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2019 in films part 2

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands – They set a western in the Midlands in the modern era? How could that ever work? Well it did and really well. An all star cast with cameos from Vic and Bob too. 9/10

Terminator 2 – A rewatch but a highly anticipated one. You know when the sequel of a great film actually holds up to the orignal and surpasses it? This is one of the few times it happens. Great suspense, action, story, characters. It has everything. 10/10

Equilibrium – This film seemed really familiar. I could have watched it during my great film binge about 15 years ago. Either way it was a delight. As above, great action, storyline and suspense. With a nice twist. 10/10


MIB 3
– This actually wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it’d be. They’ve reprised Tommy Lee Jones from his crypt once again to star in this feature. Though he has little screen time himself, being played by a younger actor in the 60s. It was a lot better than MIB 2 but no way near as good as the original. The plot was lacking. 6/10


Jurassic World
– Why do all these reboots just fall so flat? They’re trying to emulate glories past but instead make a half-hearted attempt at something original. It just comes across as poor imitation. Standalone this movie would be fine, good even perhaps. But taken in the context of the original it’s not that great. Again is the plot that different? Also the film is flawed, why would you set a T-rex on the loose to catch another dinosaur? Now you have a T-rex problem… 5/10

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. Biopic of M.I.A. She has lead one interesting life. She had a tough upbringing what with the racism, being burgled and having a father who was head of a terrorist group. She found solace in music, which she later used to convey political messages for the downtrodden. She never forgot her roots which is nice. It does show the duplicity of the media, fuck the haters. The home movies she made herself came in handy after all. The film shows how the lines between terrorists and freedom fighters can become blurred. 9/10

The Wicker Man – So god damn creepy. I’ve known about this film for a long time but never watched it. The plot is great and there’s a twist ending which I sort of already guessed. There were certainly many disgusting scenes. I don’t think the pagan lobby were too happy about the depiction of their community. 9/10


Stretch and Bobbito
– I was a bit wary of watching a documentary related to Hip Hop as I don’t really have much interest in the genre. But this was more about an amateur radio station that ‘changed the world’. It’s quite amazing how many famous artists were scouted from this radio show. It’s sad how things went but good how they reconciled. I think I only like 3 or 4 tracks in the whole film! 7/10

Shutter Island – Started off strong, petered out in the middle, when the supposed antagonist was found early on. Then there was a surprise twist which turned the whole thing round and bumped it up a couple of points. 8/10

Dial M For Murdoch – Reviewed

Dial M for MurdochDial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detailed look at the phone hacking scandal that erupted into the public eye in the early 2010s. In essence, all Murdoch cares about is maximising sales and furthering his right-wing nutjob agenda. And he’ll achieve that by any means necessary. This lead to journalists blagging information from authorities, hacking phones and computers, either directly or indirectly, for more salacious stories. There was an unhealthy relationship with the police, paying them for information and also a revolving door where retirees would work for News International. The police were scared of ramifications of investigating News international properly. When victims started suing for damages, they got paid off and were made to sign NDAs. Management must have known what these huge payments were for. In fact, former employees say that, hacking was encouraged and endemic. At best management had wilful blindness, at worst they’re liars.

It’s funny how News International said they were sorry. Yeah, sorry you got caught. They obstructed the investigation at every turn, lied to select committees and destroyed evidence. It is highly alarming examining the level of contact between the Conservative Party and News International. It was long known that Cameron was in Murdoch’s pocket, going on horse rides with Rebekah Brooks (though it later transpired that Blair went to the christening of Murdoch’s grandson and became his godfather). The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, exchanged thousands of messages with a go-between (and even James Murdoch) at News International, giving him inside knowledge of how the BSkyB takeover bid was progressing and how to adjust the strategy when it hit roadblocks. Incredibly, Hunt was cleared of wrongdoing by the PM and actually promoted. Boris Johnson was also impotent in his response to the scandal.

The book is a treasure trove of facts, like police operation names are chosen at random. The reason the Murdoch press bashes the BBC is to strengthen their dominance of the media, specifically their bid for Sky. Why does something as benign as the Human Rights Act get lambasted by Fleet Street? I used to be flabbergasted by this, now I understand that the act gives devious press barons more legal exposure on the garbage they write about people, because of the right to privacy. Murdoch switched support from Labour to the Tories because Gordon Brown could not give assurances that he would deregulate the press further, after the election.

The book ends somewhat optimistically in that, now that the crimes have been brought to light, things will change. However, the authors acknowledge themselves, that Murdoch is still at the helm. Seven years on not much seems to have changed. Rebekah Brooks was never convicted and is now CEO of News UK the rebranded News International for one. As Private Eye have advocated, there needs to be a Leveson Inquiry Part Two, where rather than getting the press to agree to a voluntary code of practice, fines and jail time should be enforced in law against impropriety. The world will be a better place when this cancer on society is eliminated.

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price claimed that the committee’s members had been warned that if they had called Brooks [before the committee], their private lives would be raked over.

Boris Johnson [..] had been warned by the Met’s inquiry in 2006 that he had been hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, but he had not sued then or later; and though he was chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority (which oversaw London’s police force) he had also failed to do anything in July 2009 on publication of the Gordon Taylor story. Johnson knew he might need the full-blooded support of News International at the mayoral election in May 2012 or if he was to fulfil his long-held ambition to become Prime Minister.

As they raced to contact other victims of crimes, Scotland Yard had informed Graham Foulkes, whose 22-year-old son died in the 7/7 bombings in July 2005, of evidence that his phone had been hacked.

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The Modi Effect – Reviewed

The Modi Effect - Inside Narendra Modi's Campaign To Transform IndiaThe Modi Effect – Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign To Transform India by Lance Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew little of Modi before I read this book, which I picked up on a whim. What I learnt was that, he is a highly arrogant, egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. He refers to himself in the third person (which is a red flag right there) and takes advice from his astrologer. What kind of person has a suit tailored that has your name stitched into it over a thousand times? Worryingly, you can draw many parallels with Trump’s campaign for America: divisiveness, attacking the media/using social media, thin skinned and a populism strategy. Though at least Modi’s modus operandi is a little more subtle and less extreme.

On Godra, Price gives both sides to what happened, the reader will likely draw the conclusion that Modi did not do enough as Chief Minister to stop the violence quickly enough. It is difficult to say whether Modi really holds nationalistic views himself. It appears he does condone divisive rhetoric by his subordinates but is this to pacify the Sangh and win elections or is it because of his ideology?

Whatever your opinion of Modi or his politics, the man knows how to run a highly successful national campaign. Borrowing tropes from the Clinton, Obama and Blair campaigns and building on these with his own ideas. In sum, he made the whole election about himself, that rather than electing an amorphous party, the BJP, you were electing him. He embraced technology, beaming holograms into distant villages, where they didn’t even own a TV, he held umpteen rallies throughout the country and unleashed blistering attacks on Congress. Don’t forget to add in a couple of catchphrases into the mix as well. And it seems to have worked for him again in 2019 too.

It was quite impressive to see a man of humble beginnings (low caste, Dalit) and chai wala be elected Prime Minister with a majority in a country with over 1 billion in population. Let’s not forget that after Godra he was very much a pariah and there was resistance in the BJP against his selection. All this notwithstanding, the final chapter sees Price unleash his most blistering critique yet in The Modi Defect. As with any populist, it is likely that Modi has over promised and will under deliver as Price says. Not to say the PM hasn’t made some modest progress but his first budget wasn’t very radical and more in line with something Congress would do. Modi is essentially a crony capitalist, giving government jobs to friends and businessmen who helped him on his campaign trail, a different form of corruption than the usual cash for state jobs. The defect is the qualities that helped him get elected will stop him being successful in office.


Quotes

Whether in his heart Modi has moved on from his more hardline interpretations of Hindutva ideology is impossible to judge.

Sometime after 1500 BCE, in the early Vedic period, republics governed by assemblies became common. So much for the idea that the benevolent British who first bequeathed India democracy as a last act of generosity before leaving the country to fend for itself.

“I believe your life is pre-decided so why worry?”

– N. Modi

He has an ambivalent relationship with the journalists’ profession. He is desperate to know what they are saying about him and puts in enormous effort to ensure they write about him in the way he wants.

The Supreme Court expressed dismay that thirteen thirteen of the 45 ministers in Modi’s first government were facing pre-existing criminal charges, including rape, attempted murder and intimidation. […] The number of ministers implicated grew to 20 out of 66, almost a third.

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Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality – Reviewed

Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of RealityOur Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first parts of this book, mainstream Astrophysics and how we know the stuff we do. Tegmark told us how the ancients deduced values like the diameter of the Earth, merely by observing the position of the sun at two different points at the same time (work out the difference in the angle of the sun at noon, then scale this up using the distance they are apart). The ancients deduced that the Earth is spheroid, given that ships on the horizon disappear bottom first, and you see their tops last (Yes, flat-earthers are stupider than people from millennia ago).

I was a staunch skeptic of the multiverse but Tegmark argues well and has convinced me that some form of multiverse likely exists. If space is infinite, then there must be planets very similar to Earth in the unobservable universe (Level 1). I didn’t fully understand Level 2 (pockets of inflation with different values for constants) but I was willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. The so called many world’s interpretation (Level 3), I do find ridiculous and remain unconvinced (partly because I don’t fully understand it), the theory that the universe splits every time a decision is made. Tegmark does say that the Quantum Mechanics math is simplest in this interpretation and is the reason for apparent randomness in the universe. The Level 3 Universe lives in the infinite dimensional magical land of Hilbert Space, which we cannot reach, to test this. How convenient. He also unifies Level 1 and 3. I am rather ambivalent to the inclusion of his personal forays into academia and I’m not sure they add much. Though his tale about re-discovering decoherence was rather amusing. I always wondered that if the world was quantum mechanical, then why do we not observe quantum mechanical behaviour in our macroscopic world? The answer is decoherence or the breaking of “quantum secrecy” and is built on the idea of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The way I understand it is, once an object has interacted with something e.g. air, then decoherence occurs, the wavefunction appears to collapse as does the various superpositions, and we don’t get any quantum weirdness only classical physics.

The magic bullet for defeating the multiverse argument was that these hypotheses do not make any testable predictions and are therefore unscientific. Tegmark counters saying that the multiverse is a prediction of a testable theory, that of inflation. However, he later admits the theory of eternal inflation is flawed because the data doesn’t back it up (The measure problem). Later he backtracks on this, are you as confused as I am? To pacify your doubts of the multiverse he uses a bizarre theological argument borrowed from Alan Guth:”Cars are created by car factories, rabbits are created by rabbit parents and solar systems are created from gravitational collapse in giant molecular clouds. So it’s quite reasonable to assume that our Universe was created by some sort of universe-creation mechanism.” …And what created the universe-creation mechanism? Turtles all the way down!

Unfortunately, when the chapter on the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis progressed, it did devolve into philosophical gobbledegook and I struggled to follow his arguments. Helpfully, at the end of each chapter there is a summary containing the main points. A central question to the universe is why can mathematical equations describe reality and I think the author says, it is because it is a mathematical structure (Level 4, different equations of Physics). He says everything that can be expressed mathematically exists as a mathematical structure in life. Though the evidence he provides for Level 4 in a figure is rather tenuous, that of “Unreasonable effectiveness of math in physics”. His later argument is fine tuning, it is highly unlikely that numerous constants would all be finely tuned to ensure life.

The last chapter I really enjoyed where he talks about the future of physics and existential threats. Though I think the AI Singularity should be treated with skepticism. However, his idea that if an AI were to achieve sentience would effectively become a god (through omniscience), I agree with. Literally deus ex machina. He didn’t really explain what the death bubble hypothesis was in much detail. Self-referentially, he also deals with anti-intellectualism, something which is highly pertinent today. He argues we should use similar marketing techniques that opponents use without lowering ourselves to their levels of lies.

Quotes

If we’re lucky congress may solve a 20 year old problem today. When in fact they should be solving problems arising in the future.

My guess is that we’ll one day, understand consciousness as yet another phase of matter.

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Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice – Reviewed

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for JusticeRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a quote on the cover that says that it reads like a thriller, I can agree with that, it’s a real page-turner. Browder is a skilled writer who keeps you wanting more. There’s the classic trope, movie like, whereby the inaugural chapter is set in the future and ends on a cliff hanger, to be continued much later on.

I learned about the Katyn principle, where the Soviets committed a massacre and to cover it up, issued repeated denials and manufactured evidence. Putin has made this machinery more powerful instead of dismantling it. The Russian response to the so called “Browder deception”, is predictable. Denials, misinformation, straight out of the Soviet handbook. They even teach this to the kids in Russia. It is obvious the Russian state is at fault here. The red notice against Browder has never been enforced and Russia’s automatic right to issue red notices has been revoked. I find it highly unlikely that Browder would be able to fool the US government, the EU and Interpol. Putin of course has a history of murdering and imprisoning his opponents.

Browder is quite the badass. He moved to post-Soviet Russia, made an absolute killing on the stock market, bagged top investors, took on Putin/Oligarchs and caused a notorious Russian beauty to melt her heart for him. I was going to bust his chops for referring to women as “beautiful” or “pretty” umpteen times, but there was an occasion where he referred to a man has handsome so I don’t think he was sexualising the women. Alas, it seems as though the videos on the Russian Untouchables website are no longer available. An important lesson he learns early in his childhood is that, the only way to stop bullies is to stand up to them.

It is of course sad to read that Putin et al have stolen billions from the Russian people and plundered it’s natural resources. His minions also pocket millions to do his bidding. One can only hope that one day the web of lies and corruption will be fully exposed.

My admiration for John McCain grew, once I learned that he was a co-sponsor of the Sergei Magnitsky act. Who knows, without him the bill may have never been enshrined in law or may have taken significantly longer. The details of Sergei’s ordeal are harrowing and although the act will bring some solace to the victims, I hope there will be a global Magnitsky act one day. Where perpetrators of human rights abuse will be sanctioned irrespective of country.

Quotes

‘Time for the titty-twisters, Billy Browder! Time for the titty-twisters!’

It was all a show, a Potemkin court. This is Russia today. A stuffy room presided over by a corrupt judge, policed by unthinking guards, with lawyers who are there just to give the appearance of a real trial, and with no defendant in the cage. A place where lies reign supreme. A place where two and two is still five, white is still black, and up is still down. A place where convictions are certain, and guilt a given. Where a foreigner can be convicted in absentia of crimes he did not commit.

A place where an innocent man who was murdered by the state, a man whose only crime was loving his country too much, can be made to suffer from beyond the grave.

This is Russia today.

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James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes – Reviewed

James Acaster's Classic ScrapesJames Acaster’s Classic Scrapes by James Acaster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The quintessential toilet book. The prose is rather unsophisticated, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a welcome break from some of the heavier stuff I read. The title is a euphemism for Acaster’s fuck-ups, which he regaled on Radio X. They’re mostly average, though there are a couple of stories that do stick in the mind, like his days working in a kitchen and getting hit in the nuts by thrown potatoes. He is mostly responsible for the situations he lands himself in. I guess we’ll never know where the parrot goes at 6 pm after all…

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2019 in films part 1

Flash Gordon – I guess you could call this a cult classic. I felt compelled to watch this due to the umpteen references in popular culture. It was bit of a damp squib. It’s a naff, 1980s, poor man’s Star Wars. The acting, the sets and special effects are all bad. It’s as though they made Space Balls into a serious film. You can’t get away with saying they did they best they could, with the technology they had at the time. Star Wars and 2001 were both made before this and look much better. Maybe they had bigger budgets. Also Blessed says ‘Gordon’s alive!” with more gusto in real life than he even did in the film… 5/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Stylistically this film is unique and quite quaint. It keeps your attention well and somehow the naff special effects don’t detract from the cinematography, rather add to it. It’s funny and gripping, though Gustave H speaks a little too quickly for my liking 8.5/10

The Revanant – Disgusting. It’s funny how retrospectively, native Americans are cast as the villains in Hollywood cinema, when it was the white Europeans who committed mass genocide on the indigenous people isn’t it? That aside (I was rooting for the natives), it’s a good thriller. The gore is a little too much, though paltry compared to Bone Tomahawk. The bear scene was impressive for the acting and CGI. 9/10

Fahrenheit 11/9 – I don’t really remember much. He did cover the Michigan water scandal, the new wave of progressive Dems and why the midterms were so important. He argued that when Democrats become centrists, there’s little difference between them and Republicans and difficult to win elections. I also remember the footage of Obama pretending to drink contaminated water. Shameful. 9/10

The Mule – Clint Eastwood is a shitty person but he’s still a good actor. This is a true story about a octogenerian drug smuggler. Quite entertaining with a predictable ending. 7.5/10

Bandersnatch – Good concept in theory. In reality, I don’t want to play a game whilst watching a film. Especially when some of the choices are pointless e.g. choose which music to listen to on the bus. Good storyline overall. 8/10

Birdman – Surreal, blurs the lines of fiction and reality. Nothing to write home about. 7.5/10

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – My gripe is that the protagonist glorifies terrorism. Though the twist was nice. It’s not as bad as everyone says it was. Average at best. 7/10

The Adventures of Tintin – Loses a point for being a kids film, it’s also plagued by the uncanny valley. The writers have blatantly lifted the plot from the first two episodes of the cartoon. 7/10

Gone Girl – What a car crash of a film throughout. Captivating and a fitting ending. 10/10

Gladiator – I saw this over 17 years ago on VHS™, and didn’t remember anything. A fantastic film: good plot, good action and good acting. Joaquin Phoenix looks very strange in this.  10/10

Transsiberian – I like films set in unusual places. The female protagonist was difficult to empathize with and some of her decisions questionable. 8/10

 

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Reviewed

So You've Been Publicly ShamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite entertaining overall, it’s a collection of stories about people who have been shamed (surprising I know). The inaugural chapter is the one I enjoyed the most, where Ronson employs a personal cyber army, to leverage the shutdown of a spambot Twitter account, that was stealing his identity. The Jonah Lehrer saga I didn’t find particularly interesting, though I did find the idea of him asking for forgiveness in the vicinity of a live tweet wall, rather hilarious and outrageous. I am glad the whole book didn’t end up being about him.

I would have enjoyed this book more I think, if I hadn’t already known about some of the stories it told. Though I did experience nostalgic schadenfreude reading about Justine Sacco again, which made international news at the time. Looking at “Donglegate” I was initially pleased to see the instigator receive some form of justice after exposing an innocuous private joke. Though on reflection, the punishment certainly didn’t fit the crime.

There was an interesting titbit about the Stasi’s tracking method. They’d spray victims with something radioactive thereby making it easier to track them through a crowd using a Geiger counter. I already knew that the Stamford Prision experiments were bunk and Zimbardo was deceitful but it was nice to see why in a little more detail. For one thing, we don’t hear about that sort of behaviour in real life do we? There was only one prison officer who went out of line and that was because he was being observed and hammed it up a la Cool Hand Luke for Zimbardo (he wanted him to have good results). Zimbardo also gave the officers a pep talk which of course influenced things. It was sad to hear that the prison reforms in New Jersey were halted, because in part, the governor thought that people would incarcerate themselves to get a free college education. Even if that was true, which it isn’t, surely you should look into reducing the cost of college?

I do find the idea of Ronson lurking on the infamous /b/ board and soliciting requests for interview quite funny. Vaguely I do remember hearing about this. The story of him going undercover as a lady and him visiting a BDSM porn shoot were both hilarious. I was glad to also learn that ‘Radical Honesty’ is bullshit and I saw parrallels of Donald Trump with the disgraced academic Gustave Le Bon. It is not surprising, that firms exist that can ‘erase’ bad stories about you from search engine results. It’s big business.

Ronson’s moral of the book is essentially to moderate our punishment behaviours on social media and not to be so quick to jump to conclusions. Sadly in the years since it was written, I doubt if that has happened, if anything things have gotten worse. These sorts of behaviours do have real impacts, where people who have been shamed into taking their own lives. The author explains how on many occasions throughout history, people do evil things because they thought they were morally right. So when users are threatening someone online for a minor transgression they think they are doing the right thing. Like when the Nazis committed mass genocide they thought they were doing the world a favour – that they were the good guys. The book raises a lot of issues: who should be shamed? For how long? And in what way? Despite being a few years old the book is certainly still contemporarenous, given the zeitgeist of social media.

She told me about her favorite 4chan thread. It was started by ‘a guy who’s genuinely in love with his dog, and his dog went in heat, and so he went around collecting samples and injecting them into his penis and he fucked his dog and got her pregnant and they’re his puppies’. Mercedes laughed. ‘That’s the thread I told the FBI about when they asked me about 4chan, and some of the officers actually got up and left the room’

– Mercedes Haefer.

He said […] if I wanted to know more about his work I should google him. I did and immediately saw many close-ups of his anus.

– Ronson getting inadvertently trolled by Connor Habib

‘He said, “We have to stop the idea of giving free college education to inmates,’ Gilligan told me, ‘otherwise people who are too poor to go to college are going to start comitting crimes so they can get sent to prison for a free education”‘

– William ‘The idiot’ Weld

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Ideal Car

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my ideal car would be like, if I do end up buying another one.

I’m not too bothered about looks but feature-wise I’d imagine:

  • Parking sensors
  • Built in sat nav
  • Built in dash cam
  • Tinted windows
  • Bluetooth audio player
  • Heated windscreen
  • Heated seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Electric or hybrid
  • Cruise control
  • Smart wipers – they only wipe the screen when needed, instead of a fixed rate
  • Japanese

And a little futuristic:

  • Able to switch between automatic and manual – use manual for most of the time and automatic in slow moving traffic.
  • Augmented reality windscreen – images would we projected onto the windscreen. So it could paint the road you need to take the same colour.
  • Transitions windows – go darker when sunny automatically, but clear in seconds.

Fantasy Government

I believe in meritocracy, the people below mostly have qualifications for their posts.

Prime Minister: Jeremy Paxman
Deputy Prime Minister: James O’Brien
Health Secretary: Dr Phil Hammond
Science Secretary: Dr Ben Goldacre
Home Secretary: Brian Paddick
Chancellor: Martin Lewis
Foreign Secretary:Michael Palin
EU commissioner: Kenneth Clarke
Justice Secretary: The Secret Barrister
Defence: Andy McNab
Transport: Simon Calder
Pensions: Paul Lewis
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Sir Tim Berner’s Lee
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: David Fishwick
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Junior Minister Jamie Oliver)
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Education: Marcus du Sautoy
Scotland: Frankie Boyle
N. Ireland:Patrick Kielty