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Jigsaw: Review

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What makes a good slasher film? Well firstly they are divisive by design. Some people love a good horror movie, others don’t. I’m quite partial to the Giallo genre, it elevated slashers into mainstream cinema while US horror movies of every kind were the kiss of death to any director or actor hoping to improve their careers. And this was really due to a very deep stigma held against those that worked on horror movies, as if those involved with them were criminals.

The Saw franchise started off tremendously well, and got even better with its next two instalments. Saw III was the final film with the direct involvement of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, handing the series over to new writers starting with Saw IV, although Darren Lynn Bousman stayed on for one more (he directed Saw II, III, and IV).

The Saw franchise branched its own idea of what a horror movie is, creating its own sub-genre. This means they didn’t need to stay in the ‘Saw Universe’ to make great movies, and indeed this is exactly what we’ve seen from Wan and Whannell’s other films.

So what is the genre I speak of? It takes the classic idea of the horror movie and creates a script where the film’s events unfold in a way that are not substantive to the story. In other words, what you see is not the whole picture of what is really going on, we learn with the main characters. This is what sets up more natural twists for the third act, when we find out that something we assumed was true is not true.

One of my criticisms of the series is its use of increasingly complex unrealistic elaborate traps/”games”. The show is at its best when the traps are simple. Saw III’s Shotgun Collar is simple, but effective. The game Jeff plays is quite elaborate, but until the final trap anyway they are quite simple to actually design and implement.

Retconning also killed much of what made the series special later on. Saw III recons Amanda into the events of Saw I, and possibly the worst part of it is where it is implied she was supposed to make sure Adam could get the padlock key instead of just dumping it on him so it could be sucked down the bath’s drainpipe. The issue with that idea though is it would have allowed Adam to simply immediately leave the bathroom and go to safety, hardly the game that Jigsaw has designed to be played. And besides Jigsaw could have just released him at the end of the game if that was the idea. The retcons get worse further along the series, but one thing they always stayed true to was the idea that Jigsaw chose his victims as people who he believed didn’t appreciate their lives. Until now.

One problem in Jigsaw (2017) is that Jigsaw designed a game to be played by five people who did something wrong in the past disregarding the lives of others, not because they don’t appreciate their own lives.

The next problem with the movie is that it doesn’t make sense. Let’s backtrack a moment, the idea in Saw VII that Jigsaw has admirers is frankly ridiculous. Although he may well believe that he designs his traps to test the will to live, the reality is he designs the multi-player games in such a way that some of his participants are guaranteed to die. For example, in the original movie there are four participants, and a fifth introduced later on. The design is that Dr Gordon kills Adam, or his wife and child will be killed. Jigsaw might think that’s a brilliant game in his twisted mind, but in reality it means he designed a game not everyone can survive. Same thing in Saw II, same thing in Saw III. In Saw III (spoiler alert), the Judge is killed purely because Jigsaw rigged the Shotgun to self-trigger after the key is removed. Undoing the work that Jeff did to save him in the first place. The one thing I will say for this though is that even though the premise was ridiculous, Saw VII did finally solve the question of how the hell does Jigsaw know the background of his victims.

Here’s the reason why Jigsaw 2017 doesn’t make sense. It expects us to understand a narrative that we’re told but never see. This just doesn’t work, and it’s a terrible way to make a movie. Not only that, but the film was also thoroughly predictable, recycling the Saw II twist wholesale, and anyone that knows the series – or at least has seen Saw II – will see it coming from the very beginning as I did. I also correctly identified who Jigsaw’s new previously-unknown follower was pretty early on, and it wasn’t hard. It was just as ridiculous as the prominent sympathiser in VII, only this person was even more two dimensional.

And where the fuck was all the gore? This has to be one of the tamest Saw films yet! It’s so tame that it’s probably legal in Germany!!

On the plus side, it was nice to see Tobin Bell reprise his iconic role, and they got his screen-time pretty much spot-on (less is more).

Overall this was an OK instalment, but it doesn’t improve upon the previous instalment, nor return the series back to its heyday. But it wasn’t scary, and it was just too predictable. It’s probably time for the producers to let the series end and focus on more original stories.

Deckard is NOT a fucking replicant!

I was going to incorporate this rant into the BR 2049 review, however the rant became so epic I decided it needed its own space. Now I know, many people will disagree. I used to think so too – in fact the first version of Blade Runner I saw as a kid was the Director’s Cut. In the DC it is pretty clear that Deckard is a replicant. However, this is not the case and is a very unfortunate alteration to the film. But I think it’s important we understand this as it is fundamental to the film that Deckard is human! I’ll first start with the two clearest pieces of evidence that Deckard is a replicant, and then I will go through and show why this simply can’t be the case.

  1. Deckard dreams of a unicorn, and at the end of the film Gaff leaves an origami unicorn outside of Deckard’s apartment.
  2. Ridley Scott says that Deckard is a replicant.

All the ornaments that Gaff makes are to taunt Deckard. The origami unicorn is Gaff’s way to taunt Deckard for his confusion/empathy for a replicant that isn’t real. It and Rachael and Deckard fleeing together are both in the 1981 script which is the last complete script of Blade Runner before shooting. There is no unicorn daydream, and Deckard puts the unicorn on the dash of his car and smiles as he and Rachael drive off together. If Deckard was a replicant, someone would have been there to retire him and Rachael. Plus Gaff could have just retired him on the rooftop earlier.

As for Scott’s comments. In earlier interviews in the 90’s Scott was less committed that Deckard is a replicant saying only that it’s an interesting idea. Furthermore not a single other person involved in the film – not the writers, not the actors, not the producers, not the cinematographers, not the film editors, not the sound designers, not the set designers, no one else agrees that Deckard was written as a replicant. Harrison Ford himself is on record saying his character is human, even going as far to specifying that he and Scott agreed Deckard was a human prior to filming, and arguing with Scott over that point for the sequel. Think about this for a moment – at what other time can it be shown that a director had an idea in his head crucial to the main character in a film that he kept secret from the lead actor AND everyone else involved in the film? So secret that he never told anyone, even after the film was released?

We can’t dismiss that the unicorn daydream was intended for the film. It appears to be something Scott improvised as filming occurred, which is what made so much of the film feel authentic. That Deckard dreams a unicorn, and then later Gaff leaves an origami unicorn for him to find is suggestive that Deckard is a replicant, there’s no doubt about it. However, in true film noir style it could just be coincidence. In the book Deckard faces an existential crisis after being accused of being an android, and he questions his own sanity and humanity. This appears to have been the way that particular theme was brought from the book to the film.

There is no other moment in Blade Runner that suggests that Deckard might be a replicant. Other than (a) when his eyes have the “android glow”, and (b) Bryant says that six off-world replicates escaped but only 5 are accounted for in the film. Both of those are accidents – (b) was corrected in the Final Cut (even though I think it was fine to leave it unexplained), and (a) Deckard is out of focus behind Rachael while her eyes have the effect. If (a) were intentional then it would have been used multiple times, like it is for the other replicants in the film. For me it comes down to the question of empathy: none of the replicants posses it. Think about it, they kill poor defenceless Hannibal Chew, and then also J F Sebastian. Sebastian in particular likes them, wants to help them, poses no threat to them, and they kill him anyway just so as not to leave a loose end.

If Deckard is a replicant well fuck. That means that a whole slew of the characterisation of Deckard no longer makes any sense! See the problem with introducing a plot twist at the end of a film (or television series) is that you have to allow the audience to go back and watch it with the revealing information making sense. The Orphanage 2007 does this really well for example. But this isn’t the case with Deckard being a replicant, if he is then most of the movie no longer makes sense!

  1. Replicants are much stronger physically than humans. This is in part because they are primarily designed for hard physical off-world labour. Leon easily overpowers Deckard. Roy is shown to be much physically stronger too. Now you might say that well perhaps they nuked Deckard’s strength… but even Pris a “basic pleasure model” for who superior physical strength is certainly not required is easily able to overpower Deckard. It just doesn’t make sense that you would design a replicant to be a bounty hunter and give him normal human strength, but give superhuman strength to “pleasure models”.
  2. Speaking of Roy, he has a change of heart and decides to save Deckard, which is supposed to show his compassion towards a human in his dying moments. Yet with the revelation that Deckard is a replicant such a gesture becomes meaningless (Roy would always have saved a fellow replicant).
  3. The creepy idea of falling “in love” with an artificial human is lost if Deckard is a human. See my post on Westworld S01 for comparison.
  4. Bryant has used Deckard previously to hunt replicants, he brings him out of “retirement” to help with the escaped off-world Nexus 6 replicants. As the prologue explains, these were Nexus 6 replicants already on Earth (they were declared illegal and then killed). This would appear to be early after the Nexus 6 models were released. Deckard couldn’t have been a Nexus 6 because the crackdown was specifically targeted after it was discovered Nexus 6’s were dangerous and couldn’t be controlled. Meaning that for Deckard to be a replicant he has to be older than any other Nexus 6, and therefore would be less advanced not more advanced. But Nexus 5 replicants did not posses the ability to develop their own emotions.
  5. Why doesn’t Bryant know that he’s a replicant – Bryant has no empathy for skinjobs, no way would he have agreed to it. On the other hand, if he has used Deckard successfully for years and Deckard is a replicant… why does he detest replicants? Bryant is not that knowledgeable or even interested in replicants, he has far too many other things to worry about, which is why he tasks others like Gaff, Holden, and Deckard to do the work.
  6. Following Deckard helping to hunt and eradicate the Nexus 6’s, he “retired” from police work and separated from his wife. When the film begins he is living alone in his apartment. Why did they let a replicant live outside in the world with no purpose or control… why not just deactivate him?
  7. Bryant brings in Deckard because Holden get shot by Leon while administering Voight-Kampff. Deckard knows Holden, he even visits Holden in a deleted scene. Holden is a human. Deckard is only brought in because Holden gets shot. So, if we’re to believe that Deckard is a replicant it means that after they became aware of the newly illegally arrived replicants that instead of putting a replicant to work on a very hazardous and dangerous job, they gave it to a human instead while the replicant was living “free”.
  8. An alternate explanation is that they have just activated a “new” Deckard based on an older model they previously used. But this is a convoluted explanation, it doesn’t arise naturally out of the story. How did they give him a lived-in apartment so quickly? Why do all the cops know him? How do they have confidence this replicant can do a highly specialised niche job? Why is it not at least as physically strong as the Nexus 6 replicants? Plus if he is newly activated it means they designed a replicant who hates his job and wants to revolt right from the very start! Who the fuck would do that?
  9. It would be illegal for the police to employ replicants – they’re banned on Earth. And if they had permission it wouldn’t be for an experimental model.
  10. If Deckard is a replicant who is designed specifically for this very dangerous and hazardous job for them (according to Bryant he’s better than Holden), then why do they wait for a human to get shot before bringing it in to do the job? Why not get Deckard on the job right from the start?
  11. If Deckard is a replicant why does he hate his job? Who would desing a replicant that hates his job? Not only does he hate it, but it’s not all that great at it either. Think about it. He hesitates to kill every single replicant, starting with Zhora (he has to chase her down in the streets putting the public at risk), then again with Leon who nearly kills him before Rachael saves his life, then again with Priss who he could have shot point-blank but instead pulls the drape off her and lets her fight him. He would have killed Roy straight away if he was an accurate shooter, but instead he misses and doesn’t retire Roy at all. And finally, not only does he not retire Rachael, but he helps her to escape – the exact opposite of what he’s supposed to do. And he’s already decided to do this before he picks up the origami unicorn that “tells him he’s an android”.
  12. Several part of Blade Runner make Deckard explicitly human:
    • He has an exwife. Not an implanted memory, an actual exwife that he talks to, revealed in the voice over that was Ridely Scott’s idea and he himself designed and approved for the film! He’s later admitted the film doesn’t work as a narrated story, but the narration is completely consistent with his original vision. He had complete creative control over it, it’s not as if someone told him Deckard’s wife had to be mentioned.
    • He has the ability to express emotions normally – replicants don’t. Even the advanced prototype (Rachel) has trouble expressing emotion. All the replicants do, and especially empathy which Deckard has in spades! All the human characters are shown to quite easily express their emotions, Deckard included. This is really easily seen in their facial expressions.
    • He’s an alcoholic – who the fuck designed an alcoholic desolate pathetic replicant?
  13. Bryant sends Deckard to administer Voight-Kampff on Rachael. Bryant is interested to confirm that the Voight-Kampff indeed works on Nexus 6 replicants (this is in fact the stated reason for the same event in the book). Tyrell is cooperating with police, but also getting something for himself out of it (he wants to see how well his prototype does). This scene looses all of its meaning and makes no sense at all if Deckard is a replicant – then it’s just Tyrell taking the piss. But also if Deckard really is an advanced prototype then Tyrell would have known this and recognised him, and wouldn’t be sharing sensitive information with the replicant that could lead to it revolting.

And this is far from a comprehensive list of problems that arise throughout the film if Deckard is a replicant. Scott appears to have wanted audiences to have doubted Deckard’s humanity – but once you examine the story you realise that it only makes sense if he’s human. In a sense he’s metaphorically a replicant – used by his superiors for horrible hazardous work against his will that drives him insane. And he goes on a journey to re-find his humanity.

Now it should be noted that Harrison Ford is not entirely accurate on Blade Runner either. In 2002 he perpetuated the rumour that the voice-over was done without Scott’s involvement, and Scott later said doing a voice over was his idea after negative reactions from test audiences (actually it was part of the script). In the same 2002 interview Ford said that he and Scott disagreed at the time over whether Deckard should be human or a replicant, however I think he means it within the context of certainty (Scott wanted to leave doubt for the audience, Ford didn’t want that).

Deckard doubting his humanity is a theme from the book. In the book Deckard has an existential crisis and doubts his own humanity after being arrested by a sham police station who accuse him of being an android. In reality, the sham police station is staffed entirely by androids with the sole exception of their bounty hunter. Deckard and the other bounty hunter escape and both question their humanity. They’re both human, but Deckard feels empathy for the androids, whereas the other bounty hunter doesn’t. In the film Scott tried to condense this theme into just one bounty hunter – one that simultaneously has empathy for androids and is brutal to them resulting in him questioning his humanity. The problem is that Deckard never questions his humanity in the film. So rather then the unicorn dream and the origami being a proof that Deckard is an android, I think they are the film’s replacement for Deckard questioning his humanity to leave the viewer questioning it instead.

The director’s cut was an accident. Scott never intended to make a second cut of the film. In 1989 film preservationist Michael Arick found a copy of Blade Runner in the Todd-AO vaults on 70mm (most theatrical film is on 35mm). Film festival organisers in Los Angeles learned of it and booked the print, which Warner authorised, and they showed it in 1990. The audience loved it, and more than a dozen other US cinemas all booked the unusual print, which Warner advertised as the “director’s cut”. In reality it was an unfinished workprint version of the film (although it being printed on 70mm does seem odd), Scott wasn’t happy about it and so Warner pulled the print and cancelled existing bookings in 1991. It should be noted that during this time and after it other cinemas were booking the theatrical cut (many cinemas would not have been equipped for 70mm), and audiences were just as thrilled about it. Essentially the film found a new cult audience following from its original box-office flop. So Warner tasked Arick with making a new edit of the film, which he did from notes sent to him by Scott and it was released in 1992 as the Director’s Cut. And of course audiences loved it as well. It was not personally overseen by Scott who went back and personally oversaw the edit for the “Final Cut”. Anyway, since the DC restored the unicorn dream sequence it meant that it was in Scott’s interests to promote the idea that Deckard might be a replicant – an idea not found in the original cut at all, and but for this one scene isn’t in this cut either.

So with all of this now in mind, let’s visit our final question: Did Scott intend a the time of filming for Deckard to be a replicant? Well if half of what we witness in the film is “not real”, which would be consistent with the film noir genre, then you could conclude that way. But if the film is supposed to be internally coherent, which I believe is the intention, then Deckard is human and there’s no question. He has human failings, but he’s also more human than the inhuman monsters he’s surrounded by in the film. I think that’s what Scott wanted people to take away from the film when he originally made it. I don’t think he wanted to make a statement that Deckard is a replicant, the themes throughout the film contradict it.

Blade Runner 2049 review…

I thought I’d post a nice early BR 2049 review for people. I’ll keep it mostly spoiler free, I’ll tell you just some mild stuff that you learn in the first act anyway. If you’ve seen the theatrical trailer that contains more spoilers than this post. Also let me be upfront in saying that I like the original, but I don’t see it as a perfect film. Let’s begin.

Three Fucking Hours??

I did not go in expecting a three hour movie. I’m on record saying that no action movie should be longer than 2 hours at the most. Blade runner knew what to leave out to make the film punchy. This film drags on, and on, and on. It’s excruciating.

The plot

Oh you have to be fucking kidding me. Early on in this film the bones of a woman are found buried in a makeshift ossuary. As soon as it was found I said “that’s Rachael”… and it was. I’m not sure if that was meant to be a plot-twist, but if it was it was extremely poorly executed. Anyway this leads us to an unbelievably implausible discovery that propels the plot: that Rachael had died with child. Something I also predicted the moment her bones were found, even though I don’t for a second believe that Nexus 6 replicants were capable of reproduction, nor do I believe that the prototype “Rachael”was either. And if they were, then reproduction with whom? Deckard is a human – a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post – if Tyrell had designed a replicant capable of reproducing “naturally” with a human… then what exactly is “artificial” about them?

And that’s the whole problem with this movie – we never see the replicants as, well, artificial. Oh sure, we do see K obey a few orders as a replicant should, but when he goes off on his own quest he exhibits no replicant qualities at all.

The dystopian future has changed

Yeah, um… what the fuck? At the end of Blade Runner, Deckard runs away with Rachael to the country. We see them leaving the filthy overcrowded city to the green hills. In this film, apparently, real wood is precious and just a tiny amount would make one “wealthy”! Jeez I lost respect and believability for this movie right there. Did people pull apart their houses for the precious wooden frames and floorboards? Did they not realise that we were shown that forests and greenery still exists in the original movie?? You can’t just force the view that the Director’s Cut, or worse the “Final Cut”, is the only canonical version of the film… even so Deckard has a piano, and there are pianos in this film as well, why has no one ripped those apart for the timber? There is just so much in this movie that looses the suspension of belief, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, a small tease. I think they made the mistake of trying to reincorporate the post-apocalyptic setting of the book into the franchise… it just doesn’t work.

What I was hoping for were some pleasant surprises in the film. What I got was a dull repetitive soulless attempt to recreate the spectacle of Blade Runner. Don’t expect film noir – that was my mistake – in fact don’t expect an action movie either… also my mistake. This movie is neither of those, it’s a very long, boring, drawn out futuristic police drama.

Where did it go so wrong?

They relied on far too many far-fetched harebrained ideas. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, the idea there is no more natural timber in the world as already mentioned, the idea that Nexus 8’s (which still abound to be hunted by Blade Runners) had open-ended lifespans, the idea that the Tyrell corporation went bankrupt between the time of the original film and this one. And the idea that Rachael could fall pregnant AND that no other replicant since has had this ability. Oh, and replicants are now legal on Earth…. um why? It’s pretty goddamned clear that the world is overpopulated, why the fuck populate it even further if you don’t have to? Plus, and I will cover this in more detail in a future post, as if the LAPD or any police department is going to use replicants to hunt replicants. We use dogs to hunt foxes, we don’t use them to hunt wolves that’s just nonsensical. And nor would they use replicants for any important police work, especially work involving investigation. Geez, in this film K keeps secrets from his boss which is essentially betrayal, so it’s obviously a bad idea.

And that’s just the stuff I didn’t believe, it’s not even the stuff I didn’t like. Edward James Olmos’s appearance was lacklustre, and his origami meaningless! What the fuck is with Wallace’s eyes because they just look fucking ridiculous, and that’s not how blind people look if he’s supposed to be blind. They don’t hold their eyes open. Why the fuck aren’t the police actually being vigilant and doing their job?? Are there even any human characters we meet in this entire movie?? I’m struggling to think of any that we know for certain are human, and I’m wondering what the whole point of them fighting amongst themselves is? Oh and if Tyrell could figure out how to make replicants breed freely, Wallace could have done the same and he’s had plenty of time to do so, so why the fuck is he so invested in finding the possible child of Rachael. Come to think of it, how the fuck would even know such a child exists in the first place?? And anyway, why would he want them to reproduce? Plus how the fuck did a complete nut-case like him end up in charge of this huge company? At least in Blade Runner Tyrell is a more realistic level-minded CEO. This guy would have been fired by the board years before he was ever in a position to hold any actual authority.

It just doesn’t make any business sense that you would want your replicants which you have a complete monopoly over to be able to reproduce. The only thing I can think of is perhaps you might want them to be able to be surrogates for real people. But that doesn’t mean they need to be able to reproduce, just to be able to carry an implanted human foetus to term. Even if they could reproduce, they don’t age like humans – they’re fucking artificial. They would just pop out babies that would always be… babies. There is nothing in Blade Runner, or this movie, that suggests that it would be desirable from a design point of view to be able to age your replicants. The reason why there is a 4-year lifespan for Nexus 6 replicants is because in that time they will develop their own emotional responses. In other words, they don’t want replicants to have emotions in the first place! They are less easily controlled if they have emotions, obviously. So these future replicants should have been designed with less emotions, not more. Just like Walter in Alien: Covenant.

Think about what will happen at the end of Blade Runner – abridged Director’s Cut ending or longer – Deckard and Rachael are going to try and live a pretty unassuming life. Yet in the context of this film, within a two year period they have met and befriended multiple illegal Nexus 8’s! TWO YEARS! What about Nexus 7, was that generation skipped? How did they meet these illegal replicants that fled from the offworld colonies to Earth all while trying to keep to themselves?? It is just laughable.

The Verdict

One of the great things about the original film with its film noir genre, was that it incorporated the idea that its world was more multi-cultural and people were bilingual. Hannibal Chew and others are Asian or otherwise ethnically diverse. In this movie though, everyone is a white American again. And true, probably every single one of them is a replicant and that might explain it, after all they are all made by a single American company with a monopoly. Still. But you can’t escape the fact that it doesn’t feel like the same world.

This movie just lacks imagination and character. It just tries to be “epic”, showing us stunning visuals and audios. Except that the score also falls flat throughout, and the visuals often aren’t that great either. We’re often left wondering what the point of the visuals are.

The original movie ends with Deckard facing an existential crisis, this film attempts to draw out one for the entirety of its three fucking hour runtime! And the end of the movie simply sets it up for the long-awaited second sequel: Blade Runner 3 – Rise of the Machines Replicants.

This movie is so god-awful terrible that the critics are just going to LOVE IT. It ticks the all boxes, so they’re going to say “GREAT SEQUEL, better than expected”. What do we ultimately learn in this movie – other than the fact that replicants shouldn’t have emotions, and that because they do they will ultimately betray their human masters? What’s its point? It’s just another way for Scott to intentionally trample on his legacy.

CSIRO-backed Flexi diet evidence review

Introduction

The diet industry is huge. And mostly it doesn’t work. Why is this? Well, it’s actually quite straightforward. People are set up for failure by an industry that thrives on people failing and coming back. They don’t really care whether their clients succeed or not, so long as they can profit from their efforts. I have a huge ethical problem with this, and I think any service should be covered by a guarantee. Instead, people blame themselves for the failure of commercial weight-loss programs, and the industry doesn’t take responsibility for their failures. In this entry what we’re going to look at is the peer-review published evidence for the Flexi diet, and I’ll go over whether or not it is sufficient to guide clinical practise.

The first thing I wish to ask is – how would you define success? Is yo-yo dieting/weight-gain a success? Is short term weight loss a success? Take a moment to consider these questions, they’ll be addressed as we proceed.

What is the “Flexi diet”?

The Flexi diet is “backed by CSIRO research” (CSIRO, 2016). When I first heard about this, I thought the CSIRO had designed and published a diet in the form of a book… I think I first heard it on the radio, and the media was reporting that the CSIRO launched an intermittent fasting diet for weight loss (Connery, 2017; Powley, 2017; SBS, 2017). In fact the CSIRO website also makes this claim. In reality they “co-developed” it, but it’s questionable as to exactly what they “developed” and wish to take credit for.

Despite repeated claims of this on the Impromy website they do not provide the citation to the paper itself. Even more bizarrely, neither do the CSIRO on most of their pages on Flexi including their blog announcement! I’ll refer to the research paper as the “CSIRO paper”, here is the paper’s citation,with a link to it so you can read in full if you want:

Brindal, E., Hendrie, G. A., Taylor, P., Freyne, J., & Noakes, M. (2016). Cohort analysis of a 24-week randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of a novel, partial meal replacement program targeting weight loss and risk factor reduction in overweight/obese adults. Nutrients, 8(5), 265. doi:10.3390/nu8050265

In a nutshell, the Flexi diet is a ~30% energy deficient diet that uses commercial meal replacement (MR) shakes and one high-protein meal six days a week. One day a week is a free day. The so-called “fasting days” are simply further energy restricted compared to the other energy restricted days. A more detailed description of the diet is in the following sections.

Description of the study

The study took place over a period of 24 weeks, and predominantly considered whether a program incorporating commercial meal replacement shakes, controlled diet, iPhone app, and ongoing dietary support would support weight loss for participants. In other words they studied a proposed commercial product, which eventually became known as the Flexi diet by Impromy.

The paper begins by informing the reader that lab data and real-world data are often very different, citing that meal replacement and other weight management strategies have been promising in trials, but that their efficiency in the real-world drops significantly. As noted in the paper, in just about all programs available through pharmacies weight-loss become negligible after the first 12 months. These issues will be discussed later in this essay.

The CSIRO study involved observing two intervention groups. All their participants were randomly assigned to one of two intervention groups, with both receiving the same intervention with the exception that one group was given a more basic iPhone app than the other. There was no control group. The study environment was a CSIRO lab and not a pharmacy. In total there were 146 participants, 104 females and 42 males. 27 participants were overweight, the remainder were obese (BMI 30+). The intervention period was 24 weeks, with 12 weeks of “active intervention”. “Active intervention” involved face-to-face meetings with non-nutrition trained consultants who had been given program-specific training from dieticians involved in designing the program. Participant-reported data was relied on primarily for care, and their weight was measured regularly by the consultants. They were also asked to provide feedback on their satisfaction of the meal replacement shakes throughout the program, as well as questions from the consultants that included “what has been the most helpful aspect of the program” (which was asked in week 12). Many of the feedback questions were targeted towards improving the prototype program rather than studying the program objectively per se. Meal replacement sachets were free for the first 4 weeks, and then provided at a nominal cost of $1 each for the remainder of the study.

The findings of the study were modest. 84 participants (58%) completed the study. Of those who completed, 72 offered 94 comments on the meal replacement shake, of those 57 were identified as positive comments, and 16 as negative. 33.5% of all participants lost weight over the study period. All significant weight loss occurred by week 12, with no significant change in weight between weeks 12 and 24.

The CSIRO paper cites Gordon et al. (2011) a systematic literature review which found that pharmacy based weight-loss intervention programs only achieve modest results. The Gordon paper found such methods only achieved an average weight-loss of 0.6-5.3 kg in the first 3 months, 0.5-5.6 in the first 6 months, and just 1.1-4.1 kg over the first 12 months. It’s important to mention to you the design of their study as it is not addressed in the CSIRO paper: this is not a review of all pharmacy weight loss products, rather it is a review of peer-review published “studies” of such products. Only 10 studies met inclusion criteria for a systematic review, and the paper’s authors report that this likely represents a strong bias towards meaningful results. That is many other programs that were available were either: not studied at all, studies undertaken went unpublished, published studies did not meet the inclusion criteria (eg did not take place in a pharmacy setting was the main reason for published papers not being included), or the focus of the study wasn’t weight loss. All 10 of the studies included were multi-factor interventions that included dietary and physical activity components. Finally, the authors noted there was a strong risk of bias in all of the studies which the CSIRO does not mention in its citation of this paper.

Discussion

The paper’s premise that pharmacy-delivered weight loss intervention programs are advantageous, is highly questionable to say the least. Any positive findings from the cited Gordon paper are not relevant to this study for several reasons including that: all trials reviewed in it included a physical activity component, and all trials were conducted in actual pharmacies and not research labs. Literature consistently shows that interventions that combine diet and exercise provide patients greater weight loss (Franz et al., 2007; Johns et al., 2014). Furthermore it represents but a small fraction of the weight management programs available in pharmacies, many of which are quackery! The Gordon paper is their best evidence from the literature for delivering weight-loss programs through the pharmacy, yet read below what the paper actually says in its conclusion:

“This systematic review identified few high-quality studies on weight management in community pharmacy. Currently, there is insufficient evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of community pharmacy-based weight management initiatives to support investment in their provision.” (Gordon et al., 2011).

CSIRO authors correctly point out that successful lab studies generally provide participants with ongoing multidisciplinary professional support at no cost for the duration of their clinical trials. This should not surprise us! In fact, it completely discredits their hypothesis that any commercial program will succeed. Finding effective low-cost long-term solutions continues to be evasive. People who wish to lose weight will be far more successful by working directly with a dietician or a registered nutritionist on a tailored program: no commercial program has been shown to even approach an equal degree of success. In fact, most of the commercial programs are not designed and targeted for people who are obese, but rather people who are only slightly overweight. Cost is a big factor: clinical trials as mentioned are generally free to participate in. Commercial programs are expensive and need to fit into people’s budgets. Working directly with a registered nutritionist or a dietician is also expensive, however they can provide their clients suitable and realistic diet plans instead of generic plans produced for mass-consumption that don’t fit most overweight or obese clients. This begs the question: why is the premise of the CSIRO study to deliver a program through pharmacies instead of through dieticians?

Some of the claims in the paper are dubious to say the least:

“For longer term success on a program such as this, providing individuals with the flexibility to transition through to fewer meal replacements as their weight loss progresses or as fatigue with the shakes sets in becomes an important element for success. Pharmacy staff are ideally placed to assist the community with weight loss as they are readily accessible and can be available to consultant with individual’s on an as needs basis, potentially quicker that seeking advice from other health professionals. However, appropriate training and tools are required to ensure pharmacy staff delivering the program (not qualified in nutrition) have adequate support to facilitate such a transition through a weight loss program.” (Brindal et al., 2016)

These findings in particular are concerning as they did not recruit pharmacy staff. Nor did they do any research into determining whether people would actually approach pharmacists for dietary advice and assistance with weight management. Nor did they attempt to find out if this is something pharmacists would do instead of say directing a client to a registered nutritionist. Why should pharmacists who are health professionals administer a commercial weight loss program that is not supported by evidence? Even Impromy’s own forum shows the flaw in this logic: “Just opened up the program. … I’m thinking this appears to be more a money making venture, rather than a supported diet. … The Pharmacy wasn’t much help at all.” (C. Kendall, Impromy discussion forum). The last question from that participant on the online forum has gone unanswered for two straight weeks! I don’t imagine the pharmacy will help either – is this really the realistic supportive environment envisioned in the study?

I’m going to show you something the diet industry doesn’t want you to see:

weight-loss-interventions

Figure: Franz et al. 2007.

The figure is from a high quality literature review. As you can see, none of these interventions can be shown to work long-term except for maintaining some of the weight loss experienced in the first 3-6 months. The only thing in that review that kept going was an appetite suppressant (Sibutramine) that’s since been banned by the TGA (also the FDA in the US) in 2010 due to serious adverse side effects. This is why the diet industry is so big – nothing works long-term. Weight-loss doesn’t continue beyond 6 months. Only half the weight lost is maintained to two years, and often all the weight is regained over 5 years. I guess that’s fine if you just want to lose 8kg in 6 months and don’t mind putting back on 4kg. But – keep in mind that most participants at least in this study are obese. A person who is 5′ and slightly obese needs to loose a minimum of 12kg to get to a healthy weight. A person who is 6′ needs to lose 18kg. And have you ever noticed how there are dozens of “12 week” weight-loss products? Now you know why. It’s not because they’re great products, it’s because people won’t notice they don’t work if they stop after 12 weeks!

There are several problems with the CSIRO study. Firstly it’s far too small to generalise data from, and it doesn’t have any follow-up data after six months. There was no control group – therefore this is not an RCT but just an observational study. It’s not in the commercial interests of Impromy to commission an RCT (randomised control trial) as it would likely show their intervention to be ineffective as is the case with the Ahrens paper reviewed by Gordon et al 2011 (and the only RCT in their review). An academic description of it reveals there was no statistically significant difference in the weight loss outcomes compared to the control group that were given a traditional energy-restricted diet (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2006). The CSIRO study environment was not a pharmacy, and the trial was not delivered by pharmacists. Participant-reported data was relied on, when we know that is problematic. And the “satisfaction feedback” is unlikely to have produced meaningful feedback: people participating in studies are often willing to say more positive things about their experience then real-world clients or customers would.

Conclusions

Overall this is a low quality study that is not suitable to guide clinical practise. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can. As mentioned there are many problems with this study, it is low quality by design. It’s not really designed to find best practise, it’s just designed to produce a result. They lack a control group which is absolutely necessary to make any clinical guidelines from. There is no doubt at all that expecting participants to get ongoing support from pharmacies is wholly unrealistic.

The program produces mediocre results. Some media incorrectly reported that participants lost an average of 11kg (I have no idea why, perhaps they extrapolated the finds from 24 weeks to 12 months or something), but in reality the amount of weight lost was nothing special and well below the amount required to make the participants healthy. In other words, they’re selling a diet that fails to achieve a healthy weight even for participants that were only slightly obese. A successful program should at the very least reduce the weight of obese category one clients (BMI 30-35) to a healthy weight. There is no suggestion in the paper that any of their 117 obese clients achieved a healthy weight. Which is not surprising of course in only a 24-week period, but nor is there any indication that their clients were on track to do so: in fact the paper states that weight-loss ceased after the first 12 weeks!

The CSIRO are doing themselves no favours by promoting this “weight-loss diet”.

Recommendations

What should you do if you wish to lose weight? My suggested starting point is to learn the Consumer Healthy Eating Guidelines (that’s the AGTHE in Australia, MyPlate in the US, etc). Those guidelines are freely available and evidence-based, and you can read the literature behind them. Unfortunately most consumers ignore them. If you’re OK with a more restrictive diet you can also consider using DASH or the Mediterranean diet guidelines. None of those are weight-loss diets of course, but they are all health-promoting and provide a solid foundation for learning portion sizes and the right balance between the food groups. Meal replacement diets suffer the problem that they don’t re-educate people into healthy eating, and people often find themselves lost when working out how to eat once the MRs are gone.

A good starting point would be elimination of “discretionary foods”, and a strong focus on eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables (most people don’t eat enough veggies). If you can work that out, then weight-loss is as simple as creating a moderate energy deficiency with of course a long-term commitment to substantially altering one’s lifestyle.

Physical activity also needs to play an important role. When it comes to this there are many options available to people – sports, gyms, swimming, cycling, jogging, walking, altering the workplace environment, dancing, martial arts classes, etc. People should seek solutions that work for them.

References:

(Academic)

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2006. AWM: Meal Replacements (2006). Evidence Analysis Library (if page doesn’t load clear cookies)

Brindal, E., Hendrie, G. A., Taylor, P., Freyne, J., & Noakes, M. (2016). Cohort analysis of a 24-week randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of a novel, partial meal replacement program targeting weight loss and risk factor reduction in overweight/obese adults. Nutrients, 8(5), 265. doi:10.3390/nu8050265

Franz, M. J., VanWormer, J. J., Crain, A. L., Boucher, J. L., Histon, T., Caplan, W., … & Pronk, N. P. (2007). Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(10), 1755-1767. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.07.017

Gordon, J., Watson, M., & Avenell, A. (2011). Lightening the load? A systematic review of community pharmacy‐based weight management interventions. Obesity reviews, 12(11), 897-911. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00913.x

Johns, D. J., Hartmann-Boyce, J., Jebb, S. A., Aveyard, P., & Group, B. W. M. R. (2014). Diet or exercise interventions vs combined behavioral weight management programs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of direct comparisons. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(10), 1557-1568. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.07.005

(Non-Academic)

Connery, G. (2017). CSIRO backs fasting and meal replacement shakes in new ‘Flexi’ Diet. Fairfax News

CSIRO. (2016). Impromy™ Health and Weight Management Program. CSIRO website

Powley, K. (2017). How does the CSIRO’s new flexi diet rate? News Corp (subscription) / Mirror

SBS. (2017). Researchers examine time-restricted eating. SBS News

Tufvesson, A. (2012). The CSIRO’s Flexi diet weighs in as the fast way to avoid fasting. The New Daily


1

Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey

So I thought I would tackle this one. To be upfront I will “vote” yes in the survey, but I’m about to make a pretty compelling argument for the “No” case. And one that frankly isn’t being made but is by far their most legitimate argument that is free from secondary concerns like the bullying tactics of the far-left advocates. Let me also say that I think it’s a mistake for the “Yes” side to assume that Marriage is an intrinsic right that “of course” gays should be entitled to… it is in fact not that at all, it’s a made up human institution. And if we figure out why it has value as an institution we can also figure out why there is actually a pretty good reason to be opposed to same-sex marriage.

So let me start by asking this: why not just de-legislate marriage altogether? Then everyone can simply register and dissolve legal civil unions whenever they wish, but Marriage will become a completely civil institution held up by whatever organised groups wish to do so, free from government interference. After all marriage began as a non-legislated social institution.

Why we don’t do that is because it is harder to dissolve a marriage than a civil union. Marriage encourages people to stick together through thick and thin rather than dissolve their relationships at any moment. Now at first this may not seem important, but it is. Break-ups of long-term relationships are difficult, expensive, and messy. Often harmful to children. Although sometimes they are necessary, often they are not. So the real purpose of Marriage for government is to encourage married couples to stay together. It’s good for the economy, keeps people out of courts, no need for messy child support payments or court-determined split custody arrangements.

We would still have all this if marriage is a civil institution. However, as a civil institution people’s rights were foregone in favour of religiously flavoured ideologies. The ancient Jews for example did not permit women to get divorces. The Christians did not recognise spousal abuse as a legitimate reason for a divorce. In the end it is the courts who are charged with upholding people’s rights, and they can’t enforce these rights on non-legislated institutions… so de-legislating marriage would end up putting these decisions back into the hands of organisations that have been shown not to upload people’s rights above ideology.

It’s difficult to see how same-sex marriage will strengthen the institution of Marriage. We have, about, a 50% divorce rate. Now true, a lot of those are after children are grown up, so the main costs to the courts are property disputes. But it is more in our interests to be concerned with ways to strengthen the institution, rather than ways to open it up to greater “flexibility”. The “Yes” side is calling the campaign “marriage equality” – but it’s not that. It doesn’t confer rights to polygamous relationships for example. And even though polygamy may not be compatible with social ideals, how is it fair in those relationships that the first wife has all the legal rights and subsequent “wives” have none? Tackling the inequality in people’s rights goes well beyond simply allowing same-sex couples to get married.

The social justice warriors (SJWs) have already begun their bullying tactics. Given how closely tied they are to the “Yes” campaign I do fear for how they will negatively impact upon this survey. The claim being made by the “Yes” side is that same sex couples need marriage for their relationships to have the same “validity” as heterosexual couples. Well many heterosexual couples choose not to marry – is the claim that their relationships have no legitimacy either? The stigma surrounding people who live out of wedlock should be addressed, but more importantly it shouldn’t be the case that marriage confers “legitimacy” that is not otherwise there. Rather, marriage is a seal that is harder to break than a de-facto relationship. Allowing same-sex marriage could in fact be detrimental to getting “equal rights” to those in de-facto relationships. I don’t mean equal rights in property disputes, but equal rights to be legal next of kin, legal parental rights in the event of a break-up, and legal treatment as a couple in hospital situations. In reality, it is very possible that SSM will set back people in de-facto relationships from being conferred the rights that they deserve.

I also have concerns that silent voters will not receive the opportunity to return a survey form. Despite the ABS claiming they will, I have seen no evidence that they have a plan in place to get survey forms to voters with no fixed address or are homeless. They only have a plan in place to send forms to silent voters who have an address they know that isn’t listed on the electoral roll.

And finally, of course, I think the whole idea of a postal survey is absurd. That’s not to say I disagree with holding a plebiscite – a plebiscite would have been perfectly acceptable. Other countries hold them all the time – the UK held one for Brexit for example. But I don’t think a non-compulsory survey will have any legitimacy unless it gets an 80%+ response rate, which I very much doubt it will. If there’s a response rate any lower than that, no matter which side is the victor I would say it has no legitimacy. But that’s me, and I’m not a parliamentarian, so if you want the parliament to listen to your side you have to get out there and return a “Yes” or a “No” response to the survey question – which response is up to you, but base it on what you believe is fair, and whether you think same-sex couples should be included in marriage or not.

You may be wondering why I think marriage should include same-sex couples – well I actually don’t. I think it should include whomever society feels it should, and my vote would be for inclusion, so I will respond “Yes” to the ABS survey. Marriage in all of its various forms around the world all grew out of social norms as a social institution reflective of the values and beliefs of those societies. So if there was a plebiscite (a compulsory attendance plebiscite, not a postal vote) and the result was for “No” I would personally be fine with that. I think it should change to include same-sex couples when society wants it to. But in the meantime, no matter what the outcome, there are real issues to do with discrimination and the rights of partners that are not yet equal to the rights of marriage, and I think it’s really important to address those rights first and foremost. And to strengthen the institution of marriage, whilst also making sure we cater for the vulnerable in society (domestic violence victims, etc). Our present laws are out of date, archaic, reflective of past beliefs not based on evidence, and do not favour those who are in an “at-fault” situation. People currently abuse the system we have at the moment, and our divorce laws (in particular the at-fault ones) need a complete overhaul from the ground-up to fix it.

Westworld S01 review

The first original android story I’ve seen since Robocop. And that’s quite an achievement seeing as it’s based on a 1973 Michael Crichton (rip) film. I’d say it was a great series, not perfect by any means, but that I won’t be awaiting its second series. Be warned now that this review will contain many SPOILERS so watch and enjoy the series first.

In fact I baulked when I discovered the writers plan to make five seasons. That would explain why the ending to Season 1 is as dissatisfying as The Prisoner‘s ending. They would have done well to learn from The Prisoner – a series that works perfectly as a one-season story. A series that had a perfectly coherent structure and ending (despite the sloppy execution). A series that would have been better had it not had filler episodes. As with The Prisoner, Westworld is marvellously designed with exquisite attention to detail paid.

As with Blade Runner the story has been altered a lot from its inception. With Blade Runner the robots were given a humanity they don’t have in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. In Terminator the robots have developed a consciousness and perceive humanity as their enemy – the same story used for The Matrix as well. In Robocop the android is fully autonomous and learns of its humanity (the same story stolen for Terminator 2), but it is still a robot – a machine, and not human. Robocop has so far been the best at telling that story without descending into madness. In Westworld 1973 the robots are inflicted with an unknown pathogen and attack the humans. It makes no attempt to explain why – it could have been a computer virus, intentional malicious code, or something else. But it does appear to have happened without a human directing the destructive behaviour. There is no attempt to link it in anyway to them becoming conscious.

What the series does brilliantly is to turn this idea completely on its head and surge forward with their own. Just like Blade Runner, the nature of the androids is fundamentally altered to fit the new reality of the new story. Like Robocop, we ultimately learn that the androids do not really possess humanity, and specific to the story they don’t have any real free will or consciousness (Robocop on the other hand is sentient but he understands he’s a robot and not a human). This is quite brilliantly explained to the audience in several different ways, perhaps my favourite being when William is shown the inside of Dolores. Despite not having these qualities, they do possess emotion. It’s the fact that they possess emotion that drew one of their creators mad, and drives the other as well as Bill and the other guests. The androids believe they have sentience, but do not. Dolores’ affection and longing for William is nothing more than a part of a larger behaviour loop (probably intentionally set by Ford for Bill’s enjoyment), hence why it resets itself and continues to drive her character. Dolores was able to kill the man she most admires because her safeguards were disabled and she was instructed to, yet she can’t harm the man she despises when her safeguards are on. This is why I fear the show will descend into ruin in the following season/s… if they decide to make the androids sentient that fundamentally alters the reality of this world, and undoes the very thing that makes these androids special and unique compared to the ones in other somewhat similar sci-fi stories (Blade Runner for example).

Now that I’ve highlighted some of the show’s positives, let’s talk about the negatives. The twist with Bernard being revealed as an android was completely predictable. I think I was 2 or 3 episodes in and I was already convinced that either he or Theresa was an android, and of the two I always thought it was Bernard. Now, this actually makes sense because he’s a puppet used by Ford to infiltrate goings on that don’t otherwise involve him and protect his interests in the park. But this made for a terrible twist because of how predictable it was – why not reveal him as Ford’s double-agent earlier and use his character to a greater potential?

Why does Ford have Bernard kill Elsie? Elsie poses no threat to him whatsoever, and he can effectively control her through Bernard. It makes no sense at all that he would want to kill her. The only thing that scene serves to prove is that Bernard is completely under Ford’s control and does not have free will. That’s it. And that’s fine, it’s a good way to explain that, however Ford still needs a reason to send out his unwitting hitch-man in the first place, and he has no reason to do so. I thought that an explanation would surely be forthcoming by the end – but no, it seems the writers were perfectly happy to leave that glaring plot-hole in there.

William turns out to be the Man in Black. Great, that plot-twist I actually liked. I actually did not see that one coming, although perhaps I should have in retrospect. The one criticism I would put forward is that there is no way that Dolores will remember the younger William and not recognise him now, he’s been coming to the park regularly for 30 years. But in any case it layers the story brilliantly, further cementing the perplexing reality of the androids as capable of emotion but not free thought. Something William came to understand, and I suspect is why he enjoys his time in the park. He’s not a sadistic murdering bastard, he just likes the thrill it gives him. That’s why he’s not on the outside committing acts of atrocity against real people they way that Ford (the real sadistic Hannibal Lecter) does. Speaking of which I read with interest that Anthony Hopkins admits that reprising the Lecter role for two additional outings was a mistake (the TV series was an unmitigated disaster from my POV). So perhaps he plans not to return to this series and that’s why the ending was written the way it was – I think it would be a huge mistake if the series is going to continue to leave the ending the way it was… but I also think it’s a huge mistake continuing this series beyond one season. It’s as absurd as if The Prisoner was extended to another season!

Ford creating Bernard in Arnold’s image made no sense. In fact the whole back-story unravels into chaotic nonsense. Arnold felt the androids had “humanity” (or rather their own consciousness) because they expressed emotions. But Bernard designed those emotions for Ford several years after Arnold’s suicide. See? Makes no sense. I understand why Ford would give Bernard Arnold’s back-story, that part is fine, but making him in the physical image of Arnold doesn’t make sense, and it wouldn’t work there are people that would recognise Arnold and that’s beyond Ford’s control. He wouldn’t put himself into that kind of danger.

The androids feeling guilt over killing other androids also makes no sense. The other androids just get repaired and brought back on-line again. This whole pseudo-plot was just a ruse to cover for Dolores’ real guilt for killing Arnold. And although she appears to kill Ford at the end of the series, it’s probably just another android Ford made in the basement of the cottage in his own image. Or an avatar … perhaps he created avatars for all his guests so they can experience “real stakes” and that’s what he means by taking it to the next level. That would make sense, but the idea of actually enabling the hosts to kill does not make any sense and wouldn’t work anyway since the engineers in the basement can just roll back the firmware any time. Note that we never saw the rest of the pictures Theresa picks up, and nor do we see the end result of the android he’s rendering there, which is probably the Ford android.

Logan’s fate is left up to the imagination of the audience. Or perhaps not. The last we see of him, William has tied him to a horse and sent him straight towards the edge of the park, where if the android horse continues it will explode presumably killing Logan in the process. However, nothing in the series suggests such a grizzly fate has ever occurred to any of their guests, it’s more likely the horse will refuse to leave the park border, turn around and return Logan to some place in the park. All throughout the series we have seen that the host safeguards work flawlessly (except of course when Ford intentionally disables them), hosts are not allowed to let humans come to harm or to leave the park so the idea that the host horse will disregard its safety directives would not be in keeping with the rules of the fantasy world. Even if all this is ignored and the horse does leave the park, it’s unlikely the explosive device would be strong enough to harm anything other than the host itself anyway… and there would still be a team of engineers back in the depths of the bunker monitoring it anyway and they could remotely deactivate it or turn it around as well. None of this explains how William got control over Logan’s company however, but that loose end doesn’t really need an explanation anyway.

There’s a lot of believability lost with the sheer level of mayhem. The film suffers this problem too where it is explained that a stay in the park costs its guests $1,000 per day – yet they seem to be able to create far more damage than that, and there is not enough guests in either the film or the series at one time to pay the staffing costs, let alone the costs of daily park maintenance and repairs. There are dozens upon dozens of staff and only a handful of guests at one time? Even if the train was full with guests (which it wasn’t) when it comes in, that’s still not enough people to pay the wages of all the park staff. And for that reason I would have thought that the more menial tasks like android repairs could be carried out by androids instead of humans, especially when you have a hanger full of deactivated androids serving no present purpose. And yes I know it was carried over from the film, but it makes no sense that they would render their own android horses and livestock when they could just as easily use real animals that don’t need to be programmed and would far cheaper to maintain for the park (plus of course provide food).

Charlotte’s master plan goes nowhere. Seriously, what the fuck. Not to mention that she walks around the park in high heels and a tight-fitting dress like it’s Jurassic World – fuck me. So she activates an android, gives it her custom code, and sends it out into the world at large. I suppose this is intended for the second season, but brining the chaos and mayhem out of the park makes no good narrative sense, and it’s better not to show the futuristic outside world anyway and concentrate on the park. Once you lift the veil it will lose all its magic, it will no longer feel like a real place that could exist in the future, instead it will look silly.

And this leads me back to the series’ ending. The whole sub-plot with Ford’s new story didn’t go anywhere, it’s all just a stupid set up for some future story. It had no purpose whatsoever in the series itself. Furthermore, Ford has conducted himself honourably for 35 years and then all of a sudden he starts killing people? I don’t for a second believe that. The ending as presented does not fit the series… it’s just there to lead into the next season. What a horrible mistake. The series could have drawn to its natural conclusion, and that would have been that. But instead we get a forced ending to set up the next season… better get James Cameron involved if there’s avatars afoot. Without all that nonsense the ending would have been great – the realisation that Dolores isn’t on a journey, she’s just in a loop, and that William is the Man in Black –  brilliant. End it there, on the high note. Don’t force it to be something that it’s not.

So the series was good, not perfect, but prepare for it to be utterly ruined in the following seasons. Take my advice: don’t watch!

My 600-lb Life: Real or Fake?

Fake. I like to be upfront, I saw for some reason a video come up on YouTube with a click-bait title “my 600 lb life exposed” where the lady claims she did her research and she’s concluded that it’s “real”. Well she’s wrong, and this entry will explain why she’s wrong.

So first off let’s set some parameters. Real would be a documentary, an investigative journalist report, a medical procedural show, a bibliographical programme, or perhaps an educational programme. At the lower end we might even accept a current affairs show. 600-lb Life is a reality television show that imitates the format of a documentary programme like Brother’s Keeper. Its imitation of the documentary format is as close as it gets to being “real”, the show is just entertainment, not an informative show. You could even call this kind of show “documentary-porn”. It’s what people watch instead of documentaries as documentaries are far less entertaining.

One reason why people might think that this show is real is because it has “real people” and claims to follow their journeys over the course of a year. But this is just a staple of reality television.

So why then is this show fake – what makes it fake? The number one difference between this kind of show and a documentary is that a documentary film-maker is there to tell the story that unfolds – they aim to represent people and their journey as they are, and to present the viewer with an accurate account of what took place condensed into the space of an hour or two. Reality shows instead of showing you people’s journeys, construct characters/personalities out of their participants and manufacture dramatic moments through the use of music cues, clever editing, and frankenbiting. Constructing personalities for your characters in single episode instalments is far easier than in ongoing serials – have a look at Ice Road Truckers for a counterexample and take notice of how those portrayed with “reckless” personalities have that toned down or even dropped in subsequent series!

They also create whatever story and whatever ending they want for their show and make it all fit within their show’s formatting. One huge difference you will notice between this show and any acclaimed documentary is that use of a voice-over by their participants. To create this voice-over the participants are primed with videos of stressful or emotional clips and a producer (or director) grills them with questions that both further prime them or are intentionally leading. So for example, when you hear someone say something like “this is my last chance and if I don’t get surgery I will die” a line that every participant I’ve seen so far appears to have uttered, it’s because someone has primed them or lead them to say that off-screen … or they’ve simply constructed it by frankenbiting (taking different parts of conversations and editing them together to create a completely new statement by their participant). And it’s not hard for them to manipulate these participants, as most of them have high anxiety associated with their weight, and when a producer or someone off-camera makes them uncomfortable they will do what the producers want in order to lower their anxiety.

The show does not address many of the issues facing the participants. It presents a very shallow view of weight management – there are many issues which these people face, however if it doesn’t fit the show’s manufactured format then they aren’t included. Social anxiety for example is one huge issue for many people with morbid obesity that prevents them from going into public more to exercise etc. Disordered eating is usually the result of a mental health condition, rather than the result of gluttonous behaviour and those issues are not addressed either. Instead the show simply views morbid obesity as the result of a person’s unwillingness to control their behaviour and the enablers that surround them. While that forms part of the picture, it’s far from a comprehensive understanding.

If someone fails to lose weight or to get surgery over the course of the programme they can construct whatever personality they want to present the viewer with. The blame for this is always on the patients and never on the healthcare providers who never seem to feel responsibility for the success of their clients. One example of this is an episode with a man named James K who they present as being a gluttonous slob. Never mind that he became bed-bound due to breaking his ankle, and probably feels high anxiety and humiliation due to it, which of course is going to make any effort to control his diet difficult. Cynthia on the other hand is portrayed as a strong independent woman raising a lovely family, but how different her episode would have been had she started bed-bound following a broken ankle! And that leads me to my next point…

The show presents unrealistic expectations on its participants. You think morbidly obese people can stick to a 800kcal or 1200kcal diet on their own? You have to be kidding me. And not only that, but every episode portrays bariatric surgery as the final goal of the participant – never mind the fact that it’s not suitable for everyone, and that people need to be assessed to determine whether they can lose sustained weight on a controlled diet on their own or whether they will require surgery. It’s not something suitable for all morbidly obese people. And nor is a 800 or 1200 kcal diet, to lose weight over the long term without surgery you would put someone on a energy restricted diet that decreased energy overtime as they lose weight – and you wouldn’t start anywhere near 1200kcal. In fact based on the shows portrayal of Dr Nowzaradan who consistently blames his patients or their family members for their ill health, and never seems to advise them that bariatric surgery may not be the right solution for them, I would think he should be investigated for medical malpractice.

Some participants are shown to be consistently losing weight, but then get surgery anyway. Um what? And worse still, in those episodes Dr Nowzaradan will say something like “they have done reall well but needs surgery to keep going and make progress long term”. No they don’t – many of them don’t need surgery at all. Bariatric surgery does not work long-term. It’s not a real solution, at least not for all patients. It can be a helpful tool, but that’s it. The idea that people need it or they will die, or that they can’t make progress without it is a complete fabrication and outright lie. If you watch the original series that was shot over the course of 7 years you will find that some of those participants (all of them by now probably) re-gain all the weight they managed to lose before and then after surgery. And that brings me to my final point.

The show’s successes are only an illusion. Here today, gone tomorrow. The show does start by saying that only 5% of morbidly obese people are successful long-term in controlling their weight, but they end many of their episodes by portraying a success that may be nothing but a short-lived false victory. The end goal for weight management is in 20, 30, 40 years time in the long-term, not in 1 year. 1 year means nothing, and if the show put that into context it might have a bit more medical credibility.

The show is fake, if you enjoy that’s perfectly fine. It’s an entertainment show after all, but stay sceptical and don’t take it seriously.

Alien: Covenant nonsense explained

A:C is the disappointing sequel to Prometheus. Prometheus wasn’t perfect, but at least it did break new ground and advance the story. A:C’s crowning achievement is to have stagnated the Alien back-story.

Prometheus Questions?

A lot of people were unnecessarily confused by Prometheus. So I might begin by going over a couple of the so-called “unanswered questions” from that film. 1. Why does David poison Charlie? Because he’s curious. It helps if you understand that David isn’t “evil”. 2. Why did the engineers want to kill humans? This question has answered by Ridley Scott himself – they go back to planets they seeded with life and wipe out life if they don’t like what was created, it’s that simple. It is also answered in the film itself – the Juggernaut was going to head to Earth roughly 2,000 years ago, suggesting that Jesus was taken to earth by the Engineers (either as an Engineer himself or from a more advanced society) and they were not pleased when he was crucified by the Romans. Or perhaps they simply wanted to use Earth to test their bioweapon. Maybe they want Earth for themselves. In any case the real unanswered question isn’t why did they want to destroy Earth – but why has no one been back to LV-223 in 2,000 years given that there are many Juggernauts loaded with the pathogen stored on the moon? And we have to assume that they were all victim to the accident that happened 2,000 years ago that killed the crew of the Earth-bound Juggernaut.

Okay so now we’ve got that out of the way let’s move onto the two possible directions the next story could have taken. Either the alien that bursts out of the engineer will stalk Shaw and David and follow them to to the engineer home-world, or it ends up on a different Juggernaut and ends up spawning the xenomorphs we are familiar with, and that Juggernaut ends up crashing onto LV-426. Or it just does nothing.

Now there’s one other question that no one ever asks regarding Prometheus, and that is why does the ancient constellation drawing lead them to a bioweapons facility and not the engineer home-world? The answer I believe is that it does lead to the home-world, they just chose the wrong star in the constellation to explore.

Alien: Covenant explained …

The one good thing I will say about A:C is that it does advance the overall narrative surrounding David and human space exploration. But that’s really as far as it gets. So let’s first work out what’s actually going on in A:C and then go from there. For the record I think the movie is fairly straightforward, going over these questions is just for the benefit of the audience.

1. Did David take Shaw to the engineer home world? I’m going to keep this simple and say that it probably is their home world. The main reason to think so is that it has a giant scorpion-shaped docking station for their Juggernaut ships.

2. How does the ship crash? The most likely explanation is that it was attacked after David drops the payload on the engineers/humanoids.

3. Why isn’t there another Juggernaut or spaceship on the planet somewhere? If there was David could escape the planet and continue his experimentations wherever he chooses. It does seem odd that there are no spaceships on the engineer home world, especially given the “many” number of them stockpiled on LV-223. How are they going to defend themselves from an attack? One possible explanation is that any spaceships on the planet fled after David unleashed the pathogen, but that doesn’t explain why they left him there for up to 10 years to further decimate their home world.

4. How does Shaw die? While the pilot engineer in Prometheus survives the crash, he is seen visibly injured. It’s likely Shaw simply died in the crash on impact. Perhaps she survives and later dies on the planet while marooned there with David either from the pathogen or from one of the many monsters the pathogen creates. Another explanation is that the alien at the end of Prometheus boarded their Juggernaut and made a face-hugger egg. Or she may have died from the original infection she contracted from Holloway as many more parasitic alien life forms grew inside of her. I doubt the last explanation as the parasitic aliens whether xenomorphs or other morphs always end up killing the host when they burst out. I also doubt the engineer’s morph had time to gestate and burst out of the engineer before they leave LV-223, and it is shown emerging after they have left the moon.

5. Why did David kill Shaw? I don’t think he did, the engineers killed her by attacking the docked Juggernaut.

6. Why did David kill the engineers? I don’t think that he thinks through the consequences of his actions very carefully. He wanted to experiment with the pathogen, but he also would have been fearful of the engineers killing him and Shaw.

7. How did David have time to experiment with the pathogen spawned life forms when he already killed all the hosts? Simple – he didn’t kill them all. He killed most of them in the initial attack on the city, but there would have been engineers both living elsewhere on the planet that survived this attack, and also under quarantined conditions or in other situations that led them to be unaffected by the vaporised pathogen after it had dissipated enough in the atmosphere. Notice the atmosphere itself was no longer toxic enough to kill the crew of the Covenant, and it wouldn’t have been toxic enough to kill all life on the whole of the planet unless David had gone and dispersed it properly which he didn’t do, he just dropped it all in once place.

8. How did David switch places with Walter? This question is actually far more difficult to explain. The android that runs to the ship has the exact facial wounds that Walter just sustained in the fight that no one other than he and David witnessed, AND doesn’t have the chin hole. The only way this could happen is if David uploads his consciousness into Walter – but the problem with that explanation is that he wouldn’t have the same ability to express his free will in Walter’s body as he’s a later more mellowed android. The more likely explanation is that we’ll have to ignore the facial scarring inconsistencies because come the next film when the engineers arrive to find their planet has been obliterated and Walter is there to explain to them what happened. Whatever happened, David would have had to have gone back to his workshop of horrors to swallow the face-hugger embryos to take with him.

9. Why does David help Daniels and Tennessee kill the xenomorph? David doesn’t have an agenda to kill the remaining crew and colonists of the Covenant. His agenda is to continue refining the xenomorph. Anyway, he can’t very well go about killing crew members and expect the ship’s computer to be complicit. He needs to take things slow and deliberately.

10. Why does David admire Shaw? I think there are two things here. Firstly, David and Shaw grew close on their journey to the engineer home world/”Planet 4″. Shaw repaired him, and he taught her to pilot the Juggernaut (yes obviously I’m ignoring the 4 minute prologue that purports to show David putting Shaw into hypersleep). They needed each other. Secondly, she is the presumed mother to his xenomorphs. He can’t start with the black goo as it’s a pathogen, so he starts with her living tissue (whatever remained of it) and opened her up so he could witness how the gestating monsters grow.

So where did it all go wrong?

Okay, Prometheus had some very annoying poorly thought through elements. Guy Pearce as Weyland. Vickers is Weyland’s daughter “plot-twist”. Vickers crushed by rolling Juggernaut. Weyland stowing away on the ship in secret. A “Pauling medical pod configured only” for men that “does bypass surgery, what do you need it for?”?! It obviously does more than just bypass surgery… and besides, wouldn’t they need something like it on their spaceship? Shaw able to get to the pod without the two other people subduing her, and able to take a Caesarean whilst fully conscious and then rush out of the pod to David and Weyland. But for all of its flaws it was a great film, it was scary, it had great visuals and well designed creatures, and the moon itself was just creepy.

A:C has none of this. It has a bunch of generic crew members who do stupid shit all film long, while exhibiting horror-cliché behaviour. The story is so formulaic that it is basically just the 1979 Alien story retold with no suspense. I baulked at the Guy Pearce and David scene. Now, retconned for no apparent reason, David must be at least 40 years old by the events of Prometheus and at least 50 by the events of Alien: Covenant! Um, what? To everyone in Prometheus David was the latest technology. Next we meet the bland and unlikable crew. I’m not even sure that we like Daniels the lead female in this film to be honest. The creature design in this film is terrible – okay sure the protomorph is OK, the facehuggers too. But the xenomorphs are a joke.

I think the worst part is that it’s just not a scary film. The setting isn’t creepy, and the xenomorphs are not in the least bit scary. And the reason why they’re not scary is because they barely kill anyone, and when they do they are people who are doing stupid shit not being alert and vigilant. We also are not invested in the crew – the best example of this is in the Walter and David showdown. Now if there was Bishop we would have rooted for him – but Walter is just a generic droid/synthetic that we don’t care about. And that’s fine, we don’t need to be invested in Walter, but it also means there’s no point in doing a final showdown with David. It doesn’t really make any sense anyway – sure Walter perceives David as a threat to the crew and colonists of the Covenant… but Ash is a more advanced synthetic and he has no problem with ‘crew expendable’. And also, it was the wrong way to end the film – Alien and Aliens both end with the xenomorph being flushed into space – why recycle the same plot AGAIN??

Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who?

I see that there’s a lot of discussion about the 13th Doctor’s casting. Much of it is focused on whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea to cast a woman in the role. As usual I’m here to address the questions that no one else will.

Paul McGann nailed the role. And not only did he do that, but he did it in just one made-for TV movie. Every other actor to play Doctor Who had the ability to grow into the role. We in fact see this very clearly with David Tennant – the Christmas special was not his finest moment, but he improved in the first series and nailed the role. Christopher Eccleston nailed the role from the very first episode of his series.

And then we had Matt Smith. The less said about the 11th Doctor the better. He was completely miscast. In fact, speaking of miscast Doctors, David Bradley is also horribly miscast as the First Doctor as well. Well why do I say this? Eccleston was only 40 when he first appeared as Doctor Who filmed in 2004. But he presented the dual persona of a middle-aged man with a wide-eyed youthful enthusiasm for adventure. And that’s who Doctor Who is, in a nutshell. Tennant had more emphasis on the wide-eyed youthful enthusiasm side of Doctor Who, and less on the middle-aged man solving problems, but he still struck a balance. Smith was cast to replicate this but failed miserably – it’s likely that he was just too young to play Doctor Who. To make matters worse, Moffat’s tenure has been plagued with problems – he just doesn’t seem to understand how to make satisfying story-arcs, or follow through with consequences.

So, why is Bradley miscast I hear you ask? I should be blindingly obvious. William Hartnell was 5’8. He carried his chin high and looked up to taller men around him. Bradley is 5’11”. So far he has never carried himself the way that Hartnell did, and unless all of the supporting actors are taller than 6’2″, it’s quite unlikely that he will. To put this into context, Jodie Whittaker is William Hartnell’s height.

So should we be concerned with the casting of Jodie Whittaker? Well maybe. For 2018, she’s one year older than Tennant was when he took the reigns in 2006. Doctor Who is not really a part for Young actors – most actors to have played the role were in their 40’s or 50’s. In fact, of the first 7 doctors, Davidson was the only actor not to be aged in his 40’s or 50’s. Since that time there have been five more doctors: McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi. Two of those actors were in their 40’s or 50’s. That brings the total up to eight actors to date out of 12.

Of the younger actors McGann and Tennant were absolutely extraordinary. Davidson carried the role well as well. Smith on the other hand did not. And then to make matters worse, we’ve had people grow up watching Smith who were then shocked with Capaldi’s more Hartnell-like performance.

Now to be fair, you might say that well Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy weren’t that great either.

I would also say that the abolishment of two-part episodes has weakened the series under Moffat. The original series was a serialised show. I think the loss of that serialisation has hurt the show – single episode 45-minute instalments are not the ideal format for all of the stories.

I still remember when I first saw Tennant after the regeneration at the end of Series 1. I was extremely sceptical. But Tennant managed to pull off the role admirably. The biggest question I have over Jodie is not whether a woman should be cast, but whether she’s the right age to play Doctor Who or not. I don’t think she is – I think the series thrives on casting actors in their 40’s-50’s. Does that necessarily mean she’ll do a bad job? Of course not, we’ll wait and see. Most of the younger actors actually did well in the role, it’s only Smith in my opinion who didn’t.

I would hope that the design team thinks seriously about the TARDIS interior. Or they do what was done with Tom Baker and have a season without it at all. It would be a disaster to hand her Capaldi’s TARDIS interior. Returning to a traditional white interior would in fact be most welcome. I do also think it would be great to give the Eighth Doctor a season or two. McGann is an absolutely amazing actor, in his single appearance he nailed the role, and is currently the right age to play the Doctor.

All of this said though I am please to see end of Moffat as showrunner! I wish all the best for Chibnall and Whittaker!

The future of the web is ad-free

Your future and my future are certainly ad-free. We use uBlock Origin and the MVPS hosts file.

I’m about to tell you what all those people on Youtube and other places have missed, when they cry foul of adblockers, or put up anti-adblock messages. Are you ready?

It used to be that only the tech-savvy knew how to navigate their way around such things. That was way back when though. Times have moved on since the 90’s, and the so-called tech-savvy are in a group I would be hard-pressed to define other than that we love computers and love to tweak, test, modify, and when necessary code. The problem that others don’t realise is that what used to be “tech-savvy” is the new norm. Times have moved on, and people have become aware they don’t need to buy Microsoft Office at a retail store and can either get a legal copy as cheap as $70 or use free software instead. I remember way back when a less tech-savvy guy had had his computer infected with a virus and the first thing he did afterward was (of course) to buy Norton Antivirus, and went on to say how great it was. He could have installed AVG for free instead, and at the time I had no idea why he would choose a paid option.

No one likes ads. So just to make this clear this post isn’t at all about whether or not ads have a right to exist, I think they do, but collectively we all hate them. Internet ads pose significant privacy issues, although that’s well beyond the scope of this post.

I think it would have been great to invest in Google in 2000, and to sell your shares now. Actually that may not be great financial advice. But look, Google is a cunt of a company. I’ve said so countless times before. Why only this week they have be fined over 2 billion Euros by the EU for something that I criticised WAY BACK FUCKING WHEN! Why was I the only one that cared that they removed the google product search and replaced it with the shopping tab. JESUS CHRIST am I really the only person on the whole internet that noticed this? It happened on 31 May 2012.

The business model of certain companies is to keep people down. Sometimes that includes consumers. But what we have seen, if nothing else, over the last 20 years is the internet build into something accessible to everyone. And everyone deserves privacy, and the best possible experience going forward. The golden age of internet advertising is over. And it didn’t come soon enough!

Do you see any ads on my blog? Of course not. I’m just grateful you took the time to read this, I hope your experience navigating and loading the site was smooth, and I don’t want a cent from you.