Friday, January 26, 2007

Plato's Places to Go No.1 - Portmeirion

In short, this place in amazing.

In the 1960's TV series "The Prisoner" the protaginist is basically knocked out and dumped in this strange place. If it happened to you and you woke up there on a sunny day, you probably swear blind that you were in Spain. Well until you spoke to anyone who worked there anyway, then you'd realise that you were in Wales I guess.... Anyway, it's got stunning architecture and it's situated at the mouth of the river Dwyryd. When the tide goes out it reveals a lovely sand bank that you can go walking on (just be sure to check the tide time!).

Its a bit pricey to stay there (from around £170 per night) but it's one of these experiences that you have to have a blast of if you get the chance. The main villiage is open to the public during the day and the accomodation is dotted around the villiage and there is also a main hotel down by the water. About 5 at night, the villiage closes and it's guests only so you can have a wander about the place till your heart's content.

If it's a nice day you can swim in their outdoor pool or run around in the pools of water left in the estuary. I must admit the main body of visitors are made up of senior citizens but it kind of adds to the slow pace of the place and you get a nice nod of the head as you walk by anyone.

Five minutes up from the
Portmeirion hotel is Castell Deudraeth which has some additional rooms and a lovely restaurant that's housed in a nice conservatory on the back of the building. Looking out onto nice gardens it's a perfect spot to have a drink before you're asked to go to your table where your starters await. A meal and wine comes to about £70-80 at Castell Deudraeth. It's certainly an experience that you can't afford every weekend and yes you could go on a weeks holiday in Spain for the cost of a weekend in Portmerion but at the end of the day you probably wouldn't tell your kids, grandkids and anyone else you ever met about the time you went to Spain. Portmerion's not cheap but can you put a price on a lovely peaceful, romantic weekend? Go for it!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Interesting Fact of the Day! No. 10 - Rabbie Burns

Well, it's Burn's Night the nicht. So here's a fact or two about the bard...

He penned his first verse at 15.

There's a statue of Robert Burns in Central Park.

Auld Lang Syne' was originally set to a different tune but the publisher rejected it so Burns set it to the one commonly sung today, which the Japanese claim as their tune.

If you need some tips for your Burn's supper, here's a few tips from the beeb.

I'll leave you with one of his poems called
"Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever". He wrote this in 1791. Oh yeh, if you get the chance it's better when you read it aloud...

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met-or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweeli alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Interesting Fact of the Day! No. 9 - Vietnam

Despite the lyrics of Paul Hardcastle's 1985 No.1 claiming.....

"In World War II the average age of the combat soldier was 26...
In Vietnam he was 19."

This is in fact not true, the actual average age of an infantryman serving in Vietnam was actually 22.8 years.

The World War II figure is in fact correct.

Another interesting comparison between the two wars is that during WWII, the average infantryman saw about 40 days of combat in 4 years. In Vietnam, they would see 240 days of combat in 1 year. This was mostly due to the battlefield mobility that the helicopter offered the infantry...


Friday, January 19, 2007

Aplogise and Move on...

I was reading an article on the beeb there about how Robert Redford has called for the US leaders to apologise for the war in Iraq.

I must admit though that after reading this article and thought about the whole thing, i'm quite puzzled as to who should be apologising to who?

I think Redford's point is that the American people trusted the government to act on their
behalf after 9/11 but the government betrayed this trust. But I have a few problems with that.

Was it not revenge and retribution that America wanted? Now 50,000 Iraqi civilians are dead and when people are watching the pictures of Saddam with his throat wide open and his head at 90 degrees they're not feeling so blood thirsty anymore...

We all know Bush is a twat, much like the UK now doesn’t trust a thing that Blair says but I don't think everything can now be blamed on Bush. He didn't fool everyone into thinking he was a nice guy, he's always been thick and he's never even tried to hide it. The US happily voted in someone who if properly subjected to psychological testing, would probably be defined as special needs.

I don't think that leaders should be apologising to the electorate, after all it was the electorate that put them there. I do however think that the people of the US and UK should be apologising to the world. Instead of acting like the responsible elder brothers of the world, we've been acting like kids.

There's an incredibly complicated game of political chess going on at the moment. With the middle-east far from peaceful and China playing some sort of global version of "tin can alley" with satellites, it's not really a time to be letting the monkey try it's hand at chess, is it?

I do think that there is a good chance of some stability in the near future. It certainly looks like the Democrats will stump up a serious candidate for the next elections and hopefully the US can resume some form global diplomacy. Although, exciting though the prospect is, I fear that there will be some backwater mentalists out there who simply won't accept a female or black president.

As for the war on terror, how is anyone really expecting to win this fight? The "Kill ever Muslim in the world and hope you got the terrorists" policy seems to have a few flaws that are quite obvious to most of us. It's time to start to diffuse the situation by backing off and strong diplomatic channels to stop the tensions in Israel and the genocide in Darfur. Again, this isn't possible whilst the monkey's in charge. Other world leaders just seem to laugh at him as he tries to find the door off the stage.

You really have to think that the US twenty-second amendment could well have saved the world! It's probably something that the UK could do with come to think of it...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Interesting Fact of the Day! No. 8 - Global Unemployment!

Here are some unemployment figures from around the world...

Faroe Islands 1%
Bermuda 2.1%
Vietnam 2.4%
United Kingdom 4.7%
United States 5.1%
Australia 5.1%
India 8.9%
Germany 11.7%
Argentina 11.6%
China 20% (Estimated overall unemployment)
Monaco 22%
Zimbabwe 80%
Liberia 85%

The World Average sits at around 30%

Quite mad when you try and imagine what it would be life to live with 85% unemployment. Also quite a shock to see Germany's unemployment rate still sitting so high. These figures were all taken from the CIA Fact Book which is quite an interesting read if you get a chance...

Movie Reviews - Rocky Balboa

What can I say? You know the score, it's a Rocky Film, it doesn't need much of a review!

You know the tune, you know the montage scene...

If you fancy a trip down memory lane, knock yourself out!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Interesting Fact of the Day! No. 7 - The Top 5 Military Spenders!

Here are the top 5 nations for military expenditure per annum...

1. United States $518,100,000,000
2. China $81,470,000,000
3. France $45,000,000,000
4. Japan $44,310,000,000
5. United Kingdom $42,836,500,000

It's a lot of doh innit! Some more stats include, Sweden's military budget ($5,501,000,000) is bigger than Iran's ($4,300,000,000). Kuwait's is $3,007,000,000 and despite it's neutral status Switzerland's is still $2,548,000,000.

If taken as a $ per person figure, the UK spends $706 per person per year, China only $62 per person, whilst the US spends a whacking great $1,736 per person per year!

Source: CIA Fact Book

Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Reviews - Mission Impossible 3 (sorry, MI3)

I find the whole Mission Impossible franchise a bit baffling sometimes. I remember seeing the first one and thinking that it was the greatest thing since plain bread (it's a scottish thing, a toast experience you must try at some point!). The pace of the film, the stunts and the cast were amazing. I mean, killing off Kirsten Scott Thomas and Emilio Estevez in the first sequence just set the whole story alight.

Then, we got the super stylised MI2. Until that point I loved Mission Impossible and I loved John Woo (especially Face Off) so surely the two together just made perfect sense? Well, it was just one of these things that didn't work out. The story was pretty dull, the overuse of slow motion was pretty nauseous, as was the overuse of Dougray Scott!

When it comes to MI3, I think it kind of fits in somewhere between the two. Though it certainly doesn't scale the heights of the first movie, it's no where near as bad as the second one. Add to this a pretty good bad guy performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman and you get a fairly average film that'll keep you reasonably well enertained between laughing at the "impossibility" of some of the senarios and some of the incredibly corny lines (look out for "humpty dumpty sat on a wall") all of which are funnily enough delivered by Mr Cruise.

The thing that worries me the most about the film industry these days is that Tom Cruise isn't Ethan Hunt in this film, he's Tom Cruise. Is it not one of the basics of acting that you should be someone else on screen? Guys like Philip Seymour Hoffman are the real cream of the cinema crop. I don't know who he is in real life, I don't care! All I know is that whether it's Davian in this film or Capote, he is the character, we believe it, there is no Philip Seymour Hoffman. As great as their contributions have been in the past, Pacino and De Niro should never make a film again as they can no longer become anyone else.

Cruise's best performances in my opinion were in Magnolia, Interview with the Vampire, The Colour of Money and Born on the 4th of July. All of these performances show a slightly pathetic or tragic character to some extent. If a good director could grab him by the scruff of the neck and turn him into a right nasty or pathetic piece of work on screen and take a supporting role, I still think he'd have a chance of winning an Oscar. Otherwise, I guess there's always MI4 or even Top Gun 2 to look forward to...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review - The Good Shepherd

Well, De Niro seems to have taken the most exciting period of international espionage the world ever saw and made it incredibly dull and boring.

Couldn't even finish watching it...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Reviews - The New World

Well, I watched this last night and to tell you the truth it was an odd experience. It sounds really strange to say this, it was an incredibly slow film but at the same time really good.

By the end of it the senses were slowed down the point that it became and experience rather than a story...

I remember trying to watch Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" before and having to switch it off but I think that after watching the New World, I kind of understand the pace that he wants to tell a story. So I might go back to it soon.

I know it all sound a bit poncy but it really was more of a nice experience than a feature of sorts.

Must admit, I thought I knew the Pocahantis myth. I say myth because in real life she and John Smith has no personal relationship to speak of (see here for more details but try to watch the film first as this will spoil things a bit).

Anyway, if you can handle the slow / looks good type film go and grab a copy. One thing I have to warn you of is Colin Farrell's accent, it might get on your nerves a bit but see how you go...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Good Old Technology!

Well, seen as everyone's talking about the iPhone (well worth looking at this blog to see all of the previous artist's impressions of the iphone) and the 2007 CES, I thought i'd this chance to talk about some Russian technology! Yes, I never thought i'd say it but I miss the cold war. This war on terrorism just isn't the same. Civilians dying left right and centre, AK-47s and machete beheadings, gone are the days of the space race and some of the dodgiest copying since my Latin homework days! So can I introduce a couple of the greatest inventions of the cold war. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Tuploev TU-144! What? Yes, everyone can recognise that distinctive Tuploev shape from a mile away...

It's just amazing how two similar technologies can develop independent of each other, isn't it? And as if that wasn't enough, the good old USSR then weighed in with this beauty in the 80's called "The Buran Space Shuttle"!

Ahh, i'd like to see the US get into a similar technology race with Islamic funamentalists. What would they come up with.....?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The North Korean Kingdom of Kim Jong-il

Had a look at this site that shows you a number of pictures that someone took whilst in N. Korea...

The first link below is a guide to the photos (they were taken by a Russian businessman)

The second link is to the images (you can click forward and backward on the links below the images)

Let me know what you think....

Guide to the photos
Link to the photos

Oh yeh, just to show you what's possible when you're a 5ft 3inch leader of a nation (and er.. chief censor of the media...)

"North Korean state media have claimed that Kim "enjoys golf, having shot multiple holes-in-one during his first try at the game. He reportedly aced five holes and finished 38 under par on the golf course." They also claimed that Kim has composed six operas."

How good is your memory?

Well, I know I wouldn't be able to draw a city-scape of Rome from what i'd seen on a 45 minute helicopter ride.

I actually remember seeing this guy (Stephen Wiltshire) on tv years ago when he was just a kid. Well worth a watching this to see what the human mind is capable of...

Oh yeh, if you want to check out his site it's and there's also a few other movies about him on Youtube, here

Monday, January 08, 2007

Toshiba Helmet

Again, I only find out about these things straight after christmas!

Movie Reviews - Night at the Museum

A night at the museum, can't fault it. Went to see it with my niece the other day there for her 6th birthday party. Thought it was great and made a big change from having to sit through yet another animated feature with small zany 3D characters in their small zany 3D world, voiced by zany overpaid actors who do zany faces and hand gestures as they provide the zany soundtrack to a movie that you can't remember the zany name of the second you walk out the cinema...

Movie Reviews - Chromophobia

Ok, what to you get when you take performances from Penelope Cruz, Ralph Fiennes, Kristen Scott-Thomas, Ian Holm, Rhys Evans, Ian Holm, Damian Lewis and Ben Chaplin? Well, not much to tell you the truth.

I took some time out last night to sit and watch Chromophobia. I'd actually read a few reviews as well that said something pretty similar to my comments above but then I thought to myself, surely with this cast there must be something on offer? Maybe they're all wrong and i'll find a hidden gem of the british film industry? Well, I was certainly wrong about that.

Now I know for a fact that Fiennes, Scott-Thomas, Cruz, Holm and Evans can all hold their own on screen. So why was I left wishing that characters would just drop dead? I couldn't care less if they were all engulfed in a freak occurance of spontaneous human combustion.

As writer and director it would appear that the blame should lie with Martha Fiennes and obviously whoever else saw this film before launch should foot some of the blame. It almost looks like someone's just watched Crash or Magnolia and thought, wouldn't it be good to do one of these films where the sub-string plots all come together at the end! It obviously takes a tremendous amount of skill to pull these kind of movies off and I think the most difficult part is to make you care for all of the characters despite the shorter scene time of each and the congestion of the movie.

The only saving grace is that some of the cast still manage to show that even when they've been given rubbish, they can still come up with the goods. Most notable is Evans who i'd watched in "Not Only but Always" (Which I thoroughly recommend you see) over the festive period and I have to say that the guy is a class act.

I must admit that the jury is still out on Damian Lewis, who although putting in a good turn in Band of Brothers, has done little since. I think he might be more convincing as an american lead than the english gent that he keeps on getting stuck with. As for Ben Chaplin, he should never have left Game On!

Comedy writers such as Simon Pegg seem to be propping up the british film industry at the moment along with the odd period drama. I find it a great shame because there's no doubt that the talent's out there. We should be churning out "Constant Gardeners", not this rubbish...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Darwin Awards 2006 - Time to laugh in the face of death!

Here are a few of the Darwin Awards announced for 2006...

Extracts are taken from their site, have a gander it's a great read!

Man Tries To Dismantle Rocket Propelled Grenade!

"(August 2006, Brazil) August brings us a winner from Brazil, who tried to disassemble a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) by driving back and forth over it with a car. This technique was ineffective, so he escalated to pounding the RPG with a sledgehammer. The second try worked--in a sense. The explosion proved fatal to one man, six cars, and the repair shop wherein the efforts took place.

14 more RPG grenades were found in a car parked nearby. Police believe the ammunition was being scavenged to sell as scrap metal. If it wasn't scrap then, it certainly is now!"

Couple Die in Ballooning Accident!

(3 June 2006, Florida) Two more candidates have thrown themselves into the running for a Darwin Award. The feet of Jason and Sara, both 21, were found protruding from a deflated, huge helium advertising balloon. Jason was a college student, and Sara attended community college, but apparently their education had glossed over the importance of oxygen.

The pair pulled down the 8' balloon, and climbed inside. Their last words consisted of high-pitched, incoherent giggling as they slowly passed out and passed into the hereafter.

Sheriff's deputies said the two were not victims of foul play. No drugs or alcohol were found. The medical examiner reported that helium inhalation was a significant factor in their deaths. A family member said "Sara was mischievous, to be honest. She liked fun and it cost her."

Annoying Devil! If you've got 5 mins to spare check this out...

Ok, it's the lowest form of wit in some cases but the dog poo pavement is class...

Interesting Fact of the Day! No. 6

Apparently Basque is the most difficult language in the world to learn. This is because it's not related to any other language in the world (for example English is influenced by Germanic, Latin and Gaelic languages). It's kind of the duck billed platypus of languages!

Ikusi arte!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Unsure about your faith? Take the Blasphemy Challenge!

Well if you fancy finding out what these guys have to say about the existence of god, they'll send you a free DVD! Well, it's almost free...

The one catch is that they want you to cut your ties with God by denying the existance of the holy spirit and uploading a video of you proclaiming this to YouTube.

Yes, it seems that Satan (Quite interesting to catch up on his origins here) is ahead of the game when it comes to using the latest in Web 2.0 online communities! Check it out for yourselfs and let me know if you decide to cut the cord...

The Religious Trilogy....

I think we all start the new year with the idea that we want to be mentally and physically fitter. Whether this means starting the gym membership up again or reading those books you got for your christmas we're all inclined to see the new year as a time to better ourselves a bit.

So i've started out by learning a bit more about islam. I must confess, I have little time for religion as a life practice but as one of the major issues in the world at the moment I think it's important that we learn a little bit about these sort of things.

So, first stop "The Koran". This can also be spelt "Qur'an" but this reminds me of Quorn a little bit too much and I don't think religion and soya protein meat substitute go together well.

A good place to start is obviously wikipedia, so have a browse through the definition for the Koran here. I was brought up as a catholic so i've obviously got a grasp of the whole "holy text" concept. It's interesting that the Koran actually makes up a kind of holy trilogy with the Torah or old testament and the Gospel or new testament of the christian bible being the final piece sitting in the middle of the two; a bit like "The Two Towers" or "The Empire Strikes Back". In fact, to continue this analogy a bit further the Jewish faith is based on Star Wars, Christians on Empire and Muslims on Jedi. Obviously my apologies go out to anyone offended by this but all religion is based on analogy so get over it.

Now, here's where it gets a bit complicated. All three in theory have the same creator in theory but followers of each part challenge the importance and in some cases the existence of a single or all other parts.

So in Jewish eyes it's all about the core values and laws set up by Star Wars and these laws have to be stuck to, as they are the creator or "George's" law. Christians basically acknowledge that the first part set the scene and was the genuine "word of George" but he had decided at this point to add to the idea of the Star Wars universe and ultimately add a pretty big part to the story. So the new testament is essentially about the father / son relationship and how this relates to the force and the universe as a whole.

Now what's odd about all of this and where it does break away from the Star Wars universe is when you start to think that although there are some who like Star Wars, Empire or Jedi, there are still loads of people who enjoy them as a trilogy. Not in the case of this trilogy! There isn't a believer in the God trilogy, just a bunch of people arguing over which part was the best and a true representation of George's ideas!

Now bear with me... The followers of the original film claim that the Star Wars universe is just for them and only them as they were the original target audience of the film (i.e. Trekkies need not apply!). But with the advent of the second film it's argued that it shouldn't just be about the core faithful, it should be a film for all familys who want to join in. It's even argued by some empire followers that the original followers were no longer welcome to watch the new films. In short they acknowledged that the original was of course part of the Star Wars world but to claim that is was about the original and nothing else was just nonsense!

And so, a long time after the first two parts, a third part arrives on the scene. Now the way the script and film is compiled at this point changes completely. In verses that are designed to be memorised by followers of the genre. They acknowledge that the first two parts exist but believe that Jedi supercedes all previous episodes and also believe that it is the true word as spoken by Lucas and transcribed by his script writer.

Looking at how interlinked and complicated the whole concept has become, it's pretty interesting to look at and learn about. I think that practicers sometimes have this problem that in order to justify their part of the faith, they have to deny the existence of others. This in itself goes against most of the teachings contained in within the trilogy.

Mechanical Dolphins, what will they come up with next??

Damn, these cool things always come out after christmas! Ah well, there's always next year...

Check out the wonderful mechanical dolphin here..

Or check out the guy's website here..

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Resolutions for a New Year!

I'm not going to tell you my resolutions, or ask yours for that matter. Here's a quote though that seems to lend some hope to anyone wishing to change their ways...

“Cary Grant did not exist until I created him. And then, after I created him, I became him.” Archie Leech

However you have to bare in mind that Cary / Archie was a supressed homosexual for much of his life (not that there's anything wrong with that!). So you probably have to be careful when changing yourself and make sure you don't over do it.

In fact, some later in life comments included "She thought that she was marrying Cary Grant." after one of his marriages failed and "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant; even I want to be Cary Grant."

Ding Dong Saddam is Dead! (And we all watched it on Youtube...)

Well, Saddam's now dead and I see that on the corners of Baghdad streets, kids are dusting off the second hand rocket launchers that they must've got for their christmas.

It's CNN I feel sorry for! There they go taking a team over there to cover the saddam lynching and low and behold some government official with a mobile becomes a youtube star.

It really is the sign of the times when as soon as we saw the official footage on TV, my girlfriend and I were trawling through Youtube to see if anyone caught the big drop on film. Sure enough, six hours later the news channels had changed to the mobile footage and Saddam will forever be linked with footage that makes Abraham Zapruder's film look like Speilberg.

Now there seems to be some debate over how ethical a private lynching was? Now this is a funny one for me. We bomb the crap out of Baghdad on a daily basis and a very conservative current estimate of civilians killed in the Iraq war sits at around 50,000 yet this one hanging is starting to make a few people feel a bit guilty? Imagine Bush and Blair had to sit and watch mobile clips of all of these people being shot in the head, crushed in their beds, bombed out of existence. Of course they can't think about anything like this, how could they sleep at night?

I guess the funny thing is that much like a serial killer, the guilt probably lessens as the number grows higher. Thinking about the death of one man and the consequences this has for his family and friends is far easier to comprehend than that of 50,000 doctors, teachers, fathers, mothers, children, shop keepers, computer programmers, students, babies, friends. The funny thing is that i'm sure that Tony and George sleep like babies each night. Odd that...