If Yes Scotland Had Focused on Immigration

I won’t be the only person seeing a lot of comparisons between the Scottish independence referendum two years ago and the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.  Here’s another, played out as a hypothetical scenario:

So, roll-back to 2014.  A referendum has been called on Scotland’s membership of the UK in which only those born in Scotland have the right to vote, disenfranchising 400,000 fellow British citizens born in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.  The pro-independence campaign, Yes Scotland, losing the economic argument, believes it can instead deliver a victory by focusing on the threat of immigration, allowed by the freedom of movement within the UK.   It berates the Scottish government for allowing 33,000 British citizens to enter the country each year, claiming the country is too full, or that Scottish culture is being eroded by these incomers, who don’t even bother to learn Gaelic or Scots.  Many Scots no longer feel as though they recognise their own country anymore.  Yes Scotland argues that the campaign does not have a problem with immigration in principle, but do we really need so many British people entering Scotland?  Furthermore, their religion is incompatible with Scottish values.  Anglicanism is too foreign for this Presbyterian nation, and the presence of Anglicans in our country will result in greater social upheaval.

Yes Scotland hopes the economic argument will prove their greatest asset.  They argue that the Brits who are crossing north of the border are too unskilled, taking all our Scottish jobs, deflating prices, and bringing unsatisfactory social conditions with them – like, say, HIV infections.  They argue Scotland should be able to take in only those who will contribute to society, which only coincidentally happens to be the wealthier Brits earning a certain income.  It does not seem to matter whether these immigrants may be married to Scots, or have family in Scotland.  Relatedly, they seek to make the case that leaving the UK will help Scotland’s public services.  Despite the fact several of the leading figures in Yes Scotland are on record for seeking public spending cuts – some of them actually oversaw such cuts – and the end of public welfare, they argue that British immigrants put too much strain on these key services, such as healthcare and schools.

The natural conclusion, then, it to vote Yes so Scotland can regain control and take its country back.  Ordinary Scots have had enough of the Scottish Government doing nothing to stem the endless flow of migrants entering our country through England.  We can only achieve this by establishing an Australian-style points system, placing illegal Brits into internment camps for years before forcibly deporting them south of the border.  Scotland is a great country, and will be greater if we vote Yes.

*

This sounds absurd, and outright offensive, right?  So how come it’s seen as acceptable by a vast proportion of people when we use these terms and style of language to talk about fellow Europeans?

 

 

 

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Review: My 2013 Predictions

Last year I wrote a list of predictions for what I expected to occur across the world stage in 2013.  I’ve been looking through it over the year, pleased with some predictions, while despairing as other world events swept passed my expectations.  Here I’ll review each prediction, one by one, and tally up my score to see whether I should become a professional psychic or not.

UK Predictions

  1. Our next Holy Monarch of Divine Highness to Rule Over Us All Forever blah blah will be born.  Everyone will go nuts and the republican minority will grumble.
    Prince George (‘of Cambridge’) was born on the 22nd July 2013 in good health.  The BBC and other broadcasters had around the clock coverage; he was on virtually every newspaper front page; and we republicans did indeed grumble.
  2. The coalition will continue on its path, though plans to create individual identities for the parties will become clearer in preparation for its end.
    Economically the coalition government has continued to assault the country with austerity upon austerity.  Just this month, chancellor George Osborne announced another billion pound cuts from government departments.  The economy does seem to be improving, at long last, however Labour leader Ed Miliband is rightfully bringing to attention a ‘cost of living crisis’ (perhaps because he has few other policies worth discussing).
    In terms of party politics, there doesn’t seem to be the separation of identities between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats I’d expected.  The Liberal Democrats have been highlighting their key policies of this government, such as raising the income tax threshold for low earners and pushing free school meals.  Yet, if anything, they’ve seemed to me to be moving further to the right.  When Nick Clegg stood in for David Cameron during a recent Prime Minister’s Questions, he sounded more and more like a Tory with each passing question.

 World Predictions

  1. The war in Mali will see some form of conclusion: Northern Mali will return to government control.
    Correct!  In January, following an Islamic rebel advance upon the south of the country, when it looked as though the capital Bamako itself might be under threat, France began a military campaign against the rebels on 11th January.  In one of the more successful Western interventions of recent times, the rebels were driven out of most major settlements in the north by February and had returned to government control.  Violence is persisting but the government remains in control with the help of French and African Union peacekeepers.  Elections came soon afterwards, during which Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, former Prime Minister from 1994-2000, became the President.
  2. The Assad regime will fall.  Failing that, the rebels will increasingly control Syria.  I expect them to receive more support from the West and the government to lose Russia’s backing.
    Uh, no.  No.  And no again.  News stories coming out of Syria during 2013 and have been getting more and more depressing, with no prospect of change coming soon.  The Assad regime did not fall; in fact, it looks stronger than at any other point during the course of the war.  In May, Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah entered the war on the regime’s side.  Its fighters flooded across the border and helped the government seize control of the strategic city of al-Qusayr and the surrounding countryside.  The rebels have also made gains, however more and more militias have been swearing allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda linked Islamic fundamentalist organisation which has been making advancements against more moderate rebels in what’s described as a ‘civil war within a civil war’.  The death toll continues to mount: in September France estimated 120,000 people to have died, while the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights currently puts it at 160,000.
    In terms of international support, Western powers have continued to supply non-lethal equipment to the rebels, while in June US President Obama announced military aid would be supplied to the rebels, although it’s unclear how much ever arrived.  Recent developments concerning the rise of Islamists have caused even this aid to be suspended.
    Meanwhile, Russian support of the regime has only strengthened.  This became clear following the increased reports of chemical weapon use across the country.   Both sides blamed each other, of course, but after particularly horrific attacks in the Ghouta area of Damascus the international community seemed to demand action.  It looked as though Western nations – primarily the USA, UK and France – were preparing to launch military strikes against Syria to send a message to Assad.  However, when the UK Parliament voted against action and Obama looked close to defeat in Congress, this never came to be.  At the last minute, Russian President Putin came to the aid of both President Assad and Obama by proposing an operation to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.  Despite difficulties accessing all the chemical weapons depots, some in contested areas of the country, the process of destroying them seems to be going successfully.  This has had the effect of restoring legitimacy to the Syrian regime, which is seen as an equal partner in these negotiations, and the West effectively giving up on Syria.
  3. Obama’s next year as President will not be dramatic.
    In hindsight, it’s probably a bad idea to predict anything won’t be dramatic.  Alongside the aforementioned Syria crisis,  he’s had to put up with threats of war from North Korea, the failure of his proposed gun law reform, the shutdown of the US government after political gridlock in Congress, a botched roll-out of his key ‘Obamacare’ policy and, perhaps worst of all for Obama, massive leaks about the level of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of US and international citizens by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which has brought international condemnation and affected relations with countries including Brazil and Germany.  He’s probably very glad for a new start next year.
  4. A war will not start over Iran.
    Correct!  There’s actual much cause for optimism over out future relations with Iran.  Everything seemed to change with the election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in June.  Though far from a radical – he’d never have been allowed to run otherwise – the fact that so many Iranian voters opted for the least conservative candidate has sent a clear message to the ruling elites that they want change.  Perhaps this is why Rouhani has been given something of a free reign to pursue his policies.  He held a phone call with President Obama in September, the first time the presidents of either country have spoken directly since the 1979 revolution which brought the current Iranian regime to power.  Then came a historic agreement in which Iran finally agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for the easing of sanctions.  There’s much progress to be made, but also reason to be optimistic.
  5. Angela Merkel will be re-elected in Germany.
    Correct.  Merkel achieved her best ever result in September, gaining 41.5% of the vote and nearly achieving a majority in the Bundestag, ensuring her a third term as chancellor.  After months of difficult talks, her Christian Democratic Union agreed to enter into a ‘grand coalition’ with the opposition Social Democratic Party.  Merkel certainly seems to be bucking the trend of European leaders being brought down by the financial crisis – she’s in a stronger position than ever.
  6. Libya will finish its transition into democracy on paper with success.
    Um.  Not really.  Kind of?  Well, Libya has avoided descending into complete anarchy, but there are still many incidents of armed militias operating outwith the control of the government, the most frightening case being when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a hotel, although he was safely returned.  A timetable for national elections still hasn’t been established, but it’s hoped that Libya can have its first post-revolutionary government by the end of next year.  So really, I suppose, it’s too early to say on this one.
  7. Egypt will head down its route of democracy with a very Islamic tint.  Morsi will bring stability to the country – at long last.
    Hahaha, oh, how wrong is it possible to be?  Unfortunately not.  To save me repeating the dramatic events of the 3rd July, you can read the post I wrote about it at the time.  Since the coup, things have only got worse.  Protests have continued from both sides, pulling Egypt down into further instability.  This culminated in a horrific massacre where dozens of protesters were killed by security forces.  The ruling military regime has since strengthened its hold on power, imposing curfews and recently branding the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi’s party, a ‘terrorist organisation’.  The country is appearing more and more to be under the grip of a General new to the scene, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, currently appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.  Elections are expected for next year, which Sisi is widely predicted to run for.  In short, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Egypt.
  8. Berlusconi will not be elected in Italy.
    Well, technically, Berlusconi was elected to the Italian Senate, but if we assume I meant elected as Prime Minister then I got this correct.  Italy’s election this year left no party in a position of power, meaning multiple parties had to come together to form government, including his People of Freedom party.  However, the Prime Minister of this unstable government turned out to be Enrica Letta of the Democratic Party.  Berlusconi himself has been involved in continuing scandal after scandal, being recently convicted of tax-fraud and sentenced to four years in prison (none of which he’ll actually serve due to his age), and barred from political office for six years.  Subsequently, he was expelled from the Italian Senate.  I wouldn’t underestimate Berlusconi, but I can’t imagine his career recovering from this.
  9. The Afghanistan campaign will appear more and more hopeless.  Peace talks with the Taliban will develop.
    Pretty much.  I haven’t been following this in too much detail, but I’m aware of various talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government being on, off, on again, off again, and so on.  Really not much seems to be happening in the run up to NATO’s withdrawal next year.
  10. I expect more crises from North Korea.
    Yup.  There was that strange period last April when North Korea threatened war against South Korea, Japan and the USA which I referred to earlier – I don’t think anyone knows what that was really about.  Needless to say, that came to nothing and North Korea soon quietened down again.  I imagine it was an attempt by Kim Jong-un to create a warlike atmosphere within the country to further entrench his rule – nothing increases loyalty like giving people a common enemy.  Then, even more shockingly, earlier this month Kim had his very own uncle executed as part of a wider purge.  I wrote about it here.  Nothing which has yet threatened to spiral out of control from the perspective of the West, but erratic and worrying behaviour nonetheless.
  11. Iran’s economy will continue to plummet under sanctions.  Possibility of something dramatic happening.
    Pretty much.  I largely covered this earlier.
  12. This is a completely wild one: Robert Mugabe will no longer be in power in Zimbabwe by the year’s end.
    Unfortunately, Mugabe is still President of his long-suffering nation.  My reasons behind this prediction were Mugabe’s age, having turned 89 this year, and the fact an election was due to be held earlier this year.  However his health seems to be as strong as ever, while the election this year re-elected him in very fraudulent conditions indeed.
  13. There will be at least one coup.  And likewise, at least one country considered a dictatorship will become more democratic.
    I’d consider events in Egypt earlier this year to be a coup, so got that one right.  I think Mali could count as having become more democratic, having achieved mostly free and fair elections after a year of chaos.  I can’t think of any other standout examples, which is a shame, but Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2014 report (due to be published fairly soon) might shine a light on this.
  14. Burma will continue down liberalisation and democratisation.
    This is really impossible to say.  Again, I await the Freedom in the World 2014 with great interest.  I’m going to take the lack of any particular evidence to the contrary as evidence that Burma at least isn’t backsliding.  Aung San Suu Kyi did recently announced that her National League for Democracy plans to contest the 2015 general election – widely hoped to be Burma’s first free election – even if the constitution isn’t amended to allow her to run for the Presidency.  Which seems to be a good sign.  Hopefully.  I really don’t know.  I think I’ll give myself this one…
  15. Hugo Chavez: difficult to predict.  I’m gonna throw this out there and say his health improves and he’s able to continue as President.
    Nope – President Chavez of Venezuela died of cancer on the 5th March, later to be succeeded by his Vice-President, Nicolas Maduro, who seems to be carrying on his divisive legacy.
  16. Al Shebab will be almost completely pushed out of Somalia.
    Despite continued advances by Somalian and African Union forces against Al-Shabab, they’re far from having been cleared from the country and still control much territory, particularly in rural areas.  So wrong on that one.
  17. More than two Arab countries will see increased protests and violence.  Potentials: Syria, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Sudan, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon.
    This was unfortunately a pretty safe bet.  As I wrote earlier the death toll in Syria continues to mount; there have been continued protests and unrest in Sudan, though not coming to much; Egypt has had what were tipped to be the ‘largest protests in history’ which deposed President Morsi; April was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008; Libya’s been having increased issues with militias, as I indicated earlier; and Lebanon has had increased bombings, assassinations and clashes as the Syrian Civil War continues to spill over.
  18. Julia Gillard will no longer be Prime Minister of Australia.
    Yes.  She was ousted earlier than I expected, having her position as leader of the Labor party usurped by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister.  The Labor party was then met with disaster in the September election, losing 17 seats and its tentative majority to Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, ending 6 years of Labor Party rule.
  19. Putin will consolidate his dictatorship in Russia.
    To be honest, his dictatorship was rather consolidated anyway by the end of 2012, but it certainly hasn’t weakened.  He’s continued pressing forward in policies such as the ‘anti-gay laws’, infringing the rights of LGBT people.  Things have become more interesting in the last month in the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi: Putin granted an amnesty to many high-profile political prisoners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the remaining two members of Pussy Riot and the ‘Arctic 30’.  Perhaps this is a big to improve Russia’s standing among the international community.  He must have been shaken by two bomb attacks in the last couple of days in Volgograd, which might be part of a continuing campaign by Cechen rebels.  But nevertheless, his authority in Russia seems pretty powerful.
  20. The Mars Curiosity Rover will make more discoveries which fail to interest the public.
    Yeah, I’ll give myself that one.  There have been many discoveries on Mars, including pretty strong evidence that it once had running water.  That’s more interesting than I expected, but I don’t suppose it’s something the majority of people noticed or continue to think about.
  21. Netanyahu will be re-elected in Israel.
    Yes!  Sorry, that explanation mark makes me sound more enthused about this than I am.  See more here.

Overall, I seem to have actually fared better than I expected, having been more or less correct on 65% of the issues!  Tomorrow I’ll publish my list of predictions for 2014 – watch this space.

University Beckons

Steven Hill [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, at approximately 5:30pm, I will begin the 20-hour journey which shall take me to university in Edinburgh.  This is both nerve-wracking and exciting beyond belief – and my time will probably be significantly taken up by concentrating on settling in, Fresher’s week, studies, and so on.  So this blog might be quiet for a while.  Hopefully I’ll find time to write a thing or two here and there, but I won’t even attempt to stick to any schedules until I’m fully into the flow of university life.  Once I am, I’ll probably aim to continue the rate of something like 3 posts a week.

There’s a few elections coming up and I was initially planning to cover each in depth in a similar vein to how I discussed Australian polling a month ago, but since I’ve simply run out of time I’ll just have to give a brief summary of each one:

7th September 2013 – Australian General Election
When I made that last update on Australian polling it looked as though there might be some hope for the Labor Party, which experienced a boost in ratings since Kevin Rudd usurped Julia Gillard as party leader, but this seems to have since subsided.  No poll has shown the Labor party ahead in the Two-Party Preferred Vote since the end of July, in in the last week the Liberal/National Coalition has regularly been ahead by 2-3%.  This would be enough to give them somewhere around 83 – 86 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives – a clear majority.  So while nothing can ever be certain in politics – the race is tight enough for this to not entirely be a foregone conclusion – it’s difficult to envisage a scenario in which Tony Abbot doesn’t become Australia’s next Prime Minister.

7th September 2013 – Maldivian Presidential Election
Because the issue of elections in the Maldives is so complex, and as I know so little about it, nothing I can write here will really do it justice.  The island-nation of 320,000 experienced its first free polls in 2008 and, despite hiccups, seemed on generally the right path towards democracy.  Unfortunately, like most first tries at democracy, this collapsed in 2012 with what is widely considered a coup which removed President Nasheed and replaced him with his vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.  Mohamed Nasheed claimed to have been forced to resign at gunpoint, effectively making this a military-backed coup.  I haven’t particularly followed events since but I have noticed an upsurge in stories of human rights abuse which have concerned rights groups including Amnesty International.  So I can’t really say what I think will happen in this presidential election, but I really hope it can put the country back on the track towards democracy.

9th September 2013 – Norwegian Parliamentary Election
Things don’t look great for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway since 2005.  Leader of the Labour Party, he has governed Norway as part of the ‘Red-Green’ coalition, also including the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.  He only just clung onto power in the 2009 elections, when his coalition won fewer votes than the opposition but through quirks of the system managed to win the most seats.  This resulted in calls for an overhall of the electoral system, which as far as I’m aware haven’t been implemented.

A look at opinion polls shows that recently, beginning in May 2012, the Conservative Party began to enjoy a lead.  Since I last checked the Labour Party had actually managed to get ahead by a few percentage points as the most popular party – I wonder if Stoltenberg’s side job as a taxi driver helped? – but the Red-Green Coalition as a whole is being overtaken by the opposition due to the poor results for the Socialist Left and Centre Parties.  In terms of seats, while it’s possible that the Labour Party might be the largest party, the Conservative-led opposition coalition looks set to pick up a lead of 20-30 seats as a whole in the parliament of 169 seats.  The latest estimate I can see it 96 seats for the opposition and 71 for the Red-Green Coalition, despite the Labour Party beating the Conservatives by 54 seats to 46.  In conclusion, I would imagine that this result would see Stoltenberg be replaced as Prime Minister by either Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party or Siv Jensen of the Progress Party.  Like Australia, red will probably fade to blue.

The Thief of Time (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

I randomly picked this up a shelf from the local library, impressed with the concept and what I believed were author John Boyne’s writing credentials for having written the well-performing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  The book is written as a fictional journal for Matthieu Zéla (finally, a character who shares my name!) and explores his life – all 250 years of it.  Since the late 18th century Matthieu has never aged.  This is a concept which has been explored heavily before, although this is my first personal encounter with the idea, and I was curious to see how Boyne tackled it.

Unfortunately, the novel never lived up its potential with this grand idea.  It’s structured around several different periods of his life, ranging from revolutionary France, the glamour of 1920s America, postwar Communist witch-hunts and 19th century Britain.  Each of these separate stories begin and end without a clear pattern, but the narrative returns to two stories: Matthieu’s arrival in the UK as a teenager focusing on his life with Dominique, and the present day.  I found this haphazard way of plotting irritating, I think generally because there was no progression throughout the novel.  I have no problem with fragmented storytelling, as my love of Cloud Atlas testifies, but there has to be a reason for it which The Thief of Time lacks.

My other major issue with the novel is that, all things considered, the individual stories told of Matthieu’s life are just so dull.  “Yes, back in the 19th century I was a businessman with wife X…” “1920s I moved into this industry and married wife Y…”  We get the impression that Matthieu spent his whole life either courting women and investing money, shying away from anything more dramatic.  Ocasionally he gets into fights but his chivalrous and charitable nature keeps him out of most scraps, resulting in him frequently playing the role of a concerned figure of wisdom.  Most of the time the only tension was provided by one of Matthieu’s succession of nephews, all names a variation of Thomas – referred to as ‘The Thomases’.  Each Thomas tends to be impulsive and dies an early death after impregnating a woman, thus ensuring the line continues.  Despite appearing silly at first, by the resolution this plot thread had been adequately explained and given a sensible explanation.  Oh, and often these stories included the name dropping of famous historical figures: “I happened to meet Charlie Chaplin”, “No other than Pope Pius IX himself!” etc.  This was occasionally done to great effect, as with his brief involvement with the Rosenbergs during McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 1950s, but mostly came across as unconvincing and needless.

This problem is made worse by the fact that Matthieu comes across as such a dull character.  He’s likeable enough, patient and wise, but I found him utterly boring and unrealistic as a character – particularly one with his experiences.  Nowhere in the journal does he go into detail of what it’s like to live to such a grand age.  There are passing references, such as commenting on the transience of all political movements and how he sees contemporary trivial pursuits as pointless, but this barely scratches the surface.  What of loneliness?  What of his ego?  Does he really never question it?  Sure, his life (and the book) has been too boring to give him a great deal of angst, but even so.  I can’t help comparing him to Jack Harkness from the BBC’s Torchwood, around whom the concept of immortality is far more successfully explored.  Also, passing references along the lines of: “I’d taken a couple of decades off to relax,” just seem very simplistic, even childish.  Likeable, yes, but Matthieu is a very badly crafted character.

As I mentioned, I found the story of Dominique and his modern day existence more engaging.  Both still felt unconvincing in places, particularly in regard to his relationship with Dominique (who is very inconsistently written), but they at least had been turning the pages and reeling with shock at the plot twists.  The character of Jack, Matthieu’s friend, seemed surprisingly developed and real.  I found this often, in fact – with the exception of the various dull businessmen, the secondary characters often seemed the most multi-dimensioned.  Still, I must have invested enough because I had a silent gasp at Dominique’s horrific fate.  The tale of Matthieu’s ownership of an independent satellite TV channel in 1999 and of his son’s life as a soap star was hardly thrilling, but progressed well.  The conclusion of this story – and, indeed, the novel – was one of its best moments.  I really like Matthieu’s realisation that his added years are those that the Thomases never lived, and the moment he ‘saved’ Tommy from his self-destructive nature he begins to age (in a wonderfully abrupt ending scene).  The fantasy elements are fully described but never quite explained in a way which shouldn’t work but does – the same result Wilde achieved with The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I was both impressed and disappointed with the novel’s portrayal of historical events.  Sometimes it covered them well, as with the 1848 revolutions in Italy and the 1950s Red Scare in the USA.  Matthieu’s opinion of these events was also fascinated; he came across as a reactionary with a not entirely closed mind, normally willing to ‘go with the flow’.  I enjoyed reading the brief note of his enthusiasm for the space program in the 1960s, for instance.  But often, I felt Boyne just didn’t get how to write historical fiction.  I admit it’s a very hard style to write and you can argue he did a good job, being aged only 29 at the time, but there are some glaring problems.  One of which is the fact none of the characters speak as you’d expect from the period.  Dominique and young Matthieu, almost street urchins, talk like well-educated young adults from today.  There’s no register between the characters, nothing in their speech to indicate rank or role in society.  This can be somewhat forgiven when you remember that it’s written as a modern journal – but then, this begs the question, why is Matthieu’s writing style so modern?  Also, take this exchange, set in 1793:

We decided on a whim to take a trip.

“Perhaps Australia?”
“I think not.”
“Africa then.  There’s a whole continent there waiting to be explored.”
“Too hot.  And too underdeveloped.”

Who in 1793 took a trip “on a whim”?  People traveled, yes, but the concept of tourism was far from what it is today.  Then the examples: Australia has a population of only a few thousand at this point and scarcely existed as a united entity.  Travel to Australia took several months there and back, often in diseased and dangerous conditions and, even considering Matthieu’s longevity, would be an almost guaranteed one-way journey.  Even if they made careful plans to return, one would hardly go to Australia on a jaunt.  Africa’s not such a problem but it’s still naive to suggest people would consider traveling there in such an off-hand way; this is many decades before the widespread colonisation of the continent. They ultimately decide to go to France despite, you know, the ‘Reign of Terror’ and the fact France and Britain were at war.  How did they even get there?  It’s just little issues like that which ruined the novel for me, which is a shame because it does come across as very well researched at times.

In conclusion, The Thief of Time was a disappointment.  Not a total failure – there is still much to like – but I found it, overall, extremely boring to read and the largest challenge to finish a book I’ve had for a while.  It’s too long, I think.  If everything which doesn’t work could be culled, changed, reduced or developed then the novel might work but, as it is now, I really wouldn’t recommend it.

Final rating: 5/10

The Fall of Julia Gillard

I often wish British politics could be as exciting as events I hear about in other democracies around the world.  Today began with the surprising announcement that former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2007-2010; he led Labor to victory after 11 years of Liberal-National rule) was to challenge current Prime Minister Julia Gillard as leader of the Labor Party.  There have been challenges in the past which Rudd lost, but this particular challenge bears resemblance to events in 2010 where Gillard outmaneuvered Rudd and took his position as Labor leader, ultimately winning the election.

By 57 votes to 45, Rudd won the leadership vote and has become the new leader of the Labor party.  This doesn’t mean he is now the Prime Minister – Gillard still has to submit her resignation to the Governor-General before this could happen, and with an election due to be held possibly as early as August Rudd certainly wouldn’t have much time in power.  This result certainly does spell the end of Julia Gillard’s political career, however.  She announced that she will not seek re-election later this year and is set to retire from politics.  At least one of my 2013 predictions have come true.

So why did this happen?  This seems like an act of desperation from the Labor Party, which has been performing very poorly in opinion polls and has seemed certain to be facing defeat in the next election.  I don’t know a great deal about Australian politics but Gillard does seem a very unpopular figure, perhaps partly due to Australia’s poor economic performance and her terrible record on immigration.  Throwing migrants onto an island is a really bizarre idea.  My Australian cousins have certainly spoken about her negatively various times and a quick scan of the social networks reveals far more support for Rudd than Gillard.  So is this a last-ditch attempt of the Labor Party to save itself?  I suspect many Labor MPs feel he has a better change of leading the party to victory or, failing that, avoiding total wipe-out – and therefore making their own seats more secure.   Time will tell.

Having browsed the general policies of the main Australian political parties I think I’d probably be most inclined to support the Greens, who are currently in a formal alliance with Labor and, I’m glad to see, generally poll at around 10%.  But even with Green support I don’t think Labor is likely to win the election.

Total Recall [2012 Film] (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

This will be a basic review, as I watched Total Recall across splintered intervals throughout my rather stressful exam period in late May, and so I don’t have quite the coherent a set of notes I would like.  I had vaguely heard of Total Recall before I watched it but knew very little about it.  This film is a remake of the 1990 of the same name, based on Philip K Dick’s novel We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.  I hadn’t seen any of director Len Wiseman’s work before and know little of the starring actors.

The concept of living a fantasy life – the ‘Recall’ – is hardly a new one, and it isn’t really explored to that great a degree in this film.  In fact, very little of Total Recall is actually about memories.  There’s the beginning sequences in which we are familiarised with the life  Douglas Quid and introduced to the setting.  This is done rather well in a scene with his wife, Lori, in which we develop as much sympathy for the characters as we can in such a limited timescale, then we see bits of his monotonous work at a robotics factory.  The film does a better job developing these characters and setting in just 10 seconds than, uh certain other films with similar themes.  The Recall concept is first established when Douglas visits the ‘Rekall’ complex to experience false memories, then finds himself in a gunfight with Federation forces and discovers he has the abilities of a top-class agent.  Later, his Lori tries to kill him and is revealed to be an agent posing as his wife.  As the film progresses more of Douglas’ ‘real’ persona of Carl Hauser are revealed, but this plot thread seems to take a backseat, bizarrely.  There is that brilliant scene where his former friend Harry tries to convince him he is still living in Rekall’s fantasy world, and you genuinely wonder whether the events are actually happening or if it is all just a fantasy, but there’s not really much of a return after this.

The film’s setting is also quite strange.  It’s set in the year 2084 after the Earth has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by war, with only Britain (now the United Federation of Britain) and Australia (the Colony) inhabitable.  Not sure what kind of warfare would be so specific, and there’s never any indication that either of these settings are survivors of a brutal war (I can’t believe only the UK and Australia would alone be neutral in a world war).  It’s also jarring to hear so many American accents and scarcely any Australian.  These issues aside, the actual cities are well developed and realised.  From the kind of folding transport systems to the ‘hoverways’, it’s all rather impressed.  I was particularly taken by the attention to Physics in the film.  Most obviously, the freefall sequence as they travel in the gravity train was extremely well done, and perhaps one of the most original reasons for an escape I’ve seen in a film (though surely there’d be a warning as it entered freefall?).  As a Physics geek, I appreciated the attention to detail – it was also seen in other examples, such as a falling hovercar destroying another car as it lands through the force of it’s, uh, hover power thing, but the falling hovercar itself bounces off and is less damaged.

The film’s plot was rather basic and, as I’ve already mentioned, didn’t have all that much to do with the recall concept.  Basically, Douglas’ real persona, Carl, is a Federation agent but Douglas himself ends up becoming embroiled in the resistance seeking to free the Colony.  This all builds up into a rather predictable but well-directed action sequence in the end in which the villain, Chancellor Cohaagen, is killed (why would he personally have joined the invasion force?) and the link destroyed.  This is how you do a decent science fiction action sequence!  It should get to the point and develop and include real danger rather than the bizarre decisions taken by, uh, certain other films.  The ending is your kind of standard Hollywood ‘happy ending’ – although apparently in the Director’s Cut there is a sudden Blade Runner style moment of ambiguity intended to leave it uncertain whether he is still in the fantasy world.  That would be a far more satisfying conclusion.  I found Douglas’ searching for clues to his identity and mission fairly engaging, and the pieces did eventually slot together well.

None of the acting really left a memorable impact on me, meaning most was decent but little exceptional.  I recall (sorry…) Colin Farrell playing the part of an ‘average guy in a crazy situation’ very well, and Bill Nighy totally dominated the few scenes he appeared in.

Overall, this was a decent blockbuster.  Okay, it was a bit rushed, sometimes flimsy and generally quite superficial (I seem to say this a lot about films…) but, essentially, it worked and succeeded at its aims.  I think other critics have been harsher than I am towards the film, but I did ultimately enjoy it.  One of the better blockbusters I’ve seen, and it did help to take my mind off scary exams.

Final rating: 8/10

Other reviews:

Thoughts on The Great Gatsby (2013 Film)

Contains spoilers.

 

This won’t be a full review, due to my lack of concentration at some parts as a result of it being my first 3D film and also the fact that I haven’t read the original 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, nor seen any of the other film versions, which I feel I’d need to experience before making a full assessment of the film.  I walked in blind, as it were.  It’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, who I’m told is a skilled director, and has previously directed Romeo + Juliet and Australia, neither of which I’d seen but had heard a lot about.

To me, the most thought-provoking aspects of the film is its themes within the historical setting.  Set during the Roaring Twenties, a period of unparalleled economic growth within the USA following the First World War (and preceding the inevitable collapse of the system in the 1929 Wall Street Crash), this was the period of jazz, of unenforceable prohibition and of corruption.  The film certainly glorifies the nightlife scene of New York in 1922, showing a seemingly endless sequence of parties, pleasure, alcohol and chaos.  It’s certainly atmospheric, but my main reaction was thankfulness that I never lived during this period!  The film encapsulates the changing moral landscape of the time, which is also expressed through the romantic relationships characters form.  Gatsby, Daisy and Thomas all participate in extramarital affairs, while Nick and Jordan’s fling begins in an alcohol-fueled party.  The film is no advocate of the sanctity of marriage, and it’s fascinating to see society’s change portrayed so successfully.  The importance of money within the film also stood out to me – scenes are littered with references to the gap between the wealthy and the poor.  Indeed, the crux of the film lies around the idea that Gatsby did not feel worthy of Daisy’s love until he had made something of his life.  It’s difficult to say whether the book’s message was for or against this individualist, ‘dog-eat-dog’ culture; the novel would really need to be read  to say for sure.

A result of many of these themes is that I personally found it difficult to relate to many of the characters.  I struggle to understand the forces which drive the characters in their greed and their lusts.  Why does Gatsby see such an importance in money?  The parties, the affairs… I had the same problem with Othello, leaving me wondering whether it’s flaws in the writing or flaws in me.

There are many comparisons to be made between the period the film is set and the society of today.  Economically, the excesses of the 20s bear a lot in common with the economic book experienced in the early 2000s, only to be shattered by a financial meltdown in a similar way.  The same values of individual profit, private enterprise and the ‘American dream’ still dominate today, despite having been proven fundamentally flawed again and again when unregulated.  Ultimately, it’s Gatsby’s need to attain individual economic success – which he achieves through the illegal distribution of alcohol – that proves to be his downfall and prevents him from experiencing a happy ending.

Despite my feelings towards the characters, I can’t deny they are well written and acted.  Hearing the lyrical lines many were given made me want to read the novel, even if the eventual plot and themes had the opposite effect.  I was surprised by how likeable a character Gatsby proved to be; I imagined he would be a flawed, irredeemable character, but I was mistaken.  The character is possibly even portrayed as too virtuous.  He’s brilliantly acted by Leonardo DiCaprio, who always impresses me with his diversity.  I also enjoyed Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator – the only character I personally believed to be realistic.   Daisy is well acted by Carey Mulligan, although her role in the story rather annoyed me.  She is viewed as an object, as a prize, by the men who compete over her.  Never is this clearer than in the confrontational scene, where they both cry variations of: “She is mine!” “she loves me!”  That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except she is there with them and says nothing.  She cries a bit, then wanders off, then is all, “oh, don’t make me choose.”  But essentially, it’s a confrontation between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy, in which she has no input.  I appreciate these were the values of the society at the time, but it still irritates me.

It was an interesting decision, in setting up the period, to use modern music.  In the soundtrack can be found names including Beyoncé, Florence + The Machine, Lana Del Rey and André 3000 (presumably a rapping robot – or sounds like one at any rate), all of whom are generally in the charts right now.  The obvious decision would have been to go for 20s jazz music to set the period but, oddly, modern pop music kind of works.  It establishes that this is a period of partying and excess, ideas that most pop music today push forward.  I don’t like the music, but it works.

Finally, I was quite impressed by the levels of detail and symbolism present in the film.  Little touches, like that optician billboard symbolosing the ‘Eyes of God’, judging characters and disapproving of their lifestyles, or the green light across the bay acting as a source of hope for Gatsby, make me realise how The Great Gatsby became a literary classic.

Overall, I have conflicting feelings over The Great Gatsby.  I kind of liked it and disliked it at the same time.  Visually, it’s beautifully directed by Luhrmann, but I’m unsure of how I feel about the central concepts of the story.

Final rating (if forced): 7/10