Tuesday, 30 November 2010

El Clasico: Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0

Last night I decided to brave the harsh wintry conditions and headed down to my local pub to watch El Clasico: Barcelona v Real Madrid.

The biggest club game in world football? Without question. It's more than a football match.

It's a battle between two cities, on a footballing, political, cultural and economic level.

You could probably throw in some other rivalries, but whatever it is, Barcelona and Madrid never want to play second fiddle to each other.

This match was billed as the greatest El Clasico ever. It didn't disappoint (unless you're a Real fan)

Barca's performance was one of the greatest displays I think I've seen from a football team. They didn't just beat Madrid, they humiliated them.

In recent years like a lot of people, I've considered Spain's La Liga to be the best league in the World.

It's still as high standard, but really it's now become a more glamorous version of Scottish Premier League. A league totally dominated by two clubs with the rest incapable of ever challenging.

It's a shame, as in the past I've quite enjoyed watching the likes of Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla challenge the dominance of Barca and Real.

One of the reasons why last night's game was so huge is that both Barcelona and Madrid rarely lose games against any other teams. It means that their two head to heads are potential title deciders.

If we learned anything last night, then it's La Liga isn't a 2 horse race, but more like Barca are in a League of their own, with Real by themselves in second, and then a long way back is everyone else.

We're only half way through the season, but it's going to take someone special for Madrid to come back from this. They were eclipsed in every way.

Jose Mourinho suffered his worst defeat as a coach, Lionel Messi again upstaged Cristiano Ronaldo, and Madrid barely managed to touch the ball to even trouble Barcelona.

Overall it was just an incredible performance, can't wait for the return match at the Bernabeu next year.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Wikileaks does it again

The whistleblowing website Wikileaks has been at it again, releasing 250,000 classified diplomatic cables sent by US embassies around the world.

Not only has it caused a diplomatic crisis, it's also been hugely embarrassing for many world leaders and heads of state.

Despite the inevitable backlash, and claims by government officials both here and in the United States, that it puts our national security at risk. I think the leaks are incredibly useful and informative.

The efforts by the Guardian, and the New York Times in publishing the leaks are great examples of investigative journalism in the public interest.

It's good for our democracy that ordinary people can gain an insight into the workings of international diplomacy.

Nothing that's been revealed today is necessarily earth shattering, much of the information is nothing more than diplomatic gossip, but just because it's gossip doesn't mean it's irrelevant or of no value.

The leaks have shone a little light into the confidential world of international diplomacy.

You may remember that back in July this year, the Guardian, the New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegal published over 90,000 classified military documents leaked by Wikileaks relating to the Afghan war.

I don’t think today’s leaks are as significant as those, but they’re still important.

I refuse to fall for all the talk of national security being put at risk, which some of the UK Press are claiming, and other senior political figures both here in and the US.

Is our national security really at risk from the discovery that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is viewed as:

"feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader."

That's only confirmed what I and many others around the world have thought for years.

As for revelations that Arab leaders wanted the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme; again it’s embarrassing for them, but not hugely surprising. It’s just fascinating to hear those comments confirmed.

I've been reading loads of reports and opinions on the leaks today. Some of the best comments I've read and agreed with, came from the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

This is what he was quoted saying earlier today:

"I think it is a good thing that newspapers should bring this stuff into the public arena. It's not the job of the media to worry about the embarrassment of world leaders who have been caught saying different things in public and private ... especially some of these gulf states that don't have a free press.

If the president of Yemen is saying different things and lying to his own public about what's going on, I don't think it's the job of the newspapers to hush that up,"

I also had a look at the New York Times' website to read their reports, I think they answered the national security issue well when they said they withheld some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.

Maybe I'm being overly naive, but I don't believe the Guardian and the New York Times are going to act so irresponsibly as to publish material that's going to risk our national security.

I suppose in some ways it's obvious I have a very journalistic view when it comes to the leaks.

I like gossip, I like to know what's going on. I like the idea of private confidential information being made available for the benefit of the public.

Also, if I'm being honest I like seeing senior political figures and world leaders being embarrassed and made to feel uncomfortable over their diplomatic dealings.

Once the US government and other world leaders get over their embarrassment they'll need to start coming to terms with the new reality of international diplomacy and the maintenance of state secrets.

The days when confidential government information would only be revealed decades after an event, or when the main political protagonists were long dead are probably over.

Our digital culture means it's more likely that information will be made more freely available to people and at a much quicker speed.

This should result in people seeing a greater level of transparency in the way their governments operate and function, and may mean more accountability.

There's still a long way to go, but the actions of Wikileaks are speeding up this process.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

New drama series: Any Human Heart

One of my favourite books of all time has been adapted into a major tv drama series starting tomorrow night on Channel 4.

William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart, is being adapted into a four part drama series. The book tells the life story of Logan Mountstuart, who lives through every decade of the 20th Century.

We first meet Logan as a 6 year old boy, before following his life through boarding school, Oxford University, his career as a writer, a Second World War spy, and art dealer in 1960s New York, before spending his last days in retirement in France.

During his life he finds himself caught up in some of the most significant events of the 20th Century, as well as meeting a number of famous real life figures.

I never imagined the book would be turned into a film or series, as it was unlikely the story could be covered in enough depth, but clearly I was wrong.

I wrote in my last blog about the book One Day, that I like books where you get to know characters over a significant period of time.

In Any Human Heart you follow the life of a character from a small boy until he dies over 80 years later as an old man. You see a person's successes and failures, the relationships with different people, and all the emotional ups and downs of a person's life.

What I loved about the story is that it shows the mix of ordinary and extraordinary events that take place in anyone's life. You see how Logan's life is directly affected by some of the biggest events to occur during the 20th Century.

I'm looking forward to watching the series, and although it's going to be difficult, I'm going to try my best not to constantly compare it to the book.

Any Human Heart starts on Channel 4 tomorrow evening at 9:00

Thursday, 18 November 2010

One Day

One Day is the title of the book I've just finished reading.

In the last few months here in London, it's one of those books that you see loads of people reading on the tube or bus.

I have to say I loved this book. It's a funny, intelligent and emotional story of the love and friendship between two people, Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley.

I was reading in the Sunday Times Culture magazine that the book's been a literary sensation with nearly 400,000 copies sold in the UK already this year.

Not only that, I was surprised to hear how a story which has such an English setting to it has proved to be so popular around the world.

300,000 copies have been sold in America since June, and 31 publishers have brought the rights to translate the book.

Now I've discovered it's being turned into a film. Can the film do the book justice?

One Day is your classic 'will they/won't they love story and is written by David Nicholls.

Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley first meet on 15 July 1988 following their graduation from Edinburgh university.

On that first night they imagine what their lives will be like when they reach 40. The story then tracks their lives as they grow older, and we continually catch up with them every few years on the same date, the 15 July.

Reading the feature in the Sunday Times, it made the interesting point that the book is unusual for a romantic novel in that it appeals to both men and women in equal measures.

This is true. A lad who I work with told me his girlfriend had read the book, and I think he read it as well they both really enjoyed it.

When I first bought the book I didn't realise it was a romantic novel, and I didn't know whether to buy it as I had another book I wanted to read first, but something made me think I should get it.

I think I like novels that track the lives of characters over a number of years, and this is what you have with the Dexter and Emma.

You're with them on their journey which begins as young adults entering the real world after university, and you're still with them as they approach middle age.

You watch them grow up, evolve and mature through their 20s and 30s dealing with life and their own special relationship.

The backdrop of living in London during the 90's and Noughties makes it feel really contemporary and that you've lived in the world that they grown up in during the last 20 years.

Although One Day is a romantic novel, I think one of the things I loved most, is that it tells the story of a great friendship between two people.

In many love stories the idea of the friendship between two people is sometimes overlooked.

According to figures in the book publishing world, the fact that One Day has been sold into 31 languages has propelled it into the league of a modern classic.

With a film coming out as well, I'm sure it's only going to make the book even more popular.

If you're looking for a book that's funny, clever and incredibly moving then make sure you read One Day.

If anyone reading this post has read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

William and Kate to marry

After yesterday's engagement announcement that Prince William is to marry his girlfriend Kate Middleton, I didn't think I'd have much to say on the subject.

I'm happy to know they've got engaged, I'll be interested in knowing the wedding date, and I'll probably watch some of the ceremony, but that's it for me.

I'm not that interested in the whole media circus that's going to snowball from now until the wedding day.

I've avoided reading much of the Press today, as I couldn't be bothered to listen to all the 'it will lift the mood of the nation' sentiments they like to bang on about.

I read a quick round up of today's Press coverage in the Evening Standard, by my favorite media commentator Roy Greenslade.

His feature today was titled 'Press rejoice at prospect of royal wedding'

But my favourite comment on the engagement announcement came from Channel 4 News' Peter Snow, with a post titled:

Royal Wedding: For the sake of them and us

I think he summed up quite well how I think about the whole thing.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

David Haye vs Audley Harrison: Bye Bye Audley

I watched a recording of the David Haye, Audley Harrison fight this afternoon. What can you say.

A great sporting event, a great deal of hype, but as a boxing contest totally irrelevant!

After two rounds of no boxing, Haye stepped things up to stop Harrison in the third round.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for Audley Harrison, he was humiliated last night, but this is a man that simply does not possess the attributes needed to be a successful professional boxer.

In the last few weeks I was looking forward to this fight, but then last night as the fight approached I suddenly thought I'm not that bothered about watching it. Perhaps it's because deep down I knew what to expect.

I decided to tune into BBC Radio 5 live to listen to some of the commentary. At around 10:20 I'd already left it too late as the fight was over.

What I did do was listen to an hour of listeners phoning in to voice their views on the fight. The general consensus was that the fight was an embarrassment for British boxing.

Lets be honest here, if Audley Harrison was any other boxer he wouldn't have been anywhere near this world title fight.

As a pure boxing contest, this fight made no sense. From a box office, PR view point then this was the ideal fight to stage.

Anyone who wins an Olympic boxing gold medal deserves some respect, and this is what Audley Harrison has achieved, but in his professional career he'd shown nothing to suggest he could ever seriously challenge for a world title.

Credit to David Haye he talks the talk and he's delivered by becoming world champion.

Audley talked a great game, gave a great sales pitch in the build up to this fight, but when the taking had to stop we discovered a man who only managed to throw one punch that connected in just under 9 minutes of fighting. That's pathetic!

In this country we don't mind sports people losing, (we're hardly that big a nation of winners) we love the underdog, the person who tries, who goes down fighting, all guns blazing. Unfortunatly this isn't Audley, it never has been.

For this reason he will never have the respect or affection of the British sporting public.

After the fight I watched some of Sky's post fight analysis. Former world champion Barry Mcguigan was scathing and brutally honest in his assessment of Audley's performance, and his overall career.

Delusional was the word he used to describe Harrison's belief in his boxing abilities. Very harsh, but so true.

This has to be the end of his career, a career that should never have involved Harrison setting foot inside a professional boxing ring.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

City Break in Boston

I spent most of last week on a four day city break in Boston. I flew out on Monday and returned late Thursday evening.

I liked Boston, but it wasn't quite what I expected.

It's a decent sized place but it doesn't have that big city buzz that I associate with other American cities I've been to like New York or Chicago.

View of Boston Common

It's got a really chilled out vibe to it, with a pace of life that's more quiet provincial town than bustling big city; but it's a cool place to hang out for a few days.

The city itself isn't too big and isn't overwhelming in the way London or New York can appear for some people.

You can cover most of the city in a couple hours of walking. In saying that, I found the central downtown district really difficult to navigate.

Boston doesn't have a grid system to it's roads which makes it more English in that respect.

I frequently found myself in Central Boston struggling to figure out where the hell I was.

Maybe I should re-phrase that. I knew where I was, and knew where I wanted to go.

It would literally take a five minute walk, I just had no idea how to get there! It was so frustrating.

The thing about Boston is there's no iconic skyscrapers or other landmarks you can use as reference points to pinpoint exactly where you are.

Massachusetts State House above

One thing that did disappoint me about Boston was the shopping. It was rubbish. You've got some very high-end fashion boutiques, and the lower end of the fashion market is covered, but hardly anything inbetween.

A scruffy looking Maceys, an American Apparel, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch and that was about it, I found it all very annoying.

To be honest there's not a huge amount to see or do in Boston. I think 3 or 4 days is more than enough, but from what I've heard it's a good base in which to explore the rest of New England.

Boston's just got a nice feel to it, it's one of those cities where it's just nice to hang out for a few days.

My two main highlights would be:

Beacon Hill

I loved walking the streets of Beacon Hill. This Victorian era neighbourhood is the jewel in the crown of the city.

The streets of Beacon Hill

It's got more of an English/European feel about it. Cobbled streets and roads lined with old style Victorian gas lanterns and beautiful terraced houses.

Victorian terraces

The Village feel of Beacon Hill

Harvard, Cambridge

On Wednesday I took a trip to Cambridge. Cambridge is a town in its own right, but essentially it's a suburb of Boston, just a short ride away on the subway.

Cambridge is dominated by Harvard university, the oldest university in America.

The grounds of Harvard

As I entered the grounds of the university, I noticed a small tour group lead by two students explaining the history of some of the buildings.

I decided to tag along, and one of the tour guides approached me and explained that they take tourists on a guided tour of the university grounds and the town of Cambridge pointing out areas of interest.

It was an enjoyable tour, and the guides were funny and informative, pointing out different Harvard buildings such as lecture halls, student dormitories and churches.

No trip to Boston is complete without a visit to Cambridge, it's a lovely little town with some great pubs, restaurants and loads of history.

Student Halls below

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sports round up Stateside

I love watching my sport stateside. You have so many options to chose from.

At the moment you've got the end of the baseball season, with the World Series. The American football season is well underway, and the basketball season has just started.

Here are the big headlines from this week.

  • San Francisco Giants win baseball's World Series beating the Texas Rangers 3-1 in game five to clinch the series 4-1.

  • It was the Giants first win since 1954 when they were still based in New York and their first since moving to San Francisco.

  • Randy Moss leaves the Minnesota Vikings only weeks after joining them from the New England Patriots.

  • After endless speculation about which team would pick him up, the wide receiver eventually signed for the Tennessee Titans. That's 3 teams for Randy in less than a month!

    Randy Who? I hear you ask! This story has been massive. Remember the Wayne Rooney will he/won't he leave Man Utd saga? Well this story has been as big if not bigger than that!

  • In basketball, Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett called Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons a 'cancer patient' during the game between the two teams on Tuesday night.

  • Villanueva revealed this in one of his tweets on Twitter. Again this story was huge!

    Giants win World Series

    I watched game five of the World Series on Tuesday night in my hotel room. It was the first time I've ever watched a baseball game from start to finish.

    I love my basketball, and American football, but I've always struggled to get baseball, but I thought I'd try and make an effort.

    It was a low scoring game, with the first points not being scored until the 7th innings.

    For those of you who know nothing about baseball, (I'm no expert myself) there are 9 innings, so the 7th is quite late on for the first score to be made.

    Edgar Renteria hit what turned out to be the winning home run. Interestingly enough it was the second time in his career that he'd done this in a World Series. The first time was in 1997 playing for the Florida Marlins.

    What really struck was just how hard it is for anyone to hit the ball in baseball. Just getting your bat to the ball is an achievement.

    In my limited knowledge of the game it looked liked it was the Giants pitching that proved decisive with Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum leading the way(Lincecum, such an American name).

    After watching this game, I might try and start following baseball a bit more next year.

    Randy Moss leaves the Vikings

    If I didn't know who Randy Moss was last week, I certainly do now. Every sports bulletin has lead with the story of the Vikings releasing him, only weeks after signing him from the New England Patriots.

    Moss was traded to the Vikings from New England on 6 October, but things obviously haven't worked out for him in Minnesota.

    I heard reports that Moss had a rant at the Vikings Catering staff recently which embarrassed the club and many of his teammates.

    It seems Moss has a few 'issues' at the moment, so we'll have to see if the Titans are going to be the right fit for him.

    Kevin Garnett

    Apparently Kevin Garnett has a reputation for winding opponents up on the basketball court.

    This week Charlie Villaneuva was on the receiving end. Villaneuva suffers from alopecia, so he's got no hair on his head, hence the alleged Cancer patient comment.

    To me I don't know why Villaneuva is making this public. Ok it's not a nice thing to say, but it's one of those 'what goes on on court stays on court' situations.

    It's the same with football, and what's said on the pitch. It's the nature of sport. In this country we call it 'verbals' in the US it's trash talk.

    Anyway, after this controversy Garnett issued a statement where he didn't apologise but which basically said Villaneuava was a cancer to his team, and that's what he meant by the comment.

    There's my glimpse of the sporting headlines stateside for this week, hope you enjoyed it.

    Wednesday, 3 November 2010

    US Midterm Elections

    I’m coming to you stateside this week. I’m on the American East Coast spending a couple of days in Boston enjoying a short city break.

    As you can guess there’s only one story that’s dominating the news agenda this week and that’s the US midterm elections.

    I know we get a huge amount of American political coverage in the UK, but being here in America you get a different feel and perspective on what’s going on. It’s been an eye opener.

    You can’t deny the fact that Obama and the Democrats have taken a battering from the US electorate, who have made their frustrations clear to the President.

    It seems that Obama will have work more closely with the Republican Party to get anything done in the next two years.

    What will be interesting is that now the Republicans, and the right wing Tea Party movement have taken control of Congress, they’ll have to start offering answers and solutions to America’s economic problems rather then just being a voice of opposition.

    “It’s the economy stupid”

    This is what I was thinking after following all the election coverage. It's the phrase made famous by former President Bill Clinton. It’s shocked me just what a complete mess America’s economy is in.

    When Obama was elected he already faced a daunting task, becoming President in a hostile economic environment, but he’s really suffering from the fact the economy hasn’t improved and ordinary Americans are suffering. Unemployment is running at 9.6%.

    Add to the slow economic recovery, there's still a huge amount of resentment over Obama's $814 billion economic stimulus and the new healthcare law which requires most Americans to buy some form of health insurance.

    What I've started to realise is that many conservatives and members of the Tea Party object to this type of government intervention. They see it as big government interfering in people's lives and they don't like it.

    I don't get it myself. Without the economic stimulus, the recession could have been a depression; and the new healthcare bill means 30 million more people will get healthcare as a result of the reforms.

    I was watching one political show tonight where the former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was being interviewed about the election results.

    He was talking about how much of Obama's policies since his election were wrong and that his left wing vision and agenda for America wasn't working.

    Left wing vision? Was he being serious? He clearly was. This is what baffles me about US Politics.

    In the UK or in Europe, Obama would be a middle of the road centerist politician, but in America because their politics are so much more to the right, he's considered a left wing radical!

    If there are aspects about about American politics that confuse me, then there are plenty of things that are the same.

    The big issues facing America in the next few years are similar to those in the UK. How will more jobs be created? How do they cut the deficit? How much government spending should there be? How do they get the economy growing?

    It's been a tough week for Obama, but he's got a tough job on his hands. I think there was too much unrealistic expectation over what Obama could achieve when he became President.

    Obama's campaign was all about 'change' I don't really know what that change represented, and I don't think America really likes change.

    Much of the US electorate aren't happy with what they've seen so far, but this isn't necessarily a disaster for Obama.

    Republicans and the Tea Party fringe now have the opportunity to have a greater say on how America should tackle many of it's problems, so it's going to be very interesting to see how cooperative they'll be with the Democrats and what policies they'll bring to the table in the run up to the 2012 Presidential elections.