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One year of Donald Trump as President – Pros & Cons

22 January 2018

Despite all the insane warnings of an economic meltdown, more wars and terrorism, mass deportations, women losing all rights, global warming running riot, and general worldwide catastrophe, the world and the USA survived Donald Trump’s first year as president. Yes, all those predictions were serious too, and to think it’s Donald Trump the one critcised for hyperbolic and grandiose statements. The hysteria and derangement was never justified, as anyone with even half an active brain cell would know, the US president has very little real power. The greatest democracy in the world simply has too many checks, balances, rules and downright Washington obstinance, that even with someone as bellicose as Trump, or before him someone with the charisma of Barack Obama with his first year goals of immigration reform and closing Guantanamo Bay, they face extreme difficulty to progress their agenda.

trump-fna

USA President Donald Trump. Image: gop.com

The most stark example of Trump’s frustrations is the travel ban against several despotic and mostly muslim countries. It was constantly challenged in lower courts, and while one was eventually implemented, Trump remained frustrated by the courts on other issues. Then there was Obamacare, the “repeal and replace” Republican dogma for nearly 8 years, even with a Republican house and senate, it couldn’t be done. That’s because members of congress are not rigid to their parties. The loyalty is more often to their district or states. It’s a stark contrast to the likes of Australia where a member of parliament will vote like a zombie as dictated by party policy. That’s even despite a direct mandate from their district to do otherwise, as was seen with the recent gay marraige plebiscite.

On the positive side, Trump can celebrate three key achievements: the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court, the tax reform law, and the demolition of ISIS. Undoubtedly that Trump named several potential judges during the presidential campaign helped him grab the evangelical christian vote, and that he followed through with that, including many appointments for lower courts, has held the support of this key voting constituency. Tax reform, along with the many cuts in regulations, will be judged on its economic effect. With big cuts to the corporate rate to make the USA more internationally competitive, obviously the Democrats hate it. For citizens, the fact is nearly all Americans will get a tax cut, with those potentially a bit worse off being those in high taxing states where the state tax rebate was eliminated. Rightly so! Why should the federal government be subsidising tax rates of individual states? They should reduce their rates to allow people to keep more of their hard earned money. States like California and New York are two of the highest taxing states, while several states have no tax rate. Low-income taxpayers are served well with their standard deduction doubled and child tax credit increased. The blazing stock market means a bonanza for retirement schemes for everyday Americans, while unemployment is at records lows, even for blacks and hispanics. Finally, ISIS is almost done. Trump’s “bomb the shit out of them” has worked.

A fourth achievement might be the withdrawal of the Paris Climate Change Accord. This is more symbolic than anything, that the USA wants no part of a ridiculous agreement more about global socialism than a binding, worldwide agreement to cut emissions. It was never a repudiation of the USA’s role in emissions reductions as climate loons claimed, as the USA is way ahead of its targets thanks to gas exploration. Trump’s “America First” mantra continued with trade agreements cut or reworked, and sticking it to the United Nations by reducing their funding. Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and finally moving the American embassy there as all recent presidents had promised, was also a masterstroke.

Trump even made a dent into Obamacare by removing the individual mandate (a fine for not buying health insurance) as part of the tax reform bill. That will accelerate the death of Obamacare. It’s already in a so-called “death spiral” as high premiums force people out, which raises premiums more, which forces more people out. Note, Obamacare (primarily a bloated bill designed to subsidise insurance companies, even to maintain their profits) has been designed to fail from the start. The hiccup was the Democrats losing elections, so now it’s up to Republicans to deal with it. Most likely a government funded scheme for catastrophic injury or illness will arrive, with private insurance to deal with the rest. Essentially we have that in Australia. There’s no such thing as universal health insurance, only a universal safety net.

The most fascinating part of the Trump presidency is him dealing with illegal immigrants, and notably on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the so-called “Dreamers”, most of whom are all adults now. Essentially it defers deporting illegal immigrants that were brought in as children, and it was expanded and extended by Obama by executive order. So it’s not amnesty at all, only an order not to execute a federal law for certain people and only for a certain period of time. Then a new DACA deadline must be set. That was directly opposite to Obama initially saying he’s “not a dictator” so can’t act on immigration alone. Once re-elected in 2012 and without facing another election, he acted. The problem with an executive order is the next president can immediate reverse it. Trump has done that, saying (rightly so) DACA should be handled by a bill out of a congress, and the deadline is March 2018 when DACA expires. The genius of this is has shown Washington in all its ugliness as the Democrats tried to use DACA last weekend to help pass a budget bill. The government is shut down and it’s all the Democrats’ fault as they are exposed as using illegal immigration to hold the entire country to ransom. Trump and the Republicans knew they couldn’t be wedged, as DACA has nothing to do with funding the government, so the longer the Democrats sit on it, the more they are exposed as obstructionists and hypocrites. DACA is also the key bargaining chip in Trump getting his border wall. If the Democrats are so concerned about these “Dreamers”, surely extra border security would be an easy compromise, or will they be thoroughly exposed for using these people, and immigration in general, as a political weapon? Remember, immigration was meant to be Obama’s year one big achievement, and even with a super majority in the senate, did absolutely zero.

The most intriguing and entertaining part of the Trump presidency is his behaviour. His tweets are often hilarious, and nicknames like Sloppy Steve (Bannon), Cryin’ Chuck (Shumer), Leakin’ James Comey, Crazy Mika and Psycho Joe from MSNBC, and the best, Pocahontas for Elizabeth Warren. It’s staggering that after a year much of the media still hyperventilate over his antics and language. Remember, “take Trump seriously, not literally”. They do it the other way around. His tweet about his nuclear button bigger than Kim Jong Un’s was his way of saying that the USA is more powerful than North Korea, and they’re not afraid to act. Yet the media somehow thinks Trump really has his hand on a button ready to push. Such a thing doesn’t even exist, and his power is only in approving the request from generals. Then the “shithole” remark. It says enough that instead of Democrat senator Dick Durbin confronting Trump in the meeting about the language, that he chose to keep it for the media. While CNN used the hearsay of a vengeful political opponent to proclaim Trump a racist, the truth is the plan meant to make DACA permanent also increased chain and lottery migration, not reduce it as promised to Trump. A double-crossed Trump then raged about America always taking people from shithole countries, not places like Norway. Again, this is his style. He’s been a vulgarian since the day he announced he was running, yet so much of the media gets caught up in the histrionics of it. Probably it makes good ratings – probably the main point of it.

Trump gets the last laugh, and is beginning to thrive in his role as president. While the promise of his Fake News Awards had his media opponents salivating for a mention, he eventually revealed twelve actual and serious moments of fake news and general media bias, with CNN winning four awards. Personally, the most galling was the claim by Time magazine that Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval Office. This was barely a day into his presidency and yet the media were already trying to prove him a racist. It really highlighted their agenda, and from there it’s become worse, as opponents try and out-do each other on their various cable news shows. The division they apparent loathe is division they are fuelling, and merely a continuation of the divisive “basket of deplorables” identical politics Obama and then Hillary Clinton trafficked in. Trump is actually the product of that, and continues to fight back in his own inimitable style.

Rest assured snowflakes, Trump can’t really do much damage. Cries of fascist are absurd for someone that was democratically elected and, indeed, potentially could see his domestic agenda thwarted if the Democrats win the house in this year’s mid-terms. Yes, this great democracy has elections every two years to keep politicians to account. For those not taking it all so seriously or taking it all so personally, jump on the train, enjoy the ride, because this is already the greatest presidency ever!

Obama’s Legacy – The Reality Check; Trump’s Inauguration

Donald Trump is President – What the heck just happened?

 

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Warrior’s Video Games of 2017 & Game of the Year

7 January 2018

2017 will definitely be known as year of Nintendo. Not only was the phenomenal Nintendo Switch released, it was accompanied by a line-up of stunning games. Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and Mario + Rabbids Kindgom Battle, not to forget a constant stream of smaller downloadable games on the e-shop. Then there was the 3DS still going strong, particularly with Metroid: Samus Returns a huge highlight. The Super Nintendo Classic Mini arrived during the year, and even the NES Classic Mini trickled in during April for those that missed out in 2016 and could quickly snap one up (yay!). Let’s break it down.

Nintendo Switch

Zelda: Breath of the Wild won just about every conceivable gaming award for 2017, and for obvious good reasons. It’s a stellar title – possibly the best in the series ever – and has been supported with excellent extra content too. The only complaint: I haven’t finished it yet! I’ve been so busy, and then other games came out. Mostly on the Switch I’ve played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, FAST RMX (an F-Zero style of racing game), Blaster Master Zero (an excellent remake of an NES classic) and little bit of Super Mario Odyssey.

Nintendo Switch – Hardware Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review – Pros & Cons

3DS

Metroid: Samus Returns 3DS box

Metroid: Samus Returns. Nothing more to say. With Metroid my favourite game series ever, Samus Returns was a salivating release this year. It came out of nowhere too. Announced middle of the year for a September release, I was frothing at the mouth as I rode to the local shopping centre (no helmet naturally) to purchase it on its release day. Strangely, I thought it wise to shop around for the best price. Checking first that JB Hi Fi had some on the shelves, I then went to Big W and Target, which are usually cheaper. Neither had it so back to JB only to see none on the shelves anymore. I was furious! I thought I’d ask at the counter as they don’t display all inventory, and yes, I got one, and a JB-exclusive poster that I never knew about. Bonus! After picking up the special edition Samus Returns 3DS system on pre-order at EB Games (which will become my spare), I rode home and played Samus Returns for several hours non-stop, then a few more over the weekend. Suffice to say I’ve not finished it either. Although, I’ve made much more progress than with Zelda.

From the 3DS Activity Log

Pokemon Shuffle was against the most played game of the year at almost 280 hours. The year before that was 275 hours and before that 199 hours. Almost 750 hours all up is a ridiculous amount for a free title. While I have purchased gems a couple of times during this period, which help you proceed through the game when impatient, it’s only been occasions when 6 bonus ones are offered if you buy 6 or more, which I’ve done twice, and mostly to reward the developers for all the hours I’ve played. I never needed them. Only once have I needed a gem, and it was only after I just failed to beat a Pokemon after using a bucket load of coins and had leftover funds in my account. The gem allowed 5 more moves and increased the catch rate for remaining moves (I only needed one move and caught the Pokemon). Total money spent on Pokemon Shuffle is under $15. I wish I could say I’d get that value from all games.

Pokemon Shuffle 3DS Charizard

Then there’s my old, small 3DS, where I have Pokemon Shuffle running too. Time logged is 207:19 hours for 2017, for a total of almost 470 hours for the past 3 years. So that’s over 1200 hours for one game. The only game I know that rivals such time invested is Audio Surf on PC at almost 800 hours.

Metroid: Samus Returns is next most played at 14:37 hours, followed by StreetPass Mii Plaza at 10:48, Super Smash Bros at 2:35, 80’s Overdrive (a game bought late December) at 2:03 and Mario Kart 7 at 1:50. I really must get back into Mario Kart 7. The year before I didn’t play it all. Unacceptable! After Mario Kart DS, MK7 would be my second favourite version, followed by MK8 Deluxe on the Switch.

Mii Plaza has really dropped off compared to 22 hours last year and 127 hours in 2015 and 33 hours in 2014. I’m simply done or bored with the mini games, so much so I rarely carry the 3DS around anymore to accumulate StreetPass hits required for the mini games. Total steps is 180,586, compared to 1.1 million in 2014, 521,117 in 2015 and 221,171 last year. Most of the steps this year are from trips overseas to Europe/USA in May/June for 45608 and 32852 steps, and then to Japan in November for 58,895 steps. It’s worth taking the 3DS overseas because international hits fill in national maps on your system, and that’s fun.

Super NES Classic Mini

After the debacle with the NES Mini, I didn’t take the chance and decided to pre-order the SNES version. As it turned out, I could have walked in and bought one on the day. Nintendo kept their promise of plenty of stock. Indeed, there were several lying around at the JB Hi Fi near my office during the week of its release, and I’ve seen at other times too. Note that supplies do often run out quickly, and during a 2 week visit to Japan in November, I never saw a local one anywhere, so it’s clear Nintendo could sell more if they could have increased production even further.

Super NES Classic Mini

First game to play on the SNES Mini was Star Fox (originally Star Wing in PAL territories) so I could unlock the bonus Star Fox 2. The mixed reviews of that proved true: it’s a bit of a clunky game and would have been far better sticking to the original on-rails formula, not free roaming. I’ve dived into most of the other games since, and I’m pleased with the collection. My only gripe would be there’s too many RPGs on it, and do we really need a Street Fighter 2? While it’s obviously a “Nintendo classic”, it’s been on everything else for the past 20 years. Also, why not Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers – the one with the four extra characters that Japan got? While Turbo could be argued as the purest Street Fighter 2 experience, it’s not the definitive one.

The five RPGs on the SNES Mini are Zelda: A Link to the Past, Earthbound, Final Fantasy 3 (FF6 in Japan), Super Mario RPG and Secret of Mana. We easily could have done without Secret of Mana, and possibly Super Mario RPG. There’s also two Kirby games on it, which is at least one too many. Glaringly missing is a shooter or two, and some sports games. UN Squadron (Area 88 in Japan) would be the obvious inclusion, with Axelay another option. International Superstar Soccer Deluxe (Fighting Eleven in Japan) is the obvious sports game required, while another could be Super Tennis. NBA Jam would also be good.

A conventional driving game would have been good to sit with Super Mario Kart, with Top Gear probably the best option. While sequels Top Gear 2 and Top Gear 3000 are no doubt superior, Top Gear is the more familiar one to most people. Plus, it’s a classic! Instead of Street Fighter 2, how about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time? Adding some of these games also would have boosted the system’s multi-player capabilities. Or, given there’s no technical limitation to restrict the total of games at 21, why not just add all these games anyway? Maybe Nintendo didn’t want it to make the NES Classic Mini seem second rate. Speaking of which…

NES Classic Mini

Arguably there’s not really any obvious omissions on this system, only suggestions that would improve it. Games like Balloon Fight and Ice Climbers are really old school, while who has heard of Star Tropics? Curiously they have Super C and Double Dragon 2 instead of the original Contra and Double Dragon, yet persisted with Tecmo Bowl, Gradius, Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania ahead of the clearly superior sequels of Tecmo Super Bowl, Life Force Salamander, Ninja Gaiden 2 (there was also a third) and Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is also on the system, and while it could be argued as the weakest of the three, since it’s an RPG style of Castlevania, it definitely deserves its place. Besides, where else can you pay the ferryman? It is a tricky decision. You really need the first game for its “classic” status, and you don’t really need three, so the two selected are probably right. If you missed out on the NES Mini, Nintendo will resume production middle of 2018.

NES Classic Mini

SNES vs NES – Classic Battle

Overall, you will get more out of the games on the SNES despite nine fewer than the NES. Those RPGs will take eons, while Super Metroid is a long game and Super Ghouls & Ghosts is really hard. Even I struggled despite beating it at the time. Newbies to the Castlevania series will find Castlevania 4 a bit tough. Plus, if you’ve never played Street Fighter 2 before and get hooked, that is endless hours learning all the characters.

The other benefit of the SNES is two controllers in the box. Cables are also much longer than the NES, though, not long enough to station the system too far away from the couch. Personally I use a HDMI extension lead and keep the systems near me, because the other shortcoming in both is the reset is via a button on the box. There’s no controller shortcut. The SNES controllers are also much nicer to hold, and the bonus is they work on the NES. So if you require extra cable length or need an extra NES controller, your problem is solved with the SNES Mini.

In terms of interface, both are the same, and support 4 save-states for each game. Be aware some SNES games had battery back-up too, so if you use that function within the game itself, make sure it’s at a later point in the game than your save-state in the system, or only use the one save system. Otherwise you will confuse yourself! The SNES also has several themed borders to make the 4:3 ratio of games look better on modern wide-screen TVs, which is nicer than the black bars of the NES, and are good for your plasma TV, if you still have one like me.

Graphically, the NES games actually look much better than the SNES ones. This is all to do with pixels, and with the NES using much more blockier pixels, they expand much cleaner than the more detailed ones on the SNES. It is quite a shock when first playing a SNES Mini game that it’s so pixelated. You barely notice this on the NES Mini.

Elsewhere

While I do have a PlayStation 4, it’s been a bit quiet there other than for some favourite series like Gran Turismo Sport and Wipeout Omega Collection. Both are superb games, especially Wipeout. It’s the quintessential collection. Sony keep adding stuff to Gran Turismo, so there’s far more to it now in single player mode. Curiously when I bought that at JB, they were selling GT-themed controllers for only $40 extra. It’s been a year of the bonus too. Bonus!

Game of the Year

Simply because it’s so damn good, it’s part of my favourite game series, and it’s been 15 excruciating years since the last one of its type, it must be Metroid: Samus Returns.

Warrior’s Video Games of 2016 & Nintendo Switch Preview

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – the Complete Review!

14 December 2017

Welcome to the complete review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Why review a movie after one view when you review a movie after each view? That is the purpose here – to provide the most complete review possible. The first two reviews are standard reviews, the first without spoilers and the second one with spoilers and goes into far more detail. Subsequent reviews are generally specialised ones, that either might update or revise previous thoughts, detail the IMAX experience or, with The Last Jedi in particular, examine the key areas botched and how they should have been handled. At the end is the ranking of all current Star Wars movies.

Preliminary Review (No Spoilers)

Session: 00:01 14 Dec 2017 – 2D

(Scroll down for subsequent reviews)

Who is Rey? The question we all wanted to know was eventually even asked by Luke Skywalker. Then there were other questions. Who is the last Jedi? Who is Snoke? Why was Rey dumped on Jakku? If you were expecting those questions to be answered in The Last Jedi, then this is not the movie you are looking for. While some were technically answered, they weren’t really. Much like when Darth Vader revealed to Luke, “No, I am your father”, it was so incredulous that we had to wait for it to be confirmed in Return Of The Jedi. While these days our ignorance of the Force and the Star Wars universe can’t be preyed upon like it was nearly 40 years ago, there’s still uncertainty about the answers provided in The Last Jedi, especially when those answers were not the juicy “OMG” moments we expected them to be. Even when handling the real life death of Carrie Fisher onto her character, Princess Leia, expectations and outcome fall well short. It’s a pattern that epitomises the movie as a whole.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - poster

Much like The Force Awakens echoed A New Hope, The Last Jedi is a retake on The Empire Strikes back. It’s a connecting movie, heavy in character development and designed to lay the foundations for the awe-inspiring finale that should be episode 9. Yes, the Resistance is fleeing from and battered by the tyrannical First Order, Rey begins to learn the ways of the Force, and when all seems lost for the galaxy, hope emerges at the end. Except, it didn’t do it anywhere near as well as The Empire Strikes Back.

The real problem is whereas The Empire Strikes Back was only developing Luke, The Last Jedi was developing Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke as well! Yes, the path that Luke takes will surprise you, and not in the way you expect after the emotional finale to The Force Awakens. After the stellar opening to The Last Jedi, it gets really bogged down in dialogue – and made worse because nothing is revealed. Meanwhile, the Resistance is on the run, and it proves no where as exciting or as suspenseful as Han and Leia trying to escape the Empire. In trying to spice up the action, the sub-plot to a casino world to find a master code-breaker was as clumsy as it was stupid. The last ditch hope to escape from the First Order would have been better served with another space battle. While gratuitous, it certainly would have been more exciting.

The Last Jedi leaves you with no feelings – and that’s despite major attempts to do otherwise. It’s mostly a series of events that don’t connect in any way to make a gripping individual story. In trying to lift it to the standard of The Empire Strikes Back, some of the ideas, particularly surrounding the use of the Force, seemed far too contrived, bordering on implausible, even for the Force. Even the substantial humour injected, while often funny, at times descended into the comical, which emphasises further an identity crisis with this movie. The Last Jedi never really takes off, provides few moments of any suspense or excitement, nor does it leave you with any emotional legacy. It’s almost a nothing movie. We saw nothing, we learnt nothing, we’re left with nothing. Yes, it was entertaining, and I remained keen for its duration. It’s just, for Star Wars, simply being entertained and remaining keen is not enough. On first impressions, The Last Jedi is one of the weakest Star Wars movies. Sadly, it should never have been this way.

-Return to this page as a I review The Last Jedi after each viewing and discuss key questions and moments!

Previews:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – who is Rey?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – who is the last Jedi?

17 December 2017

Main Review (includes Spoilers)

Session: 17:15 14 Dec 2017 – 2D

Nothing! That’s right, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is about nothing! After 2 and half hours (twice over now) of watching this most highly anticipated Star Wars movie, we saw nothing, we learnt nothing and we’re left with nothing. For a film that supposedly would answer so many questions from The Force Awakens, it answered nothing. Those that were answered were almost too ridiculous to be believed. Then there’s the plot. What plot? It was a series of events with no connection, with much of it being heavy sections of pointless dialogue. Most of the new ideas were too contrived or incongruous. The Force became ridiculously more powerful than you could possibly imagine (and I can imagine quite a bit!), unnecessarily comical humour was injected, and there was a sub-plot to a Casino world that, you guessed it, advanced nothing.

You sensed the farce had awakened the moment Luke tossed his light-sabre over his shoulder. How the seminal moment from The Force Awakens was treated with such disdain and frivolity shows the filmmakers simply had no idea how to treat the Star Wars franchise. It was a slap in the face to all fans and no wonder Mark Hamill himself, upon reading the script, said he “pretty much fundamentally disagreed with every choice” made for his character. Extend that to almost every fundamental decision made about every other character. Even Yoda went unscathed. Brought back not for enlightenment or mythical revelation; brought back for comic stupidity.

It seems the filmmakers didn’t want to be accused of being unoriginal and follow the path of The Force Awakens by mimicking almost directly part of the story from the original trilogy. This time The Empire Strikes Back would have been the inspiration, and why not? That’s the best of the series and had the right template. The result being they over-extended – tried to be too different – and the movie got stuck in an identify crisis. It’s Star Wars in terms of setting and characters. It’s not Star Wars in terms of advancing the saga and leaving a legacy. Let’s hope it’s all being saved for episode 9, otherwise there’ll be hell to pay.

THE KEY QUESTIONS NEVER ANSWERED

Who is Rey? Three times they teased us with the revelation, with Kylo Ren eventually providing the most detailed response that Rey’s parents were drunks who sold her for money and are now dead. Seriously? These are the roots of the key character of this trilogy? The other problem is that the film already exposed Kylo as a liar. So who really knows what to believe!

Why was Rey dumped on Jakku? It seems only for one of the best – and perfectly appropriate – jokes in the film. When Rey told Luke she was from nowhere, he said everyone’s from somewhere. She responded Jakku. He said yes, that’s nowhere. Seriously, there must have been a real and important reason Rey was dumped there.

Who is the last Jedi? Meant to be the seminal moment of the film, it was a fizzer. For the entire film the past was to be killed. Luke was adamant the Jedi were over. Yoda even appeared as a force ghost to harness lighting and burn down the Jedi tree. Even typing that sounds as stupid as it actually was! Then, at the end of the film, Luke Force-holograms himself across the galaxy to face Kylo in an anticipated duel, swerves and ducks Kylo’s clumsy slashes of the light-sabre, and just as Kylo realises Luke really isn’t there (just check Luke wasn’t leaving any footprints, you dill!), Luke announces he’s not the last Jedi. We then return to Luke’s remote island to see him sweating profusely in Force hologram mode, collapse from exhaustion, and then vapourise. Yes, writing that sounds as stupid as it actually was too.

Who is Snoke? We don’t know. Not that it matters. He’s one of those token villains like Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous added to cause a bit of mayhem, and then die. Killing him off was about the only correct key decision the film made, and it was a good one! Kylo Ren has higher ambitions than someone’s subordinate, or even leading the Sith.

OTHER PLOT FAILURES

The sub-plot of Finn and Rose to the Casino world of Canto Bight to find a master code-breaker was the most pointless sequence in Star Wars history. First, they were arrested and jailed before they could get to the master code breaker, and it just happened to be a dishevelled bum in the cell with them claimed he could break codes too. Yep, he’ll do! Second, ultimately it did the Resistance more harm than good, so another space battle would have done just as well. The sub-plot only served in a visual sense, and even then it was full of cliched themes and ridiculous political overtones. Surely Star Wars gambling is beyond the dice, card and roulette games seen on Earth, and save your swipes at ultra capitalism, animal exploitation and child labour for a lecture hall. All it did was unnecessarily prolong the film. Then when there was time for a great moment, with Finn about to sacrifice himself by flying into the big cannon, stupid Rose swoops in to knock him away and they both crash. Then somehow he manages to drag her all the way back to the base without being shot!

The Resistance could never catch a break! Tracked through light speed, lost their core leaders like Admiral Ackbar, failed with their escape plan to the salt planet of Crait, and failed to defend the outpost. It was defeat after defeat! If not for the crystal wolves and Rey’s rock-moving powers, the pitiful band of about 20 that remained would have been doomed. There should have been some small wins during the fleeing process, like Han and Leia managed in the corresponding sequence in The Empire Strikes Back.

As we know, Carrie Fisher died in real life after the filming of The Last Jedi, so how do they handle her death in the movie? They don’t. First they surprise us when she’s blown into space in the attack on her cruiser’s bridge (which is strangely lacking any sheilds!) that killed Admiral Ackbar. That’s lame. Surely she deserves better than that. So she twitches into life and glides back to the ship. OK, so now we await the real death. No, it never comes. Noting Fisher died after filming was complete, with CGI and other tricks, something could have been done. Of course, the gravest mistake is her death wasn’t in the script anyhow. As for Ackbar, how was the death of this notable character eulogized to viewers? A curt announcement among the bridge crew. Shame!

The finale. We’re to believe children are the future of the Resistance? Get real. The film was set up nicely with the small Resistance group all huddled on the Millennium Falcon – and that should have been it as the Falcon launched into hyper space. No, an extra scene on Canto Bight of a dopey kid looking at the dopey ring that Rose gave him. Luke should have been convinced to leave his island, physically fight Kylo, and probably die. This would allow Leia and the Resistance to escape, Leia to reveal to Rey the truth about her parents and origins, and then possibly Leia dies from the emotional trauma (as her mother did). It would have been poetic if both Luke and Leia died together.

Too much time spent on both Kylo and Rey wrestling with the dark and light sides of the force. It’s never convincing, nor is it plausible, that Rey would go dark. Nor will Kylo go light until he reaches his ambition of controlling the First Order. To compound the issue, instead of a fight between the two, there’s a Force Duel over Luke’s light-sabre and they tear it apart. The explosion knocks Kylo out and Rey escapes Snoke’s chambers. Snooze! Speaking of that room, it looked like a warehouse with a painted red wall.

Since when is fuel such a strict finite resource in the Star Wars universe? Accept the “lighter and faster” Resistance cruisers could keep out of range of the First Order if I must. Accept that lack of fuel was a valid element to add suspense to the movie I won’t. Am impending ambush might have been better, or even simply the time it took to reach Crait. The Resistance were down to only a few ships already, so no reason to begin popping them off as they ran out of fuel. In fact, the remaining few could have made one final attack to ensure other Resistance members reached the planet surface and could make the distress call. They lost all their main ships, all fighters and nearly all Resistance members anyway, so why not lose them in a blaze of glory. Better than running out of fuel and a dubious side mission to Canto Bight.

Too much talk for no consequence. Telling the Luke/Kylo break-up 3 times was ridiculous. All it showed was that both lied, and then maybe Luke lied again! The mirror section after Rey fell into that dark seaweed hole – another waste. In trying to see her parents she only saw herself. This abstract nonsense should never be in Star Wars. At least she got a sexy new hairstyle from her swim. The telepathic Force connections between Rey and Kylo were too farfetched, and the explanation by Snoke that he created them was later contradicted when Rey and Kylo were still it after Snoke’s death.

Then there’s the talk with contrary consequence. Luke witnesses Rey’s power with the Force and says he’s never been afraid, until now. The next day he’s training her in three simple lessons. Luke is also adamant the Jedi are over. So much so he refuses to go with Rey, loses to her in a brief fight and, with Yoda, confirms the Jedi are over and destroys the Jedi tree and with it the original Jedi texts. Little does he know Rey took the Jedi texts before this point. Then, in what should have been the hero moment of the movie, he pops up on Crait as a hologram and declares he’s not the last Jedi. What the hell changed between burning down the tree and the Force hologram? It further illustrates that this movie had no idea about its direction. It was experimenting way too much instead of sticking to established Star Wars lore. This hero moment should have had the actual hero there, not a hologram. Viewers needed an awe-inspiring moment, not another cheap giggle and absurd contrivance.

Other than Leia’s line to Poe “get your head out of your cockpit”, the use of women in all the main lead roles actually proved an exercise in disaster not female equality. Every single decision they made was wrong, and they left the fleet and the movement obliterated. Purple-hair woman (Vice Admiral Holdo) was the worst of the lot, with the insane decision to keep the escape strategy secret causing the restless Finn and frantic Poe to enact their own plans. That Leia eventually resumed command and could lay the smackdown on mutineer Poe was probably the justification for it. Of course, it wasn’t true equality because the First Order only had a smattering of women, blacks and Asians as subordinates, not any high up in the command chain, like a black Hux or a female Snoke, for example. The only female in a commanding position was Captain Phasma and, yes, you guessed it, she was useless. Maybe that was the whole point – showing women as useless, and so it’s really a male chauvinistic film! Also, rather than bring in an Asian girl (Rose) to swoon over Finn, make it an alien male of some species. Way too hetero-normative and human-normative for my liking!

BB-8 controlling a AT-ST? Not sure about that. Despite being circled by stormtroopers, none of them could shoot him off the thing either. The filmmakers probably went a bit far, too, when BB-8 restored Poe’s weapons with his multi-dexterous, head-spinning shenanigans during the attack on the dreadnought. BB-8 should not be an R2-D2. He needs his own character trajectory. As for the “Darth” BB-8, I was really hoping for more from him.

The movie is too long! At 2:32, it’s 17 minutes longer than The Force Awakens, almost 30 minutes longer than the very original Star Wars movie, and at least 10 minutes longer than all the “prequels”. This further emphasises the self indulgence the filmmakers had with it, not to mention much of the aforementioned talk that went nowhere, and scenes either repeated or pointless. In fact, cut Rose and the entire Canto Bight sub-plot from the movie and you have something that at least wouldn’t be as annoying.

CURIOSITIES

The Force hologram Luke was much different to the real one. Younger, darker clothes and shorter hair, was he so vain?

Despite no gravity in space, the Resistance bombers relied on gravity to drop their bombs, just like on Earth. It can actually be explained in that all objects produce gravity, with the larger the object meaning the stronger the gravity. Those ships are massive – with the dreadnought possibly 50km in length. The official explanation is the bombs are drawn magnetically to their target.

Han Solo’s dice in the Millennium Falcon. It was cool they made a gesture with them by Luke handing them to Leia. Unfortunately, most people wouldn’t know their history – that they’ve always been in the ship (I didn’t) – so it seemed a bit hokey. Plus it was made worse that they were hologram dice, disappearing once Luke did.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

The opening space sequence was unbelievable. In this age of computer generated graphics these sequences never look better. Not only that, they find more ways to keep them thrilling. Rogue One would still lead with the best space battles. The Last Jedi is second.

Snoke’s death was a pleasant surprise, both in the event itself and the method. Also good was Rey and Kylo destroying his red guards. Sadly, that’s when they should have turned to fighting each other directly (not the Force Duel over Luke’s light-sabre), and an explosion caused by the space battle could have been Rey’s means to escape. Or, the explosion from the space battle causes Kylo to be knocked out just as the fight finishes so leaving the fate of their relationship unresolved. If you missed it, the film says Rey escaped in Snoke’s ship. She’d have found the Resistance on Crait by the blue signalling device she and Leia (and sometimes Finn) were wearing.

The kamikaze attack on the First Order fleet. As controversial as a “light speed weapon” is to many observers, it was beautifully shot scene, leaving a surreal, almost peaceful, ambiance on the viewer. It’s therefore a shame it wasn’t Leia at the helm, not Holdo. It would have been true sadness as well, because no one cares a crap about Holdo! So to see Leia go in this way would have been poetic. You could imagine quite easily an alternate narrative to this film that there’s no Casino world shenanigans. Instead it’s merely about reaching Crait, where the real Luke would eventually help. He would not indolent and cynical as currently depicted, nor would his X-Wing be submerged in the sea, and he’d be summoned by the tremor felt in the Force at Leia’s death. The movie carries out as normal, ending with the remaining Resistance group on the Millennium Falcon. Note there’s a porg standing on R2-D2’s head!

The new creatures were fine, especially the puffin-like porgs and their guilt-trip put on Chewbacca for trying to eat one he had roasted. I actually went in thinking they were smarter than they actually were, and one had replaced Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon. The lactating seal/cow thing was a good insight into Luke’s remote existence. Let’s remember, if we lived remotely, we’d be doing the same to cows, or even goats or sheep. Possibly llamas!

We got our nostalgia fix from The Force Awakens, so even though the sight of Leia, especially with Luke, did tug a little, it’s something that should be totally let go for the next film. Even minor things like the “rebel scum” references, it really is time to move on. If Leia had died we would have moved on.

Rey’s theme. It’s quite a beautiful peace of music and has been stuck in my head for days. Rey herself, especially with the new hairstyle, she’s a stunner.

SUMMARY

It’s sad that The Last Jedi, the film meant to answer so many questions, and open some new ones, failed in its most basic duty. It trampled on accepted Star Wars lore for the purpose of lame humour, political messaging and extravagant contrivances. These liberties were all to the detriment of the film and made it the disjointed and underwhelming movie that it is. While it was entertaining enough and I remained interested through both viewings so far, is that enough? It’s not. Star Wars is meant to be compelling, enlightening and thought-provoking, not flippant, comical and leaving you in despair. This one was nothing. It is the worst Star Wars movie, and it’s not even close. Not that all is lost. So much is left now for episode 9 to expose. Along with answering all those questions and finalising the saga in general, one word will hover over it like no other and be the true measure of its success. That word: Redemption.

Rey - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

30 December 2017

Third Review

Session: 15:30 22 Dec 2017 – 3D

You must unlearn what you have learned. That is the message from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and it’s a message that applies to The Last Jedi. With almost every major decision made about the film being wrong, the best way to get the most out of it is to ignore preconceptions, accept its failures, and try to watch it as an independent movie. This being the third viewing, all that I had learned had subsided enough to a degree that I could absorb it as intended, and in that sense it proved the most enjoyable so far. Being in 3D probably also helped, as it provided more to see visually, especially the spectacle of the movie. Other than clarifying minor plot details, I didn’t get anything extra out of it. It’s not a multi-layered film like some of the others. There’s no mysteries or intertwined sub-plots. No revelations. No bonds to the new characters. No emotional legacy. No nothing. It just does its thing in a mostly enjoyable way.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the previous sessions. I did. It’s just that for Star Wars they fell below expectations. When I say expectations, it’s not about quality either. It’s about expectations from the Star Wars series itself. If I want frivolity and humour, I’ll watch something else, not Star Wars, or expect natural human, as with Han Solo and Chewbacca in The Force Awakens. It’s the same reason so many people objected to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. He was an unnecessary, tiresome inclusion. Likewise, in The Last Jedi, was the inane chatter, comic frivolity and the extravagant contrivances. Even then, the likes of Jar Jar had a purpose: to appeal to children. Whereas the inclusions in The Last Jedi, they appeal to the Hollywood elite. You see that glaringly materialise on Rotten Tomatoes, where currently it’s 91% for critics, 51% for the public. It’s the only Star Wars film with such a disparity. If The Last Jedi somehow wins an Oscar for Best Picture, or even gets nominated, that would confirm its failure. Note that Rogue One is currently 85% to 87% and The Force Awakens is 93% to 88%.

The period between the third session a week ago and until now has been spent engaged online with other fans, and learning there’s a massive rebellion against this movie. Despite the childish accusation it’s “haters” and those “impossible to please” forming the rebellion (odd since I’ve loved all 8 others), it’s actually a rebellion of love! The message must be sent with great force to Disney that there can be no repeat for episode 9. Redemption is already the word I’m throwing about, and that redemption is about bringing Star Wars back to Star Wars. There’s already a precedent for this when George Lucas listened after episode 1. Episode 2 pared the frivolity back and introduced unforgettable moments like Yoda fighting Dooku. Then think back to The Last Jedi and try recall something, anything, of that magnitude. There’s nothing. The potential was there, like when Rey and Kylo fought the red guards they could have either fought afterwards or an event could have left their relationship unresolved, and when Luke appeared on the salt planet of Crait it should have been actually him, not a silly hologram. Also Leia should have died in this movie, and it done in an emotional way. “In loving memory of our Princess” in the credits was the only tribute. The Last Jedi really is such a hollow experience that the use of a hologram for the grandstand moment of the film actually proved to be most apt.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Review - Rob J McPherson - Facebook

Excellent comments spotted on Facebook

I plan to see The Last Jedi at least once more time, specifically at IMAX 3D. I saw Rogue One four times and The Force Awakens seven times. Rogue One would have been once more had it hung around the cinemas longer. For episodes 1 to 3, it was 9, 9 and 7 times, respectively. For the originals (episodes 4 to 6), it was once each at the time, and then 4, 4 and 3 times on the 20th anniversary re-release.

BB-8 says I have a bad feeling about this - Star Wars The Last Jedi.

BB-8: “I have a bad feeling about this”. The only time this classic Star Wars line was “heard” in The Last Jedi.

02 April 2018

Fourth Review

Session 18:15 26 Jan 2018 – IMAX 3D

It’s always high anticipation to see a movie at IMAX, and The Last Jedi didn’t disappoint in terms of visuals and sound quality. Again, superb, and really added to the feeling of previous sessions. Particularly that opening battle sequence, that’s something that can be easily watched over and over again. As for the rest of the movie, not so much. I definitely found a decline with the enjoyment factor this time. The third session was easily the best, as I had unlearned some of things I had learned. For the fourth session, I’d relearned those things I had unlearned, and the film’s flaws were again well exposed.

First, my response to an article on IGN title In Defence of Luke Skywalker:

Counter offence against the defence of Luke Skywalker - IGN

Counter offence against the defence of Luke Skywalker

Since this is the last time I saw The Last Jedi at the cinemas, and that the overall feeling of the film is disappointment and anti-climax, here are the 5 scenes guilty of that the most.

Rey hands Luke Skywalker his light-sabre

The seminal scene from The Force Awakens and the one we waited for two years to see its resolution, it was totally destroyed in two seconds. While we expected to see Luke in shock that someone had found him, and with his long lost light-sabre, and that he’d realise the galaxy is in turmoil again and obviously in need of his help. Instead, he tossed it over his shoulder and revealed himself as grumpy, indolent and cynical old fool. Also lost in this moment was an explanation of the “calling ability” of this light-sabre. Remember, this was the one Luke lost in his fight with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, so it had that added mysticism to it, and something you’d think Luke would be surprised and curious at seeing. Instead he treated it like someone had handed him a soggy burrito.

Rey fights Kylo Ren

The Last Jedi did a reasonable job of setting up the conflict between dark and light for both Kylo and Rey, and the quest for one of them to switch sides. Kylo had already restrained himself by not blasting his mother, Leia, into space while Rey couldn’t resist the “dark side” calling her in her attempt to find her real identity. The net result of both of those were anti-climaxes in themselves, with Leia force-gliding back to the ship and Rey confronted by a hall of mirrors. So when the BIG moment came that Kylo killed Snoke instead of Rey, and then Rey helped him wipe out Snoke’s guards, the question was now how would these once arch enemies react. Would they begin to fight each other? Would one of them turn? Would something else happen, like the explosion that eventually rocked the ship and knocked out Kylo, leave the situation unresolved? No. Kylo meekly asks Rey to join him, and Rey said no. Give me a break! Then they had a stupid force-duel over Luke’s light-sabre, which ultimately destroyed it. So that mystical object, the one used to fight Darth Vader, the one that called to Rey, the one that eventually led Rey to Luke, the one that was meant to be the beacon of hope that would help save the galaxy from the First Order, it’s trashed like popping a party cracker. Ridiculous.

Rose saves Finn

Come on! We needed a hero to die, not to mention some sort of success for the Resistence. After all, every single decision and plan they made had resulted in failure. So the moment comes when Finn is about to sacrifice his life by flying into the super cannon and save the Resistance’s base on Krayt. As the moment is about to happen, in flies dopey Rose to knock his skiff away and they both crash. All just so she could provide yet another dopey line, this time about fighting for love, not against hate, and to plant a dopey kiss on him. Puke! Maybe had she, after knocking Finn aside, flown into the cannon herself and destroyed it, it would have been some sort of redeemable quality to easily the worst character ever in Star Wars history. It would also have ensured she’d not be seen in the next film.

Luke Skywalker fights Kylo Ren

So Luke is finally convinced to leave his secret island, goes to help the Resistance, walks out of the base to confront the First Order, they rain fire on him, he emerges, and brushes the dust off his shoulder. While we could have done without yet another stupid comic moment of Luke literally brushing dust off his shoulder, we’re still left bedazzled that the super Jedi master survived! As was Kylo, who, in complete shock, decides to confront Luke man-vs-man. A few swipes of the light-sabre do nothing. Why? Because Luke isn’t really there. It’s a hologram! Are you serious? This epic moment has been reduced to a massive force swindle. Outrageous! The real Luke should have been there, and he should have died a monumental and heroic death, not by self-vapourising from exhaustion while sitting on a remote rock and force-hologramming himself across the galaxy. Just read that last little bit again: “self-vapourising from exhaustion while sitting on a remote rock and force-hologramming himself across the galaxy.” Surely someone, upon reading that in the script, thought, hang on, that’s the dumbest idea ever!

The Finale

What’s left of our heroes finally escape The First Order, as Rey flies in with Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon to rescue them. A cute introduction between Rey and Poe happens, and a beautiful shot of the survivors in the Falcon, complete with a porg on R2-D2’s head. The Falcon jumps into light-speed and disappears into the stars, leaving us knowing there’s hope for the galaxy as our key heroes survive. Perfect! No, wait! They aren’t our heroes anymore. We cut to a dopey scene of a dopey kid with a dopey broom looking up noticing the Falcon streak across the night sky. He’s meant to symbolise the future Resistance. Give me a break. Star Wars is about heroes and legends, not brats. Even worse, they chose a white boy! A white boy, god dammit! Why not a purple haired, black girl with 3 eyes and questioning her sexuality?

As I write this, The Last Jedi is out on blu-ray and DVD, and I’ve been reluctant to buy it. The movie has left a bad taste, and deep down I hope the damn thing gets remade one day. Interesting that George Lucas revealed his original story had Luke surviving into episode 9, trains Leia and dies. Obviously with Carrie Fisher dead, that angle is not feasible, although, it definitely would have been far more fitting had Luke survived into episode 9 and helped fulfil his part in training Rey and passing on the baton. That could still be with the notion Luke is the last Jedi. Rey would begin a new force movement to combat Kylo Ren, whose entire mantra was already to “kill the past” and move beyond the Sith.

Killing the past seemed to be the entire point of The Last Jedi too. That’s fine if you do it gracefully, with a good story and a respectful end to key characters. It’s not by disrespecting the history, the tradition, the ideals and the accepted Star Wars lore we all grew up with and loved. The filmmakers chose to take all of that, rip it into threads, and throw it in our faces. It was treachery of proportions more than I can imagine, and I can imagine quite a bit! That is why The Last Jedi fails.

Star Wars Ranking

1) Ep5: The Empire Strikes Back
2) Ep2: Attack Of The Clones
3) Ep4: A New Hope
4) Ep7: The Force Awakens
5) Rogue One
6) Ep4: Revenge Of The Sith
7) Ep6: Return Of The Jedi
8) Ep1: The Phantom Menace
9) Ep8: The Last Jedi

In time, I expect Rogue One to rise in the list. Other than the slow start, it really was a great movie, full of emotion and had the most epic ending ever.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – who is Rey?

13 December 2017

After Star Wars: The Force Awakens, much speculation surrounded the identity of Rey, who were her parents, and why was she dumped on Jakku.

No, Luke Skywalker is not her father. Remember, the Jedi are forbidden to bonk! Besides, that’s all too convenient.

Is she Leia’s daughter, and therefore Kylo Ren’s brother? Again, that seems a bit too convenient, Han Solo doesn’t know about her either, and Rey’s knowledge of Han Solo is only as a smuggler. Perhaps she had a different father? We might be on the right path here.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - poster

Noting that this current Star Wars saga follows many of the same plot-lines from the original saga, Rey’s father is most likely the same as Anakin Skywalker’s – she had no father. She was an immaculate conception – conceived by the midiclorians. Possibly Leia was the mother, not that it’s relevant – other than the child would have the craziest midiclorian count ever! Whoever it was, the child was identified as hyper sensitive to the force, and Luke and Leia decided her path lay elsewhere.

Even if we presume Rey’s mother is Leia, and possibly her father is Han Solo, why was Rey dumped on Jakku?

Much like when Leia and Luke were separated at birth, so must be the two newest most powerful exponents of the force. If one went dark, there was need for another to restore light. The separation also acted as the ultimate test to determine if Rey was the next “chosen one”, and whether she, herself, was ready to fulfil her destiny. Despite the strong pull to stay on Jakku and hope for her family to return, she ultimately had to break that connection, discover Luke’s light-sabre, understand and harness her nascent powers, and then find Luke. Only with the Force as her strong ally could she achieve this.

Who dumped Rey on Jakku?

Leia, of course!

The key proof is when Leia and Rey reunite at the end of the film. Up to this point, Rey had no idea the woman that dumped her on Jakku was now leader of the Resistance. Upon seeing Leia, you can clearly see in Rey’s face revelation, realisation and then relaxation that General Leia was the one that dumped her on Jakku. Rey now fully knew her role in the universe, knew why all the events of her life had happened, and knew she was the one to find Luke.

The next mystery: Who is the last Jedi?

Why I voted Yes in the Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite

15 November 2017

As the self-proclaimed defender of freedom, democracy and true equality, it was a simple decision to vote Yes in Australia’s Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey. There were issues surrounding the vote, notably the bullying and abuse from the totalitarian left, the general erosion of both freedom of thought and personal values, and the increasing bigotry towards certain religions, notably Christianity. It’s quite fascinating that Muslims and the aboriginal community hold far more stricter and entrenched views on marriage than Christians, yet they are never torn to shreds by the ever increasing elitist and pompous national media. Important as those issues are, they can be dealt with later, and it would be unfair to entwine them with gay marriage because, as totally separate issues, they actually have a far greater reach into our lives than the minor detail of government recognising your personal relationship.

ssm-ballot2

Freedom

Despite the quaint slogan “Marriage Equality”, the true issue about changing our marriage laws is freedom. The freedom to marry anyone you like. Marriage Equality technically would be about equality within the institution of marriage, particular that each partner get equal rights. In truth, they often don’t, particularly with the likes custody of children, distribution of assets and alimony – all skewed heavily towards the female. Of course, with a gay couple, gender can’t really play a role, so it will be interesting to see if precedents and principles set by the courts when deciding same-sex divorces extends into all divorces. The “slippery slope” argument that gay marriage would open the door to polygamous and polyamorous marriages, while technically should be allowed in the strict definition of “freedom”, was nonsense because such marriages have never been seen as socially acceptable in Western societies, nor has there been a serious movement to allow them.

Democracy

Marriage is a social issue that’s been entwined in human culture for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The people own it, not government, so it was absolutely the right thing to do to officially survey the nation. While we may hyperventilate about the reported $120 million in costs, it’s quite ironic that most of these people doing this whinging have zero concern that the nation blows 10 times that much every single month simply paying interest on our national debt. Also nonsense is that gay people will suffer extreme psychological trauma, even suicide, from “the debate” when it’s the Yes campaign full of vitriol, hate and nastiness towards anyone that might even remotely consider a reason marriage should be kept traditional. The truth is that these totalitarians, particularly those in the Labor and Greens parties, hate democracy. They also recently spent 6 years in power debasing gay marriage into a wedge issue. Political bigotry at its worst! If it wasn’t bad enough that the centre-right Liberals are about to legalise gay marriage, the totalitarians are further riled at the prospect that the people would force the issue. How dare they! Suck it up, snivelling politicians. You had your chance many times and blew it.

As it proved, at ground level, people were excited to campaign for their cause and to vote, and the tears at the overwhelming 61.6% vote for Yes was out of jubilation of the national embrace of gay couples, not sorrow from the undue stressed of voting, and it will serve as a shining mark on our nation’s history. It’s also good to see that the No campaign has respected the democratic outcome, not resort to protest and riots like juvenile delinquents as the totalitarian left is prone to do when democracy doesn’t go their way (eg: Brexit, Donald Trump). The only real error was the government should have attached the question at the last election, not mess around trying to pass a compulsory plebiscite through a hostile senate, before ultimately settling on an optional postal vote. Speaking of an optional vote, the 79.7% response shows Australians don’t need the threat of a fine to vote. Compulsory voting is a blight on our democracy, and despite our conceited belief it’s the best voting system, we’re actually in the severe minority with not only compulsory voting, also compulsory preferential voting that means we’re forced to vote for parties we hate.

True Equality

This area was always my main quibble. In truth, there’s no true equality. Typically with a discriminatory law, you repeal it, not extend it by adding a new definition or clause. The government shouldn’t really have any say in how you live your life. Except, we as people, over the years, have conferred upon government to be the arbiters of this social institution of marriage. This is where the No campaign missed their moment. Gay marriage was inevitable so there should have been a petition long ago to separate the legal framework of marriage from the ceremonial one. The official government recognition would be a “civil union”, with “marriage” the ceremony. The ceremony, even in a church, would have no legal ramifications. Only the civil union, either at at town hall or in front of a justice of the peace, would – and it would involve a prenuptial agreement, or “civil contract”, of sorts. At present, the worst part of marriage is that to obtain some rights important to your relationship exposes you to many rights you don’t want. Not to forget the hassle and stress caused by the uncertainty and expense with the courts when handling your divorce. That actually is far more likely to see people traumatised, and even commit suicide, than the debate to recognise their relationships in the first place. Ultimately the Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite has ended in happy and celebratory ending, and I’m for one am glad I’ll be able to look back in years time and be proud of my role in changing the marriage laws. Australia, well done.

Australia rejoices at the resounding Yes vote in the Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey

Australia rejoices at the resounding Yes vote in the Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey

ssm-joy3

Australia rejoices at the resounding Yes vote in the Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey

Australia rejoices at the resounding Yes vote in the Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey

Australia rejoices at the resounding Yes vote in the Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite. Top is Senator Penny Wong, and second is Christine Forster, Sydney councillor and sister of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. All images courtesy of news.com.au.

Melbourne Cup 2017 – Preview and Review!

6 November 2017

With Winx such the dominant headline maker throughout the spring, the Melbourne Cup has suddenly crept up on us. There hasn’t been much thought about it – until now with the final jostling for positions in the race. On first inspection of the field, it was a case of “who” for about half the field. After a few preview shows and reading the newspaper,  suddenly the horses are like old friends and excitement is mounting.

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Time for my annual selections, and hopefully they’re much better since I started posting them on this blog. Ironically they’ve been poor, even despite a few outsiders winning like Green Moon in 2012 and Prince of Penzance in 2015. My last two big wins were 2010 and 2011 with Americain and Dunaden. When I say big, I mean BIG!

Also, the Melbourne Cup is evolving. The international horses have firmly taken hold, whereas before 2010, they’d be regarded as scratchings. Even then, 2010 and 2011 were both French horses, while Protectionist in 2014 was German, so it’s fair enough to be skeptical of British horses. Even the Irish ones are in a significant drought, with Media Puzzle in 2002 the last winner. Also it’s worthwhile to be skeptical of international horses that haven’t had a preparation run in Australia. Since Vintage Crop in 1993, almost 100 first-timers have run and failed, mostly abysmally. Fifteen placings by 12 individual horses is the closest they’ve come.

Speaking of skepticism, the Caulfield Cup continues its poor guide to the Cup. Whereas once it was a pivotal guide, now it’s almost useless. The last Melbourne Cup winner to even run in it was Delta Blues in 2006, who finished third. It’s become almost a b-grade race full of horses that can’t get into the Melbourne Cup (due to proliferation of international runners), while horses targeting the Melbourne Cup don’t want to risk a penalty for winning the Caulfield Cup. Consequently organisers are removing that condition, and will raise prize money to make it a stronger stand-alone race of its own. It’s only possible value these days is noting the preparation run of any international horses.

The Field & Current Odds

1) Hartnell $26

Third last year when in much better form so easy to ignore. He’s a class horse, and they’re trying a new approach to run him fresher in the Cup, so a win wouldn’t surprise.

Result: Didn’t quite run it out last year, and in weaker form this year, was beaten a long way out. 20th

2) Almandin $9

Last year’s winner and returned to the spring with a solid win, then a poor run. Also up 5.5kg on his original handicap weight last year (4.5kg up on race weight). Repeat winners are rare so will risk it.

Result: The weight and history told. 12th

3) Humidor $10

Second to Winx in the Cox Plate and the class local horse. Running the 3200 metres is a query and he’s very temperamental and prone to over-racing. That’s enough to ignore him.

Result: Failed at distance as expected. 19th

4) Tiberian $26

The son of a “teaser”. These are horses that get mares “into the mood” before the stallion arrives to do his job. Studs give the teasers a few shots at the end of the season to keep them interested, and occasionally something is produced than can run. It would be remarkable if that could be a Melbourne Cup winner. Tiberian has solid form so I might have something “small” on him. Otherwise, as an international that hasn’t run here, better to ignore.

Result: Started a long run 1400 metres from home, cruised up heading into the straight and only battled to the line. Disappointing. 7th

5) Marmelo $8

An international than ran home well in the Caulfield Cup. That proves he’s settled in, and with his obvious class and Hugh Bowman, Australia’s best jockey on board, is one of the ones to beat.

Result: A nice run just off the lead and then could only battle to the line. Another disappointment. 9th

6) Red Cardinal $18

Last start flopped; before that great. Had he a preparation run here, he’d be favourite. Do you want to risk it? He could be the one that finally breaks the fist-timer international hoodoo. Has last year’s winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy on board. He should cope with the widest barrier of 24, having done so (if I recall accurately) in 2000 with Brew. The widest is not too bad as it gives you a choice to drop back. If you’re a few horses in, then those out wide can dictate your settling position.

Result: Got into a good position and then, like Tiberian and Marmelo, battle to the line. 11th

7) Johannes Vermeer $10

I always liked this until a few others overtook him. I might still return. Third in the Caulfield Cup if that matters and solid in previous runs, with his only doubt being untested over the distance. These days, a distance doubt is a big doubt.

Result: Sprinted clear and looked the winner to be pipped 50 metres out. The jockey said the horse was going so fast he was surprised anything else could go better. 2nd

8) Bondi Beach $61

Previous Melboune Cup runs 16th and 13th. Says it all.

Result: Failed twice before, failed again. 22nd

9) Max Dynamite $15

Second two years ago and arguably should have won. Was then injured and has only run 4 times, in low grade races, since. He’s a leap of faith.

Result: Couldn’t sprint with the other two. A fabulous effort nonetheless for such a horse light on runs and up in age. 3rd

10) Ventura Storm $34

Disappointing in the Caulfield Cup. Pass.

Result: Disappointing in the Melbourne Cup. Couldn’t run the distance and out-classed. 21st

11) Who Shot Thebarman

Scratched

12) Wicklow Brave $61

Failed last year and in poorer form.

Result: Got some money this time by sneaking into the top 10. Again it proves one of the golden Melbourne Cup rules of failed before means fail again. 10th

13) Big Duke $19

Probably out-classed.

Result: Over-achieved. Class did tell ultimately. 4th

14) US Army Ranger $61

International runner in poor recent form and no preparation run. No.

Result: Never a factor as expected. 18th

15) Boom Time $31

Caulfield Cup winner at $31. Says a lot about the horse and the race.

Result: Failed to run the trip and out-classed. 15th

16) Gallante $101

Previous Cup failure and out-classed.

Result: The first one beaten. 23rd

17) Libran $41

Seems out-classed. A place hope at absolute best.

Result: Ran well enough to grab some prize money. 8th

18) Nakeeta $34

A Scottish horse, so would be a great irony if it could win for Britain before an English horse does. Won “Britain’s Melbourne Cup” – the Ebor in York – which only rarely is a good guide to the Melbourne, and that’s when the winner wins impressively. Not this year. Nakeeta only snuck in. Because the Ebor is a handicap, it’s often regarded as a poor race and good horses generally ignore it.

Result: Ran on late after being left behind in the sprint. A good result overall. 5th

19) Single Gaze $41

A mare that stuck on well for second in the Caulfield Cup. Wary of both mares and the Caulfield Cup, so will pass.

Result: The jockey said the horse was flattened, was shuffled back four pairs than preferred, and never recovered. That’s always the fear with mares. 17th

20) Wall Of Fire $12

With unsuccessful attempts at both of his 3200 races, only a doubt at the distance here. An international that finished second in his preparation run in the Herbert Power, and drops 5kg for the Melbourne Cup. It’s the pattern Protectionist’s year in 2014, except he was German and Wall Of Fire is English. If it’s a slower pace, I can imagine Wall Of Fire sprinting clear, otherwise his run will end 200 metres out, or sooner.

Result: Even though he clearly didn’t run the trip, a bit better was expected. 16th

21) Thomas Hobson $20

An international without a preparation run and seems a plodder with recent runs up 4355 metres. These types typically get out-sprinted.

Result: From the same stable as Max Dynamite and Wicklow Brave, so the trainer definitely knows his stuff, and collectively the three horses won over $700,000 in prize money. Otherwise, he was always a plodder and got left behind in the sprint. Another 800 metres and he might just catch them. 6th

22) Rekindling $14

Another international without a preparation run, and he’s a 3yo too. They often struggle with the big field and hustle and bustle of a Melbourne Cup. In fact, many internationals do, which is why a preparation run is so important.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Result: Obviously coped with the big field and the weight difference to the older horses told in the end. In retrospect, with his good form in Europe and the lower weight, was obviously up there as one of the leading internationals. The problem is you don’t know. No preparation run and a 3yo, historically it means failure. 1st

23) Amelie’s Star $21

A mare that ran poorly in the Caulfied Cup. Yes, despite the heroics of Makybe Diva between 2003 and 2005, mares have a poor record in the Cup.

Result: Failed at distance and out-classed. 14th

24) Cismontane $51

Or “kiss my arse” as always hearing the name evokes. Yes, kiss my arse for its chances too. A Gai Waterhouse horse, and she’ll tell you it will win in a canter. Will most likely lead until being swamped heading into the straight.

Result: Despite being out-classsed, stuck on well enough. 13th

Summary

I’m locked into Marmelo. Although, if it fails, I’ll swear off the Caulfield Cup as any sort of a guide. Then it’s a toss up between Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire. The former arguably has the best credentials and is an international without a preparation run, while the latter is only just behind on credentials and has a distance doubt. Red Cardinal will be at juicier odds so that most likely will sway me. In fourth I’ll stick with Johannes Vermeer. For an outsider, I’ll go Libran.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!


Result

So an international horse without a preparation run in Australia wins the Melbourne Cup. It’s only the second time since the first time in 1993. Overall, it was a sterile, bland Cup. Rekindling wasn’t heavily favoured even by those “in the know”, while conspicuously quiet post race. If the second and third placed horses, Johannes Vermeer or Max Dynamite, had won, things might have been different. Without trainer Joseph O’Brien beating his father Aidan O’Brien to winning the Cup, there wasn’t even an interesting story from this year’s race. The only Cup more underwhelming than this one was 2012 with Green Moon.

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results. Image: news.com.au

Despite a first-up international winning, the lesson still is to largely ignore such horses. While Max Dynamite followed his second from 2 years ago, the rest mostly failed, with the next best Nakeeta in fifth. Favoured horses such as Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire finished 11th and 16th respectively. Each year, while one or two will race well, it’s a lottery to know the exact one. The second lesson is distance. At least half the field failed to run it out. Third lesson is class. Other than Big Duke in fourth, the outsiders ran as expected. Then there’s the Caulfield Cup. While Johannes Vermeer finished third in it, again it failed to produce the winner… nor the third placed horse, nor fourth, nor fifth… all the way up to eighth. Marmelo was the next best in ninth.

Johannes Vermeer will be one to watch next year. Near winners do have a good record the following year as they are often a bit stronger and tougher and haven’t suffered a weight penalty. Unlike the winner, in this case Almandin, which is typically penalised around 4 kgs for the following year The question for Johannes Vermeer is whether a precocious lightweight will emerge. That’s why he was beaten this year.

mc17-03a

Often the more interesting fillies are the two-legged variety. Image: news.com.au

Personally it was a wipeout. Johannes Vermeer needed to win for me as I never bet place. With the likes of Marmelo, Red Cardinal, Tiberian and Wall Of Fire all failing, all my multiples went up in flames. Oh well, there’s always next year… and the year after… and the year after!

 

Baltic Bicycling – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

08 October 2017

In May of this year, I took a trip to the former Soviet countries of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have all moved on from their past to forge themselves as distinctive, unique and modern independent countries, with all three in the European Union, using the Euro as currency and very friendly for tourists. Parts of Ukraine have aspirations of that, notably the region around the capital of Kyiv. In the south-west, as we’ve seen with the situation in Crimea, the large Russian populations in those areas are highly resistant to it. Even without that, Ukraine still has a long journey to EU status – particularly with its visa requirements and lower standard of living. Belarus is much more proudly Russian – at least culturally – while beginning to make moves for better integration into Europe. Visa requirements are tougher than Ukraine in the sense they need to be obtained before travel whereas Ukraine allows visa-on-arrival for short term visits for certain countries like Australia. Very few people speak English in Belarus, and they don’t want to learn, while the young in Ukraine are generally proficient. Neither are friendly for tourists in terms of basic city maps and tourist offices, and the Cyrillic alphabet in use doesn’t make things easier either. Eventually, as with any foreign city, you quickly learn to get by and get around, and many of these traits become one of their charms.

TALLINN – Estonia

Viru Gate - Tallinn Estonia

Viru Gate – Tallinn, Estonia

I’ve been to Estonia 7 times on 5 different trips and I can’t stop going back. There’s truly something magical about this “modern day fairytale” that is the capital Tallinn, and the adorable little country as a whole. I was lured there for the first time in 2008 primarily to see a band called Vanilla Ninja, and never could I believe that Tallinn would leave almost an equally indelible memory as the band did – especially since this was my first ever trip to Europe and I expected the real highlights to be cities like Paris and Berlin. It’s Tallinn’s medieval charm, technologically advanced society, ease to get around and beautiful Estonian people that makes it such a winning combination. Obviously it’s my favourite European city with the Old Town the perpetual highlight. I never tire of walking the winding cobbled streets, and now, after so many visits, I can proudly say I can do so without getting lost.

Culture

With its compact size, small population of 450,000 people, and abundance of buses, trolley-buses and trams, it’s a city not in great need of cycling. There are two exceptions: 1) Estonians are an active people so there’s a good deal of recreational cycling, particularly along Pirita Beach and nearby national parks, and typically riders are in full cycling garb of lycra and helmets; 2) Going through the Old Town is the quickest way from one side of the city to the other, and the bicycle is the best and most convenient method for that. Overall, most cycling is general utility type, and mostly on footpaths in the city centre. The roads that circumnavigate the city lack space for bicycles and are quite busy so Estonians will hop onto the footpath in these cases. Footpaths are good and are often wide enough to be marked with a bike lane. Motorists, while seemingly always in a hurry, are considerate to both cyclists and pedestrians. Numbers of riders are good, at easily 5 times as many as you see in Australia, and gender split was even, if not slightly in favour of women.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Bike Share

Only a small network with stations accommodating about 10 bikes. Most locals use their own bikes, while tourists can easily walk, or take a bus to the more distant sites, notably the Tallinn TV Tower and the adjacent Soviet Era Museum. Bike touring is popular, and there you’d use a specialised rental service.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Helmet Use

For general utility cycling, barely any. On sports bikes for exercising, mostly helmets. Helmets are compulsory for children under 16. When I hired a bike, I made it known I didn’t want a helmet. They said they could lend me one if I wanted one. I recoiled in horror and said no way. When I explained I was from Australia wanting to escape helmet tyranny, again I was asked whether I wanted a helmet.

Rating

4/5

PÄRNU – Estonia

Old Town - Parnu

Old Town – Pärnu, Estonia

A small seaside town of 40,000 people in southern Estonia, the only reason for a stop there was to see Lenna Kuurmaa, the former lead singer of Vanilla Ninja, in concert. “Concert” might be an exaggeration because it was actually an intimate setting in a 100 year old barn 20km out of town. That actually made it all the more special! This concert was scheduled after plans for this trip were done so it was great fortune I could be there at the right time. Pärnu’s main claim to fame is its huge beaches, resorts and spas. Estonians (and Finns) flock there during the summer.

Culture

Typical for most small towns, cycling is so easy and convenient to get around, and that’s no different here. Numbers are about double than Tallinn and the gender split is even.

Cycling in Parnu Estonia

Bike Share

None

Helmet Use

None

Rating

4/5

RIGA – Latvia

Freedom Monument - Riga, Latvia

Freedom Monument – Riga, Latvia

Situated on the Daugava River, Riga is another pearl of the Baltic, and this was my third visit. While not as picturesque or alluring as Tallinn, it’s not without its charms, especially the huge market housed in former zeppelin hangars, the quaint canal running through the city, and its Old Town. Although, unlike Tallinn’s mostly original Old Town, much of Riga’s was rebuilt after being flattened in World War 2. There’s more of a Russian feel to the city, with a greater percentage of Russians (45% compared to 30%), a hint of a Russian sound to the language and dilapidated sections. Estonia is more a Nordic nation, with better roads and more modern buildings, while the Estonian language is closely related to Finnish. Population is about 50% more than Tallinn at 650,000 and you can definitely feel Riga is a much busier city than its Baltic neighbours.

Culture

There seems as many buses and trolley-buses as there are cars at times, so again, like Tallinn, not much need for bicycles in the city centre. Also similar to Tallinn, mostly you’ll see riders cruising through the Old Town, and the banks of the river take the place of Tallinn’s Pirita Beach. Latvians are really into extreme sports, so you’re more likely to see BMX bikes than the sporty road and mountain bikes of the Estonians. While the gender split was even, numbers riding seemed a bit less than Tallinn. Age-wise, it favours the young, just as it did in Tallinn. Older people stick with public transport.

Cycling in Riga Latvia

Bike Share

Probably a bit bigger than Tallinn’s, and has a bit more use, particularly by tourists.

Helmets

Barely any. According to wikipedia, only those under 12 are required to wear them.

Rating

3/5

VILNIUS – Lithuania

Neris River - Vilnius, Lithuania

Neris River – Vilnius, Lithuania

The third of the Baltic countries, this was my first visit and a really pleasant surprise. Despite being in the region so often before, I never came across anyone to recommend Vilnius, and I knew little about Lithuania either. The one exception was that with Lithuania being in the European Union, I expected it to be quite tourist friendly. So it proved! My best description of Vilnius is the “Paris of the North”. There’s so many cafes around, so much variety of restaurants, quaint side streets everywhere, and the supermarkets were overflowing with options. I’d just been in Belarus and Ukraine prior, so seeing the variety – and a familiar alphabet to help identify stuff – it was like heaven. In fact, the supermarkets in all three countries were superb. They have so many fresh options. Australia is only now catching up. To top it off, Vilnius is a wonderfully functional city and has the best bicycling scene in the region. It was the inspiration for this blog post and the point I began to take photos of cyclists. The city’s population is about 550,000.

Culture

Cycling seems ingrained in the people, as there’s all sorts of people getting around on bikes. The city, with its small streets and low speed limits, obvious facilitates as much bike use as possible. Mostly, the citizens of Vilnius want to cycle. They seem so happy on their bikes, and proud too. Vilnius even has the most courteous behaviour I’ve ever witnessed towards cyclists. A car decided to double-park on Gedimimas Avenue and did so about about 2 metres from the curb so not to block the bike lane. Yep, his attitude was, “If I’m to inconvenience someone, it will be a motorist”. The second astonishing act was a woman riding along the footpath to a bus, get off the bike, and then carry the bike into the bus. No bother! The only thing you could nitpick in Vilnius – as in all these countries – is it does lack separated bike lanes. Mostly they are painted lines. With the streets quite small and without the sheer population volume like in Copenhagen, it’s not really practical for anything more anyway. Considering the bike lanes are all quite wide and connected, and with speed limits low and with a full deference to cyclists on display, and with footpath cycling allowed, it also proves quite sufficient.

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Bike Share

Flourishing. Plenty of bikes and plenty of stations. There’s also good rental opportunities for cycling along the river, which is also well used by locals for transport purposes.

Bike-share cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Helmet Use

Barely any. There could be a law for those under 18. If it does exist, it’s obviously not enforced because I saw plenty of younger people going without.

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Top right: this woman took her bike into a bus. Bottom right: this car is double-parked wide enough so not to block the bike lane.

Rating

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

5/5

Elsewhere…

MINSK – Belarus

Independence Square - Minsk, Belarus

Independence Square – Minsk, Belarus

Minsk is a very interesting city. Flattened during World War 2, it was rebuilt in a communist utopian style. It’s very clean and tidy and, despite a population of 2 million people, uncrowded. Unlike the countries to the north, Belarusians aren’t intent on purging their Soviet history so there’s plenty of remnants, particularly symbols, throughout the city and in subway stations. Roads and footpaths are wide, and there’s plenty of walking spaces in general. Consequently it’s easy and safe to get around by bicycle. Intersections on main roads have underpasses for pedestrians, which helps keep traffic flowing and pedestrians don’t need to wait at lights. That means riders must dismount and wheel their bikes underneath to get across. That’s a not a great concern as there are ramps along one side of the stairwell for wheeling bikes, prams or shopping carts.

Culture

For general bicycle use, there’s two distinct types of riders. Belarusians are a sports-minded people, and consequently many ride around on flashy mountain or road bikes, and typically with full cycling garb and helmets. Possibly they’ve come on longer commutes or are riding recreationally along the Svislach River and it’s only the sections closer to the city centre they are on the footpaths. Most of these are men. Given the vast boulevards in the city, most cycling in the city centre is on footpaths. The other class, which would be about 70% of all riders, are in normal clothes on basic bikes and no helmets, with gender favouring women slightly. Minsk is well served with a metro system and buses, so cycling numbers are at the lower end compared to other European nations.

Helmets

On expensive bikes, yes. On basic bikes, no. Legal requirements: none. Curiously, I saw this sign in Gorky Park warning cyclists not to ride down stairs.

Cycling in Minsk, Belarus

Rating

4/5

KYIV – Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine during the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017

Kyiv, Ukraine, during the Eurovision Song Contest

Kyiv was the start of the trip before moving north. It’s a tired city, with bumpy roads, crumbling footpaths and many, many old and ugly buildings. Clearly it’s a legacy of the Soviet era, and being a large city of 3 million people, it will take time and considerable money to transform things. That’s not to say the city doesn’t function well. It’s easy to get around on the metro and the many bus and trolley-bus options, and most of the city’s key attractions are within walking distance or a few stops away on the metro. Key retail centres are within walking distance too. Everything is so cheap, at about 20% the cost of something in Australia. A subway ride is 20c, a fast-food meal is $2 and a 600ml coke between 50c and 80c. In US dollars that would be about 15c, $1.50 and between 40c and 60c. As you go north, prices rice. Minsk is about double while Estonia and Lithuania are double again. Latvia is a bit cheaper than its two neighbours. Overall, all three Baltic countries are still quite cheaper than other European destinations, especially if you compare across the Baltic Sea to the Nordic countries.

Culture

In the busy city centre, there’s not much. Parts of the city are quite hilly so that makes it more difficult. Once you get a few kilometres out and into the residential areas, while not in prolific quantities, there are plenty of old bikes and people of all types cruising about doing their stuff. Even though there’s almost zero infrastructure or bike lanes to speak of, these local urban roads are quiet and safe. Occasionally, particularly along the Dnipro River, you’ll see more sporty types.

Helmets

Other than a few sporty type of cyclists around, none. No legal requirement for anyone either.

Bike Share

A small one and only moderately used. There’s simply better transport options about for most people.

Rating

2/5

Conclusion…

The lesson from all these countries is that if you want more people cycling, you need to remove all barriers to cycling, change your attitude to cycling, and be accommodating to cycling. You don’t need to go crazy with Copenhagen-style separate bike-lanes to get people cycling. Cheap and simple things like lower speed limits in urban areas, bike lanes where possible and allow people to ride on footpaths is enough to send the right message. Most of all it’s to treat cycling as a distinct class of transport and creating the right image so that the instinct for people to go somewhere is to get on a bike. It should be second nature, not an exercise of helmets, special clothes, special bikes and wrestling with traffic.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Yours truly after experiencing a day of cycling in Tallinn, Estonia, free of helmet tyranny.

For the curious, Lenna Kuurmaa, ironically with a band called Traffic, with her most recent song, Varjud: