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2018 in Films – Part 2

Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail – Quite average. Overall better than The Life of Brian. It’s nice to know where all the memes comedic references come from. 7/10

Craigslist Joe – Heart-warming account of a guy tries to survive for a month using only Craigslist. Surprisingly lacking sexual favours. 8/10

Siacrio 2 – Didn’t know what to expect. Supposedly the first one is better. I thought the storyline of the US directly messing with a Latin American country is quite plausible. 7.5/10

The Yes Men – These guys have got huge cajones. Very funny, and there is a message behind the madness/satire. The giant inflatable penis-mounted screen was hilarious. 9.5/10

The Death of Stalin – Lots of hype, quite brutal which made it hard to watch at times. Iannucci took quite a lot of liberties with the truth in this one. 8/10

Jerry Springer the Opera – Not a film but I’m not about to do a whole separate post about it. Act 1 – incredible. Acts 2 and 3 were quite mediocre and dragged on. If the entire show was just an extension of Act 1 i.e. a parody of the types of people who go on Jerry Springer, then I would have been more than happy. I can see why the authors went down the roads of acts 2 and 3, to lampoon The Bible, although admirable I wish they hadn’t. 7/10

An Inconvenient Truth – Gore spells out the evidence very clearly without condescension or need for prior knowledge. If only Gore had won in 2000, maybe the outlook for climate change would be different and more optimistic now…. 9/10

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life – Reviewed

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily LifeA Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life by Greg Jenner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Horrible Histories for adults. If you’re not familiar with that show, it’s a cartoon making history fun. The concept of the book is clever, it lays out the chronological history of everyday tasks that you’d do in a typical day. The book is a goldmine for facts. Some of the more notable ones include: Henry VIII employed someone to inhale his “majestic” farts, the French referred to their toilets as “The English place” (the chapter on the call of nature was especially good), in the Ming dynasty Pekingese puppies were breastfed by human wet nurses, the wearing of stripes was historically frowned upon due to biblical reasons and that’s why prisoners wore stripy clothes. The philosopher Philoxenos induced nerve damage in his fingers so that he could get first dibs on food, prepared excruciatingly hot at the expense of his guests. Sadly the later chapters were less packed of such entertaining facts and were rather dull. A lot of the historical titbits I’d heard already, from QI and some from the podcast (though I think Greg Jenner was a guest on an episode), so some of the material feels like a rehash.

What detracts from this work is that, Jenner likes to cram in pop culture references every couple of pages, that don’t fit. Think weird contemporary references or similes that he thinks will jazz up the history (reminds me of the way J K Rowling writes). The fact is, the text is entertaining enough already without needing to be tarted up. He also comes across as someone who thinks he’s a lot funnier than he actually is. In a book of historical truth, there are inaccuracies. He mentions the syphon valve, which prevents bad smells such as that from methane, “oozing back up from the bog pan”. Of course methane is odourless and doesn’t give shit its stink. He talks about how 19th century Britain outcompeted the Indian textile market by importing American cotton. This isn’t the whole story. The British deindustrialized India, forcing it to produce raw materials only for export to Britain, so they didn’t have much of a textile industry left to compete with. This does make me wonder what other inaccuracies are there in this book. Overall though, I do imagine most of it is correct. He boasts, that the book has been fact checked by his twitter followers, presumably harnessing the wisdom of crowds…

In a blow to racists, the book reveals that the proto Indians or Harappans invented the flush toilet and the modern meme regarding outdoor defecation is without merit and due to widespread poverty.

I take after my father, I smell of armpits – Louis XIII

Q: What’s the cleanest leaf in the forest?
A: Holly, because no one dares wipe his arse on it! – Medieval Joke

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Bacterial Misunderstanding

If you pay attention to the news, you will often hear pseudo-scientific misleading statements like:

“There’s more bacteria on your smartphone than on your toilet seat!”

replace smartphone with keyboard, mouse &c. Oh really? If toilet seats are so clean lets see you eat your dinner off of them then (Clearly, no sane person would do this for a number of reasons. I’d wager people would in fact eat off their smartphones instead. Why? There’s probably a psychological component to it). You know what’s got more bacteria in it than a smartphone? You. 10% of your body weight is made up of bacteria, bacterial cells out number human cells. Does this mean we’re all about to drop dead at any given moment? Evidently not, well not because of the everyday bacteria present in our bodies anyway.

The number of bacteria is not important, it’s the type. The pathogens that hang around the bog seats are a lot more dangerous than the ones on our smartphones and other household objects. That’s why you use bleach on the toilets and maybe a wet wipe for your phones. There’s good bacteria and bad bacteria.

Stupid phrases

Boots on the ground – When I hear this hackneyed tripe, I imagine a poor man’s Don Draper musing potential slogans:

“Most conflicts can be solved with our new product – Boots on the Ground. Now available in size 12.”

Presumably enemy soldiers are in awe of a bunch footwear parachuted from above, and lay down their arms surrendering. Why use this phrase? Taken literally as I’ve lampooned above, it makes no sense. Of course, they mean ground troops or infantrymen. Why invent this mouthful pleonasm, when the former will do? Be more pithy next time.

Bums on seats
– Similar to it’s cousin above, this neologism similarly grinds my gears. “Our revenue will go up with more bums on seats.” Says a charlatan train company operator who is lining their pockets with tax payer funded subsidies. More redundancy in wording here. Do people who invariably stand on the train due to lack of seating get to travel for free? No, the season ticket costs over the odds for the privilege to stand. Do disembodied arses generate profit? No. Say passengers, customers or people you morons.

Woke – Yes I know what ‘woke’ means, this proves my street smarts, would that it were. This slang seems to be everywhere and it regrettably seems to have crossed the Atlantic too. If you’re unfamiliar, it means someone is up to date on social and political issues. Do you know what I call being ‘woke’? Awake Not being a fucking idiot. I’ve been following politics for more than 15 years. I imagine that people who use this word may have lost attention so I’ll put it into a form they’ll understand:

You think being woke is your ally? You merely adopted being woke after Brexit and Trump. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see fake news until I was already a cynic, by then it was nothing to me but gibberish written by Russian bots!

PS blame Stephen Fry for the sesquipedalian long words.

Animal – Reviewed

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female BodyAnimal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this book, because I’m a fan of Sara’s television and radio work. It didn’t live up to expectations. The book is part autobiography, part science and part feminism. An unusual mix to say the least, now add humour to all that too. That’s the problem with this book, it’s not sure what it wants to be.

The scientific sections felt like rehashes of Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything, though there were a couple of tidbits that were new and intriguing. Like the existence of kamikaze sperm, which exist to sabotage the fertilisiation chances of sperm, from other males. Thus implying that women are evolutionarily slutty polyamorous. Also the body dimorphism theory, relating difference in gender size to degree of monogamy.

With that out of the way, what I really didn’t like was the style she’s chosen. At times, it feels like a child has written it. I assume she’s done this for comedic effect but it comes across quite silly and annoying, especially as she’s trying to talk authoritatively about scientific fact. Some of the humour is really cringeworthy, she’s trying too hard to be funny, perhaps because she thinks the subject matter is dry, and ends up crowbarring in some poor jokes to compensate. In fact, I almost gave up on the book after 70 pages. What I most liked, was the autobiographical parts, she’s lead an interesting life, I would have liked to have known more. These were at times both harrowing and heartening.

I’m not sure if she’s joking when she says “There wouldn’t be any wars if women ruled the world”. Is this whimsy or casual misandry? She repeats it twice so maybe she’s serious. Let me stereotype for a second too, women are often seen as bitching behind the backs of their friends and being quite viscous to each other. Would a world lead by these sots of people be full of fewer wars? How about refutation by example, Margaret Thatcher declared war on Argentina. You could argue she was left no choice by the Argentine invasion but nonetheless having a woman in charge didn’t reduce the number of wars. I don’t think men are the problem, arseholes are. Unfortunately the world is run by arseholes who happen to be men, Assad, Putin, Saddam Hussein etc.

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Trump Rescinds Law of Gravity

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump called for the end to gravity today, in a move that has infuriated democrats and physicists internationally. He remarked: “The law of gravity is a very bad law. Why does the earth have to orbit the sun all the time?”. In a move of solidarity, congressional Republicans and senators stood by President Trump, calling for an end to “big gravity’s monopoly on mass” and “It’s time this fundamental force stopped dragging down the economy”. All was not lost however, as he further hinted that he may not scrap the law entirely, but try and renegotiate the precise nature of the theory with Sir Isaac Newton.

Trump appeared to be in a buoyant mood as he called Sir Isaac “a pretty smart dude, probably one of the smartest”. Political commentator Clare Malone described this as typical Trump behaviour, the offering of the carrot first during negotiations before unleashing childish personal attacks. “He’ll probably go after his hairdo,” Malone mused, adding “Kinda ironic, given that people in glass houses and all…”.

Trump’s recent tweets have bizarrely been attacking the standard model, lamenting the lack of observable gravitons. Rumours have been circling for a while, that the president is unhappy with his sizable girth, and this latest move is an attempt make himself feel less heavy. Scientists have tried to point out, that natural laws aren’t as mutable as presidential ethics or international trade agreements but his base did not seem to care. Indeed, his supporters were seen chanting “stop the drop” and jumping off multiple storey buildings in preemptive celebrations.

UPDATE: We have reports, that at a press conference, Trump was quoted as saying “Nobody knew the universe could be so complicated,” with a note of chagrin he put down his copy of “Astrophysics for Dummies”.

Moab Is My Washpot – Reviewed

Moab Is My Washpot (Memoir #1)Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fry lays prone on this particular edition’s front cover, with his legs crossed in the air smiling at the reader, reminding me of a scene from American Crime Story where Andrew Cunan malevolently does the same.

A strong start and end but quite dreary in the middle, like a parobolic U-shaped curve depicting lifetime happiness. When I was thinking of what to write for this review, I thought I’d mention that Fry is the anti-hero of of his own autobiography. I was quite pleased to see that Fry himself had written this in the afterword. It’s hard to like someone who is a compulsive liar and thief, no matter how funny or clever they are. These traits were exacerbated by his largely unreciprocated love for Matthew. It’s not all bad. The opening paragraphs, paint the picture of a young Fry who is going out of his way to console a bereft newcomer, Bunce, unaccustomed to being without his family. Fry also earns my admiration for being an early adopter of Usenet and to have done some phreaking in his time. Though the Bunce-Sweet affair did make me loathe Fry more. Here he got a school chum who looked up to him take the rap for something Stephen did, and had promised not to do but did it anyway. Of course, he got found out and was punished for it. He was very manipulative. In defense, I’m sure there are aspects of all our childhoods that we are ashamed of.

Having said all that, there are parts which are highly entertaining. Especially the hijinks he pulled on the poor school staff. Like when Mr Brewer presumed that the children were stealing and had an unceremonious dufflebag load of disgusting paraphernalia, dumped onto his counter at his own request. Evil genius. Or when he cleverly mocked a master for criticizing his vernacular, by using words like “pleonasm” and “sesquipedalian” as he was chastised for using too many words to describe something.

There are gems like:

My mother has an absolute passion for sour fruit and can strip a gooseberry bush quicker than a priest can strip a choirboy

It does turn into a gay romance novel towards the end which was surprisingly entertaining.
An interesting bit of trivia is, that his grandfather (a jewish man) may have given Hitler the coat off his back as an act of kindness. Of course then ironically Hitler ended up massacring his people. His writing is heartfelt, verbose, and bombastic (could have used magniloquent here for irony…). What annoyed me about this book was Fry’s copious use of french words. My dictionary didn’t have many of these phrases in it and I had to perform web searches to find the meaning, sometimes to no avail.

I am impressed at his lack of filter, his entire early life is laid bare to the utmost detail. From suicide attempt, to deflowering by buggery to rather outré (to borrow Fry’s own word) paraphilia which I’ll detail now. Watching fellow pupils take dumps in the woods (playing ruddies), running around naked at school with a friend (also being watched slamming his dick in the door), shoving a finger up his arse in front of others. Last but not least, wanking off pupils as morning fag.

Fry says jokingly that, he knew he was gay the moment he exited the womb. This hyperbole aside, he goes on to say that the public school system should not be held accountable for his sexuality. I do agree with him to a certain extent. He’s right when he says many people including his brother attended public school and did not turn out to be gay themselves. True. But I think it’s Fry’s public school experience itself, which may have been a factor (see above).

Fry advocates corporal punishment with the old hackneyed “Didn’t do me no harm!”. Essentially here telling children that violence is the answer. He also argues that for him the cane was more humane than detention because it was over more quickly and it gave him battle scars to brag about. The cane did not stop him from being expelled or repeat offending. And for that reason you can see that it was totally ineffective. He is also bizarrely pro fox-hunting arguing on a traditionalism basis. I’m sure you could argue that female genital mutilation, paederasty and slavery are all traditional and we should carry on with those too eh?

This book explained the abhorrent fagging system to me. I’d always wondered why there were these gay clichés and other jokes surrounding public school children, now I know. Put simply, aspects of it are akin to slavery. I hope this practice has been largely abolished to date. I know that it has been watered down extensively over the years.

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2018 in Films – Part 1

Rambo First Blood Part 2 – Usually, I only watch films with a rotten tomato score of 50% or better. But after being compelled by friends I watched it anyway. I don’t remember much, but I think I can understand why this film has been rubbished. Let’s forgive the bizarre numbering system of the franchise and concentrate on the plot. Rambo gets selected for a phony mission, during which his parachute snags on a moving helicopter, that he survives this is totally unbelievable. It just seems weird, why they couldn’t use thermal imaging instead of infantryman or satellite photos. Overall I don’t think it’s as bad as the critics say it was though it does have its faults. 6/10

Alien 3 – Why does this film get so much hate? I liked how it was different to the first two films in the franchise and was in a different setting i.e. not a spaceship. 8/10

Lincoln – Daniel Day Lewis pulls off a stellar performance as Lincoln. A bit dull early on but it does entertain and inform. It plugged holes in my knowledge about 19th century American politics. Namely that it was the democrats who opposed abolishing slavery and in the end, the amendment was passed by bribery and corruption. I did find the audio a little hard to hear sometimes. 8/10

An American Werewolf in London – I watched this because Richard Herring kept banging on about it. It was ok, the special effects were a bit goofy but what do you expect for the 1970s. Jenny Agatha phwoar! 7.5/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Points for originality but not much else. I’d say I enjoyed this more than Episode VII but not by much. This film had several problems. My biggest gripe is how goofy the dialogue is. Did they get AI to write the script, based on instant messenger conversations between pre-teens? Don’t know what I’m talking about? There’s a “Your momma” joke in the first 5 minutes. There’s other shitty humour of this level throughout. The humour of the original Star Wars films felt a little more shrewd and sophisticated. Not like this banal infantile drivel. Then there’s the goofy animals. Are they just including these for merchandising potential? Are they the 2018 E-woks? It certainly feels so and not in a good way. Remember when everyone felt awful when they revealed the force is generated by metachlorions? That’s how I felt when the showed the Jedi religious texts. A pointless addition adding nothing to the film, ruining the magic of the Jedi by comparing them to religions on Earth. This film cemented in my mind that Star Wars has jumped the shark – or should I say leaped the void. General Leia is aboard a starship which gets blown up, she alights dramatically, traversing space, onto another vessel. How could she survive this, let alone convalesce? She also miraculously survives further assault of the hanger, without taking damage. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind the tracking technology, the explanation was hastily garbled. The sub-plot on casino land was boring and unfruitful. At times, the story was too predictable too, I foresaw the hyperspace ramming and the assassination of Snoke. Having said that, the initial fighting sequence was good as was Luke’s projection fighting Kylo Ren. I’d already had Luke’s demise spoiled for me (thanks internet), so him being a projection was a nice twist. Overall, it felt like an amalgamation of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi but nowhere near as good. I am looking forward to the next film, as I think the spin offs may be better than the main franchise as a rule of thumb. 6.5/10

Supersonic – Life story of Oasis. So Liam got his musical ability after being violently bonked on the head with a hammer. Who’d have thunk it? It’s a shame that the two brothers can’t get on but I don’t blame Noel. 8/10

Annihilation – An original film about aliens, these are few and far between. A slightly slow start but picked up well after that. 8/10

Die Hard 4.0 – Faultless and captivating. I thought I’d seen every stunt possible, that you could have in an action film, but this film proved me wrong. I also learned what a “firesale” is. The film was strangely prophetic about future events and culture. I liked how the mobile phones they used now seem antiquated. Loses a point for being a de facto money making gimmick for Hollywood 9/10

Paradox – Reviewed

Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in PhysicsParadox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics by Jim Al-Khalili
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“He’s quite a man, he is. In his spare time he studies the universe.”

– Sid Waddell on Raymond Van Barneveld.

I used to find this funny, then I realised it was me too.

Paradox, a great read that leaves you begging for more. Al-Khalili explains complicated scientific concepts without patronising.

The first chapter wasn’t really about paradoxes at all, more counter-intuitive mathematical problems which I have read about umpteenth times elsewhere, so I skipped through them. I didn’t like the second chapter, it was about Zeno’s so called paradoxes. Read: silly ideas that do not represent the world but take a bit of reasoning to disprove. They do have their own place in the world – think “The Quantum Zeno effect” (observation can affect particle state), I just didn’t enjoy reading about them.

Obler’s paradox was my favourite chapter. Why does it get dark at night, given that there an infinite number of stars and galaxies? I reasoned it was the inverse square law. Al-Khalili counters, if there are an infinite number of stars, then that wouldn’t matter. Turns out, it is due to the expansion of the universe, and light from distant stars has not yet reached us and perhaps never will. I really liked the chapter on time travel too. Einstein’s theory predicts wormholes, so time travel is theoretically possible. How do we consummate the paradox of going back in time and killing your grandfather? Or the fact that we have never met any time travellers? Multiverse theory plays the deus ex machine here. I’m not a fan of this theory, but I have to admit it ties things up quite nicely. The chapter on Fermi’s paradox is also excellent.

My criticism of this book, is that the author never explains why time dilation or length contraction occur at or near the speed of light. He only says, that this has been seen experimentally. Al-Khalili shows us his brazen anti-semitism, when he titles a section “What’s the final solution?” I think this was an innocent mistake.

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