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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Major Events of 2014

Today is the last day of 2014 and many major events have taken place this year. From the crisis in Ukraine growing in seriousness rapidly, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to jubilation over sporting events in the Commonwealth Games and humanity learning more about our universe. Here are just some of the events which had managed to shape 2014.

The Scottish Referendum
Following the formation of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 Scottish nationalism had been rising and under the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond this nationalism grew. Salmond was the leader of the SNP, (Scottish National Party), which fueled Scottish nationalism which put pressure on the British government to hold a referendum to allow the Scottish people to decide whether Scotland should remain part of the UK or become independent. Salmond's Yes Scotland campaign campaigned against the Better Together campaign about the pros and cons of independence with all manner of things coming up including the North Sea oil reserves, whether Scotland should have the pound sterling and EU membership. On September 18th the referendum took place and 2,001,926 people voted to remain part of the UK to 1,617,989 wishing independence, (or 55.3% not wanting independence to 44.7% wanting it). Although Scotland's largest city, Glasgow, voted for independence. Following the referendum the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition government promised to create a more decentralized state by allowing English MPs to vote only on matters concerning England, Scottish MPs on Scotland, Welsh MPs on Wales and Northern Irish MPs on Northern Ireland. Salmond also resigned as First Minister with Nicola Sturgeon becoming the new First Minister. Scotland's referendum however influenced other calls for independence from Catalonia in Spain and Corsica in France which could affect the future.

The Ukrainian Crisis Deepens
(Information from Al Jazeera). On January 16th President Yanukovych's anti-protest laws were described as 'draconian' and as protest turned violent between pro-West and pro-Russian protesters Yanukovych was forced to release one of his greatest critics former Prime Minister Tymoshenko after two days prior on February 20th sees the greatest violence in Kiev for 70 years as 88 people are killed in 48 hours. Following accusations Yanukovych had ordered snipers to shoot at protesters and pro-Russian uprisings in Crimea caused Yanukovych to resign and flee to Russia. The Russian Upper House gave Russian President Vladimir Putin the ability to send troops to Ukraine to protect Russian interests in Crimea and as pro-Russian forces seized the main airport in Sevastopol the new Ukrainian government accused Putin of virtually declaring war. The new President Oleksander Turchinov did not help however with opposition accusing him of being a neo-Nazi and xenophobia from the his government offending Russians in Ukraine after Russian was banned. Crimea broke away and in a referendum which was contended by the West the peninsular was annexed by Russia. The EU and NATO placed embargoes on Russian exports, principally gas, as Donetsk and Lugansk rose up who merged to form the self declared Novorossiya Republic which itself has had little recognition. Russia was even excluded from attending the G8 meeting through this. Unfortunately many civilians were killed as Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down over rebel occupied areas in Ukraine with both sides pointing the finger at each other. Tensions rose between Russia and NATO as Russian ships and jets have been sighted off the coasts of NATO aligned nations, such as a submarine possibly seen near Stockholm, and NATO jets doing patrols near Russian borders, like RAF planes doing patrols over the Baltic region. With a possibility of there being a second Cold War and criticism of the actions of the West and Putin the crisis is still ongoing. However the Western embargo on Russia may be stinging the Kremlin with the Ruble losing its value, (although a fall in oil prices did aid in this), which has forced the Central Bank to intervene on December 16th. What the future holds for Russia and Ukraine though is uncertain with Putin's credibility through the new financial crisis slowly dipping.

The Final Frontier More Understood
On June 24th the Curiosity completed a Martian year, (687 Earth days), as its mission was extended after finding evidence that Mars once had an environment suitable for microbial life. More photos was taken of the red planet as the Curiosity gave us more information on Mars. Two more satellites entered the Martian atmosphere including the Atlas  V 401 launched by NASA and the PSLV-XL from India. This was monumental as it put India among the few nations to explore space and showed the entire world that India is quickly becoming a dominant economic power. However what is more important is that the satellites and the Curiosity allowed more information on Mars for Mars 2020, Earth's first colony. With this the Mars 2020 can see more success and the world of sci-fi becoming science fact so in a few generations Total Recall and Destiny could be a possibility. On November 12th we also saw the Rosetta make its landing on a comet and send data back allowing us to better understand the universe from the data gathered and possibly enable us to make further reaches into the universe.

A New Face of Terrorism
Although active before 2014 the Islamic States, IS, (also called ISIL and ISIS), made worldwide headlines through their barbarity and quick victories. Their beheading of humanitarians and journalists including Alan Henning as well as Shia Muslims, Christians and Kurds who they captured in Iraq and Syria quickly brought them condemnation. Ironically the broadcasting of their extremist views have offended more people than they managed to attract and has united the West, Middle East, Iran, Russia and even the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda have condemned them. The IS had even started to train extremists from Chechnya to wage war against Russia while their threats against Iran has brought it closer its to former enemy the US. President Obama had called for a coalition to fight the terrorist organisation with countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, France and the US leading drone strikes against the group. The US and Saudi Arabia had even started to train moderates to go into IS held territory to fight the group although the group did become so powerful that its secretive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself a Caliph, (which none have recognized). If reports are to be believed Kurdish fighters and bombing are starting to push the group out of key areas such as Mosul although whether this is propaganda or not is yet to be seen. At the start of the year in Nigeria the organisation Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students in Chibok and posted images of them online. With terrorists using the internet as a way to broadcast their views and drones being used to combat them propaganda and warfare has definitely changed for the 21st century.

Police killings in the US
On August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. With Michael Brown being black and unarmed caused a wave of outcry worldwide against the actions of Darren Wilson. The 'Hands up, Don't Shoot' gesture was used by protesters to show their support for the family of Michael Brown which gained widespread support ranging from the St Louis Rams to CNN Newsroom members. Despite media portrayals there was largely peaceful protests but some of these became violent and caused the Missouri Governor to call in the National Guard. Groups such as Anonymous managed to spread the support of the protesters across the world. However tensions rose and rioting broke out after Darren Wilson was acquitted by a jury but many people, (including some me and some friends in the UK), found the verdict unfair as the jury represented the Missouri/St Louis population and not the Ferguson population. The use of rubber bullets tear gas against protesters during the second wave of protests even brought in Amnesty International to help the protesters. Unfortunately Michael Brown's death wasn't the only one with Eric Garner being choked to death in New York; his last words 'I can't breathe' becoming a rally call for protesters. Even more horrifying was the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice for carrying a toy gun. All these unfortunate deaths have prompted Obama to spend money in putting cameras on police uniforms but let us pay respect for the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.

The Ebola Crisis
Although it started in the December of 2013 the deadly virus Ebola became widespread. With Ebola being very contagious and having a 70% death rate it became a serious threat. The virus quickly spread across West Africa affecting Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. Although luckily the virus has been contained in Nigeria and Senegal. The outbreak had also spread to the US, UK and Spain; the UK two days ago. Although the better facilities in Spain and the US meant that they quickly quarantined it and undoubtedly the outbreak in the UK, (affecting one person), will quickly be cured. The worse hit areas largely spread thanks to the poor housing and sanitation in close communities which made the virus very deadly. According to the WHO by the 29th December there has been 20,164 people have been infected and 7,894 have died thanks to the virus. Thankfully the worldwide response to the virus has been great with a wide range of countries from the EU, US and even Cuba sending aid to help battle the virus.

The Sporting Events of 2014

 The world of sports, (something quite alien to me so I apologize for any errors), saw many events this year. The 20th Commonwealth Games took place in Glasgow this year with a jubilant personified Scottish thistle as the mascot. England, Australia and Canada won the most medals with the host nation coming fourth. This year we also saw the most expensive Olympic Games with the Sochi Olympics costing US$12 billion and a grand opening display which the Russians made a joke of. They had five stars that would turn into the rings of the Olympics but one failed to open so in the closing ceremony they had dancers who would go into a star shape before moving into the shape of the rings. The organizers however got one of the star dancers to remain as a star as a joke. However it was marred in controversy with Russia's then new homophobic laws offending some of the athletes, the overall cost of the Olympic grounds going over budget and Russia's intervention in Ukraine offending the Ukrainian paralympic team where only one member attended the opening ceremony. Finally we also have the World Cup held in Brazil. In the semi-finals Germany trounced Brazil and the final, Germany v. Argentina, saw Germany win the world cup. However what caused controversy, (and a barrage of internet memes), was Luis Suarez biting another player which gave him a four month ban.

The start of 2015- With 2014 coming to a close we come to 2015. What the next year will bring we do not know but for sure whatever happens next year will change our history.

Friday, 26 December 2014

10 Major Events that happened on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Start of Kwanzaa

This year Hanukkah's last night landed on Christmas Eve and the next two days saw celebrations with Christmas and the start of Kwanzaa. However many major events have happened on these three days throughout our history. Here I will look at ten of them, judging how important they were in shaping human history. Now let's dive right in and look at the 10 Major Events that happened on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the first day of Kwanzaa.

Number 10- The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami- 26th December 2004
Also called the Boxing Day Tsunami in the Commonwealth countries the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is one of the most devastating natural disasters in all of recorded history with it being the 8th most deadly natural disaster in all of human history. At the time of writing it is the tenth anniversary of the tsunami and the memories of the devastating natural disaster is still with many people. On the 26th an earthquake was caused as the Indian Tectonic Plate was subducted by the Burma Plate, (the Burma plate being forced underneath the Indian plate), causing a series of underwater earthquakes. They were extremely powerful having a magnitude of 9.1 at its smallest and caused the creation of waves 30 meters high, (100 ft). The waves flooded large areas of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and even hit the East Coast of Africa with Somalia, Madagascar and Kenya being affected. Across 14 separate countries 230,000 people were killed and up to 1.74 million were displaced.The economy was affected severely with tourism and fishing being greatly disrupted; many people were in the area on holiday. Mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs were destroyed which severely depleted the ecosystem and up to US $14 billion was given in in humanitarian aid.

Number 9- The Ku Klux Klan formation- 24th December 1865
Following the defeat of the Confederacy earlier in the year six Confederate veterans met in Pulsaki, Tennessee to form an organisation to deprive the rights of the newly freed African-Americans in the South. This group became the Ku Klux Klan, (KKK). The KKK dressed in white robes, (signifying that they were 'ghosts of the Confederacy'), to start their wave of terror against freedmen and white Americans who sympathized with them through lynching, assault and firebombing houses. In direct violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments they stripped African-Americans of the vote during Reconstruction, (1865-1877), and attacked Northern whites, nicknamed 'carpetbaggers', who came to help African-Americans. In 1877 they ended their actions when Reconstruction ended but following D.W.Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and the rise of nativism in 1920s America the KKK returned but luckily by the 21st century has almost completely gone out of existence.

Number 8- Hirohito becomes Emperor of Japan- 25th December 1926
On December 25th Emperor Taishō died and his eldest son Hirohito became Emperor although the public ceremony which publicly confirmed him as Emperor would not take place for another two years. Hirohito inherited a quickly growing world power with Japan by 1926 having the ninth largest economy, the third largest navy and being one of the four permanent members of the council of the League of Nations, (the predecessor to the UN). Although he inherited the ninth largest economy his early reign was that of financial crisis and increasing military influence in the government. Hirohito himself was almost assassinated in 1932 and the assassination of the Prime Minister marked the end of civilian ran government until after World War Two as the military's influence quickly grew in the government. This eventually culminated in Japan invading China, (already establishing a puppet state in Manchuria), and Japan's entry into the Second World War.

Number 7- The defense of Louis XVI of France begins- 26th December 1792
Louis XVI was arrested by the French Revolutionaries in the August of 1792 and he was trialed for high treason at the start of December but his defense only started on the 26th. The King had hoped to get the best legal minds in France to defend him because if he was found guilty he would have been executed. He got Raymond Deseze who was assisted by Francois Denis Tronchet and Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes who was Louis' former Secretary of State. They stated that Louis could not be trialed as it contradicted the Constitution of 1791 which forbade the King from being trialed, questioned the right of the National Convention to be judge, jury and by default executioner and stated that Louis was 'the restorer of French liberty'. Louis even spoke in defense of himself saying:
You have heard my defense, I would not repeat the details. In talking to you perhaps for the last time, I declare that my conscience reproaches me with nothing, and my defenders have told you the truth. I never feared the public examination of my conduct, but my heart is torn by the imputation that I would want to shed the blood of the people and especially that the misfortunes of August 10th be attributed to me. I avow that the many proofs that I have always acted from my love of the people, and the manner in which I have always conducted myself, seemed to prove that I did not fear to put myself forward in order to spare their blood, and forever prevent such an imputation.
The next month Louis was found guilty and was guillotined which started The Reign of Terror in France where aristocrats and any deemed to be anti-revolutionary and notable victims included the Queen Marie Antionette, Guillame de Malesherbes and even the person who started the Terror Maximilien de Robespierre.

Number 6- Marie and Pierre Curie isolate Radium- 26th December 1898
The Curies were some of the most accomplished scientists in history with them being the pioneers of radioactivity research which has had a great benefit on our lives. Marie Curie was even the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and was the first person to win one twice. On December 26th they announced that they had discovered another element, Radium, just months after they had discovered Polonium. This led to the coining of the term radioactive and radioactivity Their research greatly improved cancer research with them announcing that when exposed to radium cancer cells are killed at a faster rate compared to healthy cells. The discovery of radium was very influential with it for years being used to treat cancer and helped influence the use of more safer materials which has saved countless of lives.

Number 5- William the Conqueror is crowned King of England- 25th December 1066
1066 marked a pivotal change in English history. The King of England Edward who was childless in 1051 appointed William of Normandy as the successor to the English throne. However when he died he had seemingly made Harold Godwinson his heir who was crowned shortly after Edwards death. William of Normandy however wasn't happy about this and claimed the English throne and set out to invade England. After King Harold had defeated another contender to the throne, the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, he traveled south to where William had landed and they fought at Hastings. Harold was killed, (seemingly by an arrow to the eye), and William then marched to London. Harold's successor Edgar the Ætheling quickly abdicated when William arrived on Christmas Day allowing William to be crowned King. This changed England forever with William creating a more centralized state with the Domesday Book, brought surnames for the peasantry and changed the English language. French became the language used in the courts and government with Lords, Earls etc. learning French to have a higher standing with the new French King. French words started to come into English and if you notice most of the words with authority are of French origin for this reason.

Number 4- The origin of Kwanzaa- 26th December 1966
In 1966 the first holiday for exclusively for African-Americans was founded by Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a member of the Black Panthers and wanted a holiday to celebrate black nationalism and to honor African culture. Thus Kwanzaa was created deriving from the Swahili first fruit celebration 'matunda ya kwanza'. Since 1966 the holiday has become increasingly popular with between December 26th to January 1st up to 5% of African-American households celebrating it and its influence increasing with some black Canadians starting to celebrate it. Kwanzaa remains one of Americas major holidays bringing happiness and cultural significance each year.

Number 3- The fall of the USSR- 24th-26th December 1991
From the 24th-26th December 1991 the first communist state and successor to the Russian Empire had collapsed. Since his ascension of power in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev had tried to install a reformation policy called glasnost and perestroika which was to end censorship and reform the economy while keeping communism. This proved to be impossible with the rigidness of the economic system which could have been averted had Gorbachev had full support from the Cabinet. After a failed coup in August which tried to bring back the days of former USSR General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev it became clear that the USSR could no longer go on. Throughout the following months many of the Soviet republics declared their independence including the Baltic states, Azerbaijan and the Ukraine. On the 24th Boris Yeltsin approached the UN stating that Russia would be the USSR's successor state and the 25th saw Gorbachev resigning thus giving Boris Yeltsin full power to be President of Russia. On the 26th the upper chamber dissolved the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War and 74 years of communist rule. However this impromptu collapse would spell trouble years later with NATO hastily accepting former communist nations leading to an economic collapse for Russia, the divide between Russia and Western loyalties leading to the current crisis in Ukraine and the independence of the Caucus states leading to uprisings in Chechnya.

Number 2- The first Christmas- 25th December 336
No one actually knows what day Jesus was born on, although that we can guess that it could be in the year 4 BCE, (or 4 BC), but the first time the birth of Christ was celebrated was in 336. The Emperor of Rome Constantine had converted to Christianity but early Christians had no holidays to celebrate their religion so Constantine made one: Christmas. A few years later Pope Julius I officially made December 25th the day that Christians celebrate Christmas. It is thought that Constantine chose the 25th December as it would coincide with Hanukkah, the Roman holiday of Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice. In some of the Germanic territories and Britain Yule was celebrated at this time as well. This would make sense that Constantine to celebrate Christmas on the 25th then but with Constantine being very tolerant to other religions this may be a subtle way to make his subjects convert. Nevertheless the holiday took root and has allowed centuries later to be now about a fat man who climbs down chimneys and being forced to watch Frozen by my little sister.

Number 1- Charlemagne is declared Emperor- 25th December 800
A major event happened on Christmas Day in the year 800. Charlemagne was King of the Franks and controlled a kingdom that stretched from the Spanish border across France, the Low Countries, Germany, North Italy and into Bohemia, Moravia and into the Balkans. He had forcibly spread Christianity, had restored the Papacy to Rome and was the greatest power since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in West Europe. When Charlemagne was praying on the 25th December Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor surprising Charlemagne according to his official biographer although it is highly unlikely that the Pope crowned him without prior arrangement. Although it was not acknowledged by the Byzantines in the East Charlemagne saw himself as the successor to Rome which changed European history. It was the first step towards the formation of the Holy Roman Empire whose founder wanted to continue the legacy of Charlemagne which would heavily influence European affairs until the Napoleonic Wars and Charlemagne's mass power made him divide his empire between his sons, and they their sons, which split the continent into its modern day contours with nationalities being derived from these division in lands.

Thanks for reading and on New Years Eve I'll be doing a New Years Special!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Jurassic World, Star War Episode VII and Terminator Genisys Trailer First thoughts



Over the last few weeks the trailers for the new film in three of my favorite film franchises have released their new trailers. The Park was Opened in Jurassic World, there was an awakening in Star Wars Episode VII and Arnie kept his promise and came back in Terminator Genisys. With how quickly the three trailers were released in such a short amount of time I have decided to give my thoughts about the three films. Starting with the one that was first released: Jurassic World.

Jurassic World
Ever since I was a child I was hoping that there would be another film in the Jurassic Park franchise and finally it arrived. I must admit I was blown away by the trailer. With the unfortunate passing of Stan Winston of 2008 when I first found out about the official announcement for a fourth film I was hesitant about whether the film would rely on CGI or a mixture of CGI and animatronics. Again I was hesitant when they announced that it would be solely CGI as the previous films had Stan Winston working on it blending the CGI and animatronics to make it actually feel that the dinosaurs were realistic. Some films which created dinosaurs entirely through CGI, such as Land of the Lost and Journey to the Center of the Earth, did not look real and felt that I was watching a Turok cutscene. Then when it was announced that Legendary was working on the film my hopes lifted as Legendary has a good track record with CGI such as with Pacific Rim, Godzilla and Trick 'R Treat it looked realistic. From what we've seen of the trailer it seems that Legendary has kept up this standard although the trailer is hardly five minutes in length so there maybe a dip in quality in the rest of the film but this might unlikely.

In regards to plot I am tied. With the characters I am extremely fearful that the writers could easily go into stereotypes or copying past characters like Chris Pratt becoming a new Robert Muldoon and Bryce Dallas Howard becoming a new Henry Wu, (ironically appearing in the film). With Jurassic World being the first big film that the writers have done it could easily fall into this trap. Also the idea about the park creating a genetically engineered dinosaur that escapes again could quickly descend into a rehash of the original. This does not necessarily mean though that Jurassic World will be exactly Jurassic Park but with more extras. Looking at Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Terminator there a quite a few similarities; both feature Skynet sending a highly advanced Terminator back in time to kill someone important so John Connor has to send someone to stop them where the Terminator meets its demise in an industrial plant. We love both films and many people, (including myself), prefer the sequel. Even looking at Star Wars and Return of the Jedi there are similarities with Luke going to save a main character with Chewbacca, he seeks spiritual advise from a Jedi Master who then dies and as the Rebel Alliance goes to destroy the Death Star Luke faces Darth Vader in combat, (supplementing an X-Wing for lightsabers). The point I'm trying to make is that just because the plots could be similar does not mean that the film will be just repetitive, (i.e. the Friday the 13th films), but of course the film could quickly become repetitive.

Finally I want to talk about the dinosaurs. When the hybrid was first announced, Diablos Rex, I was not looking forward to it but after a while I warmed to it. Tyrannosaurus was the main carnivore in the first two films and Spinosaurus the third and for years I wondered what the dinosaur would be for a possible fourth film. A hybrid carnivore would then be a natural choice with the largest carnivore dinosaur, Spinosaurus, already being used and from the trailer it looks to be a promising predator. What I am not looking forward to is the lack of feathered dinosaurs. Fossil evidence over the last twenty years have provided strong evidence, (and in some cases proof), that the bipedal dinosaurs like Gallimimus, (the flocking dinosaur from Jurassic Park), Velociraptor and even Tyrannosaurus was feathered. This group of dinosaurs, the therapods, evolved into birds as well. The trailer has shown a distinct lack of feathered dinosaurs on the raptors and Gallimimus which has severely disappointed me. I excepted the Tyrannosaurus to still be scaly but I thought it was a missed opportunity to make other dinosaurs feathered and already has created controversy among paleontologists.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
 This is the film that I've wanted to talk about the most. I am a massive Star Wars fan and have been wondering about how episode VII and the following films will fit into the Star Wars universe. From the age of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer I guessed that it must be years after events that transpired in the Star Wars comics such as the fledgling New Republic fighting the remains of the Empire led by General Thrawn, (pictured below), the clone of Darth Sidious returning and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, where an alien race invaded from outside the galaxy and ended up causing the death of Admiral Akbar and Chewbacca.
General Thrawn as depicted in the comics
Although Peter Mayhew is again slated to play Chewbacca so it may be before the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Also I am talking about it as if the movie will ensure that everything will be canon but the new film could easily disregard the entire expanded universe, something that I do not believe will happen seen as how George Lucas regularly classfies everything in the expanded universe in the official canon. With J.J. Abrams Directing and writing the screenplay I feel that he will take into consideration the expanded universe. I also quite like how our heroes are fighting the Empire again which could be a possible way to further connect it to the original trilogy instead of the prequel trilogy. The thing I am most looking forward to though is the new Sith with the cross shaped lightsaber. Before the two other spikes came out I quickly tried to guess who the Sith could be but as soon as the lightsaber was fully revealed it became obvious that this is a new Sith. Whether this new Sith is a Lord or not is something yet to be answered but my friends and I have guessed so far that this is a masterless Sith. I must admit I really like the design of the new lightsaber and actually prefer the aesthetics of the new saber compared to my previous favorite lightsaber, that of Darth Maul's. The mysterious narrator though I believe could be a new Sith Lord, possibly being the clone of Darth Sidious?

The amount of screen time Fischer, Ford and Hamill has garnered controversy over the internet. Some people believing that they should have as much time as they did in the original trilogy while others having around half the film. Personally I would like to see them having half the screen time as it would be seen as handing the baton as it were to the next generation. I grew up watching them in the original trilogy and the only film that I managed to see in the cinema, (due to my age), I was hoping that they would have a small cameo. With them actually being in the new film I want to see them interact with the new actors and see a new generation take up the position as main characters. Of course the new actors will never be able to replace the originals. The new actors, such as John Boyega, do look promising and when watching the trailer I was trying to figure out whether Boyega was a stormtrooper or a spy for the New Republic. I have a feeling that with such a massive legacy to continue they will step up to the mark; saying that though Hayden Christian definitely did not step up and in Episode I Natalie Portman, (by Episode III though her acting had considerable more effort in my own opinion). I am hoping though that the best actor in the prequel trilogy, Ewan McGregor, could have an appearance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in spirit form.

With Episode VII I want to talk about the elephant in the room. It is plain to see that it is CGI heavy. I prefer practical effects and the original trilogy effects are the best if not one of the best until the infusion with CGI in the 1990s, (possibly only the Alien series and The Terminator challenging it). The effects in Episode I and II were like looking at video game cutscenes and it seemed more stale compared to the original trilogy. I like the idea that someone had painstakingly made the Rancor puppet and brought it to life frame-by-frame in stock motion, that someone had made a 6 ft high Taunton that the actors could ride on and that Yoda wasn't pixels on a computer but an actual thing that someone could act with. I feel that the acting of Hamill, Fischer and Ford was better than that of Christianson, Portman and McGregor because they could interact with something. The CGI however looks quite professional and I just love the scene when the Millennium Falcon gets in a dogfight with the TIE Fighters which made me feel like a child again. Even the scene with the X-Wings flying over the water on Tatooine looked impressive. Of course I am sure the people who saw the Episode I trailer felt the same way as I do now and it is an eerie reminder; the film may look exciting an impressive but we might be heavily disappointed.

Terminator Genisys
He's Back. I cannot begin to describe how much I love Terminator and from the look of the film they are definitely trying to distance themselves from the two bad films, Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation, and instead focus on the two good ones, The Terminator and Terminator 2. With Jurassic World and Star Wars Episode VII it is easier to try and guess some form of plot but the creators have taken a leaf out of the X-Men franchise's book by doing a sequel/reboot. I am looking forward to seeing a battle between the elderly T-800, again played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the new T-1000 played by Byung-hun Lee. From the trailer it seems that he is just as menacing as Robert Patrick as the T-1000 but with how short the trailer is and the brief glimpses we have of the T-1000 may give us a false view of the T-1000. One thing is certain though is Emilia Clarke's performance as Sarah Connor. She is a good actress as shown in Game of Thrones with her playing the headstrong Danaerys Targaryen and she seems to be the perfect person to take over from Linda Hamilton. Jai Courtney could be good as Kyle Reese although we could easily be proved wrong. I am looking forward to see the Doctor himself Matt Smith appearing in the film.

I've tried to grasp the plot so far and they've left some subtle hints. With the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger has not dyed his hair showing his age has hinted that possibly this T-800 has been guarding Sarah Connor for a while and the fact that she says 'Come with me if you want to live' could indicate that she may have had to fight. With SkyNet sending a T-1000 could also show that they may have sent Terminators into the past that have failed to assassinate Sarah Connor. John Connor seems to be much more of a leader figure from the trailer compared to Terminator: Salvation. He seems to encourage Kyle Reese and show his optimism which makes sense as he is literally the figure that humanity has rallied behind. In Salvation all that he seemed to do was talk in a gruff voice, get ignored, be thrown around a lab by a CGI Arnie and have an offscreen rant at the lighting controller. He also is visibly scarred which could indicate that he is an actual fighter and actually deserves the moniker of humanity's savior. The film also seems to bypass and ignore the events of 2, 3 and Salvation although it seems that they've blended The Terminator and Terminator 2 into one. To be honest I think we all would like to bypass 3 and Salvation.

For the third time I'm going to talk about CGI. Like with Jurassic Park Stan Winston worked on the special effects in every Terminator film which made the effects seem so much more believable, (Terminator 2 has some of the best CGI in my opinion). With his unfortunate passing the makers seem to have abandoned the practical effects which does disappoint me, despite how bad they are 3 and Salvation do have very good effects. The effects though do look good and to save myself from being repetitive my opinions of the special effects are the same as what I said in Jurassic World and Star Wars.

Final Point- Something that I've noticed about all three movies is how they've: all abandoned practical effects for seemingly good CGI and gone back to their roots. With CGI getting better it makes sense but the going back to their roots seems to make amends for the poorer films. Although easily not the best films in the series I honestly do like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, Star War Episode I,II and III. With the Jurassic Park films this may be due to nostalgia but I do like the prequel trilogy, definitely not as much as I like the original trilogy, and bar Hayden Christianson and the romance dialogue I can't see much wrong with Episode III, (again this may be through nostalgia being the only one that I saw in cinema at a young age). Episode I and II however has one or two or fifty-eight things which they could have improved on...each. The new films could actually be bad as well. When I saw the Terminator: Salvation trailer I was excited for it: it was dark, gritty, made it seem like a true fight for survival to a song by a band that I like, (Nine Inch Nails), but when I saw it I hated it. The same could be said for The Wolverine where they completely missed the mark of my favorite Wolverine storyline, Iron Man 3 was to bring an action packed film with a gritty re-imagining of one of Marvel's best villains and made a mockery of it and the less said about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen the better. People have even refused to watch the Episode VII trailer for this reason. However we must remember: they can be good. When I first saw the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer I thought it would be good and now its one of my favorite comic adaptations and I've looked at films before thinking it would be bad and actually really liked them. I instantly thought The LEGO Movie would be terrible but now its one of my favorite films. We cannot know if they will be good but we can hope that they will be.

Friday, 5 December 2014

History in Focus: Montgomery Bus Boycott

In 1955 the Civil Rights movement got its first major victory
With in recent years of multiple African-Americans being shot and killed by white Americans it has made many disillusioned about the state of rights between whites and African-Americans in the US. Following a jury acquitting white police officer Darren Wilson of the murder of African-American teenager Michael Brown it has made everyone believe that institutionalized racism is still prevalent in American society in not just the US but the world; personally my friends and I in the UK also hold this view that racism is still prevalent in US society thanks to this. I start with this to show that institutionalized racism can be beaten with today's topic: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On December 5th 1955 African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama unanimously agreed to boycott the buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was thrown off a bus and arrested until segregation between black and white passengers ended. Just over a year later segregation on public transport was illegal. It showed that institutionalized racism could be defeated.
The Jim Crow laws were the reason why segregation was prevalent
Background to the Boycott- After the end of Reconstruction, (1865-1877), laws in the South and some in the Mid-West and North-West were passed to discriminate against black people as well as Mexicans, Asians and Native Americans. They were a continuation of the so called Black Codes which were rampant during the Reconstruction era but the Jim Crow laws managed to strip virtually all rights from black Americans. This included laws which banned relationships between white and black Americans, segregated schools, transport and public buildings/facilities, (such as restrooms in the image above), and stripped black Americans of the vote. Although this was illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment the laws were not directly stripping them of the vote but rather more subtle ways such as the Grandfather clauses where your grandfather had to be on the voting register before 1865 to be able to vote but before 1865 almost all African-Americans were slaves so had no vote but other laws were put in place. Poll taxes were put in place in some areas so poorer whites and blacks with an extremely low wage, (not until the New Deal and World War Two was a minimum wage established), could not vote and literacy tests were sometimes put in place where the tests were deliberately harder for African-Americans, (such as being forced to recite the entire pledge of allegiance flawlessly with no hesitations). In 1898 the Supreme Court even found segregation legal in Plessy vs. Ferguson as long as it was separate but equal conditions but almost never was enough funding given to black facilities. By 1955 buses were segregated with black passengers being forced to move to the back of the bus if a white passenger got on board which brings us to our next point...
Claudette Colvin: the first protester in Montgomery
Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks- Everyone knows about Rosa Parks' story, (which comes later), but there were other incidents similar to what had happened with Parks. In Fort Worth, Texas and in Louisiana similar cases had caused bus segregation to be made illegal in those states. The first one in Montgomery though was just nine months before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat. A 15 year old student at Booker T. Washington High School, (incidentally named after a famous civil rights activist at the start of the 20th century), called Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat. She was a member of the NAACP Youth Group and wanted her rights so she refused to move to the back of the bus for a white passenger. On March 1st she was arrested and forcibly removed from the bus. The only reason why she wasn't used as a figure by civil rights groups was that she was pregnant and unmarried at the time she was arrested. With social views at the time groups like the NAACP believed that by using her as a figure it would make them even more unpopular. However Claudette was the spark to challenge racism. She would play two more roles in helping to end segregation; one would come around in 1956 but the other happened only nine months later. Rosa Parks served as an Adviser to the NAACP Youth League in Montgomery and this would inspire her to change history.
Rosa Parks with another special activist in the background
 On the 1st December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat when a white passenger got on board. She stated that she was thinking about the murder of Emmett Till, (a 14 year old who had been brutally tortured and murdered by two racist men), and quite possibly was inspired by Claudette Colvin. Parks was arrested shortly after. That same night the Women's Political Council handed out leaflets saying the following:
Another woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman's case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.
Local NAACP President and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters member Edgar Nixon decided to use Parks as the symbol that people could rally behind.
Rosa Parks' mug shot when she was arrested
The Boycott begins- Edgar Nixon, T.R.M. Howard and local Reverend Ralph Abernathy saw that by the 3rd December the African-American populace of Montgomery would support a boycott of the buses. A close friend of Abernathy got involved and he would become a great figure for the non-violent civil disobedience who drummed up support for the boycott: Martin Luther King. They decided that as many African-Americans as possible should boycott the Montgomery bus service until they desegregated the buses. Despite Parks $10 fine, (which was more expensive in 1955), Parks managed to show her support of the boycott. African-Americans came out in their hundreds to support the boycott with them walking, biking and carpooling to and from work. A few whites even got involved with some white housewives driving driving black domestic servants to work. Black taxi drivers charged 10 cents per ride, (equivalent to one bus fare), which caused officials to fine any taxi drivers found charging less than 45 cents for fares. The bus company refused to make any concessions so more and more decided not to take the bus despite the emptying bus seats. With the bus company losing money the boycott started working. Of course white opposition started to grow as the boycott dragged on with the ranks of the White Citizen's Council, (basically the Ku Klux Klan without the lynching and robes), doubling and Martin Luther King's and Ralph Abernathy's houses being firebombed. Boycotters were even attacked in the streets! Despite this King, Howard, Nixon and Abernathy, (as well as Coretta Scott King), managed to keep the boycott going. King even managed to placate a group of 300 angry African-Americans who were tired of being harassed.
King was made the unanimous leader of the civil rights movement thanks to the boycott
Ending segregation and legacy- Pressure on Montgomery rose around the country with even many whites supporting the boycott who liked the idea of non-violence preached by the boycott's leaders. Many black ministers started to raise support by asking for donations for the boycotters to keep them going. King and 89 other people were even arrested and had to pay $500 in fines and serve 386 days in jail but this quickly fell through. Soon it came down to a court case with Browder v. Gayle in June 1956. It was moved to the Supreme Court with Claudette Colvin being one of the star witnesses. With the NAACP Colvin and a few others represented the discriminated black populace and the court found segregation on buses, (and by default public transport), unconstitutional. On December 20th 1956 the boycott ended after 381 days. In victory King and several white supporters took a desegregated bus ride. However full rights still was not achieved and there was a wave of hate crimes against African-Americans and white people in Montgomery who supported the boycott. One African-American, (Willie Edwards), was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. Nevertheless the boycott put King into the limelight who would later form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 as well as becoming the main influence in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 which ended the Jim Crow laws and broke the back of the Ku Klux Klan.

The relevance to what is happening now- I mentioned the current troubles in the US now because the Montgomery boycott showed that institutionalized racism can be fought. Through non-violent civil disobedience, (such as what is going on right now across America), full rights can be truly achieved and surely it must be easier now than before with globalization, wide support from groups ranging from Anonymous to the NAACP and no Jim Crow Laws. Hopefully this can be an example of something positive in history repeating itself.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Top 10 Dinosaurs (and other Mesozoic animals) that I want to see in Jurassic World

What new creatures will be in Jurassic World?
When I was growing up the Jurassic Park films made my childhood and for years I waited for a fourth installment. A few days ago the trailer was released and I must say that I am excited although a little disappointed. Not because I feel the film will be bad but because the Velociraptors and Gallimimus had no feathers but I am getting off topic. Here is a top ten list of some dinosaurs and other Mesozoic animals, (animals from the time of the dinosaurs), that have not been announced being in the film but I hope to see them in. To make the list however they have had to not appear in any of the films; although they can appear in the books the films are based on by Michael Crichton.

Number 10- Diplodocus Carnegie
One of the largest sauropods, (although far from the largest), who are the long-necked dinosaurs, Diplodocus is a well known dinosaur whose skeleton can be found in many of the world's museums from the London Natural History Museum to the New York Natural History Museum. They lived in the Late Jurassic Period from 155 to 148 million years ago, (in perspective our first ancestors came down from the trees around a million years ago). The Diplodocus is a truly interesting dinosaur with it even managing to defend itself with a long whip like tail which it could crack against a predator and possibly even break its neck. Despite how iconic the sauropod is the makers of the Jurassic Park films and Michael Crichton has always passed it up for the Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus or the Mamenchisaurus. It would be good to see a formidable sauropod that can actually physically defend itself against attack instead of using its bulk as a deterrent and I would like to see a battle between the new Diablos-Rex and a Diplodocus which I feel in real life the sauropod could win with a good hit from the whip like tail.

Number 9- Deinosuchus 
This was a genus of crocodilian, (more related to alligators than crocodiles), that lived from 80 million years ago to 73 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. Only the skull has been found, (reconstructions attach a body on so people can better get an image of scale), but paleontologists have managed to scale it to estimate the size of the animal: it was 11 m, (36 ft), long. This crocodilian actually ate dinosaurs. We can easily imagine the Deinosuchus living exactly like a crocodile except instead of eating an antelope it would eat a dinosaur. The appeal of this giant crocodilian for being in Jurassic World is obvious and with the trailer showing people canoeing on a river I can easily imagine them having to go past a cornered off area with a giant alligator lurking in the water. Deinosuchus was one of the largest crocodilians along with the Sarcosuchus of North Africa and South America so it would be a good thing to see in the new world. I chose Deinosuchus instead of Sarcosuchus for one simple reason: it would have eaten the ancestors of Tyrannosaurus.

Number 8- Kentrosaurus aethiopicus
 This was a close relative of Stegosaurus but lived in Late Jurassic, Tanzania. This placing is largely through nostalgia as Kentrosaurus was one of my favorite dinosaurs. Although smaller than its more famous cousin the Kentrosaurus is an interesting dinosaur with it not having the traditional plates on the entire body associated with a stegosaurid but instead giant spikes as shown in the picture. Kentrosaurus would swing these spikes on the tail to deter a possible predator but the side spikes would also deter predators coming from the side of the body. It is a truly unique looking dinosaur and in the video game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis where you could build your own Jurassic Park I always had one or two living alongside Stegosaurus so with the Stegosaurus confirmed in the trailer I would like to see one in the film, (obviously with less screen time to Stegosaurus).

Number 7- Iguanodon bernissartensis
The Iguanodon was a herbivore that lived in the Early Jurassic period and could walk on both its hind legs and all four legs. However, Iguanodon is very special as it was the second dinosaur genus to be discovered and was used to describe dinosaurs in general. Iguanodon has gone through many reconstructions which represents the changing view on dinosaurs: the sluggish, lizard like creature with a horned nose with the statues in Crystal Palace in the Victorian era, to the bipedal creature dragging its tail on the ground in the early 20th century to the current reconstruction above which has been made since the 1960s showing an agile animal. Iguanodon could also defend itself if need be with it deploying a thumb spike although its main defense was running. Despite its history Iguanodon has never appeared in the books or films so hopefully Jurassic World could spell its debut in the franchise.

Number 6- Eoraptor Lunensis
 The Eoraptor was a small genus of therapods, (bipedal dinosaurs ranging from Tyrannosaurus to Gallimimus), a meter, (3.3 ft), in length. However what makes it special is that it is the oldest known dinosaur. At 231 million years old the Eoraptor is the oldest dinosaur genus, so far, and comes from Argentina during the Triassic period. Although not as spectacular as some later dinosaurs the nimble little Eoraptor would be a good edition to the Jurassic World roster. It does raise a good point about the Jurassic Park franchise. There is a lack of dinosaurs from the Triassic, (the earliest time period), in the franchise with the only one appearing in Michael Crichton's novels, the Procompsognathus. The Eoraptor would be an interesting dinosaur nevertheless to appear in the new film.

Number 5- Plesiosaurus
 The Plesiosaurus was a genus of aquatic reptiles that lived in the seas of the early Jurassic period. They were a unique group with them managing to swim at fast speeds by coordinating their flippers to speed through the water. Plesiosaurus primarily ate fish and squid which they would sneak up on using their long necks so they can get up close without disturbing their prey. At 1.8 m they were the precursors for larger sea monsters but still unique in their own way.  The Plesiosaurus has had a great lasting legacy with legends of the Loch Ness Monster and Ogopogo possibly being inspired by the Plesiosaurus. With Mosasaurus confirmed for Jurassic World the potential for aquatic animals is massive and who better to show alongside Mosasaurus than the Loch Ness Monster.

Number 4- Therizinosaurus 
The Therizinosaurus is a very bizarre therapod dinosaur. It lived in Mongolia during the late Cretaceous period 75 million years ago, alongside the real life Velociraptor. They were very bizarre with a long neck, 2.5 meter, (8 ft), long forearms and a meter long, (3.28 ft), claw on each finger. It was safe to be around though with its diet consisting of plants, which they would use their claws to strip from trees, eggs and small animals like lizards. If attacked those claws could be used against a predator including a close relative of Tyrannosaurus called Tarbosaurus, (although some paleontologists believe that Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus were the same). Therizinosaurus was covered in feathers like all therapods, including the Velociraptor and yes even the Tyrannosaurus, making it look even more strange. Although the producers have said that no feathered dinosaurs will be appearing in the film they can easily do a reconstruction of a featherless Therizinosaurus such as in Chased by Dinosaurs, the spin-off to Walking With Dinosaurs, so I think audiences would be willing to accept Therizinosaurus if Diablos-Rex is in the film.

Number 3- Quetzalcoatlus Northropi
This species of pterosaur, (not a dinosaur), lived in the Late Cretaceous in North America 65 million years ago. Although Pteranodon has been scheduled to appear seeing the Quetzalcoatlus Northropi would be a nice edition. Mainly because it was the largest thing ever evolved to fly. When they weren't flying one was the same size as a giraffe but in flight they had a staggering wingspan of 11 meters, (36 ft). It was a true giant that could actually eat dinosaurs and was top of the food chain in regards to the sky. If one appeared in Jurassic World it would definitely steal the show although its colossal size would cast a literal shadow over the film.

Number 2- Deinonychus antirrhopus
Deinonychus was a raptor that lived in the early Cretaceous and actually caused the 'dinosaur renaissance' where paleontologists started to believe that dinosaurs were fast, agile and sociable animals. Although this placing could be controversial as you could argue that technically the Velociraptors in the films are Deinonychus. When writing the first book Michael Crichton liked the name Velociraptor but its diminutive size made it a lackluster 'villain' so he took the name Velociraptor and gave it to the body of Deinonychus. With the similarity between the two he had a character say that they reclassified Deinonychus to be a Velociraptor. When Spielberg adapted the book the change came as well, (although upping the size to be more formidable). I would actually like it if Deinonychus appeared alongside the Jurassic World Velociraptors and see how the greatest recent errors in dinosaur reconstruction has occurred. Also I'm going to say this again I want them to have feathers.

Number 1- Carnotaurus sastrei 
The Carnotaurus was a dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous Argentina from 72 to 69 million years ago and was quite a robust dinosaur. It evolved to fight for dominance with members of its own species and to take quick bites out of prey to possibly make them bleed to death. It didn't have the bite strength of Tyrannosaurus and was the dominant predator after second largest carnivorous dinosaur, Giganotosaurus, had gone extinct in the area. Why did I put it number one then? When I heard about Diablos-Rex I thought it was a hybrid of Tyrannosaurus and Carnotaurus. With it being a brawler and the 'devil horns' on its head I made the assumption that this would be the other half of the hybrid. With the trailer indicating that a raptor may be the more likely candidate I still want to see Carnotaurus. It appeared in the second book with an ability to change color but I quite fancy seeing a realistic Carnotaurus. It was the main villain in Disney's Dinosaur so I am sure a good version of it can appear in Jurassic World.

Do you agree with my list? Was there any other Mesozoic animals that I should have put on it? Please leave your comments.

Friday, 21 November 2014

History in Focus: The Velvet Revolution

Vaclav Havel awaits to a non-communist Prague after 41 years of communist rule
On November 16th the Czech Republic and Slovakia celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, (the Gentle Revolution in Slovakia). After 41 years of communist oppression Czechoslovakia managed to transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy. After 41 years Czechoslovakia had managed to shed the communist dominated system that had oppressed the people. The origins of the revolution started not in Czechoslovakia but in the USSR instead.

Gorbachev and his reforms- In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the USSR and started off a series of reforms: Glasnost, (Openness), and Perestroika, (Restructuring). Gorbachev started to stop the political repression of dissidents in the Soviet Union and his reforms quickly caught the attention of the Soviet Union's communist puppets in Europe; he was even nicknamed 'Gorby' in East Germany. One of these nations was Czechoslovakia who had been a virtual puppet of the Soviet Union since 1948 and later a Warsaw Pact member. In 1968 the Soviet Union even invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the growing liberalizing of the Czechoslovakian government in what was called the Prague Spring and the person who tried to liberalize the nation, Alexander Dubcek, was ousted from power. Thanks to Gorbachev's Glasnost a blacklist on people's families who had supported the Prague Spring gradually started to lift and even on dissident poet and playwright, Vaclav Havel, managed to get a petition signed from prison to increase living standards. East Germans living in Prague surrounded the West Berlin embassy to try and get entry into West Germany and they got their wish en masse on November 9th 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. The seeds of the Velvet Revolution had been sown and would quickly germinate.
A photo of the dissident poet Vaclav Havel
The Revolution starts- Prior to 1989 there had been numerous protests against the authoritarian regime, including the Candle Demonstration in 1988. The one which started the Revolution however happened on November 16th 1989 when students marched on the eve of International Students Day in Bratislava and marched to the Slovak Ministry of Education. The army had expected this but had chose not to act; this act had allowed the Velvet Revolution to occur. The next day dissident poet Vaclav Havel led a series of protests in union with the Socialist Union of Youth, (SSM), who opposed the communist censorship. The SSM marched from the grave of noted Czech poet Karel Hynek Macha to downtown Prague. They were dispersed after riot police beat them but one member of the secret police, Ludvik Zifcak, was so overcome by emotion that he collapsed and was taken away by police. However in recent years this has been put into question. The reason for this was that a story of a student called Martin Smid had been killed and a dissident called Petr Uhl gave it to Radio Free Europe who reported that police had killed a student. This later turned out to be a hoax and Zifcak said that it was because of his collapse that this story started, (there is a conspiracy theory about it as well that I won't go into here but I will recommend reading if you are interested in conspiracy theories). Regardless of the murder of Smid being fictitious it had further increased support for reform. Dubcek even came out of forced public silence and declares support for the protesters.
Some riot police clash with protests on 17th November
 The Revolution grows in popularity- The next day Radio Free Europe and strikes from the arts colleges and theaters, (all media was still ran by the regime), spread the news of the fictitious death of Martin Smid getting widespread support for the protesters. People even jingled their keys to show their support with it signifying 'Goodbye, it's time to go home' to communists. On the 19th more theater strikes happen and the civic initiative meet with Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec and tell him that he can only resign when there were mass protests like in East Germany. This comes eerily true as Vaclav Havel and other members of dissident groups like Chapter 77 establish the Civic Forum calling for reforms and the resignation of the people who organised the violence on the 17th. The government becomes so desperate that they even stage an interview with 'Martin Smid' to convince protesters that he is alive, (rather ironic), but none believe it. The protests then start to become popular.
The statue of Saint Adalbert of Prague in anti-communist banners
  The protests increase- The Prime Minister says that no force will be used against the protesters but a few hard-liners including the General Secratary Milos Jakes orders a Peoples Militias to dispers the protests but they only gain 4000 followers and it quickly disbands. On the 24th Jakes resigns and the day after protesters number 800,000 in Prague and 100,000 in Bratislava.

The last days of the Czechoslovakian Communists- The editorial staff of the Pravda, (the then government ran paper equivalent to the New York Times in the USA or Guardian in the UK), declare their allegiance to the protesters on the 26th. The government had no where else to go. Adamec holds his first talks with Havel on the same day. From the following day to the 29th the communist grip over the people falls with with 75% of the public wanting reform. This started with the Ministry of Culture allowing anti-communist and pro-democracy books to be released and the Communist Party loses its leading role as apart of the Constitution. On December 10th President Gustav Husak swears in the first non-communist government for 41 years and resigns. The first legitimate elections takes place and Havel is elected President. The Revolution had succeeded.
Havel during the Revolution
Aftermath and legacy- In 1993 in what was nicknamed the Velvet Divorce Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in a similarly peaceful fashion. The Velvet Revolution was significant with it showing that you don't need an armed militia or army support to overthrow a corrupt government. Like in Poland and East Germany the Czechoslovakian government was changed through peace with no long lasting bitter feuds such as the violent executed of Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania or the violence which broke out in the Balkans after the collapse of Yugoslavia and the ethnic turmoils in Ukraine and the Caucuses after the fall of the USSR. The Velvet Revolution showed that through peaceful protest even authoritarian regimes can fall.

Please leave any comments and thanks for reading. Also if you live in Slovakia or the Czech Republic please give your views on the Velvet Revolution.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Background of the Ukrainian Crisis

How did a series of riots turn into the current situation?
Since November of 2013 Ukraine has been one of the most major news events and with on November 12th with NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove saying that Russian troops have been seen crossing the Ukrainian border; something which the Russian government hotly denies. With talks of there even being a second Cold War developing it leaves us to wonder why did the situation deteriorate so quickly in Ukraine? The first signs of this can be seen in 1991. (Note: I live in the UK so only have a Western perspective of the events so if you are Russian please leave me your view). Information from the BBC and Al Jazeera.

The founding of Ukraine- The first seeds of today's problems could be seen with the formation of Ukraine in 1991. After a coup which tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev failed Ukraine declared independence with the wave of nationalism that spread across the USSR. Soon other nations declared their independence and the USSR collapsed. Most of the new nations drew their borders based on ethnic populations as well as their historical boundaries but Ukraine largely drew its borders on historic boundaries. From the days of Stalin trying to make Ukraine ethnically Russian there was a clear Ukrainian-Russian divide geographically in Ukraine, in the East being mostly ethnically Russian, which still lasts today. This is shown on the map below:
Map from openculture.com
In Moscow the new non-communist leaders in the ensuing years after the collapse of the Soviet Union became worried with the West isolating them somewhat with former Warsaw Pact nations like Poland and Romania joining the EU and NATO. The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, (who were once apart of the USSR), even joined NATO which made Russia feel isolated. However in Ukraine the issue wouldn't be raised again until 2004.
The 2004 Orange Revolution
The Orange Revolution- In 2004 the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych was elected President however widespread reports of vote-rigging similar to the accusations that plagued Vladimir Putin in 2012. The opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, lead mass street protests in the November of that years and the color of his party, orange, became the de facto name of the protest: the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko was voted most popular in an election re-run the following month which Yanukovych challenged but resigned nevertheless, The Ukrainian independence sentiment was already being shown. In 2010 Yanukovych was elected again in a fair election which was uncontested but the following year his main rival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested for abuse of powers, (ironically for making a gas deal with Russia).
Yanukovych on the left and Putin on the right
The protests begin- By 2013 the EU and Ukraine had been building closer times and were on the verge of making an agreement to create closer trading ties which could have brought Ukraine into the EU. On November 21st 2013 Yanukovych's cabinet abandoned this agreement for closer ties with Putin. The protests start to begin with animosity against Russia and the fear that Ukraine could become too economically reliant on their former ruler. Through November and December protesters took to the streets of Kiev with the largest protest occurring on the 8th December when 80,000 people occupied Independence Square in the center of Kiev. The statue of Lenin was even tore down and pieces sold on the internet as it was 'a historic moment'. Yanukovych didn't help matters by accepting Putin's economic lifeline where he would buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt which worried Ukrainians who felt they were becoming more of Russia's puppet. An anti-protest law was passed as anti-Yanukovych protests grew and 234 protesters were arrested; Ukraine was dangerously becoming much more authoritarian.
Independence Square descends into violence
The protests turn violent- With the anti-protest law the protests develop into riots with at least 88 being killed from the 19th to 20th February. Twenty days earlier Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned in protest of Yanukovych's actions and Parliament was forced to annul the anti-protest law. On the 20th the government started breaching human rights laws with videos showing uniformed snipers firing at protesters. The day after Yanukovych reached a compromise with opposition and on the 22nd he fled to Crimea and then Russia. On the 22nd a pro-West Parliament was formed and Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison to which Yanukovych denounced as a 'coup'. John Kerry pledged US support to new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and interim President Olexander Turchynov. However despite Western support the new government made a fateful error: banning Russia as a second official language. Angering the Russian section of society a virtual civil war began.
Pro-Russian troops in Crimea
Pro-Russia rises- During his rule Stalin decided to 'Russify' Crimea and today there is a large Russian population in Crimea. On February 27th pro-Russian gunmen seized Simferopol and on the 28th Sevastapol. The peninsular was under militant rule. Putin however once again showed his dark side, (apology to those in Russia who likes Putin I don't mean to offend). In an attempt to show his dominance in the region he got Russia's Parliament to allow him to use force to protect Russian interests which fanned the flames of animosity. Despite fears of persecution from the Tatar populace a vote in Crimea to secede from Ukraine took place which the West denounced as illegal. 97% of those who voted agreed to secede on March 16th and two days later Putin annexed Crimea. This is especially worrying as Putin has stated that Russia's greatest leader was Stalin and that 'worst event in history was the fall of the Soviet Union'. Fearful of Russian action elsewhere NATO and the RAF started flying test flights over the Baltic nations while Russia started to do the same in Siberia. Spurred on by the annexation of Crimea as well as support from Putin Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv saw militants seize key buildings but the government quickly recaptured Kharkiv. In May Luhansk and Donetsk declared independence in May.

Situations worsen- Across Odessa fighting claimed more lives and in May Ukraine elected a new President Petro Poroshenko. The West increased their sanctions on Russia and built closer ties with Ukraine but the greatest tragedy had yet to come.
298 innocent lives were lost in the violence
On July 17th Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile as it flew over militant controlled territory. Sadly 298 lives were lost as the aircraft was shot down. It was reportedly that the missile launcher was bought from Russia although this has been denied. Fortunately people were allowed onto the site to make sure those lives lost could be returned to their families, The US and EU issued a new wave of sanctions against Russia thanks to this but the fighting did not dissipate until September 5th when rebels and the government signed a truce and saw significant Russian withdrawal of troops from the eastern border of Ukraine. However the truce did not last long and Putin ordered thousands of troops to be stationed near the Ukrainian border and started to make gestures to NATO or to nations aligned with NATO such as sending planes near the Alaskan coasts and sending a submarine close to the Swedish coast last week, (written 14/11/2014). However tensions with the West did dissipate slightly on the 31st October when a deal was brokered with the EU and Russia to resume gas supplies to Ukraine.

The future?- What will happen next we cannot know. Recently the fighting has been less severe as it had been around May/June time. However the West and Russia must work together in order to solve the problem and I personally believe that earlier working together between the West and Russia after 1991 could have diverted the problem, (as suggested by notable critic of Putin Mikhail Gorbachev who has actually supported Putin). Although an issue over Crimean sovereignty may need to be addressed, especially with the Tatar population not being consulted about the referendum.

Thanks for reading and what is your views. If you live in Russia please tell me your view as living in the UK I've only seen a Western perspective and seeing a Russian perspective over the issue would be extremely beneficial. If you live in Ukraine also give me your opinion on the events that have transpired. Thanks and have a good day.