Nick Clegg-Between the Extremes: Book Review

In ‘Between the Extremes’ Nick Clegg offers readers an insiders guide to the coalition government and provides a convincing argument for a centrist path in the future. He stresses the need for rational debate following the divisive EU referendum campaigns.

clegg

Clegg starts the book by providing an overview of his spectacular rise and fall, from the hero of the inaugural leaders TV debates (aka Cleggomania) to the Cenotaph, the day after his party were trounced in the 2015 general election and he was forced to resign. Following the TV debates Clegg was heralded as the face of a new centre-left politics, gaining legions of fans and bringing a swell of support for the Lib Dems, leading them to form the coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010. The Lib Dems entered the coalition full of optimism, yet its clear that this experience paved the way for a frustrating experience for the party. Here Clegg is particularly sincere, explaining the mental and physical tole a leadership role takes on an individual. After this begins a section of Clegg justifying his political decisions whilst in office, with particular attention paid to the student tuition fees issue. Here it feels relatively self indulgent, with him often claiming that events were completely out of his hands. It appears that narratives of his lack of power seem all too convenient. This section feels politically motivated and is out of character with the more objective stance taken in other parts of the book, wherein he is candid about the naivety of his party. In this section you get the sense that Clegg is trying to right the wrongs of the coalition. He persistently states that the sentiment that future will look back on the coalition far more positively, but if the last five years proves anything, it is that this is not the case, where the Liberal Democrats appear to ignore the coalition years entirely.

clegg-and-dc
Clegg and Cameron at the Rose Garden

Clegg then presents his vision of a centrist political future, wherein politics is dominated by compromise. Indeed, Clegg feels that in the future coalitions will be far more regular, forcing intra-party concessions. As a result he see’s the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition as something of a game-changer in the UK. Clegg foresees the fragmentation of politics as a reason for coalitions as the rise of third parties continues in the form of UKIP. Clegg then makes a compelling argument for electoral reform to combat this new political environment and better reflect the voting choices of the electorate.

Clegg resigns.jpg
Clegg was forced to resign following a dismal result in the 2015 general election 

A large portion of the book deals with Europe from Clegg’s pro-European stance and the issue with the EU referendum campaigns. He explains how the discourses created in the campaigns are dangerous and that the divisive messages were damaging to British politics. Here he argues that there is a need for more rational debate in the political sphere, which was missing in the EU debates. Here is Clegg at his idealistic best, arguing from his Rationalist-Liberalist beliefs but it seems fairly far removed from the reality of contemporary political discourses. Clegg’s analysis is thus an counterpoint to modern political campaign strategies and offers a reasoned critique of the way that political communication is going.

 

To conclude, Between the Extremes is a candid and timely autobiography that provides an insiders look at the coalition years. The book provides perspectives on the future of politics and critiques of the increasingly partisan political system. If you are looking to understand the Lib Dems role in the coalition or feel that post-Brexit politics is alienating you, it is definitely worth a read.

Advertisements

Theresa May Brexit Speech – Snap Reaction

Today Theresa May finally provided a substantive picture of the governments Brexit plan.

The headline news is that May plans to take Britain out of the European single market, breaking a 2015 Tory manifesto pledge. This further questions the legitimacy of her mandate and renders arguments of ‘taking back control’ something of a damp squib.Her message of wanting a positive relationship with the EU seem rather dependent on a ‘they need us more than we need them’ logic, which I fear is rather a false supposition that aims to quell fears rather than provide practical answers on the future of Britain.

Image result for theresa may brexit speech

Yet she has also stated that Parliament will get a final vote on proposed Brexit plans. This is a tacit acknowledgement that the ongoing high Court case is petulant at best. This provides some kind of democratic mandate to Brexit which is much needed. It is up to a largely anonymous opposition to challenge what’s been put forward and push for a Brexit that works for all.This landmark speech provides evidence that we are heading for a hard Brexit, so lets strap ourselves in, it’s sure to be an intriguing course at least!

Dr Seuss- The Artist

Cat Detective in the Wrong Part of Town- A part of Dr Suess Private artwork

When recently reading a young relatives selection of Dr Seuss novels, I was flabbergasted at their creative mite. As a child who never really indulged in the world of Seuess I was left reading the book for myself, engaged by the off-the-wall characters and surreal settings.

Upon further research about Suess I found a great website, (http://www.drseussart.com) about the man behind the children’s books and his personal endeavours which have only recently come to light in the form of numerous public exhibitions of his work.

hoteldel1
I Dreamed I was a Doorman at the Hotel del Coronado

Suess often stayed up late into the night producing fantastic surreal works that are very much in the style of his children’s work, but far more complex in subject matter. These paintings often show Giesel in his alter ego as a cat. The works are in a variety of styles, some are complex landscapes whilst others focus on a single character and the mystery that surrounds them.

cattracks1
Cat from the Wrong Side of the Tracks

On top of this Suess created a range of unorthodox taxidermy. This was effectively bringing his fictional animalistic characters to life. He did these by combining numerous different aspects of different animals and combining them into a cartoon fantasy animal, with an appropriately fantastical name.

wolghast1
An example of Dr Suess’ taxidermy; the Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast

Giesels career previous to becoming an author was as a political cartoonist. His satirical cartoons often included surreal versions of political leaders and political concepts. His cartoons often had left wing isolationist undertones.

I just though I’d post this as I believe that this work needs to be recognized for what it is, great artwork from a truly unique man. If you want to see more head to the aforementioned website.

Paul Simonon ICA- Wot No Bike Exhibition

Paul Simonon- Wot No Bike

Just thought I’d try and raise some awareness for the new Paul Simonon exhibition opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London on the 21st January to the 6th February.

Simonon is most famous for being the unbelievably cool bass player for The Clash as well as The Good The Bad and The Queen and most recently Gorillaz.

Paul Simonon pictured in his time with Gorillaz

On top of this he is an accomplished artist and his new exhibition promises some interesting still life’s referencing the influence rock’n’roll has had on his life. His work mainly consists of pastel on canvas and has an interesting aesthetic quality that feels very personal. Along with the exhibition a limited edition book with images of the show inside will be available to purchase.

Egg, Bacon, Frying Pan- By Paul Simonon

So if you’re about London in the next few weeks I would definitely give this show a visit.

What Are You Looking At: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye- Book Review

A1L5wQwhDLL._SL1500_
What Are You Looking At: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye, By Will Gompertz

What Are You Looking At….. is a book detailing the history of modern art for amateurs. Gompertz takes us on a journey through modern art, starting with the impressionists, right up to the hugely popular modern street art movement made popular by Banksy amongst others. The book is split up into the main modern art movements like cubism and abstract art. From here, the author describes the intentions of each movement whilst introducing it’s major players and why they did what they did.

The book takes the standpoint that a lot of people regard modern art to be lacking in skill, with quips like “I could of done that” echoing around modern art galleries. It is a standpoint that many gallery curators would encounter in their everyday lives. It’s a fact that many critics and a great deal of the public don’t particularly see much skill in works like Damian Hirsts ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991’ ,Duschamps ‘Fountain’ or numerous comparable works. It is Gompertz who persistently tries to battle against this mindset in the book and he argues the validity of all modern art throughout.

 

DHS76_771_0
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, by Damian Hirst

 

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968
Marcel Duschamps Fountain

 

This mindset works to varying degrees. If you were of that mindset before reading the book it is great, as it makes you understand the validity of the art. But if you weren’t and you appreciated the art beforehand, then the passages of validation is just hot air.

As a complete amateur to art, this book was exactly the entry point I was looking for. The vast majority of art ‘outsiders’ are intimidated when they try to discuss art in a meaningful way, myself included. But this book is written in such a conversational tone, that it is just engrossing. Gompertz strikes the perfect balance, he doesn’t patronise the reader and he doesn’t bombard them with artistic jargon. This was exactly the way I wanted modern art described to me. Art was of interest to me, but I never felt like I was able to truly understand it or discuss it in any way apart from superficial statements like, “it’s nice to look at”. This book has really helped open my eyes to art and I now feel semi confident when discussing the various movements of modern art.

A problem I found was that the Kindle version had issues. One of these was that the pictures of the art were black and white and not in the best quality. When discussing work like that of Mondrian, you really need to see the pictures in colour. I therefore had to Google all of the images that Gomepertz talks about. This  was time consuming and slightly annoying. But be prepared to do it if you purchase the Kindle version, as it is necessary.

Mondrian_Broadway_Boogie_Woogie
Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian is an example of artwork that needs to be seen in colour to appreciate.

The book tries to describe modern art as a continuous narrative. I found this really interesting. When talking about a certain artist, Gompertz begins with a short biography, which helps to contextualise the work of the individual. I really enjoyed finding out about the artist and the ideas behind the works, as well as the art itself.

I think this book is the perfect introduction to modern art. Because of this I would give this book a 9 out of 10, it was everything I wanted it to be on purchasing. It gave me the information I craved, told in an engaging and non patronising way. I really enjoyed this book and I would really recommend it to anyone who is interested in art, or those who feel they don’t fully understand modern art. This book has certainly peaked my interest in art and will probably be the first of many art books I purchase in the future.

 

 

The Great Messi Golden Ball Farce

452111330-1024x720
Messi was positively jubilant after taking Fifa’s Golden Ball trophy

 

Last night Germany won the Fifa World Cup for the fourth time in their history, but before they could walk up some stairs to receive the trophy, Argentina’s Lionel Messi had to walk up the aforementioned steps to collect a golden football on a stick. Now this wasn’t just any golden football on a stick, but it was in fact the fabled Fifa Golden Ball trophy, which is presented to the best player of the tournament according to footballs world governing body.

What annoys me about this is that everyone knows that Messi wasn’t the best player at the tournament. After he shone in the group stages he was average at best and a shadow of his usual self. It seems as if Fifa gave it to him out of sympathy, because beyond that, there is very little logical argument which results in Messi deserving the accolade.  Below are some players who deserved the golden ball more and why;

Javier Mascherano; he had a far greater influence over Argentina after the group stages, personifying their fantastic defensive displays which got them to the final. Whilst Messi was shrugging his shoulders doing very little in the World Cup final, Mascherano was running around all over the place trying to stop the Germans any way he could. In this way he was far more deserving of the golden ball and was Argentina’s player of the tournament if not the best at the whole tournament.

Thomas Muller; named man of the match in two of Germany’s wins, the gangly forward scored an impressive 5 goals in 7 matches. Against Argentina he was less effective than in all of the previous games, where he ran riot, especially against hosts Brazil. Throughout the tournament his unpredictability caused problems and he didn’t have a bad game.

James Rodriguez; the tournaments top goalscorer lit up the tournament with 6 goals in the 5 matches, one of which being the goal of the tournament. Playing for a lesser known nation he catapulted Columbia into the quarter finals, where he was kicked out of the game by the cynical Brazilians. He truly was deserving of the golden ball trophy even if his side didn’t progress past the quarter finals, if they would’ve, he would have been a shoe-in for the trophy.

All of the above players deserved the award far more than Messi did, after what surely he himself would admit, was an average tournament. Notable mentions of players who also could have won it ahead of Messi go to Robben, Hummels, Neuer, Sanchez and Benzema. 

And with this my final World Cup post has been published and now we all have to live with the World Cup blues. It has been an incredible tournament with some outstanding games and a deserved winner in a genuine team, Germany. Now all that’s left to say is, see you in four years!

 

Hanns and Rudolf- Book Review

 

UK hanns and rudolf paperback final high res small

Hanns and Rudolf tells the tale of Rudolf Hoss, Kommandent of Aushwitz and Hanns Alexander, a German Jew turned Nazi hunter who eventually caught Hoss. The narrative takes the form of an interweaving biography of the two figures. This is done by separating each of their stories into different chapters. The book is written by Thomas Harding, who is Hanns’ great nephew. The family tie that the author has helps to give the book a purpose as after all, this is a period of history written about constantly.

Firstly I would like to point out that this book was not what I thought it would be. I thought that it would tell the lengthy story of Hanns trying to catch Rudolf, when in fact the vast majority of this book is about their completely separate lives and their journeys pre war as much as their actions during and postwar. The link between the two is that they are both involved in WWII, not that Hanns was the man to catch Rudolf. Whilst the book does include this, it didn’t feel like the main part of the book as you would expect from reading the front cover, which says”The German Jew and the hunt for the Kommandent of Auschwitz”. I therefore found this slightly misleading, so if you are to read this book, don’t expect a lengthy detective novel as this is not what the book offers the reader.

hanns-hoess_2663712b
The book tells the tale of Hanns Alexander (right) and Rudolf Hoss (left) 

Hanns and Rudolf is very well researched, with great detail given about both the characters childhoods. However a lot of the information about Rudolfs early life seems regurgitated from other sources. The Hanns sections stand out because he is a new character to amateur historians and the authors family ties help to personalise him to the reader.  This book is all about portraying the two characters as people, rather than symbols of their armies or  nations. It is a human story of how one German Jew ended up hating his country and how Rudolf became a mass murderer . This personalised take on the characters is typified by the fact that throughout the book they are referred to in first person (because of this, I have decided to do the same).

One of the books most interesting facets  is how Rudolf Hoss did what he did, was he simply following orders, or was he not sane? It certainly is intriguing reading about Rudolf and the extent of his crimes against humanity. It’s compelling reading when Harding writes about Hoss’ constant struggle to keep up his family life normal whilst being Kammondent of Aushwitz. Equally absorbing is Hanns’ journey out of Nazi Germany and his decision to fight against them in the war and him becoming one of the very first Nazi hunters after the wars end. On top of this there is the story of Hanns’ twin brother Paul and how they constantly seem to keep bumping into each other during the war. Both Hanns and Rudolf are very interesting characters and the format of having their stories told in interlinking chapters works very well for the narrative. This book is extremely readable because of this.

The book is a well written account of the two characters. It’s engaging you and wills you to read on to the end. Overall I would give this book an 8 out of 10. It is not as insightful or as original as a book like Monuments Men and is not as well written as a Bryson, but it is an interesting and personal story of two contrasting characters in WWII. I was personally disappointed with the shortness of Hoss’ capture, which should of been the crux of the book, but was relegated to a couple of pages.

 

 

 

 

Valiant Hearts: The Great War- Game Review

Valient Hearts
Valiant Hearts: The Great War

 

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a side scrolling puzzle game available on the Playstation Store.

First and foremost Valiant Hearts is a stunning game. The reason I decided to buy it was purely for the unique artistic direction. The visuals are something of a cartoon, but they manage to convey such emotion. The character design is simple, none of the characters have eyes, or even movable mouths, but they still seem like coherent characters with different personalities. The simplicity of the characters is what makes them. You as the gamer convey all of your emotions onto them. The backgrounds and the environments are equally beautiful. They are very similar to what you see in the recent Rayman games, from the same developer, but with a much more sombre atmosphere.

Valiant-Hearts
Just one of the many beautiful scenes in the game

The game is an adventure puzzle game. Most of your time will be spent working out numerous different puzzles. These range from trying to get objects to finding your way around objects blocking the trenches as well as a few adventure sequences. Each of these are satisfying to complete, but it must be said that this is not a challenging game. This didn’t put me off particularly, due to the fact that I wanted to progress through the story, but if you are looking for challenging puzzles look elsewhere.

images
The puzzles in the game are charming rather than challenging

The story follows the 4 protagonists journey and experiences throughout WWI. The characters stories interlink at numerous points, with them sharing the overriding joint goal of taking out a German commander. You will play as each of the four characters; Emile, an ageing French farmer, Karl, German born, living in France, is forced into the German army (he is also the son in law of Emile), Freddie, an American soldier bent on revenge for his fallen wife and Ana, a Belgian nurse. You also order around a dog, who helps you to complete the puzzles. Each of the characters play the same, apart from their special abilities, such as Emile being able to dig. The characters are simply designed, but due to cut scenes they all have meaningful back-stories which give them unique personalities. Playing the game, you definitely feel empathy for each characters position as well as the war itself. Needless to say this game is a melancholy affair, due to the subject matter. But there are uplifting moments, like saving the lives of opposition soldiers and riding a taxi out of Paris whilst avoiding objects. The game is a human story, it tries not to portray any politics, simply that it was an awful time to be a human in Europe. However it must be said that the villain, the German commander, is a somewhat negative stereotype that doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the game as a whole. He is a lazily created and by far the worst in the game.

The audio of the game is fantastic. The whole game has piano driven and orchestral pieces which really ramp up the emotion. They help to convey a sense of melancholy which is needed in a game about the great war. However there are some more upbeat sounds as well, such as a band playing in the train station before Emile enters the war. It is one of the stand out features of the game and it combines with the visuals perfectly to provide a coherent overall atmosphere.

One of the criticisms I have read elsewhere  is of the historical notes that appear during the game. Throughout, as you reach new levels, notes are available, detailing the actual history of WWI. I find this criticism completely unfounded. The notes appear in the corner of the screen  and you have to press a button for them to pop up. They don’t appear on the screen by themselves. If you don’t want to read the historical notes provided, there is no reason for you to do so, you can easily play the game without reading them. But for me, as a bit of a history nut, it was great to read the true stories behind the environments and the narrative. The game places you in areas of real significance to WWI such as the Somme. This was an added bonus for me, but even if you don’t like the history, it’s not a negative that they accommodate for those interested, which is why I find the criticism unfounded.

At just £11.99 this game is fantastic value for money. It gives you a unique experience in a period of history which is not often portrayed. If your looking for a simple game with high emotion and fantastic artistic direction, give this a try. In fact if there is anyone reading this who is looking for a unique experience, just try it, this game is full of character and is suitable for people without much gaming experience. There is no denying that this game isn’t perfect but it is very good indeed. I would rate this game as 8.5 out of 10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War puts to shame the amount of games being priced at around £50 and is well worth the money for an interesting and emotive gaming experience.

 

Long Walk to Freedom- Film Review

 

Mandela3

 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is the film adaptation of the late Nelson Mandelas autobiography. The film stars Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela (Nelsons wife).

Unfortunately, this film is  plagued by its source material. The book, which I have read, is excellent, the film is less so. I was truly willing this film to be better. Elba is one of my favourite actors, due to his performance as the title character in Luther and at the time of filming he was my favourite to receive an Oscar for this performance, but unfortunately it was below that calibre. That is not to say that his performance was anything short of excellent, simply that there were better performances in the movie year. The book is so unbelievably thorough, it delves into the dark times Mandela spent in prison as well as his time in hiding. The film simply fails to translate these moments. This is due to the fact that the book is so large, it is absolutely impossible to get across everything that happens. By picking the so called best moments of the book, it fails to show the extraordinary life which Mandela led in any truly meaningful or deep way.

One of the main issues with the film is the bizarre way that Nelson and Winnies relationship is portrayed, it’s highly confusing for the audience. Throughout the film they have almost separate, yet parallel character journeys. Both have to suffer for their beliefs, but both react to this suffering in different ways which ultimately pulls them apart. However the impact of their ever distanced relationship appears very minor to both the characters. No anguish is portrayed about their relationship and Winnie seems to not care that her husband is in prison for twenty years. There is no emotional impact, which I found surprising.

The film always feels like it has a big moment, an emotional speech or an act of rebellion, waiting to happen, but I was left waiting for something that never came. There are several emotive speeches in the film, but only one was really moving. There lacked a sense of realism to the speeches, to the reactions of the crowd. Maybe the overly emotive soundtrack distracted from what could of been more sincere moments. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but there is simply no real ‘goose-bump’ moments in the film. I expected these moments based on the source material.

I feel that due to the fact that its source material is so thorough the film would have done better to portray a short period in Mandelas life rather than the whole thing. This would have resulted in a far more complete film. But the director bit off more than he could chew, which resulted in a film that lacked any fresh insights into Mandelas extraordinary life. What makes the book absorbing is the way that everything is described. It is very difficult for a film to portray 27 years in prison in the space of 10 minutes. This is exactly what ruins the film. I don’t know whether this makes the director overly ambitious or simply naive.

It must also be said that this film is not awful. It has its moments. The acting is strong, but then what’s entertaining about the film is the subject matter and not the portrayal. The film does nothing cleverly or nuanced or anything other than what you expect. It is therefore a thoroughly average film. I’m sure people will enjoy it, I didn’t hate it myself, but its just not the film it had the potential to be.

I would give this film a rating of 5 out of 10, as it is an average film which could have been so much more. If you felt differently about the film I would love to know your perspective so feel free to comment.

The England Autopsy

_73931466_englandhomepa
The English Hopefulls

With the group stages of the World Cup over and teams like Costa Rica, USA, Algeria and Columbia through to the second round, it’s high time to analyse what went wrong for our plucky English underdogs.

Firstly it’s important to state that our English underdogs were not underdogs at all. The press had downplayed England’s chances so significantly as to raise the expectations back up again due to this lack of perceived expectation. As a result the England players yet again went into A World Cup under crippling pressure and after their opening loss to Italy, they looked like shadows of men, too afraid to receive the ball against Uruguay.

A problem seemingly ignored by the press is that Gerard was awful and was partially responsible for the three goals conceded at this World Cup. But then again he did spray the ball outside at awkward heights for his team-mates to receive, so maybe he deserves to be let off. In defence of Gerrard he had just completed a gruelling, yet disappointing season. However if this was in any way likely to hamper his performance he should of put his team first and let someone else have a go.

Another problem for England was there lack of finishing ability. Given the chances England had in the first two games at least two points were a real possibility. The ability to be clinical is what separates the good from the average on the world stage. As a result of this England dropped out. This lack of ability to finish our chances can be seen as a large reason for the disappointing early exit. However you cannot blame the personnel as both Rooney and Sturridge were clearly the best candidates in their position, it’s just slightly disappointing that they couldn’t replicate their club form on the global stage.

Two of the worst players for England were Everton duo Baines and Jagielka. Both of them looked completely all at sea. They looked incapable to deliver in major tournament football and the question has to be asked as to whether England would have been more solid with Cole and Terry occupying these positions. The answer to that question is almost resoundingly yes. Jagielka was particularly culpable for the Uruguay goals, mainly for not keeping his eye on Suarez, a threat he should of been all too aware of. Baines on the other hand was culpable for the Italy defeat, allowing Candreva to whip in dangerous balls into the England box, one of which resulted in Balotelli’s winner. Both of these players showed an inability to perform at the top level and therefore must shoulder some responsibility for the death of England’s unlikely dream.

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom England fans, we did manage a unbelievably boring draw with Costa Rica to round off our role in the football festivities.