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Review: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written gripping journalistic account of North Korean defectors, describing their lives in the DPRK. I have to question whether the accounts are completely truthful and genuine as so much information which emerges from North Korea tends to be biased. However, the accounts make good reading and describe a truly Orwellian culture that is very unlike our own Western lifestyles. To a romantic socialist, some of what may appear is idyllic, but as is often the case, the horrors of famine and gulags are all too apparent. There is much quaintness in many of the stories, of simple love, of familial ties, of the teaching of children. The emotions felt by North Koreans are just the same as elsewhere in the world. However, it seems as though the state control of all aspects of life is extremely strict. The failure of the food supply system and the healthcare that was a real high point of the earlier years of the DPRK, is all to evident as the communist world collapsed in the late 1980s. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the way in which the defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. If ever the two Koreas are united, there is a massive gulf between the cultures which I don’t think can be bridged too easily. Overall, the book is quite disturbing, but still very gripping. I think it should be studied in context alongside other texts on Korea. View all my reviews

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Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’d read some Philip K Dick before and this was certainly in a fast-flowing writing style. It only took me half a day to read the book from start to finish. It was totally gripping. The story is about the strange happenings to celebrity Jeremy Taverner, a genetically engineered TV host, He is catapulted into anonymity and left to face the police state brutalities that occupy the lower, less-known classes. There is a tide of colourful characters, mainly women, to whom this good-looking ‘6’ has lots of charm. The power and corruption of the police with their futuristic technologies is a scary concept and Dick tackles some concepts which are still current and in the process of being introduced such as ID cards. The way in which Taverner’s life is glued back together is cleverly done and is very mysterious. He has somehow warped through a portal in time, entered an alternate reality. The book touches on some really provocative themes. There are drugs, sex and rock & roll as well as racism, incest, violence. I love the way the story winds furiously and progresses. You get attached to the characters and really feel Taverner’s emotions. Do we feel sorry for the policeman? there are touches of humanity still there but he is also devoid of his integral humanity. I love the way the book neatly concludes, if it is a little sharp. An excellent read and I cannot wait to tackle my next Dick title. View all my reviews

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Review: Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a 20th century classic novel I had to read. It is a fascinating story of the Second World War which grows ever more absurd as Yossarian proceeds on his quest to return home. The characters are fantastic, especially Milo, the entrepreneurial head of the syndicate. The horrors of war can be seen from the ever-increasing list of casualties which disturbs Yossarian as, enveloped in catch-22, the missions he is required to fly, before his tour of duty ends, keep increasing. At times, there is joy, when the men are recuperating from their flights, enjoying themselves in Rome or relaxing at the mess hall. There is always wit and humour although most of the stories have very dark conclusions. The novel jumps from character to character and from scenario to scenario but it is all wonderfully woven together and it builds to a final crescendo where the helplessness of Yossarian’s situation has built to a farcical outcome and he bids his attempt to escape the inescapable catch-22 which constantly revolves around every situation invoked in the tale. It’s a great read and I’m sure must have really appealed to those who were present in the battles of the war itself. A very good book. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Liverpool vs West Brom (26.10.13) W 4-1

Liverpool began the match with their favoured three central defenders, Daniel Agger still not being able to force his way back into first XI. The game began with a fast tempo with Liverpool passing the ball around well. Suarez was pressurising the West Brom defence right from the outset and after having a few shots go wide, fell under a challenge as he headed into the box, but it was a weak appeal for a penalty and the referee correctly refused to award it. A couple of minutes later though (in the 12th) and heading into the right side of the penalty area, he nutmegged the defender and beautifully slotted the ball past WBA keeper, Myhill. A great start for Liverpool and Luis Suarez managed to break his goalscoring duck against Albion. Liverpool kept up the tempo and territorial pressure on the beleaguered away side and it only took another five minutes before yet again our star Uruguayan was converting. This time, Aly Cissokho delivered a great cross to the edge of the box where Suarez plunged a fantastic powerful header into the top corner.  2-0 Liverpool. With 25 minutes gone, a beautifully crafted free kick, from a good position on the edge of the area, culminated in Martin Skrtel slicing the ball from a good goal-scoring position. There was an injury concern when Glen Johnson went down awkwardly while making a recovery tackle against Anichebe. West Brom just couldn’t seem to get into the game and Liverpool were truly dominant. Jordan Henderson almost increased the lead to three with a narrowly missing curling shot just clearing the post. Just before half time and a long through ball for Nicolas Anelka saw him skip past Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet. Having beaten the last line of defence, he passed the ball towards the open goal but luckily for Liverpool, the persistent on-from defender, Skrtel, managed to get back and clear the ball from the line. It was the only real danger of what was an excellent first half for the home team. The second half got underway and immediately Daniel Sturridge won a decently positioned free kick and went close to scoring with a strong, curling shot, which just skipped wide. Baggies defender, Claudio Yacob, managed to stop another Liverpool attack but went into the book for his efforts and left a free kick to the Redmen. Steven Gerrard delivered perfectly…

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Match Preview: Liverpool vs West Brom (26.10.13)

            Liverpool welcome West Brom to Anfield in this non-televised 3pm fixture. Liverpool are currently third in the league with West Brom standing at twelfth. League form, however, can be overlooked. West Brom are a bogey side of Liverpool’s, having won 4 of our previous five league fixtures, including a comfortable double over us last season. Although West Brom haven’t won in over a month, they have been impressive against the top sides, beating Man United in their own back yard and also holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw. Their manager, former no 2 to Kenny Dalgleish at Liverpool, Steve Clarke, will certainly not be afraid of Liverpool, and is likely to have good knowledge of our side. For Liverpool, Lucas Leiva should likely make a return to midfield, having been absent for baby duty last weekend. Glen Johnson should be match fit by now and with Jose Enrique still out with a knock, Aly Cissokho looks set to play left-back. Philippe Coutinho still hasn’t commenced full contact training though should hopefully be back for next weekend’s fixture against Arsenal. Winger, Scott Sinclair, will be missing for West Brom. Ben Foster, Zoltan Gera and George Thorne are also likely to sit out with injuries. The big question for Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, is whether to stick with his 3 central defenders. We haven’t yet held a clean sheet using these tactics. I think that a 3-5-2 formation is perhaps a bit too negative, especially for a home game. Also, is it time for Daniel Agger to start again? Martin Skrtel’s form has been holding our vice-captain out of the side. Is it time for Toure or Sakho to make way for the Dane? Luis Suarez will be hungry as he is yet to score in five games against West Brom. Hopefully his SAS partner, a man with 20 Liverpool goals in 26 appearances, Daniel Sturridge, will also be keen to bag some more goals for his leading tally. I think that Liverpool will be apprehensive about this fixture and maybe will be a bit too over-cautious. They has a bad game against Newcastle last week and need to bounce back. Hopefully our home crowd will be supportive and provide the impetus for us to get the three points which the bookies are predicting. Never in our club’s history have we lost three consecutive home games…

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Review: The FARC: The Longest Insurgency

The FARC: The Longest Insurgency by Garry Leech My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book covers a very interesting subject for what in general there is a dearth of information and that which does exist tends to be fundamentally skewed with bias. The left wing of Colombia’s forty year civil war is headed up by the FARC-EP. This revolutionary Marxist guerrilla group holds a vast amount of Colombian territory and is the de-facto government of a large amount of mainly impoverished rural people who are in general greatly neglected by their government. The FARC have a very strong propaganda campaign in action against them and in this rather brief book, the author attempts to unravel the myths surrounding the FARC, and to determine the truth of what lies behind the propaganda against them. The Americans and Colombian government accuse them of being narco-traffickers and narco-terrorists, and use these accusations in order to fund their fight against their enemy. The book is good at unravelling many of the myths and in general one gets a decent balanced impression and a feeling that one has touched upon the truth. the FARC can be seen as a genuine combatant army and are a bit different to the way they are portrayed as a terrorist or criminal organisation. Their insurgency, although very bloody and difficult, is based in the realities of a real war. They have an ideological struggle and truly represent the feelings of their people. Some of the facts are quite surprising. I found the chapter on human rights abuses very revealing. It shows that although the FARC are very far from perfect and have committed some truly heinous acts, in general, the Colombian government forces and right-wing paramilitary groups are far more oppressive towards the average civilian. I think the author, who is an investigative journalist based in Colombia, has done a very good job with this work. I feel that for such a subject, a much broader and deeper piece of writing could be done. If anything the account is just a bit too brief. I hope to check out some of Garry Leech’s other books. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Newcastle United vs Liverpool (19.10.13) D 2-2

Liverpool started the game in their favoured 3-5-2 formation, with natural wing backs in Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson bot making reappearances. Sakho, Toure and Skrtel form the central defence 3. Lucas Leiva stayed at home with his wife and their new-born daughter. Jordan Henderson joined Steven Gerrard in the middle of the park with Victor Moses lining up behind the formidable SAS. The game started with good flowing football from both sides. Glen Johnson looked comfortable back in his right back role and made some lovely passes, most notably a cracking cross pitch ball to the opposite wing. Liverpool were having the most of territory in the first twenty minutes, but somehow their passing just didn’t seem to be hitting the mark. Then, all of a sudden, Newcastle broke through midfield, and from thirty yards out, Yohan Cabaye let loose with a powerful, swerving shot which Simon Mignolet let pass him. The keeper really should have stopped a shot from such a distance. It was totally against the run of play, but leaves Liverpool on the back foot, one-nil down Newcastle followed up their goal with some sustained pressure and a few corners left Liverpool’s defence being tested. Liverpool were still on top in terms of possession and even after Gerrard delivered their eighth corner, they still couldn’t find the goal. Back at the other end, Newcastle who were primarily counter-attacking, Mignolet redeemed himself slightly, with a great stop from a powerful shot from Newcastle’s Moussa Cissokho. Apart from the goal it was definitely the best chance of the game so far. Liverpool got back to attacking and Luis Suarez made a good attempt. A couple of minutes later, Luis Suarez, again in the box, was brought down with a professional foul by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. The defender was given an instant red card and hesitatingly made his way off the pitch. Meanwhile, skipper Steven Gerrard, stepped up to the spot to easily score the penalty kick, his one hundredth league goal. The game had turned yet again upon its head and Newcastle, down to ten men, must surely be under pressure for the rest of the match. Just ahead of halftime and Newcastle decided to change their formation slightly with a defensive substitution, Paul Dummett on for Moussa Sissoko. Steven Gerrard managed to pick himself up a caution. Half time, and rather a messy 45 minutes in terms of football has…

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Match Preview: Newcastle United vs Liverpool (19.10.13)

              Well, thankfully, the international break is over, and it’s a return to the Premiership for our club players. We lie second in the table, to Newcastle’s 11th. Luckily no more injuries were picked up by our players during the international break and our injury list actually shrinks ahead of this game with Glen Johnson, Aly Cissokho and Joe Allen all returning to the squad after lengthy absences. Bad news as Iago Aspas is ruled out with a thigh problem. Philippe Coutinho is still in recovery from his shoulder injury. Lucas Leiva though will be back available for selection after completing his suspension. Newcastle have a few notable absences of their own, with two key Argentinians missing. Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutiérrez are both out, defender Coloccini has a groin injury and midfielder Gutiérrez has been allowed to return to his homeland for personal reasons. Newcastle will still be smarting from the heavy 6-0 defeat Liverpool inflicted on them, last time out, in April. If anything, our team has grown even stronger than then, so Alan Pardew may indeed come under heavy pressure. The Liverpool SAS (Suarez and Sturridge) are probably the League’s most prolific striking partnership and with key personnel missing, Newcastle will hopefully be on the back foot. With the return of Johnson to Liverpool’s squad, it could be interesting predicting what Brendan Rodgers decides to do with the defence. The 3-5-2 we’ve been using recently, although I’ve been quite critical of it, does seem to have been delivering results and therefore works. Will Johnson’s reappearance mean we revert back to a standard 4-4-2? These games have traditionally been goal feasts with 122 games being scored in the past 38 league meetings. Let’s hope that it’s one way traffic and that our defence will be tight, with our attack performing to its utmost.Newcastle have had an unbalanced start to their campaign and their defence has been notably leaky. With key players missing today, including their captain, the omens for the passionate St. James Park home supporters aren’t good. Brendan Rodgers has described his squad as being at the strongest yet this season, so looking at the pre-match analysis, everything is in our favour and with luck we should gain the three points here, temporarily catapulting us back to the top of the League. The match will be shown live on BT Sports, kicking off…

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Great People, Great Parties, and Great Poker

What Happens in Vegas… …great people, great parties, and great poker Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World, Capital of Second Chances…just hearing the name brings memories of bright lights and fun nights. In Lonely Planet Las Vegas, Scott Doggett chanced upon the best and most accurate description of the city: “Las Vegas exists chiefly to satisfy the needs and desires of its visitors, and it does in spectacular fashion. Sin City has taken or re-created the best that other great cities have to offer and then upped the ante — making it bigger, grander, flashier.” Truly, there’s something for everyone in Vegas. The EDM fan will find himself lost in this city of hearty music , not knowing where to go first. Vegas.com has a list of the best nightclubs in the city, but if you really want to experience Vegas to the fullest, you need to experience why Vegas is called the Gambling Capital of the World. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Las Vegas strip’s gaming revenue last year was $6.2 billion. There were 21,615 different conventions held in the city in 2012, but something else attracts millions of people to the city. Vegas is the home of the World Series of Poker, the most prestigious poker tournament in the world. Every year, thousands of poker players gather in hopes of bringing home a bracelet and winning big money as they compete with other professional poker players. The main event of the WSOP will be held in Vegas in mid-November. This much-awaited event is attended by people from all walks of life. Last year, Betfair player Elisbeth Hille, then a waitress from Norway, made history by becoming one of two women to reach the final two tables since 2000. But there’s more to the Vegas poker scene than the WSOP. The Grand Poker Series is also held in the Sin City during the summer season and it hosts more than 300 poker events that were joined by players from all over the globe. Binion’s Poker Classic, now on its seventh year, is another tournament that sees 47 events running from May to July. No matter what time of the year you decide to fly to Vegas, there will be something to satisfy your EDM and poker needs. Over the years, Vegas has become the premier destination for a luxurious vacation, dancing, and gambling. There’s…

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Review: Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse My rating: 4 of 5 stars This short work by German / Swiss author and nobel literature prizewinner, Herman Hesse, was a cornerstone of the hippy movement which emerged during the 1960s. The book explores the journey of a young Indian man through an adventurous life, in which his main quest is to achieve enlightenment. He leaves home, becomes an ascetic and then meets the Buddha (Gotama), before rejecting asceticism and turning to the material world, seeking the pleasures of lust, wealth and gambling. He fathers a child with his lover and then departs off to seek pastures new, depressed and fed up of his life in the city. He finds a middle way between the asceticism of his youth and the high life of his merchanting. As a ferryman, next to the river, he lives with a wise old sage who comforts him and allows him to finally achieve the enlightenment he seeks. His son disowns him and his old friend, who becomes a follower of the Buddha, periodically bumps into him and eventually the story concludes with the two old men sharing views on life and what they have learnt, with Siddharta revealing some of the deep philosophies which have shaped him. It’s an exciting and eminently readable tale, full of Buddhist and Eastern mystical titbits that the reader can relate to and indeed be enlightened by. I can see why hippies favoured this novel and it really can be classed as a true twentieth century classic. View all my reviews

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Review: When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order

When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is an excellent study of China and its position in the modern world. The author explores the rise of China’s power, through history and into the future. China will be the biggest power in the global economy and this book projects how the new world will look. It examines Chinese attitudes to the world, the rate of development in China, and how China will treat the rest of the world as it assumes its position in the number 1 spot, currently held by the USA. A key factor which the author constantly identifies, in how China differs from previous world powers, is that China is not just a nation-state in the Westphalian sense, but a ‘civilisation-state’. It is continental in terms of its landmass and holds 20% of the world’s population. It has a rich 5000 year old history and is much less imperialistic in its attitude to foreign countries as the great powers which have preceded it. There are vast differences in how a world with China at its head will appear. The Western illusion will be shattered and countries will become ever more dependent upon a developed China. The study contains many fascinating statistics which prove the author’s thoughts and ideas. It introduces many topics which I had previously not really appreciated, such as the Chinese racial views on the world and also the dependency of Western Oceania countries such as Australia and New Zealand on the Chinese economy. As a sinophile, myself, I found the book thoroughly intriguing. It is unlike any other study I have read to date on China and offers a good glimpse into the future of the mother country. It is a question of when and not if, China becomes the biggest and most powerful nation on earth. It is scary to us in the West, what this may entail, but equally it is important that we ready ourselves for a new world order. This book provides ample preparation for anyone interested in what the growth of China means to them and how the world will change. View all my reviews

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Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell My rating: 4 of 5 stars This short book is regarded as one of Orwell’s key classics. It was written at a time when criticism of the USSR in Britain was not encouraged as they were critical wartime allies. Orwell got through the net and his revolutionary animals at ‘Animal Farm’ are his way of assessing Stalin’s Russia. From initial success in their revolution to overthrow the humans, the animals build up their community with new laws, a utopia is created, where they are free from their former masters. Through the subsequent rise of a dictator, the dissemination of propaganda, the purges, wars and rewriting of the laws, we see a community rise and fall to a point where the ruling pigs more or less merge with the humans they superseded. Animal Farm contains some great characters which one gets attached to. The revolution can be seen through varies eyes, from the bleating sheep to hardworking horses, from the rats to cunning pigs. If one has an awareness of the development of the communist Soviet Union, you can see how Orwell has built his tale. Even without any knowledge of the Russian Revolution, the book can be taken as a story in itself, without the subtlety of underlining politics, the book is a quaint tale of a fantastical overthrow of the rulers of the farm and how a new life of self-governance is created. I enjoy reading George Orwell and Animal Farm is a thoroughly decent book. Recommended. View all my reviews

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Review: Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’ve been to Polynesia, and stood out on a deserted beach, staring out at the vastness of the Pacific, it is only natural to imagine how these people first arrived in such a remote location. Thor Heyerdahl, in living memory, in one of the greatest sea voyages of all time, also wondered this, and set in motion a fabulous journey to emulate the ancestors of the modern day Polynesians, by sailing on a traditional pae-pae or raft from his theorized seeding point of the race in Peru. Kon-Tiki was a pre-Incan King who escaping from battle defeat on mainland South America, headed off into the Pacific Ocean sunset, seeking new lands. Thor and his five Scandic compadres repeated this adventure, having thoroughly researched every detail of it. Their voyage was viewed by most experts as a complete suicide mission. This book narrates wonderfully the ship’s log, as they trundled along the empty oceans on a unique epic of discovery. From the sea creatures they encountered en route, to the sparseness of their abode, Heyerdahl records in graphic detail every aspect of their plight. It is a truly enlightening tale, which reads exceptionally well. It is a real page-turner, which grips you as the journey progresses and you genuinely can empathise with the men’s elation when they finally strike land and spend a few weeks partying with the natives, Polynesian style. It’s a happy tale and an amazing true story. A great read! Highly recommended. View all my reviews

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Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is an easy to read autobiographical account of a confessing EHM, who feels the pangs of guilt for his work in expanding America’s global empire over the past few decades, at the expense of developing countries’ poor people and environments. It covers many important political situations, where the author often had a hands-on role. From Saudi Arabia and the Oil Crisis of the 1970s to Iraq and the recent wars fought there. From Panama and its loss of leaders and the controversy of its canal, to Colombia and Ecuador, with their internal problems. John Perkins is very critical of the often heartless role he had to play in creating opportunities for big US business. He has led a very fascinating life and it’s interesting to see directly how power politics and people of influence are directed by the interests of big US corporations. We see a man who struggles with guilt and who ultimately revokes this powerful lifestyle, to retire to championing the plights of indigenous people through non-profit organisations. It’s an important firsthand account of a critical era of US expansion across the globe. Whatever your views on America’s imperial tendencies, this is an enlightening read which will broaden your horizons. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Liverpool vs Crystal Palace (05.10.13) W 3-1

It began  a good day for Liverpool as it saw Kenny Dalgleish return to a position in the directors’ box at Anfield. Liverpool started the game in their recent favoured 3-5-2 formation, Martin Skrtel joined by Sakho and Toure in the centre of defence. The missing Lucas was replaced by Jordan Henderson in the centre of midfield and Raheem Sterling took his place on the right hand side. Liverpool started the game very positively, immediately seizing control of possession and putting the struggling Crystal Palace on the back foot. It wasn’t long before we broke the deadlock. After thirteen minutes, Suarez, fallen off his feet in the box, latched onto Jose Enrique’s ball and slipped it into the net. To complete the devastating force of our SAS, Daniel Sturridge soon afterwards made it two with a cracking left foot strike into the bottom corner. Crystal Palace responded well to the early pressure and for the next ten minutes made Liverpool defend. We looked a bit shaky at the back and it required a spectacular save from Simon Mignolet to secure our clean sheet, denying a good attempt from Puncheon. In the thirty-sixth minute, Raheem Sterling, heading into the Anfield Road end penalty area, fell after a minor touch from Moxey. Penalty awarded and the captain, Steven Gerrard, stepped up to fool the keeper into diving the wrong way. Before halftime Victor Moses was thwarted by the crossbar. It was 3-0 and liverpool’s relentless attack had sealed a comfortable position ahead of the second half. Crystal Palace dug in, second half, and made life a bit more difficult for the Redmen, who to be fair had probably taken their foot off the gas a little. The game moved back and forth with a fairly even allocation of possession and territory. Daniel Agger came on for Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses made way for Luis Alberto. Raheem Sterling was having a good game down the wing and was causing all sorts of problems out on the right. In the seventy-sixth minute Gayle, for Crystal Palace headed a cross into the box, past the Liverpool keeper. It was initially reported as a Gerrard own goal, such was the confusion. Liverpool’s attack kept breaking down with misplaced passes. Daniel Sturridge hit a cracking volley which spun back off the inside of the post, so unlucky not to make it a brace. He was substituted…

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Match Preview: Liverpool vs Crystal Palace (05.10.13)

            Last time out at Anfield, Liverpool gave a disappointing performance and slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Southampton.We turned the corner in out mini-crisis, however, and beat Sunderland away last week, to take up second place in the league. Here, we return to a home fixture against minnow opposition. Crystal Palace are languishing in the drop-zone already, just above Sunderland in 19th place, with one win and five losses. When you look ahead to fixtures, it’s the eye-catching ones which excite supporters. The matches against the top four sides, the Merseyside derby, the Man United games. These games, for Liverpool, generally cause few problems. We always step it up for the big occasions and usually succeed in bagging all the points on offer. Nowadays, I see the likes of Crystal Palace at home in the fixture list, and whereas, looking at the league standings, it should be an easy three points, for Liverpool, we always seem to struggle against the hackers that fight it out at the bottom of the division. I think that with Liverpool being such a huge club historically, sides like Palace, who are not as accustomed to Premiership ways, really try to perform and shine in front of our passionate football loving supporters. Games in the atmosphere of Anfield bring out the best in the opposition. It is like stepping out at Wembley for them. They bring their A-game, and also their mainly physical styles don’t suit us very well. We like beautiful football, passing and movement. When you are facing rough aerial challenges and hoofed long-balls from the back for ninety minutes, it takes its toll on the players, and slips in defence are more likely to occur. Injuries and suspensions mean that Liverpool will be flexing their squad for the game. Lucas Leiva is a critical non-starter, on a one-match ban for accumulation of yellow cards. It seems a little early in the season for this to happen, and our Brazilian starlet should perhaps pay more attention to his discipline when he returns. Lucas’ natural replacement, Joe Allen, is still out injured with his hamstring. Obviously, Coutinho and Johnson, are still in recovery and Cissokho also misses out. Sebastien Coates has picked up a cruciate knee ligament injury on international duty so is another long term absentee. Rodgers is likely to turn to Jordan Henderson as cover for…

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Dietmar Hamann

Dietmar Hamann or Didi was known as ‘The Kaiser’ during his time at the helm of Liverpool’s central midfield. The German international was signed for Liverpool by Gerard Houllier in July 1999 for £8 million from Newcastle United. His seven year career at Liverpool saw him make 191 appearances, scoring 8 goals. He was part of Houllier’s treble winning side of 2001, gaining UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup medals. A defensive midfielder, Hamann was a mainstay for Liverpool and a key player. He is renowned as a big game player, someone who was able to step up to the mark in important fixtures. He is probably most loved by the Kop for his game-changing substitute appearance in the Istanbul Champions League Final of 2005. 3-0 down to AC Milan at half-time and in the midst of the crisis, Rafa Benitez turned to the Kaiser’s experience and brought him on for the flagging Steve Finnan. Immediately, Didi impacted the game, and shored up the midfield area, allowing Steven Gerrard to move on up the pitch and initiate the goals needed for our comeback. He was the catalyst for the turnaround and in a demonstration of bravery, did all this with a broken toe. His experience was called for after the game finished in extra time, a  3-3 draw. With his broken foot he stepped up to take the first penalty and with calm German composure, slotted the ball into the back of the net, to encourage his teammates to go onto victory, which of course they did. A year later, in the FA Cup final in Cardiff, against West Ham, Hamann repeated his final heroics, again coming on in the second half, and again shoring up the midfield to get us into a winnable position. Didi’s big match show-outs perhaps were so impressive due to his international experience. He played for Germany in the 2002 World Cup Final, a game they lost 2-0 to Brazil. He was only the third Liverpool player to have ever graced the World Cup Final (others being Roger Hunt and Karl-Heinz Riedle) Hamann moved on from Liverpool in June 2006, initially signing for Bolton but with a late change of heart instead opting for Manchester City. He played there until his contract expired in 2009. After his playing career ended he had spells in management with Milton Keynes Dons and Stockport County. He has…

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Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford My rating: 4 of 5 stars It only took me three days to read this relatively thin paperback. Genghis Khan had a huge role in history and there is rather a dearth of information on him, considering the massive scale of the Mongol Empire he created. At its peak, it ran from the Pacific in the East to the Mediterranean in the West, bigger than the Roman Empire and that carved by Alexander the Great. The author based his account primarily on new revelations prompted by his research team re-examining the Secret History of The Mongols, an ancient document which was very difficult to translate and had laid hidden for many years due to the political upheavals in the region. Genghis has a mixed reputation throughout history, with the likes of Chaucer elevating him and Voltaire and Montesquieu later deriding him. The Mongols uniquely placed world culture in a position to develop into what we now know, with international trade, religious tolerance and mass migration of peoples. The Mongols are perhaps looked down upon for not bequeathing us anything unique from their own culture, but rather amalgamating and developing existing ideas from the races and civilisations of other people’s they conquered. They practised some novel ideas for the time such as diplomatic immunity, not torturing prisoners, allowing all religions to flourish under the empire with an emphasis on secular law. The book covers the rise of Temujin from his downtrodden youth, to the height of his power and then looks at the maintenance of his legacy after his death, with the separation of the great Khanate into four primary regions. It is a great look at medieval history from an Asian perspective and has enlightened me about various subjects from that time and added to knowledge I already had on the Crusades, Marco Polo, the Black Death and The European Renaissance. The decline of the Empire was sudden and could only arise through a natural disaster which engulfed the whole world, in the Great Plague. What would have occurred had this devastating illness never erupted? The book was brief and precise and covered a vast array of topics though in my opinion for such a good subject matter, it could have been more expansive in volume. It has given me a taste for Genghis Khan and I shall…

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Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill

Following on from his book on the mercenary force Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill delves into the Dirty Wars of the Bush and Obama era in the War on Terror. The main theatres covered include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Scahill writes about the excesses of the Bush administration, in particular the detainee programs and he deals with how Obama has ratcheted up the campaign against terrorists with the heavy use of drones and targetted killings. There is a focus on American citizen Anwar Awlaki and his rise within the terrorist ranks and how his targetting by the US raised all kinds of legal dilemmas in terms of assassination by his own government. The Osama Bin Laden death is covered in detail, and perhaps extremely relevant, in light of the Kenya bombings this week, the book analyses the rise of Al Shebab in Somalia and also Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The book is very well researched, although I feel that the author is somewhat sympathetic towards the Jihadists and critical of the US government measures to contain them. Obviously, the killing of civilians is wrong from whatever side, and some of the US actions can be compared with those of the terrorists. It is frightening to witness how clandestine operations are from the White House down and the way in which the JSOC has been totally unleashed over the years to a status where it has virtually no oversight, is a scary fact. Since September 11th 2001, the War On Terror has been a real issue to most citizens of the world. Dirty Wars is a book which details this struggle in a very readable, interestign and enlightening manner. I highly recommend this book and believe it is a step up from the Blackwater predecessor. I look forward to future work from the author.

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No Ordinary Joe by Joe Calzaghe

I was fortunate enough to get to watch Calzaghe fight live, against Mikkel Kessler, in Cardiff Millenium Stadium. I followed him throughout his career and can honestly say he was the most amazing fighter. I believe that his record places him among the very best to have ever graced the sport. The ferocity in how he attacked Kessler and the grace about which he danced the ring, were truly a sight to behold. Joe’s autobiography is an outstanding read. Here we have a legend in his own words. The early years of his fighting career demonstrates how difficult a ladder he had to climb. His training regime was immense and the dedication his father showed him is a tale unto itself. Aside from the boxing and sport side of the book, it is a great story about the relationship between a loving father and a caring and obedient son.  Enzo Calzaghe is as much to credit for Joe’s wonderful career, as the great fighter is himself. I found it really bizarre how Joe was overlooked by the national squad early on and denied the opportunity to represent at the Olympics. It also shocked me how meagre his wages were right up until the latter stages of his career. When you hear of the immense purses available in the sport today, you get the impression that boxing is very lucrative. Joe was world championship material and was still struggling to make ends meet and finance a humble mortgage. It was a shame for me, that the book ended where it did, as it doesn’t cover the final few years of his career, when he really hit the very top and started to get the true recognition he warranted. It would be nice if he one day adds a further few chapters to cover complete the story. Joe comes across as a humble man and his modest upbringing in South Wales and really basic training setup, make his rise to success even more outstanding. His book is an essential item for any boxing fan’s reading list and a lover of sports biographies or a lover of sport in general should give this read a go. Joe is the people’s champion and his book affirms this view.

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A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

I studied Chinese language for a couple of years and am constantly on the lookout for books about China and its culture. When this jumped out at me from a charity shop bookshelf, at first I thought it was just another dictionary. But I read the back and thought that it would make a good present for my partner and as I had recently bought her the cult erotic tale, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, I thought she could trump all her friends by encountering the Chinese version. I decided that although I’m not a great lover of fiction and no virtually nothing at all about erotic fiction, because of the cultural aspect, I would give it a go myself. I immediately got drawn into the main character. I loved the way the book was presented. For a student of the Mandarin tongue I fully embraced the way the English was written, in a ‘Chinglish’ fashion, and many references were made to the linguistic differences between East and West. Sex in the Orient is often seen in the West as a taboo subject and it is certain that it is viewed in very different terms throughout the globe depending upon one’s culture. I was shocked in a way to hear this young Chinese girl talk so open about her sexual desires and experiences. It was a real eye-opener. Her journeys across Europe and her liasons were very much down to earth and frank, and to be honest very believable. She didn’t experience the Hollywood romances, other fictional writers may depict. Her boudoir was really rather more grounded in the reality of sex, with disappointment, less than perfect partners and a real animalistic edge to the carnal desire, which did seem rather shocking coming from a woman’s mouth, even if she was from the Orient. The book wasn’t all about sex and I found the travel side of the tale very interesting. The clash of cultures, of civilisations, the differences between East and West were fully explored. Not since I read Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, have I read such a good description of how an alien immerses themselves in a totally foreign culture. For anyone who has travelled abroad, especially travelling solo, it is very easy to relate to the findings made in this book. It’s not the grandiose elements of travel that form the memories of the experience, it’s the little details,…

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Cyberwar: The Next Threat to National Security & What to Do About It by Richard A. Clarke

The author has had a political career which has reached the highest levels of the Pentagon. He is obviously a very driven and intelligent man and his analysis of the new phenomenon that is Cyber War is second to none. The globality of the threat is given a context that is very revealing of the geopolitics which drive the internet. How do nation states handle the use of cyberspace within their own borders and indeed outside their territories? As countries become more and more dependent upon computer technology, the risks faced by cyber attacks become exponentially more severe and critical to the economy and security of a nation. America is perhaps the nation that is most vulnerable, most dependent and most at risk, and Clarke’s high position within the US government system means that he has been placed in the very real environment of deciding upon global cyber was strategy. Some of the facts and figures revealed by the book are truly revelationary. Clarke rates North Korea  as being the nation with the most capacity for cyberwar as it focuses on attack strategies and its near negligibilty of dependance at home on computer networks makes it absolutely resistant to any cyber warfare attacks it may experience itself. I was surprised at the levels of internet usage in countries like Estonia and also South Korea, and the stories of actual cyber attacks that were known to have happened and documented made fascinating reading. I didn’t think that the author ever really stretched the technicalities of what is indeed a very technical subject. He kept most of the book within the grasp of any tech novice reader, with a clear focus throughout on geopolitics.  It’s a good book and I feel will be interesting to look back upon in 10 or 20 years time, to see if any of his prophecies have proved correct and also to gauge how different future cyberspace is. I’d recommend this book to any end user of the internet as your own reliance and dependance on the worldwide web is at risk from the cyber war phenomenon that is discussed..

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Ayahuasca In My Blood: 25 Years Of Medicine Dreaming – by Peter Gorman

This autobiographic tale of one man’s relationship with the most sacred vine, shows Peter Gorman as a true pioneer. Ayahuasca is still very much an unknown quantity in the West and Gorman’s 25 years of experience make him a critical read for anyone considering experimenting with Ayahuasca, as the ‘Vine Of The Soul’ becomes more fashionable in mainstream society. I’ve had a few Ayahuasca sessions myself and I can relate to the rather bizarre and powerful nature of the sessions he describes. It really does put you in a different frame of mind and in a way is something that cannot very easily be put into words. Gorman does really well in painting a vivid picture of the alternate realities that Ayahuasca drinkers experience. It does become a life changing experience and the way Gorman seems to struggle between his life and family in the ‘real’ world and his mystic Amazonian adventures forms a key element to his story. Ayahuasca becomes a belief system to him, a religion, and he uses the vine ever more so to seek out answers to all aspects of his own life, and once he begins to master its application to himself, like a real shaman, he begins to turn his attention during the rituals upon the lives of friends and families and how he can help them for the better.  The descriptions of his jungle adventures and the detailed depictions of the shamen that guide him and the traditional ceremonies themselves gave a true insight into how the vine should be most appropriately used. I’ve never journeyed into the Amazon (though I would very much love to go there) and experienced a genuine ritual, but from what Gorman has revealed, I shall be applying some of his techniques in my next Ayahuasca encounter. I think that for every individual and every experience, the vine is truly unique. Its power is unfurling and almost omnipotent and to a non-initiate, maybe Gorman’s experiences would seem a little far-fetched and fictional. I believe every aspect of his tale and I think that the Ayahuasca has given him the insight and courage to have presented many of his deeper emotional thoughts about his family and genuine struggles in life in an open and honest fashion. It has made him realise his own imperfections and has guided him into being a better and stronger person. I’ve read quite a…

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Ayahuasca In My Blood: 25 Years Of Medicine Dreaming by Peter Gorman

This autobiographic tale of one man’s relationship with the most sacred vine, shows Peter Gorman as a true pioneer. Ayahuasca is still very much an unknown quantity in the West and Gorman’s 25 years of experience make him a critical read for anyone considering experimenting with Ayahuasca, as the ‘Vine Of The Soul’ becomes more fashionable in mainstream society. I’ve had a few Ayahuasca sessions myself and I can relate to the rather bizarre and powerful nature of the sessions he describes. It really does put you in a different frame of mind and in a way is something that cannot very easily be put into words. Gorman does really well in painting a vivid picture of the alternate realities that Ayahuasca drinkers experience. It does become a life changing experience and the way Gorman seems to struggle between his life and family in the ‘real’ world and his mystic Amazonian adventures forms a key element to his story. Ayahuasca becomes a belief system to him, a religion, and he uses the vine ever more so to seek out answers to all aspects of his own life, and once he begins to master its application to himself, like a real shaman, he begins to turn his attention during the rituals upon the lives of friends and families and how he can help them for the better.  The descriptions of his jungle adventures and the detailed depictions of the shamen that guide him and the traditional ceremonies themselves gave a true insight into how the vine should be most appropriately used. I’ve never journeyed into the Amazon (though I would very much love to go there) and experienced a genuine ritual, but from what Gorman has revealed, I shall be applying some of his techniques in my next Ayahuasca encounter. I think that for every individual and every experience, the vine is truly unique. Its power is unfurling and almost omnipotent and to a non-initiate, maybe Gorman’s experiences would seem a little far-fetched and fictional. I believe every aspect of his tale and I think that the Ayahuasca has given him the insight and courage to have presented many of his deeper emotional thoughts about his family and genuine struggles in life in an open and honest fashion. It has made him realise his own imperfections and has guided him into being a better and stronger person. I’ve read quite a…

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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Casteneda

For anyone who has the vaguest interest in shamanism, this is an essential text. It is Carlos Casteneda’s seminal work and in my opinion is a work of art. He has a very direct personal way of revealing his story, about an encounter with an ageing Native-American man of knowledge, who takes Carlos under his wing and reveals to him some of the secrets of shamanism. The range of psychedelics encountered are followed up in the book, after consumption, with vivid detail of the accompanying experiences. For me, the most rememberable tale in the book is Casteneda’s transformation into a crow. It seems really strange and bizarre and perhaps fiction but for anyone who has actually had a shamanic experience, the story has a real truth to it and is a perfect example of the mystic powers that true shamen can harness. As the author weaves his tale through the years of his tuition, we get more and more familiar with th very likeable character of Don Juan. This book was written many years ago, perhaps when psychedleic drugs were only truly starting to be explored properly in the West. The eradication of shamen and ancient belief systems by the rapidly advancing modern society, perhaps makes the mere existence of such wise teachers, an absolute rarity today. Carlos Casteneda found himself a genuine opportunity in learning from a great man who had not abandonned the ancient teachings to the modern world. the insights gathered in this book, give the layman a fundamental grasp of exactly what shamanism entails. It is a literary masterpiece and should not be missed out upon.

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