18 September 2021

Coronavirus #32: Anti-vaxxers

Those who are refusing to have their Covid vaccines are putting themselves and others at real risk. If I was in a care home, I would not want any carer who come into contact with me not to be jabbed.

Personally, if you won't take the jab, which is safe, why are you in that profession?

(For the record, I am already double-jabbed)

11 September 2021

Twenty years since 9/11

In memory of all the innocent people who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and in the twenty years' conflict since.

Rest in Peace.

04 September 2021

No Roman Charges, yet (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.25, "Bread and Circuses")

So, I am a white Christian man, born in a city founded by the Roman Empire. My experience of this episode will of course be different to someone not of that background... and it's going to difficult to avoid sounding 'privileged'. But here we go.

****

The Prime Directive was Star Trek's response to the Vietnam War, which its writers saw as the United States interfering in the development of a SE Asian culture. In this episode, the crew searching for the survivors of a lost commercial survey ship find a "20th Century Rome" where gladiator fights are shown on television and slaves get pensions. Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon wrote this episode off an idea by an uncredited John Kneubuhl - it is definitely an interesting one.

The main three, looking to find out what happened to the crew encounter a group of escaped slaves whose 'rags' look remarkably like store-bought T-shirts, before getting captured, discovering that the captain has ended up in charge. I have seen this last one before; it goes back to The Tempest at least. Certainly the world, what we see of it, is well realised and the revelation that the arena is a studio set with audience "reactions" controlled by dials is a great one, raising questions about our contemporary television. Something as a medium that the TOS era seems to have moved beyond.

McCoy in particular is wonderfully acerbic throughout this episode, demonstrating great chemistry with Spock including in one scene often cut in syndication. Kirk does more of that Earth thing called kissing, but at least his shirt doesn't get ripped off.

Best guest star is Logan Ramsey as Claudius Marcus, who is wonderfully smarmy. William Smithers, who is now 94, does a good job as Merik, the former captain. The female guest cast are less well served. One is a slave girl in another skimpy costume. The other doesn't get named. At least Uhura gets stuff to do. 

The crew are rescued by another bending of the Prime Directive and Uhura suggests that a parallel to Christianity is developing that will see an improvement in time. That's a very 'Western' take on things considering what ended up being done in the name of Christianity, although I must point out that the zealots in any society often haven't read their own holy book properly. As we're witnessing in multiple places right now, such as in Texas. Which begs the question of when interference is appropriate.

****

Conclusion

Enjoyable, although somewhat dated. Could have been even better if the production wasn't rushed at studio management insistence.

8/10

28 August 2021

London Loop

Hello to Diamond Geezer if he is reading this. I like your blog.

****

I got into the habit of long walks during lockdown because I had to do something to keep myself from going crazy and more recently, as restrictions have eased and I could get a train back, I have started to head further afield. Now I am starting on a goal to walk the entirety of the London Loop, the 150-mile orbital footpath around the capital city. It's apparently "the M25 for walkers", but the M25 is nowhere near as overgrown in places or taking you through areas that seem to just waiting for the zombies to turn up.

So far, I have done:

  • Section 22: Harold Wood to Upminster Bridge. I did this in reverse direction. This bit is awfully signposted and I added a good mile to my walk because I got lost midway through.
  • Section 23: Upminster Bridge to Rainham. Walking through the site of the old RAF Hornchurch, this is by far the most accessible bit I have been so far and is pictured above.
  • Section 24: Rainham to Purfleet. Seriously overgrown in places; I got cuts on my arms from brambles - you'd be insane to wear shorts doing these walks. There are an array of 'comedy pirate graves' along the river. Someone has clearly put a lot of effort into everything except the puns.
  • Section 1: Erith to Bexley. The path doesn't go the whole way round of course; there's a river in the way and you can't walk across the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. At 8.7 miles including the connections to the stations at either end, it's something best done in two stages with a break for lunch in Crayford.
I'll post some photos from Section 1 below. Along with a video of a Class 465 Networker leaving Erith.








15 August 2021

Afghanistan #3

So much for by next Saturday. It's over, the Taliban have taken over.

This is the biggest humiliation for the United States since the fall of Saigon in 1975, except the helicopter has two rotors this time. 

But crowing about it won't do any good. We need to be prepared for whatever happens next, especially if the place becomes a terrorist base again.

14 August 2021

Afghanistan #2

Many analyses from even a few days ago are looking old; it is entirely possible that the Taliban could be in the centre of Kabul by next Saturday now. It depends on whether Ghani can get his forces in any form of order or there is some kind of brokered ceasefire where he stands down.

A full assault is likely to be a bloodbath on all sides. We're likely to end up with millions of refugees in any event.

Does anyone know any good charities I can donate to here?

11 August 2021

Yes, but does it run Fortnite? (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.24, "The Ultimate Computer")

When arriving at a station, a Commodore arrives onboard the Enterprise to tell Kirk that his ship is going be involved in testing a new computer, M-5, designed to run a starship autonomously, with just a skeleton crew staying on board during a series of manoeuvres and war games. The computer has been made by the famous inventor Richard Daystrom, who has revolutionised computing and the M5 promises to make human crews in Starfleet redundant. So, what can possibly go wrong?

****

Computer technology has been a popular topic for science fiction over the decades, with the ethical issues about artificial intelligence and how to control it discussed by most famously Isaac Asimov[1].

"The Ultimate Computer" is a tale of what happens when you allow a scientific genius free reign and forget to peer-review his work, as the Enterprise find themselves in an escalating situation in a ship they don't control. The story was also written at a time when factory mechanisation was putting American workers out of a job.

It's definitely a very enjoyable episode - and a tightly contained one to boot - taking place pretty much entirely on the main ship with a few extra scenes clearly using the same set, done to save money[2]. I will say that it falls somewhat apart at the end, with the main threat resolved by a method that wouldn't pass muster to a modern coder.

The regulars are all present and correct; James Doohan even does two extra voice roles as the M-5 computer and an off-screen commodore. Spock in particular is on very fine form, getting in some excellent jibes at McCoy, particular in the final scene. Kirk's command decisions are mostly brilliant, although I wonder why he didn't threaten to put Daystrom in the brig for not doing as he was told.

Richard Daystrom is played by African-American actor William Marshall, who was deeply moved to get a role where he played a highly respected genius that even Kirk looks up to. His voice is brilliant (he did a lot of Shakespeare) and he does a great job portraying a character who is clearly falling apart. The fact that the Daystrom Institute becomes a fairly big thing despite the events of this episode suggests that some form of cover-up happened, but it is not made explicit. However, the 50 minutes overall is well-paced and not wasted.

A highlight of this episode is the action, which is a bit odd because there's very little of it actually shown on screen - stock footage was used in the original version and the CGI is fairly limited in the remastered one. Whereas today's Trek shows would show us all the detail in 4K, we're often reliant on the cast relaying the action by verbal report on the bridge, more akin to a submarine movie. It works remarkably well and more shows should use that instead of reaching for things like stock footage in my honest opinion.

Oh, and because this is TOS, a redshirt buys the farm as usual. Plus ça change...

****

Conclusion

A solidly good Star Trek story that kind of falls down a bit at the end, but is still enjoyable.

8/10

[1] During my writing of this, I learned that he was rather 'handsy' towards women at conventions etc. The fact that this was known and broadly tolerated by many speaks volumes of a world we have only partly left behind.
[2] Bottle episodes often are.

Afghanistan

The situation for the Kabul government is not, to put it simply, going very well. The loss of nine provincial capitals in a week to the Taliban with little or no fighting in some cases is creating a strong air of crisis as the Americans end their 20-year, $2 trillion operation in the country.

It is possible that Kabul will fall - it is also quite possible that it will not and if a fight is put up there, taking a city of 4 million people would be beyond the Taliban's capability.

What is clear that the current government has failed to gain widespread legitimacy among many of its people and as a result, much of the country will now be under a regime that thinks music is sinful. Ultimately, that is on the Afghan so-called leadership themselves. Sadly, we have not seen the last of that country's troubles.