Monday, 30 December 2013

2013-14 Season Halfway Review


The Arsenal
So far, so good.
(Pic : Daily Express)

Overall Verdict – Aside from blips (Villa, Man Utd, Man City), it's been much better than anyone would've expected after the shambles of pre-season. I can't argue with being top going in to 2014, but a lack of squad depth will come back and haunt Arsenal again. I expect Chelsea and Man City to last the distance, especially as mid-February and the end of March look particularly brutal in terms of fixtures. I won't accept Arsenal as bonefide title challengers unless they go into April 6 points clear. I want to BELIEVE!

Best Performers – One player stands out; the second coming of Aaron Ramsey. He's proving he's not only one of Arsenal and Wales' most talented players, but pushing to be one of the best young players in the world on present form.

Per Mertesacker is a future (full-time) Arsenal captain in making, and – despite his flaws, like having the turning circle of the Ark Royal – should be one of the first names down on each teamsheet. The Mertesacker-Koscielny partnership is, as last season, rock solid.

Olivier Giroud deserves a mention, despite his recent barren patch which came to an end yesterday. There are legitimate concerns over whether he can carry an attack, but he's somehow managed to do it. I'm not sure about his over-dramatic flouncing whenever he misses a chance though.

New Signing ImpressionsYaya Sanogo has yet to play, so there's nothing to say.

Mathieu Flamini is one of the shrewder signings of the season. He does the ugly stuff in midfield that Arsenal have lacked since Gilberto Silva. He's doing very good "Generalissimo" impression each game, pointing and shouting at thin air. I was sceptical about bringing him back, but I'm glad Wenger took then punt.

That leaves Mesut Özil. He initially produced performances that matched his price tag, but from November onwards he's taken his foot off the gas. I don't know if that's tiredness or him still adapting to the English game, but he's only showing about 2/3 of his ability – which is still pretty good.

The League Overall


Player of the season (so far) – Realistically, it's Luis Suarez with Aaron Ramsey second. Despite signing a new contract, I just don't see Suarez staying at Liverpool for the long haul. I'd expect a "Galactico" move to Real Madrid in the summer unless Liverpool qualify for the Champions League.
He's still a rat.
(Pic : 101greatgoals.com)

Take your pick from most of the Man City squad. Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany are probably up there in contention. At Chelsea, you can probably point to Edin Hazard.

Goalkeepers have had wobbles, but Simon Mignolet is looking like an excellent signing for Liverpool, and was one of the best keepers last season also. Tim Howard is also putting in excellent performances for Everton.

Surprise Packages (Good)Everton have punched above their weight, and Roberto Martinez is proving doubters wrong. I don't think that's down to their high profile loanees either, they've threatened to break into the top four for some time. They have a very good run of games over the next few weeks from their perspective. I don't think it's silly to suggest they could launch a surprise title challenge.

Liverpool are proving doubters wrong too, though I wouldn't expect them to go the distance as their inconsistency is causing problems. If Arsenal are criticised for not turning up against the big teams, the same can be said of Liverpool.

Hull City have adapted quickest to the Premier League of the promoted sides and have put in some great performances. I had Steve Bruce down as one of the first sackings, but he could very easily lead Hull to the top half of the table on current form.
David Moyes doesn't care about Japanese people.
(Pic : Daily Mail)

Surprise Packages (Bad)Man United, it goes without saying. It's been a miserable start to the Moyes era – Europe and cups aside. I fully expect them to finish top four, or at least push towards top four. The sight of Shinji Kagawa – one of the best creative midfielders in the league – sitting on the bench while the likes of Tom Cleverly start is very amusing.

Chelsea are far from their previous Mourinho incarnation, resorting to George Graham tactics and not being convincing either. The fact they're still in contention does, however, highlight how good a manager Mourinho is – begrudgingly. I fully expect another splurge next summer which will re-establish Chelsea's juggernaut. Man City have perhaps overtaken Chelsea as my favourites for the title now though.

Tottenham spent £100million and have – predictably – unravelled in comical fashion. Fulham have long flirted with relegation, and I suspect this will be the season they go down. They're playing as though they've given up.


Emerging Talent – Everton's Ross Barkley probably has the strongest claim here, as does his teammate Seamus Coleman. I'd expect big bids to come in for both during the summer, and it'll be a question of when, not if, both move from the Toffees – unless the club can offer them a chance to play at the highest level.


One of the big talents of the Premier League?
(Pic : BBC)
Southampton's Adam Lallana (though hardly "emerging" at age 25) and Luke Shaw have also impressed. The latter has already been linked moves to a bigger club. Christian Eriksen was one of the few Spurs signings who seems genuinely exciting, and was flagged up by Dennis Bergkamp as someone Arsenal should've paid close attention to.

Duff BuysMarouane Fellaini was one of my favourite non-Arsenal players prior to his move to Old Trafford, where he's since become anonymous. His poor performances and lack of playing time have perhaps put his place at the World Cup in doubt.

Roberto Soldado hasn't done anything to justify his £26million price tag at Tottenham, yet. Meanwhile, Cardiff's third most expensive signing, Andreas Cornelius, has played a whopping 6 games and scored zero goals – somewhat understandable due to injuries.

The worst signing in terms of investment vs end product is probably Chelsea's £31million Willian, closely followed by Norwich's £8.5million Ricky van Wolfwinkel.

The Welsh Clubs
Aside from one or two surprise results, neither club has set
the Premier League alight this season.
(Pic : Wales Online)
Swansea have struggled this season, despite spending more than £20million in the summer. That's probably because the Europa League has proven a distraction (with constant Thursday-Sunday games). I wouldn't expect them to get anything from the Napoli games, and although I'm sure Jacks were pleased to have picked up silverware last season, they'll want to stay in the Premier League more.

Michu's also suffering from "Second Season Syndrome" with abundance and out until February with an ankle problem. In addition, the Liberty Stadium isn't the fortress it was last season or under Brendan Rodgers. They're still pretty solidly run on and off the pitch and have talented players like Ben Davies and Jonjo Shelvey, so they do have the players at their disposal to push on. However, I'd expect towards the end of the season there'll be the annual muttering surrounding Michael Laudrup's future.

On the pitch, Cardiff are doing as I expected, though Hull are performing best of the promoted sides. Have they completely adapted to the Premier League? Aside from one or two surprise results (against the two Manc clubs, for example) probably not 100%. They're big problem seems to be upfront, as they're averaging less than a goal a game, while goals conceded aren't that far off the sides around them.

Off the pitch, they're a complete mess and a perfect example of how not to run a newly-promoted club. Sacking Malky Mackay defies logic, but when did logic ever matter in football? They've been linked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and firebrand Turkish manager Yilmaz Vural as replacements. The former's perhaps too sensible to want to work under Vincent Tan, while the latter (who's been ruled out, it seems) is a complete fruitcake who rarely lasts more than a year at clubs he's managed.

Cardiff and Swansea in a relegation scrap before the season's out? I wouldn't bet against it, and if I were putting money on one of them to go down, it would be the Bluebirds. Cardiff's saving grace is the sides below them aren't doing much better....for now.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Cryfaces of Homeland

Nobody does stress-induced screaming better.
(Pic : uproxx.com)
Series three of Homeland – shown on Channel 4 - draws to its conclusion in the UK tonight. It's already finished in the United States, and the finale leaked. I've been spoilered, so I know what happens without seeing it, but because I'm not an arsehole – or like to think I'm not – I'll keep that to myself.

The third series has been a big improvement on the second – which "jumped the shark" a little bit with silly stuff like people bursting through walls and implausable plots. It's blown its chance of going toe to toe with the "modern greats" on HBO etc., but  S3, on the whole, was a straight-up CIA drama in the manner of 24. The characters remain cartoonish, but it remains one of the more entertaining shows around.

There's been criticism of the focus on the "Brody Bunch", and Dana Brody Lazaro – played by Morgan Saylor - in particular. I don't think that's a criticism of her acting abilities.

Having said that, you can't decide if Dana's had the sort of terrible growing up experience which has earned her the right to be a bit mopey. Or, she's just an angsty, self-righteous brat.

Every show has a character like that though – Ziggy Sobotka in The Wire comes to mind, as do Wesley Crusher in Star Trek TNG or Michael in Lost.

Her brother, Chris, doesn't seem to have any issue. He doesn't seem to have anything, about anything, at all. In fact, it looks like the Brody's won't feature heavily in S4 which might cause sighs of relief.

Elsewhere, the CIA story has been genuinely entertaining, to the point you're no longer sure who the good guys and bad guys are, especially since the introduction of hawkish Senator Lockhart and the guileful Dar Adal (played by F. Murray Abraham). Then there's Quinn – the obligatory semi-robotic Black Ops guy who kills without thinking but really wants to breed rabbits and culture alfalfa.

It's all a bit computer gamey, dominated by lead character Carrie Mathison herself, played by Claire Danes. Having gone through hell and back....again....risking missions and being generally stupid....again....she remains (as hinted in the titles) "the smartest but dumbest person" on television.

"Smart, but dumb" describes Homeland brilliantly. If there's one thing this show will be remembered for though - it's trademark, effectively - it's not the epic facial hair on display, but the Claire Danes "cryface".

It seems everyone wanted in on the teary action this time around.
(Pic : celebuzz.com)

Three words : "Fuck....You....Saul". A testament to the character's strength, delivering a defiant response even when completely off her face on sedatives in a mental hospital. It was also a little bit funny, I'll admit.  But it was all part of Saul's brilliant masterplan! Isn't that great! It makes it all OK! No worries!
(Pic : uproxx.com)

I call this "Zellewegger Sucks Lemons". Here we have a brilliantly-acted example of a woman crushed by young love betrayed. I don't think schadenfreude or laughter was the desired outcome, but it was perhaps one of the most unintentionally funny scenes in the show. It's like seeing a small child trip on some steps, and the delayed reaction between pain and tears. Not that I take enjoyment from such things.
(Pic : uproxx.com)

"Beard of Pride".
(Pic : digitalspy.co.uk)

"Beard of Shame".
(Pic : happynicetimepeople.com)
I call this one "Full Metal Jacket". The CIA heard Brody like drugs. So they put more drugs in his drugs to make him stop taking drugs. That produced....effects.

Morena Baccarin gets a thumbs up from me for multiple reasons. I call this "Down The Road, Not Across The Street, Dana". It's the sort of face I picture her making if she came around the corner to find me lying in bed, a rose between my teeth, pitching a tent that the Chinese State Circus would be proud to perform under, as I utter the immortal words, "My body is ready". Sort of fear, mixed with a mournful regret. Strangely tearless too.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Blurred Lines

#Thicke? Or just #Thinkingwithhisdick?
(Pic : thetrendingreport.com)
It's almost Christmas. So that means plenty of booze and stuffing faces. It also means lots of crap music. If one song of 2013 encapsulates "crap music" it's Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, which will inevitably appear at every excessively dull Christmas party this year.

When I was first made aware of this valuable contribution to humanity's artistic pantheon, I wondered why Beetlejuice and cow tongues were in vogue.

True to form, it's been nominated for three Grammy Awards.

Pop songs don't become popular without generating some modicum of controversy. This song supposedly has it in spades, flagged up by The Guardian a few weeks ago as "the most controversial song of the decade".

Why though?

Well, as many of you know, the song has been described as a bit "rapey". It's been banned by a few universities, even leading to protests. Fortunately, nobody cares what Student Unions think, but it doesn't mean the song's not worth the outcry.

The lyrics are generally tame, seemingly a tribute to Fat Albert, a few one liners aside.

The first one being, "I know you want it." That's not anything in itself as it's followed up with "the way you grab me" (which could easily mean physical grabbing). I interpret it as the arrogance of an annoying, but mostly harmless, letch. You could even interpret it as flirting between two people who are already in a relationship.

Another, perhaps overlooked, line is, "I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two." It's obvious what that refers too – bumming with a penis the size and weight of a flagon of White Lightning (or one the owner thinks is the size and weight of a.....).

So the lyrics aren't that bad. Add the video to it though, with its parade of ornamental women, and it gets worse. Claims the song is a little on the nose with the old sexism become somewhat justified.

Some songs have tame lyrics and an controversial video. Others have it the other way around. Very rarely do you find both, but it's not that uncommon. Any song that relies on a controversial video to push it is, inevitably, shite.

But maybe the fact this song and video has generated so much controversy on this subject is a sign attitudes are, perhaps, beginning to change.

It's not like it hasn't happened before.....

Five songs at least as misogynistic as "Blurred Lines"

5. Every Breath You Take – The Police

We all know now, but this is one of those songs that sounds romantic because of the tune, but when you read into the lyrics is pretty scary, describing stalking, referring to women as property. This is not a wedding song. It's about breaking into homes and sniffing soiled underwear.

4. Delilah – Tom Jones

Next time it's sung by boozed up Welsh rugby fans, or by Stoke City's neanderthals, remember all those women in daffodil hats wailing along are describing a man stabbing his cheating partner to death. That's why I find domestic abuse campaigns around the time of the Six Nations rather amusing.

3. Don't Leave Me Now – Pink Floyd


A rock star destroying a hotel room, and giving his wife a bit of a slap (mentally and/or physically) in the process.

2. Bitches Ain't Shit – Dr Dre
"Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks
Lick on these nuts and suck the dick
Get the fuck out after you're done
And I hop in my ride to make a quick run."

Sir, you have the manners of a Tottenham fan. How uncouth and ungentlemanly. And certainly not very nice.

1. Pharaonic Circumcision – Desecration

I can't even link to Youtube because it includes the album cover, which is – even by death metal's standards – very naughty. You would think that because this song is grunted at a breakneck speed, and includes very graphic descriptions of body horror, that it would be pretty high up the offensiveness scale.

It's so misogynistic, it actually comes around full circle to be one of the best feminist songs there is. The lyrics of the song describe - hey,hey,hey - quite accurately albeit exaggerated - hey,hey,hey - female genital mutilation – a very real problem.

Friday, 6 December 2013

World Cup 2014 Draw Reaction

The draw for next year's World Cup has been made, and
it doesn't look good for England....is that a facepalm in the middle?
(worldsoccertalk.com)

If you're in the mood, the draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil has just been made.

Obviously, events have been overshadowed by the death of Nelson Mandela. If anyone's wondering why I haven't acknowledged that "elsewhere", nothing I could write on a piddling blog could do justice to what he achieved, which is ageless even if – alas – human bodies aren't. So it goes.

If you're looking for other great global unifying figures, hatred of Sepp Blatter football would be towards the top of the list.

I'll do a full prediction closer to the tournament itself, so for now I'm just going to look at how strong the groups are and which nations stand out in particular. On to the draw itself :
(Click to enlarge)
That's not a particularly good draw in terms of group games. Group B and Group G stand out as the hardest groups.

Spain v Netherlands will be something of a grudge match, I'd imagine. Chile are no pushovers either, managing to hold Spain to a draw in a friendly earlier this year. One of the few likely guaranteed Welsh-based players will be in this group too in the form of Cardiff City's Gary Medel (EDIT: alongside Swansea City's Ivorian striker, Wilfried Bony).

Group G looks to be the most exciting overall. Germany Vs USA - USA being managed, of course, by Jurgen Klinsmann - and Germany v Portugal. Ghana aren't quite as strong as they were last time around, but will no doubt cause problems.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, sleep will be the last thing on the Three Lions minds.

England have a tough one, and that's an understatement. Not only are they playing in the middle of the Amazon against Italy at 2am our time, they also have to face Uruguay, who have their in form rat-human Luis Suarez.

England should....should....have enough to get out of the group, but it'll be a skin of their teeth job. If they do get out of the group they shouldn't have any problems against their Round of 16 opponents, but could be looking at Brazil, Spain or The Netherlands in the quarter finals. Football won't be "coming home" in 2014.

You've got to see Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia and France walking their groups. I don't see where any "surprise package" will come from looking at that draw. Bosnia are perhaps the best bet there, or South Korea.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How Videogames Changed The World

Have video games changed the world?
Yeah, suppose so.
(Pic : videogamer.com)

Sod's Law says that if I like something, it's guaranteed to be linked to dying early or some sort of moral panic – heavy metal, football, sugary foods, beer, walking, women's bottoms, the colour red. Based on media coverage, I'm a man-made disaster waiting to happen.

Another of those things is video games. Last night, Channel 4 showed How Videogames Changed The World, presented by former video game journalist, Charlie Brooker. It was a typical Channel 4 list show, with plenty of talking heads, but with games funnily enough.

I don't know if it's a damning indictment of my own knowledge of popular culture that I knew who Peter Molyneux and Shiguri Miyamoto were, but had no idea who Labrinth was.

As the host explained in The Guardian, shows about computer games are rare things indeed. They're either "targeted at teenage boys", or brought up in news stories relating to the moral decline of society, with gamers said to be "defensive" about the past time.

I think that's true. The gaming industry has a massive inferiority complex because it isn't taken as seriously as high-end HBO productions, art house films and novels. Yet I believe many of the best creative works of the last twenty years have come from gaming. Since The Simpsons turned shit, Grand Theft Auto V is perhaps the best satire of modern America, for example.

I'm probably half-way between a casual gamer and a "hardcore" gamer. I enjoy them, know the terminology and aspects of the culture, but I wouldn't put it at the top of the list of things I do with my time, playing them sparingly. I only got round to playing Fallout 3 a few weeks ago, and that was released in 2008.

It's simplistic to say gaming is low-brow. It's as varied as any other medium, with first person shooters being your equivalent of a macho action film, while strategy games like the Civilization, Europa Universalis and Total War series' are more "cerebral" and "sophisticated".

Some can even be educational, or even be beneficial, as was highlighted in the case of Minecraft – a "virtual Lego" – which is very popular with people on the autistic spectrum due to its logical patterns and controllable environment.

The one part of this documentary that made you pause for thought is the issue of violence.

They showed a clip from Mortal Kombat 9 of Kung Lao bisecting another character via the crotch (warning, graphic). In a game context, you would probably find it funny, ridiculous and cartoonish – similarly Carmageddon, and Sniper Elite, where you can relieve Hitler of his remaining testicle :

                                

You see those levels of graphic violence presented in a documentary fashion, and you realise game violence sometimes crosses lines it shouldn't. The most graphic horror films wouldn't get away with it. I don't think, however, that it reinforces the belief that gaming contributes to general psychopathy.

Putting aside blockbusters like the Grand Theft Auto series and alike, I'm excited about how "indie games" are progressing.

I've mentioned Faster Than Light before, while the game Papers, Please – where you play a border crossing guard in a fictional Soviet Bloc nation – have far more layers than they're given credit for. As gaming audiences diversify, developers will increasingly want to make players "feel something" about what they do and made it difficult to live with their actions. That's not really something any other medium can replicate.

The next game I'll probably buy will be the indie-developed Speedball 2 HD, which is out next week, simply for the nostalgia factor as I spent hours playing it decades ago. Many big studio games no longer interest me.

What was also interesting was the choice of "the #1 game" – Twitter. I don't think many people think of it as a game as such, but you can definitely see elements of The Sims and old timey arcade games (perhaps card games like Top Trumps too) represented in social media. Would we even have social media if it wasn't for gaming?

I'm obviously not very good at this "Twitter" game because I only post links and respond to other people tweeting me. Such a n00b.

Key games left out in my opinion were :
  • FIFA series – As an example of a big licenced popular franchise, and longevity (it's been going for 20-odd years).
  • Sim City – Probably deserved a mention alongside things like Minecraft and The Sims.
  • Final Fantasy series – The "James Bond" of gaming. Surprised it didn't get a mention.
  • Championship/Football Manager – A much better example of successful "bedroom programming" than Manic Miner!
  • Sonic the Hedgehog – There are human proteins named after Sonic the Hedgehog. Proteins!
  • Pokemon – I loath it, but it's an excellent example of gaming crossing into popular culture.

Right, OK, it wasn't perhaps as in-depth an examination as many would've liked, but to have Elite, Monkey Island and Shadow of the Colossus mentioned on mainstream television is nothing short of a triumph.

In short : excellent. More, please!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Poetry Corner : Seth Putnam

Don't say I'm not cultured.
(Pic : aux.tv)
It's been more than two years since transgressive performance artist, Seth Putnam, was cruelly taken from us by – what he would've almost certainly considered – an exceedingly "gay" heart attack.

A talented narrative poet, Seth fully appreciated the open-mic format. He was keen to put his all into each and every performance in a manner which was - ironically - inducive to poor vascular health, as demonstrated in the above photo.

His use of the microphone as a physical, as well as auditory, weapon signified a firm belief in the power of the spoken word, expressing a deep concern and pent-up anger at the state of modern America.

This clearly inspired others, as demonstrated in comments left across the internet which act as a backhanded tribute and memorial, displaying the same remarkable, wide-ranging vocabulary of insults, circular reasoning and hyper-sensitive "gaydar".

In addition to being a gifted musician, Putnam was a keen historian, taking what many might consider a more revisionist approach to the Third Reich :

                             

If I could pull off that look, I would.

I digress. It's characteristic of his fearless determination to have asked probing questions on the big issues, exploring the wider issue of tolerance and the social upheavals of the 20th century, including :

animal welfare :

                            


violence in society :

                           

women's rights and the power of love:

                         

....children, sexual identity (a recurring theme), race relations, and popular culture. An eclectic mix.

Some people say his lyrics are just, "the Twitter feed of the worst internet sociopath."  I'd contest that, and say his group's postmodern deconstruction of "the song" prompt you to ask not only "is this music?" but "what is music?" and "who buys this?"

Sunday, 17 November 2013

From the makers of Sim Sandwich....

No words necessary.
(Pic : i-am-bored.com)

Do you ever lie awake at night dreaming of being a binman?

No? How about a street cleaner? Or part of a road construction crew?

Have you ever had an uncontrollable urge to know the magic of cutting your own grass and growing your own plants?

We have the technology, Excalibur Publishing have the games – or, what most people would call "jobs" and "chores". These games are incredibly popular, especially in Germany and Scandinavia, and are taken very seriously indeed. They're also unintentionally funny.

Farming Simulator is perhaps the most famous series of titles, having inspired many parody videos on Youtube. We have simulator games for buses, lorries and trains, so I suppose tractors and cows are a logical next step. I somehow doubt the game encapsulates the realities of farming – like the fact almost everything on a farm can kill you, CAP paperwork or the comparative benefits of Ferguson over the Case IH.

How does gaming cater for the casual surgeon? The sort of person who has the enthusiasm for slicing into flesh, but no knowledge of anatomy or surgical techniques? Most amateur attempts to simulate surgery would result in an extensive police investigation followed by a lengthy prison sentence. Excalibur provide the answer in the form of Surgery Simulator. Considering it takes about 10 years of intensive training to become a surgeon, I question the authenticity of this product - I doubt a cataract operation takes less than 3 minutes.

Street Cleaning Simulator 2011 is clearly a hit with the internet. "It swept into my life, and into my heart."

                  


I think the stand out one for me though is Garden Simulator.

                  

The first time I saw that lawnmower, I lost it in a hysterical manner. I did one of those laughs where you stop breathing, and I wanted to pull my own head off and kick it down the street. The smiling green face above the plants is the kind of face I'd expect the players to have, while going "hurr, hurr, hurr".

Some people might get excited - to the point of a chemical addiction - about games like Football Manager. You can understand that because being a football manager has an understated complexity to it, and limitless possibilities that you can only re-create on a computer.

Anyone can tend a garden.

I just cannot put myself in the shoes of anybody who wants to spend their spare time with a virtual hedge trimmer, or grow virtual pansies, or shout at their virtual dog for shitting on their virtual lettuces. What terrible thing would have needed to happen in someone's  life for it to take such a turn for the worse? 

Coz that would just be stuuuupi....oh.

Ignoring the silly ones like : Demolition Company Gold Edition, Digger Simulator (Only THREE left in stock! Hurry!), Forklift Truck Simulator (Original STILL forklift trucks!) etc. I can see why some of these games would have value, like the aforementioned Farming Simulator, Surgery Simulator....Bus & Cable Car Simulator (San Francisco Edition), Underground Mining Simulator, and Woodcutter Simulator : Lumberjack Time!.

But aren't these the sorts of things toys were made for? In order to stimulate the imagination and creativity as well as introduce children to the practical realities of life.

Nobody would laugh at kids playing with Tonka trucks, a train set or using a Lego crane. The thought of grown adults - let alone children - doing all that on a computer is both incredibly funny and incredibly depressing.

It's good to know that the public image of gaming is well served by such visionary genius.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

What does BT Sport's European football deal mean?

"...Arsenal versus Barcelona. We now join our commentators Michael Owen and...."
No...No!...NOOOOOOOO!
(Pic : Radio Times)
BT Sport recently "sent shock waves" through the football world when they secured an £897million, three year deal for exclusive rights to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League from 2015-16, ending coverage on ITV and Sky.

I'm too young to fully remember pre-Sky days, but views on Sky's/TV's involvement in football is like reminiscing about the Soviet Union – anyone who doesn't miss the old days lacks a heart, anyone who wants them back lacks a brain.

As a result of the billions Sky pump-primed into the league, too much money has been spent on wages instead of making the game accessible and affordable to supporters. This often sends clubs to the wall when they're relegated and has created generations of spoilt "talent" who pick up large paychecks but don't do much.

But it's also meant : better stadiums, better training facilities, larger transfer budgets and it's attracted some of the best players in the world to the Premier League, dramatically improving the quality of the football itself (in most cases).

I don't really care that ITV lost their rights, as ITV usually only show Arsenal in Europe once in a blue moon. I also loath Clive Tyldesley, and that fucking night in Barcelona. I just don't get the Adrian Chiles hate though.

Competition's supposed to drive prices down. As we all know, that doesn't work in practice.If it means people have to pay two subscriptions for what they used to watch for free or under one subscription, it's hardly a great deal for consumers.

It's almost certain Sky will have to cut, or at very least freeze, prices to retain customers, while they've already taken a hit on the stock market. They could hit BT where it hurts and slash their broadband prices, as BT could put prices up in order to cover the costs of their deal if they can't nab as many new subscribers as they would want.

In Sky's favour, the Premier League is still a massive draw and is synonymous with Sky Sports despite BT's encroachment. In the long term though, their God-given right to most of the live game packages could be under threat. BT Sports are a genuine challenger, not a pretend one like Setanta and ESPN.

If I'm honest, the Champions League (and Europa League) isn't the be all and end all of football anyway. Group games are often dull, with the competition(s) not really coming into life until the knockout stages. This could turn out to be a massive dud.

BT Sports also gainfully employ Michael Owen as a co-commentator, who's as lively as a cream cracker and makes Alan Shearer look like Rinus Michels in terms of insight. So they still have some way to go to be taken seriously.

With the nauseating prospect of more Michael Owen and other ex-Scousers and Mancs finding work as pundits, I predict the real winner from this deal will be radio, pubs and "extralegal" live streaming sites....the latter of which I neither confirm or deny my knowledge of.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We interrupt this programme....

If you ever saw this, it meant something serious was going down
....probably a plane.
(Pic : via Youtube)
Eee! When I were't lad, every few months, a caption would appear on television, accompanied by a voice over "We now join (insert newsreader here) for a news report."

If it were very serious, it would break into programming itself. Your blood ran cold, because it was usually the first public notification of some sort of disaster. That ranges from train and plane crashes, right through to history-changing events like 9/11.

Earlier this week, ITV's Newsflash : Stories that Stopped the World documented newsflashes from the perspective of those who issued them.

Since the advent of 24-hour rolling news, absolutely everything is considered "breaking news". But the term "newsflash/news report" made you sit up and take notice. These were stories that were - often sad, rarely happy – but important enough for the public to be informed of immediately.

For example, if you were unfortunate to live in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, they apparently had something called a "Police Message" which interrupted programming and warned shopkeepers to check buildings due to bombs or bomb scares.

Newsflashes usually stick in the memory too if you're there to see/hear them.

9/11 hit hard, because it broadcast the death of thousands of people, similarly the Boxing Day and Japanese tsunamis. Then there are various plane and train crashes or major disasters and emergencies like the 7/7 attacks. Going back further, with the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination coming up, that was perhaps the first time a "newsflash" was used in any meaningful way.

Diana – Martyn Lewis & Dermot Murnaghan. Lockerbie – Nicolas Witchell. Bet Windsor's Mam
– Peter Sissons (and his red tie). 9/11 – Kirsty Young.

When you think to how/when you heard about major news stories, you usually remember the name and faces of the people who broke it to you.

The newsreaders that appeared on the programme were criticised by some for appearing too over-excited, as though they revelled in the carnage. But you can understand why being the first person to break a major, possibly historic, news story is a main reason television journalists do it in the first place.

As the years have passed, and as the meaning of "breaking news" and "newsflash" have become conflated, maybe it sometimes goes over the top. There's no better way of highlighting that than deference to the Windsor family - especially when one of them carks it.

When Diana died, the coverage was so sober, and so formal ("This is BBC television news from London") I initially thought Boris Yeltsin had decided to lob a few ICBMs into Europe and America. I distinctly remember channels cancelling all adverts or redirecting you to news channels.

Then, when the Queen Mother kicked the bucket, there was the fuss about Peter Sissons; his "disrespectful" burgundy tie and stuttering delivery. The irony there being that the BBC has rehearsed the announcement weeks, if not days, beforehand.

You can understand why the BBC would rehearse things like that, but it seems a bit ghoulish and morbid. You wonder if they've rehearsed things like asteroids hitting the earth, nuclear war breaking out or zombies.

Diana's death will probably be the last time we see those levels of focus, and schedules cleared to that extent, for one person. The only occasion you could see those levels of coverage making a return is when Bet Windsor becomes an ex-Queen.

Of course, newsflashes have to compete with social media nowadays, although it's a far from perfect medium due to the number of hoaxes.

Newsflashes will also likely become a less frequent feature of the "main" television channels, as people can easily be directed to rolling coverage on news channels.

But that also means that if/when there's an interruption of a channel like BBC One, or ITV, you know it's going to be serious. You'll still stop what you're doing, your blood will still run cold, and you'll remember the name and face of the person telling you that news whenever that event is mentioned in future.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Your crisp horoscope : What does it say about you?

A completely unbiased assessment of what your
favourite crisp flavour means.
(Pic : aba-design.co.uk)


Ready Salted



You're a waste of good potatoes. You think you're a traditionalist with refined tastes, the rest of us think you're dull.You like Antiques Roadshow, while that time you thought you were having a stroke from all the salt you're eating was the most exciting moment of your life. You probably drive a Volvo and think the Keane album you bought when "walking on the wild side" was "really heavy".I would take every pack of Salt n' Shake I can find, filling them with eight tablespoons of rock salt and a cup of malt vinegar in order to make true believers out of you.



Salt & Vinegar

Every good pack of S&V should have one.


A bucket chemistry experiment in your mouth. The undisputed king. A good salt and vinegar crisp should forcibly open one's sinuses, and to test for quality, should turn litmus paper red from the fumes alone. Some companies are better than others. Walkers have gone downhill. Golden Wonder and Pringles are probably the flag bearers, but they're still not strong enough. The correct colour of the packet is BLUE – no debate. Only true believers can traverse the Road of Pain. Walk tall, and keep being awesome.


Cheese & Onion

Another person trapped in the horror
of cheese & onion.
The Internet Explorer of the crisp world. We all make bad choices, but you're pretty consistent. You probably order steaks "well done". You've bought a French-made car at some point. You buy books that you never finish and enjoy complaining about your constipation to co-workers. You like Emmerdale and secretly like Beyonce, even though you were a Linkin Park fan when younger. You cry for no reason and probably support Tottenham or Liverpool. After you've finished a packet you spray crumbs from your mouth when you talk. You may or may not have an under bite and have a passion for cats. You have many layers, but they all make people gag from the stink.


Pickled Onion

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the Monster Munch began to kick in." You aren't afraid to experiment, whether that's a backbreaking sexual position or a nice bit of heroin. However, pickled onion is a mere gateway crisp; an acceptable first step on the Road of Pain to hardcore salt and vinegar. Monster Munch still hold true to it when others have cast it aside. The best part was finding a massive clump of flavouring in the bottom of the bag, or even a whole "toe". That's flavour country.


Cheesy Flavours (Wotsits/Quavers etc.)

Wotsits and you

The antisocial choice. Admit it, you eat them with your mouth open too. You're perhaps 6 years old, bought something from the Spar by your mother to shut you up. You're either American, or wish you were American because of your cheese fetish. You're the egg sandwich that makes whole canteens smell like a bus toilet after a rugby club tour. No cheese smells like these abominations, and I bet you haven't eaten real cheese in your life. You're the crisp equivalent of a passive smoker, who should be banned from all forms of public transport, made to live in a special village under a flyover made out of polystyrene. You might end up in trouble with the police and have a haircut like Tintin.



Meat Flavours (Smokey Bacon/Chicken/Beef/Lamb & Mint etc.)

Technically, he's not eating meat either.

There's something about wanting to "eat meat" without it actually being meat that would've interested Freud. If you're a woman, you probably regret not being able to grow a handlebar moustache. You're perhaps a cheating vegetarian/vegan, curious about ripping apart an animal carcass and let it slowly rot in your gut, even though crisps taste ten times stronger than the real thing. Having said that, Frazzles are a sign of a more sophisticated palate. The Tesco rip-offs make your pee smell like bacon though.


Hot Flavours


You think you're the life of the party, but everyone's tired of your childish stunts. No, the short Goth girl with the massive tits won't sleep with you because you triumphantly downed the "Big Eat" Flamin' Hot Monster Munch. Instead, she noticed your belly – product of hundreds of Hobgoblin ales - protruding from beneath your Dragonforce t-shirt. If you really want to impress people, and improve the gene pool, you should eat Ghost chillis in the same way you envelop Spicy Nik Naks with the black hole you call a mouth. I'll put the "fun" in your funeral, singing "Hot, Hot, Hot" as your coffin burns.

Seafood Flavours (Prawn Cocktail/Scampi Fries/Skips etc.)

Stink in the pink



A endangered species. The un-favourites of the multi-pack. I picture the seafood crisp eater as either a Barbara Cartland type who chose them for the colour of the packet, not the quality or taste; a fisherman who like to take his work home with him; or an excessively fake tanned hairdresser who names her car and has tiger print dice on the rear view mirror. You keep wondering why every time you eat a packet, you're taken back to that one night stand in Ayia Napa, and the STD you contracted as a result.





Unorthodox (Tomato Sauce/Marmite/Hedgehog)

I'll have the Branston Pickle
flavoured crisps, please?


Pretentious, much? I realise salt and vinegar are too mainstream, and you liked Frazzles before they were cool, but there's just no reason for "ironic" crisps.You have a haircut straight out of The Fifth Element and listen to bands purely because nobody else has heard of them. You own at least one Apple device, paid through the nose for it, and subsequently resent everyone else having one too. You've failed to finish at least six screenplays and studied the arts at university. You would eat twirly moustache flavoured crisps if you could, just so you could be seen eating them at Starbucks.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Top 10 Black Metal songs


The Norwegian police - Protect & Serve Satan.
(Pic : Peter Beste via blackmetal.hu)

Ah, black metal! With its low-fi quality, focus on atmosphere and association with  the occult it's perfect for the run up to Halloween. The difference compared to other "spooky bands" is that, more often than not, black metal bands really buy into it.

I don't listen to much black metal. I don't own a wristband covered in spikes, I don't wear corpse paint and I'm not Norwegian. So this list is as much "black metal songs Owen has listened to" as what I think a Top 10 would be.

Most black metal sounds as if it's recorded on toys - like those plastic drum kits with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the front - but with someone screeching through white noise. Most if it is, to be frank, a load of shit. But there are pieces of nutritious corn within that shit.

10. Venom – Black Metal

                         

Wor Toon's Venom produced this seminal track (and album) in 1982, including the first use of the term "Black Metal" (AFAIK). Also, they're one of the first metal bands to use Satanic imagery as a positive thing, while the likes of Black Sabbath did it with a "this is something to be afraid of" vibe. It sounds more thrash/speed metal than what evolved into black metal, but it clearly inspired later bands.

9. Dimmu Borgir – Sorgens Kammer (Del II)
       

                         


A controversial choice, seeing as Dimmu Borgir – despite being one of the bigger and more successful black metal bands – are seen as "sell outs". That's because black metal fans tend to be unforgiving when it comes to "purity", or "kvlt". This track marked the moment Dimmu Borgir shifted from a purer form of black metal to the more progressive, theatrical sound they're associated with now.

8. Immortal – At The Heart of Winter

                         

Without question, black metal bands like the cold, snow and being in the north. Immortal are associated with sillier videos and taking the black metal aesthetic to its extreme, but they're one of the few black metal bands with a sense of humour. Perhaps including the best intro of any black metal song, At the Heart of Winter is a grim epic, and a worthy, frostbitten national anthem of Mighty Blashyrkh.

7. Dissection – The Somberlain

                         

From their debut album of the same name, it's a black metal/melodic death metal classic (yes, there's a difference), and is said to be highly influential on both subgenres. A pulsating, relentless track that grinds the skull into dust, and creates a cold atmosphere of mournful dread.

6. Mayhem – Freezing Moon

                         

You can't have a black metal list without featuring Mayhem who, along with Gorgoroth, are the runaway "bad boys" of black metal (understatement of the century, their history reads like an Eli Roth horror). Not the most cheerful lyrics, vindicated as the lyricist committed suicide and band "mates" made necklaces out of his skull fragments, using his suicide scene as an album cover. I told you the band's history was horrific, didn't I? To prove how iconic/infamous Mayhem are, the intro sounds similar to Impaled Northern Moonforest's parody of the subgenre.

5. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger (sic)

                         

The perfect example of black metal's low-fi aesthetic. To the untrained ear it's barely audible, and sounds like being stuck in the middle of a blizzard. A Gothic epic about vampires, what's not to like about that? It's also one of the few black metal songs that sounds better in acoustic.

4. Dimmu Borgir – Broderskapets Ring


                         

Another controversial choice as 1996's Stormblåst is either considered weak and boring, or hailed as one of Dimmu Borgir's masterpieces. A slower, more mellow, more melodic track here, but keeping the epic scale and atmosphere of dread typical of black metal. I don't think you'll find many black metal songs making unironic use of a piano either.

3. Bathory – A Fine Day To Die


                         

One of the old school. Despite having one of the creepier openings, it's about presumably Viking battles instead of a celebration of the occult. It sounds like a battle too; the contemplative, depressive "calm before the storm", crossing suddenly into the battle itself. I'm sure anyone who turned the volume up will know the moment the parts change.

2. Emperor – Inno A Satana

                        

What is it about debut albums? It's poorly mixed - you can barely make out the vocals - but in black metal what's new? An example of the more blatant Satanism and Paganism, this atmospheric track combines monk-like chanting with a soaring, symphonic background which puts you in a place you would rather not be. There are also hints of Opeth within this, especially the intro. It's great for getting Jehovah's Witnesses – and pretty much anyone - off the doorstep.

1. Satyricon – Mother North


                        

It's one of the first black metal music videos, perhaps helping cement black metal stereotypes. You also can't tell whether it's a heartfelt soundscape of a Nordic lifestyle and belief system long lost, or social misfits who like to wear face paint, play drums really fast and "sing" in constipated screeches. Yes, the video's silly and the vocals are cheesy, but if you were looking for one song to encapsulate all of black metal this would be it.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Waaaah! Bodyfor-orm....Bodyform for men!?

What.
(Pic : depend.com)

The beauty of the free market, is that it allows people to make a living for themselves by offering solutions for problems that don't exist.

We have, for example, push-up bras for men, things to stop your phone falling down the toilet and - judging by infomercial gifs - it appears Americans have serious trouble pouring drinks.

US company Depend produce products that deal with incontinence - a worthwhile thing and no laughing matter.

We all know there are loads of products out there to help women and girls deal with the crimson tide of the uterine navy, or the unpleasant side effects of forcing babies through the pelvis.

Depend have turned to men, and want to help us deal discretely with the horror of "post void dribbling".

It's not incontinence as incontinence is a very specific term. This problem, however, is a result of bad design of the male plumbing. I'm sure you'll want a technical explanation, and naturally I'll oblige.

Female urethras are short and straight, causing problems in themselves, but not relevant here. Male urethras are longer – at least four to five times longer than females - and shaped like a stretched and curved "N".

Although both males and females have two sphincter muscles to control urine, there are key differences. In men one of the sphincters also serves to prevents both urination and ejaculation at the same time (for her [or his] pleasure) and semen entering the bladder.

If any urine gets reservoired in one of the bends, is trapped by clothes, one of the sphincters spasms or is tightened too soon, or if the prostate is enlarged, then the remaining urine trickles out at some point soon after you think you've finished.

It's likely happened to all males at some point, but it's hardly an issue as long as a man changes their clothes at least annually. It's nothing compared to what women have to go through post-childbirth, or what men endure after urosurgery either.

Although the ancient martial art of "dickshaké" doesn't always fix it, trying to make out it's an issue worth spending money on is taking the piss.

I wonder how they would advertise this though. Men riding bicycles, wearing white trousers and frolicking through fields on a summer's day? Lots of blue liquid? Being reassured that nothing should get in the way of the modern man?

And male tampons? I'm....I'm just not going there.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

We should not fear our new robot overlords....

(Pic : Aaron Beck)

As revealed in the Welsh budget yesterday, Wales will soon have a robot that eliminates cancer with extreme prejudice. Speaking of robots, Boston Dynamics seems to be a rather "interesting" company to work for, developing lots of other robots with varying uses.

There's PETMAN, with a light for a head. It can't be pushed over :

                                   

Here's PETMAN in camouflage, and sporting a not-at-all-terrifying featureless human-like face :

                                   

Next there's Atlas, which is a bit drunk and stompy at the moment. One day those rocks will be human skulls. It also can't be pushed over :


                                       

The Wildcat, which has the gait of an overexcited Jack Russell and could probably carry three or four times its own weight in high explosives :

                                   

The LS3, a mechanical horse that can cross unrelentingly across any and all terrain:

                                   


Last, but not least, there's Big Dog....which can throw cinderblocks about 20 feet. The weight will go up and the distance will grow longer.

                                  

These things are being funded by the Pentagon. The "That's so coooooooool" thoughts soon turn to, "The robot that runs like a cheetah, bounding towards me at 30mph, has been designed to kill.

"The robot carrying a gun in the background, strutting across all terrains as easily as John Travolta down Times Square, has no qualms about blowing everyone's head off."

The next logical step - based on the above examples - would be a grip that can apply a thousand pounds of pressure per square inch around a human throat...."To carry shopping."

Sunday, 6 October 2013

FTL : Who wants to be a starship captain?

Transfer Picard to the FTL universe and he won't have time to
dick around with smiley faces. The likelihood is he'll be a frozen
corpse floating for all eternity through space.
I've recently been pointed towards an indie game called FTL : Faster Than Light, developed by Shanghai-based Subset Games. It's a real time strategy/space simulator where you control a ship and crew through a series of missions, "chance cards" and dangers.

The basic story is that you're in charge of a (customisable via unlocked items) "Federation starship"  on an important mission across seven levels of space, being pursued constantly by rebels. You pick your ship, pick your weapons and you have an opportunity to buy more weapons or crew members at various stores dotted around the maps.

You weigh up the sorts of choices that face the greats of the sci-fi soap opera genre, except the likes of Jean Luc Picard clearly had it too easy.

The events are randomised, so no two games are the same. Believe me, there'll be a lot of games as, although the learning curve is steep, it lulls you into a false sense of security. One minute you could ensure a quick victory against a weakly-armed drone, thinking "this is easy", the next you're boarded by pirates or aliens.

With a soundtrack reminiscent of Moon, the game's been compared to an episode of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or Firefly. Mirroring the infinite opportunities in space, the difficulty level is sometimes punishingly hard because :

You really shouldn't have chosen to help that "friendly ship".....


You chose the wrong star system to jump too....

You run out of fuel.....

You chose to jump to a Rock people home world sector "for the challenge" instead of the civilian sector....


Your oxygen supply has been taken out and your shields are dampened by an enemy weapon....



You get boarded by four Mantis and they slowly rip apart your ship killing your crew members one by one....


You opened the doors to the vacuum of space to put out a fire, but your door systems have just been taken out by an enemy missile. They stay open. And you've been boarded by four Mantis and they slowly rip apart your ship killing your crew members one by one....

You get all the way to the very end, surviving numerous battles, surviving numerous boarding parties, then you come across the Rebel Flagship....



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