sexta-feira, novembro 08, 2019

B-Movies in Book Form: "Blue Moon" by Lee Child

"The Sign of Four": An unmitigated pile of literary sh*t, never so glad to finish a book ever. Only finished it out of some perverse desire not to let the book beat me by giving up on it. It is truly a book not be dismissed lightly but with a bloody big throw over a cliff.

Tom Clancy: the books were strangely readable but as the series progressed they became just a load of propaganda for how great America and the American military is and in pushing his own political ideology they became just tiresome. In fact the last one Red Rabbit is nearly as bad as The Sign of Four. In Clancy's world first come Americans, then the British a bit behind then come the rest of the world in a descending order of the usual suspects.

The Sean Dillon series by Jack Higgins: its appears to be written by a computer, largely the same plot, the same characters(even if the names change) and locations, even some of the dialogue. But they are still extremely readable and pass an entertaining few hours without engaging the brain.

Ken Follett's medieval doorstops “The Pillars of the Earth” and “World without End”: B-movies in book form. Execrable writing. Clearly Follett has mastered the dark arts of sorcery. What other reason is there for why I couldn't put them down?

Anything by the late Colin Forbes: generally containing too much repetition of 'as you know, XYZ protagonist is an expert something or other that is vital to this mission', and featuring the worst fashion cues in contemporary pulp literature, with a heroine whose style guru seems to have been Margaret Thatcher. Nonetheless I seem to have read book after book of his from the library in hopes that, on the basis of the professed book a year, there surely had to be some improvement as time passed. I was wrong. He was truly the Barbara Cartland of spy fiction.

I also succumb to Lee Child's Reacher series: "Blue Moon" just came out and I duly read it. Of course it's formulaic, but it's great for a rainy afternoon indoors (still sunshine where I live and temperatures above 25 C), snuggled into a large armchair in the garden looking at the pool and accompanied by steaming mugs of tea and gluten-free beer cake. Possibly not the image Mr. Child had in mind, but I don't just drop cake crumbs over any book, you know.

sábado, novembro 02, 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: England vs Boks (Final) - 12-32

The wheels on the bus were falling off falling off falling off. Men against boys at scrum time. The 'Bok pack' and their "alleged" physicality. Alleged? Springbok forwards are usually similar sized to other packs and probably smaller than say Pacific Islanders yet Bok packs are world renowned for their physicality. Think it's more than just physical size that people refer to when talking about the Bok pack. It's the raw aggression and mongrel from the breed a lot of whom come from generations of tough Boer that just cant be replicated anywhere else. Then you add in the hardiness and toughness from the Saffas' Xhosa and Zulu players who are actually physically smaller but bring the pace to the pack. Pound for pound Boer are able to produce more power, under normal emotional conditions, but when enraged or excited this rises to a whopping percentages Just think of that extra power, per man. Combined across the entire team that is a lot of boost, just from the team on the pitch, and that's not including the bench! When it comes to Xhosa & Zulu, why, the figures just  become even more incredible. They are on average able to produce more power than even the Boer, but only for short  spells. However, that's not the most incredible thing! When it comes to reaction speed they are head and shoulders above their Boer comrades even though the Boer themselves are noticeably more reactive than other races, even to laymen. England just didn't know what hit them and it was be no consolation to them that it is mostly the inevitable result of science. 

Pragmatic winning rugby from the Boks. Not all of Mozart’s paintings were perfect. Once SA won the physical battle up front they just tried to be as error free as possible and make England chase it and that didn’t suit them. Feel a bit for England. They’ve probably been the team of tournament but today a good bit second best. Losing Sinckler that early obviously didn’t help but that’s only a contributory factor to an entirely lacklustre performance. Key players such as Youngs, Daly and to a certain extent Billy Vunipola seemed to let the occasion get to them. Daly was exposed  positionally all game long and Youngs' passing was appalling. 16 points came directly from knock-ons or other basic errors and you just can’t get away with that at international level especially in a final. I was terrified (as always I wanted England to win; too many years at the British Council playing games of footy...) wanted through the week what could happen if the Saffas got ahead and some momentum and they were ruthless, never took their foot of England’s throats. England were never in it and it is not a total surprise either, if you have watched England vs SA over the last few years. England were totally out-muscled and out-thought. Certain things remain unchanged in rugby. You simply can’t win if you can’t scrummage. Cole has played way above himself this tournament but he was cruelly exposed by going on with 78 minutes to play. It’s not really Cole’s fault - he did his best, but he simply isn’t up to it at this level.

The Southern Hemisphere (#8: AB - #3, SA - #3, AUS - #2) keeps dominating international rugby over the Northern Hemisphere (#1: England in 2003).


NB: As I've written above, Sinckler leaving the game right at the beginning destroyed England's hopes of winning the game. There's no tighthead prop like him at the moment.

sexta-feira, novembro 01, 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Wrap-up (Prior to the Final)

Japan vs. Russia (30-10) - WATCHED

Japan looked great ball in hand, the offload for the first try was sublime. Comically bad at gathering the high ball and pretty poor at tactical kicking. Shaky start by Japan, there. I guess nerves in front of the massive home crowd got to them, but they are going to have to be much, much better for the rest of their games. Also, they need to spend the entire week practicing how to catch high balls, because Ireland will absolutely take them apart like that. Hard to imagine Japan troubling a tier 1 nation; indeed I think Samoa would have put five or six tries through them today. But they may have been nervous. Some lovely back of the hand offloading as well. Good game.

AB vs. SA (23-13) - WATCHED

I thought South Africa were quite poor. The box kicking from de Klerk was off the mark all day. Tactics were wrong, and very 1 dimensional. With 3 giants in the pack, surely you kick the ball into touch more often and contest the opponents line-out? That they did or didn't recieve a yellow card made little difference. They still conceded 14 points in the following 10-12 minute period. Willie le Roux just has to be dropped to the bench. Poor decision making, and useless under the high ball. His tackling looks like he is playing scared ... almost touch rugby. To not play Frans Steyn at FB is a joke. Miles better than WIllie le Roux! Perhaps the Boks have to move Kolbe into outside center once in a while, and get him more into the game. They have a twinkle toes there, who will create line breaks and openings. Hopefully they won't see Jerome Garces against. He had a stinker of a performance (for both sides), with idiotic decisions, scrum infringements, no understanding of the offside rule, and general inconsistency. Just hard (for both teams) to play to the rules, if they are not applied correctly/consistently. The ABs weren't at the races on the first 20 minutes – numerous passes going into empty space rather than to a team-mate, and a complete lack of cohesion. They came away from that spell only 3 points down because while the SAs were great in defence they were bereft of ideas in attack. Mo'unga's tackle on Colbe may not have been a match-winner, but it was a match-saver. But Barrett was magnificent, and the ABs had a brilliant spell when they scored their two tries. No doubt the ABs deserved to win, and they may well improve as the tournament goes on, but I suspect Hansen was feeling jumpy in the first and final quarters of the game – not that he'd ever let it show. I don't see SA being enough of a threat, ball in hand, except through Colbe, to make the final; they didn't look as if they had much ore to give. But that was to be expected. Because the Boks used the rush defense, which is not sustainable long term. Its a great way to suppress another team, and a fantastic tactic assuming that rugby games are 30 minutes long. The AB's won because games are 80.

Italia vs. Namibia (47-22) - NOT WATCHED

Couldn't watch the game. Still recovering from last night's all-nighter to see the opening games from Friday to 


Aus vs. Fiji (39-21) - WATCHED

This game played out almost exactly how I would have predicted beforehand, but was nonetheless exciting for it. Fiji fantastic in spells but ultimately without the discipline and nous of Australia. There were times in the first half where Fiji, as they can, looked terrifyingly unplayable. They unfortunately could do nothing second half and Australia came back into the game really impressively. Pocock and Hooper were immense. Seeing Fiji and the other Pacific island nations  being competitive is what I most look forward to in a rugby World Cup. The commentary in this game on ITV was appalling. Not even a comment at the time about the clear no arms tackle by Hodge and apparently Fiji and Australia were “probably one of the best in the world” at any particular skill set they might happen to execute at that time. Brian Moore, Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies, all is forgiven. Fiji gave it a good go, but they were never going to win with such a weak scrum and being unable to stop the rolling maul. They also gave it all in the first half then ran out of steam. Kinda how I expected it to go. Australia have been mighty lucky here though. I spotted that Hodge jumping shoulder tackle live, and I am amazed it was missed and we did not go to the TMO. It was also with Fiji on a dangerous attack. A red is not too much for that. With Australia down to 14, I do not think they would have won so convincingly.

France vs. Argentina (23-21) - WATCHED

Argentina could have won the game, in the last minute, if they had converted a penalty! Argentina did not play in the first half!

Ireland vs Scotland (27-3) - WATCHED

Three good things I saw from Ireland:
1) they pulverised the Scottish forwards, bringing back some of the confidence they lost earlier this year
2) They didn’t concede a try to a team that ripped England to shreds in their most recent 6N game
3) Game management in the last 20mins was superb - even with all the changes.

Not convinced it’s enough to keep the Boks awake at night, but it’s a shiteload better than where we were about a month ago.

Ireland were absolutely outstanding in that game. It is rugby union rather than rugby league where the best forward pack tends to win the game. Ireland destroyed Scotland in the tight 5 and the game was over after 20 minutes. It is not unlucky for Scotland that they don’t have a decent pack. It is a key part of the game and to turn up at a RWC without one leaves you staring at defeats like the one today against the top team in the completion. Everyone seems to think that Scotland just fling the ball about, but there was a stat today showing that Scotland kicked more than anyone else in the first round of games, closely followed by NZ. It's not this crazy free-styling all out attack that pundits claim, it's just played wider because, and here is the fundamental problem, we can't make yards up  front. So all this talk of changing the game plan, it's a load of rubbish. The Scots have no option but to play to the strengths of Russell and Hogg, as they haven't got any massive ball-carrying forwards to bring into the team.  Maybe due to the threats or Russell and Hogg Ireland just pinpointed them for blitzing. Hogg in particular received the ball and man at the same time on a few occasions. So while I agree Scotland will get nowhere trying to play a muscle game they probably need to go all out on a 'shit or bust' strategy and add more attacking threats to the back line (like starting Price and Graham). Compared with the three matches on Saturday morning; Scotland's performance was utterly poor, and they should ashamed for how they played; and yes that is harsh.

England vs Tonga (35-3) - WATCHED

Simplistically, bonus point - move on. But its highly unlikely that Jones will be so simple. 4 years ago, bonus point Fiji - move on. England were good in parts but were worryingly ill disciplined and Youngs looked like he had jet lag. The basics were shite too. There is a lot to work on. That performance had the hallmarks of the lackadaisical Lancaster early showings 4 years ago. Penalty count and handling errors were at an unacceptable level. Plus point, Youngs' kicking was a lot more accurate than recent games. But his work around the base was poor. When Vunipola got smashed in the first half, the ball was available and should have been played immediately - Young dithered, they smashed the ruck, Young panicked and shovelled on shit. A few plays later, down their end, Youngs dither, the ball squirts out, instead of playing the ball he throws his arms out like a footballer. 9 is a vital position. If you look at what Murray did today at 9 and Youngs and there is a massive gulf in class. He plays like he has no competition for his place. Oh...In the end, Tonga could not match England's superior fitness, but there is still a load of room for improvement. Tonga came to show that they were not pushovers and they really made England work hard for that fourth try for the bonus point. Ford-Farrell kicking game worked well today in terms of exploiting space. Not sure you'd employ the same strategy against, say, France, later in the pool stage, since they will diffuse the bombs and launch effective counters. It was not particularly the kind of show of force that would strike the fear of god into potential quarter final  opponents. Hopefully, England have enough reserve in the tank to overcome the other group opponents without any problems.

NB: After the opening weekend, I've seen nothing to challenge the pre-competition betting. Anyone of the 5 from the Northern Hemisphere can realistically go far in the RWC2019, based on three good matches starting in the Quarters. The group matches aren't much more than run-outs with only a couple of QF berths to be decided. Still, loving watching it all.

Wales vs. Georgia (43-14) - WATCHED

Great first half. Worrying they couldn’t score when Georgia were down to 14 players and that they drew the second half.  They’ll need to be a bit sharper all round against Australia if they want to top their pool.  One of Wales weaknesses at the last World Cup was an inability to make it count against a team who were down to 14 men (13 for a bit). Slightly disappointing that they seem to still struggle.

Russia vs. Samoa (9-34) - WATCHED

In the first half, Russia with two men up couldn't finish the game...6-5 at half-time! It could have been a bigger difference. Had Samoa properly been down to 13 they wouldn’t have scored that first try and the incident wouldn’t have occurred imo. Not often you see this phrase, but Russia scored a moral victory today, even if Samoa got the points. Russia again with lots of tackles missed. Only 3 days rest for the Russians before this game...In order to win the RWC, potent back lines are required to unlock good defences in the knockout stages. Running up huge scores against much inferior opposition does not get you any closer to the holy grail than just doing what is necessary to secure a win and a bonus point. None of these teams have it. The Northern Hemisphere teams default play is to kick for position. The ABs tend to kick for possession. Russia in the second half was slaughtered as they did in the second half against Japan...The Russian fullback Artemyev's head, could be used as some form of protective bunker. How he soldiered on after those hits, I’ll never know?! 

Love the fullback's mustache!: Go Vasily Artemyev! 

Samoa were garbage today. Scotland weren’t good, but they were playing a very clinical Ireland team. Russia were exhausted from not being given many days to rest, when already probably lacking in fitness.

Uruguai vs. Fiji (30-27) - WATCHED

24-17 at the end of the first half for Uruguay! This is a bigger shock than Japan beating the Springboks in RWC2015! I had a meeting at Pestana at 09:30 and at 08:00 (the game started at 6 06:15 and I ha a good it'd be a good game which it was). I was still at home watching the game...
Absolutely fantastic by Uruguay, huge commitment by the whole team and they had great self belief. They scrambled for every scrap and scrapped for every scramble, and really rattled the Fijians. Thoroughly deserved win in a very exciting contest. how a tiny country, with a population of just 3.4 million, could have won 15 Copa America, two World Cups, two Olympic titles (the smallest country to ever win Olympic gold in a team sport - and Uruguay did it not once, but twice), reached five World Cup semi-finals... and produced this never-ending conveyor belt of tough, talented, exceptional footballers. And Rugby! The spirit and romance of the game it's all there. If you want mauls, pick and go then watch Ireland, Aus, SA, NZ, etc., etc...Wonderful result and performance by Los Teros. A team with great passion and not insignificant rugby skills. The setting for this upset is also beautiful. The stadium was purpose-built for this tournament and is in tsunami-hit territory apparently. An altogether delightful event - unless you're Fijian! If Uruguay can beat Georgia they will have a chance of finishing 3rd in the pool and will automatically qualify for WC 2023. Absolutely LOVED that. Uruguay are a semi-amateur team, and I felt like they played like the best possible way.  Just buzzing around everywhere - missing nearly 50 tackles but making up for it by literally throwing running bodies at everything that moved. Ruck technique a little suspect but effective in slowing the ball just through putting their heads into unsavoury places. Whenever they got the ball, just looking to have fun with it, throw it outside and have a run. And just playing with that pure heart that can only come from playing for the unadulterated love of the game and your country, rather than because its your job. Not gonna lie, I was tearing up at the Uruguayan captains speech at the end. Such emotion, and eloquence. And amidst all of it ending with a shout out to the city and all its been through. Pure class.

Italy vs Canada (48-7) - WATCHED

Portugal is ranked 21. Canada 22. What happened to the Wolfs? Back in late 80s/90s, Canadians were at least competitive and arguably one of the strongest Tier 2 nations. Not now.

England vs. USA (45-7) - WATCHED

Two rolling maul tries (my teacher at the British Council called them "push-over tries") in the first half for England (19-0). USA is crap...George Ford again at fly-half as in the first game. Bu this time, due to Farrell's absence (load management; Farrell was centre in the first game, but did all the conversions), he's the one doing the conversions. The props Joe Marler (tight) and Dan Cole (loose) were devastating in the dark arts of scrumming...Cole and Marler for me set the tone for this English win. Their dominance in the scrum just sapped the energy from the USA forwards and England could play on the front foot for virtually the whole of the game. I was watching the game on NBC and the American commentators (Alex Corbisiero and Dan Lyle) were laugh out funny as if USA had a chance in hell of winning this game, eve with an England's second team...More composure from England this time. They quickly identified that the conditions for passing rugby were not there and  relied on set piece to break through. Don't know what to make of the handling errors. Obviously, very greasy there but at the same a lot of the errors stem from poor passing. England need Ford/Farrell at 10/12 to function. But I suppose its pointless drawing any conclusions at this stage. Neither Tonga or the US were up to much. England looked disjointed but you have to take into account conditions, selections and the fact that they may be holding back. 

Argentina will be the first real test.

28.09.2019 - Arg vs. Tonga (28-12): WATCHED

Tonga can start packing. Football is easy to understand, its fans think knowing "the offside rule" is a feat of genius. Rugby is not as easy to pick up...

28.09.2019 - Japan vs. Ireland (19-12): WATCHED

What a game from Japan! What a game from the fly-half Tamura! Japan very sharp at the breakdown and their handling and running lines were just brilliant. The speed and accuracy of their handling and breakdown work was superb. Talk about getting fast ball! And with the defensive discipline made it almost a complete performance. On that form they would give most tier 1 sides a real run for their money. Is this a bigger upset than Japan beating SA? I think it is. Ireland, the No1 side heading in to the WC, would not have underestimated Japan so no surprise factor. Ireland didn't score a point after the 21st minute and were outplayed completely in the second half. Ireland seemed befuddled by the Japan tactic of kicking long to keep them pinned in their own 22, winning the turnover, then the Japan forwards hammering away at them in wave after wave of ferocious attacks. The Ireland defense appeared clueless most of the time. Japan played rugby, lots of rugby at great pace and with great skill and commitment. Hardly any box kicks. Ireland looked stolid and unimaginative and looked like a bunch of lumbering lunkheads...So sick of watching Ireland make two passes through the backs and then the back in possession running back into the ruck/forwards. Maybe it is borne of a realisation they are not capable of creating any danger in the backs other than maybe kick chase. Their handling and passing skills must be the lowest of a Tier 1 nation. Their forwards are generally good. Their backs are at best toothless.

28.09.2019 - RSA vs. Namibia (57-3): WATCHED

Namibia is crap. Namibia doesn't even have professional players. They play lower level rugby in South Africa. Stopped watching in the first half, not a lot of joy in a game like that. Enough said!

29.09.2019 - Georgia vs. Uruguay (33-7) - WATCHED

Gorgadze is back! Uruguay was dead tired...

29.09.2019 - Wales vs. Wallabies (29-25) - WATCHED

Biggar vs. Foley-without-the-moustache (To'omua made such a difference when he came on, can't believe he didn't start). Wales started with a Biggar's drop goal! The Wallabies need another goose-step man (Campese)...Technically the best game so far. Great game of rugby. One thing I would say is the amount of offsides in this world Cup that are going unpunished is ridiculous. Everytime the ball reaches the backs the opposition is on them almost before they've caught it. Its been happening in nearly every game. Not that this would affect the aussie team as I'm fairly sure their inside centre is  incapable of passing the ball. Wales went through 6-7 years where they lost to Aus by 1-5 points, usually in the last ten minutes. The last two matches have been a big break with what had come to seem the norm. Hooper should have had a yellow card for deliberately lining up Biggar with his shoulder and whilst Kerevi was a tad unlucky, you can't lead forcefully with your forearm. Great sportsmanship by him to shake Patchell's hand. Cheika wants to go back to 2015, select the same team and hope for the same results. Why on earth is he switching back to Foley after 3 years of mediocrity? MOM for me was Patchell (substituted Biggar with concussion); from his off-the-bootlaces first touch pick up, though the in-off 48m penalty and the drop goal under all sorts of pressure. I don't know if the pictures are the same all over the world, but from the images we get in NZ there is no way that a TV viewer can sensibly opine on whether Davies was offside before taking the interception. At 37:23, when Genia has his hands on the ball, the shot is a tight angle, with only the ruck and the Welsh 6&7 in the frame. At 37:24, the shot switches to a wide angle and Davies is a meter and a half in front of the rest of the Welsh line, running full tilt. Where he came from ie whether behind the last feet or not is simply unable to be determined. Early in the second half, he went for another intercept but shelled it. In that play, he clearly came from an onside position. He is and always has been freakishly good at anticipating these opportunities.

30-09-2019 - Scotland vs. Samoa (34-0) - NOT WATCHED

02-09-2019 - France vs. USA (33-9) - WATCHED

Ramos can't hold onto the ball, Huget and Medard are always likely to make stupid errors, and the only player of mention is Lopez, who was really good, and would have been far better still if he was allowed a more attacking role. The French tend to be a different team from week to week, sometimes its all about the scrum, others the backs! Their bench saved them, but even then it wasn't all that convincing. When they discover a consistent approach across the whole team they may be a force to be reckoned with - 2023 maybe?!And the collapsing scrums all the time?? I mean the rest of the team can get on with the game, the front rows will sort it out amongst themselves. For front rows the biggest issue in rugby at the moment is that too much rugby is taking up precious scrumming time!

NB: Any All Black who 'eased off' the opposition would not remain an All Black for much longer. Every AB player is competing against challengers for their places of equal talent, as much as against opponents. That is why they're so insanely good - and why no team, howsoever ranked, is immune from a fifty-point stuffing on their day. I speak as a 

Portuguese-that-Once-Upon-a-Time-Played-the-Game fan...

02-09-2019 - AB vs. Canada (63-0) - WATCHED

In rugby every team wants to play the ABs. Canada were outclassed but played with a lot of heart. I'm sure the Canadian players will have given it their very best shot and played to their potential. Knowing they were certain to lose it took some fortitude and collective will to face that expected defeat and yet give their all. And I would imagine having some of the ABs coming at you full tilt is far from a trivial thing. As with other things in life, it is also well-known that a thorough thrashing in Rugby builds fortitude and resilience...

03-10-2019 - Fiji vs. Georgia (45-10) - WATCHED

This whole "Georgia in the 6N" thing is such a tedious debate. Italy is much better. Today proved that Georgia are a long way from even being the best tier 2 nation.

03-09-2019 - Ireland vs. Russia (35-0) - WATCHED

Good game to illustrate that a divergent scoreline doesn't necessarily tell you everything about the quality of the play. The Russian defence held their ground, and held back Ireland. Ireland couldn't score a try for 60 minutes of the match. This was as poor a 35-0 win as I've seen. Russia knew how to defend against Ireland and how to steal the ball at the breakdown. The first 20 mins of the second half were abject.

Boks vs. Italy (49-3) - WATCHED

I think the uncontested rucks actually benefitted italy. No penalties from collapsing the scrum and south Africa had been pushing italy around at the scrum. That was a bruising defeat for the Italians. It was already tough luck losing two props to injury so early in the game. And then they conjure up a crass act of stupidity in the second half that led to the loss of a third prop, decimating them even further. To make matters worse for them, their final pool match will be against the formidable All Blacks. The Italians will be trying to forget this RWC as fast as they can. The Boks are a veritable lean, mean, brutally efficient machine. A juggernaut, if you will. Their imposing green wall of  defense is impenetrable. Their power runners are unstoppable. Their rolling maul is a thing of beauty. Cheslin Kolbe is a diminutive, harmless-looking, try-making beast. Did we just watch the team that will eventually hoist the Webb Ellis Cup?

05-10-2019 - Aus vs. Uruguay (45-10) - NOT WATCHED

05-10-2019 - England vs. Argentina (39-10) - WATCHED

I know that England is holding back. All Blacks in 2015 RWC in pool play were scratchy, but improved in the finals. Sometimes teams bring you to their level, not being disrespectful to Argentina. England are building, and I would not read too much into this game. Even against 14 men, England were lumbering and predictable at times. Maybe the fans lauding their "get it done any way you can" mentality should be more concerned at the lack of genuine flair and invention in their side. Vunipola seems off his game - heist making the yards he did- even though he isn't being that heavily 
targeted. Hope his ankle is OK. Farrell should have gone off after the hit- not just the kicking but his decision making was clearly affected- ye was hanging on to the ball a second longer than he would normally do and went into contact too often- this limited England's back play and made everything slow down unnecessarily. Was really looking forward to this game but it went downhill after that high tackle. Shame. At this level, if you're a coach, then you should be telling your players to aim much lower. I think it was a deliberate ploy to rattle Farrell, get him to lose his rag and maybe get binned himself. Not a ploy I applaud but if you are going to do it, don’t go head hunting. Because the result will always be a red. Sure, niggle Farrell, push him a bit post whistle etc, even ask him about the last book he read! But getting a red yourself, dumb behaviour.

05-10-2019 - Japan vs. Samoa (38-19) - WATCHED

Bloody hell Samoa! Bloody, bloody hell! Robert Louis Stevenson is a national hero in Samoa. Could you not have done the land of his birth a favour by booting the ball out instead of trying to win a scrum and running in a try from 80 bloody metres! They handed Japan the BP.Slightly scrappy game are times, but Japan are looking like solid contenders. Keeping the pressure on, and securing the  bonus point could prove vital in the group. Simply securing a losing bonus point could now qualify them from the group. Saying that, you have to fancy them to win the game against scotland.

06-10-2019 - All Blacks vs. Namibia (71-9) - NOT WATCHED

06-10-2019 - France vs. Tonga (23-21) - NOT WATCHED

08-10-2019 - RSA vs. Canada (66-7) - NOT WATCHED

09-10-2019 - Argentina vs. USA ( ) - NOT WATCHED

On attack USA got over the gain line with a charge from the massive Lasike, then get quick ball to the big forwards around the fringes. They then either drop the ball in the backs or deliver an aimless kick to the opposition strike runners. Defensively Argentina worked out the USA 'blitz' defence with inside passes and moving it wide quickly.

09-10-2019 - Scotland vs. Russia (61-10) - WATCHED

You can only beat what's in front of you, and in the past we've seen stodgy Scotland performances against supposed minnows. This was sharp and professional. A few handling errors and daft forward passes aside; Scotland did everything that was asked of them. Unfortunately Russia was shite. Poor Russia ran out of steam, too many big all-out previous games.

09-10-2019 - Wales vs. Fiji (29-17) - WATCHED

Lots of mistackles from Wales. With so many errors I don't believe they can be real contenders to the title.

11-10-2019 - Australia vs. Georgia (27-08) - NOT WATCHED

12-10-2019 - AB vs. Italy (Cancelled - Hagibis)

12-10-2019 - France vs. England (Cancelled - Hagibis)

It's not the World Cup anymore, it's the "what if" tournament. AB vs. Italy wouldn't change the outcome of the group rankings, because it's unlikely that Italy would have beaten New Zealand but we'll never know. And if France had beaten England, the quarter finals would look very different, but we'll never know. And of course Scotland and Japan tomorrow. Ireland could win the group or come second depending on the result of Japan vs Scotland. And of course Scotland could go home not knowing if they could have reached the quarter finals. So, I'm not as interested as I was. I hope the "What If" tournament keeps everyone as interested as a World Cup tournament would have done.

12-10-2019 - Ireland vs. Samoa (47-5) - NOT WATCHED

13-10-2019 - USA vs. Tonga (31-19) - NOT WATCHED

13-10-2019 - Wales vs. Uruguay (35-13) - WATCHED

As expected with 13 changes and 2 days prep time Wales were disjointed inaccurate and lethargic. Uruguay, however, were as they have been in the other games. Tenacious, opportunist and very nippy. Give them time and money and they could push to join the likes of Fiji and Georgia as a team the big boys really want to avoid.

13-10-2019 - Japan vs. Scotland (28-21) - WATCHED

Wow, what a game! Outstanding game; possibly the game of the tournament so far. Japan were excellent and Scotland upped their game magnificently to almost - so close at the end - almost match them. I was hoarse and knackered at the end of that game just by watching it - both sets of players looked out on their feet at the end. The growing calls for the Tier 1 nations to be reassessed will only grow after that performance. A coldly realistic look at the situation over the past 23 years will show only England, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia deserve the honour of the title. The commentator on ITV got it spot on when he said it was just like watching the Barbarians. Can they beat the Saafas? Japan beat the Boks in 2015 in the exact same manner as the beat the Irish and the Scots. Quick heals from scrums - small fast aggressive backs that Kolbe Cheslin like out exhaust their much bigger opponents. Tier 1 rugby is all about big 15“ flanker type“ players and the Springboks, Ireland, and Scotland have been completely out maneuvered by a 1980 styled team lead by a coach “from that time“. Tier 1 rugby needs to revert to fast small backs who can play 80 minutes at the  expense of huge backs who after 50 minutes are exhausted. Can't wait for the quarter-finals!


19-10-2019 - England vs. Wallabies (40-16) - WATCHED

Who's the idiot who decided the Wobblies shouldn't clear the ball from their 22? It's not just possession by England; it's field position, and the the last try sums it up, the Wallabies trying too much from within their own 22. Idiotic. Can't remember a worse Australian team. Woeful game management, loads of silly mistakes and some of the worst decision making i have seen at this level. How many times did they have to do that short restart before they realised it gave England the ball near the half way line every single? They were actually the better team in the opening 15 but found  themselves well down purely on silliness. For the Wallabies, there are a lot of players who simply are not up to international standard any more. No Campeses, no Lynaghs. I really fear for the game in Australia. A shame to see a player like Koroibete to go out: the pace, power and the angles of his runs were incredible. What's the basic problem with Australia? No-one plays Union in Australia anymore...Sinckler’s try summed it up for me. Set up, set up, set up, a small error in defense, two tacklers with three runners, and a stand off half who picked the right one. This is precision rugby at its best. And as no doubt many here will say, excellent tactical choices from Jones. Farrell was brilliant, but the win was nothing to do with him being preferred over Ford. It was the tactical package that won it, of which the player choice is a part but far from the whole. The England defence was tight as a drum and Owen Farrel rediscovering his kicking boots, which somehow became errant during the pool matches, was the best thing to happen since the beginning of time.

19-10-2019 - AB vs. Ireland (46-14) - WATCHED

NZ played fantastic rugby but Ireland were awful, most of it simple/basic stuff. Kicking away possession, not finding touch, no support for attacking player who then gets stripped or a penalty for holding on, centres coming too close to the passer and running into a gaggle of defenders, inane/pointless box kicks that again give away the ball, awful defending, think the Ireland winger was 15m out of position at one point. There were far too many errors by the Irish to even get a sniff. Owens did make a few too many errors that favoured NZ, not that that would change the result but they don't need a leg up! Their try under the posts in 2nd half was from an obvious forward pass, far too often NZ getting away with casual obstruction, there were at least two in the 2nd half that should have been blown when NZ players simply moved into the way of the tacklers and Owens utterly ignored it. Also NZ player clearly off his feet and Owens did nothing despite it being so obvious which resulted in pressure off NZ from an Irish attack. England will be a hugely different prospect but can't see NZ losing and on that performance can't see past them to lift the RUWC trophy.

20-10-2019 - Wales vs. France (20-19) - WATCHED

How did France find a way to lose this one? Apart from Vahaamahina's textbook brain freeze moment, they missed an easy penalty, a conversion, a drop goal and should have scored more points at the end of the 1st half! It's a real shame because they were totally dominant. Nevertheless, congratulations to Wales who scraped the win, which ultimately is the only thing that counts in a World Cup knockout rugby match. And they also managed to lose possession from 2 attacking scrims now on the Wales 5m line. If I was a French rugby supporter I would be apoplectic right now. Dreadful performance from Wales. Utterly devoid of ideas, second best at the contact and witless in game management. France once again find a way to not win though.

The Boks will win against Wales easily.

20-10-2019 - Springboks vs. Japan (26-3) - WATCHED

A great game. Unfortunately for Japan they just couldn't score in the first half, except for the penalty. The second half South Africa just turned the screw against a tiring opponent. Thank you Japan for playing rugby with such joy. It was fun while it lasted. South Africa held their players up in the tackle at every opportunity and went to the maul every chance they got. Japan simple weren't allowed to play their slick passing gaming. i'd add that Japan tired alot in the 2nd half, understandable as it must be punishing trying to play at the tempo they managed in the 1st half. Japan wasn’t recycling the ball anywhere near as quick in the second half allowing SA a lot of turnovers in the breakdown. The big difference, for me, in this game compared to the JAP v SCO game was that Japan couldn't convert their 1st half pressure into points because of the SA defence before they tired in the 2nd half. The Saffas' physicality was brutal.


My prediction (I'll check this on the 2nd of November after the final):

All Blacks Champions. Boks Runners up. England 3rd. Wales 4th. Except the Boks might just win.

26-10-2019 - England vs. AB (19-7) - WATCHED

This shows once and for all the AB's game is not what it used to be. Have you seen how the AB play rugby nowadays? Their entire platform is based on breakdown shithousery! To say England's forwards were flawless and their defense brilliant sound like a hark back to the days England played dour, unimaginative rugby, but that would be the most incredible disservice to this brilliant English side. That was then, this is now. Yes they did win it with flawless forward play and brilliant defense but it was never leaden or boring but fast and engrossing. England played not just rugby to win, but  rugby to entertain and they did it brilliantly. Yes they won it in their fast and mobile forwards not their creative backline, but that's because this is where this contest would always be won...their backs can wait. Keep entertaining England (forwards or backs); it's what rugby is all about! Also have to give massive credit to Eddie Jones and the forwards coach for England's lineout today. The AB were obviously targeting it by starting with three locks but, apart from the try of course, it was rock solid. England must have gone through about 20 different variations on England's own throw and only got picked off twice. Fantastic stuff. That was an absolute collectors item. First time I’ve ever seen England out muscle the ABs and beat them for fitness. Still it was credit to them that I couldn’t relax until the last 5 minutes. Lawes plus Itoje and Underhill plus Curry is like playing with two 6s and two 7s and that showed at the  breakdown. When the AB broke England were able to kill the move before a try when any normal side would have been broken. ABs are at their most dangerous in broken play after oppo mistakes and England just gave them so little to play with.  Ford, Farrell and Manu were huge in defense. ABs thought Manu was a weakness out wide, he actually pulled off two fantastic tackles on the wing after drifting from his own man who he had covered. Mako and Billy both huge and Jamie George was immense. 

NB: England's players Joe Marler and Billy Vunipola strayed into the All Blacks' territory at the start of the haka and simply ignored the officials' pleas to get back on their side of halfway. It perhaps signified that the men in white wouldn't play by the normal rules at Yokohama Stadium.

27-10-2019 - Boks vs. Wales (19-16) - WATCHED

Wales, why on earth did you join in with South Africa's boring approach to the game? Kick, kick, kick it back to them. I've been enjoying the games up until now. Hope England use pace and skilful handling to win on Saturday. I honestly don’t think we will ever see a worse World Cup semi final. Wales stunk out the six nations and won a GS on the back of boring anti rugby. But this WC they have been worse. What an appalling game from both teams! Awful game of rugby, so bad I went for a walk second half... why waste a glorious morning watching that...? The kind of game to watch on teletext for those old enough... I’ve said throughout they are boring, negative and unimaginative and would get found out. They are flattered in the extreme in reaching a semi-final. But the Saffers are not much better in that respect...For more than ten years now everybody knows that to beat the Boks you have to run at them wide - is Gatland that stupid? A game that reminded me just why I stopped watching for a decade in the 80s. Kick kick kick. WTF!

01-11-2019 - AB vs Wales (40-17) - WATCHED

The game was very much as I expected. Gatland gave clearance for some untested players to have a go and get a bit of experience against the very best and in fairness they did reasonably well. England have shown how to beat the ABs and I think a full strength Wales at the Principality could get over the line against them and with their defense back in tact, which has gone badly missing at times during this rwc, but it was pure moonshine that was going to happen today for a Welsh b team, full of injuries playing loose, full of kids on a six day turnaround. They were always going to come off second best against a fired up NZ.


Games Watched        = 35 (includes the final tomorrow) - 80%
Games Not Watched = 9                                                   - 20%
Games Cancelled      = 3
Games Total             = 47 (due to the 3 games cancelled, 44 games considered for statistics purposes) 

quarta-feira, outubro 30, 2019

Englishness: "Agent Running in the Field" by John le Carré

After more than 10 years attending the British Council I feel only half English now at best and even that is waning. The other half I associate with things like football hooliganism, small mindedness, nationalism, old white blokes spouting shite in decaying working men's clubs, establishment rabble rousers and middle England (those have always been very English things, and I probably wouldn't have it any other way, apart from the hooliganism perhaps...). This novel by Le Carré makes me think he has an expected standard of mind and spirit and maybe others are losing it. That's when it's time to split. Le Carré doesn't give any evidence of preparing to pack his bags to quit the world. Like most of us who thought we knew the England we grew up with, maybe he feels alienated by the paucity and naivety and lack of integrity in those whose job it is to protect the rights and interests of all its citizens. I'm a huge fan of Le Carré, and - weird admission - if I have insomnia or I'm awake because I'm anxious about something, I re-read bits of "Tinker, Tailor” (I love the way George Smiley spends most of the novel reading reports and rummaging through archive boxes). I know it off by heart of course, but every time it still comes up fresh. His insights on Englishness and the state of the English nation are so accurate. Writers can be simple storytellers - spinners of mildly entertaining diversions. Some writers though go a little deeper, and reflect a mood or reveal tensions in our lives. Their words can help us see a little further, beyond ourselves, or prompt discussion of ideas. Le Carré’s work has done this; provoke thought and question England’s role in the post-war political world, examine the moral ambiguity that every nation wrestles with, and tell a bloody good story along the way. That’s both interesting and entertaining to many, and his views and opinions that fuel those books make compelling reading too. But if you’re not up for that, that’s fine. I always feel that reading a Le Carré novel is a bit like life - it's only around page 80 that you have any real understanding of what the hell is going on. I love how his stories enter through side doors and lead us though back stairs with glimpses of the main house. The man is a wonderful storyteller. Loved how the former head of the KGB wanted to meet him. Whether he knew well enough that Le Carré's work was elegant fiction, or believed it described to us the real workings of espionage, either way it's a testament to the author's skills that the two met.

Bottom-line: I’m so glad he has achieved publishing a new book, and it plainly shows one of the truly great writers of our time who has been diminished in people's eyes because of his writing spy novels (and bashing Brexit). Pity!

terça-feira, outubro 22, 2019

DNS over HTTPS (DoH): "Permanent Record" by Edward Snowden

The minute some politico starts banging on about that we need to restrict something because we need to "protect the children" you can be absolutely sure that they mean to prevent the people having the same access to information as they do. Or they have been caught with their trousers down. And I am not talking about defence related stuff categorised as Top Secret. It is doubly funny when the person banging on about it is so remote that they cannot even send an email without the help of a child. What has been troubling me about the Snowden revelations, is something George Orwell failed at in not going beyond in his books "Animal farm" and "1984" which that there seems to be a "force of intent" that is operating in our world far more powerful than governments, as Google's prime example is currently demonstrating this historical fact.

So the question I keep asking myself, is who or what, would want personal data on every single one of us on this earth and where we live, and what we think? Well, at a relatively young age reading Einstein's paper on special relativity (LINK), I learned how to do "thought" experiments. So it comes in handy, when considering that public opinion seems to be that if (any) governments are hoovering up all that Mega-data then they must have a real purpose of intent beyond what they could practically use of so much information. But in this, public opinion may be totally mistaken, if what Mr. Snowden has told us in so many words that the process almost has a mind of its own, this hoovering business, and that nobody is actually minding the store of there in the US. And that its just grown and grown so humongously astronomically huge that nobody knows what to do with it. My God, you know, as if something else is orchestrating the whole business. They used to say in America that "government intelligences" was a contradiction in terms. They couldn't possibly be all that smart: look at how they screwed up the whole planet. People have now become ( ever so slightly) animated as to who might have access to their personal data, and what this could mean for the future, and I for one think this line of thinking is going in the right direction.

I was opposed to Snowden's activities until I saw the staunch demands by Nancy Pelosi for Snowden's capture and prosecution as a war criminal. That kind of response from Pelosi, who reserves her most intense hatred for conservatives and people of integrity and honor, has caused me to reassess my perceptions of Snowden. I now have no doubt that he has discovered more nefarious activities of the Obama administration and, like Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the IRS assaults against conservatives, the current administration and their minions in the press are doing their best to paint Snowden as a traitor as damage control. The U.S. has now lost all credibility internationally as a nation that has freedom, justice and charity as its primary concerns thanks to the thugs in office and congress.

I find this whole debate stale by about 10 years and it is driven by a right wing "project fear" of the "deep state". It is fuelled by the American perspective again, just as freedom of speech has been modified to a U.S. norm beyond our own laws. The fact is we’ve have been used to freedom of speech being merely a privilege and also being constantly surveilled. Most, I wager, are of the view that if one is indeed law abiding, then it is a trade-off worth paying. This is why no one here seems to object too much to the enormous number of CCTV etc, speed detection etc. Whereas, the very land that "protects freedoms" indeed pitches one "freedom" against the other. The U.S. Constitution is largely useless in protecting people against the excesses of corporations, even if, the legal philosophical justification of a company is largely a hangover from Portuguese Empire days where companies were used to control vast parts of the World! So really, Mr Snowden: I don't fear governments so much because ultimately they are subject to judicial review etc. IF they interfere with my PERSON. It is the rise of the U.S. super-corporate that is the biggest privacy threat, if indeed it is privacy per se which exercises you mind the most, but on that you don’t have much to say.

The Internet in combination with tech innovation and expanding high speed networks has changed the world. The real complexity lays in the question to which extend (or even at all) a government or government (related) agency should be allowed to access encrypted messages. Currently in most countries a government agency still needs a court's approval to wire tap a phone and it needs to prove the need to do so. In the U.S. and for instance China the government and it's agency are trying to gain access and control over every bit of data of its citizens and is actively developing various policies to tighten the control and inflict control over peoples personal lives. The latter going against the democratic principles (even China has those till a certain extend). I am almost thinking that encryption itself could be seen as an "offense" against the state if some countries get their way. Therefore the right for privacy and encryption should be considered civil rights and/or human rights. I've heard a lot of people talking about companies working on providing security solutions for IoT applications. Wot?? That, by the way is probably the best example for the issues in screwing up with cryptography. Let's for a second assume that a foreign adversary gains control to the connection to a large number of IoT devices which have significant power consumption and whose location is KNOWN. One way of doing this will be for example to backdoor encryption. All they need to bring the grid down in the target country is to flip 'em up and down in a preprogrammed and well orchestrated sequence. I have seen that computation done elsewhere as far back as 80s. It is not a "vapourware" attack and it actually can be executed provided that you are flipping up and down significant load in the exact sequence to start triggering fail-safes in the grid resulting in disconnections. So does back-dooring encryption still look good? Shall we discuss the same question in the darkness of a 12h+ blackout? Sometimes people what they want to believe.

Some realities that are not necessarily very palatable...

- It is clear that if encryption is allowed, than many entities can create entire ecosystems of operation that are completely invisible to governments. This includes peer-to-peer agreements between groups of corporations to net off work (in effect private multipartite barter utilising blockchain) bypassing all taxation. Nation states cannot survive the introduction of such models of counter-currencies;

- encryption is ultimately inherently a lost battle, because the most basic, fundamental aspect of the privacy of an individual is unencryptable: your genome, which is going to be wide open to everyone, and this type of genetic hacking is just a few years away;

- For those without the means of having direct control over software, the choices are, trust the authorities over you to act benignly, or trust that the various corporations that operate in the digital world can be trusted to not sell you down the river. Given that both of these are not the most sensible decisions you can make, the only way out of the labyrinth is to learn to code and understand IT to a level that means you can avoid becoming a victim.

The reality is that the majority of people (and especially politicians) don't have a clue about the inner workings of IT systems. This is caused by an inevitable increase in the degrees of separation between humans and systems at both the hardware and software levels. But underneath those levels of complexity, our current systems can, without exception, ultimately be rendered down to two basic elements - zeros and ones. With sufficient processing power (centralised or distributed), any encoding system can ultimately be compromised. As proven by Alan Turing.

A few weeks ago at the annual Five Eyes summit in London, there were calls for backdoor access to encrypted apps such as WhatsApp via a so-called "Ghost Protocol"...I’ve also heard Mr. Snowden will make a presentation talk at this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon...the stars aligned...WTF!

I’m glad Snowden wrote his memoirs, but he if he wanted to be entirely honest with himself he should have gone after the Vast Cyber Mega Corporations as well (attempts to stop major companies using encryption for messaging services are totally pointless though. Any half competent computer science undergraduate could put together a totally secure system using freely available open source encryption software. If terrorist groups know that widely used systems have 'backdoors' they will do exactly that. As for banning or compromising the open source software, any fully competent undergraduate could also write their own version).

Security services are not going to let it be known whether they have cracked encryption regimes or not. One suspects they have cracked ToR some time ago but it suits to let "crims" think otherwise. Garbage in garbage out on a massive scale. Anyone who posts anything out there that remotely resembles the real facts other than to banks and govvy type sites (where you can sue the arse off them) needs to have a long hard think. It has taken me an hour to summon up the courage to say, I am too scared to say anything. Lol. I like Ed, Thanks Sir.

NB: I am strongly against mass surveillance. No government or company has the moral right to invade my privacy. Which is why I encrypt all my private emails with a 4096 length bit key, right now unbreakable. How do you do this? By either using a PGP addon for Outlook with pgp keys I generated by the stand alone PGP program at the max of 4096 bit keys. PLUS if using Thunderbird, I use the Enigma Mail imported with gpg4win installed on my computer - it allows me to import all my pgp keypairs and public keys or make new ones at 4096 bits. All my friends uses one of those also and use my public key so all our emails back and forth are encrypted - pretty extensive pass phrases also. The easiest way is probably to just use ProtonMail - if my answer above is too technical for you to follow (although ProtonMail is not quite as secure as a 4096-bit key, it should be secure enough for 99% of users using the default settings; I used to use Proton until they responded that their bit key is only 2048 and they will upgrade to 4096 in the future, that made me drop them. Plus they charge you to be able to do a pop or imap with outlook or anything. Ever since I found an openPGP source for Outlook called Encryptomatic, I haven't looked back.). It's sad that Portugal’s ISPs are so complicit in wanting to work hand-in-glove with the Portuguese govt in undermining Portuguese citizens' privacy. An industry group of UK internet service providers not long since branded Firefox browser maker Mozilla an 'internet villain' simply because of their ongoing efforts to implement options for DNS over HTTPS (DoH). The UK version of the browser has DoH turned off by default and has to be enabled via configuration settings. This excellent presentation explains in easily understood terms what DNS is and how DNS over HTTPS can ensure greater user privacy. Moreover, since Cloudflare is a U.S. company, there may still be a risk of (a) if you're a tinfoil hatter, the NSA already having a backdoor to all their routing data of (b) of them being subpoenaed and required to hand over records. There's a security-in-obscurity element to the exiting random routing which goes along with the possibility that one of the routers is a bad actor. Presumably one looking for random victims because it doesn't know in advance who'll pass through its hands...Privacy? Long gone! The lunatics who programmed all this have, one way or another, allowed the lunatics to start running the asylum. Old wine from new bottles, anyone???

sexta-feira, outubro 18, 2019

Shit-quels: "The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset" by Suzanne Collins

Me: “Pardon me? There's enough in the books for prequels? There was barely enough in the books for the films themselves. They're not exactly a speculative tour-de-force and they offer nothing that no one's done or said before. Why exactly did they take off?”

Passerby: “Publicity brainwashing pre-pubescent fans. Loathsome books/movies. How about a shequel? A spin-off based on her character.”

Me: “With a role for Sean Connery, perhaps?”

Passerby: “I don't think that will shit well.”

Me: “You mean shit-quel? The entire bunch of these "movies/books" was shit, pure and simple.”

Passerby: “I love it when a pop culture analysis arrives to tell us that this has never been done before. Who, really... never ever been a story or saga about a female who beats men and generally reforms the structure of society? Athene, goddess of Athens was a warmonger. Thank goodness she did not encourage Athens to become... well, Athens. The Amazons... oh well yes, but they got their geography wrong. How about the nasty Hindu goddess who likes eating babies? Or IS fighters who fear being killed by a woman because that is - crossing religiosity - bad karma? The and-ors could go on and on and on. The two longest serving monarchs in history have been women. First was an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and then there is Queen Elizabeth II. We have fables about women who dress as men to undertake rebellion. Women who sacrifice everything to protect children, or save a marriage [but it is the same violent thuggee, duh!]. Women have been vastly more integral to history than seems to be told. That exclusion may be sexism, but I cannot embrace that Jennifer Lawrence somehow entrains an original statement of female presence, effect, and renaissance.”

Me: “Well, one of the oldest (maybe the first) dystopian movies was Metropolis with the central figure of Maria as the healer of a civilisation. The books/movies are shameless rip offs of other books/movies; this theme has been with us in film since Metropolis and in print from even before that.”

Passerby”: “I heard it’s a rip-off from another movie...”

Me: “ Have you read both books and seen both movies? I saw Battle Royal before I read the Hunger Games and I'm sorry - the similarities are just too flagrant to ignore. Both were crap; it was the same story transposed to a different time and slightly different setting. Copy? Maybe not, but same-same? Definitely. I enjoyed Battle Royal more - only because it didn't have the saccharine-sweet-sexless-shove-morals in your face Hunger Games has.”

quarta-feira, outubro 16, 2019

Bullshit Fantasy: "The Poppy War" by R.F. Kuang

“When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.”

In “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang

I’m going all metaphorical on this one...

Take the following entirely fictitious example:

Side character: "The key was inside you all along."

Hero: walks away

Side character: "Wait? Where are you going?"

Hero: "I'm off to dig a hole and find a bush with a lot of leaves."

A writer could take any of these weaker tropes and turn them on their heads. For example, that "you were the key this whole time" bullshit...let's say our protagonist has been suffering a lot on his journey to find this key. Everyone around him keeps dying, he's nearly died himself more than a couple times, and he's starting to wear down. By the end of his quest, he's tired, he's discouraged, he's grieving, and he's wondering how all of this could possibly be worth it. Then, the mystical priest or whomever, tells him, "you were the thing you've been seeking this entire time. Sorry all your loved ones are dead." The protagonist then proceeds to kill the priest, everyone in the temple, and even takes out a small village for good measure. When we meet him again in the second book, he's pretty much the villain. With magical key powers. Everybody's screwed. Enter new hero, who may or may not be connected to the former hero in some way.

It's not perfect, but if people want to use abused tropes, they need to utilize twists and a little more creativity to keep them interesting. Problem is, "turning tropes on their heads" is not a new concept and normally it's always done in the same 2 or 3 ways, so those "inverted tropes" have become new tropes end up with the same problem.  Also, tropes are not inherently bad; it's how you use them, how many of them you use and if you add anything to them. You take a stop by SF Tropes in Clute’s SF Encyclopedia, search for your favourite, most immaculate perfect book and you'll be treated to a list of 300+ tropes they've used.

That every use of the trope is bad, just when they're used uncreatively. Yeah, when tropes are abused it is bad and pretty obvious sometimes, but twisting the tropes can be fun too. For example in some Fantasy novels male protagonists are sometimes a dick to women but everyone still wants his body- turns out he is actually gay and he was cursed to be irresistible to the opposite sex. Or maybe the key dude is a leader of a group. When the leader decides the journey is too tough and not worth it, his group reveals to him he's the key himself and orders to go home but his followers restrain him and force him to lead on. I call this ”Bullshit Fantasy”

I was thinking in amusement of a dude going through so much shit and then a wizard coming along like “Oh yeah! You was the key all along!” Only for the hero to be mortified like “I WAS THE KEY????” Plus the guy has been so mentally screwed up he can’t take it anymore and stabs himself. Meanwhile the wizard just stares down at him like “Welp! We’re fucked.” And then it ends with the villain winning and messing shit up.

In some cases, a few cliches arent bad, their good even, they give the audience something familiar to entertain them. Its the over reliance on cliches and stereotypes that is bad; you should have more original ideas in your story than cliched ones, and you shouldnt take too long to incorporate your original ideas into a story either. Some authors will take you on a long cliched story only to upend the tropes at the end, but by that point youve taken too long. One of my favourite fantasy series has a mystical swordsman as the hero, and instead of going on the cliched heroes journey of every man peasant to king, he learns how to meditate and draw on a zen state of mind to resist being possessed by demon spirits. This power is necessary because he hunts a demon who killed his mother. He kills the demon, but by seeking revenge over protecting the innocent he allows a good person to be killed.  Then his enemies manage to subvert his zen training by making him angry with the knowledge that the demon he killed was a victim of another worse evil, and he is possessed by a demon and attacks his friends. It’s a pretty cool arc and its unlike anything I’ve seen in fantasy before.

What about “The Poppy War”? Cliches left and right. Moreover, if I want to read Inhumane Stuff I’ll go watch the news. Honestly, half way through I couldn't stand it anymore. Got sick of Rin, of the little character development, the random flows in the pages. I started loosing interest when the characters stopped developing and they just kind of started doing things just to move the plot forward. By the end of the book I really had no idea what was driving the characters to do what they were doing. I'm still confused as to whether all those history lessons were actually important or just fillers because if they did have any importance to the story it was definitely lost on me. Why can't protagonists be characters and their gender not be the focal point of the book? I want Depth, I want insight! And I don’t want a frigging mainstream novel disguised as Fantasy! It's an easy marketing ploy to loop in gullible readers. But don’t mind me. I’m just a cynical cantankerous bastard...

This is not Grimdark. It´s Utter Crap.

SF = Speculative Fiction.