Bubbles

It’s confirmed:

All Flemish primary schools may resume lessons for all years starting 8 June.

Each class becomes a ‘class bubble’ with no social distancing required within the bubble and no interaction allowed between the bubbles. This makes quite a lot of sense, I think, as it puts teachers in control of maintaining social distancing between classes rather than expecting large numbers of pre-teens to observe rules they don’t necessarily understand.

There will be a trial day on 5th June to see how it all works, and it looks like the local school is taping off parts of the field behind it already.

Secondary schools were already partially re-opened for some years, this will be expanded so that all years will have some days a week in school to finish their year. Classes are restricted to bubbles of 14 and the pupils here will have to observe social distancing measures.

We have no pre-school children in our household, but kindergartens are fully re-opening on 2nd June with no social distancing measures for the younglings.

I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The next diary date is June 3rd when we will hear the yes or no decision regarding bars and restaurants reopening on June 8th. We are waiting with bated breath.

Death Race 2000

Thomas Paine was a political activist, writer and revolutionary. He authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution and inspired the patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain. After starting one revolution, he moved to France and became deeply involved in the French Revolution.

In Death Race 2000, Thomasina Paine leads the resistance to the authoritarian Bipartisan Party which controls the economically collapsed US. This party is led by the cult-like “Mr. President” who has merged politics and religion to form a police state in which the masses are kept distracted by the bloody spectacle of the annual Transcontinental Road Race. This is a coast to coast race in which points are scored not just for coming first, but also for the number of people killed along the way.

The film covers the 20th such race and the five contestants include Frankenstein (David Carradine), the only two-time winner, and “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), his rival. Also in the mix, this time around, is Paine’s resistance who are targeting the race for reasons that become clear as the film progresses.

Death Race 2000 is very much of its time, and yet it still manages to strike a chord that is relevant today. The film is gratuitously violent, with much of the violence played for laughs. It is also unashamedly exploitative and, being produced by Roger Corman, is under no illusions as to what sort of film it is.

The film does, however, retain a very dark sense of humour and a satirical streak that suggests that the US is heading in a direction in which violent sports and terrible television can be used to distract the masses into accepting structural inequality and near religious devotion to a leader.

I was going to make a remark about the current US president at this point. Given, however, that this film was released all the way back in 1975, it points to Trump being less of an aberration and more the result of forty-plus years of dysfunctional politics.

Freedom!

Last year in July, with all three boys away at camp, Eve and I took advantage of the child-free week by going out for food. A lot.

So I was delighted to discover that the steering committee representing the different government levels and experts has decided to allow summer camps for children to go ahead starting from July 1st. There will, of course, be various restrictions in place but camp is camp and this will be good for all of us — especially if restaurants are able to re-open on June 8th as expected (or maybe earlier).

In another much needed easing of restrictions, Flemish educationalists are proposing to reopen nursery schools and allow more pupils to return to primary and secondary schools as of 2nd June. The proposal isn’t for a 100% return and we will have to see how things work in practice, but the boys are looking very cheerful at the prospect of seeing their friends again.

The next National Security Council meeting will take place on 3rd June with phase three of the lockdown exit plan provisionally (everything is provisional at the moment) planned for 8th June. Right now I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for a nearly normal summer.

Don’t Panic!

It’s a tough universe. There’s all sorts of people and things trying to do you, kill you, rip you off, everything. If you’re going to survive out there, you’ve really got to know where your towel is.

Today is Towel Day, an annual celebration of the life and work of Douglas Adams and (especially) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started out as a radio series and was first transmitted in 1978. That makes today’s Towel Day, 42 years later, rather special.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Uwe Boll never ceases to amaze me. He is a notoriously terrible director, responsible for some famously bad films, and yet he still manages to attract people like Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta and even Burt Reynolds to join his projects.

And so to In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, in which a farmer named Farmer (Jason Statham) sets out to rescue his kidnapped wife (Claire Forlani) and avenge the death of his son. To do this, he must fight the Krugs, which are basically orcs controlled by the evil wizard, Gallian (Ray Liotta).

Along the way, stuff happens, a plot twist leaps from nowhere and the good guys fight the bad guys. It it really isn’t worth going into any more detail than that because this is a very silly film. But if you embrace the fact that pretty much nothing is going to make much sense, it’s also quite a fun film to watch.

The (many) weaknesses of the plot are often compensated for by a cast that puts in performances that are far stronger than the film deserves. And it’s the cast that kept the film entertaining, even while we were joking about plot holes.

In the Name of the King is a film best watched in a group, and I watched it with the boys. Since I had started talking over the film, everyone else free to join in.

The most frequently repeated comment, not surprisingly, was:

But I don’t get why…

My favourite interjection, however was:

I want to be Jason Statham!

Which I think we can all agree is a totally suitable ambition for a nine year old.

People often talk about films being so bad they’re good, which is something I don’t really agree with. Bad films are bad films. But there are films that manage to sit right on the edge of being both terrible and hysterical and here is where you will find Uwe Boll.

Nine Men’s Morris

Many years ago, I picked up a “Classic Games Compendium”, a collection of boards and pieces needed to play a whole stack of classic, or traditional, board games. It also came with a pack of cards, because you can never have too many playing cards.

One game from this collection that has seen a lot of play over the past few weeks is Nine Men’s Morris. This is a game whose origins are lost so far back in the mists of time that no-one is quite sure where or when it first emerged, and it’s one that remains surprisingly playable.

Each player has nine pieces and the aim of the game is to form ‘mills’ a horizontal or vertical line of three men. When you form a mill, you can take one of your opponent’s pieces. When you reduce your opponent to two pieces, you have won the game.

It’s played in two parts. First, the players take turns to place their pieces and, once all of the pieces are placed, the players take turns in moving them.

It’s always tempting to try and form mills in the first (piece placing) part of the game but this, I think, is a mistake. When a player does this they tend to find all their pieces bunched up together and unable to move. It is far better to place pieces in order to achieve maximum flexibility later in the game.

Nine Men’s Morris is a solved game (pdf), for which the optimal strategy has been calculated and perfect play from both players will always result in a draw.

We are far from perfect.

Anno Dracula 1923: Vampire Romance

I mentioned previously that my edition of The Bloody Red Baron included a novella set in 1923, and now I’ve read it. Quite honestly, this may the best part of the book.

Geneviève Dieudonné and Edwin Winthrop, both of whom have been introduced in previous novels, are brought together in order to infiltrate a meeting of vampire elders at the appropriately named Mildew Manor. The elders intend to elect a new “King of the Cats” to replace Dracula but what we have instead is a delightful mixture of Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton.

There is probably enough in here to have made for a full blown novel, but I really enjoyed the shortness of this. The single location — pretty much everything takes place in Mildew Manor — and the small cast really does give the characters a chance to shine and keeps everything moving along at a cracking pace.

Although this novella refers to characters and events from the previous books, you really don’t need to have read them to enjoy this tale of jolly hockey sticks and murder in the drawing room. And if any of the Anno Dracula stories was ever adapted into a film, this one would certainly get my vote.

Five Things #32

How do you deal with a sentient hologram that thinks it’s Napoleon? Find out with Charles Payseur’s amusingly silly Foie Gras.

“Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Someone asked this question on Quora and Nate White replied in spectacular fashion. The original question has been deleted but nothing is ever gone for good, and a grumpy old man on LiveJournal has reproduced the answer in full. (Thanks to Denzil for the link)

2020 marks 60 years since ALGOL 60 laid the groundwork for a multitude of computer languages. Richard Speed looks looks back at the greatest computer language you’ve never used and grandaddy of the programming family tree.

More history, this time from Meilan Solly who uncovers the best board games of the ancient world. I’ve played six of them.

In an unassuming Brussels street, not far from Midi station, you’ll find Europe’s most productive independent animation studio. Ian Mundell visits Brussels animation studio, nWave.