Monthly Archives: November 2009

2012: Spoilers ahoy!

As you know I despise spoilers, and those who spoil are lower in my esteem than even editors of the Daily Mail. Forget the three-strikes witch trial copyright infringement nonsense Mandy is trying to foist upon us: three spoils and you should be run through with a sharpened courgette, hanged by the neck until February and then ritually simoncowelled.

But I’m going to spoil the film 2012 for you. Because (a) it’s rubbish, (b) it’s laughably rubbish, and (c) everything is oh so obvious that you can probably already tell what happens from the opening scene until the welcoming dark embrace of the final fade to black.

Here are the highlights, minus the boring talky teary parts.

It starts with the science bit: it’s all caused by some kind of wonky neutrino just like what the Mayans sort of not really done predicted. Cue misery faces and the-president-wants-to-see-you boggle eyes. BRING ON THE DISASTERS.

California falls into the sea. Yellowstone caldera erupts. Las Vegas stops gambling. Our action hero John Cusack and his family, plus his estranged wife’s new lover and an extremely handy Russian billionaire and his family, escape all these via limo, light aircraft and Tupolev. Everyone else seems content to wait to die, except when they’re in exciting CGI scenes of utter devastation. Oh, there’s also the world’s worst impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We see briefly what happens elsewhere. In Rome, the Sistine Chapel collapses and St Peter’s Basilica rolls over the Italian PM. In Rio, the statue of Christ on a Bike or whatever it is topples over. Take that, Catholics! In London, they suspend the Olympics and apparently replay scenes of the 1990 poll tax riots on TV in lieu of actual news footage.

The US president stays in Washington so they can drop the USS John F Kennedy on his head and smash the White House into a billion pieces – again.

Meanwhile in Tibet: the Chinese, in secret collaboration with the Americans and all the world’s dodgily accented leaders, have been building enormous arks (sadly numbered rather than lettered, so there’s no Hitchhikeresque B Ark). Construction has been financed by ticket sales to – of course – Russian billionaires and their ilk. Just a billion euros a seat. Animals go in two by two, as per; also the usual treasures, yer Monas, yer Davids.

On their unlikely flight to Tibet our heroes can’t refuel at Hawaii as the volcanoes have spent another ten million bucks or so on special effects. So they just keep flying and figure they’ll ditch in the sea somewhere unless there’s a plot development of some kind.

On Air Force One the scientists and remaining pols watch the world disintegrate and tectonic plates shift. They shift so quickly that – how handy! – Tibet moves 1500 miles east, allowing our sputtering Tupolev to conk out just a few miles from their intended destination. The Russian billionaire deserts them – he has a ticket – and the rest start walking randomly until they just happen to bump into a Tibetan family heading for a secret rendezvous at, seemingly, the unguarded back gate to the huge megacomplex building the arks. Naturally they’re going to be smuggled onto an ark by a family member.

Via a few more contrivances they find their way to an ark, but of course we’re not done yet. They drop a spanner or something into some cogs, which stops a Hugely Important Door from closing just as the tsunami reaches them. This apparently means the enormous vessel cannot start any engines whatsoever, and reminds me of the Death Star’s single exhaust port of failure.

Not to worry: John Cusack disappears under water on a “suicide mission” accompanied by his I-wanna-help whiney son and together they release the spanner, thus saving the ark from utter destruction upon the North Face of Everest. His ex-wife’s lover – who saved them all several times through his mad piloting skillz – carked it a few minutes before in a death-by-cog incident, but not to worry, she’s all over it already and lovey-dovey with her ex again.

Cue the epilogue, arks in the sunset, new world, etc. Can we go home now?

It’s at least half an hour too long. No, that’s not right: it’s about two and half hours too long. The coincidences are too much to bear. The plot twists don’t. It’s all so obvious. And John Cusack never takes his tie off for the entire movie. The world is disintegrating around him in glorious technicolour hogwash and he remains impeccably dressed throughout.

It’s a bad film.

Avaragado’s rating: six billion souls all crying out at once, “no more films Emmerich”

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War stories

Each of us has a war story or two. By which I mean an actual story about an actual war, not just an anecdote about that time a skinhead threatened you with a kumquat. I have several, almost none of which involve me. They’re family stories, handed down by our family’s official teller of stories, my aunt.

Stories such as: how World War II broke out on her fifth (I think) birthday; how Uncle Bill (her mum’s brother) was “the only Canadian” on the beach at Dunkirk; how he, later in the war, happened to meet up with (I think) his cousin and another friend or family member in the middle of the North African campaign (there’s a photo somewhere). In case you’re wondering, her father – my grandad – was in a reserved occupation and didn’t see active service.

When I hear these stories I invariably ask myself how I would have fared in that war – or worse, World War I. When I was twenty I was at college, watching on TV amazed as the Berlin Wall came down; in World War II I might have been fighting in the skies over Kent, resisting what seemed an inevitable German invasion. In World War I I’d have been in the trenches.

I remember in January 1991 when the Gulf War started: a newsflash jumping into coverage of a football match, TV quickly patching into the CNN feed from Baghdad: chunky graphics and Bernard Shaw on a crackly phone line describing the bombs falling. I was working on my final year project and the adrenalin rush made my hands shake enough that I couldn’t write. I expected, as did many others, that Saddam would use chemical weapons on Israel – live on TV. We saw news reporters in gas masks; Kate Adie in a tent “in eastern Saudi Arabia”; John Simpson kicked out of Baghdad. It took just a few weeks to kick Saddam out of Kuwait.

A more local conflict followed as Yugoslavia imploded and NATO finally, reluctantly, acted. War in Europe, but not a european war. John Simpson dodging bombs in Belgrade this time.

And then Bush came to power and used the attacks on New York and Washington to bring his own idea of democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. I agreed with the original goals in Afghanistan, but I knew the Iraq war was a sham as did millions of others. A shameful war, justified by lies, supported by sycophants, and driven by fundamentalist Christian ideology. The only plan to invade and conquer, the only goal revenge, the only possible result an entire region destabilised for decades. I watched on TV; sadly I’m still watching.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, and the deaths continue. Democracy in Afghanistan has resulted in a corrupt election with Karzai last week declared the winner. Why are we still fighting this war?

Gordon Brown made a speech yesterday on the UK’s Afghanistan strategy. Here’s one passage:

“The first priority of any government is to provide security for its people. It is not sustainable to subcontract that task indefinitely to the international community. So the expansion and training of the Afghan army and police must be the new government’s first priority.”

And then three paragraphs later:

“President Karzai agreed with me yesterday that the first priority of his new government would be to take decisive action against corruption.”

I wonder which of the many first priorities Karzai will tackle first, and which he will only tackle first.

Why is our “strategy” on this war so apparently cobbled together that ridiculous, contradictory statements like that can get into major, supposedly defining speeches? Why are we still fighting this war?

Brown defines success in Afghanistan:

“We will have succeeded when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are providing security themselves, continuing the essential work of denying the territory of Afghanistan as a base for terrorists.”

If we pulled out all our troops today, who would provide security? The Afghans themselves. There: done. In any meaningful sense this is not a measurable way to define victory. The reality is: success is when we declare success. Why are we still fighting this war?

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday. I wear a poppy. I observe the two minutes’ silence. I’m grateful that men and women fought and died, and continue to fight and die, so that I may live in a world in which I don’t have to battle in the skies over Kent, or in the trenches, or in the deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere else. I won’t have any first-hand war stories to pass on to the offspring I also won’t have.

But I want the war stories that today’s soldiers tell their children and grandchildren to be about wars that were fought for a just cause, for a clear goal, for honourable reasons. The worst, most poignant war stories don’t end with death or destruction, but with one word: “why?”.

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Evidence versus expedience

Last Friday Home Secretary Alan Johnson fired the government’s chief drugs advisor, Professor David Nutt, for speaking out against government policy: for saying the unsayable, that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than cannabis. This inconvenient truth has been, for a long time, the elephant in the room – metaphorically rather than hallucinogenically. Indeed a rare non-rubbish Horizon covered the same ground some time ago.

But governments don’t govern by evidence: they govern by expedience.

One death from tobacco-related lung cancer or alcohol-related liver failure is a statistic. One death from ecstasy is a front-page story, a week of leader articles and why-oh-why fodder for an officeful of lazy, smoking, drinking hacks. The Daily Mail has more influence on government drugs policy than any scientist, or any fact.

(Similarly, deaths on the road are considered “acceptable”. Crushed between two 12m, 44 tonne, six axle articulated lorries carrying fizzy weak Eurobeer to satiate the Friday night binges lubricating the traditional British weekend? Statistic. Span off when driving too fast on an icy road to die in a ditch polluted by a local factory? Statistic. Unless of course you were daft enough to get in a car driven by a drunk bodyguard and didn’t wear your seatbelt: then you’re the People’s Statistic.)

Political expediency ensures that tobacco and alcohol are legal and (not particularly well) regulated, despite the costs in lives, in time and in money. That same expediency rejects the evidence-based analysis that would logically lead to legalisation and regulation of (according to Nutt) lower-harm drugs like cannabis. The belief is that the votes of Middle Britain would go elsewhere, at least in the present generation, mostly thanks to sky-falling-in tabloid articles written by journalists who, of course, have never taken any illegal drugs themselves.

Politically, David Nutt had to go. He had proclaimed the emperor’s nudity from the rooftops and most significantly he had criticised the government: the emperor was not only starkers, but a big old Fatty McFat Fat.

I have no problem with the notion that “advisers advise, politicians decide”. I do think that scientists should keep out of politics, mainly for their own sanity. But this goes both ways: politicians should keep out of science. By all means ignore some or all of the advice you’re given, as long as you don’t pretend in public that the advice is something else. Instead, tell us why you’ve rejected it. Plain and simple. We might or might not agree, and we might argue vehemently that you’re wrong, but we’d respect the honesty.

And we desperately need an honest debate about drugs: about the science and about the politics. Sadly that doesn’t seem possible. Scandalously Channel 4 News hasn’t even been able to persuade a single representative of the Home Office to appear on its programme to answer questions about David Nutt’s dismissal.

I guess it’s not seen as politically expedient.

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