Book Review: Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam by Joseph T Ward

I’ve spoken before about how the Vietnam war has long held a fascination for me, and I’ve read a few books about the conflict. This book takes one man’s perspective of the war, Joseph T. “JT” Ward, who served a tour of duty in 1969-70 as a Marine sniper. The book follows his time in the Marine Corps, through basic training and then combat, interspersed with the letters that Ward wrote to his mother throughout this time.

dear mom

It’s a deeply fascinating book as Ward, while not given to fantastic prose has a simple, vivid method of storytelling which gives a glimpse into the situation he lived and fought in and the toll it took on him, physically and mentally. During his time in Vietnam Ward would be injured by shrapnel and rack up over 50 confirmed kills.

He recounts the nerve jangling terror of patrols in the jungles, the risks of booby traps and ambush a constant danger, and the fatigue and mental stress the men endure.

Ward offers an interesting perspective on the war, he enlists willingly and is eager to do well as a sniper. While in Vietnam he is frustrated by the anti-war protests happening back in “the World” and the discovery of supplies sent to the North Vietnamese by American organisations like universities. He takes pride in his skills and believes that he is doing an important, necessary job.

Yet at the same time he’s not a gung ho action junkie, and is critical of US policy and military decisions. He slacks off when away from the front, causes headaches for his superiors and when he does put himself in harm’s way its due to his orders or his sense of duty and responsibility. When promoted he continues to go into the field, causing consternation among his superior officers.

Ward’s likable and comes across as a regular Joe (no pun intended) who manages to keep his humanity throughout the conflict. The letter to his mother are an interesting touch, showing what he leaves out and the way he tries to cover his emotional struggles, although he is rather blunt when dealing with the dangers.

All in all it’s an interesting book, and while not all encompassing of the conflict it’s interesting to here one man’s story of his role in history, and Ward is a good storyteller and interesting character, confounding ‘Nam vet cliches and stereotypes.

Verdict: An interesting and immediate account of war and the way it effects people, offering one man’s unique perspective of the conflict. Ward is an engaging and likable narrator and a very complex character in some ways.. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Jennifer Lawrence

Last night I was watching TV when I discovered that nude photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence had been leaked online. I found this out because it was the topic of conversation between my wonderful girlfriend and her friends on their phones, and included them sharing the pictures. MWG then showed me the pictures, knowing that I’m rather fond of Lawrence and I’ll admit I did find the pictures attractive.

Lawrence in the hunger games

Lawrence in the hunger games

The term guilty pleasure is overused these days but the celebrity nude shot/sex tape is one of the things that truly deserves the tag. I can’t lie and say that I get no enjoyment from seeing Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson or Joanie Laurer in the altogether. These are famous women I find attractive and I’ve been given the opportunity to see them naked.

However, there’s always a glummer side to it all. Often these pictures and videos come to light because they’ve been leaked and while in some cases it’s the celebrity themselves who have done so, or “their people”, but far too often it’s not them, it’s someone they’ve trusted.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently a lot of folks don’t get this- you don’t share naked pictures you’ve been sent by someone. They’ve been taken for you, and you should be grateful that somebody wants to send you them and trusts you enough to send them. Don’t abuse that trust, if you do, you are a massive bellend.

And breaking-up doesn’t mean you can share them. Revenge porn, which is distressingly popular, is something I absolutely loathe, and I don’t have a problem with porn in general. It’s all these bitter douches getting revenge on their exes by slut-shaming them for sending pictures. If you do this I’m starting to realize why you’re no longer with that girl, you’re a dick! Especially the ones who complain about how some “bitch” only wants to date “assholes” and doesn’t appreciate “nice  guys”.

Here’s something I’ve learnt over the years, the nicest people don’t go on about how nice they are, and sharing pictures of your ex instantly loses you any nice guy points and moves you towards “massive wanker” territory.

I’ve heard these folks saying that Lawrence is an idiot for taking/allowing these pictures to be taken. As if she’s somehow to blame for this. She’s a 24 year old woman who took these with someone she was intimate with. That these have made online is in no way her fault, she is the victim of a massive invasion of privacy and been exposed to the world.

Her decision to pursue an acting career doesn’t mean she signs away all privacy, or shouldn’t be afforded the same consideration as everyone else. Lawrence is a victim in this story and idiots going on about how she has millions in the bank and awards galore are missing the point, whether you’re an A-lister or you work in Greggs you have special, private moments that are meant to be between you and your intimates, and having them spread around is embarrassing, upsetting and definitely not cool.

Spreading nude photos of someone without their consent is a crime, in an attempt to combat the rise of revenge porn, which I fully agree with.

In this case it’s not a leak but rather a hack, and the hacker has stated they have pictures of several other celebrities (including Kim Kardashian, who has a sex tape already, so a nude shot seems tame) and is threatening to release them. Unfortunately this will continue and while social networks try to stop them, with how fast they move the pictures spread like wildfire, meaning that its almost impossible to stop them getting out there.

The only way to do something about it is to stop spreading them. As tempting as it is to look at them, the combination of lust and curiosity they create is strong, but just don’t look. And definitely don’t share them if you do see them.

And to all the guys out there who have pictures of girls on their phones or computers, don’t be a dick. And the same for girls who have pictures of guys, girls who have pictures of girls and guys who have pictures of guys.

Keep them secret, keep them safe.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Gig Review: A Day To Remember at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena

It’s always a little awkward going to a gig of a band you’re not really a fan of. I’ve done it a couple of times (Slayer, Haduken, Gallows) but in those cases I’ve heard a fair amount of their stuff, dug it and done pre-gig listening. With A Day To Remember it was different, I’d only heard a handful of songs, none of which had wowed me and my pre-gig listening on Spotify was brief, and it wasn’t long before I returned to artists I’m into (Bee Gees, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, Goldie Lookin Chain).

So why was I going? Well, ADTR are MWG’s favourite band. She’s had the tickets since before we were dating and needed to use the spare. I agreed to go with her.

To be fair, ADTR put on a decent show with some smoke, confetti, a T-shirt cannon and the lead singer crowdsurfing in a giant inflatable ball. They were better than the support and their fast paced rock is great for some bouncing around and head banging, and they blew the crowd away (MWG loved it). They were a good live band, but a bit screamy for my tastes.

This appears to be something he does at lots of gigs, still cool though

This appears to be something he does at lots of gigs, still cool though

But when you don’t really know the songs all you can really do is bop a bit, applaud and people watch.

There was a young girl with an older woman and debate raged over whether they were mother and daughter. There was a loved up couple who snogged for most of the concert, a heavily pregnant woman and a disinterested girl, although I couldn’t figure if her boredom was real or created to appear cool, her aloofness meant to signify she was above the crowd’s simple joy. Either way I wondered why she was there.

People watching made me feel old, I gave myself points for the bands I recognized from shirts (ADTR shirts, which were ubiquitous weren’t counted) and emerged with a dismal 5, all of which were older acts (Guns N Roses, Nirvana, The Misfits, KISS and Pantera).

I was astonished by a girl who looked about fourteen but boasted a wolf’s head tattoo (a Twilight inspired piece, apparently) and watched gig habits very different from my early ones.

The first of these was the filming of the gig on mobile phones, and several were held aloft for much of the concert. Now I’ve snapped off a few shots at gigs in my time, like the photographic masterpiece below, but these people were taking snap after snap, or filming.

Hayseed Dixie at Download '07

Hayseed Dixie at Download ’07

For entire songs they’d hold their cameras up, staring at a tiny screen rather than just enjoying the experience. Gods, I sound old.

But in all seriousness, why video the whole thing on your shaky camera, when you can watch the concert properly and jump about a bit. Surely that’s more fun that distancing yourself from the action by gazing intently at a screen. Sure you’ll have the footage to look back on, but the footage won’t be Oscar worthy and wouldn’t you rather be one of the muppets jumping around and having a laugh as opposed to a low rent cameraman.

It’s also annoying because instead of watching the band you’re watching a mini version on somebody’s iPhone, and it’s blocking your view. Take a pic or a snapchat video and then put the phone down, you inconsiderate douches. Anybody who drops their phone while videoing a concert for more than 30 seconds has it coming.

concert phones

Also annoying, and something I’d previously only seen at festivals, was girls being raised onto the shoulders of their boyfriend (I assume it’s a partner). At a festival it’s a pain, but kinda understandable due to the distance from the stage and sheer numbers, but indoors at the Motorpoint in Cardiff? Don’t be a dick, ladies.

If a homunculus like MWG can work out she has to find a position where she can see, then others should too. If you can’t see think of the poor sods behind you who now have to stare at the back of some girl as she obscures their view. At Download they get pelted with (if their lucky) empty cups or get picked out by the cameras and flash, which appeases the crowd a bit, but here there was nothing people could do, aside from glare and pray for telekinetic powers, or, as I did, dream of hitting the Doomsday Device on them.

What a rush!

What a rush!

I realize that for a gig review this has mainly been about other stuff, apologies.

Verdict: Not really my bag, but ADTR gave their fans what they wanted. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


A Nasty Taste In The Mouth

My wonderful girlfriend convinced me to watch The Great British Bake Off, overcoming my argument that watching people making gorgeous food that you can’t enjoy is like torture. In less than one episode I was hooked.

A large part of this was the niceness of the show. Presented by Mel and Sue, who are lovely and funny without being mean, and the judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are firm without relishing the opportunity to eviscerate the contestants. And the contestants were a bunch of friendly, cheerful types who enthusiastically enjoyed the friendly competition. Helping each other out and chatting away as they waited for stuff to rise/set/brown.

And then this week, dessert week, things got a lot less nice. Almost downright nasty.

While they made Baked Alaska (never had one, but tempted) the heat in the tent started to mess with them, and freezer places for their ice cream were at a premium.

Softly spoken Irish baker Iain had put his in the freezer and went off, probably to comb his magnificent beard.

Look at that beard, glorious

Look at that beard, glorious

When he returned the ice cream wasn’t in the freezer, it was on the sign, melted. And not just a little drippy, but like the Wicked Witch after an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge attempt. It was a proper mess.

Messy

Messy

Twitter exploded. I was pretty irked, but a lifetime of sports viewing meant I was used to competitive injustice, nothing will ever be as cruel or painful as the ref screwing Wales against Italy in the Six Nations in 2006. But for a non-sports fan like MWG it was too much to bear, and she was fuming.

Iain, confronted with a melted mess beyond saving binned it and left the tent.

But who moved the ice cream?

It was Diana, the 69 year old with 40+ years in the WI. She’d moved it out of the way and was caught on camera, bang to rights. She’s since complained that the editors “stitched her up”, but it looked suspect. We saw her see it, she moved it and she seemed unrepentant.

Diana, as she became a national villain

Diana, as she became a national villain

Editing is one thing, but she didn’t seem to really care and while it might be a minor act it just wasn’t in keeping with the genteel spirit of the show. At the very least she could have fronted up when Iain was getting his dressing down and said she’d taken it out by mistake (if it was a mistake).

She caught a lot of flak on Twitter, and some went a bit far, prompting Sue, Hollywood and some of the contestants to call for calm and perspective (it made the front cover of The Sun today for crying out loud).

I do think it all got a bit ridiculous, but it was infuriating to watch largely because Iain handled it with such grace. He didn’t point the finger, or seek revenge on Diana’s Baked Alaksa, which I would have done. Mary and Paul decided as he’d binned it he had to go, which is understandable, but I get why he reacted the way he did- frustration, the heat and the fact it was too late to fix it, what else could he do.

It’s since emerged that Diana had to drop out anyway due to being ill, and while it’s too late now (the show was filmed in the spring) I’d have thought that the way to avoid controversy would be to reinstate Iain in her place, but of course, the controversy hadn’t kicked it off.

I’ll keep watching GBBO, because, well, I’m hooked and also because a few of the remaining bakers seem quite tidy. I’m glad Diana had to drop out (she’s apparently okay now), because if she’d stayed I’d have been actively willing someone to be eliminated, which would be nasty and like I said, I love the show for it’s niceness.

With seven remember my current favourite is Martha, the rather sweet, nervous baby of the group who made a self-saucing pudding with peanut butter, which looked lush. I like all of them, but I’m rooting for her now.

Martha: Favourite

Martha: Favourite

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Cinime, not for me.

You’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk in the theatre- Shepherd Book, Firefly, “Our Mrs Reynolds”.

On my last couple of visits to the cinema I’ve been annoyed by adverts for the Cinime app. The idea is that you switch your phone on before the movie and answer questions or something to win prizes.

cinime

Why it annoys me is that there are a lot of rude folks out there who continue to use their phones in the cinema and while every cinema posts those “turn your phone off” ads at the end it’s not helping. Its already giving the impression that using the phone in the cinema is acceptable.

Which it isn’t.

I’d hope that most people realize that talking on your phone in the cinema is a no-no. In my 29 years I can only recall two people actually answering the phone in the cinema. One had the decency to haul ass to the exit and whispered furiously, but the other just started chatting until the rest of the audience started telling him, with decreasing politeness to shut up and/or get out.

But it’s not just talking on your phone, it’s people texting/googling/social networking/playing on their phones. Sure it’s not noisy but a massive white light in front of you is distracting and just rude. You’re in the cinema to watch a film, and there are others there, it’s not your house so part of going to the cinema is accepting that for two hours or whatever you’re incommunicado. If you really have to keep the lines open because of impending emergency or news (pregnant partner etc.) I suggest you forego the cinema and instead stay home and watch a DVD, where you using your phone doesn’t effect anybody else.

mobile

The cinema app is a slippery slope in that it allows people to use their phone and there are enough inconsiderate jerks out there already. It will encourage folks to keep their phones on, or at least make using your phone in the cinema less of a taboo. Personally I think there should be massive “No phones beyond this point” signs at the entrance to every screening room, and ushers to turf out rule breakers. If you use your phone you’re clearly not watching the movie so you should be thrown out for ruining the experience for those who actually want to watch the big screen, not a little one.

For those who need help on how to behave in the cinema, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo came up with some handy rules on their movie review radio show. Here it is, and why not share it with anyone who needs a reminder on cinema etiquette.

code of conduct

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: White Fang by Jack London

I’m gonna add this to my list of “enjoyable if outdated” books pile. The area that causes problems for modern readers is the eponymous wolf’s attitudes towards humans, who he views as a god. This is fair enough in the beginning and kind of makes sense as humans control his environment, have abilities he doesn’t understand and power over him, but it gets dodgy when White Fang, domesticated by Native Americans arrives at a major town and discovers the “superior white gods”. He doesn’t differentiate between dog breeds, but sure, he’s gonna clock racial differences. And make value judgments which seem like those a writer in the early 20th century.

white fang

But this aside it’s a fairly entertaining and well written adventure. Or rather a series of adventures. Originally published in serial form it tells with each chapter being short, incident packed and often hinting at coming adventures. This is how serials work. I remember studying Great Expectations for A Levels and discovering Dickens’ work had been serialized and being amazed at how little folks must have had to do back then, because I found it struggled to hold my attention from page to page.

Anyway, back to London’s book. The story follows White Fang, a wolf born in the wild who is then taken in by Native Americans and domesticated, before being passed on to a cruel white master who raises him as fighting dog before being rescued by a loving, civilized master who softens him and takes him down to California. He even stops an escaped murderer, action packed this is.

Along the way White Fang learns to hunt, fights a multitude of other animals and learns and develops. London’s key themes are how nature and nurture combine to mould lives and, to take the title of another London book, “the call of the Wild”. The Wild’s pull on White Fang is a constant throughout and only towards the end is he fully domesticated.

It’s a great book for kids because it’s incident packed, fast paced and easy to read. Best of all is London’s view of nature, which is surprisingly grim and realistic. The law that White Fang follows at the beginning is nature in its starkest description- eat or be eaten, and the fights with other animals and the hunting are handled with a brutal, non-judgmental tone, which cleverly avoids attaching morality to animals, unlike several other books.

The early stages where two men are stalked by a ravenous wolf pack is tense, unsettling stuff and probably the book’s best section for page turning excitement.

In fact the only villains are men, who know better but still commit evil. And even here London shows some understanding, discussing the villain’s upbringing and backgrounds to suggest that evil is made not born in the hearts of men.

A lively and engaging read, and while a little basic for adult readers probably ideal for the preteen/early teen readers.

Verdict: A fast paced, incident packed read. In places it shows it’s age but for the most part London is a skilled and clever writer. A good book for younger readers and a realistic, and bloody, representation of nature, red in tooth and claw.  7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

In this book Mary Roach addresses the question of what happens to us after we die. Not in a “is there a heaven? Or are we reincarnated?” way but in a more literal sense. What happens to our bodies after we die? It turns out, that a lot of stuff can happen, especially if you decide to donate your body to science.

stiff

You could end up being cut up in an anatomy lesson, or sat in a car to help improve vehicle safety. Or you could just be left outside in the sun so that they can study decay, which will help them work out how long bodies have been dead.

It’s a fascinating, if morbid book, and provides plenty of “well, I never!” moments as Roach reveals little secrets and facts that the regular Joe doesn’t spend much time thinking about. And she does it all in vibrant, engaging writing which is full of wit and humour. Roach is always able to see the surreal or absurd moments in the processes she investigates and her mind goes off on weird tangents which are highly amusing.

It won’t be for everyone. Death is something a lot of us find hard to talk about, let alone read a whole book about and we probably don’t want to think about what might happen to us, or has happened to people we know, after we shuffle off this mortal coil. And there are a few moments that the more squeamish might struggle with.

Personally, I loved it. Roach goes through all the different ways donated bodies are used, including organ donation, which focuses on one patient who’s organs are collected to aid others. As a card carrying organ donor, I found this to be an inspiring and positive section of the book, with Roach sharing my view that organ donation is the way to go. I also found it odd that the term “organ harvesting” has been dropped because people thought it sounded too celebratory, when really it should be celebrated, as lives are being saved.

Some of the sections are just weird- eating human flesh and juices as medical cures, not only in history but more recently was a touch odd. And the bodies converted into art works was a little bit creepy sounding.

bodyworlds

She also investigates new ways of getting rid of bodies, not cremation or burial but a form of composting, where the body is frozen and then mulched, buried in a biodegradable coffin in order to replenish the world around it. Personally this sounds pretty good to me, and let me go on record that this is what I want to happen to me after I stop being Chris and become the Body Formerly Known as Chris. Mulch me up, plant an apple tree over me and let me live on as delicious cider.

The book ends with Roach discussing what she wants to happen to her body after she dies. It’s interesting, she’s pro-donation and giving her body to science but she raises an interesting dilemma- how far should we go in honouring the wishes of the deceased? If the idea of dissection is painful or unsettling to the relatives is it fair to continue? Should we put more emphasis on the feelings of the living as opposed to the wishes of the dead?

It’s a tough one to call, especially when it comes to how the body is disposed of. In terms of organ donation I think it should go with the dead person’s choice. Apparently around half of families refuse to consent to heart transplants, which is sad as that means we’re only aiding around half of the people we could be.

It’s a book that made me laugh, that shocked me and most importantly made me think. We don’t dwell on death, which is probably healthy, but it’s coming and we should probably think about what we want to happen to our remains after we pop our clogs. There are plenty of ways that even after death we can aid others, and I, for one, think that’s pretty damn cool.

Verdict: A fascinating and wonderfully entertaining book about something we don’t often talk about but will all have to deal with. Roach finds the humour throughout without being disrespectful and it revealed a lot of new stuff to me. Quality science writing that the average Joe can understand. 8/1o.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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