Friday, December 09, 2005

Should he Stay or Should he Go?

Well, who would have guessed it. Manchester Utd out off the European Cup without playing a knock-out game. And with no UEFA-cup consolation to boot, Utd have had their European football cut short this season.

Indeed, it has all gone rather pair shaped for Utd in Europe this season. But does this really merit the manager's dismissal? Rather than advocate a particular point of view, I write two opposing points of view for you to make your own mind up.

He's Gotta Go

No question, he is arguably the best manager the club's ever had. But, all that is in the past and we must look towards the future. He has taken the club as far as he can. The European Cup is a special tournament for the club and if this is the best they can now do, clearly the time has come to part company.

Just look at how the form has deteriorated in the competition since winning it. Since the semi-final appearance in 2001/2002 the team's form in the competition has steadily got worse.

2002/2003 Qtr-Final

2003/2004 Second round

2004/2005 Second round

2005/2006 Group Stage

And, we're not just talking about Europe either. Utd have finished 3rd in the Premiership for the last two seasons and not won a sausage. Some of the signing made recently have not proven their worth and the team is overly reliant on Rooney for inspiration. When he is not on the ball the whole team will likely be off it.

They are a long way behind Chelsea this season and what the club need now is somebody with fresh ideas and energy. The current manager is not that man.

He's Gotta Stay

You guys evidently have short memories. No doubt, you are the same people who were calling for his dismissal in the early 90's and after the 94/95 season. And, were you right then? Of course you weren't.

Utd have arguably been one of the most consistent teams in the Champion's League under his management. So, perhaps inevitably things were going to slip eventually. Even the best of them have their days, Arsenal under Wenger have twice been eliminated from the Champion's League in the first-stage. I also recall Bayern Munich suffered a similar fate a few seasons back but went onto win their domestic league.

You have also obviously not taken the time to look at the Premiership table this season. Does it not say that they are second in the league? Having been the only team to defeat Chelsea so far this season they look the most likely to close the gap and challenge them. Do you really think dismissal of the club's most successful manger will improve the situation?

Nobody knows the job better than him. And, if anybody is going to turn things around it will be him. He has been building a new squad and needs time to do that. It's just a refueling thing.

So, there you have it. What do you think? Please, feel free to comment here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Remembrance Sunday

So, Britain has been remembering this terrible conflict among all the others. But arguably, World War 1 stands out as being one of the worst. Yet, why did such a war happen?

The unification of Germany in 1871 at the expense of France, who lost Alsace-Lorraine, inevitably changed the geo-political landscape in Europe. A new, powerful state had emerged in the centre of Europe that directly bordered Europe's other super powers France, Russia and the Austria-Hungarian empire.

Britain, also looked on as Bismarck did the dirty work over France. For Britain too, had a stake in Europe and wanting to maintain a stable balance of power in Europe. The emergence of Germany broke the balance of power that had been carefully constructed after the Napoleonic wars. Europe was no longer stable.

And so, Germany was unified and a second industrial revolution took place in the country. Not only did this see the rise of German industry, it also directly threatened Britain's commercial interests and certainly broke their world monopoly (along with America who were also experiencing industrialization). In the latter half of the 19th century Britain lost it's world lead.

France for their part now had to contend with a powerful neighbor on their border. A neighbor which had already taken territory off them and would soon overtake them economically. The future pattern had been set for Franco-German tension.

With Germany united, Bismarck was arguably the greatest statesman. As German chancellor subservient to a powerful monarch he would pursue an alliance system that he hoped would maintain the peace and serve German interests. In the most part, he sought to avoid angering both France and Russia in the event of being encircled. Recognizing that France were already angered he signed an insurance treaty with Russia that would ensure Germany's eastern border.

For the most part, this worked. But then of course, all things must end sooner or later and Bismarck was eventually dethroned as chancellor in 1890 when the next Wilhelm became king.

This had immediate impact. For starters, it was clear that the monarch wanted a greater say in international relations. More say than Bismarck could expect, for sure. A new course in foreign policy was therefore embarked on with Germany not renewing it's insurance treaty with Russia.

Germany would also embark on the persuance of an an empire like France and Britain. Known as Weltpolitik, Germany started to muscle in on French and British territory in Africa and the med sea. This led to further conflict with France over colonial possessions.

With Franco-German relations seriously strained diplomatic gestures were made towards Britain. Germany did not wish to see the two nations unite against her and also needed an ally of some description in the face of their lack.

But, as always Germany just couldn't help but annoy people. The introduction of Tirpitz and his navy league led to a German naval build up which directly challenged Britain's pre-eminent position at sea. Eventually, this prompted Britain to look towards France for an alliance against Germany.

As mentioned, Germany had already cancelled the diplomatic alliance with Russia. But they did have an alliance with the Austria-Hungarian Empire (and Italy also); a struggling old empire with considerable interests in the Balkans. The Triple Alliance was formed in 1882 - before the Reinsurance treaty with Russia was cancelled in 1890.

Russia too, had similar interests in the Balkan region and Germany aligning itself with Austro-Hungary had put them at a polar opposite. In short, the alliance with Austria-Hungary and the failure to continue to appease the Russians had ensured that a future conflict with them was a possibility.

With this in mind, the Russians moved towards the newly formed Britain and France partnership. The Triple Entente was formed. Otherwise known as the Grand Alliance between Britain, France and Russia. If one was attacked, the other would come to their aid.

So, Wilhelm 2nd had ensured that Germany were now surrounded by powerful enemies all with grievances of one description or another against her. Military spending increased in the short-period before 1914 and many believed that a European conflict involving a number of states would erupt.

And so on 28th June 1914, Mr Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. The Austrians suspected the Serbians and mobilised their forces against Serbia. Russia, committed to protect Serbia mobilised their forces against Austria-Hungary. War between the two states/empires became likely.

The Germans being allied with the Austrians were expected to join in. But, it wasn't until the Russians mobolised their forces in anticipation of a German advance in the east that prompted Germany to declare war on Russia.

With war in eastern Europe now beginning. France and Britain could not look on forever. France's alliance commitments with Russia prompted Germany's declaration of war on France. The war in the west had now began.

Germany had anticipated the possibility of encircling by France and Russia. With this mind they had formulated a plan to quickly knock out the French and then the Russians. Their quick defeat of France required that they move through Belgium. Britain, not wanting war, were however committed to protecting Belgium neutrality. And so it was that when Germany moved into Belgium that Britain joined in with France and declared war on Germany. World War 1 was now in fall swing.

So, let us not forget the reasons for this war. Nationalist tensions - sparked off by the assassination - and the alliance system brought the major powers of Europe into a European wide conflict. On the one side, the Triple Entente between France, Britain and Russia. On the other, the central powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the unreliable Italians.

Of course, this war was supposed to settle the European question for good. To settle the political landscape if you like. The end result of the war, defeat for Germany and the dissolution of the Austria-Hungarian led to a whole host of new states being created in eastern Europe. The right to self-determination was being touted as an end-result of the war.

But of course Wilson's 14 points are one thing, the French are another. At Versailles they drew up the peace-terms for Germany which would drown the country with reparations repayments, loss of land and no real military to boot. Not a good thing for a newly formed German democratic government to inherit...

As for Wilhelm, he *#!ed off to Holland.

World War 1 - lest we forget.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rise of Nations

Well then, my blog appears to be filling up. Third article: Rise of Nations review.

Okay, I'm not about to write an academic thesis here. Rise of Nations is the latest strategy video game from Microsoft and also with assistance from Sid Meirs (of Civilization fame) . With this in mind, it has been hailed as a cross between Age of Empires and Civilization. However, in reality it is much more alike to Age of Empires in terms of interface at least.

You start with a small city, build another city and another and gradually create a nation with a strong economy that can be used to build an army that you will use to battle with and defeat your opponent. To do this, you create citizens that will gather resources of food (from farms), timber (from trees) and metal (from mountains) with wealth being generated by markets and caravans. Along with this, they will also be used to construct the necessary buildings to aid in national development. If you have played Age of Empires, then this will no doubt sound like a familiar format.

Where this game comes into its own however, is with age advances. Unlike the Age of Empire series which deals with ages in separate titles; in Rise of Nations you can work your way up from ancient times (stick and stone armies) right up to the current day Information age (Nuclear weapons, Tanks, Stealth Bombers etc) - all in the space of a single 1 hour game! This adds a considerable amount of depth to the game and a considrably larger variety of units than any Age of Empires title offers.

Along with this, you also have the concept of national borders which expand with cultural influence and number of cities. Providing you have researched attrition, any opposition army that walks within your borders without a supply wagon will suffer damage. No doubt that this is a game concept that has been imported from Civilization 3.

Another game concept from the Civ series is that of Wonders. As you advance through the ages you can construct Wonders of the World from the pyramids to the space program. Each wonder gives you some sort of additional advantage. For example, the space program reveals the entire map for you and enables you to see where all your opponents troops are located.

So, what else does this game offer? Well, you have the nations themselves. You can select from a variety of nations to play with: British, Spanish, Inca, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Chinese, French, Bantu, Mongols etc. Although curiously America is not included within the game. Each nation comes with its set of unique units and special powers - not to mention national architecture.

The graphics are nice, with detailed units and landscapes. With water vessels you can see the reflection of the units in the sea. The sound is of reasonable quality too. You can hear pretty much every gun shot and bomb dropped. Although, I do think the in game music could have been better.

I also feel that a greater degree of strength could have been given to defending nations in the form of city walls or trenches. Once your opponent attacks, there is little you can do to stop his army from waltzing right into your cities. Once your defensive army has been breached then it is pretty much game set and match.

It is a good game but perhaps has been justly criticized for being a little bit like Age of Empires. Although, the different ages give the game a great deal more depth and unit variety. The game would have also benefited from a few more defensive features to aid in defense of nation. The solo conquer the world game (whereby you try and conquer the real world with a nation) is slightly easy with tribute cards and alliances. To defeat any powerful nation you simply invade their capital nation with a lot of armies so that you outnumber them in the actual battle.

But overall, I liked this game. It is a good game but could have been better. You want me to rate it?

Graphics: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Originality: 6/10

Play ability: 9/10

Difficulty: 7/10

Overall: 8/10

Monday, October 17, 2005

Learning with Learndirect

I hope you enjoyed reading my post on England's world cup chances. But, I am not just using this blog to write about football. No, my blog contains literature on any subject that happens to interest me. And Learndirect is one such thing.

So, for those of you who have never heard of Learndirect. What is it? Well, Learndirect is an adult based learning scheme aimed at improving IT and basic skills in English, Maths and a few other things besides. There are also a substantial number of courses tailored towards business skills e.g. accountancy, finance, marketing and the like.

Essentially, these courses are delivered in two ways. Either on-line or via work books and CD-ROMS. These can be studied either at home or at Learndirect centres equipped with computers for delivery of courses. This way, you can just walk into a Learndirect centre and start your learning (providing there is a computer not being used). Therefore coining the term, flexable learning - learning to fit around your own time.

Of course, you do not work in isolation entirely. Personal tutors are available at centres to provide assistance with courses being studied. A time sheet is kept, which is kind of like a diary of what you have done on your course in each learning session. When a course is completed, you have to complete some sort learning aim as evidence of what you have learnt.

Now, few things are free. And, most Learndirect courses come at a price. The cheapest are available for the likes of £10 while the most expensive go for hundreds. They come in different shapes and sizes. Some are only a couple of hours in duration while the longest can take an estimated 48 hours which would amount to a number of months.

Of course, if you are on benefits then you can get exceptions from payment. That is to say, a great number of courses are made available for free. Providing you can come up with some sort of evidence of receipt of benefits.

So if ever the time comes when you wish to improve your skills, you may wish to take a look at what Learndirect has to offer. Their web site address is:

Thursday, October 13, 2005

England Qualify for World Cup

So, England have qualified for the 2006 World Cup. Although, the 1-0 win against Austria was hardly inspiring a more convincing 2-1 win over fellow qualifyers Poland has offered reason for optimisim. So, what are England's chances? Now, certainly I am no expert but I will add my thoughts here.

As of yet, all the qualifying spots have yet to be decided. However, the usual footballing powers such as Brazil, Germany, Italy, Holland, Argentina, France and the like have now qualified. Certainly, Brazil will rank as favourites but usually South American teams don't play well in Europe. As this one will be in Germany that must bode well.

Germany has had difficult times on the international stage in recent years. With the exception of the last world cup when to everybody's suprise, including their own, they made it to the final only to be beaten by Brazil. Performances in the last European Championship however were not very good and they were eliminated at the first stage. England have proven they are well capable of beating them.

Italy have flattered to deceive for a while now. Like Germany, eliminated from the European Championship early but under unfortunate circumstances. Under Lippi they have qualified for the world cup more convincingly but his team may not quite have the experience to lift the ultimate prize.

Holland continue to be erratic. Didn't qualify for the last world cup but reached the semis of the European Championship. Inconsistency like this won't do them any favours again.

Argentina always field good teams but England proved at the last world cup that they can beat them. I don't see any reason why that has changed.

France seem to have lost a few good players through retirement and the like and it remains to be seen whether they have found good replacements. I would not rank them as one of the favourites.

And, what of the European Champions Greece? They won't even be there!

So, it can only be said that England can be quietly confident going into this world cup. If injuries are avoided they have a chance!