james debate
james debate

Thursday 29 April 2010

Britain has suddenly been swept by Nick Clegg fever in the wake of the historic first live televised Prime Ministerial debates, with newspapers and sensationalist rags running headlines crowing him as the "British Obama". Indeed it's not just this country, even over in the States people have begun to take notice of British politics, a rare thing indeed.

nick clegg

For sure the parallels are obvious. Clegg, like Obama has burst out of nowhere to take a strong position in the polls, a charismatic and well spoken natural born orator bearing promises of change. And like Obama, Clegg is a leader, a man who inspires and connects with the people he addresses unlike 90% of politicians. That being said I hope we never hear another Obama comparison again. Frankly, ever since he became President, the media have been looking for someone to label the 'new Obama'. The first warning signs came in late 2008 and Conservative politicians made the highly unusual gesture of sucking up to the new American President, despite being of supposedly the opposite political persuasion (not necessarily the case as it turns out). Since then all three parties have been trying desperately to win this moniker, even going so far as to take slogans and catchphrases directly from Obama's campaign in the hopes that they will still work.

As someone who usually finds my policy positions somewhere between Tory and Lib Dem, I've certainly been impressed by Clegg's authority and confidence with the issues. All of a sudden Lib Dems are beginning to dream and believe that they can become a major player in Parliament, and perhaps even the winner. But any Lib Dems dreaming of a Prime Minister Nick Clegg would do wise not to get ahead of themselves, for the chances are very slim indeed.

The reason is that we don't have proportional representation in this country. A larger share of the popular vote does not necessarily translate to a larger share of seats in Parliament. The Lib Dems may have as much support as the other parties, but it's all concentrated in a few areas, whereas Labour's support is more spread out. This means that while the Lib Dems might go and win one or two seats by handsome margins, Labour can squeak by in a hundred seats by 1%, getting overall less votes, but winning the seats nonetheless.

This is why, if you look at any election projection, you will see that even the Lib Dems win the popular vote, say with 35%, they still come in last place in the election with the fewest seats. According to this electoral model, the Lib Dems would need about 40% of the popular vote just to be on even footing with the other parties, an extremely unlikely event, and winning an outright Lib Dem victory is pretty much impossible.

Instead, what Lib Dems will be hoping for is a large share of the popular vote with a view to using it as leverage in a hung Parliament. Indeed Clegg has already begun campaigning to this effect by declaring that it would be appalling for either Brown or Cameron to make themselves Prime Minister of any coalition government without winning the popular vote. He furthered this by adding that he had no interest in propping up either candidate. If Lib Dems do win the popular vote, or come second, they will be sure to push their man Clegg for Prime Minister in any coalition government (likely to be negotiated with whichever party comes in last place for reasons of leverage).

As for my preference, I strongly dislike Labour, and it would please me no end to see the Lib Dems, a more centrist party, replace them as the other major party in UK politics. Until recently I pretty much assumed I would vote for David Cameron, a highly intelligent man, capable leader, and an OE to boot. But I've always had a soft spot for Nick Clegg, who comes across as a more charismatic and thoughtful politician.

Of course, there are policies from both I like and don't like. For example, Clegg being the only candidate to express determination to repeal the Digital Economy Act is a big big win in my books, as are his various proposed electoral reforms (and being the first to suggest the implementation of recall elections is a positive). Then again there are policies I'm not entirely sold on, like his bank tax, breaking up the banks, and numerous spending cuts in other areas. However, at the end of the day I accept that the money has to come from somewhere in order to fix the current crisis, and the fact that Lib Dems are being honest and up front about the fact that cuts and tough decisions have to be made must surely play to their favour.

On the other hand there's Cameron and the Tories. I love his economic policy (tax reforms), his focus on green infrastructure, education reforms, and his measured approach to involvement with the EU. And just generally I appreciate the fact that this is an unusually progressive Conservative party, seemingly aspiring to the best of both ideologies. However there are also the questionable cuts of the NHS, and the fact that his party don't seem to have an idea of how they're actually going to pay for everything they're promising and simultaneously lower the deficit. Sure, I've heard Tory propagandists riff off their list of tax adjustments and cuts, but do the numbers and they simply don't add up. Cameron and his party seem unable or unwilling to concede the bleakness of the next few years or admit that they will have to make tough compromises on many of the policies they would otherwise like to instate. This costs them major points with me.

So while there are things I like and dislike about both of these parties, I remain wholly unconvinced that the Tories can deliver everything they are promising, whereas the Lib Dems are offering a much more pragmatic manifesto and a frank disposition. Ultimately I have faith in both parties running this country competently, both Cameron and Clegg would make fine Prime Ministers, and as long as Brown is gone I will be happy. Indeed a Lib-Tory coalition could well be the ideal situation for someone of my political persuasion.

We at the Ephemeric pride ourselves on our uncanny ability to pick a winner, and more importantly to pick someone who would be good for the country and the people who live here. We firmly believe that David Cameron will be our next Prime Minister, though it could well take a hung Parliament before this is determined. But personally, I am going to go and vote for the Lib Dems, who will never have a better opportunity to break into the mainstream of British politics. Their rise can only be a good thing for the country, especially if it is at the expense of Labour.

Saturday 24 April 2010

song of the week: "Fixed" by "Stars"

thing that makes me smile today: Meeting up with old friends.

pic of the day:
you like thisIN:

Johnnie Walker

Thursday 22 April 2010

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 138 minutes

The tried and tested duo of Scorsese and DiCaprio team up once again for Shutter Island, a psychological thriller based off the novel by the same name, written by Dennis Lehane. Unfortunately, what was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2010 ends up falling somewhat flat in a number of areas.

shutter island

The original "movie brat" Scorsese has been around for decades weaving layered classics with a special attention to detail and filmmaking technique that characterises a true film geek. His latest film sees him channeling the late great Alfred Hitchcock, sometimes overtly with scenes that are strongly reminiscent of the likes of Psycho and North by Northwest. Be forewarned, there will probably be spoilers, as it is quite hard to comment on what the film does right and wrong without discussing the narrative.

Now this is first and foremost a movie of atmosphere. An ominous and brooding film noire laced with the hallmarks of the great psychological thrillers past, and topped with a bold and confident production team that clearly knows how to draw you into the moment and make you feel uneasy even during the most placid of scenes.

The story overlooks a 1950s postwar era, with US Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) investigating the disappearance of an inmate from the insane asylum located on the isolated, so creepy it could only have been designed for a B-movie, Shutter Island.

The plot thickens as Daniels and his partner begin to uncover details of the controversial treatment methods used by Dr. Crawley (Kingsley) who has set himself up as the apparent ruler of his foreboding island fortress. Almost from the get go we are led to expect your standard 'immoral doctors experimenting on patients' B-movie plot. But in classic Hitchcockian style, things are rarely as they seem.

Even early on there is no doubt that the real story here lies within the mind of Daniels, a man haunted by his traumatic experiences in the war and the death of his wife. He suspects that the man responsible for his wife's death is present in the asylum, and investigates further. But as his journey meanders forward he is increasingly plagued by confusing visions, are they hallucinations? Memories? By the time the film reaches its climax, Scorsese has artfully eroded away at our preconceptions, slowly loosening our grasp of what is real, presenting a reality that contradicts itself, leaving us 2 and a half hours into the movie and thoroughly confused. Then in one climactic scene he springs a twist upon us that attempts to completely make sense of everything.

Now this twist, which I won't describe here, is certainly a bold one, if slightly contrived, and the end of this scene does lead to a flashback sequence from Daniels' earlier life that has to go down as one of the most darkly haunting scenes I've watched in a while. But ultimately it feels forced, it's an ending that requires us to simply disregard much of the backstory that the early portions of the film spend so much time telling us about, and requires us to accept that pretty much everyone in the movie, doctors, Daniels' partner, everyone was 'in' on it from the start, which may sound like a compelling twist on paper, but when held up to scrutiny it simply doesn't add up and takes a huge suspension of disbelief. The big reveal is also just clumsily handled, the equivalent of a cinematic sledgehammer, not exactly awash with nuance.

Technically speaking, there is very little to complain about in this film. The directing is of an unsurprisingly high quality, but almost feels too 'textbook', lacking in original ideas. The production values, meanwhile, are excellent, from the music and the cinematography to the ambient atmosphere that is so palpably thick for the duration. The acting is also top notch throughout, with DiCaprio in snarling Billy Costigan mode from the Departed, leaving us wondering whatever happened to the vapid pretty boy he started his career pretending to be, and Kingsley looking menacing every time he appears on screen.

However, despite these positives, the overall feeling one walks away from having seen this film is that it's contrived, by the numbers, and most definitely a case of style over substance. That being said, it's an enjoyable if not wholly satisfying ride, and certainly better than anything currently in the cinemas.

DiCaprio as a gruff tough guy
Scorsese's effortless control of a scene
Top production

Contrived ending
Clumsy narrative methods

Saturday 17 April 2010

Here's one for those of you who like a night at the club and a bit of Dance/Rap. Everyone loves a good mashup. In 2004 Dangermouse turned mashups into an art form with Beatles/JayZ mashup, the now infamous Grey Album. Girltalk then perfected the genre by producing Feed the Animals, an album which was somehow greater than the sum of its (literal) parts. But now we have a new face in the mix, the White Panda, and they're pretty awesome.

the white panda

The White Panda is a duo made up of Tom Evans and Dan Griffith, based out of Chicago and Los Angeles. They first came to my attention last fall when their tracks started making the rounds on the interwebs, and by the end of last year they released their first mashup mixtape, Versus, for download on their website.

The quality is undeniable and range of musical styles being mixed impressive, but Versus is ultimately more of a sampler of their library, an hour of fluidly mixed bit size snippets from their full length songs which normally float around the 3-4 minute mark.

It's more than enough to get an idea of what they're about though. Opening with the Lil Jon quote ‘we gon’ all get real drunk tonight' sets the tone for what is a relentless party starter, and a high energy debut that showcases the talents of the newcomers.

As is par for the course when it comes to this genre, some tracks hit and some miss. Pop Lock n Grizzly is a real highlight, while What You Know About Little Secrets is the track that first started building the hype for them, and Stuntin Like My Energy kicks ass once you skip past the crappy intro from Keri Hilson (in this respect the bite size version from versus is actually better since it skips this).

But of course we've seen in the past that it takes time and experience to perfect the art. Compare Girltalk's recent work to his early albums and wonder what the White Panda might sound like in the future. We won't have to wait long to find out either, with a follow up album due summer 2010.

Must Listen:
Pop Lock n Grizzly

Bizarre Flirt

What You Know About Little Secrets

Stuntin' Like My Energy

Throw Some Tik on that Tok

Saturday 10 April 2010

song of the week: "Fireflies in Electric Dreams" by "Owl City (cover by MadMixMustang)"

thing that makes me smile today: Lost; there's never been another show like it that's so thought provoking.

pic of the day:
you like thisIN:
Hipster Cat

Courage Wolf

Tuesday 6 April 2010

It has long been speculated that Justice John Paul Stevens, soon to turn 90, is on the verge of retiring from the Supreme Court of the United States. Sources now suggest that an announcement is imminent, perhaps by the end of this month, giving Obama an opportunity to nominate his second appointee to the court.

justice stevens retirement

Last year's replacing of moderate Justice Souter with Sonia Sotomayor gave the highest court in the land, commonly perceived as right leaning, a shift to the left, and liberals will be hoping that the President makes another ideological appointment. However, in the run up to an election where Democrats are fast becoming frustrated with a President who is unable to push through a unified opposition, it may be in the best interests of the administration to pick a "safer" candidate who can be sworn in quickly with a minimum of fuss, whilst still giving liberal voters something to celebrate.

Indeed conservative punters are probably thrilled to see Stevens, one of the driving forces of the so called "liberal wing" of the Supreme Court, stepping aside. But this is a fairly superficial conclusion to come to, as one realises when looking deeper at the dynamics of the court.

So in basic terms, after the Supreme Court votes on an issue one Justice from the majority then gets to decide who writes the court's official "opinion", basically deciding the specific language that will become the law of the land. If the chief Justice (currently the right leaning John Roberts) votes with the majority it will be him who makes this decision, and if he doesn't it will be the most senior Justice from the majority, which in recent times has been the left leaning Justice Stevens.

Stevens' unique persuasiveness and personality have made him a very effective champion for liberal causes in a court which often tends to be split down the middle between it's four right leaning Justices and four left leaning Justices. During a close vote, it almost always comes down to the moderate 9th Justice Anthony Kennedy to assume the role of the "swing vote" and decide whether it is the conservative Roberts or the liberal Stevens who gets to define the country's code of law. This has been the dynamic of the court in recent years, whoever wins Kennedy over wins the debate.

Conservatives would be justified in concluding that the gentle natured Stevens was instrumental in luring Kennedy, who votes with the conservatives more often than not, to side with the left in landmark rulings of recent times, and that his loss is a loss for liberals. But at the same time, Stevens' retirement completely changes this previously described dynamic. Now Kennedy will be the most senior Justice in almost any liberal majority, which means that he will have direct control over the language of any ruling that the liberal wing of the court wins.

This makes Kennedy a very powerful man, but more importantly it means that when it comes to close votes where Kennedy's position lies somewhere in between the liberal and conservative viewpoints, Kennedy will essentially have the choice of voting with the right and letting Roberts define the law somewhere to the right of what Kennedy believes, or voting with the left and getting to directly control the definition of the law himself. Whereas in previous years Kennedy may have leaned to the right because his viewpoint more closely matches that of Roberts than Stevens, now in almost all cases he might feel he can achieve a result that most closely matches his belief by siding with the left and writing a more cautiously worded opinion himself.

In short, Stevens' retirement might just offer the "swing vote" of the court all the incentive in the world to shift closer to the left in upcoming years.

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