Friday, May 26, 2017

Vacances en France 2017!

We are off to France over half-term and I am pretty darn excited. We will be staying near Bordeaux in a huge chateaux with the rest of my family horde, so it should be fun. Also, the weather is looking pretty nice, which is amazing. Plus, we get to fly this time, which will be a new experience for the boys. Hope they enjoy it.

Since I came to realise how much I love our gallic neighbour I have made sure we head to the continent as much as possible. Of course, once Brexit hits, it might be more complicated (erk!).

I will report back afterwards, but no doubt most of my activities will involve eating baguettes, cheese, nutella and wine.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cadbury Oreo Mint and Peanut Butter

Cadbury have recently dropped two new flavours of Dairy Milk Oreo: Mint and Peanut Butter. I've reviewed their original flavour here, which feels like a bit of a fraud seeing as the filling doesn't seem to actually be the proper Oreo creme. It's not a terrible chocolate bar, just not as Oreo-y as it could be.

So, onto these new iterations.

Curious.

For some reason Dairy Milk doesn't really go with peanut buttter. Reese's peanut butter cups taste amazing, but Dairy Milk does not. I wonder if it's because Reese's chocolate is darker and the peanut paste is more salty..?

Peanut Butter Oreos work as a cookie, but this doesn't quite... so I will give this chocolate bar 6 out of 10.


Hmm. This is more like it. Mint and chocolate are natural taste companions, and combined with the Oreo makes a tasty treat. 8 out of 10 for this one. Yum!

I wonder if Cadbury will continue the trend and try another flavour? Personally, I think Strawberry would be a good option. Strawberry flavour Oreos are pretty awesome.

C'mon Cadbury - work your magic!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New Dredd TV Series In Development



I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw social media filling up with news about a new TV show based on the Judge Dredd comics: Judge Dredd: Mega-City One.

As a longtime fan of the character, I have had to deal with the disappointment of seeing Dredd's character fail at the cinema box office - not once, but twice. I have seen America's Marvel and DC surge and dominate Hollywood, while Britain's 2000AD fail to get anywhere despite its vast range of brilliant stories and characters.

The idea that Dredd would return to the silver screen seemed far fetched - even with the Dredd Sequel fan campaign - but now, it seems, there's a new ray of hope. Rebelllion (the licence-holders of Dredd and associated characters) have announced they are working on a new iteration of Dredd. This time for the smaller screen.

I am super-excited, if a little cautious, about this announcement. On the plus side, Rebellion are the custodians of Dredd. They know and love the character well so I'm sure will be determined to do a good job. They've got good backing with IM Global and Mark Stern (executive producer who previously worked for the Syfy channel on Battlestar Galactica). There's clearly a desire for more Dredd, thanks to the critical response to the 2012 Dredd film, and if Rebellion can persuade Karl Urban to return to judging duties, they're off to a great start.

My main reservation is that Rebellion have no experience of making TV. They refer to their experience in making computer games, which is certainly a similar industry, but I still think TV is different. Added to that, Mega-City One is a formidable canvas to work with. It's massively rich and bizarre just in terms of characters alone. Portraying this vast metropolis is going to be a huge challenge, I'm sure. Dredd 2012 had a budget of $35,000,000 and struggled to put Dredd's hometown up onscreen (although it did a good job all things considering). With an estimated $1,000,000 per epsiode, JD:MC-1 will have a lot less resources to work with.

Despite these niggles, I remain optimistic. Dredd and his world have always been ripe for live action, it's just the technology, willpower and finance have never quite been available.

That is, until now.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Is Welsh independence a good idea?

Ever since the disaster that was Brexit, I've been pondering on the future of the UK. With Scotland charging towards an independence referendum and the recent snap election looming this June, the stability of the 'union' is more uncertain than ever.

As always, there's polarised opinion about this and the Welsh question of independence is hard to ignore. Better arguments for it can be read elsewhere (See http://yes.cymru/independence/
and https://freewales.org/independent-wales-prosperous-wales/). Plenty of people will guffaw at the very notion of Welsh independence, but given that we may not have a 'United Kingdom' for much longer I think serious thought needs to be given to this idea.

For a long time, I've been one of the naysayers seeing Windependence (my new word everyone! yes, just as awful as 'Brexit') as a total joke, but now things have changed on the political scene I'm beginning to see it as a potential way forward for this small nation known for its mountains, male voice choirs, dragons (fictional ones, obviously) and poets.

Our current 'Welsh Government' has fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament or any other fully independent sate – but it's a start. I don't see why we can't build on what we've already got and work toward Windependence within the next decade or so.

Why am I thinking this way? Well, it's partly because of Brexit (and to a lesser extent, Trump's rise to power). Times they are a-changing and I think now more than ever, people need to call for change – but the kind of change that benefits the majority, not the precious few with power and wealth.

People will cry that we're 'too small' and 'economically weak' but one look at Iceland as a comparison proves that we are more than capable of holding our own on the world stage:

Iceland vs Wales

Population of Iceland: 330,000
Population of Wales: 3,000,000

GDP of Iceland: $17 billion
GDP of Wales: $70 billion

So, Iceland – an independent State like the USA, Russia, France or Japan – has 10% of the population and 20% of the GDP of Wales but the idea of Welsh Independence is laughed off by the English (and plenty of Welsh too). Interestingly, Iceland has one of the lowest economic inequality rates in the world and one of best Human Development Indices.

I've nothing against Icelanders. They are no doubt a noble and worthy people, and their land is majestic and beautful – but it's cold, stuck in the middle of the North Sea and beer costs something like £8 a pint. Not the greatest of selling points for a nation state, one might think. And yet, they're doing just fine.

I don't think we need to sever ties with England in some bad divorce kind of way (a la Brexit), but perhaps it helps to view the smaller parts of the union as England's children. For centuries, these children have lived under the shadow of their parent and perhaps rightly so.

Now, in the 21st century, though - perhaps it's time for the children to finally grow up.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (April)

April's been a bumper month for my movie watching, it seems. This is partly because I've discovered documentaries on Netflix, which I don't mind watching in chunks. Maybe also April is a pretty long month...?

#17 Back In Time (2015)
Released on the 30th anniversary of Back to The Future, Back In Time features interviews with the cast and creators of the much-loved 'greatest time travel movie ever'. Some interesting and fascinating snippets from those who made the film, punctuated by stories from the many fans who have kept the BTTF flame alive. Notable omissions are Biff's Thomas F Wilson (not sure why) and George's Crispin Glover (for obvious reasons).
(8/10)

#18 The BFG (2016)
Spielberg's filmmaking craft is the perfect match to Dahl's storytelling in this faithful adaptation of the much-loved children's classic. Mark Rylance (BFG) and Ruby Barnhill (Sophie) have an excellent chemistry, in spite of the CGI wizardry.
(8.5/10)

#19 Ghostbusters (2016)
The hateful backlash against this reboot was unnecessary and unjustified. Sure, it pales into comparison to the original movies, but it has a lot of heart and plenty of funny moments. The cameos and constant references to the source material dilute the film as a whole, preventing it from being a decent film in its own right (the best way to do reboots, in my opinion). This is as close to Ghostbusters 3 as we'll ever get, so worth a watch.
(6.5/10)

#20 Dreams of a Life (2011)
Joyce Vincent died alone in her North London flat in 2003 but wasn't discovered until over 2 years later - her fully decomposed corpse lying on the floor with the TV still playing. Why she was left for such a long time is explored in this documentary via interviews with friends and colleagues, shocked by Joyce's fate. Dreams of a Life builds up a picture of an enigmatic woman who never stayed in the same place and was apparently plagued by demons nobody could really fathom. A fascinating and heartbreaking film.
(8/10)

#21 Twelve Monkeys (1995)
I last saw this at the cinema on its original release and it's aged well. Bruce Willis is on top form as the hero sent back in time to gather information about a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity. One of Terry Gilliam's most mainstream successes, this time travel tale is full of Gilliam's trademark production design and quirkiness but it manages to keep things on track without being too weird. Good to watch again.
(8.5/10)

#22 Boss Baby (2017)
Potentially a painful ninety minutes, Boss Baby is actually quite a sweet film that centres around the main character's angst of having a new sibling join the family. It has moments of weirdness, it's true, and the drive of the story is slightly questionable – but Alec Baldwin's performance lends a fair whack of credibility to this above average kid's film.
(6/10)

#23 Go With Me (2015)
A dark and moody thriller, Go With Me is a simple tale of revenge set in an Oregon logging town. Ray Liota is Blackway, the local ex-cop crime boss who threatens a new resident (Julia Stiles) after she escapes his advances. The sheriff prefers not to get involved, so she enlists the help of two loggers (Anthony Hopkins and Alexander Ludwig) who end up taking the law into their own hands to track down the elusive Blackway. Great performances all round and a satisfying ending to a very lean but effective story.
(8/10)

#24 What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Four vampires sharing a flat form the basis of this mockumentary from the creators of Flight of the Conchords. A mostly hilarious look at life for the undead in 21st century New Zealand, 'Shadows' is a fresh take on both modern horror and spoof genres with a quirky Kiwi spin. Lots of gruesome silliness.
(8/10)

#25 Eddie the Eagle (2015)
Biopic about Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards and his ski jumping antics at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Moving and funny, Taron Egerton is the spitting image of Edwards in mannerisms as well as looks. It's a shame they had to invent Hugh Jackman's character (and a lot of other plot points) for the sake of a Hollywood storyline, but at least the finale in Calgary is fairly true to the real thing. 
(8/10)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

General Election '17 Thoughts

When I heard about the snap election, I felt very much like the first lady in this clip, bless 'er:
Now I've calmed down a bit, I've had a think about what to do.

Theresa May has been very shrewd calling an election at a time when the opposition is weak and largely ineffective. I admire Corbyn a lot for his principles, but I think it's a pretty long shot that he'll become PM. The Tories know this and hope that a victory in June will cement their position of power.

I don't think all Tories are evil. I am sure that many are hardworking decent people who care deeply about their constituents, but it is the leadership that bothers me. There appears to be a callousness and indifference to 'ordinary people' about them – and I believe this will only worsen as Brexit becomes more of a reality.

So, what am I going to do about it?

Well, just because my bet is that May will still probably keep her job doesn't mean I shouldn't do something to fight against our Tory overlords.

Firstly, I'm supporting More United, a political movement that supports progressive MPs (whatever the party) and then I've decided to join Plaid Cymru. I think post-Brexit Wales will be worse off than the rest of the UK and believe that only Plaid will fight for Welsh interests in Westminster.

Alongside that, I think it's time we started thinking seriously about Welsh Independence (Windependence, if you will), and Plaid is the one party that is open to the idea. If Scotland can seriously contemplate it, and if other, smaller countries can survive as nation states than I think maybe it's time for Wales to take steps. After all, I don't think we've got much to lose.

If, like me, you've felt a bit paralysed by ineffective politics of late – try not to be. Do something practical to try and make our political landscape better (otherwise nothing will change).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What dreams may come

The word 'Dream' is a funny word.

This occured to me after watching Spielberg's film adaptation of the BFG. The titular giant has taken it upon himself to gives children nice dreams by blowing them into their bedroom through the window at night.

There's a lot of talk about wonderful dreams (flying, eating ice cream, meeting the queen, going into space etc.) but here's the thing: I can't really relate to this as I don't think I've had that many 'nice' dreams in my life. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I spend every night enduring endless nightmares. Most of the dreams I can remember have been largely anxiety-driven and cover such scenarios as: sitting an exam, being naked in public, going to toilet in public, arguing with people I'm angry at, missing a plane/bus/boat, being late for an interview/important meeting ... the list is pretty endless. To top off the list, I've frequently dreamed about the end of the world which usually entails a nuclear armageddon or cataclysmic tsunami.

Not much fun, eh?

If I'm not dreaming about tomorrow's presentation or money woes, I'll be dreaming in surreal locations and narratives that make no sense. I had a dream last night that involved some friends, guinea pigs, the next door neighbour, a church, a restaurant and some sense of where I used to live when I was younger. Trying to actually describe the dream as a story and what it was about would be pretty hard. 

Of course, this may just be a symptom of being a grown up. As young children, we don't generally have the pressures and responsibilities of raising a family or paying the bills. Maybe the innocence of childhood affords more pleasant nighttime dreaming but by the time we're grown up we've mostly forgotten them and moved on to weird stuff.

People talk about their 'dreams coming true', wanting the 'home of their dreams' or 'living the dream' but if I took those phrases literally I'd be stressing about my mum's old 2CV that was slowly melting in front of my eyes, sitting in a building with no roof or running away from an expanding mushroom cloud.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting into the Carmarthen Film Festival


I was recently informed that the short film I wrote and directed has made it into the Carmarthen Bay Film Festival. Woohoo!

We have submitted to a number of other festivals but not had any luck until now, so it was a nice surprise to learn that we have been nominated for two categories: No Budget Short and Short Film Made in Wales 2017.

Myself and the other producers have pondered over our apparent lack of success with our other submissions and concluded that it all comes down to that good old fashioned staple of consumerism: Money.

Put simply, filmmaking is expensive. It costs money to do, or at least if you want to do it at a certain level you need dosh. We didn't have any money for Refuge – well, a few hundred quid at most – so it was very much a low/zero budget short. If you've watched a short on the internet and it has high production values, chances are it really did have high production values. Many of the festivals we entered were fairly big international affairs and no doubt bigger budget productions entered them to get lots of good exposure.

I'm not begrudging these other filmmakers – good luck to them, I say – but I'm annoyed we went through the expensive process of approaching festivals when we were up against the big guns and had very little chance of getting anywhere.

Still, we got into a festival and that was the very least I was hoping for. If we win, that will be an even bigger bonus.

But I won't hold my breath.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My New Favourite TV Show

Now that we have good old Netflix, I have discovered The Expanse, which is now into Season 2 (although Season 1 is only streaming at the moment).

Based on the novels by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse is set in the far future where humanity is in full swing colonising the solar system (predominantly Mars and the Asteroid belt).

Similar to Game of Thrones (or so I'm told – I've not seen GoT), it is full of political intrigue stemming from the tensions that have arisen between Earth, Mars and the Asteroid belt (Belters). A full-scale war is brewing and it seems that work is going on behind the scenes to orchestrate the conflict with some sinister motive.

The show follows three threads: the work of a troubled Belter detective on the trail of a rich girl who's gone missing in outer space; the political dealings of a UN diplomat on Earth; and the fate of the surviving crew of a haulage ship mysteriously attacked and destroyed mid-flight. All of these threads aren't entirely unconnected and as the season goes on they start coming together.

Deeply serious, there's very little humour unlike, say, Firefly – which no doubt had some inspiration for the series – and visually it's all quite dark and gloomy. The creators have gone for a 'realistic' approach, with spaceships manoevering defly using multiple booster jets and artificial gravity generated via forward thrust rather than magical 'grav plates' or something (the only artistic licence is the addition of sound effects in outer space - one thing that always niggles me).

I'm looking forward to see what happens in Season 2 as it's been a bit of a slow burn establishing the universe, introducing characters and slowly revealing the background politics. I think, though, things are about to get very interesting.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Would you pay to have a bad time?

Back when I was a student, me and my housemate accompanied a friend to the West End. She had to watch a play for her course and didn't want to go alone so we tagged along. The only actor I remember being in it was the guy who played Tinker in the Lovejoy BBC TV series (Dudley Sutton - thanks IMDB!).

To put it bluntly, the play was terrible. I don't remember much about it, except it involved copious amounts of swearing and unfunny jokes. We were the only ones in the audience (I think) apart from a group of Americans sitting toward the front inexplicably laughing their heads off.

During the interval, we all agreed how awful it was and contemplated going home but wanted to give the production another chance.

How many times have people given something 'another chance' and been pleasantly surprised? Not very often is my guess.

True enough, we entered the second half and within minutes realised our folly.

We eventually decided to leg it. Easy to do in a mostly-empty auditorium, but also highly conspicuous. I felt awful for the actors who must have noticed our hasty departure, but we couldn't handle it any more and it was time to get away as quickly as possible and go for a pint.

This leads me to the title of this post. After our West End experience we came to the conclusion that it's better to cut and run rather than endure something painful or unpleasant. I understand that sometimes people want to see something through to its conclusion, but really if it's that bad you're effectively paying to have a bad time – and that's ridiculous.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (March)

#13 John Carter (2012)
A confusing plot and dubious special effects let down this epic sci-fi yarn, which had so much potential. Even with its impressive sets, lavish costumes and copious CGI it doesn't look like a $250 million film. Not a terrible movie by any means - but not a great one either.
(5/10)

#14 Norm of the North (2016)
A bear with the ability to talk to humans attempts to stop an evil real estate company building new houses in the unspoiled arctic. If Pixar had had anything to do with this animation it could have been great but they didn't, so it isn't.
(4/10)

#15 World War Z (2013)
Any Hollywood blockbuster that gives Cardiff a mention (several times!) is alright in my book, and this Brad Pitt zombie disaster movie does just that. Surprisingly little blood flows in this competent thriller that sees Pitt traversing the globe to stop the virus. A somewhat muted final act slows the pace a bit, but it's all in the name of setting up the sequel. Monstrous fun.
(8/10)

#16 Bicentennial Man (1999)
The late, great Robin Williams is perfect casting as the titular household service doid who becomes self-aware and desires to live (and ultimately die) as a human being. Ponderous and philosophical, Williams' zany comic sensibilities are not used to their full potential, but there is still pretty of comedy among the touching moments. Whilst complete as a story it still feels, however, like something is missing from what could be a more epic tale.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Book #2: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

If the Moon suddenly exploded and threatened planet Earth with billions of meteorites that could wipe out the human race, what would we do?

This is the premise set forth by Neal Stephenson in his excellent novel, Seveneves, a hefty tome of 860 pages that charts humanity's race for survival when Earth's ancient satellite disintegrates.

Without dwelling on the reason behind the Moon's destruction, Stephenson instead focuses on the aftermath. The book is divided into three acts: the global effort to preserve the human race by using the International Space Station as a form of Noah's Ark, the post-apocalypse settling of the surviving community (and all the political / cultural sheananigans that inevitably arises), the period of resettling Earth thousands of years in the future.

Expertly written with some gripping scenes, Stephenson explores the doomsday scenario well and has a good understanding of human nature. Whilst it's no surprise that in the book the whole of humanity pulls together to give life on earth a chance of survival (not just humans, every plant and creature too), the subsequent cracks that appear in society are all-too familiar. That's what creates the drama, I guess. A novel about everyone being nice to each other and getting along spiffingly in the face of impending disaster probably doesn't make a great story. There is political intrigue and conflicts aplenty along the way, all while the remnants of earth are trying to survive in the unforgivingly harsh vacuum of outer space.

Stephenson doesn't shy away from explaining a lot of technical and scientific stuff. This sometimes bogs the pace of the narrative down a bit, though. I'm not great when it comes to complicated descriptions or explanations and when I was struggling trying to imagine how a piece of future tech works, for example, I became easily distracted and lost my grasp on the story. It does, however, feel kind of necessary given the nature of what happens in the book, so I'll just have to submit to cleverer people than me.

The novel feels somewhat uneven as the first two acts take place one after the other (in the same era) and then we jump forward several millennia to see humanity's efforts to resettle their former homeworld. The latter section feels somewhat rushed as there doesn't seem enough space to flesh things out, but this is a minor issue really. It makes sense, but I could see this story being better told as a trilogy where book one tells the story of the building of the ark, book two tells the story of the descendants living in space and book three tells of their return to Earth.

One other slight niggle is the main catalyst for the story. Namely, the demise of the Moon and it's effect on the planet it once orbited: trillions of small meteorites slamming into the atmosphere resulting in earth being burned to a crisp (called the 'hard rain'). The book talks about this happening for a thousand years or so and I find it hard to believe that there are enough 'bits' of the Moon to rain down continuously for such a long time (given that the Moon is about a quarter the size of Earth), but I may have gotten that bit wrong. Also, the fact that no reason is give for the Moon's destruction is a bit unsatisfying.

This is an epic novel (although could have been even more epic given the scope of the story), thoroughly enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review: BBC's SS-GB

Ever since I heard the BBC were developing the 1974 novel SS-GB for television, I was looking forward to it. I'm always one for a good bit of alternate history, so was interested to see how it would explore Britain-under-the-Nazis. Annoyingly, whenever it was talked about in the media no broadcast date was given, and so I missed the first episode. Thank the Lord for iPlayer!

SS-GB is set in an alternate history where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain. Set several months after the end of the war, Britain is now part of the Greater German Reich but there are still pockets of resistance (with the 'North' not yet under control).

Douglas (played by raspy-voice Sam Riley) is a sauve yet-troubled detective with the London Met, trying to get on and do his job under the watchful eye of his new German masters, while staying out of politics (and trouble).

Unsurprisingly, he ends up pursuing a murder case that has ties to the underground resistance and before too long finds himself embroile in a resistance plot and a Nazi conspiracy. Thrown into the mix is American femme fatale Barbara (Kate Bosworth).


SS-GB is yet another alternate history tale to grace our screens, which seem to be all the rage these days. Not as lavish a production as 'The Man in the High Castle', but the BBC copes well with its budget contraints. It does a good job of feeling just like any other period piece (like the Halcyon or Downton Abbey), without the fantastical setting getting too much in the way.

An enjoyable and fascinating premise, I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series pans out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why I don't think science and faith are in conflict

Here's the text from a talk I gave at one of our Alpha evenings last year. I've rewritten a few bits, added to it and included a few references at the bottom.

OK, I'm not a qualified scientist. I have, however, researched the work of those that are and in this article I've tried to gather material together in a coherent form that hopefully most people can understand. I concede that scientific theory is ever-changing and goes to the kind of depths that makes the brains of most ordinary people go to mush, so I'm certainly not saying it's final and conclusive (but then, is anything ever?).

It's interesting to note that the attendees on the course all agreed that it's a shame things like faith are never really talked about. It's such a taboo subject in many ways. People feel threatened or get angry when the topic of 'religion' surfaces and have often acquired a range of misinformed ideas about the subject, sadly living their lives ignorant of the actual truth. The church has, admittedly, been responsible for a lot of this by quashing attempts to question or challenge faith, so organised religion should share some of the blame for this.

That's what I love about Alpha. It's designed to allow people to say what they think and ask those difficult questions without fear of reproach. Looking back at the courses we've run, I still find the discussions fascinating. Not only that, they can be quite challenging to me personally and my own faith, but that's a good thing. Too often we allow ourselves to default to passive mode when it comes to thinking about stuff and the more we question, push or prod, ultimately I believe that's better for everyone.

Anyway, that's enough rambling for yours truly. Let me ramble some more, but not in italics:


Tonight's subject is about faith and science and asks the question: are they in conflict? My view is that they aren't. In fact, science and faith have gotten along quiet nicely for centuries. Admittedly there have been a few issues along the way, but generally they have existed side by side in relative harmony.

I think the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and that you have to pick between one or the other, is a fairly new concept and not particularly helpful.

Faith and science are very different disciplines, different fields of study. Faith deals with issues of belief, yearnings of the soul and it ponders the meaning of life. It gives great comfort and hope to millions of people – fuelling a purpose to their lives and lifting them above the sometimes cold, harsh realities of life.

Science is about discovering the world around us, learning how things work and seeking ways to overcome problems facing humanity. We have so much to thank science for: just look at the advances in medicine, computing, biology, mechanics and telecommunications. Our lives have been vastly improved over the past century thanks to scientific endeavour.

One useful way of looking at the two disciplines is this: science is about the 'how' and Christianity is about the 'who' (i.e. Jesus).

Science cannot answer the question “Does God exist?” Some might argue that God’s existence is actually a scientific claim that can be tested in a lab somewhere. But science studies the natural world, not the supernatural. No amount of scientific testing or theorizing could prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural creator. God is not bound by the physical constraints in the same way we are, so why subject Him to tests that are limited to something He is not? Saying “God exists” is a metaphysical statement, not a claim about nature or physical laws.

Science and faith, however, are not mutually exclusive and can benefit from one another greatly. For example, science can benefit from the input of faith when it come to things like ethics. Faith can benefit from science when it comes to things like superstition.

Many atheists have hijacked science to further their cause, claiming you can't have reason or logic if you believe in a higher being. They accuse the church of being anti-science and stuck in the dark ages. But interestingly, the growth of science and education over the centuries was pioneered by Christians eager to explore God's creation and discover how it works.

And today, there are many scientists who have a faith and who are at the top of their game in a variety of scientific subjects. Given that they are obviously very clever people, and don't have a problem with what they believe and what they do for a living, then the idea that having a faith means you have to leave your brain at the door when it comes to science is clearly nonsense.

I now want to briefly touch on three areas of science which, I believe, pose some interesting questions about God. I tentatively regard them as 'evidence' that point to, rather than conclusively proves, His existence:
  • The Big Bang Theory: The big bang theory states, in its simplest form, that the universe began at a single point in time billions of years ago. This theory has been around since the 1920s but didn't gain widespread acceptance for several decades. Prior to this, the scientific consensus was that the universe had simply just existed without beginning or end. The book of Genesis, however, which was written millennia before we had the technology to delve deep into the cosmos, gives an account of how creation came about with a very definite starting point – very much like the currently held scientific view.
  • Human DNA: DNA is a code of 3 billion letters in a sequence that determines the actions of the cells in which is it found. This code has been compared to a computer programme and the idea that this code came to be through a series of random events seems far-fetched to me. The presence of a program suggests the existence of a programmer – and who is that programmer? In my view, God!
  • A fine-tuned universe:  There are numerous physical constants such as gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear force etc. which are required for the universe to exist. These constants require extremely precise values (or settings), and if any of these were to change even slightly then the universe as we know it could not exist and would be incapable of sustaining life. This is known as the anthropic principle. A creation fine-tuned for our survival seems so improbable that the idea of a super intelligent being responsible for dialling the settings to be just right aren't that ludicrous.
When we look at how life began on Earth, the chances of life randomly forming on our planet four and a half billion years ago are infinitesimally small. Some have suggested life was brought here by a comet or some ancient, alien race. To believe this takes just as much faith as a Christian who believes an all-powerful God created life, if not more – so why is the Christian viewpoint so regularly ridiculed?

The universe is immensely vast and chances are we are the only intelligent beings in the entire galaxy, and if there is other intelligent life out there it may be so far away they might as well not exist. This, therefore, makes us incredibly special, if not unique. So, that leads us to consider two options: life is just a cosmic accident or it has purpose and meaning as part of a wider story.

So, as I close, let me finish with a deep question: Who are you? Science might give one possible answer: You are a collection of atoms forged in ancient stars billions of years ago and one day in the distant future those atoms will return to the open vastness of space. Nothing more. Nothing less. Your life is insignificant and will not affect the universe one iota. If you happen to breed and have children, you will be keeping the human race going and adding to the gene pool. But that's about it.

If I ask God the same question, he might begin by saying this: Yes, you are a collection of atoms, but you were 'fearfully and wonderfully made' (Psalm 139). You are not an accident and your life has significance. More importantly, God knows you and desires for you to know him.

In conclusion, I think science is awesome! And it isn't, I believe, at odds with my faith. But what do you think?


References / Links

Biologos
http://biologos.org/

Prove to me that God Exists: http://www.cvm.org.uk/blog/demolition-squad/prove-it-to-me/?platform=hootsuite

List of Christian Scientists
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christians_in_science_and_technology

If Bacteria's so fit, why evolve into Mozart? (cached article)
http://sometimestheycallmejc.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/if-bacterias-so-fit-why-evolve-into.html

10 Reasons Christians should love the big bang theory
http://brazenchurch.com/christians-should-love-big-bang-theory/

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Bible Project Animated Videos

I'm always a bit dubious about 'Christian Resources' as they tend to promise much more than they deliver (so sayeth the cynical one)! There's always a danger that material aimed at Christians becomes nothing more than 'self-help' motivational fluff rather than anything with biblically-strong foundations.

But - hey - what do I know?

One resource, however, which I have stumbled across that I think is decent is The Bible Project: a series of animated videos that visually explores the bible through animated short films.

Some of these look at individual books of scripture with a broad overview of what each book is about. Others look at different themes surrounding God, the Bible and Christianity.


What I love about these films is the illustrations used to impart wisdom are brilliant and the explanations are clear, concise and easy to understand. Sure, it's American, but it's thankfully free of the usual cheesy stuff that goes with our cousins across the Atlantic.

Check the videos out here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jointhebibleproject

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The problem with Star Wars

I mention Star Wars quite a lot on this blog and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a fan, although I'm not hardcore by any means. I really only rate the original trilogy as anything special. Everything else is ... well, okay, I suppose.

I guess why I keep up with the new stuff is simply because it's sci-fi and I do love a bit of sci-fi, whatever it may be.

What bugs me about SW, however, is - to be frank - the glorification of mass murder to children. That might sound a bit over dramatic but, you see, everyone knows that SW is marketed towards children. George Lucas has said that it was always aimed at children, even though the typical SW audience nowadays is a 30-something male. The fact that so many toys, bathrobes, lunch boxes and the like flooded shops on the wave of SW success is an obvious indicator of the audience demographic - but then, of course, children grow up and want their children to experience the same things they had when they were a child.

No. 2 son wearing the helmet and costume of two different agents of - er - oppression.

These children follow the exploits of SW's heroes as they battle it out against the Sith or the Empire or the First Order or whoever. Our heroes frequently murder - yes, murder - their foes for their cause, be they lowly enforcement officers (e.g. storm troopers) or high ranking members of the ruling elite (e.g. Sith lords). The bad guys are no better, obviously. Darth Vader and co. are very keen on their summary executions and genocidal weapons of mass destruction.

Which leads me to the main source of what bothers me. Look at any Star Wars section in any toy store and you will see images of Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Darth Maul and Rylo Ken adorning the aforementioned lunch boxes and toys. Doesn't that strike you as slightly odd? These characters are evil through and through. They are agents of a facist, oppressive regime that spans an entire galaxy and is responsible for mass genocide, but kids think they're 'cool' and 'awesome'. Of course the good guys feature on merchandise as well, but I bet given the choice kids would rather choose a badass Sith Lord over a goody-two-shoes Jedi Knight.

Maybe it's the costumes. To give the Empire credit where credit's due, they do know how to dress.

Follow my train of thought, though, and you can equate it to seeing a kid wearing a Herman Göring Onesie, an SS Officer facemask or a Pol Pot t-shirt. It's not that huge a leap.

Now yes, kids have always played war - whether it's with sticks or more elaborate role play games using metal figurines. Kids battle it out as soldiers (as either side) on their Xboxes and Playstations in all sorts of combats games. That doesn't mean they condone the actions of those who they pretend to play of course, it's just make-believe after all.

But still, seeing kids brandishing toothbrushes with (fictional) mass murderers on them seems a bit strange to me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (February)

#8 The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
The LEGO movie spin off fails to disappoint with tons of action and laughs thrown together with pop culture references galore. Batman learns to get in touch with his softer side while battling pretty much every foe Gotham City has ever produced. The various Batman in-jokes are particularly well-played. Great fun.
(9/10)

#9 Tank Girl (1995)
Lori Petty was perfect casting for the lead role in Tank Girl, so it's a shame everything else doesn't quite live up to the promise of the source material. Full of zany action, one-liners and sets it has a 90s charm but you can tell it's not quite the film it should have been.
(4/10)

#10 I Am Your Father (2015)
Documentary about David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star War trilogy. An interesting insight into his experience playing the iconic character and how he was affected by having his voice re-dubbed by James Earl Jones and Vader’s face being portrayed by Sebastian Shaw in Return of the Jedi. Culminates in David re-creating Vader’s death scene (annoyingly, though, they don’t actually show it – presumably because of copyright reasons).
(7/10)

#11 The Choice (2016)
A love story that centres around a male veterinarian and female trainee doctor who initially hate each other – but before too long get entangled in a relationship while the doctor's boyfriend is away with business. Fairly predictable chick-flick that is still watchable, the North Carolina scenery is gorgeous and Tom Wilkinson puts in an appearance to raise the standards a bit.
(6/10)

#12 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
I've seen this several times, but mostly in bits, and last weekend I actually got to watch it all the way through. Even though Roald Dahl didn't like it, the 1971 version of his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a worthy adaptation despite taking numerous liberties with the story (probably mainly owing to budgetary constraints). Terrific fun with memorable moments and great gags (both visual and verbal), the late great Gene Wilder steals the show as the mischievous, enigmatic yet creepy Wonka.
(8/10)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oreo Red Velvet!

One of my birthday presents was a packet of Red Velvet Oreos from my brother, imported from the States and no doubt containing all sorts of unhealthy, possibly carcinogenic, ingredients.

Seeing as I'm not planning on incorporating them into my regular diet, I figure one packet isn't going to do tooooo much harm, especially if I space them out a bit.

So, what do they taste like? Well, um Oreos funnily enough. They have a 'cream cheese' icing sandwiched between two red-ish Oreo cookies, but these two quirky properties don't really make them vastly different to their regular cousins (I suppose that's kinda the idea, though). The cream cheese icing doesn't particularly remind me of cream cheese, and the biscuity bit tastes like normal Oreos. I think it's more of an appearance thing, rather than a flavour thing.

Going back to the unhealthy ingredients (see the packaging which says: 'Artificially Flavored' - yikes!), there is something of a slight metallic aftertaste. Best not think about that too much.


Verdict: Tasty, but don't overdose on 'em. You might go blind...

More Oreo reviews from the archives:
Oreo easter eggs
Snowy Oreos
Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich
Oreo Peanut Butter Flavour
Oreo Thins 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Are you a dreaded talker?

I'm an introvert. I like my own company. I'd rather spend an evening in a quiet pub with a couple of mates than hang out in a noisy nightclub full of people. I don't like being the centre of attention, although I'm not averse to a bit of public praise when it's due (not too much, though - I'm quite modest as well. Ha!).

Being an introvert, I'm quite sensitive to being around other people. Not in an anxious way, but I'm always conscious of others and how they are relating to me and those around them. I can't help myself, that's just who I am - sue me.

One group of people I am particularly sensitive to are 'Talkers'. Yes, the ones who yak away incessantly without due regard to social norms. Of course, I'm generalising a bit here, but these people exist and they are out there ... amongst the regular people like you and me.

The difference between Talkers and normal people who like to engage in conversation is that Talkers don't seem capable of listening. It's always a one-sided conversation. They are happy to tell you what they think about something or other but don't actually think about asking your opinion, and if they do ask, they don't listen anyway.

Some Talkers are worse than others. The pathological ones drone on about the same subject for fifteen minutes solid without giving you a chance to contribute. You come away from the encounter emotionally bruised and battered because all you've been thinking about the whole time is how you can a) say something (anything) in the gaps b) excuse yourself without offending your captor c) smash their face in (metaphorically, of course).

I think what makes Talkers who they are is their lack of self awareness. That all-important ability to look beyond yourself and regulate your behaviour. I reckon I'm pretty good at it. I'm not one for talking at great length but if I am talking for an extended period (say, more than a minute), I become very conscious of it and feel the need to wrap up what I'm saying and let someone else have a turn. I guess because I know what things annoy me, I try not do them myself to others.

This is in no way a scientific, psychological analysis of the whole human social interaction thing. It's just my thoughts based on personal experience (I've probably nullified any point I've made by saying that, but it's good to get these things out in the open).

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate these people. As a Christian, I know I am called to love the unlovable, to show mercy and kindness to my fellow human beings. That said, it's OK to acknowledge your feelings – and I can't help feeling the way I do about dreaded Talkers. Argh!

So, if you happen to be one of those dreaded Talkers, just take my advice and learn to sit back and listen rather than open your gob.

You'll be doing your friends a favour as well as yourself.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sticky Pets

For Christmas my little brother got the kids some stick insects, which was probably the most random present they got.

Unfortunately, however, as soon as we got them home about half of the little beasts dropped dead. How do you tell if an insect that tends to stay still most of the time is dead? Well, all you have to look for is the most clichéd signs: these critters chose to show their deadness in the most helpful way i.e. by lying on their backs with their feet in the air.

Thanks guys.

I'm not sure exactly why but it may have been the lack of food and moisture (it took a while to figure out the best conditions for them). Or it may simply have been a case of Darwinian natural selection - only the toughest stickiest stick insect can survive our household it seems.

I've become quite attached to them, and find them almost more interesting than our hamster (although he wins hands down when it come to cuteness). Being nymphs, they are still growing and apparently this particualr species – Eurycantha calcarata (I think) or New Guinea Stick Insect – get quite big so that's something to look forward to. Or be terrified of. They are pretty fierce-looking for harmless insects.
We've already witnessed a couple of them shed their skin, which is fascinating, and now I've located an endless supply of bramble on the other side of Roath park rec so they won't ever go hungry.

Hopefully the remaining survivors will live a long life (for their species anyway). After all, I've raised two human children of my own and they seem to be doing OK so far.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Oreo Thins!

Oreo have recently launched their 'Thins' in the UK and as soon as I saw they were available, I had to try them, more out of curiosity than out of any huge desire to consume them.

My initial thought was that it seemed a waste. Being thin, there would be less creme and less biscuit compared to any other kind of Oreo. Double Stuff Oreos are amazing because there is a generous helping of yummy creme in each cookie.

Surely you want more of a good thing, not less of it?

Weirdly though ... they work. I like them. What's nice is that, unlike the standard variety, they aren't so brutal on the mouth when you crunch into them. Delicate is probably the most apt description and that makes them easy to scoff.

I can guess why Oreo have made these. I reckon they're aimed at people who want to watch their calories and so if they eat a thin it's like eating half a regular Oreo (whether that actually stacks up I don't know - I haven't checked the KCAL numbers).

Whatever the reason, Thins are a great addition to the expanding of the Oreo line up (and my expanding waistline maybe - ulp!).

More Oreo reviews from the archives:
Oreo easter eggs
Snowy Oreos
Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich
Oreo Peanut Butter Flavour

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Birthday Cards Roundup

This week I turned the ripe old age of 42 (the answer to life, the universe and everything, apparently).

I had several cards, but only the chosen few get to be featured in this here blog for being either funny or interesting:

Honesty can be the best form of humour.
Interesting play on words. I would never ever own a land rover though.
Anything based on movies is alright in my book. My favourite: Where Beagles Dare
More honesty...
Who doesn't like a lion wearing shades?

Rogue One: Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD



There's a well-known saying that goes 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter'. Whilst this is probably a bit simplistic (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/is-one-mans-terrorist-another-mans-freedom-fighter/257245/) when discussing revolutions, uprisings, insurgencies and the like, I think it does have an element of truth to it. Watching the recent Star Wars film Rogue One reminded me of this saying.

You can read my review of the film here.

In case you didn't know, the movie follows a group of resistance fighters who are battling against the evil Empire, a totalitarian space government hell bent on complete domination of the galaxy (with the ultimate aim of galaxy-wide peace, apparently). These rebels are out to get plans to the secretive Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction so terrible it can vaporise entire planets, thus eliminating billions in one strike. The rebels hope these plans will enable them to exploit a fatal weakness that will easily destroy the weapon, dealing a devastating blow to their enemy.

In order to achieve this goal, the rebels cross paths with various military, law enforcement and administrative personnel of the Empire – many of whom who are killed for getting in the way. It's not just Empire staff that are in danger, however. The very first time we meet him, one of the Rogue One team kills an informant in cold blood.

Sure, the Empire is evil (although it's never very clear in the movies exactly why they're evil). They're developing a humongous floatey grey ball that can extinguish billions of lives in an instant, so yeah they're pretty bad. But does this fact justify the murder of innocent people in the name of a 'cause'? No doubt the bigwigs at the top (Darth Vader, the Emperor et al) are evil through and through, but the regular guys lower down the ranks probably aren't on the same scale of evilness. I expect they're just trying to get by, keep their head down and provide for their family – but unfortunately they are the ones who usually get slaughtered.



The sad plight of a baddie's goons has no doubt been discussed many times (and even made fun of in the excellent Austin Powers), but every time I see nameless henchmen take a bullet for their evil masters it always makes me wonder about the morality of our hero. It doesn't take a massive leap of imagination to see the heroes as terrorists, but because they are framed as the 'goodies' we the audience are happy to cheer them on as they blast away faceless stormtroopers in the name of freedom.

Okay, now don't read too much into what I'm saying here. I'm not equating the rebellion with ISIS / DAESH, for example. The ideals of that real-world terrorist organisation is in no way, shape or form 'noble', and the atrocities which they've committed in the name of it means they should be stopped at all costs. Also, Star Wars is fantasy and no actual people are being killed in the process, obviously. Real life is not like the movies, and that's something we should be constantly reminding ourselves of. Art is simply a mirror held up against our culture, after all.

Curiously, given one of Rogue One's themes (armed struggle against oppression), it seems to me that Disney – that great, magical provider of wholesome and wondrous entertainment – is advocating guerilla warfare. This is automatically, by association, of course. I don't think Disney have actually ever released a press release stating as much, but if our heroes are killing people in the name of their cause and we are meant to be rooting for the hero, then we should be aligning with that cause at least to some degree. This means that we're on the side of the armed struggle and Disney is too (because they wouldn't be on the side of the Empire, would they? Would they??).

Apparently, a load of blogger moms were invited by Disney to a special preview showing of Rogue One because they were worried that the advance word about it being a 'war film' would put parents off from taking their children. As it was a preview, they only showed about twenty minutes of the film (probably all the safe bits, with K2-SO giving his comedy quips), but I'm sure they did their best to try and allay any fears the adults might have. If this was the case, it's a classic example of corporate deception. Rogue One is very much a war movie, despite the fact that it falls under the Star Wars banner. I must admit, when I heard that Rogue was going to be more 'gritty', I thought twice about taking number one son. Since the rating was a 12A, I thought it would be alright (Force Awakens was the same rating), but it's certainly darker than other Star Wars films (just compare the end battle to the one in Phantom Menace. It's like they're from two completely different franchises).

So, going back to my freedom fighter / terrorist thought ... I'm not necessarily saying it's wrong to feature characters overthrowing an oppressive regime, but I'm questioning the morality of murderous acts committed in the name of such causes. You could argue that freedom has a price, and that those who stand in the way of freedom pay the ultimate price – their lives – for deliberately getting in the way. To quote another famous space-based franchise: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." (https://youtu.be/KqpcmQhnl48). This is particularly poignant in modern times, as freedoms in the West are becoming more and more threatened (see: Snoopers charter, Trump, Putin etc.). We've recently seen protest marches against Trump across the globe, and one common thread has been the notion of 'resistance'. Even some Trumpists are accusing Disney of comparing the current US administration to that Empire. The parallels between Star Wars and contemporary society have never been more blatant.

I hope I'm never in the position where I have to choose between living under an oppressive regime or being a rebel fighter against it. Sure, I like to think I'd chose the side of the goodies over the baddies, but no armed struggle has ever been a picnic – for either side. So let's pray that in the not-too-distant-future the only time we see freedom fighters battling it out against a fascist regime is in a galaxy far far away...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2017 Book #1: The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen

I was given a copy of The Forgotten Son to read before Christmas and although I'm not a massive Doctor Who fan, I was intrigued by the idea of reading a spin off of the show.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is a much-loved character from Doctor Who, first appearing in the show's 1968 episode Web of Fear. The Brig (as he came to be known) returned numerous times to Who (including various spin offs, novels and audio plays) up until the actor Nicholas Courtenay's death in 2011 – and even got a posthumous mention in one episode of Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. 

The Forgotten Son is set just after the events of Web of Fear, when the Great Intelligence tried to conquer earth. I haven't actually seen this episode, but there was enough explanation for me to understand what was going on (I think!). The events in the book pick up after the Doctor has defeated the alien invader and disappeared off on another adventure, leaving behind Lethbridge-Stewart (who isn't a Brigadier yet) and the rest of Britain's military to clean up London in the wake of the alien invasion's aftermath. 

The Great Intelligence has already returned, however, attempting to take over the world (again) by infiltrating a spooky abandoned manor house near a quiet Cornish village.

When L-S is asked to investigate strange goings on in the village (which just so happens to be the place where he grew up as a boy), it soon turns out that things are not a coincidence and that the village holds a lot more significance for him than he'd bargained for.

With rampaging mechanical Yetis, re-animated dead soldiers and ghostly apparitions all with a bucketload of 60s references, The Forgotten Son is a well-crafted tale that feels very much a part of the Whoniverse but still manages to feel fresh and stand on its own.

Andy Frankham-Allen's writing is spot on. It's well-paced with a climatic ending worthy of any of the Doctor's adventures. Andy clearly knows his subject well and L-S's character is portrayed with utmost respect and reverence, albeit with a twinkle in his eye.

Great stuff.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Too much TV?

When our Freeview box died before Christmas it was time to get a replacement. I found a YouView box which seemed a pretty decent deal: all the terrestrial channels (including HD ones) with a 500GB hard drive for recording programmes. So far, so great.

Not long after we got the box, however, Virgin Media rang up to offer us a TiVo box effectively for free, which included a Sky Cinema package.

Even better. We now had two TV boxes with more TV and movies than you could shake a remote control at.

We did think about returning the YouView box but when we realised we can't get Channel 4's On Demand service on Virgin, we thought we'd keep both and switch between the two as needed.

Our TV choice had suddenly quadrupified, and that was great.

Then we got Netflix.

This is how many remotes we have. From L to R: YouView, TV, Old Freeview, Virgin, DVD Player

We went from having virtually no TV (because, let's be honest - there's not that much to watch on free telly), to virtually limitless programmes and films.

It kinda feels a bit overwhelming.

We have never been big TV watchers. It's not like we spend every evening glued to the box. And now we have the kind of choice that is unheard of ten years ago and it's all a bit scary.

I think our approach will be to take it one series at a time and only once we finish it, decide what to watch next.

Otherwise we might be those kind of people who watch TV and don't do anything else...

Why I think Trump will ultimately fail



A lot of people are comparing Trump's rise to power to what happened to Germany in the 1930s. There are many signs that point to this fact and it's terrifying: attacking minorities, extreme nationalism, a contempt for the media and free speech, normalising lies and half-truths etc.

Whilst the parallels with events eighty years ago are striking, I don't think we are in exactly the same situation. Yes there are similarities, but we live in a very different world with very different key players on the world stage.

I am hopeful that Trump's time in power will be short-lived. Whether that's four years or less I can't say, but there are certain factors that I think are against him:

- He's a fool
Compared to a lot of other fascist dictators, Trump's approach doesn't seem to be that well thought out. I really do think that he was trying his best not to get elected, given all the outlandish things he did and said. Now that he's in power, it's almost like he's trying to get himself booted out of office as soon as he can. Don't think there's a 'master plan' or anything – he's making it up as he goes along.

- He's a narcissist
Anyone who's examined Trump's behaviour will conclude that he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'humble'. His achilles heel, he cannot stand criticism or being made fun of. When you're one of the most powerful and well-recognised people on the planet you are going to be the butt of many jokes, and the world is going to turn up the ridicule button to 11. Constantly seeing red, Trump will likely lash out and say things even he regrets. All the associated stress could possibly make him deeply ill and incapacitated.

- His misogyny
Trump's attitude towards women is reprehensible. Yes, he will publicly deny any wrongdoing, but his track record on the opposite sex is not good. If he continues to rile half the population he will have a serious fight on his hands.

- He has no idealogy
Compared to other dictators, he has no obvious end game. Hitler wanted purity of the Germannic race and living space for his country. Trump has made no such noises (although white extremists will say he supports them). Yes, he's nationalistic and bullish, but I don't think that's quite the same.

- He has strong opposition
There is a lot of opposition out there, in spite of his adoring fans. The Democrat leadership appears to be largely spineless, but the media in particular is mostly left-wing and any attempt to quash their output will be strongly resisted. Then there's tech companies such as Apple, who have begun to make noises about their disapproval of Trump. Tim Cook, for example, resides over a multi-billion dollar company, and that has to have some clout. Not only that, but government officials and agencies have been vocal about their opposition to Trump. These guys could be the ones leading the struggle against Trump in days to come.

- He is living in the 21st century
Everyday people have the kind of communications and computational power unimaginable in the last century. Even with some restrictions, which would be vehemently opposed, people have more power at their finger tips than ever before and this will be extremely difficult to retract. That power will come in handy when it comes to resisting any attempt at a new order. Also, 1930s Germany was rife with extreme poverty and suffering, but while there are surprising levels of poverty among people in the developed world, most of us have access to the bare necessities: food, water, electricity and clothing.

- He's not doing anything new
The problem with trying to establish a fascist state in modern times (which Trump seems to be doing, although maybe not intentionally) is that it's happened before, and pretty much everyone knows how things turn out (i.e. very bad). We do have the lessons of history on our side, so hopefully people in positions of power and influence will recognise the warning signs and act accordingly.

How will it all end, I wonder? Is it possible that Trump calms down and just rides it out for four years? Or will the tipping point come with a final act of stupidity that gets him unceremoniously booted out of office?

All it takes is a spark, and I can see it going one of two ways: with a rising tide of angry indignant protests and strong political willpower – or with the tragic firing of a gun.

Let's hope it's the former rather than the latter.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (January)

#1: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Great suspense flick set in a bomb shelter. A young woman wakes up after a car accident to find herself in the aforementioned shelter with two other guys - one being John Goodman, expertly playing the ambiguoiusly creepy guy who built the shelter. He claims there's been a devastating attack on the country, hence them all being locked away underground, and they cannot leave (for 1-2 years) until the air above is safe for them to breathe.

Tension is expertly built as we gradually discover the truth about why this young woman is trapped down below. Full of twists and surprises, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps you guessing and brilliantly conveys the emotion and strength of the heroine in her fight for survival.
(8/10)

#2: Spaceballs (1987)
Star Wars parodies are two a penny these days but Spaceballs is the original and best. It felt slightly disrespectful of the epic space saga at the time, but on repeat watching it seems to have aged well and even the effects hold up after all this time. I'm not a huge fan of Mel Brooks, but Spaceballs is one of my favourite comedies.

Best moments: The giant spaceship taking forever to run past the frame, Dark Helmet watching a VHS tape of the very film they are in, 'combing' the desert, Dark Helmet playing with his action figures, Lone Star and Helmet comparing sizes of their lasers at crotch level.
(8/10)

#3: Zoolander 2 (2016)
I'm always a bit wary of sequels, especially ones that are made many years after the original (usually an attempt to reinvigorate the careers of the cast). Fifteen years (fifteen!!) have passed since Zoolander, an hilarious comedy about incredibly dumb male fashion models. Z2 doesn't quite hit the mark unsurprisingly, but it's actually a decent return for the characters. There are plenty of funny moments and at least the plot is vaguely different to the first one. Fun but forgettable.
(6/10)

#4 Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Kids animation where monsters are actually good guys, constantly under threat from pitchfork and flaming-torch wielding humans. Count Dracula has created a hotel for all the monsters (werewolves, mummys, swamp things, yetis etc.) to hang out and get a spot of refuge away from the lynchmobs. A single parent, Drac must contend with Mavis his daughter's coming of age party whilst trying to stop her venturing beyond the hotel and meeting the dreaded humans. In the mix is a real human who stumbles upon the place not realising what the deal is and falling in love with Mavis. This is actually a lot of fun - not hilarious, but plenty of in-jokes relating to monster tropes dotted throughout the movie. And the story holds up as a typical dad-fighting-to-control-his-newly-adult-daughter-longing-for-freedom caper.
(7.5/10)

#5 Deadpool (2016)
From the moment this films starts, you can tell it's not going to be your typical comic book movie. With plenty of gratuitous swearing, extreme violence and breaking of the fourth wall, the film holds nothing back in being faithful to the Marvel character. Deadpool is a fairly typical origins story, but what makes it stand apart is Ryan Reynold's titular character. It's clear they had less money than other franchise films, but the script more than makes up for that.
(9/10)

#6 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
I had low expectations going into this one but was pleasantly surprised. Comic-book heroes The Avengers split into two factions after getting all arguey about a new accord that proposes to keep a check on their activities. Inevitably this leads to crazy big-time punch ups and the biggest collection of superheroes amassing in a single film since, well, the Avengers. The split in the team seems a little forced and unrealistic, but the action pieces are entertaining and Spiderman makes a memorable appearance as played by the excellent Tom Holland. Fun to watch but once is enough for me.
(7/10)

#7 The Book of Life (2014)
A charming animated tale of loss and love set in the colourful Mexico of yesteryear. The gods of the underworld place a bet to see which one of their chosen mortals can win the heart of their childhood sweetheart. Gorgeous design and plenty of humour, it's nice to see a Latino story given the Hollywood CGI treatment.
(8/10)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trumpageddon

I refused to watch the news on Friday. I didn't want to know anything about Dumpf's inauguration and this was my silent protest at the end of democracy in America (not that it was perfect to begin with, but Trump really has put the nail in the coffin).

As a Brit, I am not directly affected by who runs the USA but I do have relations there and visited as a tourist a couple of times. Also, American culture is highly influential. I grew up on Films and TV from the States, which all made a big impression on me as a kid. Finally, there's the fact that America has a huge impact on the rest of the world, not just culturally but economically, politically and militarily. So it's fair to say I should be concerned about what's happening across the Atlantic.

So here we are, in a post-Obama world where fear, hate and greed seem to have won.

How the fudge did that happen?

Whatever the reason, I'm doubtful that anything good can come from having a narcissistic, hot-tempered lunatic in charge of the most powerful nation on earth. I can think of three possible outcomes and so, dear reader, thought it would be therapeutic to share them with you.

Please note that these scenarios are not based on any foreknowledge, proper research or extensive understanding of American politics. They are purely speculative and somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

1. Best Case Scenario
In my best case scenario, Trump doesn't last long as the 45th president. Within month of assuming the role, the scandals have amassed to such a degree that, even with journalists imprisoned for breaking new laws forbidding 'insults directed toward President Trump', the disgraced orange-faced-one is hounded out of office by the Republican Party with the support of most of the American public. Trump's misdemeanours finally catch up with him and he is put behind bars for sexual assault, tax avoidance, treason, inappropriate behaviour with livestock and mass corporate bribery. His sentence amounts to a total of 345 years.

In spite of this, it will take years to undo the fallout from Trump's ascendency to power. Infrastructure is in ruins, unemployment is rife and the factory which makes M&Ms has burnt down. Across the USA there are riots, looting and other forms of civil unrest. Eventually, however, with a swathe of political reforms, the country gets back on its feet and M&Ms are freely available again.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is deposed following the failure of his scheme to destabilise the USA. Free and fair elections are held and Crimea regains its independence.

Likelihood: (hopefully) Very
Death toll: Hundreds
Number of toupees destroyed: Not nearly enough
Sales of orange fake tan: at their lowest ever

2. Medium Case Scenario
In this scenario, Trump and his corporate cronies enact some kind of national bloodletting that has never been seen before, attempting to reverse every single good thing that the previous Obama administration achieved. As healthcare collapses, gun crime skyrockets and small businesses implode, Trump sits idly by in his golden boudoir ranting on Twitter. Many citizens decide they've had enough and mass civil disobedience erupts in every major city. Trump's answer is to offer free faux-gold frame photos of his portrait (signed using an auto-signature machine) to all citizens who agree to leave the streets and go home. Somehow this doesn't quell the riots.

California decides to secede from the Union, as does New York and Florida. This sparks the Second American Civil War which lasts only twelve weeks after everyone realises a civil war will stop them from a) drinking a decent latte b) watching Netflix c) buying the latest iPhone.

Trump's troops are ultimately defeated (thanks in part to Trump's insistence that his son, Donald Trump Jnr, leads all forces into battle) and the former USA splits into four: California, Texas Federation, The Central States of America and The New York and Eastern States Union.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin takes advantage of American turmoil and enacts a full-scale invasion of Eastern Europe, restoring the boundaries to former USSR lines. Without American support the EU is powerless to intervene, and World War III looms heavily on the horizon.

Likelihood: Unlikely
Death toll: Hundreds of thousands
Number of Second American Civil War movie scripts in development in Hollywood: 217

3. Worst Case Scenario
The moment he assumes office, Trump doesn't waste time offending every minority, nation, and ethnic group on the planet.

This includes China and Russia, who increasingly threaten to take action unless he stops. Incapable of backing down, Trump locks himself away in the Oval Office to fire off tweets attacking Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping for not being 'manly' enough.

After more angry exchanges, Trump is goaded into launching a full-scale nuclear assault on Moscow and Beijing after #trumpisimpotent and #trumphastinyhands become the top trending hashtags on Twitter for three days running.

The human race is annihilated in the subsequent nuclear firestorm that rages across the planet. London property values drop to an all-time low.

Likelihood: Very unlikely (please God!)
Death toll: 7.2 Billion
Most popular song played as the nukes rain down: 'Always look on the bright side of life' by Monty Python.