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Brain Thoughts

INDEX


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Lockdown

24/03/20



So, an update:

After a brief intensification of fever lasting for about a day, I'm happy to say that most of my symptoms have now almost fully cleared up (much to my relief, because the runny nose I developed was seriously eating into my dwindling toilet paper stocks...) I'm left with a cough and a sore throat (which is not uncommon when recovering from a flu-like illness), but I think I'm over the worst of it now and my immune system is doing the last of the mopping up.

As it happened, the progression of my other symptoms were similar to colds that I've had in the past. Although I do think with this one, symptoms arrived comparatively slowly and over a matter of days (12th March to the 22nd). This was the order of my symptoms as they arrived: I developed a sore throat, then an occasional, tickly dry cough, followed by a swelling at the back of my throat, some aches, a more persistent continuous cough and (I think) a light fever. Next, I developed a runny nose, began sneezing (but not frequently) and my eyes felt gunked up and watery. So far, so cold/mild flu like. And finally, I had a day or so of moderate fever, some more muscle aches and I also felt fatigued. I also lost my sense of taste and smell to a small extent, which is a newly identified symptom that doesn't seem to be as widely reported as the others (and for some people, this can be their only symptom). At no point did I experience a headache, a blocked nose or really much of any congestion at all, which I think is unusual for a typical cold or flu virus (at least for me, anyway). I never had any "shortness of breath", which may be evidence that this wasn't Covid-19 after all.

Whether the slow onset of symptoms is a sign of the coronavirus, I really have no idea. But from what I've read, two symptoms stand out above all others: a fever and a continuous cough. The usual symptoms of a cold/flu virus can still present in varying degrees, so it's possible that I might have contracted the virus. The only way for anyone to know for certain is to be tested. So I would advise anyone who has any cold or flu like symptoms right now (and is unable to be safely tested) to stay at home and self-isolate if possible. Anyway, I hope this account of my symptoms proves useful to somebody out there...

I may feel better, but I'm still symptomatic and not 100%, so I'm not leaving my house just yet (after all, my house mate is still ill and there's no reason to assume we both have the same bug). I'm also still going to follow all the advice on hand washing, physical distancing and so on when I do, and I think everyone should do the same. There's too much uncertainty around Covid-19 to behave otherwise.

The crisis seems to be accelerating at a rate that is difficult to keep track of; we are now under government mandated lockdown, global capitalism and commerce seem to be on the brink of collapse and from what I've read, healthcare systems around the world are severely strained and the supermarket shelves remain as bare now as they were last week, but I feel weirdly calm about it all. As someone who suffers from anxiety, the Covid-19 pandemic ranks somewhere around mid-table. Below some things that to anybody else would seem like utterly ridiculous anxieties to have at a time like this.

The pandemic is worrying, yes, but my part to play in it feels manageable for the most part. This is partly because it seems like the government, and most governments around the world, are finally swinging into action (though some, like mine, have been too slow to react and others are still not doing enough, at least they're doing something). And partly because we all have fairly clear instructions from the WHO, NHS and others of what we should be doing right now to limit the spread of the virus. There are now a few less unknowns and people are slowly beginning to do the right things. If I were a health worker, things would be very different, of course. I'd be freaking out big time. I couldn't do their jobs at the best of times, so massive respect to all of them. I've never been more in awe of the work they do.

I'm still terrified of catching it and giving it to somebody vulnerable. I'm still afraid for some of my friends and family members (thankfully, my dad and his partner are safely at home and remain healthy), but the virus itself and the situation we all find ourselves in right now, I feel strangely mentally prepared for it. I've spent so much time in my life thinking about the worst things that can happen. Well, one of those things is happening right now. But through our actions, we get to decide just how much worse it has to get. How you decide to socialise from now on, when you go out shopping for supplies or for exercise, and most importantly, when you get ill - Remember that.



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Survivalism

17/03/20



So, I'm self-isolating right now and will be for the next two weeks. Because I'm ill. With a cold, I hope. And so is my Housemate. She has it worse than I do, but I'm not feeling too bad. My symptoms are very, very mild so far. I have a dry but infrequent cough, some muscle aches and pains, a sore throat (but no headache and no fever yet as far as I can tell, although I do feel a little too warm sometimes). If not for the Covid-19 outbreak, I wouldn't think twice about leaving the house in this condition. So far, whatever this is, it doesn't feel at all dissimilar to the dozens of mild colds that I've had over my lifetime.

Unfortunately, I had my dad and his partner stay with us recently and I'm absolutely terrified I've passed on the Coronavirus to them (it was on the day that containment was considered to have failed). She has a number of underlying health conditions that put her in the vulnerable category and I'd never be able to forgive myself if I was the one who caused her to get sick. Until this moment, I'm ashamed to say I wasn't taking this all very seriously. It seemed like something that would be localised and contained. And like those other recent coronaviruses, it wouldn't spread very far. This is how the pandemic is going to play out for the young (the young-ish) and healthy. We're all going to be spending an anxious year worrying that we'll catch this thing without knowing, that we'll pass it on to the people we love who may not be able to survive it.

I'm angry that my government isn't testing milder cases like mine. If I could be tested (and I tested positive) they would be known to the healthcare system right now and I'm sure that would give them a better chance to get through this. Or rather it would mean that, but not even symptomatic healthcare professionals are being tested for the virus. Yes, not even the people tasked with keeping us healthy are being monitored or protected. Hospitals could be hotbeds of infection by now...

But it gets even worse. Current covernment policy is to simply let people get the disease, to the extent that all advice geared towards containment is to be followed on a mostly voluntary basis. All of this in the service of creating a "herd immunity". In other words, lots of people are going to get this and lots of people are going to die. Do I trust my fellow citizens to be careful and follow government advice? Or to stay at home when they get ill, without extra help with the day-to-day cost of living? Not one bit. But there's nothing I can do about any of this except cross my fingers.

Talking about not following government advice, yesterday I also went food shopping for the last time in a while. I didn't want to, but with not enough supplies in the house to last two weeks and as the only person I know with the mildest symptoms, I had little choice but to go before my symptoms worsened. I made sure to go late at night, when the older people were most likely to be at home, washed my hands thoroughly before leaving the house and I kept my distance from other shoppers at all times. Luckily, I live within walking distance from all the local supermarkets, so I didn't have to get on a bus and potentially expose even more people. Still, it didn't feel great to be out and about right now.

It almost wasn't worth the journey. At every supermarket, there were significant shortages of basic foods and supplies. No soap or toilet paper in any of them. Almost no fresh, dried or tinned vegetables. No eggs. No pasta, noodles or rice. No flour. Few pizzas. Only one place had any bread at all. There was even a lack of tea and biscuits. You know that scene in 28 Days Later when they go to the supermarket and there's still plenty of food on the shelves? Yeah, that's not going to happen in a real life epidemic. I managed to come home with some green lentils, a bag of carrots, three loaves of bread (one each for my housemate and I to freeze), vegetable stock cubes, two cartons of oat milk, margarine, pickled beetroot and a fruit loaf. And that's about it. Along with the food I have already, I won't starve. But if this panic buying doesn't let up I don't know what we'll do for food. It was the strangest experience, watching people glumly push empty trollies down equally empty supermarket aisles.

The last few days have been eye-opening. If your govenment is telling you not to panic buy, it's probably already to late. When all of this is over, I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few of us keep a permanent stockpile of basic supplies and dry goods. This pandemic may make survivalists of us all.

Anyway. I hope everyone stays healthy and is following all the advice to keep this bug in check. If we're vigilant with our hygiene and we keep thinking of others, I'm certain we can stop the worst-case scenarios from happening (see this guide for reference). My government isn't doing a great deal to help and maybe yours isn't either, so it looks like it's up to us. Stay safe out there and look after each other.



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How did I get so old?

15/02/20



So it was my birthday a few days ago. Now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I greet birthdays with something of an indifferent shrug. No more exciting milestones left to look forward to, no surprise for reaching the grand old age of 20, no existential dread as the years count down to 30 (OK, not exactly true. There's less intense existential dread). Too impossibly old to be of any relevance to the younger generation, but still a baby in the eyes of the "real" adults.

There's nothing ahead of me now but the passage of time and a gradual, but hopefully slow (and not too humiliating) decline. Perhaps I'll get a high score and live to be 100, presumably just in time to see Elon Musk flipping us the bird from a sexy new robot body, before promptly fucking off to another galaxy in his space Tesla, leaving this burning husk of a planet behind to an ignominious fate.

Yes, I am now another year older. It's better than the alternative, I guess.



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Vegan Food

07/01/20



Here in the UK, Veganism is blowing up in a big way. This is especially true at this time of year, with Veganuary in full effect, many food companies are clambering to get in on those lucrative New Years resolution profits. When I turned vegetarian 17 years ago, beyond basic cheese pizzas and Linda McCartney sausages, it was pretty tough for my dad find much of anything for me to eat. Of course, there have always been smaller (and expensive) specialist suppliers, but 17 years ago none of them would have found any business setting up shop in a small town like mine. But a lot has changed in recent years for those of us not keen on eating our feathered, furry or fishy friends. Now there are so many new veggie and vegan foods flying onto supermarket shelves, that it's hard for even me to keep track of them all.

I am thrilled by this, but there have been disappointments as well (at least for me, anyway). Greggs launched a vegan sausage roll last year, followed by a vegan steak bake this year and KFC now have a vegan chicken burger, but I cannot eat any of them thanks to a Quorn allergy. I won't go into detail, but when I eat Quorn, let's just say the results are... Explosive. Burger King are also bringing their Rebel Whopper to the UK. You have no idea how excited I was to hear this. Along with corned beef sandwiches (Americans call this bully beef), a BK Whopper is one of the few meat-based foods I truly, deeply miss. So imagine my disappointment to learn that the new Rebel Whopper will be cooked on the same broiler as their regular beef burgers. Thanks Burger King. There are not enough Captain Picard facepalm gifs on the internet to communicate my anguish.

In any case, all of this is surely good news for animals and the environment. But I think we should all be sceptical of the idea that a different kind of mass consumerism will be able to save us. Today we clear rain forest to grow soy for animal feed. But in some not too distant tomorrow, what is to say we won't be clearing rain forest to grow the soy to supply a burgeoning vegan food industry? Most of the big corporate players looking to get into vegan food have links to deforestation, so this could easily happen if we are not careful. Humans are very good at solving one issue, only to inadvertently create another. What are the motivations behind these new products? Do they simply want a cut of the profits from this new breed of consumer, or are they really moving away from the old ways? For now, that remains to be seen.



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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

07/01/20



Oh boy, what a glorious mess this film is! Most of you with an interest have probably seen it, so it would be redundant for me to review it here, but nevertheless I will sum it up in a nutshell: It's essentially a TLJ rewrite coupled with a louder, dumber, utterly incoherent retelling of Return of the Jedi. The film has far too many new characters, far too many underutilised or sidelined established characters and provides very few opportunities for the audience to catch a breath and digest what's going on (which is probably for the best, else they would realise that nothing here makes sense). Add to this a weirdly stubborn insistence to pretend the entire previous film never happened and you have a real big mess on your hands. Did you feel the character development from TLJ was just starting to go someplace interesting? Well, forget about it because the first half an hour of RoSW is but a giant reset button. In some scenes, you can almost sense JJ Abrams flipping Rian Johnson the bird.

(For the record, I really enjoyed The TLJ and still can't understand why it was quite so polarising with some fans. It's definitely my favourite of the three films).

Let's not pretend the original films were planned out in advance because that's almost certainly not the case. I'm sure Lucas had an idea of where he wanted his story to go and served as a creative guide throughout, but the films clearly grew organically from the writers, directors, actors, artists and other creatives involved, building carefully on what had come before. If Disney should learn anything from this mess, they should either hire one guy to make most of the big creative decisions ahead of filming, or they should hire directors and writers willing to respect what's already been set in stone. In the end, what we got was two equally valid but ultimately irreconcilable visions for how the sequel trilogy should have played out, with no guiding hand in the background smoothing out the wrinkles and connecting the dots. Oh well… I suppose it's fitting that the sequel trilogy mirrors the original; a fun comic book adventure, followed by an emotionally and philosophically rich second act and a weaker, mixed bag of a third and final film. It's like poetry, as the man once said. They rhyme.

Anyway, instead of a review, I decided it might be fun to write about what I thought would be in the film (obligatory WARNING - MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD):

Star Destroyers

All those Star Destroyers from the trailer? I had the idea they would be crewed by the Resistance, rustled up somewhere from an old secret imperial base in the outer rim or something (the Resistance, as we know, lost their entire fleet in the previous film). But I was wrong. They're just regular First / Final Order Star Destroyers. Not to worry, the Resistance find more ships than they've ever been able to muster so far in the trilogy (and in the cliched nick of time, too). Just what did Lando say to these guys?


Princess Leia wouldn't be in it much...

It really sucks that Carrie Fisher is dead. And it's clear they had plans to make Leia and her relationship with Ben a major focus in this third and final act. But contrary to the opening crawl, the dead cannot speak. This put the film makers in an impossible position. Recasting the part is unthinkable and relegating leia's fate to a line in the opening crawl feels almost disrespectful (but for the sake of the film, perhaps the better option?). Instead, they chose to recycle some footage shot for TFA. Unfortunately, I don't think it worked out very well. Most of Leia's interactions are limited to meaningful looks, some very brief dialogue and a body double standing in for the odd hug. Her inclusion feels awkward and incomplete and it leaves the cast back at Resistance base seemingly leaderless, with no-one in command to bounce ideas off. For the sake of the story and to show Carrie the respect she deserved, what would have been the best way to deal with this tragedy? I'm not sure, so I'll give Disney a pass on this one.


But Rose Tico would

I thought Rose Tico would be in this one. As main cast member from the previous film, it seemed like a pretty good bet, right? Nope! I mean, technically she's in the film… for all of 1 minute and 16 seconds!. I'd say she got the Jar Jar treatment but it's actually worse than that, because he got a full extra minute of screen time in Attack of the Clones. For the record, I like the character. She had something to say, some good chemistry with Finn and I felt the Canto Bight excursion was a fun bit of world building. Sure, it didn't amount to much, but that was the point (after all, one of the over arching themes of TLJ is dealing with failure and its aftermath). To add insult to injury, when asked by Finn if she'd like to join the adventure, poor Kelly Marie Tran has to deliver a daft line about staying behind to do some homework on Star Destroyers, therefor writing herself out of the movie. Finn simply shrugs, responding with an equally unconvincing "OK". Ouch!

If you kick up a big enough stink on twitter, turns out you really can get a character you don't like ditched from the next installment of a movie franchise aimed mostly at children. Good news, eh? What a brave new world this is.


Kylo Ren would be the new big bad

I felt this was the most intriguing set up from the end TLJ. Seeing Kylo Ren smash his Vader fanboy mask and step out of the shadow of his grandfather to kill the supreme leader was an exciting development. Let's face it, he's a much more interesting villain than Snoke was ever going to be. He's volatile, rage fueled, unpredictable, but also conflicted and capable of mercy (at least where his family is concerned). It's hard to tell what he might do at any moment and that makes him interesting. I was looking forward to seeing how he might wield his new found power. Could Rey turn him from the dark side or could she yet be tempted to join him? They clearly had a connection worth exploring further. It might even have been interesting to see Rey fall to the dark side, only to be turned back to the light by the efforts of her friends. I'm not going to spoil what actually happened, but needless to say, bringing back the Emperor to undercut his status as the top dog felt like a step back for his character. As if to cement this regressive step, he reassembles the mask he smashed in the previous film. Boo.


So there we have it, a few of the things I thought might be in the new Star Wars film (it did turn into a bit of a review in the end, didn't it?).

I'm not going to pretend I might have done a better Job than Abrams and Terrio. It takes serious balls (or hubris) to be involved in the making of a Star Wars film these days and I respect that. Nobody is ever likely to pay me to write for a billion dollar film franchise, so what do I know? But I do know one thing for sure, while I'll always love the original Trilogy (I was exactly the right age for the release of the Special Editions), the spell that Star Wars held over me is finally broken. They're just movies, treat them as Yoda did the sacred Jedi texts. Don't take them all too seriously. Not everything in Star Wars needs to be gold dust to be enjoyable on some level. With this attitude in mind, you may find that even the prequels have their merits.

I also think it's worth considering, with both the prequel and sequel trilogy now complete, why it seems to be so difficult to produce Star Wars films that are as universally praised as the original films (at least among fans). While both trilogies have their high points (and some would argue, many more low points), neither trilogy can claim to be as successful as the OG films when taken as complete three act sagas. In contrast, a similar popular franchise like Star Trek provides well over 20 days worth of content and although quality is variable, it seems much easier to make more Star trek than it is to make more Star Wars. Why? Is there something inherently limiting about the Star Wars universe? Or are the fans less willing to accept new and surprising additions to the franchise? Perhaps dissatisfied fans are just more vocal about it and Disney is too quick to capitulate? Maybe it's the relatively high budgets attached to Star Wars preventing creators from taking more risks. Maybe it's all of these things… Who knows? But it's interesting to think about.

Anyway, now that the whole thing is done and dusted, at least for a while, I can rank every live action Star Wars film up to this point by how much I enjoyed them:

  1. Ep V: The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Ep. IV: A New Hope
  3. Ep. VIII: The Last Jedi
  4. Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi / Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith (these two are equal imho)
  5. Solo: A Star Wars story
  6. Ep. VII: The Force Awakens
  7. Ep. IX: The Rise of Skywalker
  8. Rogue One: A Star Wars story (Actually kinda hate this one. This would be much lower if not for K-2SO)
  9. Ep I: The Phantom Menace
  10. Ep. II Attack of the Clones. I haven't seen the Ewok movies but I imagine they would probably come dead last.


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