Monday, 30 April 2012

Is "Obamacare" doomed?

by Stephen Dunne

Image source: cdn.aarp.net
When Obama was elected, four years ago, as President, or even ‘Leader of the Free World’, many people, including myself, were eager to see if he would, or even could, live up to the promises made during the campaign trail. After disappointment after disappointment over many issues such as the budget deficit, Guantanamo Bay and the economy, what has been proclaimed as the crowning achievement of his presidency thus far is the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka ‘Obamacare’.
Providing health coverage to another 30 million people, leaving only a tiny proportion of Americans without healthcare and requiring private insurance companies to provide this insurance at affordable rates, the bill was hailed as one of the most successful reforms of America for a generation; it succeeded where Bill Clinton’s had failed in the early 1990s, and, therefore, has been apportioned its due controversy as a result of its colossal impact. However, despite the USA being the nation of liberty, issues over this bill will not be decided by the people (who arguably voted for the policy when they elected President Obama), but by six men and three women in one room in Washington D.C. – the United States Supreme Court.
Between March 26th-28th 2012, the Court heard six hours of oral arguments over the legislation after 26 states and innumerable organisations, and individuals challenged the bill as being unconstitutional. Four federal appeal courts have already ruled on this topic: two upheld the bill, one said that it was beyond the jurisdiction of the court and another held aspects of the bill unconstitutional. But all these rulings are worthless in the light of the opinion the Supreme Court will produce (currently presumed to be announced before the end of June). But if held unconstitutional, unlike its spiritual predecessor ‘Hilarycare’ which was declared “dead” in 1994 after Republicans seized Congress away from Democrat Bill Clinton, ‘Obamacare’ will not have been defeated by Congress and its elected members, rather the judiciary.  

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Portsmouth Point Poetry: Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

by George Laver


A VALEDICTION: FORBIDDING MOURNING. 

by John Donne

AS virtuous men pass mildly away, 
And whisper to their souls to go, 
Whilst some of their sad friends do say, 
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No." 
So let us melt, and make no noise, 
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ; 
'Twere profanation of our joys 
To tell the laity our love. 
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ; 
Men reckon what it did, and meant ; 
But trepidation of the spheres, 
Though greater far, is innocent. 
Dull sublunary lovers' love 
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit 
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove 
The thing which elemented it. 
But we by a love so much refined, 
That ourselves know not what it is, 
Inter-assurèd of the mind, 
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss. 
Our two souls therefore, which are one, 
Though I must go, endure not yet 
A breach, but an expansion, 
Like gold to aery thinness beat. 
If they be two, they are two so 
As stiff twin compasses are two ; 
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show 
To move, but doth, if th' other do. 
And though it in the centre sit, 
Yet, when the other far doth roam, 
It leans, and hearkens after it, 
And grows erect, as that comes home. 
Such wilt thou be to me, who must, 
Like th' other foot, obliquely run ; 
Thy firmness makes my circle just, 
And makes me end where I begun.

[1611]



This fortnight, Mrs Kirby has kindly recommended a work by John Donne (between 24th January and 19th June 1572 – 31st March 1631) dating from the year 1611, written in the midst of a major stylistic transition in his works. Fellow IB English students will of course be familiar with this poem since Donne’s poetry forms a major component of the current course, but I hope that others find the piece enjoyable and interesting as well.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Levon Helm: A Tribute

by Emma Bell



Levon Helm, who died on April 19th, 2012, was one of the most authentic voices in American music. Possessed of a voice as 'down home' as cornbread and grits, Levon was a native of Arkansas who played music from an early age, winning talent shows and impressing with his ability as a multi -instrumentalist.


After working steadily in Canada and New York, he found himself rocketed to fame as the drummer and singer in The Band, backing Bob Dylan on the fabled album' The Basement Tapes'. After that, The Band lived together in a large, pink house in upstate New York and, in 1968, created their debut album, 'Music from Big Pink'. Their music melded soul, country, r&b, gospel and impeccable harmonic singing. This was indeed sensational and innovative. Bands and artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention, Elton John and Eric Clapton felt its influence.

"In 1968 . . . the country was coming apart at the seams. Nothing was holding, least of all Mr. Yeats's center. There were tanks in Prague and there was blood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. The traditional American values of home and family and neighborhood were being fashioned into cheap weapons to use against the people who saw the death and gore as the deepest kind of betrayal of the ideals that made those values worth a damn in the first place . . . Then, Capitol released 'Music from Big Pink'. It didn't sound like anything on the radio. It didn't sound like anything on earth . . . It was a summoning of the idea of the American community, which has never been about conformity, either to fashion or to the politics of the moment . . . (it) made you realize that there was an America worth the effort of finding, that there was a country to which it was worth coming home . . ." 'Levon Helm: The Real Voice of America' by Charles P. Pierce

The Band played their farewell concert in 1976 and were immortalised doing so in Martin Scorsese's documentary film, 'The Last Waltz' (see video above).

Friday, 27 April 2012

Against The Fanatics

One rule for the Bullingdon Boys, another for everyone else?
(image source: onaquietday.org)
by Michael Roderick

There are very few things that all human cultures have in common. Human nature is, despite the varied attempts to prove otherwise, remarkably inconsistent and often contradictory. Societies are not always hierarchical, as was once assumed, nor does currency, even in its most varied forms, exist in all cultures. I won’t go into all the finery of the detail here, but I would happily refer the reader to the works of  anthropologists Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malinowski for the minutiae of human distinction and difference. One does not, however, have to be the most academic observer of our species to note that there are certain characteristics that achieve the near-universal. Religion is the obvious one; a stubborn element of the superstitious and the supernatural will exist in all societies whether primitive, pre-industrial, industrial or post-historical.

Perhaps the other is our natural inclination towards hydroxyethane; that miraculous substance which takes the various pseudonyms of ethanol or alcohol. There is a marvelous yet infrequently taught theory which suggests that human civilization began as a result of this affinity; we began tending our fields, establishing our fixed abodes and growing our crops that we might ferment it, and enjoy the fruits of our labors more easily. Thus was agriculture! Thus was civilization! Bread? Why, this was a mere side-product, a useful accident which also happened to be rather fruitful for human nutrition. Whether or not this theory has any substance is inconsequential; what we know is that virtually all human cultures have developed, enjoyed and been immeasurably transformed.

Bo Jo: Four More Years!

by William Wallace


Four years ago, Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London. He defeated Ken Livingstone and received over one million votes, giving him the largest personal mandate of any politician in British history. In the space of four years, he has achieved what Ken couldn't in eight. Boris has kept the promises he made in 2008, yet Ken failed to deliver the key pledges he had made during his mayoralty, most notably being Ken’s election promise to keep council tax down. During his time as mayor, council tax rose by 152%. Boris however has stuck to his word and frozen council tax. It seems that this election is all about trust: who can be trusted to deliver the change that London still needs? The mayor who didn't deliver during his two terms? Or the mayor who has delivered in his one term? The decision for Londoners is clear. 

Boris Johnson (or ‘Bo Jo’ as some dub him) inherited a pretty dodgy situation in City Hall. There was waste, bureaucracy and inefficiency – let alone rising crime, a failing transport system and broken communities.  Boris has made City Hall more accountable and transparent by cutting pointless vanity projects set up by Ken, and by publishing administrative payments. Boris has tackled crime by deploying one thousand more police than there were than in 2008, and by investing £132m into the Metropolitan Police; the results are definitely something to boast about: overall crime down by 10.8%, robberies down by 16.3%, murders down by 25.9%, youth crime down by 13.8%, bus crime down by 32.9% and tube crime down by 20% (making the London Underground the safest metro system in Europe). Boris has financed the Tube’s biggest upgrade on record, introduced a cycle hire scheme across the city and replaced the bendy bus with the much-loved Routemaster.

Last Saturday, I was at the Conservative Campaign HQ in Millbank, London.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Dawn of the ‘Blockbuster’ Exhibition

by Louisa Stark
Lucian Freud, Self-Portrait
(image source: magazine.macs-salon.co.)
I had intended to review Lucian Freud’s retrospective, yet initially upon arriving at the National Portrait Gallery the sheer number of people attending was its most striking aspect.  Following in the footsteps of Leonardo Da Vinci at the national gallery,  David Hockney at the Royal Academy, Picasso at the Tate Britain and most recently Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern, this show takes its place among a series of heavily billed and hugely popular new events, which can only be described as ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions.  After abandoning the enormous queue in turbine hall for tickets to Damien Hirst, I found myself surrounded by yet more people as I clutched my pre-booked ticket for Lucian Freud and waited till the 4 o’clock wave was allowed to surge passed the control barriers.  Curating has become an exercise in crowd control.  Such public enthusiasm for art is undoubtedly a delightful sight, but I couldn’t help wondering whether this was just one more event to tick-off a list, rather than genuine interest in one of the greatest realist painters of the 20th Century…

The phenomenon of the ‘blockbuster’ exhibition has seen tickets fly off the self at astonishing speeds; some being so sought after that instead of paying a meagre £12 admission fee, you may find yourself contemplating bidding £200 over the internet.  Or even, waiting outside a gallery at an absurd hour hoping to grasp one of a handful of tickets released daily.  Despite the precautions of timed entry and a limited number of tickets, there are still enough crowds to make the experience an uncomfortable one; it seems impossible to enjoy and contemplate a piece of work whilst craning your neck to see past the spectator in front of you.  Although perhaps some people attend simply so they can say so, the feverish hype surrounding these exhibitions indicates a desire to see and be moved by real art, in an age dominated by digital media.
Once I had jostled my way to the front of the masses though, I could have been anywhere, so absorbing is Freud’s work.   

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Does the rise of "Captain Peroxide" signal "Merkozy"'s Fall?

by Max Jewell

Image source: welt.de

While writing his autobiography, ‘Marked for Death’, Geert Wilders probably wouldn’t have expected the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, to feature on the list of people wishing him harm. Yet, following the collapse of Rutte’s government on Monday, after the unofficial coalition partners in Wilders' PVV (Party for Freedom) stormed out of austerity talks, one wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rutte wasn’t at least a little irked by the obdurate Wilders. Yet what is to become of the Netherlands now the government has fully atrophied and the country has been impelled into an election?

What is almost certain is that Geert Wilder’s brand of ‘Islamoscepticism’ is on the rise in the Netherlands. Indeed it is even more likely that the PVV will, once again, hold the balance of power in the Staten Generaal after the election in a manner akin to their phenomenal electoral performance in 2010 which saw them win 16% of the vote and 24 seats. These gains were seemingly perpetuated in 2011 when the Partij voor de Vrijheid won a preponderance of seats in the provinces, rising from 0 to 69 thus representing the highest gains of any party, eviscerating the ruling VVD.

The prognosis is certainly good for Wilders.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Blunderbuss by Jack White

by Ben Schofield 


Copyright 2012, Third Man Records

With the release of Blunderbuss Jack White marks a cornerstone of his career. His first solo album steps away from everything he’s done before, towards an uncertain future; on the surface littered with predatory women and weak, socially ill-adjusted men, this isn’t a celebration of love, but a withering remark on it’s betrayal by the people of the 21st century. The album comes straight from the heart of Tennessee but it can’t be pinned down musically. One moment, soul aching blues, another, pure furious angsty rock, and as a man who was practically breastfed on punk before turning to blues, Jack does angst well.

The first thing you notice when you listen to the album is the tortuous descriptions of the sufferings laid upon the subservient male characters. “Cut off the bottoms of my feet/Made me walk on salt/Take me down to the police/Charge me with assault/Smile on her face/She does what she wants to me” So goes the opening verse of “Freedom at 21” asymmetrically spat over a ferocious, repetitive riff, reminiscent of “Seven Nation Army”, add to a backdrop of speeding drums, produced by an ingenious tape echo of the original recording, and you’ve got a hit. In keeping with his affectations towards the number three perhaps he has intentionally placed the most powerful song third. The third verse, within which White, cuts everything down to the bare minimum, stripping this album to it’s core moment. Jack White III lyrically rapping the accusatory stanza in one ear, while the guitar thunders in the other. It’s his best moment by far.

Of course in the past year the great gentlemanly Jack has seen plenty of troubles with the women in his life. The first single from the album, “Love Interruption”, was released two days before the one year anniversary of the White Stripes split which left many fans (including the reviewer) bereft. In June of 2011 White also went through a divorce from his partner Karen Elson; however the couple have remained good friends. Miss Elson has remained on Third Man Records, the record label of which Jack White is CEO and founder, as a recording artist and has even sung backing vocals on three songs from side two of the album. However in the bouncing blues ballroom number “I’m Shakin‘”, written by Rudolph Toombs, it is perhaps poignant in the way White delivers the line “Samson was a mighty good man, strongest in his day” before Elson comes back with “Then along came Delilah and clipped his wig”.

As a man who performs well under constraints, limiting himself to just guitar piano and drums in The White Stripes, often forcing himself to record a whole album in two weeks, I was uncertain as to whether Blunderbuss could ever live up to the past. But that wasn’t the point of this album, it wasn’t to live up to the past, or to recreate it, it was to step away, and make the album that he always wanted to make. As he puts it himself in “On and On and On”, “The people around me/Won’t let me become what I need to/They want me the same”. Letting go of the past, this is a great album, it isn’t ground-breaking, it isn’t quite awe inspiring, but it is great. There’s something timeless about the songs which leaves you feeling almost as though you’d heard them before but just never before in that way. “And men who fight the world/And love the girls that try to/Hold their hands behind them/they won’t be left behind by time” and neither will this album.

Rating: *****

Blunderbuss by Portsmouth Point on Grooveshark

Mind Over Music?


by George Neame

Music is one of the few things that has always been embedded deep into human nature, in a similar way to art. ‘It’s an explosive expression of humanity’ claims pianist Billy Joel;  It can be used as an expression of the artist’s innermost emotions and the way it is interpreted can reveal even more about the listener’s personality. But what is it about certain songs that induce such extreme emotions from us?

Through countless hours studying the use of alliteration, assonance, sibilance and onomatopoeia, any English student will tell you that sounds have dramatic effects on the readers of poetry, novels, or even those who listen to a play performed on-stage. When we listen closely to some songs, we begin to notice that the sounds produced by the singers are often reflective of the moods they are trying to convey. This is evident in Biffy Clyro’s song God & Satan, the stressed ‘s’ noises in ‘when the see-saw snaps and splinters your hand’ creating a relaxed and calming atmosphere designed to make the listener feel the song as it is supposed to be felt.

Not only is this apparent in lyrics though, but sounds created by instruments can also lead us to feel a certain way about the song. Beats that imitate natural noises such as waves or laughter can both brighten our mood or darken it. Teardrop by Massive Attack features an ongoing, repetitive drum beat that mimics that of the human heart and in doing so begins to put us in a tranquil state as it is so comforting to hear; the sound of a heartbeat is, after all, wired into us and is the most inherently reassuring noise to humans since it is the first we ever hear.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Hollande versus Sarkozy: who will win?

Hollande (left) and Sarkozy (right) meet on the campaign trail
(image source: bonjourparis.com)
by George Hope

As expected, socialist candidate Francois Hollande edged out Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of voting in the 2012 French Election. Monsieur Sarkozy becomes the first president to lose in the first round, acquiring 27.1% of the vote to Hollande's 28.6%. Though it is by no means over (in two weeks time the French electorate will go back to the polling stations and will this time choose between just the two aforementioned candidates), it seems likely that Hollande will become France's first socialist President since Mitterand who held office from 1981-1995.

It is interesting that the more extremist candidates, Marine Le Pen (18.1%) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (11.1%), between them gained more votes that either Hollande or Sarkozy showing the growing discontent among vast numbers of voters. With such a large section of the electorate opting for Le Pen, it is essential that Sarkozy wins over the far right voters - this seems his only realistic chance in the second round, whereas Hollande can, and almost certainly will, appeal to the centre and the centre-left.

Marine Le Pen (see link to article below) managed to gain more votes than her father did in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen was able to come second in the first round, only to be beaten comfortably in the second by Jacques Chirac. It will be seen as a positive that at each election, the vote for the Front National seems to be ever-increasing. She told her supporters that this is "only the start" and went on to imply that in the years to come, the Front National will pose more of a threat to the left than the UMP (Sarkozy's party).

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hackers: Narwhals

The first in our series of works from members of Hackers, PGS's creative writing community:


Image source: worldculturepictorial.com


Narwhals
               They rest under a frozen mirror, cracked
Watch as above a twisted spear rises
               Bastardization of nature
The gnarled handler sits uneasily in a resting palm

               wait now,
the time will come
               Majestic, cresting, crashing through the waves
Lord of the sea, lord of ye rises,
               not an arms length away
stay steady
               get a shot, prised, perfected, that’s all there ever is
One shot

               The ripples of the hunt play below the surface
Dancing for recognition
               Quick
stay still,
               Move,
wait,
               Sweep with the fragile horn to safety
Stay and hope and pray
               Live another day
chill yet again.

                                                                              Ben Schofield

Saturday, 21 April 2012

In Defence of Michael Bay

Image source: movie-list.com

James Smith responds to Max Jewell's recent critique of Michael Bay's oeuvre (link below)
Before I begin, I must point out that I am not saying Michael Bay is a brilliant director. He has made some absolute stinkers (Pearl Harbour, full of historical errors and rightly derided).  And yet there are certainly much worse directors (Madonna, the ones who made Vampires Suck and Meet the Spartans, and Paul W. S. Anderson, the man who brought us The Three Musketeers (2011 version) and the godawfully, hilariously bad Resident Evil Afterlife that I enjoyed for all the wrong reasons; Anderson is a man who can’t direct OR write).
On Friday, 13th April Max Jewell argued that Michael Bay's his brain should be donated to science (see belo). In that vein, we would lose one of Hollywood’s best (stretching that description to its maximum limit) and most famous blockbuster directors. Seriously, who else could have fitted together the incoherent plot that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and made a massive enough profit to add a third to the trilogy? I hugely enjoyed two of his movies: Armageddon and The Island. Armageddon presents the interesting idea of how the world might defend itself against an asteroid the size of Texas, even though it is scientifically impossible: drill a hole only 800m in an asteroid with a diameter of 6 miles, break it in half and save the world. Ummm… Then The Island, which is definitely an intelligent look at the ethics of clones, although the critics weren’t too keen on it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Past, Present and Future of US Space Exploration

Space Shuttle Discovery orbiting Earth (source: topnews.net)

by Jeremy Thomas

Seven pupils from PGS have recently had a unique, first-hand opportunity to consider this issue, during an Easter holiday visit to the USA. They visited Johnson and Kennedy Space Centres, as well as Rice University in Houston, and met a whole host of top people in the US space industry. Amongst these were Jay Honeycutt, former director of Kennedy Space Centre; Bill Crawford who is CBS News’s Space Consultant; and a number of astronauts who have flown on the Space Shuttle or lived on the International Space Station.

Anyone visiting Kennedy Space Flight Centre and taking a tour of the Historic Launch Pads cannot fail to be gripped by the pioneer spirit and heroism of the early days of US space exploration. Concrete bunkers housing launch controllers stood only yards from the launch pads, where astronauts Al Shepherd and Gus Grissom sat, alone in tiny capsules strapped to the top of barely modified ballistic missiles. Shepherd’s flight, lasting only 45minutes, was a gut reaction by the US only three weeks after Yuri Gagarin had put the Soviets ahead in the ‘Space Race’. It should not be forgotten that Cape Canaveral itself is an Air Force station, home of the 45th Space Wing and that much of the work done there was, and still is, linked to testing ballistic missiles and launching military surveillance and communication satellites. Much evidence of the Cold War era still remains.

At Kennedy we also had a very special encounter with the Space Shuttle ‘Discovery’, inside the Vehicle Assembly Building for the very last time, before being flown to a permanent home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.  

Leucippus (5th century BCE) and Democritus (C.460-371)

Leucippus 
Julia Alsop continues her exploration of early metaphysical philosophers

This article is a little different to my previous metaphysics posts – it covers two metaphysicists together, because these two evolutionary theorists worked alongside each other, similarly considering theories.

Little is known about Leucippus, although it is deemed likely that he was from Miletus, like first metaphysical thinker Thales. More is known about Democritus, from Abdera in Greece, who had written around seventy books, although none survive today – but were written about by Epicurus later, he died at a very old age.


Now, Leucippus and Democritus made huge steps into ideas which are very similar to our knowledge today – they theorized that everything was made up of tiny, indivisible particles, which they referred to as atomos, the greek for “atoms” – sound familiar?

Anyway, they further claimed that empty spaces separated out these atoms and they moved freely. While free, they collided and formed new arrangements of atoms and allowed objects to appear to change around us. They believed that there were an infinite number of atoms, however the number of combinations of alignment is only finite, and hence there is only apparently a certain amount of substances in existence. This logic suggested that when we died, for example, atoms of bodies moved away, dispersed and were reformed elsewhere.

This theory, known as atomism, was considered outlandishly bold, but offered the first full, atheist, mechanistic explanation of the universe, and many crucial parts of our knowledge of matter has been developed around this, and revolutionized our knowledge of metaphysical possibilities.


See other articles in the series:

http://portsmouthpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/parmenides-c515-445bce.html

http://portsmouthpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/heraclitus-c535-472-bc.html

http://portsmouthpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/thales-c624-546-bce.html

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Nature or nurture? A real-life experiment

by Beatrice Wilkinson 
Twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Shelin (image: Daily Telegraph)
As part of my psychology AS level, I am exploring aspects of the nature/nurture debate that is so prevalent in our society today and also extremely important in helping us understand how our bodies and minds work. On the 28th of March, I travelled up to London with my classmates to hear various talks given by psychologists including Dr Philip Zimbardo.
It was all fascinating, but I found this particular story especially so.
Paula Bernstein and Elyse Shelin are identical twins, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1968. They were separately adopted as part of an experiment which aimed to discover how identical twins would react to being raised in different family backgrounds – how this would affect characteristics such as looks and personality.  Neither set of adoptive parents were aware of the study. They didn’t even know that their adopted daughter had been born a twin.
The girls grew up happily, and it wasn’t until 2003 when Elyse Schein contacted the agency to try and uncover some details about her birth.
"I received a letter that said: 'You were born on 9th October 1968 at 12.51 pm, the younger of twin girls.' It was unbelievable.”
When the agency contacted Elyse's newly discovered sister Paula, the two women arranged to meet in a cafe in New York.
"Walking every step to that cafe felt momentous," says Paula. "I felt like this is it. From now on my life will forever be different."

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Scientists say only five years left to save the Earth

Source: digitaljournal.com


by Andrew Jones
The moment is coming, when humanity oversteps the mark, walks out into the unknown, a point of no return. The fragility of the world means that our oil addiction can only be tolerated for so long. However, when will our damage to the environment become irreversible and our efforts to reverse it futile? Only in 2009, the United States was consuming oil at a rate of around 18.69 million barrels per day, a rate which is fast becoming unsustainable. So at what point can humanity close the taps and still manage to repair the damage which we have inflicted on the world over these past two hundred years?

Alan Weissman’s book The World Without Us offers a great insight into humanity's effects on the world and how long it will take for them to be reversed. The average human house, in a moderate temperate climate, would take around 500 years to be demolished, save for only a few metallic items which could withstand the corrosion. If, however, we continue to consume, burn and waste the planets resources, how long would it take before the planet became permanently damaged? The scientist who created the Gaia Theory, Professor James Lovelock, believes that our impact may soon cause the planet's life-sustaining environment to work against us. In fact he has concluded that the moment has already passed and that humanity's impact will never be reversed. A bleak outlook if it is proved correct as he has argued that civilisation is now unlikely to survive due to climate change. Indeed our impact is seemingly not just confined to the climate, as Professor Bob Watson has warned that biodiversity is fast approaching this point of no return.

Trying desperately to look for a positive result on Google, the best I could find was a warning by the IEA that humanity has only five years before the point of no return arrives.  

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

California 37 by Train


Review by George Neame

Copyright 2012, Columbia Records
Formed in San Francisco in 1994, Train have received widespread praise from critics from day one. However it was only really with 2009’s single ‘Hey Soul Sister’ that the band gained significant commercial success, particularly in the UK. ‘California 37’ begins with slightly tiresome opener ‘This’ll Be My Year’, which features the catchy guitar and drum beats of a huge rock epic reminiscent of the band Journey, name-dropped at the beginning of each chorus. Despite this, the verses are dull and the lyrics weak and boring. Picking up the pace a little, lead single ‘Drive By’ shows much more passion and originality, moving swiftly from acoustic strum to pop-rock chant with ease and confidence. The rest of the album is a similar story of hit-and-miss tunes, some unique and memorable, others sounding a little like Train were beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel when recording to make the album complete. One song that does show what Train can do when they put their mind to it though is ‘Bruises’, a duet with upcoming female pop star Ashley Monroe. A harmonious melody is topped by a tuneful mixture of male and female vocals to create a song that sounds a little like classic country or Americana. Overall though, ‘California 37’ seems quite haphazardly put together and is just a little to ordinary, not advancing into much new territory, even though some songs are definitely worth a listen.

The New Face of Fascism?

by George Hope (featured in the Spring 2012 print edition of Portsmouth Point)


“Patriotism is loving your country; nationalism is hating others.” - General de Gaulle 

The Front National (or Front National pour Unite Francaise) is a political party in France, founded in 1972 by Jean- Marie Le Pen. Le Pen, a politician of the extreme right, was succeeded as leader by his daughter, Marine Le Pen in January 2011. How did the Front National start? It was the invention of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who wanted to unite all traditions and opinions of the hard right. It is worth noting that there has always been a conservative party in France, but the Front National is not the same, it has a more extreme agenda. The first manifestations came from the Third Republic. After having lost Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, revenge had become an important factor. Similar to Nazism, certain people in society are deemed scape-goats, particularly Jews.

It goes without saying that in previous elections, the number of votes for Le Pen or his daughter has increased. In the Presidential Election of 1995, 15% of votes were for the Front National (more than 4.5 million people). However, the biggest success came in 2002, when the party received 4,804,713 votes (almost 17%). In France the system used for presidential elections is different to the UK. It is known as second ballot. The electorate votes for who it wants to be president. The two candidates who receive the most votes enter the second stage. And there is another vote. The candidate who wins the most votes wins. In the first stage, 19.88% voted for Jacques Chirac (representing the Ressemblement pour la Republique), 16.86% for Jean-Marie Le Pen and 16.18% for Lionel Jospin (socialist candidate). It is interesting that after the first stage, Chirac refused to debate on television with Le Pen. It is quite rare for the second stage to be contested between two right-wing candidates - and the result? Chirac won easily. Today, the Front National is led by the daughter of Jean-Marie, Marine Le Pen. In March 2011, The Guardian revealed that according to a survey by Le Parisien, Marine Le Pen is more popular than Nicolas Sarkozy. But why is it that the Front National is perhaps more popular now than ever before?

Can the most unpopular president in French history still win?

by George Hope
Caricatures of the four main French presidential candidates (source: Daily Telegraph)

Espressos are being drunk by the gallon throughout France’s infamous cafes as the French people discuss the possible outcome of the 2012 French election. Abstentions seem inevitable, because a large disillusioned minority seem determined not to vote for Sarkozy but point out at the same time that they would never vote for a socialist either. The Telegraph reported on 15th April that Nicolas Sarkozy is now the most unpopular President in France’s history, but despite this, he is tipped to reach the second tour. In the French system, if there is no outright majority winner, the nation is asked to revote – this time only the two highest performing candidates from the first round take part. But it is at this stage that the political peine capitale or capital punishment could occur for Sarkozy, as it is predicted that François Hollande (who promotes a 75% tax on the income of earners over €1 million) will sweep him away to become the new Président de la République française.
As for third place – not that it really matters – it looks as though it’s going to be an acrimonious battle between Marine Le Pen of Le Front National, who states her ambition is to reach the second round as her father did (only to be defeated by Jacques Chirac with ease) and surprise-card Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who sits on the opposite side of the spectrum to Le Pen. Mélenchon rallied support of 120,000 in Marseille on Saturday 14th, and it is he and Le Pen who will show, for better or worse, the discontent among the French people of centralist politics and the status quo.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Breathtaking Beauty of Granada

by Lucy Cole

Alhambra Palace, Granada (source: tqn.com)
 Granada. Arguably one of the most intriguing, historical and beautiful cities in the world, this was the last of all the Spanish cities to be conquered from the Arabs by the Catholic forces in 1492, not by force, but by hunger as the enemy waited outside the Alhambra, unable to overcome its incredible defences and thus resorting to siege warfare. One famous Spanish quote derives from the moment when Boabdil – the last Arab king – and his mother, Aixa, walked over ‘el suspiro del moro’ (the sigh of the moor), the last hill from which you are able to view La Alhambra as you travel south of Granada towards Africa; Boabdil was crying from the loss of his country, and his mother turned to him and stated - “Llora como mujer lo que no supiste defender como un hombre” ‘he cries like a woman who could not defend like a man’. A cruel, and yet undeniably beautiful phrase.

It is in this city, with its labyrinth of streets, rich culture and of course incredible historic architecture, that I chose to pass two precious weeks of my Easter holiday in a language school, attempting to improve my mediocre Spanish into the beautiful and flowing language I have so often heard on my travels to Spain. Whilst I fear it is unlikely that I will achieve this, so far my time here has been invaluable. Last week, while the children of England sat at home in anticipation of the mountain of chocolate they hoped to receive on Easter Sunday, here the week of Christ’s death and resurrection were celebrated in a distinctly different way! La Semana Santa, or ‘Holy Week’, would seem an unimaginable occurrence in England; as thousands of people line the streets of Granada every day, they delight and mourn in the events that take place. Each procession is representative of the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection and every one is unique, characterised by its costumes and statues, undeniably stunning in its tradition and its simple significance. I was struck by the incredible unity of all those who gathered to watch, present either for their faith, to enjoy the beauty of the procession (especially at night), or even just to revel in the tradition of their city and their ancestors. Living in a country where arguably the last thing that truly brought the British people together was the Royal Wedding, this ancient tradition fascinated me. There is something incredible about the ability of one thing to include and bring together a whole country for a week every single year (although I do believe perhaps that England’s failure to take to the streets in celebration may have something to do with our ever unpredictable weather, something over which the Spanish have an unfair advantage!)
However, although it was a dominant feature in the last week to say the least, La Semana Santa is not the only Spanish culture that I have had the pleasure of experiencing.  

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Portsmouth Point Poetry: The Wild Swans at Coole

Review by George Laver


The Wild Swans at Coole

THE trees are in their autumn beauty, 
The woodland paths are dry, 
Under the October twilight the water 
Mirrors a still sky; 
Upon the brimming water among the stones 
Are nine-and-fifty Swans. 

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me 
Since I first made my count; 
I saw, before I had well finished, 
All suddenly mount 
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings 
Upon their clamorous wings. 

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, 
And now my heart is sore. 
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight, 
The first time on this shore, 
The bell-beat of their wings above my head, 
Trod with a lighter tread. 

Unwearied still, lover by lover, 
They paddle in the cold 
Companionable streams or climb the air; 
Their hearts have not grown old; 
Passion or conquest, wander where they will, 
Attend upon them still. 

But now they drift on the still water, 
Mysterious, beautiful; 
Among what rushes will they build, 
By what lake's edge or pool 
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day 
To find they have flown away? 

By William Butler Yeats [1917]


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Commemorating the Titanic

A range of responses commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of The Titanic:

The New Yorker: Overshadowing everything is the problem of money and class. The Titanic’s story irresistibly reads as a parable about a gilded age in which death was anything but democratic, as was made clear by a notorious statistic: of the men in first class—who paid as much as four thousand three hundred and fifty dollars for a one-way fare at a time when the average annual household income in the U.S. was eight hundred dollars—the percentage of survivors was roughly the same as that of children in third class: 
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/04/16/120416fa_fact_mendelsohn#ixzz1ruC8uls6
---
Huffington Post: With all of the buzz surrounding James Cameron's "Titanic 3D” release, it's only natural that some people are going to overlook the real tragedy behind the Hollywood blockbuster film. At least, until the hype behind the Titanic film dies down. But to not even know that the Titanic was based on a true story is an entirely different -- and much more horrifying -- story. In case you were doubting that these people actually exist, they do: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/titanic-movie-3d-fans-who-dont-know-the-titanic-was-real_n_1401139.html#s839875&title=Allie_Rego
---
@TitanicRealTime seeks to recreate the ship's voyage via Twitter. Some tweets are from the captain's point of view, while some are from the perspective of the crew, the engineering team and others involved with the legendary cruiseliner. Tags indicate who is speaking in each tweet. The tweets begin on March 10, "Exactly a month before Titanic's journey begins." So far, the tweets are fairly realistic, with officers and crew excitedly tweeting about the features of the ship. How @TitanicRealTime handles the actual sinking has yet to be seen -- will the officers be tweeting as they struggle to control a panicked crowd? Will Captain E.J. Smith issue a farewell tweet before he goes down with the ship? Will steerage-class passengers complain about being trapped belowdecks, or will they not be able to get reception?
https://twitter.com/#!/TitanicRealTime


The Sinking of the Titanic

by Marcus Cox
The Titanic was owned by The White Star Line and built between 1909 and 1911 in Belfast by the Harland and Wolff shipyard; it was declared “unsinkable”. Titanic left Southampton, on its maiden voyage to New York, carrying 2,224 people; however, there were only enough lifeboats for 1,178 people because the owners wanted to leave more room for passengers to enjoy a promenade on deck during the voyage.
Titanic hit an iceberg on the 14th April 1912 about 375 miles into its journey at 11:40pm, which breached five of the Titanic’s watertight compartments (the ship could only survive with a maximum of four breached). The ship took two and a half hours to sink into the Atlantic at 2:20am on the 15th April 1912. 1,514 of the 2,224 passengers died; only 710 passengers survived (almost none of the lifeboats were full).
The survivors from the Titanic were picked up by the Carpathia a few hours later. While the Titanic was sinking there was a second ship, The Californian, which saw the Titanic’s distress flares but thought they were a firework display, therefore failing to assist the sinking ship. The wreck of the Titanic was rediscovered in 1985 and still remains on the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean, 3,784 meters below sea level (see Titanic 1912 Original Video Footage below)

Friday, 13 April 2012

Why Michael Bay should donate his brain to science

Image source: collider.com
By Max Jewell





Michael Bay should donate his brain to science.

Is it because he is a towering cinematic genius whose work will be shown in retrospectives and discussed by film critics for the next millennium? No. It is simply because he clearly has no use for it himself.

In fact, at no point during any of his films does the viewer require his or her brain either. Bay’s plots are so simplistic a newborn child could comprehend his films (and probably find them rather intellectually undemanding compared to a bright yellow plastic ring for example). I’ve yet to see a single film produced by Mr Bay that has not been utterly emetic and a total waste of time. To Bay the principle behind an excellent film is pyrotechnics. Look at Transformers, a film where everything conceivable explodes and Shia LeBeouf struggles through a vapid script with an incongruous goatee beard. In fact, Transformers, is easily one of the worst films released this decade. At least films like Epic Movie or the equally trite 300 don’t have ambitions well above their station.

The problem with Michael Bay is that he genuinely believes he is a good director.

"The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre"?

by James Smith 

Mel Gibson is never far away from controversy. His alcohol fuelled anti-Semitic rants are well documented (see yesterday's bust-up with Joe Eszterhas over his proposed new film, The Maccabees.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/apr/12/
mel-gibson-jews-joe-eszterhas?intcmp=ILCMUSTXT9389).
And his film The Passion of the Christ was certainly controversial.

The Passion Of The Christ is not a movie you can enjoy, per se, as many critics have noted. It tells the story of Good Friday, in the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. I have to say, I’m a Christian and I don’t remember some of the things that occurred – but these parts have been subtly edited out of the Bible, such as Satan (in the guise of a woman, interestingly to note) trying to tempt Jesus and him stamping on a serpent’s head, or Judas being chased by multiple children who are ‘demons’. Gibson and co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald apparently read writings which weren’t included in the Bible, and that was certainly evident.

The film had certainly a mixed reception on release; Rotten Tomatoes calculating a 50% fresh rating (i.e. half of the critics liked it). It also received great criticism from a number of factions – Controversy occurred over some of the anti-Semitic dialogue (with one phrase being removed from the subtitles at the bottom of the screen due to pressure from the Jewish community), over the use and authenticity of writings from outside the Bible, and the last controversy is obvious in the age rating given to the film. The BBFC gave the rating of 18 with the information “contains scenes of extended violence”.

The Irish only gave it a 15, so I went into watching the movie believing that perhaps it was like Alien (well, I think Alien should only be a 15) but what do I know? I was incredibly wrong. It is noted that in the Bible there is one sentence in 3 of the Gospels that mention the flogging of Jesus, unmentioned in the fourth, so you would expect a short scene describing this? No. Of course not. We’re talking about Mel Gibson here. So, we have a 10 minute scene of Jesus being beaten with sticks, whips, and a multi-headed whip with nails on the end, leaving the floor covered with blood. This was honestly one of the most violent scenes I have ever witnessed (and I certainly doubt I will see another movie where a character is whipped so hard there is more blood visible that skin – and ribs showing). And this caused a huge furore, especially in America (they gave it an NC-17, so only those aged 17 or over could watch it) where critics warned that “no level-minded parent would ever let their children watch it”, and David Edelstein likening it to a “two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie – The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre – that thinks it's an act of faith”.
  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Picture Worth a Thousand JPGs

Copyright,  Burbn, Inc   
by Daniel Rollins

On Monday (9th April 2012) Facebook announced that it would be acquiring Instagram, Inc., the company behind the popular photo editing and sharing mobile application of the same name, for $1bn. This is an exceptionally high price for such a small company that was valued by venture capitalists only a few days before at only half the price Facebook paid for it.

The application works by allowing you to add vintage effects to your photos through different “filters”, simulating different lenses and films that you would find in an old camera. This effectively degrades the images distorting and discolouring them. The app then lets you share these adjusted images with your friends through Instagram itself or other social media sites.

The reason for Facebook’s interest in such a small company, with only 13 employees, lies in its popularity. Only three months after its launch in October 2010 it had gained 1 million registered users, by September 2011 it had 10 million users and just before it releases its Android version on the 3rd April it already had over 30 million users. This figure will rise further as millions of Android smartphone users install the app.

So why do so many people feel the need to alter and degrade their photos? After years of photographic development to create a perfectly clear and flawless image that do not fade or discolour people seem to prefer the yellowed and stained pictures from days of old.

Match Report: Finals of the Independent National Schools Cup

by Frankie Materna
The Team

Friday, 23rd March

The Netball 1st team have been extremely successful this season by getting to the final of the Independent Schools National Cup Competition, further than the school have ever got before. We beat some really strong teams in this competition by playing some of the best netball we have played all season, this led to us beating old rivals, Millfield in the semi-finals.

The final was played at Basildon Sports Village in Essex against Oldham Hulme Grammar School, previous U16 winners. Although we had an early start, the delicious cupcakes made by the Hilsea catering staff really brightened up our day. We finally got to Basildon Sports Centre and were met by our vast group of supporters, including my sister Sammie Materna, dressed as our mascot in a lion suit, which raised morale for all team members. We also had Mr Charles and Mr Dossett there supporting us, which added extra weight to the occasion. However, we were missing a key team member, Jess Lavery as she was away sailing for the final, but has been through the whole competition with the squad.

We started off with a hard and intense warm-up, which really got the team going and got the supporters excited for what was to come. We unfortunately lost the toss for the 1st quarter so knew we had to work hard to get that interception.

What is the point of exams?

by Claire Stephens

                                               image source: ginacarson.com

With revision season having begun, once again, students all across Britain and the world will be experiencing the eclectic mix of emotions that comes with the pressure of exams. As the caffeine intake exceeds normal doses and the food cupboard empties, it is inevitable that most students will begin to question the fundamental point of the exam.

I have often been told that the system of GCSEs and modular A-levels is a lot easier compared to the O-level and A-level system endured by my predecessors. I will admit that the ability to repeat modules countless times seems to have somewhat devalued the A-level as an ever-increasing number of students are managing to attain the grade ‘A’ that was oh-so-rare before. However, even with the introduction of the new ‘A*’, the A-level examination system struggles to distinguish between the talents of every individual.

How is it that a 2-hour exam can really show the intellectual capability of a student?
  

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Rick Santorum: A Political Obituary

by William Wallace

image from politicker.com

Tragedy has struck millions across the United States, as Richard John Santorum suddenly departed from us (politically) on Tuesday, leaving a remarkable story in his stead. The news has shocked us all, and our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have worked with him this past year. Mr Santorum started his journey with few at his side, but his movement expanded as his message touched the hearts of many Americans. From Iowa to Louisiana, they chanted ‘We Want Rick’, but now his journey has come to an end.

Before I progress any further, I should point out that Rick Santorum has not passed away and is indeed is still alive; it is his campaign that has expired. Yesterday, he suspended his presidential campaign, opening up the way for Mitt Romney to clinch the Republican Party nomination. The short eulogy above does actually encompass points that are not far from the truth. Santorum’s campaign has definitely been remarkable. I remember watching the early GOP debates in October – Rick was stood at the end of the row of candidates, like some sort of “Mr Nobody”. He was barely given the opportunity to speak, and, when he did, no one cared to listen. Then in January, his bid for the nomination picked up pace. He ran a one-state campaign in Iowa, and it was the hard work and countless visits to each precinct that gave him the first state in the GOP race. People witnessed a sudden surge in the opinion polls, as hard-knuckled conservatives began to take more notice of the former Senator from Pennsylvania.