Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Directed by Ken Loach
Written by Paul Laverty
Starring Eric Cantona, Steve Evets
Release date(s) 12th June 2009
Running time 116 minutes
The latest hit to come out of Cannes this summer has just arrived in our cinemas. Looking for Eric is a film with a premise that could either be the best ever, or the absolute worst ever. No, it's the best ever.
The plot sees Eric Bishop, portrayed with nuance and sensitivity by Steve Evets in his most challenging role yet, on the verge of a nervous breakdown as his life collapses around him. He then receives life lessons and wisdom from the one and only batshit crazy philosopher and ex-footballer Eric Cantona, played by himself. This is what I knew going into the film, and it was hard to see how they could take an undeniably awesome idea and make it into a real film, but fortunately they pulled it off.
First of all, this is only an imaginary Cantona, a figment of Bishop's tortured, drug addled mind. The result is a movie that is depressing and uplifting in equal amounts, though admittedly much of the depressing nature of the film could well just be my own personal reaction to the rough around the edges world these characters inhabit.
The script is tight, very tight. It is funny and touching in the right places, and carries even the more ridiculous aspects of the plot with a confidence and charm that makes it hard not to like. This is backed up by solid performances from a mostly inexperienced cast.
However, it is clear that the main talking point for this film is the presence of Eric Cantona, and indeed he is at his pretentious, philosophical best throughout this film, even though his accent can make it very difficult to make out what he's saying sometimes.
However, if I had to pick something to criticize, and I do, I would have to draw attention to issues with the plot and pacing. The main dilemma of the story doesn't even present itself until half way into the film, when the story takes a much darker and more serious tone, in stark contrast to the beginning and very end of the film, and it feels a little bit abrupt and jarring, like they came up with the whole Cantona premise and then just forced in this organized crime thing at the last minute to add a little more drama. It is also noticeable that Cantona is largely absent from this half of the film, which is a bad thing.
As such this period of the story, which is pretty much the climax of the film, ends up being somewhat less interesting and less enjoyable than the rest of the movie. Fortunately the entertaining final set piece wraps it all up nicely and the overall experience is a very positive one. If you're in the mood for a charming feel-good movie, or have any interest in Cantona or football, give this one a go.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Directed by Kfir Yefet
Written by Henrik Ibsen, Zinnie Harris
Starring Gillian Anderson, Chrstopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald, Anton Lesser
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Donmar Warehouse
So it was that I returned to the Donmar Warehouse for the latest in this season of productions. This time the star of the day is the underrated Gillian Anderson, best known for playing the straight-man (or woman) in camp, yet undeniably awesome, sci-fi tv show the X-Files. As I had already seen Anderson on the stage I was well aware that she is a very talented actress, which is not something I would have expected to be honest, and I was very much looking forward to a new Donmar production, one that hopefully bounced back to greatness after a few so so productions.
This time the production is A Doll's House, one of Ibsen's great plays, about a woman, wife of a man in a prestigious and pressure filled job, who ends up just being a decoration in his life to boos this reputation.
Here it has been rewritten and adapted to 1909 London. I'm always skeptical when watching a classic play that someone has seen fit to rewrite. It's clear why It's been done in this case. This new version places the protagonist's husband in the more pressure filled world of politics, and the blackmailer is now a disgruntled politician fighting for his career; all of this serves to ramp up the emotional stakes and accentuates the sense of female oppression, though one might ask whether it was really necessary.
In the end it comes off feeling a bit of a melodrama. The plot also seems a bit implausible in this political setting, it's hard to see what the antagonist could possibly hope to achieve after what he's done. However possibly the biggest issue is that the whole thrust of the play, the independence of women, has far less poignancy in 1909 than it does in the original time period.
However, unwise scripting aside I did rather like this production. The stellar cast were all on form, with Anderson's excellent starring role marred only by a slightly overdone British accent, though to her credit it's far better than most American actors. Toby Stephens is spot on in his role as the husband, and Ecclestone does the best he can with a character that strains somewhat for credibility. However, particular note must go to Anton Lesser who was pitch perfect in every single scene.
The direction and pacing was ably done and made the evening fly right by, to the extent that the play seemed far shorter than it actually was. Ultimately it all forms a very satisfying package, which may be heavily diluted Ibsen, but it's still Ibsen. This is a fine production with a questionable script, and a return to good form for the Donmar.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Head Chef Jacob Kenedy
Style Rustic Italian
Address 12 Archer Street, London W1
Open Mon-Sat, lunch 12.30-3pm, pre-theatre 5.30-7pm, dinner 5.30-midnight
Telephone 020-7734 2223
As you all know, I am a man who likes to go out and sample the many culinary offerings that London has available. Well I recently had the pleasure of trying out the relatively new Bocca di Lupo down in Soho. Did it have what it takes to impress my notoriously particular taste buds? Read on to find out.
I had a good feeling about this place from the moment I walked in there, not least of which because of the buzz I had been hearing about this place in the days preceding this birthday dinner (not mine, don't worry you didn't miss it). Warm atmosphere and friendly service are usually a sign that you have just walked into a quality restaurant, and in this case it did not disappoint.
Good bread is also a very positive sign, and the bread basket they brought us shows exactly how bread should be, achieving the perfect consistency; not too dry or brittle.
This is not on of your pretentious peddlers of haute cuisine, despite some of the ill advisedly poetic ramblings you may find on the website. What you get here is good authentic local dishes from various places around Italy, and they've done it well, as someone who heads down to Italy every summer I should know. This is one of those charming restaurants which almost lets you feel as if you are actually in Italy.
The menu is well chosen, and difficult to pick a single dish from. Featuring simple classics such as the buffalo mozzarella with rocket and oil, the fritto misto, and numerous delectable sounding pasta dishes such as spaghettini with lobster, mussels and ginger, and saffron risotto. However the real star of the starters was the sheep's milk ricotta gnudi with lamb ragu, basically a very thinly wrapped ravioli filled with sheep's milk ricotta, and absolutely scrumptious.
For your main course one can choose from various regional delights such as the grilled porcini, the sword fish and numerous roasts. However I chose to share an order of the tagliata of roast beef with parmesan. The portions were very generous (read: huge) and soon enough I found myself sitting in front of a lovely pile of sliced roast beef with shaved parmesan on top. Here is where I must make my first real criticism, personally for me the beef was undercooked in places, even after I asked to have it cooked a little further, though in fairness I know from experience that this is often how it is prepared locally. It was still delicious, tender and juicy and the added dryness of the parmesan was delightful.
The dessert menu is also attractive, featuring gelato, brioche and burnt almond granita. However no review of an Italian restaurant would be complete without mentioning the wine list. It is excellent, as one would expect, featuring many of the finer Italian reds that you don't often see sold in this country outside of import dealers. In the end we went for the Sangiovese di Romagna 2005 riserva, a hearty and fruity red, sangiovese is always a good choice.
Ultimately this is an excellent little restaurant. It doesn't achieve the levels of genius of a place like Hakkassan or Gallopapa, but then it doesn't even try, it just tries to be good, simple, authentic Italian cuisine, and for this, sir, I applaud you. It also helps that the prices are very reasonable here. For three people, a two course meal and decent bottle of wine came to under 100 pounds.
Monday, 22 June 2009
Healthcare in the United States has been a major issue for years. Simply put, the system is way behind that of many other developed nations, a claim that I will discuss further in this article. Considering the economic might of this nation and the advanced training and technology available, one would simply expect it to be unrivaled but this is not the case.
As a trainee doctor I have found this medical debate most fascinating, and of direct relevance to my future, so I felt I should write my own take on it.
The simple fact of the matter is that the United States healthcare is a long way behind its counterparts in other developed nations. .
For starters, life expectancy in America is ranked far lower than it should be currently, well behind other developed nations. Clearly there are a wide range of factors that influence life expectancy, so this is not too significant on its own, but when you also take into account the absurdly high infant mortality rate and a much higher incidence rate of clerical errors, it starts to paint a far more worrying picture.
Add to this the problem of ever increasing costs both for the companies, government and of course the end patient. The government spends much much more than other developed nations on healthcare. This you can almost expect for such a big country, but our patients also spend three times as much, on average, as patients from other developed nations, for which there is no justification.
Despite all this expenditure, one in five of all Americans are without health insurance, our system is still bogged down with inefficiency and administrative errors, and costs continue to spiral out of control, at this rate we will be spending 20% of our GNP on healthcare by 2018. Essentially these are our three problems, poor coverage, an overly complex and inefficient system, and prices that are dictated by private companies, paying doctors per procedure rather than a fixed salary.
It is hardly a matter of national pride that USA is the only developed, industrialized nation in the world without a universal healthcare system. The problem with a completely privatized system like this is that when doctors are paid per treatment by the insurance companies, it is in the best interests of these healthcare industries NOT to treat you, bizarrely, and this results in the insurance companies having absurdly selective policies about who to cover, resulting in poor coverage. Since they set the prices, this also leads to unchecked inflation of expenses. Meanwhile efficiency is compromised by all the extra paperwork and bureaucracy involved in a system like this, not to mention a serious underfunding of preventative care and routine care with companies that are far more business minded than medical.
Clearly much work needs to be done, so what do each of the parties propose?
Barack Obama wants universal coverage. To do this he plans to implement a government funded health insurance which has far more coverage than the existing system and will be far less discriminating with regards to who gets treatment and who doesn't. This also has the bonus effect of creating more competition in the industry, which inevitably will force private companies to adjust their own policies to some extent.
Obama also wants to revamp the administrative side of things. With a government run health insurance company there is far less changing of hands when it comes to paperwork, and therefore runs far more smoothly and with few mistakes. This is supported by his push to computerize patient notes, an obvious and logical step for patient management. He also plans for major investment into preventative medicine, another key initiative in healthcare around the world today.
Clearly the problem with this is that it's very expensive up front, with the emphasis being placed on rapid change that will hopefully lead to a much cheaper and more effective industry within Obama's tenure. I also don't see this as the ideal fix for the system as well. Government funded or not, a healthcare system that is still so dependent on health insurance is never going to be truly universal. This seems less of a revolution and more like a very expensive evolution.
As expected, some Republicans have issues with it as well. They feel that introducing a cheaper alternative to health insurance will result in people opting for lower quality healthcare just because it's cheaper, and undermining the more expensive private companies.
Well while I freely admit that the healthcare package isn't perfect, in fact I don't like it very much at all, the Republicans have picked two of the most banal points I can think of, trying to scare away support by linking the package with negative economic consequences. Frankly there is no reason to suspect any of this would be true.
First of all, private and public healthcare providers exist side by side in pretty much every developed country in the world aside from America, so for them to declare that they fundamentally can't is just bizarre. Further more I think the assumption that everyone will opt to save money with worse healthcare is ridiculous. In any healthcare system in the world, in any day and age, people will always go for the best healthcare they can afford. I'm sorry but this is just fact, I can't imagine many beyond the poorest people going for worse health care just to save some money, this is exactly why public and private healthcare co-exists in most countries. In addition, employers who offer the more expensive health care to their employees, obviously, would gain a massive competitive advantage over those who don't, this is pretty much the fundamental basis of our economy.
The Republicans have drafted their own proposition. This bill support's Obama's calls for an increase in preventative care measures and a reform of the administrative side of things, but has one or two key differences. Rather than spending more money on government funded health insurance, they want to increase coverage by offering tax incentives for people to buy private health insurance. This they believe would accomplish the same expansion in coverage with far less cost and without undermining the private insurance companies.
While there are good ideas in this bill, the fact is that as I have already mentioned, public healthcare will not destroy the private sector as Republicans are envisaging, and frankly tax cuts cost the government money too, indirectly, so for all we know the costs won't be vastly different. Indeed the Republican assertion that their reform is cheaper holds little weight when they haven't even made estimates of the cost yet. On top of this, it's hard to imagine how making health insurance a little cheaper is going to create the same sort of coverage as Obama's plan, simply because cost of insurance is not the only limiting factor with the problem of coverage, as I have already detailed.
However the biggest problem is simply that this entire thing just sounds like a temporary fix. Tax cuts may add a little additional coverage, but it won't do anything to control the inflation of healthcare prices and frankly there is nothing at all in their proposition which addresses this crucial issue. Call me old fashioned, but papering over the cracks to save a few bucks for the next 6 months, after which we'll be paying even more than we would otherwise have paid just doesn't seem like a smart move.
So ultimately, in this battle for the healthcare industry, we have two propositions here from opposing armies, one full of goodness and light, and one full of darkness and evil... or so they'd have you think.
I don't particularly like either of them. The system in America is fundamentally broken, and rather than try to change the fundamentals, Obama is trying to fix them. Is it better than what we have now? Yes definitely, it is at least a few steps closer towards what our healthcare system should look like, but it is not the change that is needed to bring the American healthcare system up to snuff.
The Republican alternative, on the other hand, is simply untenable, and I say that with every ounce of insight into the medical profession that I possess. Simply, it doesn't fix anything, it just papers over the cracks and delays the effect of our broken system for a little while longer so we can worry about it later.
Now, I can see why they would want to do this. With all the money we have spent recently on stimulus, can we really afford another massive expenditure? It certainly sounds like a scary amount of money. However I think it is hard to simply ignore a problem of this magnitude, no matter how expensive the solution, and I think the logic that we'll be able to afford it better next year is flawed, underestimating the amount our broken system costs us, as detailed above, and underestimating the degree to which that amount increases every year.
The conclusion must be, then, that the Democratic option is the lesser of two evils. At the very least it's a few steps in the right direction, and despite the cost may actually be better value in the long run.
However despite this there is still a surprising amount of resistance from the medical community to Obama's plan. As a medic I take no pleasure in explaining the very simple answer for why this is the case. Simply put, doctors in America will earn more money under our current system, with insurance companies charging exorbitant amounts and then paying doctors per procedure, as compared to a system where they have a set salary. Doctors may be doctors, but they still like money, and any medic (like me) who cares more about patient care than making money will never support the Republican plan over Obama's, and it is therefore no wonder that this is the direction that all official medical organizations in America are taking, even if a few individual doctors are having a hard time coming to terms with it.
Fortunately there is no rush to move this bill through, with Obama setting a deadline in September for it to be on his desk ready to sign. I think the best solution for this measure is for there to be a lot of discussion in congress over the next few months, and a final bill that takes Obama's plan and waters it down to make it a little less frightening for fiscally conservative politicians to swallow.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Effective immediately I am bringing in a major change to the format of this blog.
I have made the decision to scrap the current system of releasing a whole bunch of articles + a roundup all on one day, often as a weekly update. Frankly this structure seems like an archaic throwback to the style of monthly magazines or newspapers and is highly inefficient and requires more time on my part, when to be honest I'm quite busy these days.
Instead I will just be releasing solitary articles and updates whenever I have time, and then once a week I will release a separate 'weekly roundup' which will replace the current 'roundup' posts. I believe this will improve the flow of content on this blog.
Also for those of you who want even more of my wit and wisdom, you can follow me at http://twitter.com/james_debate.
Monday, 15 June 2009
Welcome back to the artist spotlight. These are intended to educate and provide a basic commentary on the chosen band, and listing their biggest hits, as well as the hidden gems they've recorded.
This week the spotlight is on Daft Punk.
Daft Punk are a french electronic music duo consisting of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. They rose to prominence in the late 90s house movement and have enjoyed years of success since then as one of the defining artists of the genre.
Having met in secondary school, the two musicians formed an indie rock band named Darlin', named after the Beach Boys song. After a string of negative reviews, of which a particularly negative critic described them as 'a bunch of daft punk', the band disbanded, but Bangalter and de Homem-Christo found the review so amusing that they adopted the name 'Daft Punk' for their next project, an experiment using drum machines and synthesizers.
In 1996, after the release of an EP and their first successful single Da Funk, they signed a record deal with Virgin Records. After being presented with a choice between artistic control and more money from the label, they chose control, and it looks like a smart decision on their part. In 1997 their first album Homework was released.
Their next album, Discovery, released in 2001, would go on to become one of the defining albums of the electronic music scene, adopting a more playful synthpop sound than their older work. Single One More Time in particular became a major club hit.
Having achieved worldwide recognition and renown for their robotic personae, as seen in the picture, the offers kept coming in, with appearances in various tv commercials, and going on to produce the anime film Interstella 5555 which featured songs from their Discovery album. They later went on to direct their own feature film Electroma, which in a change in style did not feature any of their songs. However their most recent studio album Human after all was met with mixed reviews, despite achieving moderate success anyway.
Since this release in 2004 there hasn't been any new music from them, despite a few successful live album releases, the most recent of which Alive 2007 featured mash ups of their songs and went on to win at the Grammy Awards. During this same ceremony they made a rare and very special live appearance to do a solo during Kanye West's Stronger (video included- awesome), which featured heavily sampling from their single Harder Better Faster Stronger.
Fans anxiously awaiting a fourth studio album are still disappointed to hear little if any news from the band, though it has been announced that Daft Punk will be making the soundtrack for the new TR2N movie, which will have to tide them over for now. It has also been rumored that Daft Punk may be making a videogame appearance in the upcoming DJ Hero, though frankly with their catalogue they should really get their own dedicated game in the mold of what has recently been done with Aerosmith, Van Halen and the Beatles.
And now on to the fun bit, the recommended songs:
One More Time
Harder Better Faster Stronger
Around the World
Let's begin by saying that it is very VERY unlikely that anyone reading this has never ever played the Sims or the Sims 2. Will Wright's life simulating epic changed videogames in many ways and created the best selling videogame franchise of all time. Now that franchise is back for the latest and what they hope will be the greatest installment yet, the Sims 3.
So just in case you've never heard of the Sims (crazy I know), this is a game where you can design little people, build them a house from the ground up, make friends for them, get a job, make money, and buy a bigger and better house. It's a fun little game that let's people live out their own soap opera/dream life/sadistic fantasies. And it's always been fairly fun, but flawed stuff.
Now we have the third installment, and right from the start it doesn't seem that much has changed. The character creator is a little more flexible now, meaning that sims look a little less cartoony and allows better likenesses to be created, but otherwise I personally would have expected a bigger aesthetic change between the Sims 2 and 3. However, when you look deeper, one can see that major changes have been made.
The biggest of these changes has to be that the sims are no longer confined to their houses. In previous installments sims have had to endure a rigid 'lot' system, where every house, shop, restaurant was one 'lot' and the only way your sim could move between these 'lots' was with a long and annoying loading screen and owning a car, calling a taxi, something like that.
Now for the first time, the neighborhood is completely open. As soon as you load your game, the entire neighborhood is simultaneously loaded all at once. Now think about this for a sec, because it fundamentally changes the way the game is played.
For a start, your sims can now move freely from place to place, you can zoom all the way out and just tell your sim to jog across town, or drive, whatever you feel like. This whole process is smooth and occurs without a single loading screen. Which is pretty amazing if you think about it, just shows how far technology has come since the first sims game.
However what this also means is that every other sim in the game, including others that you have created, will also be 'in play' living their lives simultaneously while you control whatever sim you've chosen. This means they will age and die without you playing them, and it means they will develop friendships, change friends, move houses, get promoted, fired etc etc. Basically all the things I can see a lot of players not wanting them to do. I can see this being particularly troubling for fans of the old game who are used to being able to control every little thing about their games and sims.
To their credit, EA have included the option to turn off aging without cheating this time, and an option to prevent non player controlled sims from making any big changes to their lives. Unfortunately the game seems to completely ignore this last toggle and other sims still get married, get fired, die and do all kinds of stupid things I don't want them to do.
EA have acknowledged this issue and promised a fix, but still it's pretty ridiculous to allow something like this in the final release, though not at all unexpected for anyone who played the buggy, yet brilliant mess that was Spore.
Another major bug which was quite shockingly not ironed out is the inventory each sim has. It has a nasty habit of deleting all its contents whenever you switch sims. This is not such a major problem, merely a minor inconvenience when it comes to most inventory items which you can just take out of the inventory and place in the sim's house whenever you want to switch sims. However for some items like property deeds and invaluable 'lifetime aspiration' awards that you can purchase in exchange for lifetime points earned over many many long hours of play, which can not be removed from the inventory, it is completely inexcusable and almost a gamebreaker.
This is even more annoying for anyone who attempts to deal with the EA technical support department, which is about as much use dealing with a technical bug as a cut of rancid meat... that's been left out in the sun too long... and urinated on. Honestly I may as well go ask my cat for advice, I knew more about my technical issues before I contacted them than they did.
However aside from these two major bugs, most everything else is presented with impeccable style and even little things like jobs have been tweaked and refined to be more interesting and involving. Now sims will far more often have work related 'incidents' happen which will present a challenge for a sim to do or a decision to make which will either negatively or positively impact on his work performance.
Even cooler are adjustments like the painting canvas sims can use. Now each sim will have it's own painting style determined by their personality traits. And indeed the entire skills points system has been modified. Rather than just the same 10 or so skills from the old sims games there are now loads of them to be improved, though you can't see how many there are from the start until you start gaining points in them. Each 'skill' also has it's own statistics page involving various related statistics, for example how many chess games you've won, how many books you've written and what your favorite genre of book is, and various challenges associated with these stats.
However the other major major change for this game, and in my opinion the most positive change, is the 'create-a-style' mode. This is basically like 'create-a-sim' except for clothes, furniture, wallpaper, carpets and pretty much everything else. This allows you to fully customize all these things with patterns, textures, colors and it is truly a remarkable tool allowing for a staggering amount of customization, though the inability to change the appearance of paintings and other art pieces to create a little variation is a missed opportunity.
However the biggest problem I have with this game is the same problem I had with the old sims games, namely that after you play it for a few days solid you've done pretty much everything there is to do and you get bored very very quickly until the next add on pack comes out. Admittedly the added flavor in pretty much every aspect of the game makes a decent attempt at getting around this problem, so much so that I could see myself returning to the game in a week or two if I'm bored.
And speaking of add on packs, it is bloody cheeky for them not to include some of the features that were added on to the sims 2, notably pets which is frankly a necessity in any real life simulator. And this is just so they can re-sell us the exact same add on pack in a few months time and take 20 more of my hard earned quid. But again this is what you expect from a company like EA.
And speaking of greed, there is a new online store for new items, but it involves charging you about the amount you'd pay for a whole game just for a table and a couple of chairs, and it's fucking absurd.
In summary, this is as good as the core 'sims' package has ever been, and they have refined the game into one mighty fine product, aside from a few glaring bugs that could have benefitted with a longer development time, except that knowing the EA techies it probably would have taken the better part of the next decade to deal with. The lack of certain key (read: bloody obvious) features from the add on packs for the old installments simply wreaks of cheap moneymaking ploy, but nonetheless they've turned out a decent game here.
If you like the sims, you will like this if you can get over some of the more annoying changes. If you don't like the sims, you will like this if you can get over some of the more annoying things that haven't been changed.
The style creator
Attention to detail
Paying silly amounts for more content
A few short years ago we witnessed the end of an era. Florentino Pérez, business man and former politician, championed the strategy of spending vast fees to bring the best players in the world to Real Madrid, creating a 'dream team', the Galácticos.
In doing so he brought the club a level of glamor and commercial success never before seen in football, and with some initial success and silverware on the pitch. But then came many barren years, as people started to realize that spending millions and millions on endless attacking players left their defense, populated entirely with youth products, somewhat vulnerable and unable to compete in Europe, and eventually even the Spanish league. Pérez resigned his position in disgrace, and so with him died the Galáctico era.
However football has a funny sense of irony. Just as Harry Redknapp quit Portsmouth to join arch rivals Portsmouth, and then shockingly moved in the exact opposite direction just a few years later, Florentino Pérez's departure was not permanent.
You see, at first everyone was excited about the death of the Galácticos. Sure it brought a lot of publicity and sponsorship money, but by the end of the era it had brought them very little success and turned them into one of football's biggest jokes. Everyone expected the new era to be much more fruitful, and indeed it looked that way when they brought in genius manager Fabio Capello, who invested heavily in defense and midfield strength and won the league.
But in the wake of this success Real Madrid did a complete 180, sacked Capello, and since then they've found that the lack of Galácticos had not made them a better team, and they had less money to show for it. Now they've even brought Pérez back in to usher in the New Age of the Galácticos. And in just one week they've indicated that indeed the old days are back, spending 150 million pounds on just two players, Kaka and Ronaldo, you may have heard of them.
Clearly these developments could have massive implications on the game. Not just in terms of the Spanish league which has been dominated by Barcelona lately, but in terms of world football as a whole.
Let's face it, it's no secret that English football has been dominant these last few years, of the 8 Champions League semi finalists in the last 2 years, 6 have been English teams, and the other 2 were both Barcelona. And even though Barcelona won the competition this year, very few people have the gall to claim that it should have been anything other than an all english final for the second year in a row, and that is a BIG statement on the state of world football right now.
But oh how things will change now. The entire reason English football is as strong as it is right now, no matter how many idiots want to pretend otherwise, is because of Roman Abramovich and the spending he brought to the league. Since then every other team in the league has had to step up their game, and brought equally impressive funding to the table to make the English league, simply far wealthier than the rest, and packed full of the best talent in the world.
But now, a new Galáctico era will mean some of that talent goes to Spain instead. And indeed, in Kaka, Messi and now Ronaldo, the Spanish league has the three best players in the world right now, and with that, the balance of European football is shifting.
The question then, is whether or not Madrid have learned from the mistakes of the old Galáctico regime, and on current evidence, signing the biggest attacking players in the world, you have to say so far it doesn't look like they have. Of course if they go out now and spend 50 mill on Fabregas, then we might have something, but until that happens, colour me highly skeptical about the long term viability of this project.
As if the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn't enough, now relations continue to deteriorate between the Western world and Iran, who claim to be only interested in nuclear power, rather than nuclear weapons, and North Korea, who are much more open about their hostile intentions. And all those skirmishes with Chinese ships?
Does anyone remember the 90s, during Clinton's time, and how invincible we were back then? Where did all these insane dictators come from who suddenly seem completely willing to not only risk contact with America, but actually attack them if provoked. Today we discuss the question, "are we living in a more dangerous world today than 10 years ago?"
Common logic will tell you that there is always danger in this world. 10 years ago we had Saddam and Slobodan Milošević after all. But not since the cold war have other sovereign states been bold, or foolish, enough to stand up to America like this, 'declaring' that they are going to stockpile nuclear weapons, and going so far as to threaten military action against the United States, as North Korea have recently. Some of this has to be due at least in part to the weakening of the country as a whole over these past 8 years.
The failure of American conflicts abroad, on top of a collapsed economy, and the complete neglect of the education system that has seen America fall way behind its rivals. These are some of the key blunders of the past eight years that have contributed to the weaker position America is in and the effects are obvious.
Suddenly America doesn't look so invincible. These foreign countries know that America simply can't afford to be waging more wars with the current conflicts we are already stuck in, and especially not with our economy in the state its in.
The other major issue is that America has completely forfeit its moral authority over these past few years. One of the main reasons the United Nations has succeeded where its predecessor the League of Nations failed is the support and authority of a country as powerful as the United States. But when Bush's America decided to throw the UN charter to hell, with the now infamous torture disgrace, and his purported violations of the nuclear non-proliferation act, it was only inevitable that the UN would lose its power, and now that is exactly what has happened.
So is there not a measure of hypocrisy about America's stance against North Korea when they go and break the exact same treaty? Well perhaps not so much now that America is under new, more competent management. Indeed, in a very short time Obama has done much to atone for the past mistakes of his predecessor and the beneficial results are starting to become obvious in the international community, but it will take more than that to appease some of the nation's more aggressive rivals out there like Iran and North Korea, who have jumped to seize advantage of the situation.
In times like this, with the world gone to hell, I think one thing that most people can be grateful for is that we have a measured President like Obama, who will take the simply unprecedented plethora of issues currently facing his administration, and adopt a considered and educated approach, as opposed to the 'gut instinct' that Bush used to get us into this catastrophe.
With an economy in ruins, two wars, a shambles of a healthcare system, neglected education system, complete breakdown of foreign relations and dangerous rivals armed with nuclear weapons, no one with any sense of politics could have expected many of these issues to be tackled so early in his term. And yet Obama has taken all these issues on simultaneously in just his first few months with a number of ambitious moves. If it all works, he will no doubt be remembered as one of the great presidents, but if it fails, it could land us in an even greater state of economic disarray. So far signs are positive, but it all remains to be seen.
And ultimately, it could be how he decides to handle the threat of these nuclear armed dictators that defines the next four years.
song of the day: Shadows - Au Revoir, Simone
thing that makes me smile today: The confirmation that Futurama is coming back, for real this time, 26 episodes have been ordered for a proper new season.
pic of the day:
The Ballad of Gay Tony
Lost & Damned
Monday, 1 June 2009
As always, the dawning of the summer months heralds a new Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
The show has traditionally been THE place for videogames developers to show off new games, consoles and peripherals to a watching world, and pumped millions of dollars into providing glitz, glamour and girls for the event.
However, in recent years the people running the show decided to commit commercial hari kari and size down the event into a much smaller more business like conference, open only to invited journalists, with no girls or glamour. Needless to say the idea failed, and the past two E3s were pretty terrible, with big companies opting not to make big reveals there and instead saving them for their own private shows. E3 needed something to come and save it from complete irrelevance.
This year they appear to have sorted it out, returning the show back to a more 'pre-2007' style, and once again people are getting excited. So in this article I will run a preview for each of the major consoles and what we might be able to expect, as well as a few other key developments we will be looking for. We begin with...
We may as well begin with the undisputed king of videogames right now. The Wii has turned into a worldwide phenomenon, and has sold more consoles than all their competitors put together. The DS has performed a similar feat, selling more than twice as many as PSP has sold. Together, Wii and DS have sold more than twice as many as every other console put together. Such dominance has never existed in videogames before.
However, in recent times there are signs that this magic is beginning to wane. Casual users are starting to get bored of basically a million games milking the same wavy control mechanic, and hardcore gamers are getting frustrated by the lack of deeper hardcore games... Other than Zelda and Mario there has been little of that sort in the last few years.
In this year's show, it is essential for Nintendo to try and answer these criticisms. Expect to see more titles using the new Motion Plus add-on that gives more specific movement and control to the wii-mote, allowing for a more complex and realistic type of gameplay control, like sword fighting and whatnot.
Also there has been much buzzing for several months now that Nintendo were hard at work for big name sequels, a new Mario or Zelda being the most commonly talked about possibilities, as one would expect for two of the biggest games franchises of all time. But recently very loud buzzings are suggesting a new Pikmin title is on the way. Personally I really think it's about time for a new Star Fox game, but i'm not getting my hopes up.
The Wii online store has become a very capable cash piñata and given the massive success of iPhone app store and indeed the iPhone as a burgeoning gaming device, it is pretty obvious that we are going to see some signs of the hotly tipped DSi Ware store, allowing you you download games and whatnot for your DSi.
Lastly, in lieu of waning sales, expect Nintendo to pull a few tricks to boost sales, like a price drop, or more colours and the like.
Last year Microsoft wowed audiences by ripping the Wii off as much as possible, introducing it's very familiar looking, though still pretty nifty, avatars to boost its online community, which is admittedly the best of all the three consoles.
This year expect more of the same, as rumors have suggested that Microsoft are set to unveil a motion sensing rip off of the wii-mote, perhaps using cameras instead of infrared.
In other news there are a few big games that are almost certain to come up. Halo ODST is probably one of the biggest ones, but we should also be expecting to see Mass Effect 2, the long awaited Alan Wake and a brand new project from Black & White/Fable creator Peter Molyneux is reported to be a central announcement this year.
Is there a chance of Microsoft announcing an entrance to the handheld market this year? Given the abject failure of the Zune, I doubt it.
This year is pretty much do-or-die for Sony and the Playstation 3. Up until now this console has survived basically on 'potential' alone, and just barely at that. Major, awesome games are an absolute must this year, expect to see more of Final Fantasy XIII, a new project from Team ICO, God of War 3 and a new Gran Turismo game. Other than that... well there's not really much else coming for Playstation except maybe a price drop.
Other rumours suggest Sony may be copying Microsoft in copying the Wii, introducing their own motion sensing interface in an attempt to steal away some of Nintendo's dominance.
Meanwhile there is a little more action in the handheld market with the PSP GO, a smaller PSP, perhaps with a touch screen and downloadable games. iPhone's mentally retarded cousin then.
While there will undoubtedly be the usual spate of incredibly ambitious MMOs that never turn out as good as they sound, and your generic fare of predictable console ports, the highlights on the PC this year have to be the big FPSs.
This year we should be seeing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 the sequel the absolutely sublime original. One can also expect a first real look at Bioshock 2 a sequel to an absolutely stunning and atmospheric game, which frankly I reckon won't be half as good, but I'd love to be proven wrong.
Hopefully, Crysis 2 will also make an appearance, after the innovative and fairly awesome original left us with a groin grabbingly frustrating cliff hanger. And probably most significantly, Half Life 2: Episode 3 (Liverpool 1) will finally be shown off, fingers crossed, and attempt to justify the absurdly long production time for what was supposed to be frequent episodic content. Knowing Valve, I have no doubts that it will.
Good times. I'm sure I say this every summer, but this summer seems to be the hottest summer we've ever had in England, it is absolutely scorching outside. And I am bloody loving studying out in the sunshine in my shorts and NY Mets cap.
Speaking of studying I just had my OSCE examination, and jesus, I am still traumatized by that. It's not just that it's kinda hard, it's that it's hard, so artificial and places such unnecessary pressure that simply doesn't emulate the feeling of a real clinical situation. When dealing with a real patient I can generally take the time to think quite coherently, and if need be I can always go back to him and ask him more questions a few minutes later.
The OSCE, on the other hand places such absurd formality on every station that you feel more like you're in military boot camp. And not the Top Gun kind, the unnecessarily ultraviolent Starship Troopers kind. I found myself making stupid mistakes and brain slips that I never have and never would make again, so in what sense is this an accurate assessment?
I think it is a ridiculous way to evaluate students after their first clinical year, and frankly a much better way would be to involve assessments throughout the year, in a real hospital setting, rather than just piling all the pressure into a 2 hour artificial dog & pony show with fucking hired actors. On the plus side, if I do have to resit it, at least this time I will know what to expect and it will probably throw me less.
On the other hand this EMQ exam is much more my cup of tea, I'm damn good at science, even though everyone else seems to be positively dreading it.
Anyway exams are stupid so fuck them. I also went to the FA cup final today, and it was a hell of an experience. I've been to Wembley before, but never been there and won! I must say it makes a big difference. The Everton fans, by and large are also generally a much more likable bunch than those who lead to the red side of the Scouse spectrum. Top match and personally I'm going to miss Hiddink, I never thought we'd find someone better than Jose, but we did.
So what have I got coming up this summer? Not entirely clear. First I have an iFooty board meeting in Champagne, which is going to be awesome. Other than that, the traditional family retreat to Tuscany and then I might try and gather up some people to go someplace new later, but nothing definite.
I also need to get back into the housing market, which frankly I can't be bothered to do, it's been such a pain in the arse this past year looking for flats.
Also, BBQ, and lots of it. Man I love the summer.
Well another season has come and gone in the blink of an eye, so now the expert judges at The Ephemeric (ie ME) have spent much minutes deliberating the best team of the season, a lineup of the most impressive footballers in the top flight of English football. Here's what we came up with.
First of all let's just be clear. This is not an XI of the best players in the league, if it was it would be all Chelsea and United (maybe one Liverpool player). This team is for the top performers of the season, those that have really impressed above and beyond the norm, so please do not flame me with comments like 'where is xx, he is so much better than Jagielka!'
Secondly, no Ronaldo is not in this team. Call me crazy but I don't find anything impressive about a player who kicks and spits like a rabid dog and then winks at the camera when he realizes that everyone at home saw his on-the-pitch excrement, even if the ref didn't, regardless of his fancy football and freekick/penalty goals (most of which he won by diving).
Goalkeeper: Schwarzer- the stats speak for themselves, this man has the highest save % in the league (80%), and his efforts have helped lift lowly Fulham to a mightily impressive position of European qualification.
Right Back: Johnson- Portsmouth didn't have a great year post-'arry, but Johno did. Suddenly the former Chelsea reject is getting linked with moves to Liverpool and Arsenal and is becomign a regular fixture in England squads.
Centrebacks: Jagielka & Vidic- Forget that overrated Rio, Vidic is the real star of that United defense, and they look much weaker without him. Meanwhile Jagielka is the man who has really held together an impressively stoic Everton team this season and they have really suffered in his absence through injury, another recently regular fixture in the England squad.
Left Back: Cole- It's embarrassing to think that there used to be idiots out there slagging off Ashley's post Arsenal performances, but they've almost certainly all shut up now. Coming off the back of a few really mediocre seasons at Arsenal, Ash has regained his position as a worldclass left back, and was one of Chelsea's best players this season, winning the Players' player of the year award.
Right Mid: Gerrard- Yeah I'm sticking him out wide like so often happens for both England and Liverpool, despite the unbelievable media frenzy that inevitably results, so fucking what? Gerrard is a top class player, but in this respect his versatility is probably a bad thing as it tempts people to constantly use him in positions where they don't have anyone else to play, as Benitez and Capello have so often found.
Centre Mids: Alonso & Lampard- Alonso has had a very underrated season for Liverpool this season, and it says everything that only one player in the league has had better passing accuracy than him (Mikel), but whereas Mikel is as clumsy as a mule and has the attention span of a sparrow, Xabi is a much more refined product. Meanwhile Lampard has had another absolutely top form season, best player on Chelsea by a distance, achieving his 5th season in a row where he has scored twenty goals (even stevie hasn't managed that).
Left Mid: Arshavin- In yet another season with very little for Arsenal fans to get excited about, Arshavin has shown himself to be a player of immense quality. His finest moment was undoubtedly his four goal haul against Liverpool, but his form has been good in most games he has played. Just a shame the rest of the team is so mediocre.
Forwards: Anelka & Tevez- Well Anelka's selection speaks for itself, top scorer in the league, best shots:goals ratio and probably scored the goal of the season, he's shown some real quality this season. Tevez meanwhile has turned out every week giving full effort and top class stuff, and all of this in spite of all the shit he's been getting at Old Trafford by a bunch of reeetards who inexplicably value Berbatov over him. The man deserves a lot of credit right now.
song of the day: Mykonos - Fleet Foxes
thing that makes me smile today: Even though this trailer features the godawful hollaback girl, there is still little question that DJ Hero, from the makers of Guitar Hero, will be awesome. Only a few songs have been revealed, but the likes of Gorillaz, David Bowie and Jurassic 5 come up, so far so good.
pic of the day:
Arsenal & Liverpool