james debate
james debate

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Throughout history, mankind has prophecized their own destruction. From the Holy Bible, to Nostradamus on an LSD trip to Y2K, disaster (the kind featuring death, destruction, and hardcore graphic nudity) always seems to be just around the corner.

Yet so far none of these doomsayers' theories have come to pass. And indeed that poor record seems set to continue as 2012 approaches, despite our best efforts to misinterpret the Mayan calendar... or is it Aztec? Who really cares anyway right?

But this time, we have a really good feeling that our doom is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER(!) The signs are all around us and we would all be foolish to ignore them. So today we present our top 5 list of signs that our species is doomed to extinction in the near future.

glenn beckAs apocalyptic theories change, so do our depictions of the horsemen.

5. More Money is Spent on Toothpaste Research than Cancer Research

We live in a world where big corporations like Colgate and Aquafresh spend millions and millions on research and development every year, because quite frankly our smiles aren't white enough yet and rather than that being attributed to lazy slobs who can't be bothered to brush it's quite clearly the fault of poor tooth cleaning technology.

toothbrush technologyYour Government's research funding at work.

In the meantime you may have noticed those cancer research adverts on the tv asking for mere pennies a week. Because clearly treating something that kills a couple thousand people every day is less worthy of spending money on than a new toothpaste formula where the awful taste stays in your mouth for a few minutes less.

Scenario for destruction: The annual incidence of cancer increases exponentially, especially after it is discovered that the new "flavorless, ultra-white, makes your breath smell like lavender and sunshine" toothpaste formula contains about 95% carcinogens.

We all die slowly, but with one heck of a smile.

Doom-o-meter Rating: Low


4. Douchebags

More and more, ours is a world ravaged by the putrid plague of douchebaggery. We've all seen them, grease dripping hulks with spiky dyed hair, fake tan and enough piercings to melt an airport security scanner.

ultimate douchebagHomo Scrotius in its natural habitat.

Clubs all over the world are over run with this blight like barnacles on a ship hull. Harrowing tales of thrusting choads and violence fueled by roidrage abound, the pandemic appears to be spreading at a rate that would put swine flu to shame.

Scenario for destruction: The human race slowly dwindles in numbers as innocent women are in the thrall of closet homosexual bags whose reproductive capabilities have long since been devastated by steroid abuse.

The rest of us slowly die off as a result of TAG body shot and $3 cologne induced asphyxiation.

Doom-o-meter Rating: High


3. the Hadron Collider

The Big Bang was pretty fucking cool when you think about it. Picture a 14 billion year old explosion so big our planet is still spinning from the shock, as well as everything else in the known universe. Doesn't that sound like something you want to do a couple of miles under Switzerland? Seriously what's the worst that could happen?

hadron collider destroys earthOh... yeah.

Scientists reckon that they can build a bigger bang by firing protons at each other really really fast, about a million of them in fact. Apparently it will teach us a lot of new things about particles... and stuff. Unfortunately it will only be observable in 15 billion years by the people that evolve in the new universe we create... and then they'll try to recreate the bang using a super collider, and you see where this is going.

But then again, they can't even get the damn thing to turn on!

Scenario for destruction: Particles collide, a chain reaction occurs that the eggheads can't contain, and the planet explodes in a cloud of sparkly dust.

We all die, quickly this time.

Doom-o-meter Rating: Mild


2. /b/

It's the American dream, hell it's the dream of people from any country, complete freedom. 4chan's /b/ messageboard offers a forum for completely unfettered freedom of expression. Surely the result can only be a utopian realization of this dream?

4chanAbandon all hope, ye who tread.

Instead, 4chan has become a melting pot for all of the most depraved minds of humanity. It is here that most of the internet memes find their root, and anything else you find here will likely be 'shock images', ie cartoon porn, racist jokes, pictures featuring excrement, nudity and all of the above rolled into one. In short, it is a dark place that may destroy the mind of any sane individual, be warned.

Scenario for destruction: Depending on who you talk to, 4chan is either a 'dangerous terrorist organization (according to Fox news, but then they think everyone's a terrorist) or an invading alien armada (according to Scientology). At the very least it's a soul sucking weapon of mass destruction that will scramble all our brains.

Either way, we all die horribly.

Doom-o-meter Rating: Very High


1. Sarah Palin

The single biggest sign that mankind is doomed to destruction can only ever be the one and only Caribou Barbie. She's a maverick, she's a moron, she can see Russia from her house... come on, you all know her!

sarah palinOur 45th President?

Good Lord, what more can be said about Sarah Palin than has been already? She doesn't read any newspapers, which might explain why she's so clueless, she practically invented the death panel rumor, and she writes such embarrassingly cheesy tweets that Conan had to bring in the Shat to 'sing' them. She is a complete unmitigated disaster and probably less qualified than about 90% of the population to be President.

But what is truly scary is that there are people out there who actually support her! Polls show that she is actually the preferred candidate for President amongst Republicans, with around 25% supporting her. Sure, 25% of what little remains of the Republican party is probably like 10 people but even that is fucking scary and simply unbelievable.

Scenario for destruction: Have you ever seen the movie Idiocracy? Go watch it and all shall become clear.

We may not die horribly, but we'll probably commit hari kari.

Doom-o-meter Rating: HOLY SHIT RUN!!!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

song of the week: "Los Feeling (Monsieur Adi Remix)" by "Visitor"


thing that makes me sad today: The loss of one of the greatest US senators of all time, who fought tooth and nail for our civil rights for 50 years. Right before his dream of health care reform finally comes to fruition as well. RIP Teddy.

pic of the day:
twoIN:
District 9
Autumn
Mixx

OUT:
Avatar
Summer
Digg

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Written by Mike Henry, Seth MacFarlane
Starring Mike Henry, Sanaa Lanthan, Kevin Michael Richardson
Broadcast date 27th September 2009
Running time 23 minutes

cleveland show pilot review

Oh boy. Well we weren't sure it was ever going to happen or if it was all some elaborate joke, but it has finally arrived. We have seen the pilot for the new Family Guy spin off, The Cleveland Show.

Yeah, that's right. Family Guy's most unfunny, most boring character has been given his own show. It's the sort of awful, so bad it's amusing for about 30 seconds kind of idea that you would have expected to see as one of those random cutaway jokes on Family Guy, like when Peter imagined he had his own 80s sitcom, My Black Son, or on Scrubs the bit imagining if Ted and Janitor had their own show called Legal Custodians.

Unfortunately whereas these so bad it's kinda funny ideas had the good decency to exist only as parody on a much better tv show, the Cleveland Show appears to be entirely oblivious to the joke. The show even opens with its own awful 80s style sitcom theme song that frankly can't possibly be doing anything other than taking the piss out of itself.

Now make no mistake. Even though the writing credits have Seth MacFarlane's name on it, this is firmly Mike Henry's baby. Henry, who voices Cleveland, has basically just ripped off the Family Guy formula here, complete with random cutaway jokes, wacky neighbours (more on them in a minute) and a talking baby who's far more intelligent and worldly than he should be. The problem is, Henry just isn't anywhere near as funny as he thinks he is.

The basic plotline sees Cleveland leaving Quahog with his son Cleveland Jr (who has inexplicably evolved from a small hyperactive kid into a fat, slow talking, hypoactive kid) and head to start up a new life in Cleveland's hometown.

The episode opens with a scene that could be straight out of Family Guy, with Cleveland sitting around at the bar with Peter, Quagmire and Joe explaining his predicament, and early on it's clear why this show just won't work.

After the announcement of this spin off show well over a year ago, it seems the writers on Family Guy attempted to 'spice up' the character of Cleveland, making him 'funnier' (read: more of a stereotypical loud black guy). Remember the episode from last season (or was it the season before?) of Family Guy where Cleveland sleeps with Brian's girlfriend? A mediocre episode featuring a revitalized Cleveland who was suddenly making jokes and using hip slang in stark contrast to the previously dull nature of his character? Well this is basically an entire show based around that premise that was already completely worn out after just that 20 minute episode.

Either that or I'm just missing why Mike Henry shouting "You're a dog!" and "I guess they did!" over and over in his most stereotypical black guy voice is meant to be funny. Really I'm not skipping over anything, those lines are meant to be the jokes, there's nothing more to those lines. At times it's almost embarrassingly unfunny.

Even some of the few mildly amusing segments, such as early on Lois and Bonnie making out, are ruined by Cleveland bursting into laughter and shouting 'DAMN!" in that ethnic stereotypical way, which clearly Mike Henry feels is the perfect punchline to any joke. In fact this is a great example of one of the things I hate most about this show. It thinks it's much funnier than it is and pretty much every joke Cleveland is involved with involves him bursting out laughing at his own joke. Yeah that's right, the characters laugh at their own jokes. Seriously, if I hear that Cleveland laugh one more time I'm going to hit someone.

Cleveland runs into his old flame Donna and spends the rest of the episode trying to get with her. She lets him stay at her place and we meet her kids, the sexually precocious baby Rallo, and her jailbait daughter Roberta. Roberta has one of the only funny moments of the show, describing how she had to fight off "six Al Qaedas" but otherwise seems a boring and thin character. Rallo on the other hand seems the only mildly interesting character on the show, but again seems like a character best suited to a 5 minute cameo on Family Guy rather than his own show.

And then there's the neighbors. There's the racist redneck Lester, the ultra extreme wannabe hipster Holt who lives with his mom, and the anthropomorphic bear Tim who, yep, is a fucking talking bear. Not only that, he's Italian or something with a full on accent, and if your sides aren't already splitting he's a religious christian who keeps going on about Jesus! Also he's dimwitted and sounds like a mix between Barney Gumble and Peter from Family Guy's co-worker Fouad who doesn't get sarcasm. Comedy gold as you can see.

So Cleveland starts to pass his wisdom onto the kids, and ends up the episode marrying Donna and forming a nice happy family. The end. Did I mention that all the random cutaway jokes seem like terrible imitations of Family Guy? Kind of like some random fan decided to write his own fan script complete with his own jokes that he thinks are 'just as funny' as the real thing, but aren't.

The episode ends with an actually quite sweet musical montage of years gone by to the tune of 'How Deep is Your Love', but even that is undermined by really unfunny visuals.

It's not at all funny, that much is clear. One has to wonder then, whether this show is just 'bad' or if it's intentionally so bad it's funny. Frankly even if it's the latter, that just isn't a good concept for a full tv series. If Mike Henry wants to come out now and tell us that it was all a joke and they were never really going to make it into a show then i'll play ball and accept it, I'll even find it a pretty funny gag.

Otherwise save yourself the effort and avoid a frankly terrible 25 minutes of television. That FOX have already ordered two seasons of this makes a damning statement about what they think of the average tv viewer. This is basically Family Guy for thick people. Oh and if Seth MacFarlane reads this, take your name off the show, it's going to kill your reputation.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Stories reverberate around the internet about Apple's fascism with regards to app developers, or eBay's appalling customer service. But every so often a story comes along that really makes you sit back and go "wtf?".

Today we have one such story, and from right here in our own Imperial College London.

digg sucks

It seems that an entire college dorm has found a way to piss off social media website Digg.com. We received this story from an anonymous engineering student living in the Beit student halls in South Kensington who was shocked to log into the public computer in the common room only to find that his Digg access had been disabled, with absolutely no explanation, warning, or contact of any kind from the kind people at Digg.

Shortly after this, around twenty more people contacted us to tell us that they too had found their accounts deleted under similarly mysterious circumstances. All these people had only one thing in common, that they had used this public computer to access their Digg accounts. Indeed it seems to be the case that everyone who had ever accessed Digg on that one computer now had their accounts suspended without any warning or explanation.

One student had this to say: "I rarely even use this site so it's not my problem, but I can't for the life of me figure out what happened."

Another added this: "I can't understand how they can just do this without even telling us, and then not even respond to our emails. It's pretty laughable really."

At the time of writing this article the Digg support team have so far declined to respond to any of the students' emails, nor had they replied to our request for information. It seems they may want to quietly sweep this under the rug and move on.


UPDATE: Thanks Alex for contacting us with this information. It seems that this article found its way briefly onto Digg itself, but has since been deleted. It now seems like all articles from this website will be removed, guess they don't want people reading about this.

Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman (screenplay); Bryan Burrough (book)
Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 139 minutes

public enemies

If there's one thing people love, it's a rebel. The outlaw is always more famous than the lawman who killed him, and John Dillinger, the subject of this film, is one of the most famous in American history.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Dillinger rose to prominence robbing banks, hoisted on to the pedestal of fame by a story hungry media and Government looking for a distraction. This film tells the story of the manhunt that ensued.

Billy Crudup, recently seen playing Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen makes an appearance as the beleaguered head of the FBI J Edgar Hoover, showing again what a capable and versatile actor he is. And of course, Christian Bale plays the second of the two heavyweights in this film, top agent Melvin Purvis, and for the first time in a while actually earns some positive commentary for putting in a spot on performance.

But of course, it is Johnny Depp that most people want to see here as the outlaw himself Dillinger. Depp is starting to firmly cement his position as one of the top actors in the world right now and does himself justice in this role. Not to sound like I have a man-crush but Depp being on screen seems to make any scene watchable these days, even when the film itself is a bit lackluster.

Speaking of which, this film is not anywhere near as good as it should be, so it's a good thing it has two charismatic leads.

This film is set up to be a classic mano-a-mano battle between two badasses. Films that follow that formula are generally pretty good. In recent years just look at Catch Me if You Can, No Country for Old Men and in a different way Frost-Nixon for films that carry this out with aplomb.

Unfortunately this film falls a little flat. You have two interesting characters ably performed by likable actors, and yet you never really feel caught up in the proceedings. The tension constantly feels artificial, and not quite enough time is spent getting to know the characters themselves, as opposed to just seeing them 'in action' as it were. The aforementioned golden boys from this genre succeed by getting into the characters' heads and really offering a deep and personal insight.

Here's a film with all the makings of something kick ass, and yet it's like a loaded gun that keeps jamming when you attempt to fire it. It's not a bad film by any means, but at the same time it's too superficial to really be a great piece of cinema.


Directed by Rob Ashford
Written by Tennessee Williams
Starring Rachel Weisz, Elliott Cowan
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Donmar Warehouse

donmar streetcar named desire rachel weisz

Back to my favorite theatre then, the Donmar. This time it is to see their new production of the Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire.

From the moment I walked into the theatre, I knew there was going to be something special about this production. The director Rob Ashford may not have the most impressive resumé, yet, with the highlight of his past work being an Emmy nomination for his work choreographing the Academy Awards ceremony. But once you see the fine work he has done on this production, you are reminded that Emmy's aren't handed out for nothing.

The stage is beautifully done up, with flickering lanterns rusty columns and decorative wrought iron fencing around the audience circle to really give the look and feel of New Orleans (pronounced 'Nahlens' of course) and it comes of beautifully. The intricate design, the pitch perfect lighting, the smoke in the air and the mugginess of a packed theatre all made me feel as if I was actually there in New Orleans in the midst of all the action. And it's one of the few plays I've seen that makes me feel that way.

So the production is absolutely top notch, as is the lead performance by Rachel Weisz as the vulnerable Blanche DuBois, a 'prim and proper' southern belle with a dark past who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Weisz is on stage for pretty much the entirety of the play, and appropriately dominates the proceedings. And it's not because she's the big film star, it's because she's very VERY good. Indeed this is an unforgettable and powerful performance from a very talented young lady. That she does this every single night and her voice manages to hold up for the entire night through all the exasperated histrionics is nothing short of amazing.

The other performances are mostly positive, notably Ruth Wilson playing Stella. However, the same can not be said for Stanley, played by Elliott Cowan. It's not that he's a bad actor, he has the look and demeanor of Stanley down perfectly, it is because his accent is so completely all over the place that it's actually very distracting to the audience. It's not entirely clear what he's doing, it's like a mix of southern American, German, and some awful imitation of Marlon Brando. It's so bad that I honestly wonder if the problem was that he had stuffed cotton balls in his mouth in some misguided attempt to channel Brando, and ultimately you can only understand half the words that come out of his mouth.

The other major issue, frankly, is that I don't care too much for Streetcar in general. It's ok if you like excessive melodrama and histrionics. But frankly I find that manipulative, like you can't evoke emotion through the actual substance of the play so you have to try and do it via over the top whining and crying. It's not my cup of tea. This is a play with a lot of very interesting psychological concepts, which I feel are undermined by the unrealistically overt melodrama.

However, this shouldn't take away from an excellent production with a stupendous lead performance. After much careful deliberation, I have decided that these strengths outweigh the weakness of the play and Cowan's painful vocal work.


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
Starring Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 97 minutes

moon film sam rockwell

It seems that in recent years, science fiction has become the sole domain of the 'blockbuster'. The biggest and best of the genre seem to compete by waving ever inflating budgets and fancier special effects at one another. Eventually it reaches a fever pitch, the result of which can only ever be this week's Avatargate.

And of course this doesn't usually produce films of a high standard anyway. This summer's blockbuster Transformers 2 is a prime example of what happens when effects takes priority over story telling and actual film making quality. It seems a long time ago that sci-fi consisted of gems like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (and indeed it is a long time!).

However, this summer cerebral sci-fi is making a comeback. Films like Moon and District 9 are being hailed as saviors of the genre and proof that simple films with tiny budgets can produce better science fiction than more well financed juggernauts.

So no pressure then on first time feature film director Duncan Jones (the son of music legend David Bowie) with the film that he co-wrote and directed. No pressure on Sam Rockwell, pretty much the only actor to appear on screen for the entire film. Fortunately both excel in their roles and the result is something quite special.

The basic premise involves Sam Rockwell playing Sam Bell, the employee of a moon-mining company who is nearing the end of his three year contract in isolation on the moon (I know, always a great idea) and starts experiencing some strange encounters...

And at this point I will warn you there be spoilers here because frankly a discussion of this movie without giving away the plot would be pointless. So YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

So this is one of those movies that keeps you in suspense for the duration as to what is actually going on here. Much more so even than other genre films. Literally every five minutes your notion of what is going on changes. Is the robot (played by Kevin Spacey with a chilling lack of tone) going to turn against it's master like in 2001? Is he a clone? Is the corporation evil? Is Sam simply going insane from loneliness?

The problem here then, is that all of these concepts feature very well trodden sci-fi territory, and for much of the film it feels like the writers basically threw a bunch of sci-fi clichés in a hat and are playing meenie-miney-mo to decide which one they'll end up using. It doesn't help that ultimately I think they end up using the wrong one, as the ultimate mystery behind the film ends up being rather brassy and on the nose for a film with such a fine and subtle nihilistic tone.

The result is that this film ends up feeling a lot like a long episode of the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits, albeit a very good one.

In the end, it doesn't really matter though. Some of these ideas may be familiar to viewers, but frankly such a thing is inevitable in this genre, and it is a testament to the high quality of the writing, the directing and the acting that this film ends up producing a thought provoking and engaging plot in spite of this. I'll be frank, even with the slow and tempered pacing of the film I was absolutely gripped by the proceedings on screen for the duration.

This is not 'thrill a minute' sci-fi, this is cerebral, thinking man's sci-fi. This is a film that ponders the nature of what is real and what is not and what it means to be alive and self-aware. This is thought provoking stuff, and the viewer can't help but be sucked in.

The direction, a devotee of the 'less is more' school of thought, is measured and methodical, an approach which works very much to the film's benefit. The haunting score by Clint Mansell only amplifies the effect and bestows the film with a very special quality.

However the absolute highlight of this film is the performance of the star Sam Rockwell. This is a memorable performance, displaying a beguiling range of moods, emotions and mannerisms. This is a real tour de force, with deeply affecting loneliness tempered by his innate humor and charm. Definitely the best acting performance of the year so far.

More 2001: A Space Odyssey than Independence Day, this is not a film for people who expect sci-fi to have explosions and aliens. This is a very smart, thought provoking film which is performed and produced to an exceptional standard.


As anyone who spends any time reading about upcoming films will know, James Cameron's current project Avatar has been getting hyped up like nothing we've ever seen before.

This year, the man who brought us Terminator, Aliens, the Abyss and Titanic is working on Avatar. Judging by the word that's been going around the internet, this film is the closest we're ever going to get to the Second Coming, or a cure for cancer, featuring some unbelievable groundbreaking technology that creates mindblowing photorealistic CGI the likes of which has never been seen before. Also, it's been filmed specifically to be shown in 3D.

It hasn't helped then, that every single website or journalist who has written about previews has been talking this film up as 'one that lives up to the hype'. IGN has recently been talking about how the visuals and effects are simply unbelievable and seamlessly blur the boundaries between live action and animation. (Although they now seem to be attempting to rewrite history: "I'm still underwhelmed")

However it is about this time that we remember how moron hacks hoping to set a 'meme' were also talking up the new Harry Potter film as a dark masterpiece comparable to the Dark Knight. Yeah you wish losers.

Sadly this looks like it could be another example of letting hype get the better of us. First off I'll begin by saying that I personally was very disappointed with the trailer. Anyone expecting a sci-fi masterpiece along the lines of Cameron's earlier works can forget it. The trailer opens with 'from the maker of Titanic', which frankly I think says it all about the audience this is aimed at. The look of the film is definitely of a more 'Disney-esque' style, full of cartoon elves dancing around and riding dragons.

If that's your sort of thing, then you lead a very very sad life, but that's your call.

But this is irrelevant. What ultimately disappoints about the trailer is that we can see how wide of the mark all these claims of stunning photo-realistic graphics really were. The graphics are good, for sure, but they don't look any better than other sci-fi films in recent years, certainly not as good as Star Trek, or as good as District 9 (filmed with a tenth the budget by the way). It really doesn't even look any more photo realistic than the Final Fantasy film, made some 10 years ago.

So forget all the crap you read about 'blurring the lines between reality and computer graphics', forget all the baloney about this being 'the biggest technological leap of the decade', this is just shaping up to be a bog standard cartoon about magic elves, plus one real guy thrown in for fun. Go watch the trailer, bits of it even remind me of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'.

Before you all attack me as a 'hater' I BADLY want this film to be good, and I was really looking forward to it. However, there is simply no doubt that the film depicted in this trailer is nothing like what we'd been led to expect, and suddenly the biggest film of the decade just looks like another by the numbers animated movie.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

song of the week: "Everyone's a VIP to Someone" by "the Go! Team"


thing that makes me smile today: Good scores on my mock OSCE.

pic of the day:
IN:
District 9
Emmanuel Adebayor
Mixx

OUT:
Avatar
Carlos Tevez
Digg

Sunday, 16 August 2009

It seems like such a long time ago now that Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th President and charged with the unenviable task of having to clean up the unprecedented mess left by his predecessors.

A collapsed economy, unemployment sky rocketing, a health care system that ranks alongside that of third world countries, mired in two badly run wars, and foreign relations at an all time low, the list can literally go on for hours. In this special political edition, we evaluate the President's performance in his first 200 days in office and cast an eye towards what the future may bring.

president obama

For this very special feature the Ephemeric is proud to unveil our brand new political panel, ensuring you get the most complete picture of the political landscape with views and opinions from all areas of the spectrum.


The Ephemeric Political News Panel::

James Debate:
Aka. "Mr. Ephemeric", politically minded medic who has been an active member of Young Conservatives and the Democratic Party for years. Specializes in healthcare issues but as a prominent member of his university political society has run presentations on a wide range of issues from the economy to education.

James joins our panel as the ultimate moderate, being a staunch Democrat in American politics, and yet a consistent voting Conservative in Europe. "It seems trite to say, but politics shouldn't be about 'loony liberals' or 'crazy conservatives', it's simply about what makes sense, and can be backed up by sound logic and empirical evidence."

Hates: Extremists on either side, disingenuousness.
In election 2008: Voted for Barack Obama.


Camilla Brown:
Former UK resident who now studies at Brown in the States with a major in political science and a minor in English. Part of Brown's winning political debate team at the State finals in 2007, has since worked as a junior co-ordinator at the Hillary Clinton campaign and with the DNC.

Camilla joins as our liberal panelist, having been a devoted Democrat and member of the Labour party when she lived in the UK. "Progress is inevitable. Those who oppose healthcare and education reform today are cut from the same cloth as those who opposed the civil rights movement 50 years ago. In another 50 years no one will believe someone could have opposed better healthcare."

Hates: Closed minded bigots, sheep who follow the talking heads on tv.
In election 2008: Voted for Hillary Clinton.


Arthur Clarke:
A philosophy, politics and economics graduate from Oxford University, Arthur is now doing an advanced degree in politics and history, also at Oxford. A hotly tipped member of the Young Conservatives who has chaired numerous political groups and activist movements both in and outside of his university life.

Arthur joins as our conservative panelist, having voted and campaigned as a strong conservative and an established opponent of government expansion. "That 'conservative' is synonymous with 'backwards' is just a myth. It's not about resisting progress, it's about making the right kind of progress."

Hates: Big government, stereotypes.
In election 2008: Endorsed Mitt Romney.


So in order to evaluate the first 200 days of Barack Obama's presidency, we will analyze in chronological order what we have agreed by common consensus to be the key issues of his administration so far, followed by an overview of his campaign promises and a final, general summary.


Pre-Inauguration

- Selection of Vice President and Cabinet
- America's image and support overseas

James: As a resident of the United Kingdom, the change in attitude towards the United States after the election was especially noticeable. Overnight, the most hated country in the world became highly respected and even cool.

After years of frankly insane Bush policies and a seeming disregard for foreign relations and treaties (most likely because Bush was just not aware of them), electing an 'intellectual' with respect and humility for all people was a big change. And all of a sudden, jokes about how 'stupid Americans' couldn't run their own country dried up.

His cabinet was reasonable, although his administration's all new obsession with tax scrutiny meant that any nominee with an even vaguely iffy history was forced to withdraw. Frankly I never saw the point of appointing Joe Biden as Vice-President. Clearly the idea was to bring someone in with experience, but I'm sure there were equally capable, far less gaffe-prone candidates available; off the top of my head, Tim Kaine, Sam Nunn. He was right not to pick Hillary though, the last thing you need is a massive personality and ego in that job.


Camilla: The numbers speak for themselves. Approval for Obama in other countries is unbelievably high, in the 90s in much of Europe. And even in unfavorable countries in the Middle East, approval has almost doubled this year.

Personally, I think that an awful lot has been made of Joe Biden and his gaffes. I can't say I've ever seen a politician who didn't make the odd slip, and Joe Biden has the charm and noble presence to push through them. You also have to think in terms of congress, Obama didn't want to take someone out of the Senate or House from a state that typically votes Republican, like Virginia. I would have loved to see Hillary get the job, but I can see why she didn't.


Arthur: To be honest, Americans just don't care what people in other country think of them. And as far as a foreign policy boost, you'll be surprised to see how quickly foreign relations come back down to Earth when they get bored and go back to dealing with their own issues.

Obama went on to fill his cabinet posts with frankly obvious 'safe' decisions and ex Clinton officials, apparently hoping that lightning strikes twice... it rarely does.


First 100 Days

- Closure of Guantanamo Bay
- Economic stimulus and budget
- Increased troops in Afghanistan
- Lifted restrictions on stem cell research funding
- Opened relations with China

James: If nothing else, one certainly can't deny the man's ambition. Even with the huge laundry list of issues he has to deal with, Obama has attempted to address everything simultaneously by the looks of it. In just three months he made huge movements in foreign relations, scientific policy and ethics, and of course the economy.

The likes of stem cells, Gitmo and increased priority in Afghanistan were very obvious decisions. The important thing to remember about Gitmo is that these prisoners are not simply being 'turned loose', they are just being transfered to other facilities. One has to wonder, however, if they are just closing 'Gitmo', a symbol of the 'evils' of America's arrogance, and simply moving them to an identical facility by a different, less stigmatized, name.

It was these other movements that are likely to be most significant. Clearly the economy is at the top of everyone's priority list right now, and with unemployment spiraling towards 10%, business and banks going bankrupt before Obama was even sworn into office, major action was required.

The massive costs look imposing at first, but one has only to look at past recessions to see how stimulus spending can fix things. If anything, there should be greater worry over not spending enough. FDR got cold feet, and it was only World War II that finally pulled us out of that depression. So far signs show that it is working ahead of schedule.


Camilla: The biggest success of the Obama administration so far is that they got their economy recovery plan passed. Unemployment is already going down, and now looks like it won't hit 10% as predicted.

Sure the stimulus contained some strange expenditures, like building tunnels for turtles. But people who complain about that clearly don't understand how a stimulus works. The important thing is that money is put into businesses, it doesn't necessarily matter for what end.

With so much focus on deficit and unemployment, it is also easy to miss the other important aspects to this bill. The increased regulations on business and banks will prevent the kind or irresponsible spendthrift excesses and increased risk that caused this crisis. There is also a massive $54 billion in funds towards achieving energy independence, a move which will one day pay for itself many times over, as well as having beneficial environmental consequences.

In short, these early bills, especially the Recovery act have ensured that America's future is secure, and no matter what else happens now, at least that is sorted.


Arthur: I agree with the closure of Gitmo. Despite what some extreme right partisans say now, they would have done the exact same thing had they won the election. John McCain even admitted as much. But as James said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and so far this just smacks of PR stunt. I could be wrong though.

I am also a big advocate of renewed relations with China. As China continues to grow and become one of the big super powers, relations with them will become more and more crucial. Both economies are deeply dependent on each other now, and strengthening of that relationship will bear fruit for decades.

As for the big bad stimulus, as a conservative I feel sick when I read about the deficit spending and the debts that will ensue. However at the same time, it is undeniable that in recent history, spending of this nature is the most effective way to fix a broken economy. So do I approve? No. But I don't think Obama had any choice on the matter either, he couldn't just let the banks and businesses go bust.

Briefly on the subject of stem cells, I object strongly to the notion that this is a 'left vs right' issue. I am in favor of stem cell research, and the only reason not to be is if you are intensely religious, which I don't necessarily think should be one of the hallmark features of a right wing political party.


Second 100 Days

- Sotomayor Supreme Court Nomination
- North Korean Aggression
- Iran Elections
- Cash for Clunkers
- Gay Rights
- Healthcare Reform

James: After I initially favored a strong response to the Iran crisis, Obama eventually proved his more tempered response to be exactly what was needed. Once violence broke out it would have been all too easy to blame it on 'foreign influence' had he made more noise about it. Obama's first big foreign relations test and he avoided Bush-esque pitfalls and passed with flying colors, walking the fine line between saying too much and too little.

Cash for Clunkers is another very clever idea. It stimulates the economy by getting people to buy cars, it improves the environment by buying fuel efficient cars, and all the scrap metal and spare parts can be recycled. It's brilliant, and analysts are predicting massive profits to result from it.

However the most important of all issues is healthcare reform. I have been very vocal about my displeasure with the Obama plan. Frankly it doesn't go far enough.

The fact of the matter is that Obama's healthcare proposal is NOT radically different to what currently exists, the biggest difference is that there will be a new insurance company that will prevent the private insurance companies from running riot as they are now.

That being said, his proposal is without a doubt an improvement on what currently exists, it will improve care, prevent escalating costs, and increase coverage to millions more. However, seeing the absurd reaction among the right wing to even this watered down bill just goes to show how absurd American politics is.


Camilla: I was very proud to see Sotomayor sworn in as a new justice of the Supreme Court. It was an inspired decision and she is a lady of the absolute highest qualifications who has shown great wisdom in the past. It will bring some balance to the shocking conservative bias that has existed until now in the Supreme Court, maybe incidents like the 2000 election won't be repeated.

Of course, healthcare reform is the big issue now. I am, frankly, embarrassed as an American to hear some of the things protesters are saying out there, about death panels and euthanasia, and the downright odious lies about government sponsored healthcare in other countries (forgetting, of course, that much of American healthcare is already government funded!).

US healthcare currently alongside Costa Rica and Slovenia in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, clerical errors and the abysmal lack of preventative medicine. It is absolutely stunning that anyone wants to maintain this status quo.

All these protests really show is that the Republican party is utterly without shame as far as staging fake grassroots movements and inciting violence all to score a few cheap political points.


Arthur: I am about the most conservative person out there, but even I am embarrassed by the healthcare reform protesters. Frankly I think something as important as treating sick people should be above politics, but the Republicans are clearly very desperate to gain some political capita.

What upsets me about these protests is that because of the loud and moronic comments being made about fictional aspects of the bill like 'death panels', no one is talking about the REAL conservative concerns with regards to healthcare reform.

Frankly I worry that these protests are hurting conservatives more than helping them. The politicians in congress are not dumb enough to believe the absurd things being said at these protests, and all this hubbub might result in a bill being passed without addressing the more important issues, like cost, and the effects on the private sector.

There is no question that public and private business can co-exist, as it does in most developed nations, and as it does in other industries in America, it is just a question of not giving the public option too much of a monopoly over the industry.


Other Campaign Promises

- Net Neutrality: To be addressed at upcoming cybersecurity conference
- Transparency: Still in the works but red tape taking longer than expected to clear
- Repeal Bush Tax Cuts: Will simply be allowed to expire
- Reduced Wiretapping: Laws will be revisited by the end of the year

James: Much was made of Obama's plans for Government transparency, featuring bills being put up online for public comment before they go to vote, and debates held on C-span.

This hasn't happened yet and Press Secretary Gibbs recently broke the silence to explain how the red tape involved had made the reality of doing this far more complicated than anticipated, but it is still in the works.

Net Neutrality was a hot issue, let's face it, only with the internet geeks. But by taking this stance he clearly knows who his base is.


Camilla: The Bush tax cuts exemplify exactly what is wrong with the old economy. This 'trickle down' approach simply never works, and never has worked. There's no rush to get rid of them, but there is not a doubt that they should not be renewed.

I expect that in the near future there will be higher taxes on the rich. Our economy is in the dumps because of greed and arrogance of this top 1% of wage earners so it only makes sense that they help out in paying to fix it. And let's face it, an extra 2% on a guy who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and millions in bonuses is nothing, whereas that extra tax burden on the poor is crippling the base of our economy, the average consumer.


Arthur: I'll be blunt. I don't give a damn about Net Neutrality. On top of this, I was in favor of wiretapping in the past and I still am now- Obama would be stupid to repeal those laws.

Frankly I don't have anything to hide from the government, and considering these wiretaps are 'content triggered', unless I'm talking about smuggling uranium or buying an AK-47, it's not going to be an issue for me, and if I am, then it deserves to be. To Obama's credit there has been some suggestion that he is having doubts about repealing these laws and I am pleased that he's taking the time to think about it rather than just jumping in.

On the subject of the Bush tax cuts, however, I take serious issue. I know this isn't really a tax hike, just a repeal of tax cuts, but frankly the end result is exactly the same. During an economic climate like this, the last thing you want to be doing is increasing the tax burden by any means. I hope the tax cuts get renewed, and if they don't it will be a problem in the near future.



So now we will each give our final verdict on Obama's Presidency so far and give him our approval rating out of 100.


Final Verdict

James: It's early days yet, but signs so far are very positive. If the economy continues to improve, and healthcare reform gets passed, and education reforms that are scheduled for next year go well, then frankly an awful lot will have been accomplished in a short space of time.

Foreign policy is probably the area where he has impressed most, and the differences in world attitudes towards us between now and a year ago are very noticeable. One English newspaper recently made reference to "America 2.0", and that definitely seems to be the look Obama's administration is going for.

Meanwhile Obama's approval has been steadily in the 60s/high 50s. Considering other factors out there like racism, the increased partisan tone of Republicans, and the fact that he has so many messes to clean up, there is really no reason why his approval should be anywhere near as high as it has been, and I think that says a lot about the job he is doing so far.

It's far too early to say if Obama will go down as a great President, but if all these reforms go as planned then we might look back on him as one of the most important President's since FDR.

Approval Rating: 70


Camilla: American voters are like dogs, spooked by big, sudden movements. The massive changes that Obama is bringing to our country are likely to be difficult to pass, but once they have been they will revolutionize the country and ensure that our nation doesn't become just the latest super power to bite the dust in the annals of history.

Imagine an America with a stable economy, a world class healthcare system, a world class education system, and good relations with the rest of the world. That's the kind of world that will be achieved if Obama and the Democrats have their way, but will never happen if people allow themselves to be taken in by the right wing opposition. Of course it's early days yet, but Obama has yet to give us any reason to doubt him.

The Democrats may lose big in 2010, but as long as all this legislation is passed before then, our future is secure.

Approval Rating: 78


Arthur: "Voters are like dogs" and you wonder why voters don't like Democrat intellectuals, Camilla.

I'll admit, I have been surprised by Obama's first 200 days. I was expecting a whack job liberal to come in and ruin everything.

Of course, Obama is a whack job liberal, but I've been impressed by his restraint. While his party were crying out for completely universal healthcare, he's opted for a more middle of the road approach (until the extremist partisans went on the attack). Similarly his economic policies have a distinctly centrist approach to them, he has afterall cut taxes for 98.6% of the population, something no Democrat would ever have supported in the past.

In short, for the first time I see Obama as being what no President has been for a long time, a real centrist figure to mediate the struggles of the two parties.

But spending is a very real concern, but for the most part I don't think he really has much choice, and I don't think his opposition would have done much differently. It's important to remember that all these conservatives who oppose the stimulus and healthcare reform were gagging for it a little over a year ago.

There also seems to be the danger of increased taxes on the wealthy, both as part of healthcare reform and once the Bush tax cuts expire. This would be very bad for the economy.

Ultimately, I think Obama will be undone by his ambition. The more big and drastic changes a President tries to make, the easier it is for smart opposition leaders to turn the people against him, rightly or wrongly (wrongly on the subject of healthcare). 2010 will be a comeback year for the Republicans, and even though Obama still looks likely to win re-election in 2012, as Clinton did after his healthcare failure, I'm not sure if his popularity will ever hit the heights it once occupied.

Approval Rating: 56


Mean Approval: 68
Well Gallup has Obama's average approval so far at 63%, so we're in the right ballpark.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

song of the day: "Things Will Never Be the Same Again" by "JJ"


thing that makes me smile today: That Jon Stewart is officially the most trusted newsman in America.

pic of the day:
mehIN:
Tops Pizza
Obama's First 100 days
The West Wing

OUT:
Dominos Pizza
Obama's Second 100 days
Mad Men

Saturday, 1 August 2009

As the summer continues to drag on and the sensationalist football gossip becomes increasingly stale, thoughts turn towards the upcoming season of Premiership football. Who will be the surprise package? the disappointments? So we gathered our crack team of football experts together to formulate this, the ultimate preview guide for the season ahead.

In this guide we preview each and every team, run the rule over their key signings and players to watch and then fill you in on our carefully considered predictions for the season ahead.




ARSENAL

Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 4th
Manager: Arsene Wenger (September 1996)

It seems every year Arsenal is on the verge of collapse. All the big name players, formally Wenger's young 'wonder kids' who were tipped to form a world beating team, leave for pastures greener and more trophy filled. After 6 long years without trophies, last season appeared to be the new low point, 4th place and spending much of the season with a very real chance of not qualifying for the Champions League.

This season however the mood is different. After last season the feeling amongst Arsenal fans is that it can't get any worse, and now with key players like Rosicky and Eduardo back from injury, there is the hope that last season was simply bad luck.

None the less, they have lost their only proven goal scorer in Adebayor and one of their better (read: only good one) defenders in Touré and so far have yet to add to their squad aside from Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen. A bland strikeforce consisting of the erratic Van Persie, the lightweight Eduardo and the mediocre Bendtner may require moving their only real wide player, Arshavin, up front.

Key Signing: Thomas Vermaelen
Key Man: Andrei Arshavin
In Three Words: Not Much Hope

Verdict: Unless they add a striker between now and the end of the summer transfer window, this could be another season that sees them slip further away from the league leaders.


ASTON VILLA

Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,593
Last season: 6th
Manager: Martin O'Neill (August 2006)

Last season was the same old story for Villa. They started very brightly, and for much of the season really looked like they were going to steal 4th place from Arsenal. However, once again they fell apart towards the end and ultimately finished in 6th place.

This season O'Neill will want to continue the recent trend of improvement and push Arsenal for 4th again, however this time they will have increased pressure from the likes of Everton, Man City and Spurs.

The signing of Emile Heskey during the Christmas transfer window turned out to be a master stroke, and now Stewart Downing has been brought in to add to their already formidable roster of (English) attacking players. They have, however, lost their captain Gareth Barry, but frankly he was extremely overrated anyway.

Key Signing: Stewart Downing
Key Man: Ashley Young
In Three Words: British and Proud

Verdict: Increased competition amongst the second tier teams might actually serve to increase the distance between big 4 and the rest. Of these teams, Villa are likely to suffer most.


BIRMINGHAM

Nickname: Blues
Ground: St. Andrew's
Capacity: 30,009
Last season: Promoted (2nd in Championship)
Manager: Alex McLeish (November 2007)

McLeish is a good manager, and he has done well with a very average squad to get them promoted back to the Premiership. James McFadden found himself hampered with injury problems last year, but if he manages to stay fit it will be a big boost to the club.

He has also strengthened the team well with real top flight quality in promising goalkeeper Joe Hart, hotly tipped striker Cristian Benitez (who players of the Football Manager games may recognize) and midfielder Barry Ferguson.

One still feels that they could easily be stuck in a relegation battle come next May. But I suspect they might just have enough to survive.

Key Signing: Barry Ferguson
Key Man: James McFadden
In Three Words: Hungry, but Tired

Verdict: Might just be able to survive, but it will be tough.


BLACKBURN ROVERS

Nickname: Rovers
Ground: Ewood Park
Capacity: 31,367
Last season: 15th
Manager: Sam Allardyce (December 2008)

Last season was poor, but in fairness Big Sam didn't even have a full season with the club. The impressive team he built at Bolton wasn't done overnight, but I still expected more transfer activity this summer. As it stands now, Gael Givet is the most noteworthy new signing, and he alone will not be enough to galvanize this thin squad.

On top of this, they have lost their best player Roque Santa Cruz, but this may be a blessing in disguise as Diouf is allowed room to step into a more pivotal role.

Key Signing: Gael Givet
Key Man: El Hadji Diouf
In Three Words: Sam's Our Man

Verdict: This could be a long season for the club that sees them slip further down the table, but they will not get relegated, and Allardyce will build on this team for the future.


BOLTON WANDERERS

Nickname: Trotters
Ground: Reebok Stadium
Capacity: 27,879
Last season: 13th
Manager: Gary Megson (October 2007)

Megson somehow pulled Bolton up the table last season, against the odds, and have bolstered their defense this summer with signings like Zat Knight.

They are not the most glamorous of teams, but they could still upset a few people.

Key Signing: Zat Knight
Key Man: Kevin Davies
In Three Words: Rough and Tumble

Verdict: I don't expect their position to be much changed from last season.


BURNLEY

Nickname: Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 22,546
Last season: Promoted (playoffs)
Manager: Owen Coyle (November 2007)

This is the new team that people will be watching, following a string of high profile cup victories last season against Chelsea and Arsenal and Spurs. However that being said, they are also the weakest. It is worth noting that despite these few big performances, Burnley still only just managed to get into playoff qualification.

On top of this, they have not strengthened their squad much this summer, the highlight being Steven Fletcher from Hibs.

Key Signing: Steven Fletcher
Key Man: Steven Fletcher
In Three Words: Please Be Gentle

Verdict: Likely to be relegated, despite Coyle's best efforts


CHELSEA

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 42,449
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti (June 2009)

Last season I predicted Chelsea to win the league and despite a bright start, Scolari turned out to be a fraud and the team collapsed, ending up in 3rd place.

The fact is that Chelsea should have been the best team last season, and Hiddink showed us exactly why. Had it not been for inept management from Scolari, they very likely would be champions. So clearly much of their fate this season rides on the ability of new manager Ancelotti. Going a full season without sacking the manager might also be a plus for the team. A lot is riding on whether Ancelotti will turn out to be another Scolari, or another Hiddink. Frankly, I'm not yet sold on him.

Meanwhile they have been surprisingly quiet in the transfer market, an 18 million pound splash on Zhirkov being the only major purchase. Other than that they have signed Man City youngster Daniel Sturridge who looks a real prospect, and goalkeeper Ross Turnbull to be Petr Cech's understudy.

Key Signing: Yuri Zhirkov
Key Man: Frank Lampard
In Three Words: Jeckyl and Hyde

Verdict: It seems likely that given a season of stability and a competent manager, Chelsea will be champions. However this seems to be the case every year and yet they always find a way to collapse, so we'll have to wait and see what Ancelotti can do.


EVERTON

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: Fifth
Manager: David Moyes (March 2002)

For a number of years now Everton have been punching way above their weight, despite having little money and a constant exodus of their big players. This all serves as a testament to Moyes's management skills.

However there is only so far he can take them and I think that limit has been reached unless some heavy investment is put into the club from outside sources. Keeping brazilian striker Jô on loan for another season will be a massive boost though.

Key Signing:
Key Man: Tim Cahill
In Three Words: Mission Impossible Team

Verdict: Will push the top clubs again, but with increasing pressure from the well funded likes of Man City, Villa and Spurs are likely to slip.


FULHAM
Latest club news

Nickname: Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 26,000
Last season: 7th
Manager: Roy Hodgson (December 2007)

Let's hand it to the man. Roy Hodgson did a bloody brilliant job last season with Fulham, lifting them from relegation battlers to a Europa League place. Much of this was built on an impressive defense of Mark Schwarzer in goal, having the season of his life, and the likes of Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland and Paul Konchesky. They did very well for themselves.

To build on this successful base, Hodgson would do well to invest in some more attacking players. However so far he has not done so, opting to simply add to the squad depth for the season ahead.

Key Signing: Bjorn Riise
Key Man: Danny Murphy
In Three Words: Wily Old Man

Verdict: Unlikely to reach the heights of last season, but will probably not drop down too far either.


HULL

Nickname: Tigers
Ground: KC Stadium
Capacity: 25,404
Last season: 17th
Manager: Phil Brown (December 2006)

After an amazing start for first time Premiership members Hull, they collapsed somewhere around the halfway point of the season and slipped all the way down to 17th place, just outside of relegation.

The fact is that they burst out of the gates full of heart and energy, but as the season wore on, it became clearer and clearer that they simply don't have the quality to stay in the top flight. Even more so this season with the lack of additions to the squad.

Key Signing: Steven Mouyokolo
Key Man: Geovanni
In Three Words: Happily Ever After?

Verdict:The fairy tale looks likely to end this season


LIVERPOOL

Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 45,362
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Rafael Benitez (June 2004)

Last season these perennial underachievers finally made good on their promise of becoming genuine title contenders. Much of this likely had something to do with the collapse of rivals Chelsea, but it would still be unwise to ignore the progress that the club has made.

It's been a slow summer for them, aside from splashing out an absurdly over the top fee for former Chelsea right back Glen Johnson. That being said, he is still a decent player, worth about 10 million less than what they paid for him, and will be a big improvement on their current substandard fullbacks.

This season will see them challenge again, and I expect them to be there or there abouts at the end of the season, especially if Gerrard and Torres stay fit. This despite a frankly poor preseason that has seen them lose and draw all their early games against weak opposition.

Key Signing: Glen Johnson
Key Man: Fernando Torres
In Three Words: Finally Their Year?

Verdict: Could be Rafa's best season yet, likely to be there or there abouts at the end of the year.


MANCHESTER CITY

Nickname: Blues
Ground: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 48,000
Last season: 10th
Manager: Mark Hughes (June 2008)

After a highly disappointing midtable finish last year, the Saudi oil princes have fulfilled their promise of absurd cash splashing, the likes of which is rarely seen.

This summer they have signed underrated Manchester United star Carlos Tevez, along with Roque Santa Cruz and Emmanuel Adebayor. They have also signed overrated midfielder Gareth Barry.

The most surprising thing here is the absurd number of strikers they feel they need. This is in addition to Robinho, Bellamy, Bojinov and Benjani who they already have. This is really a silly move, reminiscent of the kind of blunders old school Real Madrid used to make, as well as new school Real Madrid for that matter. I'm sure Santa Cruz has no intention of warming the bench.

Their preseason has not been particularly good either, with defeats to frankly inferior South African clubs.

Key Signing: Carlos Tevez
Key Man: Carlos Tevez
In Three Words: Too Much Money

Verdict: With such an expensive star studded lineup they now have an attack that is arguably better than even the best in the league, and so it is no surprise to see them being tipped with breaking into the big 4 this season. However I expect them to underperform yet again.


MANCHESTER UNITED

Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 76,000
Last season: Champions
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson (November 1986)

Ronaldo is gone, Tevez is gone, which means that the champions are stuck with Berbatov and Rooney, with, I guess, Wellbeck or Macheda as backup.

That being said, they have signed Obertan, a very bright prospect, and risky moves for Valencia and the injury prone Michael Owen could yet prove to be master strokes. Fergy rarely gets it wrong, and fans will be hoping that he proves the doubters wrong again this season.

They are, of course, in with a good shout of trophies if their new signings can gel together quickly, and if Owen can stay fit. But in recent seasons they have looked half a team whenever Ronaldo was injured or suspended, and the general consensus is they will come to rue the loss of Carlos Tevez. Without the two of them, much rests on Wayne Rooney's shoulders.

Key Signing: Michael Owen
Key Man: Wayne Rooney
In Three Words: One Man Team

Verdict: They are, of course, in with a good shout of trophies if their new signings can gel together quickly, and if Owen can stay fit. However I feel that they will fall short without the goals and set pieces of Ronaldo.


PORTSMOUTH

Nickname: Pompey
Ground: Fratton Park
Capacity: 20,200
Last season: 14th
Manager: Paul Hart (July 2009)

Following the loss of Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth struggled to find the consistency they had shown in recent seasons. Their defense of the FA cup ended early, and they dropped back down to the bottom half of the league.

The squad, simply, is thin, and players who were previously carrying the team like David James and Sol Campbell are quickly becoming too old for this level. David Nugent hasn't worked out the way fans had hoped and the team is becoming ever more reliant on Niko Kranjcar.

Their movements during this transfer window have also been meagre to say the least, signing only former Blackburn defender Aaron Mokoena.

Key Signing: Aaron Mokoena
Key Man: Niko Kranjcar
In Three Words: Come Back 'Arry

Verdict: Could be a long season in which relegation is a real possibility, but ultimately I expect them to survive.


STOKE

Nickname: Potters
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Capacity: 28,384
Last season: 12th
Manager: Tony Pulis (June 2006)

After Hull came firing from the gates and drew the early plaudits, it was ultimately Stoke City who secured their place in the Premiership most comfortably with a creditable mid table finish.

Much of this was down to their strength at set pieces, especially from the throw ins of Rory Delap. However, as so often happens I expect them to find their second season in the top flight much more difficult, especially as their set piece gimmicks get old and teams adapt.

It doesn't help that their star signing of the summer so far has been Dean Whitehead of Sunderland.

Key Signing: Dean Whitehead
Key Man: Rory Delap
In Three Words: One Trick Pony

Verdict: Could well struggle this year, likely to get sucked into the relegation battle.


SUNDERLAND

Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Capacity: 48,300
Last season: 16th
Manager: Steve Bruce (June 2009)

Roy Keane is gone, and despite the popularity of Ricky Sbragia amongst fans, he was deemed not qualified for the job. Cue Steve Bruce, stage left.

He has since brought on a few very decent signings, including Fraizer Campbell and Lorik Cana, a truly inspired signing. Sunderland aren't a very good team, but they have a surprisingly decent collection of players, and if Steve Bruce can get them to play well together Sunderland should be safe.

For the first time in their history, Sunderland fans can now look down on their arch rivals Newcastle who were relegated last season. So even if they don't achieve anything this season, the smiles won't leave their faces.

Key Signing: Lorik Cana
Key Man: Craig Gordon
In Three Words: Suck it Newcastle

Verdict: Probably won't improve too much on last season, but are likely to survive.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Latest club news

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: White Hart Lane
Capacity: 36,236
Last season: 8th
Manager: Harry Redknapp (October 2008)

As always, a lot is expected of Tottenham this season, and with Harry Redknapp one feels that they might finally have the man to deliver on that promise.

Their only signing of note so far has been Peter Crouch, a man who invariably receives a bit of a mixed reaction from football fans. Love him or hate him, on his day he can be a handful for any defense. Will Pavluchenko really want to sit on the bench though?

Key Signing: Peter Crouch
Key Man: Luka Modric
In Three Words: Bound to Disappoint

Verdict: Should push for Europe, any less will be a failure, I wouldn't put that past them though, they are Spurs after all.


WEST HAM UNITED

Nickname: Hammers
Ground: Upton Park
Capacity: 35,056
Last season: 9th
Manager: Gianfranco Zola (September 2008)

The legend Gianfranco Zola signed last season with West Ham for his first job in management. No one doubts his footballing know-ho, but doubts remain over whether he has the ruthless streak to succeed in management. In any case he has done a decent job in his first season, bringing the club up to 9th.

He has also made decent acquisitions this summer in Luis Jimenez on loan and hot prospect Frank Nouble.

Zola will be looking to build on this team in his first full season, but with the increasing strength of the other clubs around West Ham's level, like Spurs, Man City and Aston Villa, I would not expect much more than they achieved last season, and perhaps even to drop down a few places.

Key Signing: Luis Jimenez
Key Man: Carlton Cole
In Three Words: Mr. Nice Guy

Verdict: A certainty for midtable.


WIGAN ATHLETIC

Nickname: Latics
Ground: JJB Stadium
Capacity: 25,000
Last season: 11th
Manager: Roberto Martinez (June 2009)

Had a good start to the season last year against all odds, but ended up finishing midtable. Will do well to improve upon that this season.

They have strengthened their squad well this summer with some understated, yet good value purchases, particularly for a club of WIgan's standing.

Key Signing: Garcia-Penche Jordi Gomez
Key Man: Chris Kirkland
In Three Words: Who Needs Rugby

Verdict: More of the same.


WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 28,525
Last season: Promoted (1st in Championship)
Manager: Mick McCarthy (July 2006)

They had a good year last season when they won the Championship, and this season they only look better, having strengthened their squad far more shrewdly than most newly promoted sides do.

In particular, their raid of Reading for the highly impressive goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and goal machine Kevin Doyle, who is frankly far too good for the Championship.

Add to this the fact that they are in the hands of experienced relegation battler Mick McCarthy, and I think their prospects for the season ahead are pretty good.

Key Signing: Kevin Doyle
Key Man: Kevin Doyle
In Three Words: On the Prowl

Verdict: Easily the strongest looking of the newly promoted teams, I think they will survive.


Predicted table:
1. Liverpool
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Manchester City
6. Everton
7. Aston Villa
8. Tottenham
9. West Ham
10. Fulham
11. Wigan
12. Bolton
13. Sunderland
14. Wolverhampton
15. Portsmouth
16. Blackburn
17. Birmingham
18. Stoke
19. Hull
20. Burnley

song of the day: "Beach Baby" by "Bon Iver"


thing that makes me smile today: The prospect of sunning in Italy tomorrow.

pic of the day:
curb your enthusiasm pretty goodIN:
Italy
Touré
GPS 2.36

OUT:
England
Gallas
GPS 2.33

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