Formula 1: Russia 2019 GP Thoughts

I’ll be honest, I’ve never completely warmed to the Sochi semi-street circuit track. As an armchair spectator at home, the whole thing looks the same to me and I would struggle to recall any specific corners or memorable elements of the track. It’s perhaps fitting then that we’ve not really had any killer races is Russia that are worth remembering. The 2019 edition was no different.

Lewis Hamilton benefitted from the safety car to win his first race after the summer break, finally breaking the red cars’ chokehold. This should have been another Ferrari victory though and I’m sure Mercedes must be just a little concerned now for, without the safety car, either Vettel or Leclerc would have taken the top step of the rostrum without a doubt.

Ferrari’s afternoon was mired by the apparent intra-team politics that were once again kicking off in the background. Vettel had an immense start, surging forth from third on the grid to pass Hamilton and slipstream his Leclerc before passing his teammate and gaining the lead. Initially, it looked like Seb was back, revitalised by his Singapore victory. However, team radio soon revealed a different story and it became clear that there had been some form of pre-race agreement in place that might have helped Vettel gain first place on the road. There was talk of Seb letting Charles by but Vettel was already pulling out a lead and apparently in no mood to comply. Shades of Multi-21?

Whatever the truth behind this mysterious agreement was, it’s not the sort of thing we want to be sitting down to watch at the weekend. To the fans, it looked like Vettel had made an incredible start and put one over on both his big rival in recent years (Hamilton) and the young new upstart from the opposite side of the Ferrari garage. Game on. But then we get all of this crap about agreements and letting other cars by. No thanks. Remember when these sorts of orders were banned in the Schumacher era? I can’t say I fully blame Vettel for holding the lead. After all, there was every possibility that he would have been able to seize it anyway without assistance. He’d certainly already beaten Hamilton and there was nothing to say that he wouldn’t have been able to slipstream Charles and take first place unaided.

 

Formula One F1 - Russian Grand Prix
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The controversy was ultimately rendered elementary in due course, however. Ferrari swapped the pair back around through pit strategy but before we got to see the teammates go at it tooth and nail, Vettel’s car ground to a halt with a power unit failure. The irony was that Vettel’s breakdown triggered the safety car that allowed Hamilton to steal the lead from Leclerc. Ferrari pitted Leclerc again, allowing Valtteri Bottas to get the other silver arrow into second place, a position he would hold until the flag.

Vettel was still voted Driver of the Day by the fans though – a verdict that I didn’t agree with at all. For me, it was all about Alex Albon in the Red Bull, and his charge through the field to fifth place after starting the race from the pit lane. Albon impressed once again with a series of aggressive yet controlled desperado moves as he battled through the midfield, overhauling two former Red Bull drivers – Kvyat and Gasly – in the process. All of this with brakes that were not working properly. For me, Albon has done enough to show that he should get the Red Bull drive in 2020. His assertive performance in the car in the races following the summer break has already overshadowed anything that Pierre Gasly had done in the season’s first half.

The only big surprise at the Russian GP was that Romain Grosjean was eliminated in a clash on the opening lap…and it wasn’t his fault!

Thankfully, we’re off to a classic venue for the next race – Suzuka.

Book Review: The Institute (Stephen King, 2019)

DSC_0476Year: 2019
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 485
ISBN: 9781529355390

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular twelve-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local sheriff. He’s basically just walking the beat. But he’s about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute’s downtrodden playground of corridors where posters advertise ‘just another day in paradise’, Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments – even the infamous Mrs. Sigsby – suspect.

It’s fair to say that I was a little cautious going into The Institute because, as much as I love Stephen King’s work, I wasn’t as enthralled by his latest output as I have been by the classics from his back catalogue.  Sleeping Beauties, for instance, was a great read until the anticlimactic finale and implication that men are the cause of most of the world’s problems. Then there was Gwendy’s Button Box and Elevation – two enjoyable page-turners that were just too short and not wholly satisfying as a result.

But Amazon were offering the The Institute at half-price (£10 instead of £20) if the book was pre-ordered so I threw caution to the wind and did just that. I’m glad that I did too because The Institute is a fantastic read and a real return to form that left me with very little to dislike.

One of the things I liked the most about this book was that it had the classic King formula of multiple plot strands converging for the endgame. On one hand, there is Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop turned drifter. Jamieson is hitch-hiking his way to New York, taking on temporary jobs along the way, until fate brings him to the tiny South Carolina town of Dupray. Tim takes on an old-school night knocker job, only intending to stay in town for a while, but finds himself unexpectedly warming to small-town life and the people in Dupray. And they warm to him too. Tim quickly goes up in the estimations of Sheriff Ashworth and also manages to impress the frosty Deputy Wendy Gullickson, earning himself a dinner date with the attractive officer.

But if life is on the up and up for Tim, the same can’t be said for Luke Ellis. Luke is a child genius – a real one-in-a-million find – who is about to be enrolled into two colleges simultaneously…at the age of just twelve. Bright, popular and seemingly destined for greatness, Luke’s life should be about to take off but other people have different ideas. Luke is abducted from his home in the dead of night – and his parents murdered – by a special ops team who deliver him to the titular Institute, a top-secret off-the-books state facility that gathers together gifted children and subjects them to experiments.

It isn’t Luke’s incredible intelligence that the Institute are after however; it’s his latent telekinetic (TK) abilities. The Institute acquires children with TK or TP (telepathy) and uses their collected power to eliminate targets deemed dangerous for the world’s stability; terrorist leaders for example, or prominent figures that are seemingly on-course to start undesirable chains of events. The kids don’t know this to begin with though. What they do know is that they live in eerie replicas of their real bedrooms and have the freedom to roam the corridors of the Institute, use the vending machines and even access the (censored) internet…provided that they have earnt tokens from the Institute’s staff of course. They can even buy cigarettes and alcohol from the vending machines!

But this soft, open-prison style of incarceration comes with a nasty side. Scientists at the Institute subject the kids to all kinds of experiments that initially make little to no sense to Luke and his new group of friends. Failure to co-operate results in beatings, electric shocks from stun guns and even waterboarding. And this all before they have even graduated to the dreaded ‘Back Half’ of the Institute where their TK/TP abilities will be harnessed for the “greater good”.

So you have these two seemingly disconnected plots running parallel to one another before they finally meet up. It works very well in my opinion because I grew to really enjoy each of the lead characters and the supporting casts surrounding them. Whether it’s the town folk in Tim’s story or the kids that Luke befriends inside the Institute, both sides of the book are nicely fleshed-out and even the most minor of the supporting characters are brought to life believably in that special way that Stephen King has always been so adept at doing. Admittedly, there is more intrigue in Luke’s story but I wouldn’t say that either half is weak.

And you will love to hate those Institute people. From the cold and ruthless Mrs. Sigsby to the caretakers who seem to enjoy beating on kids and torturing them – they are all pretty nasty pieces of work and the cruelty that takes place within the walls of the Institute is described vividly by King with no punches pulled, even if it is just scared children who are the victims.

The book is apparently inspired by the thousands of children who go missing all across America each year and never seen again. The themes of government conspiracy and black site operations are also so relevant in this post-Wikileaks age where countless Youtubers and internet sites are eager to show you the proof that operations like the Institute are, perhaps, not so fictional at all.

I think that Stephen King has really done it again with The Institute. I would have liked the book to be just a little bit thicker and have the same level of detailed characterisation that the likes of IT and The Stand boasted but that’s pretty much the only criticism I have. The plot is full of intrigue and leads up to a fast-moving, action-packed finale that I found myself unwilling to pause with a bookmark. And the characters – as I have already said – are just so likable (or detestable in the case of the Institute’s staff). I would say that this is the best Stephen King book in this style since the fantastic Doctor Sleep (which seems like such a long time ago now!).

Highly recommended.

Formula 1: Singapore 2019 GP Thoughts

The dust has settled on the 2019 edition of the Singapore Grand Prix and I’m once again reminded of how incredibly biased and one-sided a lot of fans’ views are. What happened to a balanced opinion? I suppose that’s why I want to talk about F1 – the only sport I follow – here; because I think that there needs to be some balanced analysis rather than simply “Fuck Hamilton – he’s so lucky” or “Vettel is shit and always has been”.

That said, this isn’t going to be some form of deep analysis wrapped up in professional packaging. I am, after all, just a bloke with a laptop who does this blogging thing for the fun of it.

Anyway, the big story from Singapore is how Vettel apparently “stole” Charles LeClerc’s victory. Admittedly, Vettel probably shouldn’t have been on the top step of the podium and yes, he leapfrogged both LeClerc and Hamilton through a Ferrari pit-stop strategy. I have even read some fan reactions that speak of Vettel using “underhanded tactics” to undercut his teammate and “steal” his win. Let’s clear that up first of all: it was the team that called Vettel in to the pits so if anything, it should be Ferrari themselves that LeClerc fanboys need to be unhappy with.

Vettel’s fortune should also take nothing away from his blistering out lap that enabled him to pass LeClerc at the pit exit. Nor should it make redundant the fact that he aced three safety car restarts and broke the DRS back to Charles every time. Granted, LeClerc dropped back on the last few laps after the team informed him that they would not be giving him any extra engine power but up until then, he had no answer to Seb’s control of the race.

 

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Lastly, Vettel tore through the slower cars to get through to first place and was extremely commited when it came to dispatching the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly. The latter was a risky move for sure and it should be said that a collision was incredibly close. Should it have actually occured, then anything that Vettel had achieved up until that point would have been nullified and we would be adding the incident to Vettel’s growing collection of on-track errors.

All of this praise for Vettel said I do believe that this is a blip in the overall scheme of things. For one, it remains to be seen whether this win will be a turning point for Vettel or whether he will continue to spin out and collide with other cars in a fashion that certainly doesn’t suit a four-time world champion of the sport. Secondly, there is no doubt that Charles LeClerc is in his ascendecy right now and will only continue to get stronger and faster. Would a more mature Charles have fallen for the way that Vettel mixed it up at the third safety car restart and bolted earlier than he had on the previous two restarts? Doubtful.

Seb is also closer to the end of his career than the beginning and so his speed is naturally going to tail off. I believe that he also has a much narrower operating window than some of the other big talents currently on the grid. When everything is spot-on for him, then he is pretty much unstoppable (as we saw in 2013) but he clearly isn’t as flexible as the likes of Hamilton.

There was plenty of other action away from the hot Ferrari-on-Ferrari tussle. Mercedes, for example, were not the force to be reckoned with on the streets of Singapore. Hamilton didn’t look to have any answer to LeClerc despite hanging on to the red car for the first stint. The team pitted teammate Bottas and used him as a rolling roadblock in order to hold up the Red Bull of Albon…by instructing Valtteri to drive three seconds a lap slower.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - German Grand Prix - Practice Day - Hockenheim, Germany

It isn’t really what we – as fans – want to see in the sport and it brings to mind the bad old days when Ferrari would employ Eddie Irvine as Michael Schumacher’s lieutenant and simply use their second driver to block other cars.

Elsewhere, it was the return of the Torpedo as Daniil Kvyat took Kimi Raikkonen out of the race with a very optimistic lunge up the inside. He came from an incredibly long way back and collided with the inside of the Iceman’s Alfa Romeo as the Finnish driver was turning into the left-hander, completely unaware that the car behind would be trying something so extreme. Daniil laid all of the blame at Kimi’s door and was quoted as saying, “He just…suicided himself. He tried to kill me as well.” How eloquent and measured! The overhead footage told a different story – to me at least. Kvyat looked like a man who would not have been able to stop his car in time whether there was somebody else there or not. As has been said countless times over the years, you cannot simply expect another car to disappear.

Another clash, ending the race for Williams’ George Russell, surprised nobody considering that it involved one of the two Haas drivers. Romain Grosjean was recently re-signed for another season at the American outfit – despite the fact that his performance there has been pretty damn poor after a decent first year with the team – and the Frenchman marked the occasion by causing a clumsy, completely avoidable collision that put another driver into the wall and out of the race. It was an incredibly optimistic move that was never going to happen but instead of backing out of his around-the-outside attempt on Russell, Romain forged on and pushed him into the wall instead.

I like Grosjean as a person but how this guy keeps on getting re-signed when the likes of Ocon and Hulkenberg are denied seats in Formula 1 is a mind-boggling mystery.

That’s all I have for Singapore 2019. Next stop: Russia.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #10: The Ghost Next Door (R.L. Stine, 1993)

ghostnextdoor-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I’ve slacked off on these reviews just recently but never fear because I am back on track and, at last, breaking into double digits with book number ten in the Goosebumps series. I have to admit that I might possibly have stalled on re-reading these books purely because The Ghost Next Door was never really a highlight for me and so I suppose I wasn’t that enthusiastic about getting through it. I can’t say that I’ve changed my mind now that I HAVE got it done but The Ghost Next Door was definitely an interesting read because it simply doesn’t feel like a proper Goosebumps book.

The Blurb

Hannah’s really fed up with the summer so far – all her friends are away and she’s stuck with her little twin brothers for company. Great.

But now that Danny has moved in next door maybe she will have some fun, after all. Danny’s pretty weird, though, he’s so pale – ghostly pale – and he keeps disappearing…

Hannah wants some answers. Somehow, she’s going to find out for sure. Could Danny be…the ghost next door?

Hannah Fairchild is a twelve year-old girl living in the small, quiet town of Greenwood Falls. She’s home for the summer and bored (as so many kids in these books are…) but perhaps things will look up now that Danny – also twelve – has just moved in next door. That basic intro aside, this girl be crazy! The book starts with Hannah waking up from a horrible nightmare about being trapped in her bedroom as her house burns down around her. Her unrealistically joyful reaction to realising that this was just a dream is priceless…

Boring.
But today, Hannah climbed out of bed with a smile on her face.
She was alive!
Her house hadn’t burned down.

Er…okay? Anyway, Hannah quickly becomes convinced that something isn’t right about Danny. He vanishes without warning for instance. Also, he apparently attends the same school as Hannah but she hasn’t seen him around nor has she heard of his friends. Between these items and a few other small pieces of “evidence”, Hannah arrives at the only possible conclusion: Danny MUST be a ghost.

I’m going to cut straight to it here and drop some spoilers so don’t read on if you don’t want this children’s horror book from 1993 spoiled…

spoiler-3

The book essentially attempts to lead you along with Hannah and her conclusion that Danny is a ghost. You even wait for false scares to give way to the truth sooner or later. However, the actual plot twist arrives around three-quarters of the way in: it’s Hannah that’s a ghost, not Danny. You see, she and her family were killed in a house fire five years ago hence the dream that she has at the beginning of the book. It also explains why some of the townspeople seem to not hear her when she calls out to them and also why she isn’t familiar with Danny’s friends. She’s existing in the present as a ghost but also sort-of in the past.

Unfortunately, I found that it was a fairly easy to twist to predict. I genuinely didn’t remember anything about The Ghost Next Door prior to this revisit but even so, I worked the truth out long before Hannah did.

I also mentioned in this review’s opening that this book doesn’t really feel like a Goosebumps book. It isn’t scary at all and I didn’t feel the horror vibes. In fact, it almost feels like a mystery book for young readers where a group of pre-pubescent kids try to solve a local mystery. In this case, Hannah is attempting to solve the mystery of Danny. The end-of-chapter suspense doesn’t come in the form of false scares but rather the drama of the town as Hannah tries to stop Danny and his friends from getting in serious trouble.

There is a supernatural boogeyman in the form of a mysterious black shadow with glowing red eyes that chases Hannah several times. This is ultimately revealed to be Danny’s ghost who is waiting for him to die so it can take his place (wrap your head around that).

The finale is also not really a Goosebumps conclusion. It’s more like a sad farewell as Hannah appears to leave the mortal realm behind.

“Come back, Hannah,” her mother whispered. “Come back to us now.”
Hannah could feel herself floating now. And as she flated, she gazed down – her last look at earth.
“I can see him, Mum,” she said excitedly, brushing the tears off her cheeks. “I can see Danny. In his room. But the light is getting faint. So faint.”
“Hannah, come back. Come back to us,” her mother whispered, calling her home.
“Danny – remember me!” Hannah cried as Danny’s face appeared clearly in the misty grey.
Could he hear her?
Could he hear her calling to him?
She hoped so.

So no creepy twist or anything like that. Just this decidedly out-of-place ascension to the afterlife. These last two pages really summarise the strange tone of this book and mark it out as a black sheep in the Goosebumps series. I wouldn’t say that this shift made for an enjoyable read because it isn’t what a reader of horror fiction would want from a Goosebumps book. That said, it was definitely unique and totally unexpected.

The Cover

I never understood this cover as a kid because it looked like an angel with some sort of holy light behind them. Not especially horror-themed! But now I see that this was the artist’s interpretation of Hannah with the flames from the house fire in the background. I think said artist may have taken the “short hair” description a little too far because she looks like a boy with a punk ‘do’.

The incredibly dated bit

Not much but Hannah communicates with her friend Janey (who is at summer camp) by writing letters and wondering why there aren’t any replies. Spoilers: you’re five years too late Hannah. That aside, it would all be text messages, Whatsapp or even Skype in 2019. Bring back the art of letter writing!

The nostalgia rating

Does not really wanting to read it because I recalled the book being a bit ‘meh’ count?

Up Next: The Haunted Mask

Oil prices are rising but who will suffer?

The man in the street of course. Not the politicians who are fueling (no pun intended) the latest potential oil crisis. I think Linkin Park nailed it when they used this line in the song “Hands Held High”:

When you can’t put gas in your tank
These fuckers are laughing their way
To the bank and cashing their check

Yes, it’s the ongoing Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Iran/USA crisis that you may have seen in the news. Saudi oil refineries were hit by drone strikes that caused significant damage, with the knock-on effect being that global oil supplies have been cut by 5% and prices are going to go up at the pumps. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks while the US has pointed the finger at current global sparring partner, Iran. Obviously, Iran has denied any involvement despite the US allegedly having evidence to prove that the drones came from there and not Yemen.

In short, it’s you and I who will have to pay the price when fuel prices rise. If we’re lucky, that’s all that will happen. The worst case scenario is that fuel stations run out or have intermittent supplies – a situation that could well become reality should the Saudi facilities suffer further attacks and consequent damage. Then we really will feel the squeeze. It’s been approximately ten years since the last such shortage hit us here in the UK and that time, it was down to a national blockade and industrial striking. Prices soared and pumps ran dry as motorists had to endure miserable queues, fraying tempers and the not knowing when you would next be able to fill up.

A very sneaky and convenient thing happened when the shortage was finally resolved though. Prices went back down but NOT all the way down to where they were before the blockade began. If the price hike was due to the shortage then there’s no reason why the price couldn’t have returned to where it had been. Clearly, the oil giants saw the opportunity to sneak a permanent increase through while customers were just relieved to be able to get fuel again and at a lower price.

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If I were to put on my conspiracy hat, I might even suggest that the whole thing was orchestrated on purpose to get that price increase through when there was no other justifiable reason to do so…

But back to current affairs, this latest strain on our wallets will be the direct result of world leaders once again waving their dicks about and playing power games, heedless of how the ordinary people will feel the impact of their supreme arrogance. The situation is of course complicated and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on what is happening but I’ll try and summarise.

  • The Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen are backed by Iran
  • Their opponents – the overthrown Yemenese government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi – are continuing to fight back, backed by multiple Sunni Arab states.
  • Saudi Arabia are the principle backer of Mr Hadi’s government and the Saudis are, of course, aligned with the US who supply them arms.

So the core battle on the ground is a war between two different religious factors. But the far more dangerous aspect of Yemen’s war is the proxy war between outside states that overshadows the original conflict. As a predominately Shia country, Iran is of course going to support the Houthi rebels, especially when it means gaining greater influence in the region. Iran’s enemies – the Saudis – aren’t interested in that happening in the slightest and so they are naturally attempting to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government, get rid of the Houthis and prevent Iranian influence from creeping into a neighbouring state.

But there is another conflict taking place that is having a direct influence on the war in Yemen – the cold war between Iran and the US. Donald Trump continues to throw stones in glass houses as he takes a hardline stance with Iran which I’m sure some of Trump’s supporters and right-wing types appreciate. Don’t fuck with ‘murica! Of course, there is the irony of the President being robust with a country that he has called the world’s number one “state of terror”…the same President who was about to have peace talks with the Taliban, on US soil no less. Unbelievable.

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However you view Trump’s stance on dealing with countries like Iran, the facts still speak for themselves. Since tearing up the nuclear deal and ramping up the sanctions on Tehran, Iran has become increasingly hostile. They have resumed enriching uranium and breached the previously imposed limit as defined by the nuclear deal. They have been accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the region and have seized others. All of this will have unfavourable effects on ordinary people when oil supply lines are disrupted.

Between this and Trump’s other actions on the world stage, he is causing a lot of chaos and conflict. It’s almost as if he is moving through a jungle and using a stick to prod tarantulas and snakes. Prod them enough and they will strike back but what else can you expect? Iran has its back to the wall – its economy suffocating beneath the weight of sanctions – so what else does anybody expect them to do? Simply keel over and do what an outside state demands them to? Would you expect the US to do that?

I’m not defending Iran because they are in no way innocent in all of this but this is yet another instance of a nuclear-equipped country telling another country that they aren’t allowed nuclear weapons. It’s double-standards of the highest order and you can see why the likes of Iran and North Korea don’t take too kindly to US and European insistence that they don’t create nuclear weapons of their own. America isn’t the shining defender of justice and liberty that it likes to portray itself as because, at the end of the day, their administration’s involvement in proxy wars and meddling in foreign spheres of influence is only ever to gain or maintain input on the global sphere of influence.

It should also be said that while we will be bitching and moaning about fuel prices, the real suffering is taking place in Yemen where innocent people are being killed and their lives utterly destroyed as religious conflict and foreign policy translates into constant airstrikes and the savage destruction of their home. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in such conditions. So perhaps spare a thought for them next time you are feeling irate about have to spend a few more pounds to put petrol in your comfy German executive saloon.

Ms Monopoly is bullshit

The classic Monopoly game lets players collect $200 when they pass “Go.” Under the rules of Ms. Monopoly, male players will still get the usual $200, but women will receive $240, reversing the real-life pay gap between men and women in the workplace.

Head in Hands

Where can I begin with this? Well, I feel that I must open by saying that I didn’t really want to talk about Ms. Monopoly at all. I didn’t really want to add a few more drops of combustible fossil fuel to the fires of outrage that have no doubt swept across socal media, leaving charred remains behind.

But it’s just such a dumb, unhelpful concept to come out of Hasbro’s offices.

First of all though, let’s look at the positive elements of Ms. Monopoly. As per all special editions of the classic property-trading board game, the standard board has been shaken up with different things to buy.

“From inventions like WiFi to chocolate chip cookies, solar heating and modern shapewear, Ms. Monopoly celebrates everything from scientific advancements to everyday accessories — all created by women,” Hasbro said in a news release on Tuesday.

I mean, okay – why not? At least women AND men can potentially learn something here. For example, I didn’t know that the likes of WiFi and solar heating were invented by women. It’s always good to be more informed.

Secondly, as part of the game’s launch, Hasbro donated the total sum of £16,668 ($20,580) to three young female inventors of the future who already have some great inventions in the pipeline that would certainly benefit us all.

    • Sophia Wang (16) from Connecticut, USA – invented a device that can pre-emptively detect sinkholes. The device is apparently already 93% complete.

 

  • Gitanjali Rao (13) from Denver, USA – put together an invention to test drinking water for lead, to be used by individuals for instant results.
  • Ava Canney (16) from Ireland – invented a spectrometer that measures the levels of dye in sweets and soft drinks.

Excellent. Brilliant. Fantastic.

So it’s too bad that these undeniably positive bits, of what should have been another Monopoly special edition, have been wrapped up in such a badly-executed package that also aims to land a seat on a feminist train destined for Pay Gap City. I have no problem with feminism as long as it doesn’t cross that line and start wearing camo-print attire. I have no doubt that some hardcore feminists would see that as toxic masculinity and say, “huh, you’re ACTING like you support feminism but only as long as it stays within your pre-conceived boundaries.”

Tough. Deal with it. As far as I am concerned, toxic feminism needs checking just as much as toxic masculinity. Isn’t the whole point to strive towards equality?

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And that’s where Ms. Monopoly’s $40 per-tour-of-the-board advantage in the favour of women torpedoes the entire product’s credibility. The playing field hasn’t been levelled nor has equality been achieved. In fact, a gender advantage has been handed out and the realm of double-standards breached. Isn’t it ironic to be accepting the kinds of advantages that you have been (rightfully) rallying against for so many years? These kind of things simply don’t help the cause and only serve to aggravate anybody with common sense.

Because I don’t recall the classic version of Monopoly being weighted in the favour of men. Unless I missed the edition where women are only entitled to 160 bucks for passing “Go” and must play the game in their underwear for the viewing pleasure of the male participants.

But, as a man, am I outraged about the existence of Ms. Monopoly? No. It’s just a stupid product that doesn’t contribute anything to the end goal of equality. The other important thing to remember is that products like this are devised by companies BECAUSE they will generate news items and explosive Twitter debates. Hasbro couldn’t ask for better publicity or for a more effective marketing campaign that needs little financial input on their part. All they had to do was drop a few press releases and images, sit back in the boardroom and watch the internet light up. In short, to get worked-up about products like this is to play directly into corporate hands – irresponsible corporate hands who are going to make a lot of money out of dividing our society just a little more as some of us fall into the Us vs Them trap. Granted, it’s mostly the extreme fringes that engage in virtual slanging matches but it’s also the extreme fringe types that shout the loudest and give positive causes bad names.

As already outlined, Ms. Monopoly does have some good stuff going for it but I see Hasbro and their savvy marketing.

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My final thoughts are going to be on the game of Monopoly in general. I’ve long since found it incredibly strange that we enjoy playing this game. It’s a game based on the very same capitalist greed and social oppression that most of us absolutely resent and moan about on a daily basis. We’ve all been there: clinging onto a few low-tier properties, desperately hanging on to our last few bank notes while one player crushes us all with streets loaded with hotels. Perhaps you’ve also played with variations on the official rules where players can take out bank loans to stave off Game Over.

Sounds familiar, right? Like coming home from a long, tiring day at a minimum-wage job where you’ve been bitched at by men in suits who drive big cars and ensure that they stay at the top and grind everybody below them into dust in order to save a few pennies or squeeze an extra few cents out of the profit margin. Paying taxes and running the rat race just to keep the debt collectors at bay and food in your family’s mouths. Trying not to lose vital sleep over credit card statements or loan repayments.

Monopoly as a game is fun while everybody is on a level playing field. As soon as one player gains that significant advantage though, the fun stops. Neither Monopoly or its real-life counterpart discriminate based on gender. Both men and women feel the squeeze as those at the top live the high life and The System locks millions into a thankless machine of servitude. Many will escape of course, through hard work or being in the right place at the right time but, through pure circumstance, a vastly larger number won’t.

I guess we must be a masochistic race; playing a ‘fun’ board game based on our own suffering…for entertainment. Perhaps it is best not to over-think these things!

Brexit of Thrones

If you’ve ever read any of my previous posts on the shitshow that is Brexit then you may be familiar with the way I’ve described this catastrophe of a process as a rubbish version of Game of Thrones. Minus the attractive ladies and dragons of course. Unless I’ve missed a key day of news, neither of those things are happening down at Westminster.

But Brexit has everything else that makes George R.R. Martin’s books and HBO’s TV adaptation so enthralling:

Political back-stabbing
Defections
Individuals using events to further their own agenda/careers
The struggle for power taking precedence over what’s important for the country
The populance being split apart with a growing “Us vs Them” environment
Wars of words with neighbouring countries

So what exactly is my point with all of this? I’m not actually sure but at least my half-assed attitude is more solidified than the rapidly-shifting events here in the UK that continue to flabbergast us. You honestly couldn’t write this shit. Each morning’s fresh batch of headlines bring something else that chips away at any belief I have in our leadership. This is a considerable achievement given that my current faith in our political elite would be represented with a negative number were I to use a percentage-based metric.

Bringing this post back to the original analogy, I have genuinely often thought, “fuck Game of Thrones. It has nothing on Brexit.” If Brexit was all entirely fictional and dramatised as a book then it would be one hell of an addictive page-turner, brimming with plots, counter-plots and end-of-chapter shocks that turn everything upside-down.

As I’ve already said, so much has happened since Boris Johnson ascended to the Iron Throne armchair in No.10, Downing Street. Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult to summarise the current situation – especially given that this crap has been selling papers since 2016 – but I will try to put it in layman’s terms…

Parliament is currently on shutdown because Boris Johnson asked the Queen for permission to do so. This is known as being “Prorogued”. During this time, MP’s may not enter Westminster and no parliamentary business may take place. Prorogation has historically been used by Monarchs in Britain to prevent parliament from interfering with their plans. In the modern era (where Monarchs are figureheads and don’t wield their theoretical power), prorogation is usually reserved for bringing parliamentary sessions to an end.

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Is Boris Johnson our version of Donald Trump? The similarities are striking and I’m not just talking about the hair…[Source]
However, opposing MP’s were planning to try and pass new legislation which would prevent the Prime Minister from taking the UK out of Europe without a trade deal if one hasn’t been agreed on by October 31st. The “No Deal” option is seen as the riskiest option which could send economic shockwaves throughout the country but Boris Johnson has repeatedly made clear that he is going to get Brexit done by the 31st of October, whether a deal with the EU has been successfully negotiated or not. No request for an extension – just leave and get Brexit over the finish line.

The Queen granted Johnson’s request to prorogue parliament and it is widely accepted that he chose to do this in order to shut down parliamentary business as soon as possible and give the opposition much less time to pass their legislation.

The legislation WAS passed, however. Johnson’s Conservative government held a majority in parliament by the slimmest of slim margins – just one seat. Unfortunately for him, an MP defected to the Liberal Democrats thus torpedoing the Conservatives’ majority. The opposition was therefore able to band together, take control of parliamentary business and get their legislation through after winning a vote in the Commons.

This is where the shit really hit the fan and Westminster became the scene for raging slanging matches between Boris Johnson and the divisive Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Furthermore, Johnson decided to expel all of the Conservative MP’s from his own party who had rebelled and sided with the opposition when it came to voting on the legislation that would make No Deal illegal (or at least very difficult to pull off).

The fallout is still happening, even as parliament is prorogued and Westminster lies dormant, despite that fast-approaching October 31st deadline.

A No Deal “worst case scenario” preparation document that speaks of potential food/medicine shortages and civil unrest was leaked and forced to be publicised. Jeremy Corbyn has been as indecisive and flaky as usual, saying he wants a General Election, then that he doesn’t, then deciding that he does after all. The Brexit Party has proposed some form of possible alliance with Johnson’s Conservative party if it means getting Brexit over the line. MP’s are resigning and switching teams all over the place. The public is sick of the whole damn thing.

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All the shouting and thinly-veiled insults may be amusing to watch but they haven’t gotten us anywhere since 2016. [Source]
I don’t know where all of this is going to end, nor would I be confident in making any sort of prediction. I do, however, think that the government is teetering on the verge of a cataclysmic implosion and might not see out the year. I also think that the next elected government has a high chance of being either a hard-right or hard-left party, due to the fact that so many people are absolutely fed up of politicians by this point and so millions of mainstream, centre-ground voters may simply avoid the ballot box.

One thing’s for sure though: as in Game of Thrones, it’s politicians and the rich elite that stand to gain from this mess while the common folk suffer as usual. They will certainly be able to weather any economic storm. Either way, they are playing a dangerous game and prioritising their own egos and party agendas. Is it really all about doing right by the country or is it about exploiting a weakness in the government and getting their foot in the door of No.10?

We should never have been given this vote in the first place but – staying on theme – it was a pledge in David Cameron’s manifesto. He promised to deliver a vote on the UK’s membership of the EU if he was elected. In other words, he offered the necessary treats to get voted into No.10, probably (wrongly) assuming that the British public would never actually vote to leave. And when we did? He immediately stepped down as Prime Minister and washed his hands of the problem – proof, if needed, that Brexit is simply the result of politicians chasing power and trying to further their own careers.

I think the likes of Tyrion Lannister and Littlefinger would be in their element here…