“Absolutely Anything” reviewed – Four out of Ten (Edited)

I rented the DVD of Absolutely Anything, the last ever Monty Python film, and watched it. This is my review of it.
The good news: it’s not as bad as some of the critics have said.
The bad news: it’s still not a good film.
When I read that Terry Jones was directing what would be the last Monty Python film ever, I was excited, and eagerly awaited it. Its South African release was scheduled to be the 16th June 2016. But almost immediately after its UK release on August 15 2015, worrying signs appeared. The critics were harsh, and Absolutely Anything flopped at the box office, taking in less than $6 million in theatres. The South African cinematic release was abandoned.
So today, I went down to my local Blockbuster, rented Absolutely Anything and watched it. While not awful, it is certainly disappointing.
The problems start very early on. One of the first scenes is Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) accepting an award for his book. The presenter is his neighbour Catherine West (Kate Beckinsale). As he recites his acceptance speech, his dog Dennis starts barking. Then a whole bunch of dogs appear, also barking. And then Neil wakes up. It was just a dream. Seriously, this is one of the laziest clichés around.
The second problem is he leaves his flat, sees Catherine, starts talking to her, and lies about the progress he’s been making on his book. The scene is just awkward and painful to watch. In fact, most of Absolutely Anything‘s interactions between Neil and Catherine feel awkward and forced.
Neil works as as schoolteacher. One of his colleagues, Ray (Sanjeev Bhaskar), has a crush on the PE Teacher Miss Pringle (Emma Pierson) who is both interested in another teacher and completely uninterested in him. Ray comes across as creepy and stalkerish, and the scene to introduce this is set up in a way that just made me very uncomfortable.
In the meantime, one of the Voyager probes sent out in the 1970s is picked up by the “Galactic Council of Superior Beings” (surviving Monty Python members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin). Unimpressed, they decide to subject humanity to their standard test: one member of the species is chosen at random and granted the power to do absolutely anything he or she wishes for ten days. If the powers have been used for good, the Council will reveal themselves and invite humanity to join. If the powers are used for evil, the planet will be destroyed. The individual chosen is Neil. All he needs to do is say what he wants and wave his hand, and it is done.
Neil starts out by blowing up a classroom and the pupils in it. This is before he works out that he has powers. Once he works out that he has the power to do absolutely anything, he starts trying it out. The problem is, he has to word his wishes/commands precisely, or things go wrong. This plot point actually results in quite a few funny moments.
And a few not so funny ones.
One of the first things Neil does after he works out he has powers is to make Miss Pringle worship Ray. This backfires when she sets up a religion around Ray. This sets up some of the most cringeworthy scenes in Absolutely Anything.
Catherine is also having problems. While in the US, she had a fling with Colonel Grant (Rob Riggle), who flies to the UK and tries to get back together with her. More unpleasantness and awkwardness ensue for the viewer. Absolutely Anything seems to think that creepy, stalkerish behaviour is funny. Protip: it’s not.
In the film’s key scene, Neil cooks dinner for Catherine. He then chooses to reveal his powers to her. He doesn’t do this by demonstrating them to her, which is how he revealed them to Ray, he just talks about them. Catherine, for her part, is left wondering if Neil is as insane as Grant. This is answered when Grant literally crashes into Neil’s flat through a window. Neil then forgets that he could literally send Grant back to the US with a few words and a wave of his hand. This plot hole is simply annoying.
There are other issues, but the above covers most of them. Absolutely Anything‘s funny moments are too few and far between, a lot of the supposed humour derives from clichés that weren’t that funny even when they were fresh, and the awkwardness is just too much.
This is a sad ending to the career of one of the best comedic troupes of all time. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is regarded as one of the funniest films of all time. Ditto Life of Brian. Terry Jones directed Erik the Viking, another hilarious film. And now this mess.
Absolutely Anything is like seeing a straight A student turn in a D-Grade project. You know that they are capable of far, far better.
Rating: Four out of Ten.

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The H.P.V. Vaccine is effective and safe

When a vaccine against H.P.V., a virus implicated in most cases of cervical cancer, came out, antivaxxers raged. They called it the “slut vaccine”, mined VAERS for reports, loaded anecdotes onto VAERS, and generally tried to attack the science behind the vaccine. Two things I saw over the past week are likely to antagonise them further.
The first bit of news confirms that the vaccine is highly effective at both reducing H.P.V. infection and at stopping cervical cancers. From a report on the B.B.C Website:

The world’s first cancer vaccine was administered in Australia exactly 10 years ago.
Since then, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine has been rolled out across 130 countries and halved the number of new cervical cancers.
The HPV vaccine also protects against cancers in the throat and mouth in both men and women.

The second item I saw was from the “Just the Vaxx” Website. ScienceMonkey went through the VAERS Database and checked the entries. What s/he found makes for interesting reading. Long story short: several deaths were definitely NOT caused by the Vaccine. Most were anecdotal, and in many cases the anecdotes were repeated. For the year 2014:

12 of 16 (75%) cases were anecdotes. 6 of the anecdotes were the same story!

Many other anecdotes had identical wording and were logged by the same person.
From the CDC Website: A report to VAERS generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report. VAERS accepts all reports without judging whether the event was caused by the vaccine.
Not only is H.P.V. Vaccine safe, it is effective and has already saved thousands of lives.
Take a bow, Professor Ian Frazer.

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With our toes on the edge of the abyss

Last year, South Africa had its feet at the edge of an abyss. President Jacob Zuma dismissed Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with Desmond van Rooyen. Under huge pressure, four days later Zuma relented and replaced van Rooyen with former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, taking us a few steps back from the edge. Now South Africa has been marched back to the edge of the abyss. Gordhan is being investigated and potentially faces criminal charges.
The investigation by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (aka the Hawks) stems back to when Gordhan was Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). He set up a covert unit to investigate tax evasion. The claim is that Gordhan acted illegally in doing so. Gordhan’s response is that the Hawks have misinterpreted the law in question. One legal expert has described the case as “legal nonsense”. So…

What the heck is going on?

A grab for control of South Africa’s finances.
Over the last month, several highly irregular things have happened in rapid succession. Firstly, shortly after the Local Government Elections, ESKOM asked for comment on a nuclear build programme that it intends to undertake. It did this in a very low key way, as if it was hoping it wouldn’t be noticed and would pass without public comment. Secondly, it was announced that all major government procurements will be handled by an office under the control of President Jacob Zuma. Zuma had millions of taxpayers’ money spent on his private residence at Nkandla, and had 783 charges of fraud and corruption against him that were controversially dropped shortly before he became President. Thirdly, South African Airways (SAA), under the mismanagement of Chairwoman Dudu Miyeni, is in financial meltdown, and needs guarantees from the Treasury otherwise it may be declared insolvent and forced to stop flying. Finally, Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters instructed that a forensic investigation into the Passenger Rail Administration of South Africa (PRASA) be halted. Said investigation has already uncovered a fortune in dodgy spending.

Where does Gordhan fit into all this?

He’s trying to stop money being squandered.
Gordhan has refused to support the nuclear build until he gets solid proof that it is affordable and feasible. Given that the build would take decades to come online and cost tens of billions of Rand, this seems unlikely. In addition, over the last year, ESKOM started a programme for Independent Electricity Producers to get paid for generating electricity for the Grid. These producers have been able to provide electricity at affordable prices and still turn a profit. This programme was recently and abruptly cut back, under very suspicious circumstances.
Gordhan refuses to provide any guarantees to SAA until Miyeni and the Board are replaced. This is reasonable as the Board is largely responsible for the mess SAA is currently in. Miyeni is politically connected, however, and refuses to go. If Treasury refuses to provide guarantees, SAA could be placed in liquidation by its creditors and Miyeni would be removed anyway.
Gordhan has also insisted on belt tightening and a halt to wasteful expenditure across all government departments. The aforementioned PRASA investigation appears to have uncovered proof of illegal activity. This could be politically quite damaging.

Why is Zuma attempting this grab for control?

Since December last year his position has become precarious. He has suffered considerable damage to his standing.
After the news about Nkandla broke, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was asked to investigate. Her report, entitled “Secure in Comfort” detailed a fortune in improper expenditure and recommended that President Zuma pay back a portion of the more than R240 million spent. Zuma ignored Madonsela’s recommendations and the opposition Democratic Alliance took him to Court. After a long process where Zuma lost and then appealed several times, he capitulated and agreed to reimburse the State.
The DA has also taken the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to Court to get the dropping of charges against Zuma reviewed. They have had considerable success, even in the face of relentless delaying tactics.
The biggest thing that has weakened Zuma’s position is the Local Government Elections. In their campaigning, opposition parties turned the Election into a referendum on Zuma’s presidency. It worked. The ANC’s share of the vote fell to below 55%, the worst it has done in any general election it has contested. It also lost control of several major municipalities, including Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
Sections of the ANC have begun to realise just how damaging Zuma is to them. There has been talk of an early Elective Conference. Zuma has surrounded himself with cronies. If he is forced out (which is looking increasingly likely) then he won’t be able to rely on them to shield him from having the charges against him reinstated and facing criminal prosecution.

How will it go down?

It’s very unlikely that Gordhan will be arrested. What’s most likely is that the investigation will drag on for a few months, and then Zuma will make an announcement along the lines of “I have lost trust in Gordhan, and with great sadness have decided to replace him”.
If Zuma succeeds, all will be lost. If Gordhan prevails, victory.

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Polio has reappeared in Nigeria

This is terrible.
Polio has made a reappearance in Nigeria. Two new cases caused by wild-type virus have been reported in a country which not too long ago celebrated two years without a new case being diagnosed. The cases came from areas that are largely under the control of Boko Haram.
We were so close. Before this, polio was endemic in only Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now Nigeria and its neighbours are gearing up to vaccinate large numbers of people to prevent it from spreading.

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Toni Braxton’s son is still autistic

I would have blogged about this sooner, but my ISP is Neotel and, as you are probably aware, they’ve been having network problems.
Toni Braxton claims that God made her son autistic as punishment for having an abortion, and that after extensive interventions he is no longer autistic.
The entire “God did X as punishment” idea is one I rejected long ago. The God I was taught about is “slow to anger, rich in mercy”. I feel Braxton should read the ninth Chapter of the Gospel of John.
What I really dislike however, is Braxton saying that her son is no longer autistic.
Just because her son received training on how to pass as neurotypical, it doesn’t mean that he is no longer autistic, just that he has learnt mechanisms to hide it and to cope with day to day life.
I can usually pass as neurotypical. When I’m stressed, or tired, or frustrated, my coping mechanisms fail. The first thing to go is my speech filter. I start talking bluntly, which a lot of my co-workers find hilarious. The next things to go are my coordination and fine motor control. I start staggering. Literally. I walk like I’m drunk.
Braxton’s son is still autistic. The training he received hasn’t changed that, it just gave him skills and strategies to help.

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Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, has died

I’m a member of the Facebook group Boycott Autism Speaks.
Yesterday, I learnt from the group that Suzanne Wright, one of Autism Speaks’ cofounders, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer.
As you’ve probably guessed by the fact that I’m a member of Boycott Autism Speaks, I dislike the organisation. I have real problems with its thrust, and methods of advocacy. Suzanne Wright and her husband Bob founded Autism Speaks in 2005 after their grandson Christian was diagnosed autistic.
Autism Speaks bought into the “vaccines cause autism” lie (initially understandable), and continued to support it long after it became no longer tenable. In 2009, Alison Tepper Singer was Vice President for PR and Strategy at Autism Speaks. When the first three verdicts in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings went against the families, Singer took a very close look at the evidence, and realised that vaccines did not cause autism. But when she approached the Wrights and tried to get them to abandon the idea, they refused. Singer left Autism Speaks and set up the Autism Science Foundation.
In 2014, Rob Ring, the then Chief Science officer of Autism Speaks, issued a statement refuting vaccine autism causation. Bob Wright responded with a stilted and ambiguous comment. Then in 2015, Ring’s refutation was expunged altogether from the Autism Speaks website. This was more than five years after Wakefield had been exposed as a liar who cooked his data.
Autism Speaks also constantly pushed the “Autism is a tragedy” narrative. In 2009, it produced a video titled “Autism every day”. “Autism every day” depicted autistics and their families as living a hellish life, thanks to the condition. There was a great deal of anger from autistic self advocates over the video. Unfortunately, Autism Speaks turned a deaf ear to those concerns.
Near the end of 2013, Autism Speaks put out a “call to action” that once again demonised autism and those on the spectrum. The response was immediate and furious. John Elder Robison, the only autistic board member of Autism Speaks, resigned. A flash blog was set up by autistics to counteract the propaganda. Autism Speaks’ response was patronising, condescending, and insulting in the extreme.

Michael Rosen, executive vice president of strategic communications at Autism Speaks, said Robison was the only one who resigned over the post. He said the organization understands that higher-functioning people with autism may have a different point of view about the issue.

“The people who are not sick, not unhappy, and are totally fulfilled and happy with their differences, we totally support them as well,” Rosen said. “We’re not looking to change anybody, we’re looking to support and get services for everyone who needs them.

“What that column had was a lot of empathy for those who are struggling the most. But for those who just need support and services, we work for them as well.”

In other words, “you’re making a huge fuss about nothing”.
The real problem with Autism Speaks is that it consistently refused to listen. It refused to listen to the experts and it refused to listen to autistics. And that ultimately made it far less effective than it could have been. Ironic, considering that “It’s time to listen” was its tagline.

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Dreading the outcome of the 2016 U.S Presidential Election

I’ve been watching the preliminary running in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Donald Trump is the Republican Presidential Candidate while Hillary Clinton will likely be selected as the Democratic one.
I am reminded of a comedian’s (John Pinette, perhaps?) comment on the 2000 U.S. Presidential Race between George W. Bush (Republican) and Al Gore (Democrat).
“George Bush and Al Gore. Wow, what a choice! Would you like your leg amputated just above the knee, or just below it?”
Neither Clinton nor Trump look like good candidates. But while I view Clinton with distaste, I view Trump with fear. And it’s not just because of his ludicrous comments about building a wall or deporting Muslims, or that he’s thrown out his old beliefs to make himself more palatable to the Republican Base. He’s completely Dunning-Kruger.
Politifact fact checked claims Trump made for accuracy. More than half were rated “False” or “Pants on Fire”. In addition, Trump has a habit of ignoring the experts in favour of his own prejudices.
A Trump Presidency would be very bad for autistics in particular. He is a proponent of the thoroughly discredited “vaccines cause autism” theory. If he wins, resources will once again be wasted on researching a dead end.
The problem is, a Trump Presidency is a distinct possibility. First he declared he would run, and people rolled their eyes as he’d said that before. Then he ran, and people thought he’d drop out. Then he started winning primaries, and people believed he’d lose in the later rounds. Then he started winning those, and commenters said that the Republicans would never let him stand. And now he’s the Candidate.
I am hoping that Hillary wins in 2016.

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