The pros and cons of holiday cruises

Until last weekend, I had never been on a cruise. The closest was probably the overnight ferry from Newcastle to Esbjerg which opened more than one Inter-Rail holiday as a student, and which counted as a cruise to about the same degree Aileen Wuornos qualified as an escort. They just didn’t appeal; my interest was much more in the destination, not the journey there, which should be as quick and painless as possible. But when Chris’s company picked her to go on the last pre-opening sailing of Royal Caribbean‘s newest mega-liner, Anthem of the Seas, it would have seemed churlish to refuse, even before the words “all expenses paid” and “yes, that includes all your drinks” were heard around TC Towers. For Chris, it was a “familiarization trip,” an experience which would allow her better to sell the company’s cruises to customers. For me… Did I mention the free drinks?

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Kindle Surprise: Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier

By Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“She fit her head under his chin, and he could feel her weight settle into him. He held her tight and words spilled out of him without prior composition. And this time he made no effort to clamp them off. He told her about the first time he had looked on the back of her neck as she sat in the church pew. Of the feeling that had never let go of him since. He talked to her of the great waste of years between then and now. A long time gone. And it was pointless, he said, to think how those years could have been put to better use, for he could hardly have put them to worse.”

This is the sort of find which makes the Kindle Surprise project worthwhile. Because it’s a very enjoyable book, that I would almost certainly never have read if it hadn’t been part of the package. The movie version, starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman (not to mention, Jax from Sons of Anarchy!) also managed to escape my eyeballs: I think my subconscious probably dismissed it, based on the title and Western location, as some kind of sequel to Brokeback Mountain. Or worse, The Asylum mockbuster version, likely starring Casper Van Dien. Either way: nein, danke.
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Kindle Surprise: Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

“It’s been my experience that people who make proclamations about themselves are usually the opposite of what they claim to be.”

I went into this with absolutely no knowledge of Ms. Handler. I had not watched any of her TV shows. I had not seen any of her stand-up. All I know about her, I learned from this book. And having read the first couple of chapters in her autobiography, I was able to come to a single rapid conclusion.

Chelsea Handler. What a cunt. Read more…

Kindle Surprise: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

dickensI had some concerns going in, being aware that this story was originally published in installments, by the weekly publication All the Year Round. I had bumped against another similarly episodic work earlier in my Kindling, Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, and I found it unreadable, to the extent that I bailed after only a few chapters. It was painfully clear that Dumas was being paid by the word, and this reduced the story to grinding on at a painful and tedious pace, with copious descriptions of the tiniest elements. I feared this might be the same, but hoped the fact that Dickens owned and operated All the Year Round, rather than being merely a contributor, would help avoid this falling into the same traps.

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Kindle Surprise: The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan

“The question, as always, is how good is the evidence? The burden of proof surely rests on the shoulders of those who advance such claims. Revealingly, some proponents hold that scepticism is a liability, that true science is inquiry without scepticism. They are perhaps halfway there. But halfway doesn’t do it. “

"Carl Sagan Planetary Society" by NASA/JPLIt’s no secret I enjoy conspiracies, and conspiracy theories. This is mostly for the entertainment value: the world would be a much more interesting place if those in power were, as David Icke has suggested, actually shape-shifting lizards. But a good general rule is, the bigger a conspiracy has to be, the less likely it is to be true. Another useful one is Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. So was the government behind 9/11? I doubt it. Should the government have known about it? Quite probably: the dots were there, they just weren’t connected by anyone in possession of all the data. Did America shamelessly exploit it afterward for an entirely unconnected foreign policy agenda, specifically, the invasion of Iraq? Oh, hell, yes. This doesn’t require a conspiracy, just standard political opportunism.

On Reddit, I’ve been amused and irritated in about equal amounts by the /r/conspiracy forum there, whose contents run the gamut from entirely reasonable speculation through to batshit crazy, with a copious helping of anti-Semitism (thinly disguised as anti-“Zionism”) and a relentless belief that every thing is a “false flag” – including, in an Inception-style piece of circular thinking, some who believe the anti-Semitic posts are false flags, designed to discredit /r/conspiracy. My particular bete noire are those who believe the Sandy Hook massacre was not just a false flag, but never happened at all. Literally, nobody died: it was a grand piece of theater designed to… Well, no-one has come up with an adequate motive: the most commonly mentioned one, to promote gun-control, conveniently forget that not one piece of federal legislation subsequently became law.

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