Monday 30 December 2013

Breaking Bad: Do believe the hype

During the Christmas break I've been watching the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad.

Yes I'm yet another person who's caught the Break Bad bug.

I love my US drama series but having never seen an episode of the show, I was beginning to get fed up with being a cultural pariah. Perhaps I was suffering from FOMO (Fear of missing out) but the story intrigued me.

A chemistry teacher who after discovering he's got cancer, decides to enter the drugs trade by making Chrystal meth with the aim of supporting his family.

I thought this sounds interesting.

I bought series 1 - 3 box set with the intention of getting up to speed on the series as soon as possible. I have to say it certainly lived up to the hype.

It's the first series I've watched where the main character of Walter White starts off as the good guy but by the end of the series you end up hating him as he turns into the bad guy.

I admit there were some scenes in the series that were difficult to watch. Walter's actions are so bad you're left thinking: how can I empathize or support this character when he's becoming so evil.

But that's the point of the show. It's about watching that transformation in the character, so that by series 5 Walter White the drug 'kingpin' is barely recognisable from the down trodden underachieving chemistry teacher we meet in series 1.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013: A highly skilled political operator

When I discovered on Thursday night that Nelson Mandela had died, I was saddened but not surprised. It was a day I'd been expecting for the last 3 months.

Since Thursday I've been thinking about what I wanted say about Mandela. What could I say that hasn't already been said?

I decided to look back at one of my old blog posts. It was written in 2010 to mark the 20th Anniversary of his release from prison.

Reading the post this weekend, it reminded me that Nelson Mandela has been a major political figure since my childhood. Growing up in the 1980s, I was always aware of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The protests and violence in the country were a common feature of watching the news when I was growing up.

As a black child it made me aware of real racism and discrimination in its most extreme form. I was watching millions of people with the same skin colour as me being oppressed and denied basic political freedoms.

The imprisonment of Mandela seemed to represent the worst in the oppressive apartheid regime. Here was the leader of the black opposition locked up for over 20 years.

I think because the only images of Mandela you saw were old tv interviews from the 1960s, it seemed to elevate his status in the struggle for black freedom in South Africa.

By the time of his release in 1990 the event was arguably one the biggest news stories of my life, it was up there with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here was a man I heard so much about finally being set free.

Since his release, Mandela has become probably the most revered, respected and loved political leader in the world. He's like a living saint for modern times.

Reading and listening to various reports on his life and career, I've been thinking that perhaps we should appreciate more what an incredibly skillful and astute political operator Mandela was.

This gets overlooked at times as we want to focus on his compassion, his humility and his ability to forgive. Obviously these are important qualities and go along way to making Mandela the person he was - but to achieve what he did required great political skill.

South Africa could easily have become a bloodbath. Rightwing Afrikaners were ready to take up arms against black majority rule. Elements of the black population were not surprisingly seeking vengeance against whites.

Western governments and businesses with interests in South Africa feared the worst, but Mandela through his political abilities prevented the nightmare scenario of civil war that so many feared.

I've heard many comments about how Mandela showed forgiveness against his former political enemies, but what strikes me is how he won them over.

He didn't hate his oppressors he learnt to understand them, whether it was his Afrikaner prison guards on Robben island or members of the ruling National Party Government and security forces in the 1980s.

Earlier today I was listening to Radio 5 and they were looking at Mandela's impact on sport in South Africa. We all know the story of how he decided to wear the green springbok jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand.

The Springboks were despised by the non white population and the jersey represented white domination in South Africa. What Mandela understood was the symbolic message wearing that jersey would mean firstly to white Afrikaners but to non whites as well.

For people who think sport and politics can't or shouldn't mix, this moment shows exactly why the two are always linked. A simple act won over the fears and worries of his former enemies.

It's this kind of subtle political intelligence that allowed Mandela to achieve the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

In our cynical times we want and need figures we can look up to and truly believe in. I don't think there's been a political figure in my lifetime who's achieved this in the way Mandela has.

As much as we want to remember his inherent goodness and courage, lets not overlook what skillful and intelligent political leader he was. Without that skill and intelligence South Africa would be a very different place today.

Saturday 7 December 2013

World Cup Draw: Time for England to 'man up'

Watching yesterday's World Cup draw I started feeling really excited about next year's tournament.

I've got high hopes for this World Cup, maybe because it's in Brazil it feels a bit more exotic, I've never watched a World Cup in South America. I just feel this World Cup could be something special.

As for England, we discovered we'll be in a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

A group of death? Not really, but admittedly it's a group that's going to ask some serious questions of England.

Anyone who knows my thoughts on football, will know that I now watch England with indifference. It's the way forward. I'm only going to get excited about England when they reach a semi final of a World Cup or European Championship.

It annoys me that some people are complaining we're in a difficult group. England have had so called 'easy' groups before. Just deal with it!

In South Africa in 2010 we faced the footballing giants of the USA, Algeria and Slovenia. The tournament took place during South Africa's winter which was meant to help us but we still made hard work getting out of the group.

In Germany in 2006 our group contained Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad. We qualified from it but it was uninspiring stuff. This time round we've been given a tougher assignment but so what, that's the luck of the draw.

How will England do in this group?

An opening game against Italy is tough - straight away we're up against a true footballing heavyweight. But I'd rather play a team like Italy than say a Bosnia or Algeria. Immediately, England know they have be on their game.

It's not going to be easy but Italy always start off slowly themselves. The main worry is the conditions of playing in the jungle and the fact Italy outclassed England in Euro 2012. A draw will be a good result.

Next game is against Uruguay in Sao Paulo. In 2010 I loved Uruguay, I thought they played some great stuff and Diego Forlan was superb.

Any team with Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani is going to cause problems but I'm wondering what else Uruguay have got. Maybe reaching the semi finals in 2010 was the peak for this squad.

Final game is Costa Rica. I know nothing about Costa Rica, all I do know is that England have to win this game.

It's going to be difficult

Er yes... it's the World Cup. Ok we could be in an easier group but it's time for England to 'man up' and get on with it. Stop complaining.

England embrace the challenge, it's a chance for players to prove themselves against the best on a world stage - that's the attitude I want from England.

We're not going to win the World Cup, there's no expectation so I want England to play without inhibition and we'll see what happens.

Who will win it?

Everything points to an all South American final. Brazil are obvious favourites but I've got a feeling Argentina could cause Brazilian heartbreak by beating them in next year's final.