Friday, 30 March 2012

Earl Scruggs: Bluegrass Legend


by James Burkinshaw 




Earl Scruggs, bluegrass legend, died on Wednesday, 28th March, aged 88. Accompanied by his partner Lester Flatt on guitar, Scruggs played the banjo with a frantic intensity that helped define bluegrass music. Flatt and Scruggs reached their widest audience with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", best known as the "getaway" music in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde" (see video above), but other classics included "Old Salty Dog Blues (see video below).
 
He started his career with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, in the 1940s, but, tired of the low pay, Scruggs and Lester Flatt soon decided to strike out on their own. Angry and hurt, Monroe refused to speak to them for the next 20 years, a feud that became famous in country-music history. Flatt and Scruggs formed "The Foggy Mountain Boys", eventually overtaking "The Bluegrass Boys" in popularity. Scruggs was respected and  revered by musicians far beyond bluegrass and country music, including Elvis, Bob Dylan and The Byrds.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

BBC Question Time Live Twitter Feed

This twitter feed is written and coordinated by Daniel Rollins, Blog Editor and he will commenting on BBC Question Time as it is broadcast. You can also follow the Portsmouth Point @PortsmouthPoint

If you want to contribute to the debate, please join twitter (if you are not already a member) and tag your tweets with #PortsmouthPoint alongside the standard #BBCQT tag. We will then retweet the best as part of our coverage of the show.

The feed has now been frozen please continue the debate in the comments, follow our twitter feed @PortsmouthPoint or can also be found in the tab above.


PGS Pupil Question Time Panel

Future politicians from PGS (including a few Portsmouth Point editors) took to the BBC Question Time desk, with host David Dimbleby, ready to answer the sort of challenging questions that the panel may face later tonight:

The Panel, with David Dimbleby,
The pupil panel are (left to right), Andy Jones, Emma Kissane, Daniel Rollins, David Dimbleby, Georgie Boxall and George Neame

BBC Question Time at PGS

Some pictures of BBC Question Time set up at PGS in the David Russell Theatre:



The Question Time desk at PGS,

                             The stairway to heaven,                                Cameras in the DRT,

"The Scanner" control desk,

The Director,


David Dimbleby himself.

The Confused World of Rick Santorum

by George Hope

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if you are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘do not euthanise me’, because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. But half the people who are euthanised every year – and it’s 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands – half of those people are euthanised involuntarily at hospitals, because they are older and sick.” These are the exact words of Rick Santorum, a Senator who wants to become the next President of the USA.
I couldn't help but laugh a little when I read a comment on The Wall Street Journal Online: "Let's go in and defend these old people. Rick, lead the way." The person was responding to an article entitled, "Dutch to Santorum: Pull the Plug on Euthanasia Tlk". The Government of the Netherlands responded to Republican candidate Rick Santorum after he spoke out about Dutch health and social policies, with particular reference to euthanasia. The Republican hopeful said, “Elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country because they’re afraid, because of budget purposes, they won’t come out of that hospital." What business is it of Rick Santorum, and more importantly of what relevance is it, to bring up another nation's health policies and criticise them with complete fabrications unsupported by any evidence? I thought he was running for President of the US, not President of the World.
Erik Mouthaan, US correspondent for the Dutch RTL News, joined journalist Rachel Maddow to clarify the truth of Santorum’s accusations. He described them as being ‘untrue and insulting’. He went on to say, ‘We know that some people are against our liberal policies, and that’s fine. But the problem is if they just start lying. This is such a distortion of what actually goes on and I think people are quite upset about it.’ So let’s get some facts straight. Santorum said that 10% of deaths in the Netherlands are from euthanasia. In fact, the number is at about 1.2%. He also said that half don’t even want to die. The Dutch Government has put in place strict laws with severe punishments should a person’s ‘right to die’ be abused. There are, in reality, many safeguards preventing this from happening. Whatever your view on euthanasia, on a scale of Dutch to Santorum, it is undeniably worrying that someone who could hold an office as important as President of the United States could lie so blatantly and get away with it.

Power Corrupts

by Madi Barker

My mother always taught me that ‘honesty is the best policy’ – this is, of course, with the exception of speeding fines and confessing to stuffing the last slice of birthday cake. Though, in the supposed ‘revelation’ of the new cash for access scandal, I can honestly say I’m not surprised. At all. In fact, it rather came as a comforting consolidation of my belief that eventually most power becomes crooked, driven by our innate selfishness and greed and thus a reality check is needed.

Rather, this predictable and unsurprising headline fosters minor interest due to the United Kingdom’s growing similarity to the USA. In America, offering political favours (such as access to the President or the occasional photo-shoot) in return for a healthy donation is standard procedure - so why are we making a big deal out of it? Seemingly, the Atlantic Ocean provides a half-hearted barrier between the two ideologies: the UK already (practically) functions under a presidential government in all but name and I even hear children referring to their trousers as ‘pants’. There is a lack of credulity behind the noise of Westminster halls and BBC offices.


We were surely not deluded about the fact that money oils our democratic machine, just like America, until this so-called scandal. Politicians make and break promises; our democracy has been slanted since the moment it began. Honesty may be the best policy but when the policy ain’t honest both at home and away, the British public and media should refrain from patronising themselves by pretending it’s any different. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

PGS Sport: Squash Report

By Emily Crowcroft


By Maj Veild, 
used under a creative commons licence
This season PGS have managed to place 3 teams in to the Hampshire junior leagues with an average of fourteen pupils turning up weekly for training. The season overall has been a successful one, with Team 2 winning their league, Team 3 finishing second and the first team third.
The second team did not lose a single match this season, with Geoff Sherwood not dropping a single game and Alex Brader not dropping a single match - both outstanding achievements!
The third team missed out on winning their league by 2 points, given that for many in this team this would've been their first experience of competitive match play, this represents a very commendable achievement.
The first and second division of the Hampshire leagues are mainly comprised of county and regional players, which meant that the first team were often coming up against players of high calibre, and so coming away with third place was an extremely successful accomplishment.
With this year being my last in school squash, I'd like to say that is has been encouraging to see PGS squash grow from having just one team of four set players to now having three teams playing competitive squash in the Hampshire leagues. It has to be said that the main driving force behind this has been Di Spencer, who has given up her Thursdays and Sundays to encourage, organise and support these teams. Without her PGS squash would not have progressed as far as it has and we all owe her a huge thanks.

Why A Third Runway Would Be A Disaster

by Anna Bazley

Agitation over the possibility of a Government green-light for a third runway at Heathrow, an idea first mooted in 2007, reached fever pitch over the weekend. In his Autumn Statement of last year, Osborne expressly stated that the Government would ‘explore all options for maintaining the UK's aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow’. This represented what was merely a continuation of coalition policy ever since the elections of 2010. However, in last week’s Budget, Osborne explicitly stated a need for new runways in the South-East of England. This lead many in the journalistic and aviation worlds to revisit the still-contentious issue of a third runway at Heathrow, despite the fact this would represent a U-Turn for coalition government, a move that the Liberal Democrats could not endorse and that the Conservatives would find an untenable position. Even the current Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has defiantly stated that "it will not be built as long as I am mayor."

Johnson cited concerns over noise pollution and ‘fumes’ pervading the West End of London in the event of a third runway being approved, though he is open to the possibility of expansion of Stansted and Gatwick. Justine Greening the Conservative Transport Secretary, however, goes further, insisting that no expansion of either airport will take place. This represents an important environmental commitment from a Government that, as displayed in last week’s budget, prefers instead to superficially allude to green issues whilst eliminating any incentive or impetus to act upon them.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

BBC Question Time

As many of you may already know The Portsmouth Grammar School is hosting the BBC television program Question Time, which is chaired by David Dimbleby. Pupils are participating in and learning from this fantastic opportunity in a number of different ways: some are being shown how the production is put together by the show's producer and director; some, including me, are taking part in a mock Question Time debate chaired by David Dimbleby himself; others will be watching the show as it is filmed. Some of these pupils will then write about what they experienced and learnt, and will be posting on the blog in the ensuing days.

The Portsmouth Point team are also taking part in this unique event by providing you with a live twitter feed as the show is broadcast. This twitter feed will be on @PortsmouthPoint, and, if you want to contribute, please join twitter (if you are not already a member) and tag your tweets with #PortsmouthPoint alongside the standard #BBCQT tag. We will retweet the best as part of our coverage of the show.

Thanks. I hope you enjoy the show,

Dan Rollins
Blog Editor

Parmenides – (C.515-445BCE)

Julia Alsop continues her exploration of early metaphysical philosophers

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
commons/e/ed/Parmenides.jpg
Used under a Creative Commons licence
Parmenides was from the Greek city Elea, on the southern Italian coast, where he was descended from a rich, noble family. His exact dates are unsure, but they are widely accepted as being from 515-445BCE roughly. Parmenides founded the Eleatic School of Philosophy, and it is said the he also wrote the laws of the city of Elea. Parmenides later influenced other great minds, including the infamous Plato, who often spoke of him, and even wrote a dialogue, namelyParmenides, about him. His great influence on Plato, is what makes Parmenides such an important figure in recognizing the development of western philosophy.

Where Parmenides’ work is concerned, only one work is known of today – On Nature, a poem of which only 160 lines have survived.In this text Parmenides tried to distinguish between the unity of nature along with the vast variety. Parmenides was greatly influenced by Pythagoras, employing a deductive reason to uncover information about the physical world, and thus his views were quite the opposite to that of Heraclitus (see earlier post). Parmenides recognized the premise that something exists, “it is”, by the same logic it cannot also not exist, “it is not”, and thus there can be no state of non-existence without contradiction. He then noted that something cannot come from nothing, and must have always existed to some extent. Parmenides’ final conclusion was that “everything that is real must be eternal and unchanging” – ergo, it has unity and so ultimately “All is One”.

MDNA by Madonna

By George Neame


©Interscope Records


There’s really very little that has not already been said about Madonna’s background. Since 1983 the American superstar has established herself as possibly the biggest pop princess the world has ever seen, selling out live shows across the globe and becoming Guinness World Records’ ‘top-selling female recording artist of all time’. Having taken a four year break since her last album, MDNA kicks off with an infectious, pulsating beat that is noticeably Madonna-esque. A series of dancefloor hits follow, with catchy basslines and dubstep-style drops. ‘Turn up the Radio’ serves as a prime example of how pop is supposed to be and single ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’ with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. shows how Madonna compares to more contemporary female artists who, whilst adding to the originality of the album, fail to match the electrifying talent of the queen of pop herself. It is true that the album begins to tail off slightly near the end and the lyrics and song titles are hardly innovative (‘Girl Gone Wild’ sounding very similar to songs such as Rihanna’s ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’), but as a whole MDNA performs well against other female pop artists and is another memorable assortment of appealing tunes to add to Madonna’s 12-strong collection.


Star Rating: ****

WARNING CONTAINS EXPLICIT LYRICS

Monday, 26 March 2012

Playing Politics with Race

By Michael Roderick 
It seems interesting that the racially-motivated murder of a young, black Floridian should have taken place on the same week as the slaughter of 4 French Jews by a lone radical, Mohammed Merah. Both events have managed to bring the prickly issue of race to the political forefronts of their respective nations; both issues have highlighted the ugly but often silent infestation of prejudice in many Western cultures. In France we have seen an appalling political game. Faced with the imminent Presidential elections, the candidates have quite openly plundered the situation for their own gain. Nobody seems to know quite what’s going on: the Socialists are blaming the hysterical rhetoric of the right for precipitating the tragedy, the right are calling for some sort of general crackdown on muslims or The Enemy or something like that; Madame Le Pen, the leader of France’s ultra-nationalist Front National, who seemed to be in retreat only a few days ago at the prospect that she might have to deal with an angry public and press following a Norwegian-style massacre committed by a rightist lunatic (the kind of people that make up her party), has, since it developed that the gunman was not some Jew-hating nationalist but rather a Jew-hating Mohammedan (as she would phrase it), emerged as Joan d’Arc Triumphant, heroically attacking the barbarian-oriental-northafrican-nonwhite enemy who want to destroy France and all that is good and white and decent and wholesome and white. It’s a foul circus, at once hilarious to watch as French politicians tangle themselves in knots of used and vacuous prejudices; at the same time horrifying to watch French politicians willing to resort to used and vacuous prejudices for political advance.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cash for Access: Reaction to the Scandal

by Tim MacBain

On Saturday, the Conservative co-Treasurer, Peter Cruddas, resigned in disgrace, following the Sunday Times’ secret filming of his offer to gain potential donors a seat at the Prime Minister’s dinner table. This, frankly, is amusing, but not illegal. It is Cruddas’ claims that he could get policy discussions altered in favour of these donors which is outrageous.

Now, surely it is not just left-leaning liberals such as I but people from across the entire political spectrum who should be uniting in condemnation of such an act. Distancing oneself is not enough. An inquiry, as David Cameron has proposed, is a start. All parties must find it within themselves to question the motives of their donors, and show a real desire to root out any corruption or murky dealings in terms of their policy.

I also think it is worth taking these events surrounding Peter Cruddas in perspective – George Osborne has just released a budget which, from some perspectives, seems to favour business and the better off. Could it be that the Chancellor, the man who is supposed to be guiding Britain out of the worst recession since the Second World War, has been influenced by wealthy Tory donors, going through Peter Cruddas?

Concentration is the key

by George Chapman

Behold, my favourite equation. This mathematical model is crucial to the operation, at any given second within our lives, of our most fascinating organ- the brain.

It is, however, an artwork in its own right.

Portrayed in chiaroscuro that even a film noir cinematographer would envy, a beautiful symmetry is established by the vinculum on the right hand side of the equation. The division of one summation by another similar summation succeeds in creating a mirror image, as it were.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Max Jewell's Top Ten Films

Max Jewell continues his list of his top 10 favorite films of all time. 



10-6: http://portsmouthpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/max-jewells-top-ten-films.html

5. The Usual Suspects 1995 (Bryan Singer) – Despite Pete Postlethwaite’s truly abysmal Japanese accent, which unfortunately makes him look like he’s just suffered a stroke, The Usual Suspects is a genuinely suspenseful film. Indeed, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, played masterfully by the prodigious Kevin Spacey, has much in common with the Shakespearean character of Iago. Kint does, indeed, ‘play the villain well’, the very fabric of his character exposed at the conclusion of the film. Everything about Verbal Kint is artificial, the world he inhabits is one which he created and he, like Iago, ‘knows his price’ and is acutely aware of the power of words a monster does, indeed, hide in his thought. Unfortunately though, this film has one of greatest plot twists of all time at the end so I can’t really say much more than anyone who says this film is not one of the greatest of all time does not deserve a tongue. Verbal Kint is not what he is.

4.  The Shawshank Redemption 1994 (Frank Darabont) – This film is proof that box office statistics are in no way indicative of a film's quality. The Shawshank Redemption, was not at all redeemed at the box office and Shawtanked (joke is very tenuous) only making $3m profit. With the execution of Derek Bentley, the toppling of Thatcher and the repudiation of Charles Bronson’s parole request the performance of the Shawshank Redemption at the box office remains the greatest injustice of the 21st century. Tim Robbins' performance as the stoic Andy Dufresne is not only incredible but puts one in mind of the incredible and much underrated Edward Norton’s performance in American History X (albeit a film that should be avoided). Like The Green Mile Darabont’s film is less about Andy Dufresne’s prison experience but more about the relationship he develops with Red, Morgan Freeman doing the usual Morgan Freeman performance. The final shot of the film, an extreme long shot (not sure if such a shot technically exists but nevermind) of two characters embracing whilst the camera slowly pulls away is indicative of the transcendental power of friendship, capable of escaping prison, that Darabont had been masterfully creating throughout the film.  

The Arsonists: A Review



by Charlie Albuery
Portsmouth Grammar School’s latest dramatic production was a present-day retelling of ‘The Arsonists’ by Max Fritchz, performed by pupils from Year 10. Having performed in the play, I’m not sure I can give a completely unbiased review, but I’ll try my best.
The play revolves around two separate groups of people. The first consists of the movement-based fireman, played by Josh Arnold, Dom Baker, Aimee Rockett and Zoe Barnes, who performed an entertaining (if not perfectly in-time) mix of clowning and dance set to a vibrant  backdrop of music written specifically for the show. The second is comprised of the arsonists, whose scenes are presented in the form of a traditional play and revolve around Shmitz (a circus wrestler, played by yours truly) and Eisenring (an ex-waiter, played by Hugh Summers) who, while sharing a prison cell, concoct a plan to burn the surrounding town.
They put their plan into action by charming Beiderman (a hard-nosed business woman, portrayed by Bella DeGuisa) into allowing them to stay in the house which she shares with Babette (Emma Read) and their butler, Tom (Cameron Roberts). This is where the – somewhat experimental – set came into play, constructed on two levels connected by a ladder with hidden doors and a painting on hinges that allowed the fireman to pop out of nowhere for comic effect.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Seventeen

By Lucy Cole

It is the eve of my seventeenth birthday and I have been trying to think of something exciting that I will now be able to do that I couldn’t do before. I remember the excitement of my sixteenth birthday, the list was infinite; it ranged from being able to ‘choose a GP’ – every sixteen year old’s dream – to ‘pilot a glider’. Although I did originally plan to take advantage of all of these, I decided changing my name, leaving school, getting married and joining the army probably wasn’t my parents ideal plan for me. So instead I got my national insurance number through the post, bought a lottery card and had a glass of wine with dinner.
  
Now whilst I am champing at the bit to be released into the clubs of Portsmouth and buy some fireworks, turning seventeen does open up some really exciting opportunities. In the world of Harry Potter I would now legally be allowed to apparate from place to place, far faster and probably much more eco-friendly than a broomstick, a flying car or Hagrid’s motorbike. However, since I live in the real world my prospects are slightly less exciting (although just as daunting). Driving, I believe, is the real sign of finally having grown up. It is always something that your parents do, something that only adults are allowed the privilege of. I never really gave it a thought before, it was a means of getting from one place to another; but suddenly I am examining how to leave a roundabout exit, asking what the road signs mean and yelling at the drivers that cut up my sister as we drive along in ‘Hamish’, her ugly but characterful Peugeot 106. The prospect of being set loose on the roads has suddenly becoming terrifying. However, the fact that even my 80 year old grandparents still manage to drive along the twisting country roads of Morpeth without crashing seems to suggest to me that really, it can’t be that difficult, can it?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hacktivists: In the Name of the Internet

By Daniel Rollins

Verizon, the international communications and broadband company, has published an analysis of large scale internet security breaches where data is stolen and has found some interesting trends. 
It found that more data was stolen from large companies and organisations last year by “Hacktivists” than by traditional cyber criminals. Hacktivists took 58% of the data stolen last year while organised crime groups only stole 35% to sell or use to commit other crimes.

So what is "Hacktavism"? 
It is a blend of hacking and activism and is often defined as, "the nonviolent use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends". It usually involves defacing websites and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, which overloading websites with traffic so they can not function. However in the last year hacktivists have also begun to steal data from government organisation or large businesses and post freely on the web. This is often both disruptive and embarrassing for the targeted organisation.   

Hacktivist organisations such as, “Anonymous”, “Lulzsec” and “Antisec”, found fame when they targeted high profile organisations such as NATO, Sony, when they took down the PlayStation network and the US Senate, releasing emails and passwords. Though many of the hackers claim that their hacks are, “Just 4 Lulz” (Just for fun), many have political motives. For example hacktivist groups supported the Arab Spring by downing many government websites first in Tunisia and then in Egypt and regularly attack organisations that they see as threatening freedom of speech on the internet. For instance the Anonymous group began to attack Visa and MasterCard when they stopped allowing payments to Wikileaks, the whistle-blowing website.

So are hacktivists justified in their actions, do they play an important role in keeping the internet free or are they more sinister than they seem? Please leave comments below with your answers. 

Members of Anonymous
By Vincent Diamante [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Osborne's Budget doesn't go far enough

By Max Jewell 

Art Laffer has been telling anyone who’d listen for the last thirty years that lower taxation is they key to a stable and prosperous economy. Not only does a low taxation rate actually increase government taxation revenue, naturally tax evasion decreases Michael Caine is an example of Laffer’s hypothesis - ‘the Government has taken tax up to 50 per cent and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America’1 - but it provides for increased consumption and increased investment which should give the UK economy a much needed boost. The 50p tax band was demonstrably inauspicious, it raised only a third of the projected taxation revenue2, a cursory glance at the laffer curve would have been profitable for Mr Brown. Between 1980 and 2007, the US cut taxes at all income levels. Result? The top one per cent went from paying 19.5 per cent of all taxes to 40 per cent. In Britain, since the top rate of income tax was lowered to 40 per cent in 1988, the share of income tax collected from the wealthiest percentile has risen from 14 to 27 per cent3. Taxing ‘the rich’ less than 50% is not unfair, a normative concept, nor is it immoral, taxation as a concept is amoral. There is no such thing as morality when it comes to economics, it is imperative that the economic recovery is prioritised, the normative, anemic, concept of ‘fairness’ is irrelevant and discarded as an argument. It seems rather bizarre that anyone can claim that a budget where the initial income tax threshold is raised is ‘unfair’.

A Budget for Working People

by William Wallace


Last Sunday, the Chancellor told Andrew Marr that this budget would be ‘for working people’. The contents of the famous red box have this year presented the country with plans to stabilise the economy, create a fairer, more efficient and simpler tax system and introduce reforms that put Britain back on the road to growth and recovery. The deep budget deficit which the Coalition inherited from thirteen years of Labour government has to be dealt with. After last week’s announcement that the UK economy looks set to avoid a double dip recession, the government’s Plan A now seems to be working.


What has surprised most people is Osborne’s plans for the largest ever increase in the personal allowance, raising the income tax threshold to £9,205. What this essentially means is that those on low and medium incomes will enjoy a tax break. I’m sure Tim has written about the 50p tax rate cut which people have described to be a tax cut for the rich. Official statistics show that the 50p tax rate was ineffective and damaging, as well as undermining competitiveness. Cutting the tax rate to 45p is certainly controversial and raises a few eyebrows, but it ensures that Britain no longer has the highest rate of income tax of any major economy.

Where's the Fairness, Mr Osborne?

by Tim MacBain

For a Conservative Budget, this is surprisingly well rounded. However, I would like to point out quite a few examples of a lack of ability to help those who need it most.

Ed Miliband raised some valid points today – this budget does nothing to help those who have been hit the hardest by the recession. The majority of Liberal Democrat pledges seem to have been passed over, and the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ will be worse off than last year. In addition to this, the freezing of the personal allowance of pensioners is disgraceful – how can they hope to cope under this new policy? No other sections of the budget even address the growing problem of the lack of funding for the care of the elderly, and an increase in the amount they have to pay will only add to that problem.

Finally, we come to the real sticking point. I think we can all agree that the phasing out of child benefit for the high earners is desirable. However, consider this scenario. Two families are presented, each with three children: in one, one partner works, earning £60,000, whereas the other does not work. They receive no child benefit. In the other, both partners work, earning £50,000 each. They receive full child benefit, despite – and here’s the kicker – earning £40,000 more than the first family.

Tell me, where’s the fairness in that?

Osborne robs the poor to feed the rich

by Anna Bazley
Few people would argue that Britain’s fiscal spending doesn’t need a re-think. However, many on the left question whether the Con-Dem coalition, and specifically Coalition Chancellor George Osborne, are the people to achieve the necessary changes whilst still ensuring a high standard of living for all those in Britain. With the country experiencing 0.8% growth in GDP, above the projected 0.7% the economic problems are perhaps less important to Osborne than at the time of his drastic 2010 emergency budget.  Arguably, what is at stake in this budget is not economic salvation or even rehabilitation but political prestige.
On the day of release of the budget, there are a crucial few things contained within it, or directly related to it, that have become the talking points. The first is the proposed rise in the personal tax allowance – from £8,... to £9,205. The Chancellor claims this will leave 24 million taxpayers with an extra £220 million. The Lib Dems feel victorious, and it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder if Nick Clegg sees this as some way forward on his party’s road to rehabilitation. The raising of the personal tax allowance to £10,000 was the key policy of the Lib Dems’ election 2010 manifesto and as such Nick Clegg and others in his party see this aspect of the budget as the vindication of their rights as coalition partners to influence what has up until now, been very much Conservative government policy.
  There was also the increase in stamp duty and the increased bank levy to provide the appearance of a budget that ensures the poorest people in society are taken care of, and that the brunt of austerity measures will be shared equally by all members and strata of our society.

Osborne's Budget is what Britain needs

by George Chapman

Politics aside, there would seem to be economic harmony and satisfaction following the Chancellor’s Budget report today. I concede this is partly because many economists had already accurately predicted many of Osbourne’s plans for the year ahead, but also because the man has actually done a good job of acknowledging and satisfying the country’s current economic interests. The focus of the 2012 Budget was always to be the ever-growing national debt following the global recession of 2008, which currently stands at 7.6% of our GDP, predicted to reach a staggering 76.3% by 2015.

The answer to reducing the deficit is, quite logically, to cut spending or to stimulate production known as aggregate demand. Aggregate demand, as the sum of consumer spending, investment by firms, government spending and the balance of UK exports and imports, can be stimulated by boosting one of these factors. As government spending constitutes capital that the government has both borrowed and generated from tax revenue, it would seem that Osbourne’s intention to reduce government borrowing would negate efforts to increase aggregate demand.

Furthermore, his increase of the personal allowance to £9,205 from £7,500 coupled with a reduction in the 50p tax rate to 45% of top earners’ salaries would look to cut opportunity for government spending and consequently aggregate demand tremendously, by seemingly reducing the government’s tax revenues. Thankfully, and I imagine intentionally, this is not so.

Why privatise our roads?

by Claire Stephens


Anyone who follows the news will agree that this week has been overwhelmingly focused upon contentious issues surrounding the coalition’s proposals. With George Osborne waiting to announce the budget tomorrow whilst today has been centred around the debate on NHS reform, my concerns were raised when I learnt of the proposition to enhance private investment in the UK’s road network.

Having recently passed my driving test, I must say that the financial implications involved with simply qualifying to drive are enough to put any modest person off the entire process. Through paying £50 for the provisional license; taking an adequate number of lessons to meet the required standard and then paying for each component of the two-part test, it is easy to see how the costs quickly add up. And for what? To pay a substantial amount of money in insurance and tax, not to mention the ever-increasing fuel costs forced upon drivers.

When the M6 Toll road was opened in 2004, one cannot deny that it was warmly welcomed by any commuter looking to fasten the time of their journey. However, it was hardly anticipated that the cost of using this road would increase so substantially; the price for a ‘Class 2’ vehicle rose from around £2 upon the opening to a significant £5.50 today. It is hardly surprising when one considers that the route is owned by a private business, ultimately looking to make money. Yet, motorists are being pushed to the very extreme of their tolerance levels as yet more and more money is being taken from their pockets.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sonik Kicks by Paul Weller

http://static.nme.com/images/gallery/
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by George Neame

With a musical career spanning over 40 years, it seems surprising that The Jam front-man Paul Weller is still able to come up with new songs album after album. The success of 2010’s Wake Up the Nation brought Weller recognition with the younger generation and Sonik Kicks appears likely to build upon that success substantially. Opener Green features addictive guitars and keyboards even if the lyrics are, for the most part, painfully repetitive. The resulting sound is one almost as psychedelic as the illuminated album cover. King I Klang is also only kept grounded by its intense drum beat. When Weller notches down the tempo on songs such as Study In Blue, though, the lyrics seem to drift and the instrumentals become dull and tiresome. In addition, it feels at times slightly as if, whilst trying to keep the past alive through new music, his songs are simply being dug out of his record collection and there is very little on the album that is unique and original. Despite this, the album as a whole is a euphoric celebration of pretty much everything in the last 40 years of British music. The progression of the album from stomping anthems to violin-led ballads with female guest vocals on Be Happy Children show the true diversity Weller can encompass and call his own.

Star Rating: ***


Next Week: MDNA by Madonna

Same Sex Marriage: Undemocratic

by Daniel Rollins

By changing the definition of marriage you are changing the entire structure of human relationships, whether you want to or not.

Marriage is and has been, for most of human history for virtually all societies, the union between a man and a woman, however now the government is pushing forward legislation to change the legal definition of marriage to include same sex couples. 

One of the first questions that must be asked about this proposal is what right does the government have to change it? Marriage predates all governments, it is not merely a legal contract to be made and dissolved by anyone at will. It is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman in front of society to support each other, physically, emotionally and financially. This commitment is not like other laws and customs which fluctuate between states and cultures but is universal and recognised by almost all people in every society and therefore any attempt to change this will have wide ranging and dramatic consequences for society, this has promoted the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to described the proposal as an, act of cultural and theological vandalism.So does the government have any right to change the very meaning of something that is at the core of human culture, society and thought? I don’t think anyone does.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Civil Partnerships: Simply not good enough?

by George Hope

Denying homosexuals the use of the term marriage deliberately defines them as 'others' in the eyes of the law and civil society.

Throughout history, people have ostracised others for the colour of their skin, their gender, religion, political beliefs, and even physical capabilities. But we wouldn't let such things happen in Britain, would we? Think again. The debate on gay marriage is in full swing; some within the Catholic Church are standing firm in an attempt to stop our elected representatives from passing a law allowing gay couples to wed. Cameron wants to push through legalisation allowing gay marriage: “I am not for gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative; I’m for gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

A major opposition to gay marriage concerns reproduction. It is true, of course that a homosexual couple cannot procreate naturally. My question would regard whether procreation is the only condition for marriage. Surely, therefore, we should ask a couple before they get married whether they are planning on having children; or, even more controversially, deny marriage to couples who are unable to bear children naturally, a problem that affects as many as one in three of us. The only real condition for marriage should be love, and it is not for me, you or the Church to prevent any individual from marrying whomsoever they want.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Portsmouth Point Poetry: Spring and All

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

                                       William Carlos Williams [1923]



Click "Read More" for the review by George Laver

Friday, 16 March 2012

Murderers: is it really their fault?

By Siena Hocking
Nowadays, it is very rare to turn on the news and not hear about a murder. Murder is seemingly a common occurrence, yet it is difficult to understand how anyone could bring himself or herself to commit such a heinous crime. It is difficult to comprehend why a man with a wife and children, who is seen as the typical family man, is able to plan a murder and actually go through with it without anyone noticing any type of strange or suspicious behaviour. So the question is, what makes criminals so different to ‘normal’ people?

Many people blame it on their twisted and dark backgrounds. However, there are significant biological differences between criminals and normal people. The brain works in many different ways and if your brain is damaged it can affect your personality and the way in which you act. For example: Phineas Gage was a construction foreman who as a result of demolition accident, had a tamping rod pierce his cheek, which then shot through the front part of his brain and out through the top of his head again. He remained conscious through all of this and retained his intelligence and memory. However, the damage to his prefrontal cortex caused Gage's personality to change. He became impulsive, selfish and aggressive, which greatly contrasted the gentle, levelheaded personality he possessed before the accident. The characteristics that Gage exhibited after his accident closely resemble some of the symptoms involved with Antisocial Personality Disorder. 

From My Lai To Panjwai

by James Burkinshaw

Last Sunday’s chilling massacre of sixteen unarmed civilians (nine children, three women and four men) in the Afghan village of Panjwai by American staff sergeant Robert Bales carries disturbing echoes of the infamous My Lai Massacre that took place 44 years ago today.

On March 16th 1968, approximately 500 unarmed and defenceless civilians (most of them children or women) in the Vietnamese village of My Lai were slaughtered by members of “Charlie Company”, an American Army platoon. It remains the single worst atrocity ever committed by American soldiers.

Vietnamese women and children in Mai Lai 
(photograph: by Ronald Haeberle; Public Domain)
Because of governmental secrecy, it took twenty months for the massacre to be made public in America. Eventually, 26 soldiers were charged for their involvement, but only one was convicted---platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley. Many potential witnesses refused to testify against their fellow soldiers. Although sentenced to life, Calley himself was released after only three years of house arrest. His defence was “I carried out the order that I was given.”

A U.S. military commission investigating the massacre found leadership, discipline and morale to be almost non-existent among many of the American units fighting in Vietnam. Men had been sent on multiple tours of duty to the extent that many of them were at psychological breaking point.

Giles Fraser argues: “Following this latest massacre (in Panjwai) there will be much talk of a lone gunman going off the rails. But the truth is more disturbing. One cannot set in place the conditions for easy killing, removing the inbuilt human safety catch, and then simply blame an individual soldier who flips out. And there is no way to ensure that such things do not happen again. This is what happens when soldiers are subject to a systematic process of dehumanisation.”

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Caesar on the Ides of March

by Michael Roderick

On the night before her husband would be killed, Calpurnia Pisonis dreamed that he lay dying in her arms, pierced with stab wounds, both of them weeping on the fallen ruins of an ornamental temple. Her husband, the Dictator, was a man who had conquered the majority of the State’s territories; who had declared war on the very representatives of the People, and had subdued the Senate and the People of Rome to become King-in-all-but-name: the Supreme Authority, the dictator perpetuo.
The man, of course, was Julius Caesar. On the 15th of March, 44 years before the birth of Christ, he was to be killed in a conspiracy consisting of over 40 Senators (although the historian Suetonius reports that 60 took part), each fearing not only his supreme and unchallenged legal power, but also the immense popularity he enjoyed amongst the hoi polloi; the vulgar mob which had thus far so effectively been controlled and subjugated by the elitist mechanics of Roman Democracy.

The exact details of the day are sketchy and often contradictory. This is what we (think) we know. Caesar had been warned time and time again of his impending doom, whether through astral omens, dreams and visions or delirious flocks of birds, but it appears (if they ever took place) he took little notice of them. The most famous, of course, was that warned by Spurinna, a stinking hag, an auger who had the appearance of a crumbling anchorite and spat out her famous dictum over the disembowled carcass of a lamb (commonly used for finding omens): ‘Beware, Lord, the Ides of March’. She was ignored, unsurprisingly. Who could not laugh at this classical equivalent of a bag-lady?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Confessions

By Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

Some things seem so important in your life at the time and then you look back and wonder 'Why did I worry so much?' Like a child fretting when having to hand in an unfinished homework, or a pupil being filled with dread of their results from last week's maths paper. We try to hide our mistakes with excuses to cover up our original actions and later laugh whenconfessing to friends or family.

I remember when I was in year 5 our whole year (20 people in total) were made to join this choir club called junior choir. I and 5 other friends decided to skip one choir practise and in hearing from other pupils in the school that our teacher was looking for us we hid in one of the girls loos. This lavatory leads off from the staircase that leads off from one of the classrooms. (If you went down the staircase you had the changing rooms and if you went up you had the girl's dormitory.)
We heard a noise outside the loo and started to scream and laugh as we thought it was a ghost! One of my friends opened the door and revealed this (to be fair to us- 'ghost like') figure, so which shut the door in its face. Unknown to us, it was our music teacher! (She came into school the next day with a rather sore bruise on her nose...)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Home Again by Michael Kiwanuka

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by George Neame

Questions have been asked about upcoming soul star Michael Kiwanuka ever since he was shortlisted for the BBC’s Sound of 2012 award. Ever since he won, however, he has been added to a select group of artists destined for fame and fortune, simply for winning the award. The BBC’s Sound of… award having become such a self-fulfilling prophecy in recent years, it is unsurprising that Kiwanuka is expected to mirror the success of Adele who, only four years after winning the award herself in 2008, has become arguably the biggest female star on Earth. Whilst Home Again is a very moving album with impressive vocals and several catchy tunes, it at times seems to lack that spark that characterised Adele’s debut album, 19.Tell Me a Tale features memorable violin sections and an upbeat hook andI’m Getting Ready is a beautiful, calming melody, almost reminiscent of classic 1970s American soul. The songs mix instruments and vocals nicely and there are some genuinely enjoyable sounds that sometimes put a smile on your face and sometimes send a shiver down your spine. Despite this, the feeling can’t be helped that once the novelty of a decent British male soul singer has worn off, Kiwanuka will be relatively forgotten, many songs on the album sounding too similar and becoming tiresome after the first listen or two.

Star Rating: ***



Next week: Sonik Kicks by Paul Weller

‘The Blind Assassin’: A Review

By Louisa Stark


I read Margaret Atwood’s Booker-winning ‘The Blind Assassin’ for the first time at the beginning of the year and it has been on my mind ever since. 

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Spanning the 20th century, the novel focuses on the character of Iris Chase as she remembers her childhood and the circumstances leading up to her sister’s untimely death, ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.’ From this first sentence the reader is sent on an inextricable journey in pursuit of the truth, driven by ‘loss and regret and misery and yearning’.  Atwood seamlessly and dextrously weaves together four threads into a panoramic tapestry, unrolled chapter by chapter;  through newspaper cutting’s, flashbacks and a story within a story, the reader gradually pieces together the plot with its intriguing twist, which Atwood teases 'But you must have known that for some time'.  Despite such a dramatic set-up, the ending is tragic in so simple a way that I surprised myself by sobbing huge tears into the final page.
At times, some characters can appear one dimensional: ‘bad’  Richard seems to have no more substance or motives than an ominous shadow cast over events and even Laura can seem distant and difficult to empathize with. Yet, it is the protagonist, with all her faults, who truly engages the reader and we are left feeling that although it is Laura’s tragedy, the story very much belongs to Iris.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Does what we wear affect how we think?

by Bea Wilkinson 

Most of us are aware that the way in which we dress affects how others perceive us, but new research suggests that our clothing also has an effect on our own thoughts and abilities.

Used without rights, source:
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A recent study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky tested this theory. 58 students took part in the well known Stroop Test (a test where the participant is asked to read out a list of colours, but the ink colour of the word must be named, not the written colour – e.g. the word red may be written in blue ink, and participants have to read the correct word without allowing themselves to be confused by the print colour.)

29 participants took the test wearing normal clothes, and 29 participants wore white lab coats to complete the test. The participants wearing lab coats did markedly better than the participants wearing their own clothes, making 50% less errors in the Stroop Test.

Next, Adam and Galinsky wanted to test their idea that the success shown in the tests depends on the symbolic meaning of the clothes as well as actually wearing them. Participants were asked to complete sustained attention tests which involved spotting out differences between two almost identical images.

So, exercise DOES make you use up fat – didn’t we know this before…?

Better than coffee (Image: Jacom Stephens/Getty Images) 
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by James Smith

Well, it’s official. Just one hour of exercise alters your genes to allow an increased breakdown of fat. According to New Scientist, Members of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, looked for the addition of a methyl group to genes in muscle cells – during exercise. Hence, to do this they had to biopsy thigh muscles from 8 men who led sedentary lives before and after exercise. Under the microscope (figuratively) they found that several of the genes involved in fat metabolism had been demethylated to which previously a methyl group had attached. Demethylation allows greater ease in protein synthesis.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Health and Social Care Bill

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by Andy Jones

The controversial Health and Social Care Bill has become a seeming quagmire for the Government, with a well publicised opposition campaign which has thrown up barrier after barrier. The central focus on promoting competition within the NHS is one which Labour openly opposes. Most recently in the on going saga, Nick Clegg has promised serious changes to the Bill, however a serious question is what is it about promoting competition that has made the Bill so unpopular? Competition has been the central concern raised by those opposed to the Bill, leading many, such as the Royal College of GP's, to call on the Government to reject the Bill. Andrew Lansley recently defended competition by suggesting that competition based on quality would be the best way to improve the NHS. This view is not however shared by all, with the Junior Doctors committee criticising the aim of the Bill to intensify competition. But really, is it seriously about competition or is it that the beloved NHS is too precious to tamper with. The introduction of competition is not something new, indeed the last Labour administration used competition to great effect to promote choice and competition. So why then is there such a strong degree of opposition? The NHS has become a defining symbol of Britain, an aspect which many have tried and failed to emulate in their own countries most notably in America, with Obama care. This love has however, made us as a society reluctant in some ways to introduce change even though some aspects may be of genuine benefit. Whatever the reason for opposition to the Bill it is clear that it will continue to be a heart ache for the Government for some time to come.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Heraclitus (C.535-472 BC)

Julia Alsop continues her exploration of early metaphysical philosophers with Heraclitus.

In my second article following the development of metaphysical philosophy we look to Heraclitus, and his theories that everything is constantly changing; in a permanent state of flux as such.

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Heraclitus was a native of a Greek city on the Asia Minor coast called Ephesus and came from a well-distinguished family. Like many early philosophers, we know very little about his early life – only that he regarded himself to be a self-taught “pioneer of wisdom. He lives a lonely life – and spent his days, full of contempt for humankind, contemplating  - he was often known as the "Weeping Philosopher".

Heraclitus saw explanations for the physical nature of the cosmos as being governed by a divine logos ( logos is the principle of reason and judgment), as opposed to seeking more scientific explanations like other earlier Greek metaphysicists. He saw it as a universal, cosmic law – from which all things come into existence, and hold the universe in balance. This is shown in the balancing of opposites – day and night, hot and cold – which he believed led to a certain unity in the universe, or made from a single process or substance, a view central to monism.

Max Jewell's Top Ten Films

Max Jewell lists his top 10 favorite films of all time:

As a film obsessive and a ‘two time award winning director’, something I enjoy bragging about, I feel as though I am well placed to pronounce and, ultimately decide which are the greatest 10 films ever made.

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10. Fight Club 1999 (David Fincher) – As with all great works of art this film was not properly appreciated initially. Indeed, the esteemed and peretempory critic Roger Ebert claimed the film was a mere ‘a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy’ and whilst ‘enjoyed by many’ it was not by him.  Yet Mr Ebert has totally misunderstood the film. The beauty of the film is in the subtlety of its philosophical, deeply anti-consumerist, sub plot that it is intrinsically woven into the fabric of the picture. Unlike the utter self-indulgent nonsense that is Terrence Malick’s existentialist and thoroughly stolid Tree of Life, Fincher imbues, what is ostensibly a ‘thrill ride’ with a complex subplot and, perhaps, the greatest twist in cinematic history. Edward Norton’s rejection of the monotenous banality of society, descending into animalistic depravity owes much to Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey and Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde with the allegory being totally missed. If you are the moron that Roger Ebert clearly thinks everyone who enjoyed this is, you’ll be aware that the ‘thrills’, often violent in nature, are by no means gratuitous and are, by contrast, tasteful and clever.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen

Wrecking Ball is George Neame's first five star album.

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17 studio albums in and Bruce Springsteen is no longer proving to the globe that he is a world-class musician. He is instead simply cementing his place among the greatest rock stars on Earth. Although it is clear that Wrecking Ball is unlikely to spawn hits of a similar grandeur as his earlier albums like Born in the U.S.A., all songs on the album are distinctly Springsteen. Opener We Take Care of Our Own features classic guitar chords and a sing-along chorus, with a repetitive beat that really makes you want to move your feet. The pace of the album does not slow down though, Springsteen rattling off a series of potential singles. Half way through the album, title track Wrecking Ball lulls you into a false sense of security, beginning with a slow Southern ballad, before Springsteen unleashes his full talent and transforms an acoustic tune into a truly epic, stadium-destroying anthem. Finally, the album finishes on a metaphorical high note with American Land, likely to leave you wanting even more. Wrecking Ball is, essentially, just proof that ‘The Boss’ really can be deemed one of America’s greatest ever rock stars whose legacy, it seems, is endless.

Star Rating: *****

 
Next week: Home Again by Michael Kiwanuka