Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Magician’s Musings..

A Review of The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar.
This review contains spoilers. A LOT of spoilers. So, if you haven't seen the episodes yet, I strongly suggest you don't read any further! It also contains opinions. Mine. If you dislike dissenting opinions, again, this really isn't the place for you. Lastly, it contains swearing. If this bothers you, go and Google some pictures of kittens!
The Magician’s Apprentice opens on a battlefield. War has clearly been raging for centuries, and to hammer this point home, we are presented with soldiers armed with bows and arrows, and laser equipped biplanes (one assumes that The Wright Brothers made a pit stop on Skaro at some point). Amidst the chaos stands a lone child...

Meanwhile, on Earth, all the planes have mysteriously stopped, mid flight.  Someone wants our attention. Someone is looking for The Doctor...
UNIT, (who will forever be United NATIONS Intelligence Taskforce, and not the insipid sounding "Unified Intelligence Taskforce) are present, although hopelessly underused. The notion that they would telephone Clara at work seems rather far-fetched, and, as a casual observation, their headquarters seems to be somewhat lacking in the central heating department!
It rapidly transpires that Missy is responsible for the sudden aeronautical anomaly, and she wastes no time in making her presence felt. The scenes with the aircraft seem rather unnecessary, and add little to the story. Surprisingly, at least for me, Missy is on fine form, willing to kill without compunction, and is, at times, reminiscent of the cold, calculating Master(s) of old. I have never been a huge fan of Missy, however, she is starting to grow on me.

Unfortunately, her Master-like qualities are frequently undermined by the over the top, pantomime characterisation. The "look at me, I'm bananas" shtick is wearing thin. This is no reflection on Michelle Gomez; John Simm's overly frenetic portrayal of The Master suffered from the same flaw.

Missy is not alone in her quest for The Doctor. The sinister Colony Sarff also seeks an audience with the titular Time Lord. Or, more specifically, his employer requires a last reckoning with The Doctor. As is quickly established, his employer is none other than Davros...

The concept of Colony Sarff is superb, and is, for the most part, well realised, although the CGI snake was less than spectacular. CGI, over the past few years, has been variable in quality, to say the least, and Sarff's transformation is arguably one of the weaker uses of the technology.
The Doctor's entrance, complete with guitar and, for no apparent reason, a tank, felt rather protracted and unnecessary. Missy comments that seeing the Doctor without a sonic screwdriver is "something new"; one can only assume she has forgotten her encounters with the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Similarly, Colony Sarff's search for the Doctor seems rather redundant, given Bors, played beautifully by Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, is a Dalek agent. Whether he has always been so, or whether he was converted by Sarff's snakes is unclear. If the answer is the former, then Sarff's quest for the Doctor is completely inexplicable; if the latter explanation is to be believed, one can only surmise that Daleks have found a way of training snakes in the subtle art of eyestalk installation! As a side note, I've never understood why Dalek agents have eyestalks. The audience is perfectly capable of understanding the concept of treachery, and since human Dalek agents have perfectly functional eyes, the eyestalk seems both silly and superfluous.
Back on Skaro, the Doctor encounters Davros, and this gives Julian Bleach the opportunity to reprise the role, and he does so beautifully. His portrayal of Davros is on a par with Michael Wisher and Terry Molloy, and seeing him face the Twelfth Doctor is a joy. The two bounce dialogue back and forth with a natural, believable conviction.

Equally, the revelation of Skaro's return works surprisingly well, although "the Daleks brought it back" is a rather lazy explanation for its sudden reappearance. Nevertheless, Skaro IS back, and it looks superb. Seemingly, Davros has managed to retain a pile of CCTV tapes, including conversations between the Fourth Doctor, and his companions, Sarah and Harry. Given the episode is clearly shaping up to be a companion piece to Genesis of the Daleks, it makes sense, but ultimately it is fanwank. It is also rather problematic that Davros has had the (a) sonic screwdriver in his possession for the best part of his life, and yet has only just remembered what it is. This is one of the problems with retconning classic stories.
The Magician’s Apprentice is flawed. Deeply flawed. It has laboured scenes which last far longer than are necessary, is full of self referential nonsense, with Moffat retconning his way into the "Classic" timeline yet again. And yet, despite this, the episode (for the most part) works surprisingly well. Tanks and guitars aside, Capaldi is absolutely mesmerising, and Bleach is utterly chilling as Davros.
The Witch’s Familiar opens with the wholly unsurprising revelation that Missy and Clara are still very much alive, and from here, unfortunately (at least for this viewer), it all goes downhill rather rapidly. With the exception of one scene the episode is, frankly, rather dull.
Davros, who "would not survive more than 30 seconds" without his life support system (briefly demonstrated by the Fourth Doctor, in Genesis), nor without his connection to the cables, which, through the Daleks, sustain his life, was unceremoniously plucked from his chair, and thrown to the floor, where he seemed to be surviving just fine, however this felt completely out of character, even for a darker, more sullen Doctor. That the Doc would take a disabled man, no matter how evil, and treat him with such a callous regard felt wrong on every level.

The Doctors appearance with a cup of tea in hand, falls completely flat; "I'm the Doctor, accept it" is the punchline to a bad, unexplained joke. While these moments are intended as humorous, some logic behind the gag should exist, and plucking a cup of tea out of nowhere, with no plausible explanation, adds nothing to the scene. Similarly, the notion that Daleks cannot die, and disappear off to a sewer, only to rear their heads when poked by insane Time Ladies armed with a twig seemed rather silly.

Of all the scenes throughout the two episodes, perhaps the least enjoyable, and most nonsensical, was Clara inside a Dalek. The idea that any attempt at expressing emotion triggers weaponry, particularly when it has already been established that the Daleks have had emotion removed, is perfectly ridiculous. It has been established, repeatedly, that Daleks are perfectly capable of using "positive words" such as "mercy" or "pity"; they simply have no concept of them. In true Moffat revisionist style, however, any attempt to utter words such as "mercy" are now automatically converted into energy for their weaponry. It is also evident from the episode that Daleks are able to use names; the Supreme Dalek refers to Clara, by name, several times, so quite why Clara the Dalek is unable to say her own name, without it being translated into "I am a Dalek", is baffling. At her most "Master-like", Missy's attempt to get the Doctor to kill Clara was, perhaps, one of the highlights of The Witch’s Familiar.
The finest scene, however, comes between the dying Davros, and the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi and Bleach absolutely nailed it! The dialogue, whilst heavily poached, in places, from Genesis, works very well. I am less than enthusiastic about Davros having real eyes; rather than lending credence to the scene, it smacked off Moffat's revisionism of a classic character, "because he can". Personally, I thought Davros' deception, and the Doctor's anticipation of said deception, let the scene down badly. The concept of an almost repentant Davros was a fascinating avenue to explore, and I was almost sold on his deathbed epiphany.

The non-linear nature of Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar certainly won't appeal to everyone. Spanned across two weeks, the format doesn't quite gel for me. Watching the feature length "omnibus" edition makes for a much more pleasurable experience. The denouement is a lazy grandfather paradox, with the Doctor instilling the concept of mercy into a juvenile Davros, to save his friend in the future. It also leaves no doubt that the Doctor had no intentions of killing the young Davros. Of course, we know he wouldn't, or indeed, couldn't, have done so, but the idea of his contemplating it would have been a dilemma worth exploring. As much as I enjoyed Joey Price's portrayal of a frightened, impressionable young Davros, I'm glad his scenes were brief. Davros' backstory has already been covered, extensively and capably, by Big Finish, in the stellar 'I, Davros' audio series. That Moffat chose not to encroach on this was a wise move, particularly given his predilection for revisiting key moments in the Doctor's timeline.
In summary, I rather enjoyed Magician’s Apprentice, despite its flaws. It was a solid start to the ninth series. Sadly, the same cannot be said for The Witch’s Familiar, which, in all honesty, I found rather boring. Overall, there was a distinct absence of a plot, and whilst it wasn't without its moments, after the strong start laid down by The Magician’s Apprentice, it felt tired, self indulgent, lazy and, frankly, rather dull.
The Doctor, UNIT, The Master (Missy), Davros AND Daleks should have all the makings of an epic story. As it stands, it was a story of distinctly mediocre proportions; the first half is certainly stronger than the latter, which, with the exception of the scenes between Twelve and Davros, was devoid of any meaningful plot. The Daleks, in reality, did very little, aside from a great deal of shouting and chanting, nor was there any explanation for the presence of Daleks from differing points in time (or, more specifically, older stories), and above all, c'mon! You have the Special Weapons Dalek.. The most kick-ass bastard imaginable. And what does it do? Bugger all, that's what!  He, like the assorted Daleks, was there for one purpose, and one purpose only. More fanwank.

Whilst an assortment of New and Classic era Daleks was fanwank, it was enjoyable fanwank, although ultimately they added very little to the overall story. There were no proper scenes between Davros and his creations, and they killed no one. Quite simply, the Daleks seem to have lost all their menace. This isn't new to Series 9, and is something which has been getting progressively worse since Series 5. Whilst Stolen Earth/Journey's End are quite divisive episodes, I feel they were the last time the Daleks felt truly menacing.

The review wouldn't be complete, of course, without addressing one of the most divisive elements of the story. One thing, above all others, has nearly divided fandom right down the middle. It isn't Missy's use of the word "bitch", or her tickling a Dalek's balls. Nor is it Clara's apparent bisexuality (a crass, throwaway line, which seemed completely pointless, and frankly, rather demeaning). No, the most controversial element can be summed up in two words. Sonic sunglasses. And my reaction can be summed up in two more; the latter of which, is "off"!

I would give The Magician’s Apprentice a solid 8/10, while The Witch’s Familiar favours less well, with a less than satisfactory 5/10. Taken as a whole story, I think 6.5/10 is fair. There was a lot to like, but the lack of plot, unnecessary and often misplaced humour, and the constant need to rehash previous stories, even reusing, sometimes verbatim, pieces of dialogue from previous episodes left me feeling rather short-changed. Lastly, if anyone can tell me WHY the episodes are titled 'The Magician's Apprentice' and 'The Witch's Familiar', please let me know, as I'll be buggered if I can figure them out!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Love Letters to Clara

One of the most enjoyable things about having guest bloggers is giving people with a variety of opinions a platform. Although, at times, it may not always seem so, I love Doctor Who. Even when it’s at it’s weakest, I watch religiously. I’ve tried to quit. Heaven knows, I’ve come close! One of the things I enjoy most about the show are the people I meet along the way. People who have grown up with actors from Hartnell to Capaldi as “their Doctor”; I love hearing from ALL of them (you!), even when opinions are diametrically opposed to my own. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I am not exactly the biggest fan of Clara Oswald. I certainly don’t “hate” her. I am, honestly, completely ambivalent toward the character, and certainly, with regard to her time with Peter Capaldi, I do find myself agreeing with many of the points raised in this post. Similarly, I love Jenna Coleman as an actor! For good, or bad, she plays the hand she is dealt, and she does so exceptionally well.

A tribute to Clara is, perhaps, therefore, the LAST thing you would expect to see on this blog! And yet, here we are, with a beautifully written tribute to the character, by my latest guest blogger, Adil, and it is my pleasure and privilege to share it with you..

A love letter to... Clara Oswald


Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d have heard the news that Series 9 will be Jenna Coleman’s last series as Clara. She first graced our screens as Oswin, in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, back in 2012, which was 3 years ago. Yes, 3 years ago! Blimey, hasn’t time flown? Clara is known for being a divisive character to say the least; a quick journey across the web, or at least through Twitter, will reveal that she has a loyal fan base and others that totally despise her. If the title of the post hasn’t given it away, I’m in the camp that loves Clara. In fact, she’s been my favourite companion of the revival, and here’s why…

Now before you exit the page, I’m not a biased viewer; I do recognise flaws in the way in which her character’s been written. For example, at the very start of her time on the TARDIS back in 2013, she didn’t feel like a real character, constantly being written with a new personality as each episode aired. It wasn’t until ‘The Crimson Horror’ where shades of the Series 8 Clara started to appear and by ‘Nightmare in Silver’, it felt like she’d finally became a coherent character. In fact, ever since she became a real character, Clara’s been receiving a profound amount of development, becoming more like the Doctor as time progresses. ‘Flatline’ saw the peak of the development with Clara taking charge of the council workers. She was able to think on her feet, make risky decisions and eventually, save the Doctor who then defeated the Boneless. And of course, there was that great line at the end when the Doctor stated, ‘’you were an exceptional Doctor, Clara... Goodness had nothing to do with it.’’ An accurate statement given that she had to lie and fool the workers into thinking they were safe, a strategy of the Doctors’ that she had previously disapproved of.


One quality that I absolutely admire and love seeing is her ability to hold her own. She’s a character that doesn’t really depend on the Doctor which is always a great quality in a companion. Episodes such as ‘Deep Breath’, ‘Kill the Moon’ and ‘Flatline’ demonstrate that, although she might be frightened by a situation when left to deal with it herself, she’s more than capable of handling it.

The three episodes noted above are all Twelfth doctor episodes which brings me onto another point; the Twelfth Doctor brings so much more out of Clara. Now, what I mean by this is that with the Eleventh doctor, she had someone she could control. Not exactly a push over per se, but she didn’t have to fight for control in the way she does with the Twelfth doctor. When Eleven regenerated, he changed into someone erratic, someone frostier and slightly more unreliable, and, most importantly, someone far more stubborn. The start of the 8th series saw Clara attempting to figure out who the new Doctor was, what made him tick and how she could control him. He’d become the polar opposite to his former persona. To elaborate, Eleven would never have left Clara alone with the clockwork droids in ‘Deep Breath’. At the very least, he would’ve let her use his sonic. He also wouldn’t have left Clara alone to decide the fate of the moon without telling her his plan to find out what the moon actually was. Twelve changed Clara. She knew that she couldn’t boss Twelve around in the same manner she did with Eleven and so, she became more authoritative and much bossier. She never would have needed to bring Eleven to the volcano to threaten him in the way she did Twelve. That scene illustrated a fight for control, a fight for power and dominance that wasn’t really present with the Eleventh Doctor.

clip_image006She’s quite a tragic character too. As a character constantly fighting for control, whether it’s control over the Doctor or Danny, she’s faced many tragedies in which she had no control over. For instance, she’s suffered the deaths of her mother and Danny. The death of her mother is particularly interesting. This could perhaps be reasoning as to why she feels the need to control every aspect of her life, a subconscious response to the despair and helplessness she felt when her mother died. When grief struck her again, at the loss of her boyfriend Danny Pink, she felt the responsibility to alter his death. This led to the scene in the volcano in ‘Dark Water’ which remains one of the highlights of Moffat’s era in general. As the scene progresses, you can tell she is trying to fight that familiar sense of desperation, despair and helplessness by trying to control the Doctor, trying to force him to alter her own timeline. Something she knows that she can’t do, but decides to try and do regardless of the fact. Series 9 seems a turning point for her, which is the biggest reason

I’m glad she stayed on past ‘Last Christmas’. There are still loads of places you can take the character which seems the case with the next series. It seems she’s almost given up trying to control everything and decided to embrace travelling through time and space. This intrigues me incredibly. With the promise that she’ll continue becoming more Doctor-like, it’ll be interesting to see where Moffat and the crew take her and how far she adopts a Doctor like mind-set. Perhaps that’ll lead to her inevitable departure?

Her dynamic with twelve is also brilliantly written. With arguably the most conflict that there’s ever been between the Doctor and a companion, they still remain crucial to one another’s lives. After ‘Last Christmas’, it’s evident that the both of them are inseparable with a bond that echoes shades of Three and Jo Grant, Nine and Rose. The love that they share for one another becomes obvious and it’s going to take a lot to break them apart.


Clara, a tragic companion, one who strives for clarity and control over her life as they are both things that she often lacks. Whilst she hasn’t always been consistently written, when the writers found out who she was, she quickly developed into one of the most intriguing characters that the show has had. It’s been a pleasure to explore her character these past couple of years, and I hope that the next series sees her lose herself to this persona of the Doctor that she is adopting, as that seems to be the obvious way forward. Here’s hoping that when she goes, she goes out with a bang.

Many thanks to guest blogger Adil.. Please give him a follow on Twitter @Nougdalla98

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Angrier Musings..

I am angry. Scratch that. I am fucking fuming. One would have thought, in light of the blog post on the cruel harassment by Sandra Hermann-Courtney on Twitter, posting as @BrownBagPantry toward to Dave Hope and his family, that she would have shown some contrition, apologised and dropped the matter. So, has she? Has she fuck!
No, what she has done is to double down. Between her and one of her acolytes, she has succeeded in driving Dave off of Twitter, at least for the time being, and led him to suicidal thoughts.
Since the previous post, which you can read HERE, Ms Hermann-Courtney saw fit to publish 32 pages of screenshots; a list of all the “anti-homeopathy” people she has proudly blocked. This, at first glance, seems fairly innocuous behaviour, if a little irrational, until one delves a little deeper. I do not propose to repost the image here, but suffice to say it contained the profile information of Dave’s partner, and consequently, an image of their deceased child, who features in her avatar.
Dave made numerous impassioned pleas to Ms Hermann-Courtney, who saw fit to ignore his requests for the removal of the image. Despite making it abundantly clear that her behaviour is causing great distress to Dave, to the point that he is suicidal, the images remained online for two days.
It took the threat of legal action, along with Dave creating a secondary account, for the sole purpose of effecting the removal of the image, for their deletion. They were not deleted graciously, or apologetically. No. Rather, Ms Hermann-Courtney lays the blame at everyone else’s door, even accusing those sceptical of homeopathy of “coaching” Dave, and attempting to hound her off of Twitter.
Neither of these accusations are true, though it has to be said, Twitter would be a much nicer place if she DID remove herself…

Enter into the fray, one “Zimfara Janus”, posting as @ZimJay. If you thought Sandra was a piece of work, as the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…
Zimfara, who’s real name is Janine Robertshaw (who now uses her maiden name,  Janine Zimardo), upon reading that Dave was suicidal, felt THIS was an appropriate response…

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Ms Robertshaw’s daughter, Beth Robertshaw, posting as @Bethannr679 upon the suggestion that she speak to her mother about the inappropriate comments, chimed in with…

The “pile of trash” to which she refers includes myself (couldn’t care less), and Dave. A grieving, suicidal man, who she goes on to accuse of harassment, “fake” suicide tweets and “false drama”. That is utterly beneath contempt. I would ask that readers please report these three accounts, for their sustained harassment of a grieving family, as this cannot be allowed to continue. Twitter have, so far, been utterly useless, and have taken no action.
There are plenty more tweets, all in a similar vein. I do not propose to clutter up my blog with too many of them. Aside from anything else, quite frankly, they turn my stomach.
So, to address Janine Robertshaw directly. You are scum. You are beneath contempt. I already know your name. My next port of call will be to forward screenshots of your behaviour to your local law enforcement. And, for good measure, to your employer, who I am fairly certain will not approve of one of his employees trolling a suicidal man.
Between yourself and Ms Hermann-Courtney, you have succeeded in forcing a grieving man to close his Twitter account, a place where he could find support and sanctuary. How cruel. How petty. How utterly vile.
No, Ms Hermann-Courtney. People will, emphatically, NOT stop blogging about you, until you cease peddling nonsense that can, and does, result in people losing their lives. And, above all, while you continue to harass a completely innocent, bereaved family, whom YOU approached first. You have brought ALL of this upon yourself. As you sow, so shall ye reap, and you, my dear lady, are reaping in abundance.
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No, Ms Robertshaw. The “Bun Vendor” is not “upset”. He is angry. Very, very angry.

Three users. @BrownBagPantry, @ZimJay, and @Bethannr679. Better known as Ms Sandra Hermann-Courtney, Ms Janine Robertshaw (Zimardo), and Ms Beth Robertshaw. I strongly advise people NOT to engage with these people, much as retaliatory tweets may seem tempting. These people do not listen to reason. They care not one iota about the damage they have inflicted. Rather, I ask; no, BEG you to report them to Twitter. My previous blog post has, to date, had almost 1400 views. If this one has a similar quantity, and 20% of those views, DO report these accounts, then surely Twitter will have to sit up and take notice. At least, one would hope so. If they do not, then truly, there is no justice for the people who have been emotionally and mentally scarred by these parasites.

I sincerely hope that Dave’s break from Twitter is short, and allows him to put these appalling incidents behind him. I hope that when he returns, he is left alone by these clowns, and allowed to use the platform for the support he needs, and to engage with the friends he has made. I consider myself privileged to be amongst those friends.

If you happen to have a spare couple of quid, do something truly amazing. Donate it to Dave’s holiday fund. God knows, if anyone deserves a break after the tragic loss of their beautiful son, and the subsequent actions of certain Twitter users who have no morals or shame, it’s him, and his family.

As an addendum to this post, another user, @MedTek, who is equally sceptical of homeopathy has since been the target of Ms Robertshaw. Tragically, last night, her father passed away. Ms Robertshaw (née Zimardo), upon hearing this, felt this was an appropriate way to behave. Words fail me. The second tweet is her response to the admonishment she received.

DISCLAIMER. All images and screenshots are posted under 'Fair Use' which permits use of material without the express permission of the right holder, and are for journalistic and informative purposes only.
My sincere thanks, go to @1azylizzie for her initial work in identifying the user, Zimjay, and to Martin Fortescue (@matinfue) for confirming her precise identity. Thanks also to Dave Hope, who has kindly allowed me to share this experience, along with screenshots, and to my friend, Sandra, aka MedTek. My deepest condolences go to them and their loved ones.
Dedicated to the memory of "PaTek"
Ad Astra

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Milestone Musings...

I write this with a mixture of emotions. The past couple of days have been extraordinary for my blog. Yesterday, it reached a whopping 10,000 readers, and today, my blog post on the appalling homeopathy nutcase has not only become my most read post, it is also the first post to pass 1,000 views. That really is quite incredible!

Of all my posts, I am rather proud of my latest effort. Not because of ego, or for the number of views, per se. I am proud, because 1,000 people now know exactly what sort of person a grieving family have had to contend with.

It would be easy to celebrate these milestones, however, at the heart of the latest blog post remains a tragedy; that a beautiful little boy is longer with us. His father has been incredibly gracious to me, on Twitter, and his kind words on the post will stay with me for many years. Getting to know him a little has been an honour. 

And so, I thank you all for the support, the retweets, the views and the kind comments. They are all hugely appreciated, more than you could ever know. To my guest bloggers, I thank you for your efforts. Again, they are all greatly appreciated. 

Some of my posts have a serious side, some are purely entertainment. I have enjoyed writing them all, and will continue to do so. So, no lengthy speeches, no long post.. Just a simple and heartfelt thank you for the support and kindness. 


Monday, 14 September 2015

Homeopathic Musings...

Many moons ago, when my anxiety disorder was at its peak, I had tried almost every anxiolytic and antidepressant known to mankind, each with varying degrees of success. I also tried homeopathic remedies, as my GP was a great believer in their efficacy. Initially, they did help, ever so slightly. Or so I thought...
Let's be blunt about this. Homeopathic "remedies" DO NOT WORK. Not in any meaningful way. They may help alleviate some symptoms, but this is almost always down to the placebo effect. This was certainly the case when I used them, and it was further compounded by the copious amounts of real medication I was prescribed.
To understand why homeopathy is such arse-gravy, we need to look at how it works (or rather, doesn't!). Feel free to jump past this bit, as it is all rather baffling.. If you want to get to the main part of the blog post, jump down to the part below the YouTube video, or click HERE.
Homeopathic products are made from minerals, botanical substances, and several other sources. If the original substance is soluble, one part is diluted with either nine or ninety-nine parts of distilled water and/or alcohol and shaken vigorously (succussed); if insoluble, it is finely ground and pulverized in similar proportions with powdered lactose. One part of the diluted medicine is then diluted even further, and the process is then repeated until the desired concentration is reached. Dilutions of 1 to 10 are designated by the Roman numeral X (1X = 1/10, 3X = 1/1,000, 6X = 1/1,000,000). Similarly, dilutions of 1 to 100 are designated by the Roman numeral C (1C = 1/100, 3C = 1/1,000,000, and so on). Most remedies today range from 6X to 30X, but products of 30C or more are marketed.

A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimetre of water contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth. Imagine placing a drop of red dye into such a container so that it disperses evenly. Homeopathy's "law of infinitesimals" is the equivalent of saying that any drop of water subsequently removed from that container will possess an essence of redness. Robert L. Park, Ph.D., a highly respected physicist, and Executive Director of The American Physical Society, has noted that since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth.

Oscillococcinum, a 200C product "for the relief of colds and flu-like symptoms," involves "dilutions" which are even more ludicrous. The supposed "active ingredient" is prepared by incubating small amounts of a freshly killed duck's liver and heart for 40 days. The resultant solution is then filtered, freeze-dried, rehydrated, repeatedly diluted, and impregnated into sugar granules. If a single molecule of the duck's heart or liver were to survive the dilution, its concentration would be 1 in 100200. This number (which has 400 zeros!), is vastly greater than the estimated number of molecules in the universe (about one googol, (1 followed by 100 zeros). In its February 17, 1997, issue, U.S. News & World Report noted that only one duck per year is needed to manufacture the product, which had total sales of $20 million in 1996. The magazine named the unfortunate bird "the $20-million duck."

As a matter of fact, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. This limit, which is related to Avogadro's number, corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024). Hahnemann himself realized that there is virtually no chance that even one molecule of original substance would remain after extreme dilutions. But he believed that the vigorous shaking or pulverizing with each step of dilution leaves behind a "spirit-like" essence; a “memory”; "no longer perceptible to the senses”, which cures by reviving the body's "vital force." Modern proponents assert that even when the last molecule is gone, the "memory" of the substance is retained. This notion is completely and utterly unsubstantiated. The implications of this go further; if true, every substance encountered by a molecule of water could imprint an "essence" that could exert powerful (and unpredictable) medicinal effects when ingested by a person.

Many proponents claim that homeopathic products resemble vaccines because both provide a small stimulus that triggers an immune response. This assertion, again, is erroneous. The amounts of active ingredients in vaccines are much greater and can be measured. Moreover, immunizations produce antibodies whose concentration in the blood can be measured, however highly diluted homeopathic products produce no measurable response. In addition, vaccines as prophylactic medication, not as a treatment.

For a simplified understanding of homeopathy, I would urge you to watch this video, in which the presenter drinks 'homeopathic' bleach. It is also worth noting that there have been multiple protests, during which people have taken homeopathic 'overdoses', with, predictably, no adverse effects; more specifically, with no effects whatsoever!


This brings me to the main reason for this blog post. Several days ago, a gentleman posted a tweet, raising awareness of sepsis. Enter Sandra Hermann-Courtney, a complete fuckwit  an advocate for homeopathy, who posts on Twitter under the pseudonym @BrownBagPantry who thought THIS was an appropriate response to a man grieving for the loss of his son.
2015-09-13 22.24.00
What sort of individual has the temerity to approach a parent suffering from such a devastating loss to peddle their quackery?
Understandably distressed, the father of the little boy asked Ms Ms Hermann-Munster to remove her post. And how, did she respond? She BLOCKED him. A grieving parent, to whom she had caused great offence, and she blocked HIM. It took her a full 48 hours to post a half arsed apology, which, given the block, would have been difficult for the parent to read. You can read it for yourselves..

Hop along to Twitter, just for a moment, and ask Ms Hermann-Courtney to back up her wild claims with some empirical, peer reviewed scientific evidence. And then sit back, for approximately seven seconds, while she blocks you. Yes, she's one of “those”. Worse still, she will then, in true sociopathic behaviour, twist and distort any reasonable challenge or offer of debate as “bullying”.
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So let's talk about bullying, shall we? After her disgraceful tweet to the parent in question, Ms Courtney-Arseface received a veritable backlash from numerous sceptics on Twitter. So, did she back down, and accept her actions were utterly unconscionable? No. Of course not. What she did, however, is almost as shocking and abhorrent as her original tweet.

Yes. You read that right. She actually relishes the backlash.
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This attitude makes me angry beyond words. It is utterly disgraceful that an advocate of homeopathy would, to all intents and purposes, tweet a grieving father with claims that his child may still be alive, had he opted to treat him with pure bullshit an alternative treatment. To compound that with such blatant gloating at her dissenters, beggars belief. I realise that the term "qualified homeopath" is an oxymoron, however, it is worth noting that this cretin has no qualifications in homeopathy, and certainly none in a scientifically recognised medical field. And yet, she feels eminently qualified to push her quackery to anyone who will listen, without exception; not even the grieving. For shame.

Sandra Hermann-Courtney
That she has the audacity to play the victim, and proclaim herself to be a victim of Twitter bullying is abhorrent. Utterly abhorrent. At one point, she even turns the argument around, stating that people opposing her are being “emotionally cruel” to the family of the little boy who tragically lost his life. That she routinely blocks “homeopathy trolls” (people who ask for evidence, or challenge her ludicrous tweets) speaks volumes. She asks, “Why do I block..?”. The answer is simple. She is incapable of providing any evidence to substantiate her claims, and is unable to handle dissenting opinions (or scientific evidence, for that matter).
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I have, on this very evening, spoken (via Twitter) with the father of the little boy. And rest assured, the only distress has been caused by Ms Courtney. He states, and I quote, that the only distress has been caused by Ms Courtney’s tweet, and that “it tarnishes the memory of his son”. That makes me want to cry. Or punch something. NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE has the right to make another human being feel that way. PERIOD. It is also worth pointing out that the tweets made by Ms Courtney led to tweets by the child’s father, which can only be interpreted as suicidal. That someone could inflict that level of pain on another human being genuinely leaves me lost for words.
Let's be very clear here. This woman is DANGEROUS. Her "advice" can KILL people. On her blog you will find the claim that homeopathy "cured cancer". Under the Cancer Act 1939 (Amended 2014), making such a claim is a CRIMINAL OFFENCE. One which I shall take great pleasure in reporting to the relevant authorities. And in the event it is deleted, I have screenshots of her claim. It is worth noting that she clearly hasn't bothered to read the article to which she attributes this ludicrous claim, as it states nothing of the sort, thankfully, although the claims made are equally wild and ridiculous. Similarly, her timeline on Twitter is filled with this kind of nonsense.
Sandra Courtney. AKA Sandra Hermann-Courtney. AKA @BrownBagPantry. Remember that name. Remember that she feels it is appropriate to barge her way into the thoughts of a devastated family, to further her agenda. Remember, her advice could potentially KILL someone.

For the benefit of UK readers, an “RX” drug is a prescribed medication. And this lunatic is stating, quite clearly, that prescribed medication is “not safe”. Without prescribed medication, I, and countless other people, WOULD BE DEAD. I do not say that lightly. Think about your family; your friends, your loved ones. How many are alive today due to the extraordinary scientific progress made in the medical field? I am willing to bet that EVERY reader knows at least ONE person alive today, due entirely to the medical care and treatment they have received. There is a very good reason “alternative medicine” is called “alternative”. In the vast majority of cases, and in 100% of cases pertaining to homeopathy, with the exclusion of the placebo effect, it simply does not work. If it did, it would be simply called “medicine”…
As regular readers may know, I was a nurse. I have watched children die. I’ve held the tiny bodies of lifeless babies in my arms, and cried; it is devastating. Utterly devastating. And I have done so as an “outsider”, with no bond to the children in question. I cannot even BEGIN to comprehend the anguish and grief one must surely experience, when that child is your own. My boys are both adults. Even now, the thought of life without them is unimaginable. Equally unimaginable is the thought of a delusional harridan, desperate to appear relevant, ramming her way into the suffering of a grieving family. I have never had to experience this. I hope I never do…
To address Ms Hermann-Courtney directly; You are welcome to believe any old crap you like. And if it results in your demise, on your own head be it. Despite the fact I find you to be an utterly reprehensible person, I wish you no ill. I hope you never face cancer, depression, or heaven forbid, the loss of a child. If you have an OUNCE of dignity or self respect, you will close your Twitter account (and your mouth!), and fade away into obscurity, where you clearly belong. Because, frankly, you make me feel physically ill. Somehow, I suspect you will continue to peddle your antediluvian views. And will continue to attempt to make money from them with tat like this..

Your "apology" was nothing but a poor attempt at deflection. Blocking anyone with a dissenting opinion (or hard evidence) is the equivalent of a small child sticking their fingers in their ears as they cackle a "la la la". And gloating about the inevitable backlash over your comments.. That is , again, quite frankly, about as puerile as it gets. Show some digninty; some humanity. Offer an an full and UNRESERVED apology, without the pitiful "poor me, I was misconstrued" comments. And then go away. Go away, before you humiliate and embarrass yourself any further.
Sadly, since writing this post, the behaviour of this individual, along with one of her cohorts became immeasurably worse, if that is at all possible. You can find the follow up to this post HERE.
To you, the reader, I would ask you to report the account of this vile woman to Twitter. Hopefully, if her account is terminated, other people can be spared the heartbreak she has caused to this family. Lastly, there is a fundraiser for the aforementioned family, should you feel able or willing to donate. Details are available by clicking the GoFundMe logo.
DISCLAIMER. All images and screenshots are posted under 'Fair Use' which permits use of material without the express permission of the right holder, and are for journalistic and informative purposes only. My sincere thanks, go to Dave, who has kindly allowed me to share this experience, along with screenshots. More importantly, my deepest condolences go to him and his loved ones.
For Layton
Rest in Peace, little fella...

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cinematic Musings

Foreign cinema is not for everyone. It is, however, a big passion of mine (bet you didn't know THAT..!). There is a whole world of extraordinary films in the World Cinema arena. Many people, wrongly, assume foreign cinema equals dismal, pretentious tedium, when nothing could be further from the truth. For those already acquainted with foreign cinema, you will doubtless already be aware of films such as Life is Beautiful, which is, arguably, the only film in existence capable of eliciting comedy from the Holocaust, whilst remaining dignified and respectful to the subject. You may have seen the stellar 'Downfall', in which Bruno Gantz gives a chilling performance as Adolf Hitler, in the final days of the Third Reich. Perhaps you've been treated to the wonderful 'Jean De Florette', a beautiful, entertaining French film starring Gerard Depardieu. 

One film I am fairly certain you won't have come across is a Spanish production, and happens to be one of my all time favourite films. My recent brush with cancer made me revisit this masterpiece a few days ago. I haven't seen it for some considerable time, however, on first viewing, I reviewed it for the IMDB. I'd like to whet your appetite, and introduce you to a truly extraordinary piece of cinema. If you are new to foreign films, or an "old hand", this is a wonderful way to start a journey into World Cinema, rekindle your passion, or simply add to the repetoire. That film is 'Planta 4a'...

Planta 4a is a truly remarkable film. A coming of age drama, dealing with first love, basketball, the usual childhood mischief, and above all, friendship. Essentially a comedy, this will definitely bring laughter, and maybe a few tears along the way… I cannot recall seeing a coming of age drama with such a refreshing honesty suffused with sadness and humour since 'Stand By Me'. Oh, and by the way… it just happens to be set in the cancer ward of a hospital.

One could be forgiven at this point for thinking that this sets the scene as thoroughly depressing. It is anything but! The young lads suffer from cancer, and while that is never forgotten, nor overlooked, it never dominates the film, choosing to remain almost in the background. Director Antonio Mercero has managed to take a difficult subject, and bring true unflinching humour into the story, whilst never making light of the gravity of the illness the boys suffer from.

Made all the more remarkable by the fact that it is based on a true story, that of Albert Espinosa, a long time sufferer, and survivor of cancer, it is little surprise to note that the film has already won numerous awards, and much critical acclaim. Lead actor Juan José Ballesta, himself a Goya award winner for his astonishing performance in 'El Bola' turns in a stunning performance, although the same is true of the rest of the young, and mostly hitherto unheard of, cast.

Originally a theatrical piece, 'Los Pelones', or 'The Baldies', this adapts very well to the big and indeed small screen. 'The Baldies' is the name affectionately given to the young patients, by the hospital staff, for obvious reasons, and drawing from his own experiences, Espinosa conveys beautifully, the emotions and trials of growing up with cancer, and indeed just plain growing up. The film treats the individuals as exactly that; a group of young lads, finding their way in the world, their places in the social pecking order, and dealing with all the normal things teenage boys deal with. Never once are they treated as 'victims', and rightly so. They are ordinary teenagers, from different backgrounds, dealing with different emotions and problems, whilst all sharing one common factor, which never once overtakes the coming of age theme the film so eloquently portrays.

It is directed with such simplicity and refreshing honesty, that Mercero has created a true masterpiece. Given the choice of subject matter, and the fact that this is, in essence, a comedy, a film like this is a very delicate balancing act. It would be all too easy for the balance of the film to sway at any point, and yet it never does. It walks a fine line between drama and comedy, never once faltering, and it is to be respected for that.
Planta 4a contains several scenes which maybe unsuitable for younger viewers, however they are all in keeping with the overall tone of the film. There is nothing gratuitous or unnecessary; the strong language is appropriate given the age of the boys – teenage boys swear; it's just another part of the rich tapestry of their lives.

This film is an absolute joy to watch – it will make you cry with laughter, and in places, will probably just make you cry. There is sadness, naturally. It would be unrealistic if there was none, and yet again, it never overwhelms the film.

If you get the opportunity to see this, either at the cinema, or on DVD (which takes some finding, but it does exist), please, please do yourself a favour, and see it. Savour it – films like this are rare, but like any precious gem, finding them gives remarkable rewards. There are few films with cancer infused into the storyline, and even fewer that leave you with a warm and fuzzy feel-good factor. This film is one of those rare exceptions, which dares to take on a tough subject, and use it almost as a secondary theme.

I dislike 'scoring' peoples work, but in this rare instance I am happy to make an exception – this garners a very well earned 10 out of 10!