfortable lifestyles of the rich; for example, the sports, music and arts lessons, the special schools and holidays. Is there, he asks, any difference between genetic enhancement and the other kinds of enhancement?  
I am not sure whether this is a valid argument. The fact that inequality already exists in society is surely not a good reason to condone further inequalities, in other words, "Two wrongs don't make a right!"  What Michael Selgelid actually concludes is that the main difficulty would be "scale." If the practices became widespread, then "their impact on equality could turn out to be much greater than that which results from currently available non-genetic means of enhancement."
Not only would this be unjust, but democracy and social stability could be under threat. There is, already, a great injustice in medical research resources, where 90 per cent of research focusses on ten per cent of global diseases because it targets drugs expected to provide the maximum profit. Quality of life overall could plummet due to the drain on resources caused by genetic human enhancement. As Rand says, inThe Virtue of Selfishness, page 16: 
"The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: "of value to whom and for what?"
Empirical and Philosophical Questions
The unresolved questions must address the inequality that might result from unrestricted human enhancement, and the impact that this unrestricted practice might have overall. But, Selgelid asserts, these are really empirical questions, and not purely philosophical questions. The philosophical questions 
"...concern how the value of personal liberty should be weighed against social equality and welfare in cases where these values conflict." 
This brings into focus the important concept of liberty, although Michael Selgelid is quick to point out that no quality should necessarily have precedence over others.
"Utilitarians," he says, "argue that aggregate benefit is the only thing that ultimately matters to society, ie. the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people, should always be promoted, even at the expense of liberty and equality." 
Egalitarians on the other hand, favour equality above all, while libertarians, of course, are intent on the value of liberty. Each stance has values of right and values of wrong due to the weight placed on the quality they emphasise. As far as Selgelid is concerned, this means they are "out-of-line with commonsense, ethical thinking and what is generally considered to be good policy-making."
Michael Selgelid concludes that the answer must be to maintain balance and apply trade-offs between the qualities of liberty, equality and utility in order to determine:
 "how great the costs of enhancement would need to be for us to be justified in denying people the freedom to enhance themselves and their offspring, and to what extent." 
This, I believe, is one of the most difficult moral dilemmas the human race has had to address and it will be interesting, and maybe even frightening, to see how the situation develops.
·      Berliner, Michael S. "Against Environmentalism," Ayn Rand Institute: Accessed 28 December 2013.
·      Selgelid, Michael, "A Moderate Approach to Enhancement,"Philosophy Now, Issue 91, July/August 2012.
·      Harwood, Jeremy, "Ayn Rand," Philosophy - 100 Great Thinkers, Quercus, 2010.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

23 March, Six Years Ago Today - Goodbye to Elizabeth Taylor, the World's Most Beautiful Screen Goddess

Public Domain

Elizabeth Taylor was an actress of immeasurable emotional depth and beauty. In her heyday, men around the world adored her and women wanted to be like her.

Elizabeth Taylor was born to beauty and success, a never-to-be-forgotten British-born icon of stage and screen and a "billionairess" in her own right.

For playing Cleoptatra in 1963, she is credited with the distinction of almost bankrupting 20th Century Fox, commanding a $1m fee, which, after lawsuit and counter lawsuit between the stars and the film company, was increased to around $7m. She performed her role of Cleopatra alongside her Welsh husband, Richard Burton, who played Mark Anthony.
In 1991, a deal was struck with the cosmetic giant, Elizabeth Arden, to market perfumes under Taylor's name and "White Diamonds" and "Passion" produced sales last year of $69m.
A Unique Childhood Star
She was born in 1932 and, as a child, lived in London near Hampstead Heath, where she rode her horse bareback and went to ballet classes like any other middle-class girl. She and her parents left the UK for America when the second World War broke out and they lived in Beverley Hills. Here, this talented young girl won a part in Lassie Come Home, (1943) and later, in National Velvet, (1944).
Taylor is remembered fondly by other actresses who worked with her. Angela Lansbury remembers a strikingly beautiful little girl with bright violet eyes and black hair. Shirley MacLaine comments on the maturity and extreme emotional depth of her performances.
Elizabeth moved, effortlessly, from child-star to adult actress. Her first adult film with Montgomery Clift was A Place in the Sun, followed by many more, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Seven Husbands - Eight Marriages
Taylor had seven husbands and eight marriages, as she married Richard Burton twice:
  • Conrad Hilton ~ 1950
  • Michael Wilding ~ 1952
  • Mike Todd ~ 1957
  • Eddie Fisher ~ 1961
  • Richard Burton ~ 1969
  • Richard Burton ~ 1975
  • John Warner ~ 1977
  • Larry Fortensky ~ 1991
Elizabeth Taylor was greatly influenced by her second husband, Mike Todd and deeply traumatised when he died in a plane crash after just over a year of marriage.

The chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was intense and their relationship was volatile. 

I remember watching a television interview many years ago, in the late sixties or early seventies - Richard wanted something from Elizabeth's handbag and he literally took it from her and riffled through it. She glanced at him sideways, looking half-pleased, as though she welcomed that level of intimacy between them and Burton's presumption that it was actually okay to do that.

She was not always so passive. They argued frequently, yet they found it hard to be apart.
Elizabeth Taylor divorced her last and her eighth husband, Larry Fortensky in 1996.

A Great Loss to the World, but Her Legacy Lives On

At the age of 79 on Wednesday 23 March 2011, Elizabeth Taylor died of congestive heart failure. She'd been ill for a long time and had become overweight and wheelchair bound, but she never lost that indefinable sparkle and overt charisma that were so integral to her persona.

Since her death, hand-written letters have been revealed detailing her young romance with William Pawley Jr dating back to 1949, in which she expresses her great love for this young man. "I've never known this kind of love before - it's so perfect and complete - and mature," she says. 

Charitable Works

Elizabeth Taylor contributed generously to charitable causes. When her close friend, Rock Hudson, died in 1985, Elizabeth Taylor set up her Aids foundation which raised $270m. In 1993, she received an honorary Oscar for outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes and you can watch the video of her acceptance speech by clicking here.

  • "Not just an icon, Elizabeth Taylor was also worth a billion dollars." The Independent. 30 March 2011.
  • England's Elizabeth - Elizabeth Taylor, BBC4, 31 Ma

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Art of Wildlife Documentary Filming

Slow-motion film showed details the human eyes could not
perceive, transforming our undestanding of nature..
Image Copyright Janet Cameron
Sir David Attenborough's easy, friendly style has made him a familiar face on our TV screens and has endeared him over the years to millions of people. Part of his success is surely due to the sense of genuine wonder he conveys at each new discovery. Even after such a long and distinguished career, he is charmed by every new creature he encounters, no matter how bizarre.  Attenborough truly loves his subject in all its many facets and it feels like a privilege to share in his enthusiasm.
Attenborough says that the revelations of the past sixty years have transformed not only our understanding of the natural world but our attitude towards it.

Early filming

Sir David Attenborough describes his delight at seeing his first wildlife film when Cherry Kearton was making friends with some jackass penguins in 1934. At the time, young David was only eight. In those days, cameras were huge, cumbersome items and had to be driven by hand. Attenborough remarks on how unscientific yet how entertaining Cherry Kearton's presentation appears to us today, as he waffles on about a penguin flip, flopping and flapping about like the female she was. Somewhat non-pc by today's standards!

As time passed and camera technology advanced, wildlife photographers were able to achieve better and better shots. During the 1950s, most wildlife was still unfilmed and also unseen except by explorers. Most people were thrilled and surprised because, whatever they were shown, it was new and exciting.  At this time, filming was in black and white, but gradually, further technical innovations revealed more detail.  Attenborough had to describe accurately all the colours and markings of the exotic creatures presented to the public for the first time.

Filming Underwater - Hans and Lotte Hass Swim with Sharks

There was a breakthrough in the 1960s when Australian biologist and film-maker, Hans Hass, constructed a special housing for his camera so he could take it underwater and film sea life. Along with his wife Lotte, he scuba dived with his underwater camera. The young couple swam among sharks, creatures that, at that time, had a fearsome reputation. Attenborough says of the public reaction to the filming: "The nation was astounded"  and he remarked that this film changed our collective perception about sharks.

Wildlife in Colour and then ~ video!

During the 1960s a second TV network introduced colour, an amazing breakthrough, especially for art, science and wildlife programmes. Sir David Attenborough filmed thirteen one-hour programmes in his Life on Earth series, covering thirty countries. He explains how thrilling it was to be able to present a programme where he could be seen skipping from one continent to another within several short sequences. Filming took place, for example, in Morocco, Japan and Australia and the films were watched by 500 million people.

The documentary was interspersed with amusing anecdotes, for example, the time the naturalists were attempting to talk underwater by using a "bubble helmet" and microphone. Attenborough's bubble helmet was faulty and started filling up, much to his horror. He explains the joy of watching dolphins and realising the extent of their sociability and their intelligence. These beautiful, curious creatures adored playing with any bits and pieces, like twigs, that they could find to toss about.
Until 1980, it was only possible to film for about ten minutes underwater, but then the new video cameras changed all that, and the film could run for 30 minutes, recording extraordinary behaviour never before seen.

Night-time Filming Reveals Uncomfortable Truths

Night-time filming was problematic, as if you shone a spotlight in order to film an animal, all you captured was the sight of your subject running away. On one occasion in 1972, bats were flying around Attenborough's head in a panic while the smell of ammonia from their droppings assailed his nostrils. Then the lights were turned out to calm the bats, and, despite the team being convinced of the bats' infallible radar, one flew straight into Sir David Attenborough's face! 

All of these problems were eventually solved by the use of infrared light. Most of lion activity takes place at night, and in 1990 a pride of lions was filmed chasing and bringing down an elephant, something people might not otherwise have known. Nevertheless, it was a distressing sequence to watch. A kiwi looking for sandhoppers was also filmed, and the bird never knew anyone was there. Iguanas in the Galapagos were shown to lose all their heat when they dived for food. After the hunt, they had to bask in the sun to "recharge" their energy. A rattlesnake stalked an unsuspecting mouse, and a springtail jumped 15 cm into the air, equivalent to a human leaping over the Eiffel Tower.

Slow-motion and Filming at Speed

Slow motion produced further amazing footage, including the flight of a kestrel, showing movements that could never be perceived by the naked eye. Speed helped us to see the struggle for survival among plant life. Most cameras use 25 frames per second. One frame per second speeds everything up 25 times, revealing that the most aggressive plant is probably the bramble, waving from side to side.

"The wonderful thing about wildlife film-making is that there is always something to surprise you," says Sir David Attenborough. "No matter how much you've seen and filmed."

Aerial Filming

Filming in the air from small planes in order to get an overview, for example, of wildlife in Africa, proved difficult. The noise of the engine would frighten the animals so researchers started to use balloons. That wasn't too successful as the wind frequently blew them in the wrong direction. Helicopters were able to fly high but the vibration of the plane would affect the quality of the filming. A stabilising mount was invented that kept the camera vibration-free.

Now it was possible to film successfully regardless of whether you were on land, in the sea or up in the air! 

One of the pinnacles of wildlife success was that of Mark Smith, who in the winter of 2007 went to Pakistan to try to film the snow leopard. It took a long time and lots of patience, but eventually, at the turn of the New Year, he captured shots of a snow leopard lying sphinx-like on the mountain. Altogether, he was in Pakistan for eight months.

Not only did he get shots of the snow leopard, but the animal turned out to be a new mum. The result was a euphoric victory for Mark Smith, who secured beautiful images of both mother and cub.  

Attenborough, David, "Life on Camera" Part 1, 60 Years in the Wild, BBC and THIRTEEN in association with WNET New York Public and Media. Produced and Directed by Miles Barton, First broadcast: 16 November, 2012.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Problems of Definitions in the Philosophy of Art

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci


The terms 'necessary condition' and 'sufficient condition' are used to attempt to define the qualities that make a work of art. A 'necessary condition' is a quality without which the work would not meet the requirement of being judged 'art'. It should apply, in common, to all works that are described as art. For example, X is a necessary condition of Y if, and only if, Y cannot be without X.  
A 'feeling' is not a 'necessary condition of art, says the philospher, Oswald Hanfling, "...someone may create a work of art, say a beautiful vase, without any intention of passing on feelings he has lived through."
'Sufficient condition' specifies a quality that may be defined as follows: 
X is a 'sufficient condition' of Y, if X, by itself, guarantees Y. In other words, a 'sufficient condition' is present in a work of art and is sufficient in itself to justify the label of art. If the quality is not sufficient, this could be because this quality may also be present in other artefacts or works of nature that are not art. Hanfling asks if 'beauty' can be considered a 'sufficient condition' of art and concludes that it cannot. 
"No, for many natural objects, scenery, etc. are beautiful without being works of art."
Hanfling looks at a quality shown by W. Tatarkiewicz, which considers the effect of art on the receipient: "...capable of evoking delight or emotion or shock. Hanfling says this cannot stand as a 'sufficient condition' because:
"...if fond parents take photographs of their children, these may be capable of producing delight... it would not follow they were works of art."

The Historicist Fallacy
The philosopher, Monroe Beardsley, questions the 'historicist fallacy' - that philosophy cannot judge past societies or epochs in modern terms. The 'historicist fallacy' is that art means no more than how a given historical period conceives it to be, which leads to the 'radical relativist" view that no conceptual scheme is better than any other. "But, evolving a better literary theory... than they had, would not prevent us from grasping their beliefs." 
He argues that once people thought whales were fish, but that this does not prevent us from studying the early stages of the whaling industry. He says, "What we want to understand... is what is going on?"
Beardsley's Key Presuppositions
Beardsley's first meta-aesthetic is that aesthetic theory "... should mark a distinction that is theoretically significant." Secondly, "...that in selecting key terms for aesthetic theory, we ought to stay as close as convenient to ordinary use." Beardsley's third meta-aesthetic condition is that artwork "...should be of the greatest possible utility to inquirers in other fields besides aesthetics" and especially in the fields of art history and anthropology. Fourthly, he believes that " and the aesthetic should be conceptually linked."
Beardsley's necessary condition for art is that it should be an aesthetic experience. His sufficient conditions are that it is either " arrangement of conditions intended to be capable of affording an experience with marked aesthetic character, or belonging to a type of arrangement typically intended to have this capacity."
In conclusion, the key presuppositions of Beardsley's theory are as follows:
·      A work of art must be an aesthetic experience where participation is active and searching.
·      It is not necessary that the artist's intention was to produce a work of art. Art can be produced by creating religious artefacts, for instance. He states, regarding the painters of Lascaux who probably did not know they were producing art, "But it does not follow that they were not producing art."
·      Other periods and cultures can be judged using modern theory in the context of their own beliefs.
·      Beardsley, Monroe C, "Redefining Art" Theories of Art and Beauty, The Open University, 1991.
·      Hanfling, Oswald, 'The Problem of Definition' Philosophical Aesthetics, Blackwell Publishers, 1992.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Terrorist Alert at Luton Airport - Sinister Suspect: Dodgy-Looking Old Lady

Overzealous security staff at Luton Airport get heated and
threaten that abusive behaviour awaits me at Tel Aviv's
 Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Tel Aviv, Copyright Janet Cameron

This happened in 2013, but it had such an effect on me it's as though it was yesterday. And all because of the metal bracelet.

When the bell rang as I walked through the scanner at Luton Airport, I was happy to relinquish my metal bracelet, which was immediately taken away for further investigation. As requested by security staff, I returned back through the scanner. There were no incriminating bell-like sounds and so I assumed I was clear. After all, to most people, this absense of scanner response might seem an indication that the bracelet was responsible for the original warning bell and not a ticking bomb strapped round my middle. But not to Luton Airport security. And so, the drama commenced.

Thoroughly Frisked and Scanned

I had to ask for a chair, so I could remove my lace-up boots. One was, eventually, found. Then I was brusquely told to stand up and lift my arms while a young woman thoroughly frisked me, up and down my body, round and round my waist. It seemed to go on forever. "Do you know, I am 70-years-old," I told the woman, "I can't believe this is happening to me. Do I really look like a terrorist?"  A security man standing nearby decided to pitch in, and asked me where I was going. "To Israel," I replied.
Meantime, the young woman was now working on me with a hand-held scanner, up and down my body. Then I had to place a foot on a stool, first right, then left, so she could work my legs, inside and out. I could feel my face burning with embarrassment, and I continued complaining. "You will get much worse than that in Israel," said the man, who seemed intent on scaring me, while, at the same time, displaying his racism. "They are much worse than we are here. You just wait and see what happens there." He warmed to his theme, enjoying his scaremongering. "I know, because I worked at Sharm el Sheikh," he declared.
Sharm el Sheikh is, of course, in Egypt but I suppose that was near enough for him!
Suffer in Silence?  Not me!
I accept I can be pretty vocal when I feel my personal space is being abused for no good reason, especially when I am feeling humiliated. So, I dare say that I had triggered his reaction. Even so, I thought those picked for that job, involving as it does, the potential for upsetting people, would have been trained to show some respect and exhibit calming behaviour, never mind the blatant racism! But no such luck.  I replied that I had "evidence" to show that my entry was genuine, (photos and identity numbers of my friends) but that, it seemed, would make no difference. I began to feel afraid, wondering if it was true and that I might be abused, and whether, maybe, I shouldn't have come.
Eventually, I was allowed a chair to replace my boots and my bracelet was returned. I was travelling, mostly, with Israelis and was shown considerable kindness, a willingness to help me with my case and allow me to go in front of them and I felt quite touched by this. Later, on the plane, I found I was sitting next to two young Israeli men. They were surprised when they discovered I'd thrown my bracelet in the rubbish bag brought around by the flight attendants. I'd actually discarded it quietly, without a fuss, placing it between some other rubbish to conceal it, but I guess the flight attendants check everything out. They brought it back to me. I said it had got me into trouble with security and I didn't want it anymore. The truth was I was so fazed by the experience I didn't want ever to lay eyes upon that bracelet again.
"You didn't have to throw away your bracelet," said one of the young men. "No Israeli security officers would search you like they did at Luton because of a metal bracelet." The men said that their security were trained to search out real suspects and that, in no way, did I fit the terrorist profile. In the unlikely event that a search was appropriate, as a woman of mature years, I would have been taken to a private room, not subjected to such an embarrassing ordeal in public.
Clearly, the men were also concerned that their countrymen had been so maligned by the insensitive British security officer. Then they said that they wanted to make it up to me for what had happened to me at Luton.
I Enter Israel in Style in a Chauffeur-Driven Car
So it was, that on arrival at Tel Aviv, they, together with another young woman travelling with them and "yours truly" were picked up by a chauffeur driven diplomatic four-wheel drive and whisked off to the checkout, bypassing the long queue of Easyjet passengers trailing across the tarmac. The Israeli officer glanced over my passport and presented it back to me with my diplomatic pass, headlined in both Hebrew and English "State of Israel - Border Control" and on the reverse: "Keep as a certificate of Border Control approval."  It would, explained my Israeli Knights in Shining Armour, also serve me on my return journey. They wanted me to know that Israelis had more respect for older people than their British counterparts and were smart enough to sniff out the real suspects.
I would have liked to stick up for my own nation, but how could I after such a demonstration of inadequacy followed by the kind and gentle treatment of the Israelis I'd encountered? One can only speak as one finds! My return journey was equally unproblematic, more so because of the pass, but I did observe the Israeli attitude toward my fellow passengers at Ben Gurion Airport and no one was being treated as I had been treated at Luton.
I have always, previously travelled from Gatwick, and although security is stringent there, there does seem to be a better system and a certain respect for passengers. I will most definitely avoid Luton Airport in future and I'm just