Pancake Day

Britain really gets the short end of the stick when it comes to celebrating Shrove Tuesday, The US and South America get an amazing festival of costumes, floats, beads and alcohol. What do we get? Pancakes. I like pancakes don’t get me wrong, but I would much prefer Mardi Gras to Pancake Day.

I seriously don’t know how the two can compare, but since my nearest carnival is going to be 3000 miles away, I guess I’m going to have to go through lent on pancakes alone. Maybe this year I’ll try chocolate ones.

 

Existentialism In The Modern World

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Do you ever think how figures from history would go down in the modern world. Looking about, Hitler would probably do well in politics today, Marx would probably be called a crackpot and Freud would be labelled a pervert on a level with Josef Fritzl. Thinking of the philosophers of the old school, what would they be made of today.

Would Nietzsche be thought of as some deep thinker, or would his discourses on man’s place in the universe illicit something like a “U K hun?” in the comment section of his blog. Judging from the internet my guess is Sartre would be reduced to producing minions quotes and facebook status that are vague and seem like they’re just trying to get a sympathetic reaction.

Is there no room for deep thought in the modern world? Again looking around me, I sense that there is very little in the way of actual thought taking place, let alone deep thought. Is this the end of intellectualism in the world? Probably. Society is now obsessed with the banal, reality television, fast food, everything in bite sized, easy to digest chunks, these days when talking about existentialism all I can think is that if I wanted depressing thoughts about nothing I’d just crack open the Daily Mail.

We as a people are too self obsessed for it these days, even me. I mean look at this self indulgent rambling, I’ve pretty much insulted the entire planet just to say look at me I’m smart, when I even try to boil that down to pithy soundbites.

My Favourite Fantasy Authors

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Here’s a little look at some of my favourite authors and the worlds which they have created.

J.R.R Tolkien 

What I love most about Tolkien’s Middle Earth is the depth the author gave to his creation, no just in terms of the Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, but in terms of the shear scale of his world. I mean who else could have a 13 book series dedicated just to the history of their fictional world, this is on top of the eight epic length novels that were already published. And whilst the majority of this work was published posthumously, it does go to show the real love for this world that was poured in by its creator.

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Sir Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld took all the best parts of fantasy and science fiction, shook them all up and then dropped them on its head, it has wizards that know that the true course of power is forming a committee and witches that ardently practise not using magic, it points out the absurdity of fairy tales and does it all in an entertaining way. With over 40 novels published, not to mention the mountains of tie in publications its safe to say that it was the books of Sir Terry that actually made me want to read books.

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Stan Nicholls

Stan Nicholls’ Orc’s books did the unthinkable for fantasy, it made Orcs the heroes, this was something that had never been done before, in a world where multiple species live together (but by no means coexist) Stan Nicholls manages to shine a light on the orcs place in the world, whilst battling there own kind, every other fantasy race you can think of, and some puritanical human beings who seem hell bent on scouring the world of Maras Dantia of all races who don’t follow their one god whose symbol is oddly enough an inverted X.

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Robert E Howard 

Robert E Howard’s Conan The Barbarian is the archetype of fantasy stories, there are swords, there’s sourcery , there’s magic, there’s snake men, there’s loin cloths and there’s a little too much muscle going on, whenever I read one of those stories I always think of desert palaces and evil grand viziers who’ve made some questionable deals with elder gods. It may seem like its every cliche in the fantasy book, but this is where they came from, this is the original, this is pulp heroism at its best.

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George R R Martin 

A Song Of Ice And Fire is epic peak of epic fantasy with a wealth of story and a wealth of characters to call upon George R R Martin has created something truly marvellous (also incredibly scary and pretty damn twisted at times)  you start with clear heroes and villains, but over the course of the five books (so far) you find the heroes becoming the villains and the villains becoming the heroes, and I think that, in part at least, by narrating chapters from different points of view you begin to realise that everyone is the hero of their own tale and this is why the twists you wouldn’t see coming, that no other author would be brave enough to try, fit right in in Westeros. And this may make me no friends whatsoever, but I’m willing to wait for the next novel, even though it has been about 6 years, I say unto Mr Martin, take your time, as a fan all I demand of you is your best work, whether that takes 7 years or 17.

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Those are some of my favourites.Who are some of your favourite fantasy authors?

I Don’t Know A Lot About Art, But I Know How To Bluff: Part Three

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Impressionism

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s. Arguably the most famous of impressionist painters is Claude Monet.

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Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau  is an international style of art and architecture a that was most popular between 1890 and 1910 A reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers.

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La tournee du chat noir avec rodolphe salis by Theophile Steinlen 

Expressionism

Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. This gave way to artists such as Edvard Munch,  Matthias Grünewald and El Greco.

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The Scream By Edvard Munch

Pop Art 

Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid-1950s in Britain and the late 1950s in the United States. Among the early artists that shaped the pop art movement were Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton in Britain, and Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns among others in the United States. Pop art presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture such as advertising and news. In pop art, material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, and/or combined with unrelated material. Some of the more popular artists of the movement include Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein

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Whaam! By Roy Lichtenstein

Hopefully this little guide will help you bluff your way through countless conversations about art, because this is literally all I know, I’m the only person I know to get an F in GCSE art, but that could be because the teacher didn’t like me, and god knows the feeling was mutual.

I Don’t Know A Lot About Art, But I Know How To Bluff: Part Two

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Romanticism 

In the visual arts, Romanticism first showed itself in landscape painting, where from as early as the 1760s British artists began to turn to wilder landscapes and storms, and Gothic architecture, this movement began to fade out by the 1850’s and gave us artists like Francisco Goya, Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner

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Modern Rome- JMW Turner

Realism

Realism is the precise, detailed and accurate representation in art of the visual appearance of scenes and objects it was popular from the 1830’s-1870’s artists of the style include: Jules Breton, Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet.

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Luncheon In The Studio- Edouard Manet

 

Pre-Raphaelite

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member “brotherhood”. Their principles were shared by other artists, including Marie Spartali Stillman and Ford Madox Brown. A later, medievalising strain inspired by Rossetti included Edward Burne-Jones and extended into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

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John William Waterhouse- The Lady Of Shalott

Stay tuned for more of what I don’t know about Art. Part Three tomorrow.

I Don’t Know A Lot About Art, But I Know How To Bluff: Part One

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Renaissance

Late 13th-Late 16th centuries: Coming out of central Europe it gave us artists such as  Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, men who inspired the term “Renaissance man”.

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Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Neoclassicism

Ranged from the 1500’s to the 1800’s and was responsible for artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Angelica Kauffman and  Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

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Ingres- Oedipus and the Sphinx

Rococo

Rococo was more of a design movement than an artistic one, it came about in France around about 1720-1780, its influence can be felt on the art world through artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Antoine Watteau.

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The Embarkation For Cythera By Antoine Watteau

Stay tuned for more of what I don’t know about Art. Part two tomorrow.

 

TV Review: Legion

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I finished watching The West Wing this week so I decided to start something new, and settled on Legion.

Legion ties into Fox’s X-Men movie franchise and follows the life of sometime X-Man and oft times villain David Haller AKA Legion. For those that don’t know Legion is the child of Professor Charles Xavier, he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), where each separate personality has their own superpower. Or  at least that’s how he was portrayed in the comic books.

Now coming to the TV show I was at first put out a little by the guy from Downton Abbey (Dan Stevens) putting on a terrible American accent, but other than that his depiction of a young man suffering from, and trying to overcome, mental illness in an age where the best treatment that the mentally ill can look forward to is to be locked away.

There are a few elements that I’m yet to grasp for instance the series appears to take place in the 1960’s, but there are many modern elements too, such as tablet computers, wall mounted flat screen tv’s and modern medical equipment.

There are a few twists and turns along the way, and you will find yourself asking how this fits into the whole X-Men movieverse, but overall its watchable as the first episode goes even though for a lot of it I was asking myself, just what in the hell is going on right now?

overall I’d give it a 6 out of 10, and will probably wait until the end of the series to binge watch the rest.

 

Lifting The Veil On Politics: Local Government

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This is the third in a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.

What on earth does local government do? Its a tricky question to answer. There are 55 unitary authorities in England and 22 in Wales and whilst the duties of each individual council differs from council to council, most are responsible for the maintenance of highways, social care and education, as well as small schemes provision and local jobs creation schemes.

Councils will be made up of directly elected councillors which will then form a cabinet and decide on matters of education, social care, housing etc. Councillors will work with permanently employed officers of that council to set a budget and deliver policy for the areas that are devolved to that particular council.

Most people have the misconception that councils are funded entirely by council tax. This is wrong. Whilst council tax is my highest monthly bill after housing, in order to cover the entire cost of running a council I estimate that my council tax would have to go up by about 1000%. Councils, get somewhere between 75-90% of their funding from central government. So this is why it really annoys me when people complain about council services, using the old line “I pay my council tax”  to justify whatever they’re griping about, because the majority of the councils money comes from Westminster or the Welsh Assembly and actually seems to be going down year on year, whilst council tax goes up and up, without being too much of a burden on the rate payers.

Hopefully this post answers some of the questions  you have about local government, and with the elections coming later this year, you’re bound to have at least one or two that need answering.

Lifting The Veil On Politics: The USA

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This is the second of a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.

No matter where you are in the world you undoubtedly hear a lot about American politics. You cant turn on a screen without seeing President Trumps tangerine visage plastered in front of the press, with quotes snapped right from his twitter feed running around the blogosphere for years to come.

But what do you actually know about the system that put Trump in the top office?

The federal government of the United States is split into 3 branches, The Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court and the Lower Courts), The Legislative Branch (which is split into the United States Senate, which has two senators from each state, and The United States House Of Representatives which has 435 members from congressional districts, these two institutions are collectively known as the United State’s Congress). And thirdly the Executive Branch (the offices of the President and The Vice President of The United States).

The reason for the separation of powers between the three branches of government, was to create a series of checks and balances, so that no one branch of government could become more powerful than the other. For example the President can veto a bill from congress, the congress can vote down legislation introduced by the president, or the courts, when petitioned, can decided that legislation is unlawful or not in the spirit of the law.

The federal government is based upon the written constitution of the United States, which sets out the way the government should be run, the power of state legislatures, as well as the rights bestowed upon citizens of the country.  There are currently 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 of which make up the bill of rights, and the others deal with issues such as suffrage, presidential term limits and successions, congressional salaries, and the prohibition/ reinstating of alcohol.

State Legislatures

American law can get a little confusing to outsiders, because there are different laws for different states so you actually have 51 different sets of laws for one country. But its actually no different from the way the UK is set, federal government in Washington devolves law making responsibility to local state legislatures, the same way that the UK government devolves law making powers to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. These state legislatures will make laws on many things such as education policy, traffic laws and even controversial things such as gun regulation, gay marriage and drug decriminalisation.

The state governments are governed in much the same way as the federal government, The governor of the state will be held accountable by the state senate and both can be held accountable by district courts and the supreme court.

Hopefully that helps shed some light on the way that laws are made across the pond.