Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The True Public Health Crisis of the 21st Century

by George Chapman

What will be the largest public health issue facing doctors in the next 10 years? Pose this tricky question to a medic, an aspiring med student at interview, or quite possibly any individual abreast of current affairs, and the response is likely to indicate obesity and/or its associated disease states (Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease etc.). Probably somewhat less considered, however, would be the social impact of neurodegeneration in the near future – a loss of physiological structure or function of neurons.  To the average reader, neurodegeneration may seem at first a little random or currently unproblematic; until we consider the UK’s demographic, that is.
Illustrated by the graph to the left, the median age of the male UK population has risen by five years over the past quarter of a century. Consequently, the UK has an ever-ageing population and an ever-rising incidence of illnesses associated with older age. One of these is dementia- the loss of cognitive function (perception, thinking and reasoning- the comprehension and treatment of ideas) usually associated with neurodegeneration of the elderly. With over 1% of the country’s population currently suffering with this terminal condition – a proportion that’s expected to double within three decades[1] – I find it staggering that more has not been done to spread awareness of the illness. To be fair, these statistics haven’t fallen entirely on deaf ears. Alan Johnson MP, former Secretary of State for Health, has himself admitted that ‘Dementia is not an illness we can ignore,’ and more recently David Cameron has pledged to increase funding for dementia research to £66m by 2015. Despite the fact that this is triple what the government set aside for such research in 2010, £66m seems rather insignificant considering dementia currently costs the British taxpayer £17 billion annually. I would imagine that we are all agreed £66m would be a very small price to pay to save annual costs well in excess of this figure, especially considering that this would massively improve our current economic climate in the long run; so why don’t we up the stakes a little, invest even more in research and find a cure sooner?       
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The bulk of past (and current) research into dementia has been neuroscientific on the cellular and molecular level – to little avail, I’m afraid. After all, how can we expect to find our miracle cure when following stab-in-the-dark lines of inquiry as specific as the role of PGC-1α protein in dementia[2]? To date, neuropharmacological research has only provided clinicians with one subtype of NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) licensed drugs to combat dementia. Dubbed acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (a hardly-snappy, but self-explanatory, name) such drugs seek to prevent further breakdown of acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter essential for the communication between neurons and hence cognitive function. Subsequently, this treatment is exclusively symptomatic and has no effect on reversing neurodegeneration. What’s more, such biomedical research wholly neglects the complex psychiatric dimension of the illness, which pathological changes of neuronal structure cannot necessarily explain.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Review: A Broken Rose

by Emma Ralph

Written by Sarah Goddard
Director Phil Willmott
Set/Costume Designer Emma Tompkins
Lighting Designer Tom Boucher
Original Music Composed by John-Paul Bowman
Casting Director Danielle Tarento
Produced by Five One Productions

Following the tragic tale of a young girl in search of adventure and truth, Five One Productions presents a powerful and harrowing new play from the pen of Sarah Goddard (currently Offie-nominated for Most Promising New Playwright). Surrounded by the harsh confines of her reality, Maria (played by Louisa Lytton) invents her own world to live in: a world of magic and beauty that is far preferable to her own. As the two worlds begin to blur together, Maria is left struggling in the wake, unable to grasp hold of either.”

I saw this production performed at Marylebone's Cockpit theatre on Sunday the 23rd September. Although it was performed in the round, I feel that the magical aesthetic was extended in the space because it was high enough to elicit golden tree branches hanging from the ceiling, curled and intwining with golden flowers. This clearly represented Maria's imagination completely contrasting the other set: a brown leather sofa, a 1970s wooden table with 4 chairs and a vase of pink flowers. As I walked in, already on stage was Maria sitting at the table, playing a 1970s puzzle. It is important to note that in the interval the position of the sofa and the dining table and chairs was switched so as to give each side of the audience a different view and to show the passage of time.

We meet our protagonist as soon as we walk into the theatre: a young girl, Maria (Louisa Lytton), seemingly of the present day, minding her own business and working on a puzzle. As the lights go down, she sings an eerie tune of a girl who lives in a land of diamonds and gold. As the lights turn orange, presumably to create this make-believe world (or so we think), a Hercules and Zeena pair of characters, clad in golden warrior -like costumes, enter the scene. They approach Maria and clamber on couches and tables, as she pleads to the male figure, whom she first addresses as ‘Daddy’, to tell her a story. The setting seems to be Maria’s modern-day living room, the only trace of the fantastical in the lighting and in the Narnia-esque branches hanging from the ceiling, posing as a chandelier. Upon the entrance of Maria’s mother (Nicola Wright), a neglectful alcoholic with a boisterous boyfriend (John Last), of whom we are immediately suspicious, the action becomes clearer. Maria has a miserable home life, her only friends these mystical beings, fairies, Moon (Chris Barley) and Sun (Amy Barnes) whom only she can see, who keep her company and tell her stories just as her absent father used to. As it turns out, the fairies have come to rescue her from her dire situation but, first, she must pass their tests.

Soon, what could have been a standard living-room drama about a damaged family becomes an engrossing tale of a young girl’s coping mechanism against the harsh realities of life: the welcoming escape of make-believe. Or is it? Maria doesn’t seem to think so, and, as the action progressed, I wanted to believe in fairies too. It creates two worlds of equal interest, blending the boundaries of fiction and reality so that even the audience does not really know what is what.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

by Ollie Velasco

With the anticipation of millions of Bond fans across the globe, all expecting and desperately hoping for something spectacular to mark 50 years of Bond, the pressure on the team behind Skyfall has been immense. However, Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director calling the shots on the latest instalment in the superspy series, fans can now rest well assured that he has created a critically acclaimed, record breaking (probably) winner. Skyfall is brilliant.

Four years ago, Quantum of Solace was the series’ midlife crisis; it was silly, too flashy, and more ‘Bourne’ than ‘Bond’. Thankfully the 23rd Bond film simply ignores the events in the last film and focuses on Bond later on in his career. I’m not going to describe the plot because a) you probably already know what it’s about or b) you want it to be a surprise. I’m not going to include any spoilers, but it’s safe to say that the story is modern, original and relevant to today’s society.

First and foremost, Skyfall pays homage to the Bond series. Q makes a return, this time in a younger and geekier form played by Ben Wishaw. He makes a more realistic quartermaster than the edge-of-retirement Qs from the older films and adds a good touch of comedic value to the role. The stunning (I’m unbiased) Aston Martin DB5 that was seen originally in Goldfinger once again features, though this time more prominently than in Casino Royale. The pre-title sequence is thrilling and makes for a smart introduction to the film. The title sequence is slightly surreal but links in with the film, and Adele’s powerful theme song couples with it to make it one of the best openings in the series. Oh, and Bond’s one-liners are as good as ever.

The only criticism I’ve heard that has any worth is in relation to the product placement in Skyfall. There is a lot of it. What many fail to realise, however, is that product placement is as much a part of the Bond franchise as are beautiful women and fast cars. It adds a sense of realism to Bond and this dates back to Ian Fleming’s original books as well. In flicking briefly through Casino Royale, Bentley, Gordon’s, Citroen and Peugeot were just a few of the brands that I found. And sure, Heineken did hand over £28M for the privilege of Bond sipping their drink in the film, and it is a little obviously staged, but I would much rather that than no Bond film at all – especially after MGM’s financial trouble in 2010.

Apart from Daniel Craig, the real stars of the film are Javier Bardem, who plays the villain ‘Silva’, and Dame Judi Dench, who reprises her role as ‘M’. Silva isn’t a conventional Bond villain; he’s far too chilling and fixed on personal revenge. This only adds to the role (which Bardem plays superbly), and, whilst there are echoes of his psychopathic antagonist in 2008’s No Country For Old Men (as well as similarities with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight), there is a good deal of originality. Added to this is the fact that you can see the character’s point of view and why he wants revenge, creating one of the most memorable Bond villains. M plays a significant part in Skyfall, and Dench finally gets a chance to explore her character as the struggling leader of MI6, under attack from her own superiors in England as well as from external forces.

Misunderstood Movie Villains

by Charlie Albuery

I was watching The Wizard of Oz yesterday (because that’s just how I roll) and something occurred to me, ‘what the hell did the Wicked Witch of the West do wrong?’  Ok yeah, she kidnapped Dorothy, threatened to drown her dog and tried to set The Scarecrow on fire, all to get her hands on the girl's ruby slippers; that’s some full on villainy.
But hold on a minute there.
Remember that the Witch wasn't after Dorothy and she wasn't trying to rule the world. All she ever wanted was those slippers.

Pop Quiz – How did Dorothy get those slippers?
That’s right; she dropped a house on WWW’s sister's head and stole her only surviving possession.

Let's look at this from the WWW’s ("Wicked Witch of the West is long, Ok?) perspective.
The Witch sisters are hanging around Oz, minding their own business, when some RANDOM TEENAGER CRUSHES HER SISTER TO DEATH WITH A HOUSE, killing her instantly in an act (quite possibly the only ever act) of detached farmhouse-and-gravity themed bludgeoning.
Next, the teenager waltzes out and loots the victim's shoes (some sort of creepy kill-trophy, no doubt) which, under every inheritance law in the universe, damn well belong to the murder victim next of kin.
In my opinion, the Wicked Witch of the West had every right to slap Dorothy right in her overly made up face, but what did she do? Absolutely nothing. She just wanted her shoes back, and every action that she took was motivated by that desire. Then, of course, Dorothy raises an army in the form of a giant talking lion, a man made of metal (who has an axe) and an un-killable scarecrow, steals the Witch's broomstick and kills the Witch, kind of a foul play, even for a witch-murdering,shoe-stealing psychopath.

So this got me thinking: are there more villains who never actually did anything wrong? The answer is yes, there are many, but you’re busy people so I’ll only talk about 4 more.

GALACTUS – For those of you who don’t know (read as – for those of you who have a life), Galactus is a Marvel Comics villain who eats worlds like they’re M&M’s, and he wears a silly hat. You know that hat you’re imagining? Imagine one 100 times sillier, and pink. Done? Good.

I told you it was a silly hat.
Anyway he almost ate Earth once, but the Fantastic Four pointed a fancy gun at him, so he left.
But he’s not so bad, HE’S JUST HUNGRY. He's not driven by greed or desire for power or some kind of psychotic love of suffering. He just wants to eat, and it just so happens that what he eats is planets and everything that lives on them.
If you found out that chocolate contained entire civilizations would you feel evil? Would you stop eating chocolate? No, you have no concept of things on a scale that small, it’s the reason you think nothing of stepping on a bug and it’s the reason Galactus is cool with eating us.
But Then Again
He was in Fantastic Four 2, and just about everything in that movie was evil.
SAURON – Sauron is basically a Middle Ages Martin Luther King.

Friday, 26 October 2012

How Effective Is Our Prison System?

by Bea Wilkinson

(image source:

Imprisonment is an increasingly common method of punishment in modern British society, its basis being to punish the offender by depriving them of their liberty. In the UK, each new prison place costs approximately £119,000 and the average cost per prisoner per year is £40,000. This taken into account, it could be assumed that the punishment system we currently have in place works efficiently and is successful in discouraging criminals from reoffending after release, or hopefully discouraging them to become criminals in the first place. In reality, the system is heavily debated. 
Many young criminals experience prison as a sort of ‘university of crime’. Almost 70% of young adults released from prison will be reconvicted within the first two years. This may be because inexperienced criminals are able to learn from older prisoners whilst they serve their time. 
Research has found that “the human brain continues to mature until at least the age of twenty-five, particularly in the areas of judgment, reasoning, and impulse control.” This could further explain why younger criminals are the most likely to be put back into jail. It has been found that “While adults rely on the pre-frontal cortex in certain cognitive tests, 18-25 year-olds rely more on the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with gut reactions and overall emotional responses. This changed over time, with greater reliance on the pre-frontal cortex as people aged.” This biological disposition to more irrational, compulsive behaviour combined with the way in which these young, impressionable offenders quickly pick up new abilities from veteran prisoners means that they are likely to increase the frequency and severity of offences when they are released.
A study in the late 1980s found that prisoners aged 25 or younger are initially more resistant to the prison structure which makes them more vulnerable to victimisation, compared to older inmates who are more passive. Young offenders enter at the bottom of the pecking order and find ways to feel more valued by their peers. This will make them less vulnerable to violence and by picking up the skills that they observe from experienced inmates, they broaden their experience and knowledge, earning respect as they do so. Prison hierarchy is a clearly a vital aspect of life inside jail yet almost certainly the most detrimental aspect to the overall rehabilitational success of confinement.
Young offenders
(image source: BBC)
To add to this disadvantage, it is not uncommon for prisoners to suffer huge psychological damage as a result of confinement. Again, this increases chances of further crimes and outbalances any positive traits learnt whilst serving time. A prisoner can become institutionalised as a result of serving time. They will become incredibly obedient and fully willing to follow the regimented daily routine of an inmate. This may result in earlier release as the prisoner is seemingly reformed. However, many criminals who have served long-term sentences find it incredibly difficult to adjust to everyday life once released. Adaptation to imprisonment is almost always problematic and can generate behaviours that can be dysfunctional in periods of post-prison adjustment. At best, prisoners are confused by normal life and can find it difficult to make mundane decisions where several choices are offered. Mental illness is a consistent cause of crime and injustice in the UK and worldwide. If our prison system is only making the occurrence of mental illness more and more prevalent, then the rate of crime will undoubtedly escalate.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Slice of Enlightenment – answering some of the greatest questions ever asked

by Tom Harper

As I have become progressively older, slowly trudging my way through adolescent life, I have found myself being bombarded with a cacophony of questions of exponential seriousness: “What do you want to be when you are older?”, “If God exists, who created God?”, “Who do you think will win the 2012 presidential election?”. Having attempted to answer such inquisitions, I then find myself in the position of either being asked to explain my views (which very rarely ends without my reduction to a babbling wreck) or being asked an even greater, more stimulating question to further test my role as a critical thinker.

The reason for this is that life is full of questions, some much more difficult than others, and although millions of the world’s finest minds have argued for years over ‘Which came first: the chicken or the egg?’ I tend to prefer a question with a relatively simple and satisfactory answer. True, Aryeh Frimer once said “I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer”, but why not have a great question with an equally satisfactory conclusion? Although many philosophical or topical enquiries out there tend to reach very ambiguous results, some of the world’s greatest questions DO have answers, and so I set out to find out what those were...

Add caption

1.     Is There One Move That's More Likely to Win a Game of Rock-Paper-Scissors?

To answer this question, I turned to the archives of The World Rock Paper Scissors Society, where one finds that RPS players rely on strategy, not probability, to win. From the playground to the annual International World RPS Tournament outwitting your opponent is No. 1 job for serious competitors.

According to the Society, one way to guess what hand someone will throw out is to know how many rounds they've won so far. Players who are in the lead will often use scissors, because it's believed to symbolize aggression, while paper is used for a more subtle attack. Rock is usually a last resort, when players feel their strategies are failing. There are also techniques you can use to mask your move, such as cloaking, in which players will pretend to throw rock and then stick out two fingers at the last second to make scissors. In addition, the true professionals (who do exist) will use sets of three moves, called "gambits," to help them make their moves out of strategy, not reaction.

But that's not all. The Society also keeps track of how common moves are, particularly as they relate to mentions of RPS in pop culture. For instance, after "The Simpsons" episode in which Bart beats Lisa with rock and thinks to himself "Good old rock, nothing beats it," the Society recorded a 0.3% rise in the use of rock.

However, be warned: if you are going to play, be prepared to pay. RPS can be a dangerous sport. In the late 1980s, Kenyan Mustafa Nwenge lost a match and the use of a finger when an overzealous opponent "cut his paper" a little too hard and crushed Nwenge's finger ligaments.

See how scientists have developed a robot that always wins at rock-paper-scissors

(image source:

2.      How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood?

The answer to this is painfully simple: probably none. Woodchucks aren't particularly tree-oriented, and, while they can climb to find food, they prefer being on the ground.

In fact, they got the name "woodchuck" from British trappers who couldn't quite wrap their tongues around the native name "wuchak." More commonly (and accurately) known as groundhogs, these animals are closely related to squirrels, marmots, and prairie dogs, with which they share an affinity for burrowing.

Moreover, a burrowing woodchuck can chuck dirt, in the form of tunnels that can reach five feet deep and as much as 35 feet in length. So, based on that number, New York State wildlife expert Richard Thomas calculated that if a woodchuck could chuck wood, he could chuck as much as 700 pounds of the stuff.

The 'Ginger' Issue

by Charlie Albuery

I’m going to have to start with a disclaimer. Just so we’re all clear, I understand that prejudice is still an issue in modern society and I don’t mean to make light of that; this article is purely intended to entertain.
The world’s largest sperm bank, Cyros, has recently stopped accepting donations from people with red hair.  If we ‘gingers’ begin to die out, I will be legitimately angry at whoever made that decision.
In the last fifty years, all forms of prejudice have become unacceptable in our society and those who show prejudice are quite rightly ostracised.  Due to the suffragettes and a huge amount of nagging, women have now got it into their heads that they have equal rights too (I am joking, of course!).
But, seriously, much like the Hydra from Greek mythology, you cut one head from the awful beast that is prejudice and another crops up. People feel they need someone to ostracize and, as all forms of prejudice become unacceptable, the prejudiced must start scraping the barrel of -isms.
I am talking, of course, of ‘ginger-ism’
As someone with orange hair, I feel I must do my part to end prejudice in this world, so here come the three reasons you should love gingers:

1 – Gingers Are Straight-Up Awesome
Some of the toughest people in the world are ginger. And, by some of the toughest people in the world, I mean: Chuck Norris. Go tell him he hasn’t got a soul (see South Park, below) and you won’t have a face…
It’s widely accepted that gingers make the best sidekicks. You all know where I’m going with this. Without his trusty sidekick, Ron, Harry Potter would never have got a flying car, and, without Amy Pond, the eleventh doctor would’ve . . . well . . . OK. Fine. Amy Pond never did anything useful (but come on, guys).

Also, me.

2 – Everybody Loves an Underdog
Who wants to see the Empire win when you watch Star Wars (those few of you who are thinking ‘yes’ in an attempt to spite me, you are dead inside)? The fact is that we root for the loveable band of misfits fighting to overcome the big society. In this (relatively convoluted) metaphor, the gingers are the rebels and everybody else in the universe is the Empire.
If I may continue this metaphor (which I can), South Park is basically the Death Star.
The rumour perpetuated by popular animated series South Park that I, and other gingers like me, do not have a soul, has become more a part of pop-culture than the rumour that RIngo was never a part of the Beatles (no, I will not let that go!).

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Euro?

by Andrew Jones


Teetering on the precipice seems to present a pretty accurate picture of the Eurozone's current position. The mid-summer fears surrounding the possibility of a double dip recession became slightly more of a reality when growth figures fell 0.2% in the second quarter. The efforts of France and Germany to drag the Eurozone out of its predicament failed as the economies of Spain, Italy, Finland and Portugal contracted to continue economic tales of woe. At such an economically dangerous point it might be prudent to consider where the solutions may lie and the lessons which the Eurozone could learn to prevent a repeat affair.

Angela Merkel: hostile to bail-outs
 So where might the solutions lie? Perhaps the ECB's current favourite option has been through bail outs to try to shore up weaker economies. These are however attached to difficult conditions which few are able to meet. Recently this approach has been criticised for being too harsh on struggling economies. Christine Legarde recently urged the Eurozone communities to give these economies “ a bit more time.” Might this therefore become the way forward for a Eurozone solution? Such a measure is sure to induce friction between those being bailed out and those paying for them. Germany in particular has remained hostile to the prospect of bail-outs with “softened conditions” as Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle iterated at a meeting of Eurozone leaders. This sentiment is due to the Government being “under pressure not to soften by one single millimetre” according to Stephen Evans. Such a solution is therefore unlikely to become a reality as though it may offer countries such as Greece and Spain a more achievable settlement, crucially it fails to gain the support of key contributors such as Germany. For policy makers in the ECB, the current bail-out plans with strict conditions are unlikely to be a viable method for much longer as they serve to increasingly undermine government support in weaker countries. Therefore whichever strategy is taken, relying on bail-outs, although economically practical to help shore up Government finances, simply leads to unpopular Governments at a time when they really need the support of their people.

The prospect of either a Greek default or, worse, exit from the Euro has been suggested as a possible solution. Though long talked about, this scenario seems unlikely to become reality as individuals on all sides of the table have ruled out the possibility. The Greek Prime Minister Antonio Samaras addressed supporters of such a notion with a stark rebuttal:  “We must make sure that we abide by what we have signed because we believe that what they call a 'Grexit' is not an option for us. It would be a catastrophe.” Whilst those within Europe seem unwilling to consider the act, the warnings of catastrophic consequences have been weakened as Jean-Claude Juncker argued that a Greek exit would be “managable.” Despite this, a Greek exit from the Eurozone remains the most risky and dangerous solution which should really be viewed as a desperate last resort. Fears that a Greek exit could spark a contagion of other exits certainly rings true when one considers the state of Spanish, Irish, Italian and Portuguese economies which fared little better.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Best and Worst Teams of the Week

by Fergus Houghton-Connell

Juan Mata: incredible vision and passing
(source: Guardian)
Cracking weekend in the Premier League, which saw Liverpool and Norwich get their first home wins of the season, whilst North London took a battering, with Arsenal and Spurs both losing. So here are my best and worst teams of the week: 

Best Team of the Week

Goalkeeper – Manchester City – Joe Hart – Hart made a fantastic save in the last minute to secure a win for City, especially after taking the blame for the England draw.

Left Back – Fulham – John Arne Riise – He only made one assist in the match, but it was enough for a win. He was sending in crosses for Berbatov all afternoon in what was a comfortable win for Fulham.

Centre Back – Norwich – Sebastien Bassong – He was in my worst team last week but, much like the rest of the Norwich team, he improved vastly to show off a below-par Arsenal side for their first win of the season.

Centre Back – Newcastle – Fabricio Coloccini – Alan Pardew’s word after the match against Sunderland summed Colccini up: ‘he was like Bobby Moore’. A quality performance that deserved a win, if it wasn’t for that own goal.

Right Back – Manchester City – Micah Richards – He got in my best team last week and he is in it again. He managed to survive under the pressure of West Brom, especially in an intense last five minutes.

Left Midfield – Liverpool – Raheem Sterling – This kid has a hell of a future ahead of him, not only for Liverpool but for England too. His finishing was first class and managed to secure Liverpool their first home win of the season.

Centre Midfield – Chelsea – Juan Mata – He was at the heart of Chelsea against Spurs. He managed to get two goals and an assist, with his vision and passing being incredible at times.

Centre Midfield – ChelseaEden Hazard – Much like Juan Mata, he seemed to be able to pick out any pass he wanted. If Mata and Hazard continue this form, it’ll take a superb performance to beat Chelsea.

Right Midfield – Norwich – Anthony Pilkington – Arsenal’s defence was dreadful, but, even so, Pilkington tore down the right wing, setting up Holt time and time again.

Centre Forward – Manchester United – Wayne Rooney – He may have scored an own goal, but he made up for it enough, with two goals and one assist --- another cracking performance.

Centre Forward – Manchester City – Edin Dzeko – He may have said that he doesn’t want to be called the ‘super sub’ in his post match interview, and, with performances like that, he won’t be starting on the bench for too long. Two fine finishes from the Bosnian.

 Worst Team of the Week

There were, however, this week, a few blunders, most notably from Arsenal. Here is my worst line-up:

Monday, 22 October 2012

Kick Racism Out Of Football!

by William Hine
England's Danny Rose reacts to racial abuse from Serbian fans,
following his unjust sending off
(source: Guardian)
In the aftermath of the appalling events of last Tuesday night’s U21 clash between Serbia and England, the resultant opinion and statements from those high up in the game has provided me with a lot to think about. For the few unaware of the evening’s events, many of England’s black players were subjugated to racially motivated abuse from the Serbian support. This disgusts me. I find it hard to believe that in the professional era of football such primitive behaviour is still apparent.
A close game throughout, it looked set to be a 0-0 draw when, in the closing minutes, the Serbian goalkeeper came forward in the hope of getting on the end of a corner kick. The ball was cleared quickly by the English defence, and, as the Serbian goal line was left exposed, Wickham carried the ball over to end the game 1-0 to England and carry them into the 2013 U21 World Cup. In fury, Serbian fans barraged the striker with missiles, in additions to the ‘monkey hoot’ and what was quite frankly ‘handbags’ pushing and shoving from the Serbian team.
FIFA have not, as of the time of writing, taken action, but their answer should be quite simple- Expel Serbia from the international game until the Serbian FA can prove the nation’s attitudes reflect the modern game they want to be a part of. In fact, Blatter tweeted on the 17th- ‘@SeppBlatter Saddened every time I hear about racist incidents in football’. Saddened, yes, but from someone that has the power to act this is a pointless remark. FIFA have announced an investigation will take place over the incident but, really, what is there to investigate? England won the match, it was the Serbians that reacted. As far as they should be concerned, England is eligible to play in the U21 2013 World Cup.
Disappointingly, the Serbian FA did not accept the allegations but instead denied any knowledge of the chanting taking place in a YouTube press release. Essentially a poorly edited highlights reel, the Serbian FA have footage of one targeted player, Danny Rose but the sound is not of the ‘monkey hoot’ when official highlights make this very clear that Rose was targeted because of his skin colour. This should demonstrate to FIFA that this is an unprofessional institution, unwilling to accept evidence proving the fans guilty.

Review: Looper

by Alex Quarrie-Jones

The concept of paradoxical actions is definitely not a rarity within any time-travelling, sci-fi thriller, but in Looper the cardinal sin of not affecting your past self by harming or even killing that self isn’t rejected but wholly embraced. For the main protagonist’s future self appears to return to the past with the sole intention of completing his conquest, irrespective of any hindrance, even if it his past self.
The basic premise of the film is that Joe, the central character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a looper, an assassin who waits for his target to be zapped back 30 years from the 2070s to the 2040s where they are summarily executed and disposed of swiftly  by Joe. Joe is paid by a collection of silver bars strapped to the back of his victim, which he then spends on women, drugs and cars. It seems like the easiest life of a hit man ever portrayed on screen. But there’s a catch: when the looper’s contract is finished he unknowingly kills his future self and gets a larger bounty to use over 30 years until he is zapped back. This is called “closing the loop” and works extremely soundly for a heavily paradoxical film. However, if you let your future self go (called “letting your loop run”), then a horrible fate awaits you as Johnson, the director, portrays rather ingeniously and cruelly simultaneously (if you want to know what it is, then watch the film.)
Anyway, after a rather confusing sequence where Joe dies a few times, in both the present and the future, we arrive at a future Joe who has just witnessed his family being murdered and purposely sends himself back in time to kill the ‘Rainmaker’, the shadowy head of the massive crime syndicate who orchestrates pretty much everything in the future. After a confrontation between Young and Old Joe and a particularly clever scene using memories, Young Joe finds himself on a desolate ranch with a protective mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), and her rather strange son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), while Old Joe searches for the child version of the ‘Rainmaker’, which he has narrowed down to three infants. After a collection of scenes including a rather needless romantic part and a sequence where Bruce Willis just mows down random baddies with a machine gun, we find Young Joe pitted against Old Joe in protection of Cid. This is where everything gets quite confusing so you have to see the film yourself if you want to know the ending.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! By Godspeed You! Black Emperor

by Ben Wallis

In the world of cult bands, few have achieved the status of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They began life in Montreal, Canada in 1994 as part of the growing post-rock movement, since then they have become the spearhead of the genre, representing the dark and challenging reaches of the genre. The band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2003, since then their legacy has been secured by a loyal fan base and internet popularity, but in 2010 they started playing live shows again and finally in October 2012 a new album was released.

Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! Is made up of just 4 tracks (I will avoid the term song, as there is no singing) two 20 minute long pieces and two ‘drone’ tracks that create negative space between the main movements. Keen Godspeed fans will realise that the two main pieces, ‘Mladic’ and ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ are not brand new and have been played by the band at live shows since 2003, just before their hiatus. But, studio recorded versions are certainly welcome and the album itself does not disappoint.

‘Mladic’ is the first track and it begins with a repeating vocal sample of two worried voices saying, “With his arms outstretched.” “With his arms outstretched?” “Okay” “Do you see him?” with this and the title of the piece, it’s hard not to read a political line into the music. This would not be uncommon for the band, who have made political points with their music before, despite the lack of lyrics, taking aim at issues such as Palestine and American government. The band were in fact arrested by US police and questioned by the FBI on suspicion of being terrorists, during their 2003 tour, but, political points are few on this album, similar to their previous album ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’.

The vocal sample ends and ‘Mladic’ then moves into a collection of chaotic and droning strings, that features violins, cellos and what sounds like guitars being tortured; this atmospheric and abrasive section continues until the tension is near unbearable. It’s not until 6 minutes into the track that an eastern flavoured guitar riff emerges from the noise; of course it’s worth the wait, layers of guitars build and power the track along in the closest thing to rock music you will get from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, until it crescendos in epic proportions several times, coming back in almost a chorus like way. The music is dark and menacing, and features some of the heaviest guitars on any of the band’s work, but after the 6 minutes of drone at the start, is surprisingly accessible.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Nation Mourns, But Comes of Age

by Chris Howarth, Director of United World Schools with which PGS works closely to raise funds for the school in Chai Thom, Cambodia.

King Norodom Sihanouk
(source: BBC)
Cambodia is now in mourning for the father king, King Norodom Sihanouk. His body returned home to the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh today from Beijing. I reach out in sympathy to the nation.
I stood street side with 100,000 Khmer people all of who, it seemed, were dressed in white shirts and black trousers or skirts. Most wore a small black ribbon tied in a bow and pinned to the shirt. The plane carrying the king touched down at 3.00pm but by 2.30 a nation stood and waited. The atmosphere at first was one of excitement; an expectation that we were to witness something special, a rare home coming of a respected king. The man who led the nation to independence.

As hours passed by and the sun impacted, the mood changed to being more sombre and reflective. Many, of which I was one, carried a flower, a lotus blossom with incense and a candle. Sweet smells filled the air. Some held pictures decorated with flowers. The crowd was of all ages, children, students and those who in Cambodia are considered old. There was no noise or shouting, no wailing or screaming but a respectful buzz of a crowd in waiting. The police presence was minimal but even these were redundant. Packed 10 deep on the pavement, the road was left unobstructed, clear; the pathway home. A stray piece of litter caught in the wind invaded this space only to be caught by a lady using a leaf as a glove. Nothing was to foul this day.

‘Anna Karenina’: A Review

by Louisa Stark

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

I remember seeing the trailer for the first time. The words of Tolstoy fading onto the screen, "There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts", before launching into a beautiful symphony of swirling silk, sumptuous sets, nineteenth century Russia and Keira Knightley; I practically swooned. After watching it countless times on repeat, an opportunity to see the new adaptation of Anna Karenina at the cinema came in the form of how to entertain a Swedish student, Jenny, who loved costume dramas --- perfect! Ashamedly, I am yet to read the novel, but, even without any preconceptions, my expectations were high.

Oh, how I sighed with disappointment.  The majority of the film was set in a theatre, presumably to mirror the theatricality of 19th century Russian society, against which the story of love and adultery unfolds – a seemingly inspired concept, updating a story that could easily slip into the tepid territory of traditional costume drama.  In reality, such highly choreographed set changes taking place within one space, as flamboyant and energetic as they were, conflicted completely with the story.  After all, is Anna Karenina not considered to be one of the great masterpieces of the Realist movement?  For a few brief scenes, the action strayed outside of the theatre, but the significance of these interludes was unclear, therefore losing any symbolism that had been intended.  Besides, had this been a low-budget film such ingenuity ought to be commended, but as a purely creative decision it failed.
Visually, the film was gorgeous, but what else could be expected from the director who gave us that emerald dress in Atonement and those ‘Coco Mademoiselle’ commercials? I have always been a fan of Joe Wright’s artistic eye for colour and composition alongside his storytelling, though, in this case, style triumphed over substance.  For me, the film was devoid of any emotion, which this famous tragedy could have offered; it was like flicking through the pages of Vogue: I my interest was vaguely enticed, but I was ultimately left unsatisfied.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

President of the Internet?

by Emily Duff

The 2008 presidential election in America was heralded as the first ever to effectively use social media to the advantage of candidates, used to entice and encourage voters. In particular, Obama was applauded for his use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites as a way to draw together funds, support and votes from across the internet. At the time, this new form of campaigning had not been used so successfully in any previous election. Even with such an improvement, though, the previous claims that 2008 would be the ‘internet election’ were largely thought to be incorrect. Despite the expansion of Obama’s web presence, the ‘internet election’ appeared only to be a small battle in a much larger war. In 2012, however, the race to the White House won’t just be held in town halls, conventions, in Washington DC, and on the television.

Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden websites
As of September, 88% of registered voters are thought to own a mobile phone. The number of those who could regularly be updated with election information through the internet or promotional texts is incredibly significant. A whole new war is being fought, where it is much harder to judge the winner.

The question is, therefore, which candidate is going to exploit all the opportunities the internet has to offer to the greatest degree? And how must the inevitable mockery and online anger be accounted for?

Currently, it is generally agreed that Obama has a stronger online presence than Romney. His previous term in office has, of course, meant he is better known than his opponent.  In 2008, Obama’s campaign saw campaign text message updates, a new website, and towards the end, a smartphone app. Romney has no such background on which to base a national social media campaign. This shows, too, in the statistics showing online support for the two candidates. Obama has over 30 million Facebook ‘likes’ while Romney lags with only around 9 million. Obama has over 20 million followers on twitter, compared to Romney’s 1.5. Obama, on average, tweets over 25 times a day more than Romney, giving him a greater scope for reaching voters.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Man Booker Prize Winner 2012: Bring Up The Bodies

James Burkinshaw reviews 'Bring Up The Bodies' by Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize on October 16, 2012.

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
by Hans Holbein
Thomas Cromwell is one of English history’s most intriguing figures (in every sense of the word). Traditionally seen as ruthless, cynical, even villainous (an image encouraged by the narrow-eyed, evasive figure presented in Holbein’s famous portrait on the left), he has, recently, been treated as both more complex and more sympathetic by historians and authors alike. In the best-selling murder mysteries of CJ Sansom, for example, Cromwell appears as the wise mentor to the protagonist, Matthew Shardlake. In Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (sequel to Wolf Hall), it is through Cromwell’s eyes that we witness the downfall of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn.

This period has been so comprehensively covered, the fates of the protagonists are so well known, that Mantel’s use of the present tense throughout seems a means of escaping this burden of historical knowledge, placing the characters in a present that has not yet become "History". It also has the effect of making Cromwell seem oddly passive, even fatalistic, carried along by events that often appear outside of his control. Rather than being presented as a cunning strategist and manipulator, he is seen struggling to manage the whims of his master, King Henry, whose self-serving sentimentality Mantel captures well: “Henry drops Wolsey’s name into conversation, as if it were not he, but some other monarch, who had hounded the cardinal to death.” However, even the king is carried along by events outside of his control (“Chivalry’s day is over . . . banker sits down with banker, and kings are their waiting boys”), as is Anne, rowed to her fate in the Tower, her “whole life receding with every stroke of the oars”.

 Indeed the narrative often seems dreamlike, calling into question “the nature of the border between truth and lies, permeable and blurred". Asked how many lovers Queen Anne has had, Thomas Wyatt answers, “A dozen? Or none? Or a hundred’’ Everything and everyone in this novel is presented as contingent. Cromwell himself is “a black shape against the brickwork, a fragment cut out of the night”. Once abandoned by Henry, the formerly powerful and commanding Anne is merely “an impostor, like a child or a court fool, dressed in the costumes of a queen.” This sense of people being forced into roles permeates the novel; in order to show Anne as guilty of infidelity, Cromwell “needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.”  

Review: Green Day - ¡Uno!

by Tim Bustin

Green Day is one of the few bands willing and able to constantly evolve and experiment with their music, whilst still producing some of the highest quality songs and albums around. From their major label debut, “Dookie”, which kick- started the nineties punk-pop revival, to ambitious and political works such as “American Idiot”; from songs such as “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, Green Day are able to retain talent throughout all projects and ideas and continue to earn new fans from all over the world.

Here’s another way of putting it. Green Day has been going downhill ever since “Dookie”. That mix of teen angst and punk ideals has never been truly replicated by the band; their later studio albums were punk, but of worse quality and their latest works (the rock operas “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown”) were ruined by high-pitched vocals, multiple guitars, over five minute long songs and storylines that interfere with the music (lyrics that can’t be understood easily without attempting to learn the storyline).

Fans of the band generally tend to take one side: either that their best work was their earliest or that Green Day is continuously brilliant. The people most aware of this divide are of course Billie Joe Armstrong (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Dirnt (Bass) and Tre Cool (drums). And they’ve realised the answer to the question “How do you keep fans on both sides happy?” is to release three albums called ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! --- a return to the old Green Day sound whilst incorporating the music from their two rock operas. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Green Day
The album opens with the promotional single “Nuclear Family” and it is instantly noticeable that this is a giant leap away from “21st Century Breakdown” and a huge step back to early Green Day – raw chords from Billie Joe’s guitar pave the way for Tre’s powerful drumming (his high-hat slightly open to give the song a more punk feel) and showing off with fast bass drum and tom combinations; Mike Dirnt’s bass is audible when necessary and the song feels like relief from the extravagant rock operas. However, despite its catchy feel, the chorus is tainted by backing vocals performing high pitched “ooh”s – although this ultimately doesn’t ruin the song; however, the same technique does appear on more of the songs and does make the whole album sound slightly more odd.

Monday, 15 October 2012

21 Things you Couldn’t Do Before You Turned Sixteen

by Freya Derby

At the age of 16, you experience the first major changes in the law that relate to you. From twelve to fifteen, you accumulate small alterations in your rights regarding when you can work, the films you can see and the consequences of any crimes you should happen to commit. However, unless signing your own passport (at 12) is important to you, most of us won’t really be interested, and as a consequence won’t notice, until we turn sixteen. You can now legally get married (with your parents' permission), but, even more excitingly, you gain access to a whole variety of new transports, confectionaries and beverages. This is not a comprehensive list, but here are some of the things that you can do once you turn sixteen:
1.       Get married (with your parents' consent).
2.       Join the army (as long as you have your parents' permission).
3.     Get a licence and drive a moped.
4.       Get a driving licence for an invalid carriage, if you’re disabled.
5.       Drive an invalid carriage ( if you have the licence) which looks like a Reliant Robin but is designed specifically for people with physical disabilities. Although their safety is debatable, they’re allowed on normal roads like a car but are illegal on motorways.
6.       Pilot a glider (also known as a sailplane) solo.
7.       Get a National Insurance number, so you can get better jobs.
8.   Leave home (without your parents' permission).
9. Apply for a passport by yourself.
10.   …and change your name.