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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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Fire and Fury – Reviewed

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book’s greatest failing, is that it is a victim of its own success: the most salacious details have already been publicised in the media. Nevertheless, despite a slightly boring middle, it starts fiercely and ends very entertainingly.

The veracity of Wolff’s work has been questioned. From what I’ve read, Wolff’s overarching narrative is correct, however he seems to have embellished certain information to make the work more tantalizing and gratifying. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but if he’s putting this book forward as an accurate portrayal of the West Wing, then it casts doubt on which parts to believe. One peculiar example is the correct term for the portmanteau, of the boy wonder and Trump’s wife daughter. It is widely reported that Bannon referred to them as “Javanka” not “Jarvanka”, Wolff later asserted he picked the latter, because the former sounded too much like a Scandinavian caveman. Make of that what you will. It does feel like we’re splitting hairs at this point. Wolff writes well overall but at times he seems to be using overly flowery language, perhaps to give his work a greater air of importance. Continue reading Fire and Fury – Reviewed

Universal Car Wanker Index

I drive a lot. In my time on the road, it is often easy to make rules of thumb, stereotyping car brand for driver personality. For example, all BMW and Audi drivers are wankers. Now, you may accuse me of flagrant automobile racism, however I can back up my capricious pseudo-scientific claims with a straw poll painstaking research.

Behold a graph that I totally didn’t influence:

It clearly shows that BMW drivers are the most repugnant dickheads (or more accurately wankers), closely followed by Audi drivers ,who are in the end, just ‘wannabe beamers’ as an esteemed colleague once said. These two are the ying and yang of twat and arsehole. These are the drivers who will tailgate you for doing the speed limit, they will honk at you for not speeding, they will pull off dangerous manoeuvres to overtake. They are powerful cars but they have their weaknesses. During snowmeggedon, I witnessed a BMW driver doing donuts in a car park. I thought he was getting his kicks but once he lasted 3 minutes and was stationary in between, I realised that the rear wheel drive system is piss-poor for these situations. I almost offered to help, almost. Anecdotally, Audis also seem to be unreliable.

4 x 4 drivers also seem to believe themselves invincible – presumably due to their height off the ground, as though they’re regally sitting on a throne, giving them divine rights to command the road, to do the driver’s bidding. Inevitably, it’s a middle aged woman giving you road rage for not bowing down. Why do you need a modern Jeep to pick up the kids after school or go to work? Enjoy your poor fuel economy too.

Thankfully, some white van men are hampered by speed limiters, presumably due to their cantankerous nature. Was this the only way they could get company car insurance? Unfortunately, the others are not and drive like mad men. No, not the hit TV show but like lunatics. They take risks, speed, tailgate, you name it, they’ll do it. I had the displeasure of meeting one myself, when our vehicles embraced intimately on the road. Fortunately, he drew a diagram incriminating himself.

Expect to see this piece verbatim, in a peer reviewed journal soon.

Genome – Reviewed

Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 ChaptersGenome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patchy, but mostly excellent. This book boasts to have been the best science book, that Robin McKie read in 1999, on its front cover. This doesn’t really mean much to me if it was published in January. It is an agonizing 23 chapters, until I find out it was published in the final months of 1999.

This book is a gold mine for facts. Humans have an innate instinct for language, crawling and walking. Different blood groups have different susceptibilities to disease e.g. cholera. Scientists selectively bred male fruit flies that became so effective at manipulating female behaviour, that their ejaculate killed the female. The latter comes from the X-Y conflict chapter which was very good. There’s also the idea of the foetus as a parasite competing for the mother’s resources.

The chapter on intelligence was interesting, Ridley comes to the conclusion that intelligence is entirely inherited. Though this raises the question, of how intelligent a feral child would be or one that grew up without a good school or supportive family environment. In a different chapter, he discusses the idea of a ‘gay gene’, surmising that there appears to be a strong heritability of male homosexuality, based on the maternal uncle being more likely to be gay. The studies he cites, are relatively small sample sizes, though the nature of the beast is that larger samples will be hard to come by. He suggests that such a characteristic must offer some benefit to female fertility to offset sexual antagonism, which is intriguing. Later he rubbishes this theory and concentrates on birth order having an effect on homosexuality.

Ridley is mistaken, when he says that there will one day be a universal cure for cancer. In fact, the evidence says quite the opposite according to The Emperor of All Maladies. The author (Mukherjee) says that cures will tend to become more niche and tailored to each specific form of cancer. ‘Cancer’ is not one disease, it is a collection of hundreds that are not strongly related. It is also daft to suggest we don’t have cures now in the form of chemotherapy or surgery which are successful if the cancer is caught at an early stage. I think Ridley is referring to non-invasive treatments with no side effects.

Ridley also bizarrely posits his misconception, that contracting AIDS is a voluntary choice, akin to smoking and drinking. The small bugchasing community aside, I can’t see contracting an often fatal disease, at least in the period this book was written, to be anything other than a voluntary choice. Especially in the early 80s where information about the disease, namely its aetiology and effects, were equivocal in the non-scientific community. People were stigmatised for having the disease.

Somehow, the author ridiculously manages to conflate socialism with eugenics. He argues that eugenics is a good fit for a socialist political system. For an authoritarian state perhaps yes, but not a pure socialistic one. Maybe Ridley’s own ideology is coming to the fore here in his work, taking swipes at groups he doesn’t like. The chapter on politics or more accurately BSE/prions helped shed some light on the epidemic of the 90s. The existence of prions is somewhat worrying, in that even vegetarians who ingested no meat at all contracted the disease too.

Despite a scientific background this did test the limits of my technical knowledge at times, although I read the primer. I do wonder, how much of this book is still scientifically valid, given that it was written nearly two decades ago. Ridley is right on some of his predictions, like the expansion of gene therapy, though the way he goes on about it, you’d think it’d be mainstream now. Ridley also has the habit, of sometimes presenting his own conjectures though he does point out when he is guessing.

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Too Much Information – Reviewed

Too Much Information... or Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to ThinkToo Much Information… or Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think by Dave Gorman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good toilet book. I like Gorman’s style analysing popular culture systematically, to ridicule its values. This book reads like a literary extension of his TV programme – Modern Life is Goodish, unlike the TV programme which is mostly average, the book is more entertaining though it does have an undercurrent of the same sort of mischief he does in the show.

He calls out The Daily Mail’s abject voyeurism of celebrities and their children. The fallacy of “matching” outfits, which are no more matching than a reptile and mammal are matching creatures, being members of the kingdom of Animalia. His swipe at the gutter press, this means you The Mail, is appreciated as this shitrag is not even worth wiping your arse on, given that your shit is more noble and would be defiled by such an act. Mail online is all about getting clicks on their stories, veracity or content comes later. So this leads to a picture being on every story, even if it’s a picture of an apple, not even the same apple in the story, just a random one. Ok rant over.

I felt nostalgic on the section about Killing in the Name being downloaded to prevent the X Factor winner from getting the number 1 spot. I also felt slightly silly finishing this chapter as I was all for this scheme (I didn’t buy any records) at the time, but Gorman argues well that such an act is ultimately pointless and probably pushed up the sales of the rival single, more than they would have been otherwise. That aside, it was quite pleasurable delivering a “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”, to Cowell’s smug reptilian face.

I also liked his gripes with the make up industry, who use dodgy statistics to back up their spurious claims- something which I have also noticed. They small sample sizes which are rather strange e.g. 99 or 84 women. They probably massage the figures by removing women who didn’t like the product, improving the percentage. Often the surveys aren’t even backing up the products attributes but stating that women want a foundation that lasts long. Woefully, in one ad less than half of the women agreed that their lips were “voluptuous” after using some lipgloss.

I agree with his frustration at the “Buzzfeedification” of news sites . Journalists writing click baity titles and pointless ranking lists to attract those precious ad clicks. Spam and dishonest ads have definitely made the internet a lot worse.

As an aside the chapter entitled “Some Things Can Be Put to a Public Vote and Some Things Really Can’t”, was ominously prophetic (view spoiler), though here it is about choosing the most deserving charity. He concludes that’s it’s best not to acquiesce to people who ask you to retweet about their charity run etc. If he does them for one, he’ll have to do them for everyone. Otherwise he has to pick and choose the most deserving cause.

The best chapter is one about John Lewis releasing a preview for their Christmas advert. In essence, an advert for an advert as Gorman puts it. This advert has somehow become a staple of the festive season. What a vacuous time to be alive.

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The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets – Reviewed

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical SecretsThe Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was quite easy to read. The first half is like a mathematical autobiography of the writers. The second half delves more into the Maths. Although at times it felt like, there were only tangential tenuous connections to maths, given that it’s a prime-time sitcom based around an American family you can’t really blame Singh for the content. I do feel as though Singh ran out of interesting material and decided to make it up with stuff about Futurama (Not that I’m complaining).

I really liked learning about the birth of Futurama, I always assumed it was Groening’s compulsion for another series but it was Fox who approached him. The Maths in these shows is not to be sniffed at. In fact a scene from Futurama, inspired a mathematical paper (Keeler’s Theorem).

I also got a couple really interesting book recommendations from it: Flatland, The Prisoner of Zenda and a film recommendation Two Lane Blacktop. There were some really funny quotes about statistics too, sounds like an oxymoron I know but here:

42.7% of all statistics are made up – Steven Wright

Then there is the man who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of six inches – W. I. E. Gates

The average human has one breast and one testicle – Des Machale

There was also a rather bizarre revelation that Dave Bayer acted as Russel Crowe’s hand double in the blackboard scenes for A Beautiful Mind….

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A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English – Reviewed

A Beginner's Guide to Acting EnglishA Beginner’s Guide to Acting English by Shappi Khorsandi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good opening hook: an infant eating the goo out of her snotty nose and flashing her knickers at the author. Very easy to read and entertaining. I liked learning about Iranian culture and history, which I knew next to nothing about and there was comic relief throughout, dealing with the heavier subjects. One of my favorite bits is when Shappi’s grandma asks her why baby Jesus was gifted a lamb. She offered “Was it to make kebabs?” – in true Irooni style.

This book could have done with a family tree, akin to Dr Zhivago, because there are so many relatives it gets hard to remember who is related to who. Also, a glossary of Iranian words would have been helpful, though Shappi does define most of them in situ, there is a minority she doesn’t and you’re liable to forget some meanings. I would have liked her to talk more about Iranian history, especially the cause of the Iran-Iraq war.

It is written in the first person from the perspective of Shappi as a young child which I liked. I am quite amazed by the detail, with which she was able to recall all the various conversations, feelings and so on. Unless of course she’s embellished with poetic license.

The original title was in fact “English People Smell of Milk”, which I feel is better, but her publishers forced her to change it.

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