Wednesday, 18 December 2013

(Re)Cycling in Granada, Nicaragua Part 1:Machetes, Marinas & Mountain Bikes

Nicaragua may rank as the 2nd poorest country in the Americas behind Haiti but one of the side effects of having no cash is that Nicas certainly do make best use of their resources.

This frugality permeates all aspects of life. Be that sustainable eating (outside urban centres Nicas tend to grow their own veggies/keep chickens & pigs and supermarkets stock far less imports than the UK), recycling (certain plastic and cans are worth money so they are not left lying around)or transport(ubiquitous ramshackle US school buses are imported, pimped-out and always full to the brim).

In the UK you can hardly see the stars for light population but when you fly over Nicaragua at night it looks like the place has shut for the day. Nicaragua may well take the prize for the most eco-friendly country I've ever been to.
So, with resources at a premium and cars being an expensive luxury for a lot of the locals it makes perfect sense that Nicas are bike crazy. After all cycling is cheap, quick and efficient means of getting around. The Granada streets are teeming with bikes of all shapes and sizes.

Five gear mountain bikes of indeterminate make seem to be the most popular. On my way back from the baseball I saw a man riding an a bike on a busy road in near darkness with his other half riding side saddle on the crossbar whilst holding a two year old. I wonder what Boris Johnson would make of that? Despite the apparent lack of traffic lights & road rules (no one indicates so you have to slow at junctions and watch what other people are doing) cycling in Granada is excellent way of assimilating with the locals and getting a feel of this lovely town.

In Granada there a few place on La Calzada (the main tourist drag) to hire bikes. They aren't all in great nick so it's definitely worth testing them out first before setting off. I got mine from Bicimaximo which is based in the Parque Central just to the right of the custard coloured picture book Cathedral. You can hire a decent if unspectacular 5 speed for $5 (about 5 hours), $7 the full day or $22 a week. You can hire bikes with better spec but no one rides around on these so forget it unless you plan on doing some serious offroad.

They also do guided tours of the area if you feel the need for back up as there are certain areas where it may be sensible to exercise caution. The area between the lakeside and the start of La Calzada is fine during the day but a bit sketchy at night with reports of muggings and I have read anecdotal evidence that the 2hr ride up to Laguna de Apoyo has its share of problems.

Irrespective of the potential risks I love cycling and always hire a bike on my travels so I ventured along the coast past the unspectacular "tourist area", through fields and jungle and onto the Marina Cocibloca. Its an easy 4km ride on tarmac that can be easily in an hour or so. I like to do things at my own pace so I skipped the tour. In the end it all worked out OK but not before I got a lucky break.

Cycling on my own and into an area known for robberies might not win me the Einstein Award but there can be much to be said for just travelling minimally and trying to blend in. One way to do that is not to carry a gaudy back pack around like some travelling North Face turtle. This will mark you out as a gringo with something worth stealing. Keep it light, take a few cordobas and there will always a corner store selling something to eat and drink.


Although there have been reports of muggings in this area the journey on the main road to the marina seems to be OK in daylight as there are now tourist police stationed at the half way point to dissuade any would be assailants (although I'm told they are less than useless if you do get into trouble). I passed locals on horse and cart transporting their wares from the fields, cattle grazing on the shoreline and farmers chopping grass with machetes. It looks pretty idyllic and a world away form the hustle and bustle of Granada.

WARNING:DO NOT take the dirt road down to Astillero Diamante (at a junction you'll see a big sign with a diamond) as I now know many people have been mugged and even had their bikes stolen on this trail. I only learned about this particular pitfall from the caretaker at Marina Cocibloca AFTER bumbling down this pretty path bordered by fields, farms and the odd shack for about 30 mins. I was on my guard but only doubled back to the main road when I saw some dubious types up ahead. That was a wise move.

"You were lucky my friend. That area is notorious"

The caretaker started to tell me a story about how growing up in "el campo" was paradise. He and his friends used to climb trees and sleep out in the countryside at night and walk wherever he wanted without any fuss. Now even the locals have to choose their routes with caution especially at night or risk bumping into an opportunistic "pandilla".

"Kids don't want to work these days. They want the easy life so they just take nice things from other people"

It was interesting to chat to the old chap as he lamented about the ills of modern day Nicaragua and the changes it was going through. In that respect Nicaragua is no different from the rest of the western world with old school values replaced by a preoccupation towards get-rich-quick materialism. I blame 50 Cent.

Part 2 - Bells, Butterflies and Burials

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Baseball in Granada, Nicargaua - It's A Whole Different Ball Game

When you think sports in Latin America you think football, right? From Mexico to Argentina the average Brit has romantic images of kids playing keepy-uppy with oranges on street corners and crumbling stadia flooded with rabid fans in a riot of colour all garnished with flares and streamers.

Having travelled to a few of these countries I've seen that many of the stereotypes ring true. However, in Nicaragua football is not el deporte numero uno, it's baseball. Only a 2½hr flight from Miami it's no great surprise that this quintessentially American sport has taken root in Nicargaua.

It was first introduced in the 19th Century by American importer Albert Addlesberg and popularised by US Marines stationed in the country. Despite Nicaragua's turbulent past and impoverished present the country has a 4 team professional baseball league (La Liga Nicaragüense de Beisbol Profesional)that runs from October through February. 

It comprises of the Indios del Bóer, the Tigres del Chinandega, the Leones de León, and the Orientales/Tiburones de Granada. Most of the Nicas I spoke weren't really that interested in the national league but were pasionate about "las grandes ligas" i.e. Major League Baseball.

Nicaragua may not have exported the volume of top players to the US as Cuba or the Dominican Republic but they can be proud of the likes of Dennis Martinez who broke numerous pitching records during his 23 year playing career. Currently only Everth Cabrera (San Diego Padres), Wilton López (Colorado Rockies)and Erasmo Martinez (Seattle Mariners) currently play in the MLB.

So, when in Rome or in this case Granada I thought it only right to check out one of the games from myself. After getting confirmation of a 6pm game via their Facebook account (they don't have a website) I jumped in a shared cab (you could walk it but its wise to spend the 15 cordobas) and headed to the

Roque T. Zayala stadium or "el estadio" on the outskirts of town on the main Managua road.

The stadium is Nicaragua in microcosm: rough and ready but with tons of character. Pitching up in the dark and stumbling through the dusty car park I was a little wary of what to expect. How rowdy do baseball fans get after a few beers? A long line of people were queuing at a ticket booth for the main standing area which you could enter for about 30C$ (just over a $1). I thought I'd go for the comfort of a plastic chair and splurged 70C$ for "el palco" or the posh seats behind the batting area. There was no queue for this line. With this you get a program so I caught up on what Los Tiburones had got up to.

Walking up the gangway into the main arena it was obvious that this wasn't a must win game as the stadium was half empty and no touts had come to try and flog me tickets in the car park (I was warned this might happen) so I could sit wherever I wanted.

The teams took to the field without a huge deal of razzmatazz but after about 10 mins play was abandoned as a freak storm deluged the pitch and the fans in the cheap uncovered seats were getting well and truely drenched. Things started to get a bit heated as they were shouting for the gates that separated us to be opened so they get into our enclosure. The stewards and police seem to mull over the implications of this for a while before relenting and letting the soggy mass in. This was great as the atmosphere soon perked up.

First of all lets start with the food. None of your rubbery pies or reconstituted hotdogs here. A constant procession of food & drink vendors shout their wares at you as the cruise up and down the aisles. Quesillos (cheese filled tortillas), Vigoron (pork rinds & cabbage wrapped in banana leaf), Cerviche (raw fish marinated in lime served out of coolers), Asado (roasted meats) sweets, sandwiches, tiny bags of nuts (with a thin moustachioed guy constantly shouting Nipi,Nipi,Nipi,Nipi! on a loop) are just some of the delights you can sample from the comfort of your seat.

Whilst football in the UK has only recently moved from its white working class male roots baseball in Nicaragua is a family affair. Nicaragua in general is a very young country (the median age is 23 compared to 40 in the UK). Maybe its a remnant of Catholicism, maybe there's not much on the TV or maybe they can't afford babysitters but the stadium is full of the little critters running around and causing havoc. It makes for a pleasant atmosphere. Those who run the club even let the street kids come round with sacks to collect the discarded cans and bottles. There is nothing like poverty to encourage you to recycle.

An annoying habit that the Nicas have got from the American cousins is their obsession of sponsorship and advertising. Virtually everything is sponsored in some shape or form. At virtually every pause in the game the stadium announcer would boom out the same four adverts. One for a steak house, one for rum, one for a travel agency and one for Marfil soap which I've still got stuck in my head as I write this.

"Jabon Marfil!!!!! Lava, lava y nunca se acaba!"

It's brainwashing taken to Clockwork Orange proportions. I would have bought a box of the stuff just to shut the guy up!

As the innings moves past the half way stage the brass band starts to crank up the volume and we are treated to some booty shaking in the aisle from one die-hard as he is cheered on by the crowd. Then, apropos of nothing, the stadium announcer decides to play The Village People's YMCA during a break in the activity and the crowd all does the synchronised dance moves. This makes me very happy.

Rival fans are not segregated and a tiny group of Tigres fans sat to my left were getting progressively drunker as the game wore on. By the end they were hammered and took to questioning the sexuality of the Tiburones pitcher. At the end of the 9th with the game tied at 3-3 they were loud but they exploded into rapture when deep in the 10th with bases loaded their batter hit one over left field above the despairing gloves of the Tiburones outfielders. Game over.

Overall it’s a great night out and a unique glimpse into an aspect of Nicaraguan culture. It’s an assault on the senses and a must for baseball virgins. In Granada there is no better place to pop your cherry.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

TV Review: BBC3 Stacey Dooley Investigates - Crime, Carnage & Cancun

Back in the day I remember being overjoyed at receiving a cheap Saisho Walkman at Xmas and thinking I had won the lottery. Now today's "yoof" settle for no less then a £400 games console. Anything cheaper and you may as well have gifted them a freshly steaming turd and wrapped it their grandmother's underwear.

It the same principle with holidays. Malia is lame and Ibiza is old hat. The cool kids today what to party to Koh Phangan, Las Vegas or as Stacey Dooley ground breaking documentary discovers, Cancun. Two million party goers flock to Cancun every year for its beautiful white sand beaches turquoise Caribbean waters and tacky strip of mega-clubs & bars like Senor Frogs or Coco Bongo. It's a classy place.

Such attributes make it Mecca for Spring-breakers and an increasing amount of Brits with cash to burn. Dooley sets the scene by interviewing a trio of dolly birds at an all inclusive resort who are drunk by 4pm.

"There loads of fit Americans" they screech in unison.

Then she then interviews a bunch of lads of preening lads before a night out through a fog of Davidoff and Shockwaves. They are on their 8th consecutive night out and are getting to grips with traditional Latin American customs.

"Americans can't drink...they start chanting for no reason...we go what you doing, you're an's a completely different culture"

 For this series, Dooley's modus operandi has been to go to a popular tourist destinations and try and dig the dirt. She will either attempt to titillate viewers who might fancy a debauched holiday (see last week's expose on prostitutes Prague) or shock Guardian reading types who are aghast at the fact the hotel cleaner is not earning £20 an hour.

Sadly, despite Dooley's best efforts there are precious few revelations to be uncovered and little "carnage" you wouldn't see down your local high street on a Saturday night. Out on patrol with paramedics the best she can come up with a local who has got into the fight and slightly cut his head. On the beach trying to score she is offered drugs by some "cigar salesmen". It's small potatoes.

Out on patrol with the tourist police there is virtually no trouble on the "strip" as it is patrolled by officers with M16's in order to dissuade any would be narco-violence. Despite the high levels of violent crime in Mexico it's to Stacey's chagrin that she finds it difficult to argue with her chaperone when he says Cancun is:

"One of the safest cities in all Mexico"

Convinced she is just being fed the sanitised version of Cancun her handlers want her to see she hot-foots it "downtown" to interview hotel workers struggling on minimum wage. There are shots of dusty roads, wild dogs and tin-roof shacks. Problem is I've stayed in downtime Cancun and it is absolutely nothing like the scene depicted on screen. It's a bog standard, if unspectacular, Mexican town with a tree lined pedestrian area, open air restaurants and a modern bus station. What we are being shown is clearly way out in the sticks.

To fit the director's narrative between the affluent tourists on the strip oblivious to the suffering of the locals they have conned the viewer into believing "downtown" Cancun is some two-bit-tumbleweed shanty town within spitting distance of the plush resorts. This may be the case in Rio but not in Cancun. Sad, they have to use this sort of subterfuge to hoodwink the viewer.

Its hardly groundbreaking to find out the local cleaners don't get paid more than £3 a day but they wouldn't be particularly well paid if they lived in the UK either.

 The only arresting interview that Dooley captures during the documentary is that of a reformed drug addict confesses to killing 25 people, when he was 15, to fund a heroin habit. He would carrying out these hits for the drug gangs on their non-paying rivals. As the age of responsibility in Mexico is 16 the courts were unable to impose a prison sentence. He now bakes bread and is trying to turn his life around.

Dooley "Who did you kill?"
Killer: "Mostly women"
Dooley: *goes white*

Having watched a few of Dooley's documentaries I get the feeling her production team come up with a catchy title first and think about the documentary later. To call them lightweight affairs is like saying Hitler wouldn't have been a very good host at the MOBO's.

Dooley showed a lot of promise with her initial foray into the world of documentary making with her part in Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts expose on the textile industry's fondness for Indian sweat shops. However, her subsequent documentaries have suffered from having some great ideas stymied by amateur research, cheap voyeurism and a style of presenting that owes more to Stacey Solomon then it does to David Dimbleby.

At 25 she is still earning her docu-chops but if the quality doesn't start to improve there is going to be a lingering suspicion that she just was the check out girl that got lucky.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Six Banned Games That Make Grand Theft Auto Look Like Angry Birds

Following on from last week's hoo-ha surrounding the release of GTA 5 I thought I'd take a dip back into the archives to see what previous games have raised the blood pressure of the world's moral arbiters.

Manhunt 2

In 2004 another Rockstar title, Manhunt, a stealth horror game where players are awarded points depending to the brutality of their executions was linked to the murder of Leicester teenager Stefan Pakeerah by his friend Warren Leblanc.

Initial media reports claimed that police had found a copy of the game in Leblanc's bedroom. Giselle Pakeerah, the victim's mother, stated

"I think that I heard some of Warren's friends say that he was obsessed by this game. If he was obsessed by it, it could well be that the boundaries for him became quite hazy”

Police went on to discount the game as being the cause for the murder. Its sequel Manhunt 2 was banned in the UK by the BBFC for its

 "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying…and sustained and cumulative casual sadism"

but was eventually awarded a release and certification after a protracted court battle and removal of some of the more gratuitous scenes.

Strip out all the controversy and its a solid game (if offering little replay value) and far tamer in terms of gore than the material you will subjected to in films such as Hostel or Saw

Saints Row 4

Saints Row 4 is an open world sandbox game which could be considered a wackier version of GTA and was denied an age rating by the Australia Classification Board due to an "alien anal probe" featured in the game that was considered to encourage "sexual violence".

The weapon called a “Rectifier” can be shoved into enemy's backsides'. The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon which once inserted into the victims anus would launch the victim into the air.

Really this is nothing more than childish bum humour made a pixelated reality. It was eventually allowed a release after modifications.

Wolfenstein 3D

This first person shooter banned in Germany due its Nazi symbolism. Despite the fact that Nazis are the enemy in the game censors took offence to the numerous swastikas, Horst-Wessel-Lied in game music (Nazi anthem) and Nazi iconography contained in the game which broke federal law.  

The SNES version of the game even had Hitler’s moustache airbrushed out whilst he was renamed “Straatmeiseter”.

I can’t imagine what made the Germans so touchy.


The BBFC took exception to this racing simulator where the object for players was to score points by running over people. To appease the BBFC programmers had to remove the humans and replace them with zombies or robots with green or black blood as this was deemed more acceptable by the censors.

This fuss really does look like small potatoes compared to the splatter fests depicted these days.

Postal 2

Tag line: "Remember, it's only as violent as you are!"

Another first person shooter where the character, Postal Dude has to perform mundane tasks whilst resisting the urge to “go postal” on the annoying citizens of Paradise as they mug, insult and attack him as he goes about his business.

Its black humour involving urination, gonorrhoea and misogyny was not appreciated by censors in various countries where it was banned because of its high level violent content, animal violence and a scene that was considered "gross and abhorrent" where the player urinates on dead bodies at a terrorist camp.

The animal violence relates to the use of a cat as a silencer when a firearm is equipped (you can work out where you have to stick the gun). Every time a shot is fired, the cat meows in apparent agony, and the gunshot is muffled.

This just sounds like bad 6th form humour and is hardly likely to create a generation of delinquents.


Altogether more disturbing is Rapelay a Japanese P.C. game where the male character stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters. Three years after its initial release, the game garnered international attention and controversy for its content.

The game is banned in Argentina, Malaysia, and Thailand for "graphic depictions of glorification of sexual violence", and "sexual content".

A variety of different games modes allow the player to undertake a variety of mini games such as blowing up skirts on a subway platform, fondling, rape and bondage. The player can choose from a variety of sexual positions by making movements with the mouse or by scrolling the mouse wheel.

Completely fucking weird and only something the Japanese could come up with and legislate for.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Live Music Review - The 1975 - Brighton Concorde 2 - 28/09/2013

The music industry is a cruel mistress. One minute you are the hottest thing since Hot Chip and the next you are fighting it out with The Pigeon Detectives to get a gig at the Butlins Indie Weekender.

The chart's transitory nature guarantees a never-ending quest for the next big thing. Right now the current NME darlings are The 1975, a Manchester 4-piece with a strong aroma of the 80's that permeates their music like a musky Drakkar Noir.

They have been championed by Zane Lowe, recently sold out The Bowery in New York and in a recent poll of Radio 1 listeners their single Chocolate was voted as the best single in the last 5 years. It would be churlish to compare regular Radio 1 listeners to goldfish so lets just say the buzz this band are generating is huge.

This furore is not lost on the fans who have come tonight judging by the chatter outside the venue. There is a reasonable cross section: some of them old enough to remember the 80's the first time around but mostly those who have been dropped off by their parents.

All are aware that we they might not be seeing The 1975 in such close proximity if their star continues its ascent. Front man Matt Healy comes out to a sea of camera phones and the pounding drums of opener The City. Silhouetted by the back and white neon image of their album cover his grown out Mohawk, stoner chic and skinny frame make him look like a young Jim Bob from Carter USM.

The 1975 have a knack of drilling home a phrase or a melody so it becomes ingrained in your psyche. The City overlays an incessant synth throb with Adam Hann's metronomic guitar loops to a repeated chorus of

"If you wanna find love you know where the city is"
Its life-affirming stuff.

M.O.N.E.Y.'s irregular rhythms, percussion and programmed beats make it sound like an unreleased Talking Heads track. Sonically it's interesting but the lack of a chorus lets it down. Talk! ups the anty with its funky riffs and anthemic refrain of "Why do you talk so loud?". The irony is lost on the couple in front of me who decide to shout to each above the music for the duration of song.

Head.Cars.Bending is not from the debut album but from the Music for Cars EP and plays out like a rockier version of Little Red Corvette using a similar chord progression as its template.

The 1975 do use synths and electronica to great effect do give their songs added dimension, although live the sound is slightly paired back. In many ways Heart Out distils the essence of The 1975 in one track. Lyrics such as

"Obsessions with rocks and brown and f*cking the whole town"

marry the bands twin preoccupations of sex and drugs perfectly. Throw in a bass line that borrows the staccato intro from Robert Tepper's No Easy Way Out, a dash of Buggles and a synth sax solo and they couldn't make it more 80's if they made it wear shoulder pads and carry a Filofax.

Its about this time of the evening where Healy complains about the heat and gets his shirt off and a waft of oestrogen temporally suffocates the room. Such is his effect on the ladies its only right that the bubblegum pop of Girls gets an airing. My favourite song on the album it sunny riff recalls the Pointer Sisters. If they were to remake Beverly Hills Cop you would find this on the soundtrack.

Matt then unleashes the one song bulldozer of Chocolate. Its as sweet a pop overload as the name suggests (although its another song about drugs)and is the main reason why the band are making waves. Tonight it has grown men screaming out its nursery rhyme chorus.

"Thank you for making this number one Brighton"

If the men get vocal the song literally has girls climbing the walls as one brave trio attempt and impromptu pole dance on the foot wide shelf at the side of the stage. Security quickly ushers them down but not before Healy as had chance to serenade them before leaving the stage.

The devotees know the band have one bullet left in the chamber and shout them back out for an encore. "We Want Sex!" is chanted in unison before the group return for their encore in an explosion of strobe and the thrashing guitars of Sex

"Seen you soon...and if I don't see you have a good life"

The 1975's tick all the right boxes. They show invention, variety and can deliver live. Yet despite all these positives why do I feel that something is missing? They only thing I can think of are that band lack a degree of soul. Both in delivery and in content, their music can sound detached and artificial like some musically proficient 6th formers singing about their nights out on the town.

If they want to be a truly great band they need to connect with their audience on a deeper level. This I hope will come with time. People will always listen harder if they think you have something worthwhile to say.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Games Don't Kill People, People Do - Does Grand Theft Auto Create a Nation of Killers?

As a gamer of 20 years standing I’ve always been baffled by the notion that violent games create a generation of killer zombies primed to shoot up their local mall as soon as they are told they cannot order anything off the breakfast menu after 10am.

Grand Theft Auto 5 was released this week to the usual gasps of protest. One particular mission involving torture has got conservative knickers in a twist. In it players can choose various torture techniques (drowning, mutilation, electrocution) in order to kneecap, pull out teeth and batter information on the location of an insurgent from one of the characters. Use all the torture implements and you can get your hands on a gold medal. Well done.

The game’s makers Rockstar North have sensibly kept quiet on the subject, letting the furore sell more units. The game is the most expensive ever made; costing £170m; an extraordinary outlay, but it’s expected to generate £1 billion in the first year alone. Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Rockstar have previously rejected criticism about the levels violence and depravity in the franchise by saying they the games are not, as Florida lawyer Jack Thompson describes them:

“murder simulators”

Rockstar have argued that GTA uses its dark humour as a means of critiquing modern life by holding up a mirror to the less salubrious aspects in 21st century society. They don’t encourage they reflect.

In GTA 5 the water-boarding elements of the controversial mission have been suggested by some as pointed criticism of US behaviour during the Iraq War and should be taken into context with plotlines from later on in the game. Whatever the justification, conservative commentators have hinted that suggestible children are going to start setting up their own water boarding areas in the corners of playgrounds as a result. Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says

"Four to five-year-olds have a tendency to copy what they see on TV, whether it’s this or Fireman Sam putting out fires."

Firstly, what human detritus is allowing their toddlers to watch an 18 cert game and a how is a 4yr old going to rig up a car battery to some jump leads in order to set up a makeshift torture rig? For starters car batteries are quite heavy and you will struggle to get one for under £80. Which 4yr olds have that sort of money? That is unless they have been studying GTA and have a sideline in robbing convenience stores or running townsfolk over collecting their money from their flattened corpses. Damn, GTA really IS corrupting our nation’s minds.

I remember way back in the 80’s playing Barbarian on the Commodore 64 where your character was a greased-up beefcake who spent the entire game trying to decapitate his opponents and if successful your enemy’s head would satisfyingly bounce off the screen.

I’ve played all sorts of games over the years which have involved all manner of shooting and blowing people up and yet I’ve never felt the urge to go on a mass rampage. I do often walk about my flat smothered in baby oil wearing nothing but a loin-cloth but I’m sure that has nothing to do with my gaming choices.

There is an argument, of which I am sympathetic, to say that violent games can be the catalyst for unbalanced individuals to commit acts of violence. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski says

“it’s kind of hard not to make a connection between games and the recent Navy Yard shooting (12 people shot dead by gunman Aaron Alexis) when you hear the shooter's friend saying that he would watch on a life size screen these violent video games for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours.”

Take the example of Anders Breivik who in court described how he trained for the killing of 69 people by practicing his shooting on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Describing the game, he said:

"It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That's why it's used by many armies throughout the world. It's very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems."

He added: "If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it's built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It's designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you've practiced using a simulator."

Breivik is not an isolated case .The Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho, the Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner and the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, who sat in his windowless basement playing Call of Duty for hours, are all described as essentially being addicted to video games.

There is a strong argument that these games desensitize already troubled trouble individuals from the mechanics and implications of killing. Repeated acts of aggression are probably not the best remedy for individuals dealing with bullying, social anxiety or serious mental illness.

Personally whilst I think violent video games should be strictly restricted to the under 18yrs, like all adult entertainment, I think the killers would have committed these terrible acts whether violent computer games existed or not. A sane mind is able to distinguish between fantasy and reality and there has to be something seriously wrong with them mentally to copy the violence they have witnessed in games.

Perhaps more money and time should be spent helping those who have personality disorders and mental illness rather than knee jerk reactions by MP’s and media types with voters to assuage and papers to sell.

Next week: 6 games that make GTA look lke Angry Birds

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

TV Review - Stacey Dooley Investigates - Cocaine Capital of The World BBC3

The war on drugs is one of the longest and most futile wars the West has waged and one which ruins lives on both sides of the divide. Fuelled by loudmouth tosspots in US/Europe this multi-billion pound business touches all of us directly or indirectly and the world's most powerful governments have been incapable of getting to grips with it.

Fresh from a her expose of the horrors of Magaluf, Stacey Dooley presents a three-parter on BBC3 exposing the murky world of the drug trade.  Think of her as a budget version of Louis Theroux, where serious subjects are tackled with the same knowledge and wide-eyed naivete you might find in your local 6th form media studies class.

Peru is now the largest producer of cocaine in the world.  This fact amazes Stacey and her first subject Danny, a cockney moron who tried to smuggle 1.3 kilos of Peruvian marching powder (the clue is in the title Stacey) out the country and is currently residing at El Presidente's pleasure, inside a overcrowded Lima jail.

‘I always thought Columbia was the world’s biggest cocaine producer,’ he tells Stacey, in his England cap . ‘So did I" she grins.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge on the subject would be aware the two countries share a border, a massive jungle and more importantly the kind of grinding poverty which makes growing coca one of the only viable ways to make a living.

With her credentials fully established what we get is Tracey pissing about in various locations; from the coca growers in the hills of San Jose where Tracey has to overcome the not-at-all staged road block by riding to the location on some passing donkeys.

"If it is this hard for us to get here think of the Peruvian authorities."

to the infamous cocaine laboratories of Santa Rosa where her attempts at creating some TV jeopardy by whispering sotto voce how they all need to keep a low profile are somewhat undermined by her delivering said piece to camera in broad daylight.

For those of you who are interested the process itself is a fairly amateur affair.  It involves picking coca leaf, sun-drying it and mixing it with salt, bleach, ammonia and gasoline in makeshift vats and treading all over it like a gap-student making wine in Provence. Whack the paste into microwave for 40mins and bingo!

Then she is off on a raid with a crack team of Peruvian commandos who are responding to a tip off. It might be revelatory to Stracey but they actually have helicopters that can reach those out of the way locations. As she tip-toes up a  muddy jungle path her excitement gets the better of her and she starts to resemble a fake tanned Blind Date contestant who drew the short straw and instead of being sent on a spa treatment got sent on a go-karting holiday instead.

"This is the most insane thing I've ever done"

The commandos get there but all the bad guys have scarpered leaving them to burn the makeshift factory to the ground in what feels like a futile gesture.  The outlook doesn't great for them as new varieties of coca leaf have been created that don't require the cooler hillside temperatures and can be hidden in the muggy Amazon basin well away from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

Despite the misery that cocaine inflicts upon the world you find it difficult to criticise the subsistence farmers who grow the crop in Cuchillo Cocha, an Amazonian backwater, when one says he is finally able to drink cold water for the first time in 50yrs as he can now afford a fridge.  Dooley tries her best to emphasise the apparent wealth of this town

"There's tin roofs everywhere"

but these guys certainly aren't living like they're in an episode of MTV Cribs.  Give them something else they can grow and make living and they will move on to that. Growing coca doesn't make them rich it helps them escape poverty.

With the best will in the world Dooley is not a serious documentarian and would do well tackling subjects more suited to her style (although I did enjoy her Blood Sweat and T Shirts expose in 2008). Perhaps she will develope with experience but here she just looks a bit lost and out of her depth.

The documentary may not be particularly eye opening but it is timely following the news that
two 19yr olds, Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, were arrested in Lima on Tuesday trying to smuggle 11 kilos of cocaine worth £1.5m out of the country.  Not to worry girls. I'm sure Danny will show you the ropes.

You can watch it for the next week in iPlayer but to be honest go check out Bruce Parry's Amazon  or Channel 4's Cocaine series for more substance.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Live Review - Magic Summer Live - Jamiroquai + Chic - Guildford 13/07/2013

Festivals in principle seem like a fabulous idea, thousands of like-minded music fans congregating in beautiful natural surroundings to the joyous, life-affirming sounds of their favourite bands. Their problems forgotten they are united in musical union, blind to the differences in colour, creed or religion. Festivals are modern day places of worship where Madonna replaces Mohammed and Jay-Z steps in for Jesus. That's the theory anyway.

However, these lofty ideals are normally shattered by the wet-fish-to-the-face that is reality. Once you factor in the exorbitant ticket prices, seas of mud/mind-bending heat (delete as appropriate), mediocre food, lack of sleep, shit-encrusted toilets, mongs, twats and piss-heads the divine takes on a more attritional air. With this in mind, the most I can tolerate are the one day festivals where a comfortable bed is never too far away.

Magic Summer Live sees the resurrection of the old Guilfest festival which folded due to financial problems (i.e nobody was coming). As usual it is set in the unremarkable grounds of Stoke Park in Guildford and this year played host the likes of Soul II Soul, Chic, Beverley Knight, Ocean Colour Scene, Joss Stone and Jamiroquai. It was as if it was 2003 never happened.

With the bands on the bill this was always going to draw in a diverse clientele and it was nice to see a few old timers, families and kids baking in the 30 degree heat along with the usual festival crowd. It may be touted as family friendly festival but I felt a bit sorry of the nippers as it was scorching hot. A lack of shade and children's entertainment reminiscent of Father Ted's "Fun Land" in its paucity and lack of imagination meant even the most accommodating of children would have found a whole day a struggle.

For adults Jamiroquai were the big draw on the day as they were performing their only UK gig this year. The warm up acts weren't too shabby either with a Nile Rodgers-led Chic reprising their fantastic Glastonbury performance with a heavy hitting set that drew on Rodgers talents as songwriter/producer/performer for hire. Musical tastes may vary but class remains permanent.

He showcased not just Chic's extensive back catalogue but his work with Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and David Bowie. Rodgers topped it off with a crowd led stage invasion and the longest thank you speech since Gwenyth Paltrow blubbed her way through the Oscars.

I'll put my cards on the table here; I'm a big Jamiroquai fan. I've seen them on numerous occasions in the UK and in Europe and they have always delivered live. Its been a while since I've seen them in the UK and the misfiring Rock Dust Light Star album made me worry that Jay's magic touch may have deserted him. I am happy to inform you that reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated..

Jay looks relaxed and happy to be back on home soil but starts the show with a little grumble.

"People say we don't do music anymore"

He then proceeds to read off a list of places he has performed to this year "Bogota, Belgrade, Budapest... " in the manner of an embittered Alan Partridge.

The current incarnation of Jamiroquai may be shorn of many of its original band members due in part to JK's egomania (only drummer Derrick McKenzie and percussionist Sola Akinbola remain from the peak of the band's powers) but the replacement rhythm section of bassist Paul Turner and guitarist Rob Harris keep the funk flame burning. Harris in particular is in inspired form, channelling Nile Rodgers' musical vibes with his scratchy disco chords and urgent rythym.

"Ve have a list and ve must use it!"

jokes a playful JK in a cod German accent when the crowd shout requests. The band launch into an blistering opening six songs starting with Alright and ending in Canned Heat that guaranteed even the fans in the disabled area up on their feet.

It would be easy for Jamiroquai to come out on autopilot and bash out the old hits but they routinely mix things up by reworking, extending and amending their tracks ensuring that no two concerts are never the same. Virtual Insanity gets a thorough going over tonight and emerges like a funked up butterfly on steriods.

By this time JK is drenched in sweat from his hip swivelling dance routines that belie his 43 years (he seems to have a particularly sweaty arse and knees for some reason) and he understandably brings the tempo down with an acoustic version of Rock Dust Light Star. This kills the mood somewhat, as A: its much slower and B: not a very good song.

Its was April 1993 when Jamiroquai's retro jazz-funk refreshed a grunge-scorched music scene. Their debut single When You Gonna Learn? celebrated its 20 years anniversary this year. It is landmark that Jay is justifiably proud of but he wearily acknowledges Father Time with the axiom:

"we all looked so much younger"

Years of fast living may have given him a few crows feet but the music still sounds as fresh now as it did in the early 90's. The pace picks up a again with a 90mph version of Travelling Without Moving, Love Foolosophy's extended keyboard wig outs and culminates in Deeper Underground's thrash pogoing. They should have left it there rather the Jamiroquai-by-numbers White Knuckle Ride which ends the set on an anti-climax. It's a minor quibble on a day of great music, clean(ish toilets) and blazing sunshine.

As it gets dark Jamiroquai unleash their laser show which combined with strobe lights going off in our faces feels like we're at an Orbital gig with a gaggle of aging ravers. Sadly, JK isn't the only one not getting any younger.

Set List
Use The force
High Times
Virtual Insanity
Little L
Canned Heat
Rock Dust Light Star
When You Gonna Learn
You Give Me Something
Travelling Without Moving
Cosmic Girl
Love Foolosophy
Deeper Underground
White Knuckle Ride