Joanne

When I heard the first single off Lady Gaga’s new album (Joanne) I anticipated the record to be a flop. Initially I wasn’t keen on Perfect Illusion. I set it as my alarm, using the almost screamed vocals to scare me into the shower every morning. I’m not proclaiming Perfect Illusion is bad but a generic pop tune that most recording artists churn out. It certainly lacks the catchy nature of her other major songs but unlike her other work seems to come from a more emotional place. This is true of the whole album. Gaga has ditched excessive electronic sound and penis metaphors for a country, rock and roll vibe and lyrics fueled on feeling. The new employment of a classically American sound has taken the artist in a new audio direction and along with the more personal rhymes has possibly help create her best collaborative work.

Mark Ronson has heavily been involved in the making of the record. His renowned affinity for sampling becomes obvious in songs like Come to Mama which reminds me of the Beatles. A lot of the album carries this feeling with Dancin in Circles being a re-imagining of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita with Gwen Stefani style vocals. Similarly, Diamond Heart and Grigio Girls feel like heavily stolen melodies and a result of this is that parts of the song structure, when transitioning from verse to chorus, tend to sound clunky and oddly rushed. However, the record is overall much more enjoyable and less aggressively synth than previous sounds resulting in an album that is a lot easier to listen to even if the vocals are a lot louder, harsher and emotionally unrestrained.

Paris without the Price

In June this year I wandered for several days around Paris. Between the hotel, flights and sparkling drinks my card whimpered in my wallet all the way home. My bank balance shall forever wear the scars from the champagne deficit of 2016 and the month sized chunks it devoured. More money was poured into crystal flutes than the gross domestic product of Malta. However despite the drinks being slightly pricey, excursions around the city were fairly inexpensive but the visit could have been considerably cheaper if I’d been more thrifty in my bubbly haze.

The first thing to have been avoided was climbing things. For some reason there’s always a charge for a decent view of Paris. Photos end up costing nearly £5 a snap because of the excessive entrance fee and by the time you’ve scaled your way back down a monument you feel deserving of another drink. Next time I’ll avoid the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s beautiful to survey the city from phallic scaffolding and an effective way of burning off the morning’s croissant but it’s also pricey, even if you don’t take the lifts. Perhaps my experience felt underwhelming because only three stories were accessible to the public that day. If all the floors were open there would have been less unfit American’s blocking the stairways further up. I’m certain that the view from the utmost platform would be breath taking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, it would have been better to save the entrance charge and picnic nearby; devouring cheese and wine, pitying those willing to take excessive exercise.

Cathedrals like Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur are normally free to explore but come with seemingly inexpensive extras that quickly accumulate into a price larger than the Eiffel Tower. I’d like to be able to wander around these places without the guilt to pay but the glares from the stained glass apostles and the brass depictions of crucified Jesus can break even Ebeneezer Scrooge. By the time I’d finished ambling through Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur I’d prayed for the first time in my life, lit four candles for the Virgin Mary, deposited in several donation boxes and bought tickets to every exclusive staircase. Visits that were originally intended to be a free option to while away an hour in between Kir Royals somehow turned into a fund-raising spree for the Catholic Church. That being said, both buildings are absolutely worth the visit, especially the staircase of Sacre-Coeur. The view from atop the Cathedral is superior to that from the third platform of the Eiffel Tower and several euros cheaper.

Another expensive mistake I made in Paris was dining. Every restaurant was fantastic and I never chose a course I later regretted. Waiters were always accommodating and through their practiced charming natures led me to excess. On the first evening meal I asked for a wine list and was instead offered the waiter’s recommendation. Maybe sitting on a Paris street, somehow toasty beneath the restaurant canopy despite the rain, infected me with the romance the city perfumes. I accepted his suggestion only to later realise that the bottle was costing a euro per drop. Despite the price, I will never regret that wine or the whole cheese boards I thought acceptable as a main course. There’s something in the atmosphere (perhaps the extreme air pollution) that fogs the everyday senses. Thus transforming everyday caution into a craving for opulence. Even when waiter’s explain a meal is too large for one and reminded me that the cheese board’s traditional function is as a savoury sharing dessert.

My favourite aspect of the trip was the Pantheon which was free because I’m under 25 years old. It’s best described as an ‘atheist temple’. It has huge paintings of French history, photography exhibits and a marble laden crypt of prominent French figures such as Marie Curie, Voltaire and Alexander Dumas. I can’t sell this place well but it’s the highlight of my trip, along with the adult grape juice. For only a few days I’d recommend squeezing it in for a few hours.

It seems that I’ve grumbled over the price of my visit and now sit, scanning over bank statements, in miserly regret. In truth, I cherish my visit to Paris and even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the Eiffel Tower, I’m glad to have walked part way. One day, when it’s fully accessible, I’ll climb the structure again. Hopefully it will force me to regret what I have just written and readdress my opinion. Even if it doesn’t, I’d encourage everyone to visit the city regardless and any money you spend there is well spent. I shall return if only to make my way around the Louvre, but until my return I’ll always have my hazy memories of Paris.

Selina Meyers for Seven Seasons

The USA has a minor history of stealing things: expanses of land from indigenous people and TV shows from the UK. These are arguably the nation’s most savage crimes. Focusing on the latter, entertainment theft has generally been unsuccessful. British people don’t watch Steve Carrell and co’s attempt at The Office and even though neither side of the Atlantic has much in the way of talent The UK wins with the gentle art of spoon playing. However, as with all rules there is an exception: Veep. Stolen primarily from the BBC political comedy The Thick of It there are almost no fingerprints of another clumsy theft. Veep reduces the level of blue language and Capaldi rage whilst maintaining the same narcissistic and corrupt political party play.

Veep follows the egotistical Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) from her position of excluded Vice President, into her tenuous ascension to the Oval Office and her grasping to maintain presidency. Supported by a staff of neurotics such as Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) her incompetent bag man and her own eventual “veep”, the charming but devious Tom James (Hugh Laurie) , the role of President is rarely ethical, never P.C.  but always hilarious. Whilst I miss Capaldi’s originally worded insults, Meyer has corkers of her own and the large process of American politics provides grander story lines for the cast to blunder through. It is the only show that I will sit through the credits as the screen is cut in half and more comedy is delivered. I weekly risk square eyes by up screen for the endings. That is not to say that the show is without a fault. If I could change one thing about the show (and it would only be this) the opening titles display newspaper headlines relating to content of the season. Including previous episode specific headlines in the opening titles would make them as engaging as the end credits.

Currently, Veep is part way through season five and has been given a sixth season by HBO in 2017. I can only hope they vote Selina Meyer again for President and give us the gift of a season seven as well.

Three free things to do in Stockholm

Last month I had nine hours on my own in the center of Stockholm whilst all my friends were working. Yes, I had to wander a new city alone. Some people thrive on this sort of thing adventure but I’m more of Shire hobbit than a Bilbo Baggins. There was the temptation to sit in a 7/11 and embark on an all day ficka binge. It was very much a possibility if I was willing to pay for nine hours worth of coffee and cake. However, I intended to do my visit on a budget and set out to find moderately interesting things to do for free. Here’s what I got up to:

National Library

This was the first place I headed on my exploration day. Largely it was a massive disappointment. I expected an ornate building crammed with books; I’d wander through the stacks and shelves for hours, absorbing smells. A mysterious cover would draw me in, settle me into a quiet corner and by some mystery, only known to the universe, I would be able to read Swedish with ease. This didn’t happen. Mostly because the National Library is a research library as opposed to a fantasy realm. I walked in, felt embarrassed about my confusion and read for forty minuets to save-face before leaving. However, whilst I wouldn’t recommend the National Library’s interior the exterior is worth a look. The building is the size of a stately home and beautiful to look at. It’s also located in a park that’s equally picturesque on a pleasant day. Judge this place by its cover and don’t delve into the contents of the building then it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Kulturhuset

I’m still not 100% certain on the purpose of this building. From the outside its five floors and name in giant letters, tempts or intimidates passers by. Kultur seemed close to the English word culture and people interested in that tend to be occasionally pretentious and have hot drinks. It sounded like my kind of crowd, so I headed in. Downstairs is a cinema (I wasn’t willing to pay for a film that may not have subtitles), there’s also two cafes, a book shop and three galleries. I went to the galleries because they were free if you are under 25. At the time one of the exhibits was shut but the National Design presentation and a fashion gallery were open. Normally, I’m not drawn to these kinds of displays but I headed in anyway. The clothing exhibit was clothing and as always it will remain a mystery to me. A few pieces stuck out but for the most part I struggled to reconcile how designers match what they want to create with profitable clothes. However, one display stuck in my head that I’d like to mention, Human by Linea Matei. The exhibit focused on cartoon depictions of humans which were used as prints onto pajamas. I’m not sure why I liked Human the most but I’m glad I saw it.

The National Design Exhibit was a much more grotesque affair. It was more memorable because of the visceral motif: the body. With interactive machines that measure your pulse, glass cases with breathing faux lungs and cubes of what looked human meat, the exhibit left me slightly nauseous but impressed with the numerous ways human matter can be interpreted.

Old Town

This was actually the first place I went to in the day. Unfortunately, most exhibits don’t open until 11am, so I left for the national library and returned later. There are many many things to do here: The Royal Palace and armory; the Nobel laureate museum and several other museums; or just wandering around the buildings and admire how it’s like walking through Balmory. Looking for free things I went to the Royal Armory, the parts of the palace that don’t charge and the economy museum. All three are brilliant. The armory was my favorite with basement carriages and royal sledges. The main exhibit displays Swedish military weapons and armor alongside the history of the royal family and the wars the now neutral nation engaged in. The free palace sections are filled with stunning carvings and paintings. Walking through inspires wonder at the fading masonry skills in stone the world is slowly losing. Finally, the economy museum is filled with old coins throughout the world and serves as a reminder that trade has unified the planet longer than any other cohesive method. I didn’t get to view all the economy museum because it was time to return for supper but I shall wander it more completely next time.

EuropeanEconomicArea and CO2 rankings

Being a bit of a hippy I’m often drawn to those lists that rank the world’s  nations according to their degradation of our environment. The USA, Russia, China and India most often occupy the seats as the planet’s worst CO2 emission offenders. The United Kingdom being a bit further down the lists (admittedly not much further down) allows me to remain smug in the knowledge that my fair island isn’t one of the top contributors to global warming. However, one thing that does snag as unfair about the environmental shame tallies is that countries that produce the most CO2, more often than not have some of the largest populations. This prompted me to attempt to construct a new list. Rather than the countries studied being ranked based on their total emissions I have compiled a ranking based on carbon and CO2 contribution relative to their population, namely per 10,000 people. The equation used is embarrassingly simple: Total CO2 from greenhouses gases/population from year of study x 10,000. Given than I am no statistician it’s safe to assume that the maths is far too basic to provide an accurate picture but I hope it does produce a rough guideline.

When I first embarked into this waste of my free time I intended to cover every nation. This proved unfeasible because countries that produced the least CO2 tended to have fairly undeveloped economies. In order to rectify this I placed a number of filters in place such as United Nations membership; whether the country was placed on the United Nations ‘Least Developed Nations’ listing; and whether they fit within the top 70World Bank and IMF GDP lists. The issue with these filters is that they often excluded larger economies from Asia such as India, whilst allowing very small countries such as Liechtenstein into the study.

Eventually, I concluded to start with a much smaller sample of countries: those within European Economic Area (henceforth EEA). My reasoning for this was that the countries are fairly close together but produce very different amounts of emissions. Furthermore, their are large differences in populations e.g. Iceland has a population of less than 500,000 compared to countries such as Germany and Italy with a population exceeding ten million. This will allow for future examination into population size and possible links to greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, seeing as all these countries are within the EEA they will have fairly similar capitalist based economies with varying GPD and social policy which will allow for study into finances, politics and taxation and their correlation with environmental degradation.

The following lists are taken from two studies.The first is from the World Bank (2012) which highlights the world’s nations by “Total greenhouse gas emissions (kt of CO2 equivalent)”. The second study is from the Carbon Dioxide Analysis Center (2013) which ranks countries by “total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, cement production and gas flaring expressed in thousand metric tons of carbon”. I utilised the data from both investigations to examine contribution of each EEA nation for an average of 10,000 people. The total populations were taken from the World Bank website. Liechtenstein was removed from the rankings due to the countries exclusion from the World Bank 2012 study, possibly due to the low level of inhabitants (less than 45,000) and the negligible CO2 contribution. Links to the sources will follow the tables below.

Table 1:

Country Total Population (2012) to nearest 10,000 Total greenhouse gas emissions (kt of CO2 equivalent)2012 World Bank data Greenhouse gas emissions per 10,000 people (kt of CO2 equivalent) approx
Malta 419,000 1,921 45.85
Denmark 9,520,000 53,703 56.41
Romania 20,100,000 121,762 60.58
Hungary 9,920,000 62,988 63.5
Cyprus 1,130,000 7,431 65.76
Switzerland 8,000,000 54,108 67.64
Latvia 2,030,000 13,944 68.69
Portugal 10,500,000 72,524 69.07
Sweden 9,520,000 65,768 69.08
Croatia 4,270,000 30,421 71.24
Spain 46,800,000 348,257 74.41
France 65,700,000 499,147 75.97
Italy 59,500,000 482,634 81.11
Slovakia 5,410,000 46,301 85.58
Greece 11,000,000 100,571 91.43
United Kingdom 63,700,000 585,780 91.96
Bulgaria 7,310,000 67,943 92.95
Lithuania 2,990,000 29,442 98.47
Slovenia 2,060,000 21,075 102.31
Austria 8,430,000 90,460 107.31
Poland 38,100,000 414,607 108.82
Netherlands 16,800,000 195,874 116.59
Germany 80,400,000 951,717 118.37
Belgium 11,000,000 133,374 121.25
Norway 5,020,000 63,537 126.57
Finland 5,410,000 69,073 127.68
Czech Republic 10,500,000 138,957 132.34
Ireland 4,590,000 62,433 136.02
Iceland 321,000 5,515 171.81
Estonia 1,320,000 23,293 176.46
Luxembourg 531,000 12,611 237.5

Table 2:

Country Total Population (2013) to nearest 10,000 total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, cement production and gas flaring expressed in thousand metric tons of carbon(2013) total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, cement production and gas flaring expressed in thousand metric tons of carbon(2013) per 10,000 persons approx
 
Latvia 2,010,000 1,931 9.61
Romania 20,000,000 19,290 9.65
Croatia 4,260,000 4,830 11.34
Hungary 9,890,000 11,301 11.43
Lithuania 2,960,000 3,447 11.65
Portugal 10,500,000 12,616 12.02
Sweden 9,600,000 12,088 12.59
Switzerland 8,090,000 11,003 13.6
France 66,000,000 90,862 13.77
Spain 46,600,000 64,622 13.87
Cyprus 1,140,000 1,622 14.23
Malta 423,000 605 14.3
Bulgaria 7,270,000 10,789 14.84
Italy 60,200,000 94,019 15.62
Iceland 324,000 537 16.57
Slovakia 5,410,000 9,184 16.98
Greece 11,000,000 18,859 17.14
Denmark 5,610,000 10,381 18.5
Slovenia 2,060,000 3,938 19.12
United Kingdom 64,100,000 124,754 19.46
Austria 8,480,000 17,019 20.07
Ireland 4,600,000 9,535 20.73
Poland 38,000,000 82,447 21.7
Belgium 11,200,000 25,530 22.79
Finland 5,440,000 12,626 23.21
Germany 82,100,000 206,521 25.15
Czech Republic 10,500,000 26,905 25.62
Netherlands 16,800,000 46,352 27.59
Norway 5,080,000 16,263 32.01
Estonia 1,320,000 5,431 41.14
Luxembourg 543,000 2,771 51.03

Sources

Table 1:Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data-

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.GHGT.KT.CE?name_desc=false

Table 2: Carbon from fossil fuel burning etc Data-

http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/tre_coun.html

Table 1 & 2: Population Data-

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL