Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Collection of Thoughts on the Last Day of March

300. Shaun of the Dead. The Parole Officer. Pizza. Cider.

All in all, last night was pretty damn great. It was a very stereotypically "lad" night, something i've definitely missed at university, compared to when i'm back in Sheffield.

Tonight i'm off to the cinema for a preview screening of "Sucker Punch". We got the tickets thanks to a competition of sorts on the IGN website that my house mate told me about.

I've also confirmed my second week of work experience for the summer. I'm working at The Leicester Mercury for the first week of June and then another week at The Derbyshire Times during July. Quite excited about it really; i'm sure i'll be spending a lot of the time fetching cups of tea and stuff like that, but i'm sure it'll still be a good chance to see what a newspaper is really like, to see how accurate my hopes and preconceptions about the business are.

Hopefully i might even get a couple of pieces published, i know quite a few other people who have done when they went on work experience. Would be pretty brilliant to see my name in a newspaper.

To finish the blog today a song that's been around for a few years, from a band who never quite made it into the big time.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Drizzle and Dog Owners

The blog posts will probably be a bit shorter for the next couple of days, one of my friends from Sheffield has come to visit so i won't have as much time to write until Sunday probably.

It's a thoroughly miserable day today weather-wise, the sun of the past few days has been replaced with grey clouds and to quote Peter Kay, that fine rain that soaks you through. My perception of the day was not helped by the frankly huge pile of dog dirt in the alleyway that leads to my house.

It's one of the things that winds me up more than almost any other, dog owners who don't have the common decency to tidy up after their animals. If you're going to have a pet, you take on the responsibility to make sure you dispose of their crap, rather than leaving it in a narrow alleyway that is used as access for 4 different houses.

I'm not a dog person at the best of times, but it seems a lot of the time the problem isn't the animal, but the human being who owns it.

Rant over though.

After the England match last night i watched a few of my favourite episodes from the 1st season of How I Met Your Mother. It is ridiculous how often the central character Ted says or does things which feel all too familiar. It's definitely one of the main reasons why i love the show, the fact that i can relate to one of the characters so strongly.

There's a rant from his character in the pilot episode that completely summed up why i love the show.

"You know what? I'm done being single, I'm not good at it. Look, obviously you can't tell a woman you just met that you love her, but it sucks that you can't. I'll tell you something though, if a woman, not you, just some hypothetical woman, were to bear with me through all this, I think I'd make a damn good husband, because that's the stuff I'd be good at. Stuff like making her laugh and being a good father and walking her five hypothetical dogs"

To finish the blog today i'll post a song off an album i'm excited to listen to once i actually have some spare money to buy CDs with.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

How To Draw 1-1 And Still Be Entertaining

England 1 - 1 Ghana

Ghana earned a very deserved point at Wembley this evening thanks to a 90th minute strike from Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan.

Compared to so many of the friendlies England have played in in recent years this was a highly contested encounter with plenty of chances for either side, aided by some suspect defending by both defences.

The stars of the game were undoubtedly the Villa connection for England in Downing and Young, while Gyan's enthusiasm and hard work definitely merited the goal he eventually scored.

England attacked from the outset, the midfield three of Milner, Barry and Wilshere looking to play Young and Downing in behind the Ghanaian defence at every opportunity. However for most of the first half the crosses once they found those positions were frustratingly poor. In the 23rd minute Young managed to get on the end of a Milner cross, only to somehow manage to scoop the ball onto the bar when, to quote a cliché, it looked easier to score.

Ghana looked dangerous on the counter attack throughout, making up for a marginal lack in quality with a level of pace and enthusiasm that was highly enviable. Twice Adiyah forced Hart into impressive reflex saves.

England eventually took the lead in the 42nd minute, a quality finish into the far bottom corner from Carroll after Young and Downing combined to set him up.

Overall the first half was actually one of the most exciting 45 minutes i've seen in an England friendly for a long time. They played some of the most entertaining football they've managed under Capello, very quick flowing and with the 5 midfielders providing plenty of movement and passing.

However the 2nd half failed to live up to the promise of the first. All the fluency in the passing football seemingly abandoned England, suddenly they struggled to maintain any real pressure on Ghana and this only served to give them inspiration to push on and they threatened an equaliser throughout.

The half became scrappy and the play was broken up repeatedly by several rash challenges from both sides that in a competitive match may have seen several players receiving a yellow card, and one or two (Ayew and Baines) could have even got a red card.

In the 56th minute a corner for Ghana bounced around the England box for several moments before a shot was eventually deflected over. That should have served as a warning but England failed to close out the game and when Gyan turned Lescott inside out and curled the ball into the far corner you'd be hard pushed to argue they didn't deserve it.

Even if you could argue on the basis of the match that they didn't deserve the win, the celebrations that followed the goal meant that i felt hard pressed to be all that annoyed about the turn of events. As the thousands of Ghanaian fans danced and sang in celebration i found my affection for their country grow even more. Those are fans who watch football simply to enjoy the match and the atmosphere, passionately supporting their team with a refreshing lack of animosity or aggression.

England can learn quite a few lessons from this evenings game. Firstly that a more attacking and free flowing formation can suit England and could give us a vague chance of performing at Euro 2012. Secondly that Ghana are one of the strongest teams in Africa currently, even without Essien. Finally that Young, Wilshere and Cahill should be in or around whatever squad we take to Poland & the Ukraine.

Now to finish the blog is a song that was the first one i listened to today as i was walking to my first lecture of the day.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Films, Films and More Films

Today's blog post is all about films; i'll give brief reviews of several films i've watched in the past fortnight, and a mention of a film i'm very excited to be seeing later this week.

First up is "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans". I watched this this evening and if i'm honest, i still don't entirely know what i think about it. This is perhaps inevitable with a Werner Herzog film, even one as comparatively accessible as this. Herzog is renowned for being one of the most surreal directors out there, very rarely producing films which could be considered easy watching. "Bad Lieutenant" is a slight departure from this, it was VERY watchable, you're just not always sure what it is you're watching. On the surface it's a cop thriller; the plot revolves around the investigation into a drugs related murder and there are many of the trappings of the genre to be seen, but they almost seem merely coincidental, this is a film about one man's reliance on, pursuit of and experiences with drugs.

That man is played superbly by Nicholas Cage, an actor who has been frustratingly inconsistent throughout his career, but is capable of truly great performances. Often he seems at his best when he let's all his craziness show on the surface, and that's definitely the case here, just as it was in "Raising Arizona" and "Kick Ass". Who better to make use of that side of Cage's ability, than Herzog?

It's a police procedural with a surprisingly high frequency of iguanas and break dancing spirits. It's a thriller where the 'good guy' is so bad it's stunning in it's audacity. It's a film which is aware of all the conventions of the genre it falls within, yet picks and chooses which ones it uses.

All in all it's a very good film, one i suspect could become great with repeat viewings. Definitely give it a watch, embrace the weirdness and revel in Nic Cage being as good as everyone knows he can be.

After one viewing, it'd get 4/5 from me.

Next up is "Going The Distance". This is an indie rom-com directed by Nanette Burstein, focussing on the relationship between Drew Barrymore's journalist, Erin, and Justin Long's record label employee, Garrett. As the title suggests, the obstacle in the way of their romance, is distance itself. Erin is based in San Francisco while Garrett is from New York. It's essentially the story of a holiday romance, which neither of them are willing to give up when the time comes for Erin to go home. I really enjoyed this film; i'm a fan of both Barrymore and Long, the characters are well enough acted and written that you definitely root for them to find a way to make it work, and the usual range of misfits that make up their friends and families provide laughs throughout. My one criticism is simply that for the most part, it's indie rom-com by the numbers; it's a great example of the genre, but it doesn't have that little extra bit of quality to make it something more than merely a genre piece. It's why it doesn't quite make it into the same league as "Garden State" or "500 Days Of Summer" for me.

Therefore i'd also give this one 4/5.

The final film i'm going to give a brief review of is the one i saw at the cinema almost a fortnight ago, but never got round to writing about, "Battle Los Angeles". This film won't win any awards for originality or win many fans due to it's intelligence and emotional depth. However precisely because it knew it's limitations, didn't attempt to be something it wasn't and just embraced the kind of utterly idiotic action that makes blockbusters like this one so much fun, i loved it.

It was aptly described by it's makers as "Black Hawk Down with aliens" prior to it's release and it lived up to that. The action was visceral and intense throughout, the characters exhibit exactly the kind of bravery which would result in inevitable death in a real war zone and there's several moments of rousing collective courage that despite their cheesiness, work within their setting. It was hugely entertaining throughout and though it wasn't in any way ground breaking, i never expected it to be.

It was a great example of enjoyment being at least partly based on expectations.

It doesn't deserve more than 3/5 in the grand scheme of things, but for two and a bit hours i was very entertained, so i really can't complain.

The final film i'm going to talk about is the one i'm seeing on Thursday, "Sucker Punch". It's by the guy who made "300" which should tell you a lot about what kind of film it will be. I could ramble on about the stunning visuals and frenetic looking action, but instead i'll simply post the trailer on here, and let you see for yourself. Watch it in 1080p.

Intellectual? no. Emotionally complex? Definitely no. Likely to involve hard hitting social commentary? Not a chance. Absolutely mental and utterly ridiculous? Hell yes. Entertaining? You can count on that.

As always, i'm going to post a song to bring this blog to a close, today's is a song that came on my iPod as i was wandering around Morrisons. Definitely one of my favourite remix's at the moment.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A Momentary Calm

Just a quick one tonight as i'm knackered, but loathe to break my 1 post a day streak.

Today i experienced one of those incredible moments where i just felt utterly peaceful. That's not to say that the stuff i was worrying about last night had gone away, or that there wasn't a whole host of other things which bugged me over the course of the afternoon and evening. All those issues are still there, however for a fleeting moment i forgot all about them

I was sat in the back garden of the house owned by a group of my closest friends at university, a play list compiled by me playing over the speakers, eating a burger cooked on a BBQ and had a pint of cider in front of me. It was an over cast day, if anything a little chilly for a BBQ, but we'd rigged the area up with candles and fairy lights and it gave the whole evening a wonderfully relaxed feel.

It was Bloc Party that was playing and as i looked around, over the wall of the garden and out towards the buildings that surround their house i felt happy. Actually perhaps happy isn't the right word, the connotations don't quite fit, possibly 'content' is a more accurate description.

One of the descriptions of content, from that 'esteemed' source,, suggests content is the word i was searching for; "Satisfied with what one has, not wanting more or anything else".

For an all too brief moment that was absolutely true. I don't feel like that very often, i'm not someone who is all that satisfied with their life, i spend most of my time really struggling with the realities that face me, so i really cherish those moments where for whatever reason, i don't worry anymore. Where i gain perspective or calm and am able to simply enjoy a moment for what it is, rather than picking it apart for what it lacks.

Because of how rare moments like those are, i have to try and make the most of them, for i can never be certain how long i will have to wait before i can feel that kind of blissed out calm again.

As seems appropriate, i'm going to finish this blog with a song which comes pretty close to offering me that completely relaxed, completely content state:

Saturday, 26 March 2011

All Alone In a Crowded Room

Loneliness is a pretty horrible sensation. It's one which every single human being will feel at some point. And it's an emotion that for many people can have little to do with physical isolation from other people.

I feel lonely a lot of the time and that's despite having a friendship circle which is incredible and which i am hugely reliant on. Like today, i've been paint balling with a selection of those friends, then spent the evening watching films at their house, yet i've felt so intensely lonely for large parts of the day.

On one level it's partly the fact that i don't feel like i entirely fit in within any group. Even people i've been friends with all my life, for some reason i've never been able to satisfactorily explain, i feel like an outsider, like an addition, often welcome most definitely, but an addition to a separate group. It's a tough feeling to describe accurately without straying into melodramatic self pity. I just feel detached i guess.

I don't write that to fish for sympathy or make any of my friends feel they're doing something wrong. I write it for precisely the opposite reason, i write it because i want them to understand that it's my issue, not anything they're doing, something i can't help. I want them to understand that those times when i go quiet, or seem distant or sad, it's my way of dealing with those feelings, not a comment on their friendship.

I mean if i still feel out of place when spending time with friends i've had for more than 16 years now, it has to be something internal that is causing this feeling.

I do find myself on my own quite a lot; i've spent quite a lot of the last two years practically living alone, i spent my teenage years travelling on my own to Forest games, both in Nottingham and across the country, because i didn't know any other Forest fans willing or able to travel to the games, i went to my friends gigs on my own more than once, again due to lack of willing or interested company. I never used to find it such a problem, i got quite good at being on my own, but it's gradually become this issue which really is bothering me. I guess i kept believing it would change, that i'd learn or something, but like with anything, the longer you have to believe something without reward, the weaker that belief becomes.

I'm not denying that being single doesn't help, especially considering that my friendship group has a brilliantly high frequency of long term couples, but i think it's more than that. I suspect that until i find some way to be more comfortable in the person i am and the friends i have before i'd really benefit from a relationship, what's to stop me still feeling lonely in their company, ending up ruining it for both of us.

No this is something to do with me, not the people around me and i wish i knew how to change it.

Maybe most people feel like this, maybe everyone feels like an outsider and we're all just pretending to fit in. Quite possibly i'm over reacting, being over sensitive and confusing loneliness with awkwardness. But deep down i don't think i am and i can't believe everyone feels like this. I hope everyone doesn't, because it's not much fun.

I promised myself when i started this blog, as well as covering politics and films/tv/music/etc, that i would be open and honest about how i am feeling and the things i'm thinking. It's my blog, so i have to hope that if you're reading it, you're at least vaguely interested in the things that matter to me. If not, it's still my blog, so i'm going to write about that stuff anyway.

There's a couple of quotes, from a musician i quite like, called Andrew McMahon, from the band Jack's Mannequin, which i've always found kind of comforting.

"The whole world, myself included, seem to have one thing in common; we're just a crowd of people who don't really fit in anywhere attempting to convince one another that we do. I guess I'll put my sunglasses on and pretend, like everyone else, that I too belong here..."


"We live in this culture where everything is supposed to be so hip and so cool, and it's not cool to love, and it's not cool to take care of each other, and it's not cool to stand up for ourselves. But you know what? Fuck all of that. I believe in love, and I believe that the only way that we are going to survive this fucking craziness that's going on in our world today is if we just learn to look at love, turn our heads the other way from all the bullshit, and fucking love."

& finally

"You don't have to push or pull or fight or win, the struggle is illusory. Sometimes or rather, all times, you just have to be."

This is a man who's overcome leukemia, a man who's had to deal with a level of struggle i haven't even come close to, so i guess i should really listen to the advice he has.

I don't think i'm unique in this, wanting it doesn't make me special or different, in fact i think it makes me everyone like everyone else, but i just want to feel like i fit in somewhere. It'd be nice.

To finish this post off, 2 songs, the first which has a lyric in it which links in nicely with what i've been writing about and inspired the title of the post, the second not of huge relevance to what i've just written, but a song which kind of fits the mood i am in.

First up is "Dark Blue" by Jack's Mannequin.

The second is "Happiness by the Kilowatt", originally an Alexisonfire song, but here performed by Dallas Green on his own.

Friday, 25 March 2011

5 Years Perspective

It's another absolutely beautiful day. I am really loving this period of sunny weather, even worn shorts for the first time this calendar year. I love the feeling of sunshine on my skin, that warmth that comes from being in direct sunshine, it feels so nice after a winter of hoodies and jeans. It's a simple pleasure, but sitting in a park with a few friends, sandwiches and an ipod with speakers is something i wish i could do every day. All that was missing was a football or rugby ball and maybe a can of cider, but i'm definitely not complaining.

Tomorrow i'm going paint balling for one of my housemate's 21st birthdays. I'm really looking forward to it, though if the weather's like it is today, it's going to be completely roasting running around a forest in overalls and a mask. I've not been paint balling for a few years now but i remember it as great fun, if on occasion quite painful.

I've only got two weeks of lectures left for the entire of second year, which is a bit of a weird thought. It makes it seem like i might eventually have to grow up and be an adult, and frankly i'm not ready for that.

I'm kind of keen to cling to being a student for as long as possible, i think it suits me more than being a fully fledged adult will. I'll no longer be able to use "i'm not even an adult yet" as an excuse for the things that are missing from my life or that i've failed to achieve. It's kind of comforting that there's still this big life change to be had, it's scary to think that after that it's just being an adult for the rest of my life. I suspect the pressure to be something, to find someone and to make somewhere my home will all be more intense for no longer having the justification that i'm a student and am not meant to have decided anything.

Then again i guess it's hard to know how the change will affect me until enough time has passed that i can have perspective.

I guess the life i'm living right now will probably look very different with 5 years perspective for example. I mean i look back at how i was as a 15 year old and i'm not exactly desperate to go back to being like that. I do miss school and some elements of my life then, but i don't miss being that guy. He was even more pathetic and desperate to impress everyone than i am now, which is an achievement. He wasn't the slightest bit comfortable with who he was and let's be honest, he needed a hair cut.

I was in year 10/11, worried about GCSE's and only just starting to realise what kind of a person i wanted to be, rather than simply trying to be the person i thought i should be. I was letting my hair grow to the point that the fringe became utterly ridiculous, without ever taking enough care of it to give it a chance of looking alright.

The only thing i really prefer about the 15 year old version of me is that i used to play football regularly then. I definitely do miss that.

Taking those observations into account, who knows what i'll think of this 20 year old version, once i turn 25. A lot could change between now and then, a lot probably will and there's plenty i hope will change. It'll be interesting if in 5 years time i look back at this blog and see the person i was, whether i'm a better person by then or just a different one. There's plenty of stuff i'd like to think might be different, for a whole host of different reasons, but i guess only time will tell.

I know this blog's been a bit rambling, so to make it feel like there was a good reason for reading, i'll put a few of my favourite songs to listen to when the weather's as good as this.

I think i've posted this before once, but it makes me feel all summery so it's appropriate i post it again here.

This i discovered through one of my favourite films, "Garden State".

And this one is from a Sheffield band that i saw play in Leeds last year.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Zombie Based Escapism

I've just finished reading World War Z - An Oral History of the Zombie War. I've been reading it in between reading books about the US Death penalty and trying to understand the causes of the current financial crisis. It's offered me a bit of a break from the intricate politics, and allowed me to indulge my inner zombie-geek. I'm not a huge horror fan, not by most people's standards a full on geek or anything, but for some reason that i can't exactly explain zombies, in films, books or hypothetical musings have always fascinated me.

The book is a fictional account of a global zombie outbreak that takes place sometime close in the future, which sees humanity pushed to the very edge of extinction. The story is told through first person anecdotes by survivors from all across the world, through the plot device of a UN worker collecting evidence about the war. Fusing socio-economic and political commentary into a tale of a zombie outbreak is nothing new, George A Romero is famous for this, but this book does it particularly well. The amount of thought that has clearly gone into how he believes different countries cultures, histories and political institutions would influence their reaction to this threat is very entertaining and at times almost chillingly possible.

That's what makes zombies such a powerful and popular villain for fiction. Due to their lack of supernatural abilities and the common explanation that the condition stems from a virus or experiment gone wrong, they are ever so slightly more believable, which is enough to make them, at least for me, a whole lot more terrifying. Also the fact that they are portrayed as a threat on mass, to towns and cities, often very well known ones, it's almost too easy to relate to the stories surrounding them.

Then there's the fear of an apocalypse in general, of society collapsing and all hell breaking loose. Whatever the cause, worldwide apocalypses are a popular subject for books and films. Zombie based ones are a personal favourite.

So yeah, in amongst all the fun filled politics reading, i've been escaping into fantasies about zombie outbreaks, pondering what i'd do if it happened (i'd need different plans for Leicester and Sheffield) and hoping i'd manage to survive. Halfway through writing this post, my house mates came back home; the light above the back door has gone, so the first i knew about it was the sound of rattling and footsteps outside the door. Unsurprisingly given where my heads been at for the last hour or so, my first thought was 'zombie!'

So yeah, i may fail many of the tests that decide whether you're a geek or not, but i definitely am a zombie geek.

To finish this blog i'm going to do a top 5 zombie films/tv shows and then post my favourite piece of zombie-related music. Now this list would probably offend many zombie aficionados (i'm sure they're out there somewhere) but they're all films/tv shows that i consider to be zombie orientated, and they're the ones which entertained me the most.

5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Now i'm aware that by choosing the Zach Snyder directed remake, rather than the George A Romero one is bordering on sacrilege but i have to say i enjoyed it more and i found it scarier. It's a definite homage to the original, but has updated both the look of the film and the zombies themselves. The zombies in this version are scarier, both in terms of look (the appearance of the zombies in the 1978 original is unsurprisingly dated now, and because they can run. I've always thought the shambling slow zombie to be slightly comical, where as a zombie you can't easily outrun is an awful lot scarier.

4. Zombieland (2009)
This could be dismissed as the American "Shaun of the Dead", but i instead choose to praise it as such. Instead of merely doing a poor Americanised version of the film, as has been done with so many of the film and television efforts by the UK, they took the central idea, how would some very average people from this country, survive a zombie attack. Whereas "Shaun of the Dead" mocks the simple, very humble hopes and pleasures of a group of Londoners, "Zombieland" mocks the excess, the wealth and the gratuitous violence. Both are caricatures of the society they're set in, and both excel as such. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are all superb. This film is a superb comedy set within a zombie apocalypse, rather than the other way round. However there are some really entertaining action sequences, and of course, there is, THAT cameo.

3. The Walking Dead (2010)
Frank Darabont's TV series isn't just one of the best Zombie shows i've seen, it's one of the best TV shows i've seen. Brilliantly directed and acted throughout the first series, it packs in all the thrills of a zombie film; from the post apocalyptic cities, to the desperate rag tag group of survivors to the question of when does merely surviving become insufficient? And of course, lots and lots of ravenous, flesh eating monsters. The thing that sets this apart from almost all other zombie based fiction, is that with the scope and duration of a TV series, and the budget to realise Darabont's ideas, there's a level of character development that inevitably is slightly lacking in most zombie films. The possibility for real character arks is so much greater in this context than it is in film and the show benefits from this. In most zombie films the majority of the cast are highly expendable, here you are given the time to get to know a whole range of the characters and actually care about their fate. Also it has one of the best pilot episodes ever, the perfect example of how to set up a zombie story in my opinion.

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Now you can find most of the reasons why this is in my list, explained under the "Zombieland" entry, but the reason this is in 2nd and that came 4th is simply that "Shaun" is set in England. The writing is brilliant in both, so is the acting, but the jokes and the settings carry more resonance in this. Plus i have quite a bit of love for the combination of Pegg and Frost and they serve up some great scenes and quotes throughout. Simply put, it's the best Rom-Zom-Com around.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)
This film would make it onto a list of my all time favourite films of any genre, without a shadow of a doubt. One of the most powerful and genuinely scary films i've ever watched. Like "Shaun" it benefits from being set in England, with those opening scenes set in an empty London being beyond chilling. The combination of Danny Boyle's direction and John Murphy's score is intense and this film still has the power to make me feel very uncomfortable even after so many viewings.

The song choice for today is from the number 1 film, it's a piece of score called "In the house, in a heartbeat" and every time i hear it i'm back in the world of the film.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Football, films and funerals

Despite a slightly morbid start, today was a very good day.

It started morbidly for two reasons. Firstly because i had to read over last night's post about the death penalty as i'd written it while tired (or at least i was tired by the end of it) and so wanted to check i hadn't made any glaring mistakes. The other reason was that, as part of a 30 day song challenge that i have been joining in with on Facebook, i was asked what song i would choose for my funeral.

Now much like the question of the previous day, about wedding song choices, i really hadn't given this topic much thought. It's a tough one to decide really. Do you go for a sad, mournful song? Or an optimistic, happy one? Do you go for something ironic? (Oasis' "Live Forever" sprang to mind) Or darkly comic? (If i died from decapitation, as unlikely as it may be, i'd be a bit annoyed if someone didn't at least suggest the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Heads will roll", likewise, if i die from a heart attack i hope someone would propose the XX's "Heart Skipped a Beat") I don't really like the idea of having a really depressing funeral. I know i dabble in misery and melodrama at times, but i don't want to inflict that on others. That's why the more comic options appeal, i kind of want my funeral to be more about moving on with their lives than mourning. Who knows though, when i'm older and closer to dying (hopefully the two will be linked) i might want to draw out every last bit of sympathy i can get, even after i'm no longer alive to appreciate it.

Then there's the issue that a lot of the songs out there that deal with death are intensely personal affairs, written by one person, about losing another specific person, it doesn't feel right adopting their grief for my own purposes. For example, "Friends of Ours" off of Elbow's album "The Seldom Seen Kid" is a beautiful, heartfelt and moving tribute to a friend of Guy Garvey's. I wouldn't be comfortable using a song like that.

I'm also not religious, so songs that suggest the afterlife seem slightly inappropriate and almost insincere. If i've never believed in the concept of life after death while i was alive it wouldn't seem right to make references otherwise in my song choice.

However, all this thinking was getting me no where, and as the clock was ticking down towards midnight and i just wanted to choose one i had to loosen the conditions a bit, allow a few songs as possibilities that went against the issues i raised above. In the end i settled for a song which is beautiful, neither too sad or too happy and would make my funeral pretty epic, especially if someone could actually sing it live; i chose Pink Floyd's, "The Great Gig In The Sky".

It was an interesting topic to think about but i am glad that the rest of the day managed to be a bit more upbeat. I had my first park kick about of the year, with a few friends, jumpers for goal posts and a penny floater. It was great fun and i've got to say i'm loving the fact that the weather is getting warm enough for the idea of spending an afternoon in a park becoming a good one, rather than an act of stubborn bravery.

Afterwards i had a curry while watching the film, "Easy A". It was released last year, with Emma Stone as the lead actress. It was a very good high school comedy, about the power rumours can have on a person's school life, the way people's perceptions of you can change and the degree to which a little white lie can get completely out of hand. It's definitely a bit similar to "Mean Girls", which is a definite guilty pleasure of a film, with perhaps less stand out laugh out loud lines, but managing to remain consistently funny throughout. I'd definitely recommend it.

So, as i said at the beginning, today has been a good day. It's been a day where i contemplated my own funeral, a day where i played football and a day where i watched an attractive woman be accused of promiscuity. What's not to like?

To finish off, here's a song i considered for the funeral song, but decided against in the end for a whole host of reasons. However this particular live performance is definitely my favourite video on Youtube. It's Frank Turner playing "The Ballad of Me and My Friends" live at Reading in 2009.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Put To Death By The State

I've spent a lot of time over the last weekend thinking about death. I wrote a research essay for my American politics module on "Whether the US death penalty is effective in reducing crime?"

We were given a list of potential topics to research, but this one definitely stood out. It's a topic i find fascinating, one which inevitably inspires a strong emotive response.

I'll preface the rest of this argument with two statements. Firstly, i am against the death penalty. I oppose it on moral and ethical grounds; i can't understand how you justify taking a life on the grounds that they took a life first. How can you take a moral stance on how wrong it is to kill someone, if your response is to kill that person. To quote a man much wiser than me, "An eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind."

An often suggested counter-point is that i'd feel differently if it was a family member or friend who died in these circumstances. I'm sure initially i would; a violent, angry and vengeful reaction to something like that is the single most natural reaction imaginable. But with time and a little bit of perspective though, i'd hope i would find some ability if not to forget, at least to no longer want to take their life in return. It is, like many of the big debates of this kind, hard to know how you would react in a situation like that unless you unfortunately were in it. There are numerous examples of people who have found a way to move past the anger and came to the conclusion that more killing wasn't the way to deal with the horror of the situation. A prime example of this is Bud Welch. His daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma bombing in 1996 and i'll let his words explain it better than i could, . If that man can find it in him to forgive a man who took his only daughter away, surely others can.

The second statement is that the statistics and many of the details i'm going to talk about are about the death penalty in the US as there are very up to date statistics for the pros and cons of the argument (i drew many of the statistics from, but it's an issue that has never, most likely will never, go away completely in the UK.

Now there are two positions from which people argue for the death penalty from. Firstly deterrence; the idea that the existence of the death penalty is an effective deterrent, putting off potential criminals from committing crimes. It's a popular theory that if a country has the death penalty it is in some way an effective method for countering crime. This is an argument that i could at least respect, even if it didn't change my opinion on the death penalty as a whole.

However there is no conclusive evidence to support the idea that there are any tangible links between the imposition of the death penalty and the murder rate. In the United States the states which actively practice the death penalty are predominantly in the south, and these have the highest murder rate in regional terms. The average murder rate in the US is 5.0 per 100,000 people, but in the Southern states it's 6, compared to the North Eastern states where the death penalty has almost unanimously been abolished is 3.8. Now i'm not claiming that the death penalty leads to an increase in murders, the telling differences between the states in the south and the north east is are as much social, economic and racial issues. However it is a pretty damning argument against the idea that is advocated commonly in the south, that the death penalty actually causes a decline in murder rates.

Also, in nations across Europe and in Australia, the abolition of the death penalty didn't lead to the increase in murders that many of it's supporters claimed was likely.

So if not deterrence, then what would the justification be? The second position is that of retribution, of the concept that the only suitable punishment for a murderer is execution. Now i disagree with this on principle, i can understand the argument, that these people have voided there right to life and that imprisonment is too good for these individuals. It's an example of how subjective the argument is, that i can understand it, but i can't agree with it. I just can't reconcile myself to the idea that the state's response to murder should be more killing If taking another person's life is so morally abhorrent, i can't support the state taking other people's lives, regardless of the disgust i feel for the act they committed. I believe that life imprisonment, without parole, for crimes that would be considered worthy of the death penalty is a much fairer, more fitting and more moral punishment than any form of capital punishment.

Overall my stance on criminal justice is that with the exception of people who commit truly atrocious acts, there should at least be some consideration given to the possibility of rehabilitating criminals. I prefer to see the role of the state in response to criminal action as one of trying to make the best of a terrible situation, rather than simply punishing those responsible. Find ways to make these criminals useful to society again, whether via programs to re-introduce them into society or through some form of manual work in aid of society while in prison. There aren't perfect solutions to the imperfect reality that crime will always exist in society. Ideas, as ill formed as mine are, like the ones above are in my view ways to draw positives from the situation rather than perpetuating cycles of violence, hate and resentment.

If you take away deterrence and retribution as arguments, then the other commonly argued angle is cost. The idea that the death penalty saves the tax payer money, that why should tax payers money be 'wasted' on people who've committed horrific crimes.

Now this is where the research essay really surprised me, where i found something out that went against so much of what i'd believed in relation to the death penalty. The cost argument has been one which i'd never looked into, yet always considered that despite there possibly being truth to the idea, it didn't excuse state organised executions.

Here's a few facts for you that really shocked me:

  • In California the death penalty system as a whole costs taxpayers $114m per year beyond what they would spend on life imprisonment for those criminals. The taxpayers have paid more than $250m for each of the state's executions.
  • In Kansas, capital cases were found to be 70% more expensive than non-capital cases.
  • A particularly comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that it costs $2.16m per execution over the cost of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment.
  • In Texas, it costs an average of $2.3m for a death penalty case. That's three times more than what it would cost them to imprison someone in an individual cell of a high security prison for 40 years. Incidentally Texas has the highest number of executions since 1976, totalling 466 executions. Though it's a foolish over-simplification, 466 x $2.3m comes in at $1071.8m. So much for the death penalty being the cheaper alternative.
These costs are from a whole host of sources; the cost of keeping someone on death row, the expenses of the extensive trial system, the expense of the actual execution and many more sources of expenditure.

Not only is there little evidence for the death penalty being a deterrent and it clearly isn't the cheap option, but there is one element i haven't touched upon yet. That of innocence and the irrevocable nature of capital punishment. Just this month Illinois abolished the death penalty in the wake of a 10 year moratorium on executions. That moratorium was instituted by former Governor George Ryan, who was personally shocked by the frequency of exonerations for people on Death Row. The controversies of exonerations and unjust executions are numerous and easy to find, but i'm going to look at one particular example. The final execution during George W. Bush's tenure as governor of Texas was Claude Jones, for the murder of Alan Hilzendager. Jones' conviction and subsequent execution was based on a single piece of DNA evidence, a 2.5cm strand of hair found at the scene. Last year a DNA test ordered by the court found that actually the hair belonged to the victim rather than Jones. Sadly 10 years too late, the courts realised that they had executed a man based on a piece of evidence that was never satisfactorily tested (for the full story read this article from the Time Magazine website -,8599,2031034,00.html).

Factor in the fact that even the lethal injection isn't foolproof - - and i'm really struggling to find a pro-death penalty angle here.

If it isn't a deterrent, it isn't cost effective, in my opinion it isn't moral and there's too little guarantee they're actually executing the guilty person, what exactly am i as an individual meant to use as a justification for continued support of the death penalty.

I acknowledge that the moral judgement is a highly subjective one and i'm not conceited enough to believe my assessment is inherently right or pro-death penalty people are wrong, it's simply my view, but it's one that i believe is backed up by a large degree of the evidence.

I think it's unlikely i will become an advocate for the death penalty any time soon.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Rare Day of Productivity

Today has been uncharacteristically productive. Or at least the first part was. I woke at 9, handed in my essay, had a haircut, did a food shop and did a bit of reading, all before 1pm. For me to have achieved anything before 1 o'clock is pretty rare, i tend to fall into the student stereotype definitely of sleeping in for a good chunk of the morning.

It probably helped that when i woke up the sky was pretty much cloudless. Sadly that hasn't lasted, it's all gone a bit grey now, but while it lasted it added quite pleasantly to what was a pretty enjoyable morning.

The morning was to a large extent sound tracked by the second White Lies album, Ritual, which i really rate. I liked it from the moment i first heard one of the singles, Bigger than us, and since buying the album it's developed into a real favourite. Their first album highlighted how comfortable they were with the epic and the rousing, but the entire album had an almost maudlin air to it. Now there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, and when i was in the right mood i actively appreciated the slightly depressing melodrama of it all, but it meant it couldn't really be music for all occasions.

The second album is definitely more uplifting, more optimistic, as highlighted by a lyric in the first track on it, "The only thing i've ever found, that's greater than it always sounds, is love." It's definitely not a lyric you'd have expected to hear on their first effort, an album that had the cheerily titled songs 'Death' and 'To Lose Your Life' as an opening double.

What makes it impressive is that it's still dark and epic in places, they've managed to retain what made the first album good, without it sounding quite so much like an album i might have written if i was having a really bad day.

In a little bit me and my mate are wandering over to the Leicester City ground to watch the varsity football matches between De Montfort University and Leicester University. Should be a good laugh and any excuse to watch a football match is one i'm going to take.

To finish this blog i'll post two songs, from a fairly new and promising sounding band, one which i've taken an interest in for musically irrelevant but geographical reasons. They're called 'The Crookes' after the area of Sheffield they formed in, an area neighbouring where i grew up. Sadly none of the members are actually from Sheffield, but they're good enough that i don't mind.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Post-Essay Laziness

It's going to be a pretty short post today. I've spent all day writing an essay on whether the US death penalty is effective in reducing crime. I'll probably write a blog about it sometime soon, because it's a subject i find very interesting, but right now i can't bring myself to write anything more about it.

Last night i made a surprising amount of progress on a short story i've been trying to write for several months now. I'd got a lot of the key elements together, but i just couldn't get it to flow, couldn't quite get it to feel like a story rather than a selection of chapters. I'd written it in a kind of odd style, i wrote the beginning, middle and end of the story without writing the chapters that linked them. Hopefully i'll have it finished soon, i'll definitely mention it on here once it's done and anyone who wants to read it would be perfectly welcome.

Now for the main part of this blog, a top 5 list of songs that got me through the essay writing today. Seeing as it took me quite a long time to do the essay, my mood changed a fair bit and so the music i listened to ended up being quite varied. Seeing as it's a Sunday evening it seemed appropriate that i did a chart countdown of my own.

At Number 5 a song that makes me want to go on a night out every time i hear it:

In at Number 4, a classic and permanent favourite

Number 3 in this countdown of songs that kept me going is a bit of good old fashioned guitar based indie, from a promising sounding band:

Just missing out on the top spot, in at Number 2 is this:

And Number 1 tonight is a song which is a definite favourite right now:

Saturday, 19 March 2011

A Forest Fan's Frustration

It's safe to say i'm not all that ecstatic about the way today's sport has panned out.

Firstly Forest were utterly outplayed by Swansea today. I watched the game and apart from fairly brief spells at the end of either half, they looked a completely different class to us. All credit to Swansea, they look like real contenders for promotion this year, they attack with pace and quality passing, with the ability to take their chances as well, something they lacked last year. Saying that, i do worry that at times we were making them look good.

It's really worrying just how badly we're falling apart at the moment. We look utterly lacking in ideas and quality in midfield. Kris Boyd looks like a reasonable signing, he seems to be the kind of striker who, if given half decent service, will score goals. The problem is that we simply aren't creating enough. The really odd thing is that we have plenty of players in our team who are in theory creative, yet we for long periods today looked utterly incapable of stringing a few passes together. On the basis of the last month of games we simply don't deserve to go up. There are several other teams in the league playing much better football, much more consistently.

It's not a fact i'm exactly chuffed to have to admit, but it's the truth. We're still in a reasonable position, there's still a good chance we'll end up in the play offs. It's just that unsurprisingly if you know anything about Forest's recent history, i pretty much consider the play offs to mean we're not going up.

Almost more annoyingly, we came so, so, sooooo close to snatching a draw we really didn't deserve. When Anderson hit the post, almost straight after he pulled one back i thought maybe, just maybe we'd pulled off a highly improbable comeback.

Other sporting disappointments today include Ireland's trouncing of us in the Six Nations and Arsenal dropping points in the chase for the Premier League title. Neither of those events bummed me out anywhere near as much as the Forest one, but they had a cumulative effect.

In other, objectively far more important, news, i whole heartedly support the imposing of the no fly zone, the response of France and Britain to the attack on Benghazi and the dismissal of the supposed 'ceasefire' declared by Gadaffi. It's a nice change for once to actually be in favour of a British government's foreign policy, to actually believe that in a screwed up situation, with no 100% right answer, our government chose the best available option and are even perhaps somewhere near the moral high ground. We're not there yet, but we've at least started the climb.

To finish the blog, i'm going to post a song, as per usual. What's less usual is that the song i'm about to post is one that's in the chart's currently. Nothing against chart music, but it tends to be full of songs i only truly like when i'm drunk and in a club, not sober and posting a blog. The song is a cover, one of my favourite cover's at the moment, and a cover that is remarkable in two ways. Firstly because to have the confidence and ability to cover Bon Iver is impressive, secondly, the artist doing the cover is apparently 14. It's the cover of 'Skinny Love', by Birdy.

Friday, 18 March 2011

A Visit To Ben Affleck's Town

The 'star' of "Pearl Harbour", an actor always considered to have a potential that he repeatedly failed to live up to, with aspirations of being a big shot director. A big budget crime thriller styled after Michael Mann's classic, "Heat". It's a combination which in many ways seemed doomed to fail and i'll happily admit i had my reservations when i first heard about the project.

If you haven't guessed already, i'm talking about "The Town" and the man in question is Ben Affleck.

The 38 year old American has had a pretty mixed career, with several serious bum notes, but in the last 5 years his career has undergone a bit of a resurrection. He's started directing films as well as continuing to act and contrary to my initial belief, he's made me completely re-evaluate my view.

I watched "The Town" this evening, the second time i've seen it, and it was every bit as good with a repeat viewing. It was the second best film i saw at the cinema in 2010, only pipped by the frankly stunning "Monsters".

You can't watch "The Town" without comparing it to the 1995 Pacino v De Niro bank heist movie, but i don't see that as a criticism. Affleck's effort is excellent in it's own right, learning lessons from arguably the best example of the particular genre, without ever just becoming a poor homage to it.

The action scenes are perfectly directed, sharp and clinical, yet brutal and kinetic throughout. The central characters are well developed, with some genuine depth and complexity. It's definitely a film focussing on the people on the criminal side, with the main FBI character, played by Mad Men's John Hamm, given very little time to do anything other than scowl and make vague threatening statements. However it's excusable when the criminals are so engaging, and the relationship between Affleck's character and Rebecca Hall's is surprisingly believable given the context. Jeremy Renner is superb as Affleck's violent but loyal best friend, definitely deserving of the Oscar nomination he got.

It's the kind of film where much of the plot and many of the characters are rife with potential for becoming clichéd, yet the execution of them means it remains brilliant throughout. It's a film that is powerful, tense and manages to tow the line between showing the criminals as real people and glorifying the criminal activity.

I definitely intend to watch the film Affleck directed in 2007, "Gone Baby Gone", which starred his younger brother. There seems to be a definite chance that he may end up with a career that he can be proud of, where he may even be forgiven for his complicity in "Pearl Harbour".

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Day of Ferrets, Guinness, Bad Football and Morbid Literature

A shorter post today, just looking at a few of the things that have stood out over the past 18 or so hours.

First up, fairly early on today, i heard voices outside my window and decided to take a look through the gap in my blinds, being a full on nosy neighbour. Instead of seeing someone about to try and burgle my house, i was greeted with one of the most surreal sights i've seen in a while. I looked out on the small paved over area that passes for a back garden at my house and stood there was two men and a ferret. Yes, a ferret. In the centre of Leicester.

I then watched as the two men tried and quite spectacularly failed to capture said ferret. They chased it around, attempting to tempt a small animal into a pretty sketchy looking cardboard box, for a good few minutes. They almost looked like they'd cornered it, until the ferret, displaying an IQ that put the two men to shame, darted straight between the open legs of one of the guys, and down the alleyway, followed by two confused and cursing men.

It was an interesting start to my day definitely.

The next feature of my day was potentially the most morbid trip to a library i will ever face. I'm doing a research essay on whether the death penalty actually reduces crime in the US. Naturally i went to the library to get several related books out, only to realise that i possibly wasn't giving out the greatest sociable signals, by carrying a pile of books adorned repeatedly with the word, in bold and capitalised, DEATH. It's an interesting topic, one which has no easy answer, which is exactly what makes it such a fascinating issue to research. Whether i'll be quite so effusive in praise for the topic once i've written the essay is another matter.

Last up is the disappointment that was the Europa League football tonight. Both Manchester City and Liverpool stumbled their way to elimination, never really looking likely to survive, never looking capable of scoring the goals required to keep them in the competition. Both performances were utterly lacking in passion or determination and so though i'm disappointed, i have absolutely no sympathy for their defeats. Neither deserved the chance to continue in the competition, but it's still a shame that the two English teams in the competition were dumped out with quite so little ceremony.

One plus point is that i realised i actually like Guiness. So silver linings and all that.

As a continuation of the fairly light hearted and random nature of this post i'm going to post two videos.

The first is one that is definitely meant as a joke:

The second i merely wish was a joke:

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Singing Their Hearts Out

I'd like to think i have a pretty varied taste in music, at one point my iTunes goes from the Foo Fighters, to the Four Tops, to Frank Hamilton, which i kind of love. I have, and enjoy, plenty of music which is simply fun and almost slightly throwaway, but the songs i love, the ones that get played over and over again are the songs with real emotion and passion within them.

Songs where you can tell that the musician cared about the song they were making, put real thought into the lyrics, wanting them to truly mean something to someone.

Songs where the emotion and message seem genuine rather than forced. Songs which draw in your full attention, not an easy task when most people, me included, very rarely sit down and just listen to an album, instead usually on their computer, or reading, or at least texting.

It's those things that set songs apart for me. I reckon it's why i've never properly got into the dancier and more electronic ends of music. As good as many of those songs are, and as much as i can enjoy them if i'm in the right mood, i find they rarely carry the weight of meaning that other genres achieve and it is that weight which tends to be the reason i begin to really like a song.

When i say songs with emotion and passion i'm not just talking about heart wrenching ballads. Rock songs, indie songs, folk songs and acoustic songs, pop songs, blues songs, rap songs, soul songs and classical pieces,all these genres and many more have songs within them which have struck me as powerful.

Sometimes a powerful song isn't what i want, sometimes i want a song which to use an inadequate adjective are simply more 'fun'. But the songs that matter, at least in my opinion, are the ones which clearly mattered to the person making them.

I reckon there are two types of serious music fan; lyrics people and instrument people. Pretty much everyone will lean towards one or the other. For some people it's the lyrics that make you love a song, for others it's the tune and the rhythm. That's not to say a lyrics person can't love a particular guitar riff or that an instrument person can't connect with a particular set of lyrics, merely that for anyone it tends to be one that matters more, that is the catalyst for them becoming passionate about a song.

I am definitely a lyrics person. If i like a song i pretty much inevitably try and learn at least some of the lyrics, precisely because it will be sections of those lyrics that drew me to the song in the first place. My dad on the other hand is very much an instrument person, he likes certain lyrics, but they're very rarely the defining feature of a song for him.

The inspiration for this whole post came in two parts, or more specifically two musicians. First up was Adele. It's not a situation i'm all that used to, where an artist i am really loving, someone who i feel sings with real passion and emotion, is also top of the charts and getting played everywhere, but i'm glad in this instance it has happened. I've never quite understood some music fans attitudes towards there favourite artists gaining success and mass-popularity. I guess they feel like their losing some of their connection to the music, it isn't 'theirs' any more if everyone is listening to it. You only have to go on Youtube and have a brief look at almost any popular artist's videos to see a selection of the fans boasting about 'having liked them before they were big' and making the assumption that popularity means that they've 'sold out'.

I'm perfectly happy to admit that though i'd listened to Adele's debut album, and liked a few of the tracks, i'd never really been passionate about her music until i heard the new album, particularly the now insanely popular "Someone Like You". It's one of those rare songs that makes me want to stop what i'm doing and just listen, precisely because it feels so personal and intense. Watching the live versions from the Brits and the BBC Live Lounge, watching the emotion of the song so clearly displayed on her face, it's a wonderful counter-weight to songs like 'Dirty Bit' by the Black Eyed Peas. This is a woman who managed to make a Cheryl Cole song classy and soulful (, two adjectives rarely associated with the X-Factor judge.

The other artist that inspired me to write this blog, is Tim McIlrath, or more accurately his band Rise Against. Now they're not exactly the kind of band a lot of people would expect me to like, but i definitely do. There's something so passionate about their songs, yet they also carry an intelligence and political message in their lyrics, which sets them a little apart from many of the other rock/punk/metal/whatever genre you want to put them in bands. On their last album they had a song with at times almost uncomfortably honest and open lyrics about the loss of innocence of an American soldier serving in Iraq called "Hero of War", on their new album released this week, there's a song about the prejudice and fear that can be the life of many gay Americans inspired by the suicides of several gay American boys in September 2010 (the names are read out during the song in the background). These are songs about real issues, rather than songs about bizzare dance moves or lives lived solely in the pursuit of wealth and 'bling'.

I don't consider it at all naive to suggest that these songs can really matter, that a song can make a difference to someone's life. There's plenty of songs which have got me through some pretty bad days, or given me the motivation to enjoy some really good ones. Songs are like stories, they're subjective and because of that they have the potential to mean a huge amount to an individual, they are capable of meaning so much more than the simple combination of vocals and melody would suggest.

If you want to read more about just how important i believe both songs and stories to be, have a read of two of my earlier blog posts. Here's the one about music and here's the one about stories, personally that's one of the posts i'm most proud of, so i hope you enjoy it.

As always i'll finish this post with a song recommendation. Today's is fittingly a song which i've always loved, because of the passion involved and the lyrics which manage to capture emotions most people will have felt at some point. Also it proves my point that songs with passion aren't just ballads in my eyes, The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love.

As a footnote to this blog i'll put the set of lyrics that are arguably my favourite, by anyone, right now. They're from Frank Turner's song "I knew Prufock before he was famous".

"And i know i'm not the one who is habitually optimistic
But i'm the one who's got the microphone so just remember this.

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a flickering
And help us with remembering that the only thing that's left to do is live."

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Too Cool To Care?

It seems to me that a lot of the time it is cooler to dislike something than to like it, to be bored by something than to show an interest, to love something rather than hate it. I've never really understood that, why disinterest and disdain are so desirable. It's not something new, actively choosing and embracing a negative outlook on most aspects of life seems to be a uniting thread throughout the generations. You only have to look at sketches like the '4 Yorkshire men' or listen to the majority of conversations in any pub, regardless of the participants to see that it is considered much more respectable to adopt a quite miserable view of the world. "You miserable bugger" is more often a term of endearment than a stinging criticism.

There are few things that annoy me more than someone reacting with sneering disdain for someone's passion or enthusiasm about a subject. It depresses me a bit that i have probably done it myself a few times, but i do make a conscious effort not to think like that, not to be dismissive of someone else's interests, even if they don't match up with my own.

It's for that reason that at least so far as music, films and tv etc are concerned, i'm going to try and use this blog to praise things rather than criticise. If you want angry, sarcastic criticism of stuff, look elsewhere, there's plenty of corners of the Internet and TV schedules devoted to exactly that.

On that note, here's a brief review of two TV shows out there that i've really enjoyed for the past couple of months. Sadly they both finished this week, which is a shame, but they were two shows i tuned into every week.

First up is Being Human on BBC 3. It's a show that's hard to sell with description, much like the E4 show Misfits. The story of a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf trying to find a place in society and just as the title suggests be human. It's an idea that could very easily be utterly crap, yet the writing has remained sharp enough throughout that it became excellent. Darkly comedic, genuinely powerful in places and engaging it has run for 3 seasons so far and each has been as good as the last. It's looked at social prejudice, loss, friendship, betrayal, grief and murder, all without ever spooning on the message heavy-handedly. I'd definitely recommend people start from the very beginning and watch through.

Second is another BBC show, Outcasts. Now this wasn't anything hugely special, it was always a little bit too average throughout to truly become a favourite show. However after the first series it was an enjoyable sci-fi about the last members of humanity trying to start afresh on a planet called Carpathia after the Earth has become uninhabitable. It has some really good ideas (the relationship between humans and clones, the concept that what is 'super-natural' on one planet, may simply be natural on another) but never quite manages to pull them off. The acting is decent without any real stand out performances.

I've deliberately kept this blog a bit more light hearted than last night's post about the situation in the Ivory Coast. I want to keep writing about those kind of issues, but i don't want this blog to become solely devoted to highlighting political situations that i wish i could change.

As usual i will end this blog with a song that i've listened to twice already today, a song i'm really loving right now off of the recently released 4th album by Elbow. I've not actually bought the album yet, i'm having to wait until my scholarship comes through for that and several other albums, but i heard this song a while ago and it's definitely wetted me appetite for the full album. The song's called "Lippy Kids" and i hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 14 March 2011

If A Dictator Falls But The Media Don't Pay Attention, Does It Make A Sound?

This is a little side note, irrelevant to the main thrust of this blog post, but bear with me, i'll get to the important stuff soon. I've got to say i'm loving the weather we've had the past few days. I'm definitely a summer person, it makes me an almost bizarre amount happier to be able to leave the house without needing a jumper. It's a fairly arbitrary thing, i don't have any great logical reason why it is so much better, but for me it really is. Winter has it's plus points (Fresh snow, cups of hot tea held in frozen hands, the Christmas holidays, Christmas dinner and big winter coats) but it begins to drag around the middle of February and i begin to crave sunlight and green leaves instead of bare, skeletal trees.

What with the Easter holidays getting closer, this improved weather and plans for the summer seeming all the more relevant i definitely feel like i won't have to wait too much longer until the summer. It's daft how much of a difference to my initial mood waking up to blue skies in the morning makes. If i manage to combine a good nights sleep, a blue sky morning and the right song on my iPod (today's song of choice was Angus & Julia Stone's song, 'Just a Boy') it really can set me up for the day. Sounds daft and a little cheesy i know, but doesn't mean it isn't true.

In other news while my thoughts are definitely with the people of Japan and Libya as they attempt to deal with utterly terrible situations, i do feel a bit of frustration at the comparative lack of interest the world is showing in what is taking place in the Ivory Coast.

In late November 2010, the Ivory Coast held a long delayed presidential election, contested by President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. The long standing ethnic and geographical divides that saw the country experience a civil war for the majority of the first decade of the 21st century had finally been calmed to a point where it was feasible to try and hold democratic elections.

The country has a long history of unrest, with their history either side of the turn of the millennium littered with attempted coups, massacres of protesters and a drawn out civil war between the north and south. Various leaders have attempted to rule and/or unite the country, utilising different degrees of violence, oppression and exploitation since it gained it's independence from France in 1960.

The elections themselves were judged to be, despite some instances of violence, essentially free and fair and for a brief time it seemed like there could be some reasons to be optimistic to be optimistic about the future of this war torn country. That hope was short lived however; when, on the 2nd of December 2010, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) released provisional results showing Ouattara winning with 54% of the vote, Gbagbo and his supporters declared the result invalid and refused to relinquish power.

Within a few weeks the UN, African Union, EU, United States and the former colonial power France had all acknowledged Ouattara as the rightful president of the country. Despite this Gbagbo was sworn in for another 5 year term and once again the country descended into violence.

Since the disputed election there has been violence in most major towns and cities, with supporters and security forces loyal to the two potential leaders clashing angrily. There are numerous reports of armed militia's loyal to Gbagbo roaming the cities committing atrocities and brutally suppressing any opposition supporters. Rumours of mass graves, 'death squads' and mass attacks, including rape, upon women in the region, are all seen to have a high degree of truth to them.

Ouattara is based in a hotel in Abidjan, the capital of the country, protected by a force of 800 UN peacekeepers who report that they are entirely surrounded by Gbagbo's militia, who are blockading the area, making it impossible for food, water and medical supplies to reach the hotel or surrounding areas.

A brutal leader, clinging onto power long after it has become indisputable that he is no longer the rightful ruler of the nation, brutally suppressing opposition and using militia to wage a campaign of terror and violence against political opponents and civilians alike. It sounds pretty similar to what is taking place further north on the continent, yet has received such a small amount of coverage comparatively.

Maybe it's the relative distance, maybe the lack of British financial interests in the area, perhaps just an example of what i've heard being called 'compassion fatigue' where after a certain point, people just struggle to keep caring about every issue they hear about, and in a situation like the one facing the people of the Ivory Coast, where violence and unrest is nothing new, is it simply that it won't sell newspapers any more. Personally i suspect it's a frustrating combination of all those factors, but right now my thoughts are going out to he people in the Ivory Coast, struggling for democracy just like the people we supported in northern Africa. They deserve our thoughts and the attention of our politicians just as much.