Why is there nothing as good as “Madam Secretary” about British politics?

July 26th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

OK, it’s not as superlative as “The West Wing”, my all-time favourite television series. But “Madam Secretary” is good television. Like “The West Wing”, it deals with political issues that have a real-life basis and it represents politicians as basically honourable and trying to to the right thing. And women both originated the series and fill the eponymous role (Barbara Hall and Tea Leoni respectively).

This evening, on Sky Living, the final episode (number 23) of the latest series (number 3) of “Madam Secretary” was broadcast. It dealt with the role of NATO in the face of a resurgent Russia attempting an invasion of Bulgaria. There have now been a total of 68 episodes and I’ve seen them all. I’m pleased that a fourth series has been commissioned and I look forward to it.

But why is there no British fictional series that treats politics seriously and politicians as basically decent?

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The films of British writer/director Christopher Nolan

July 26th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

At this time of year, my professional commitments are light, so I sign up for a number of short courses at the City Lit further education college in central London. My second such course of this summer was delivered by an American lecturer called Mary Wild. and it was titled “Christopher Nolan: dystopian dreams and hidden hopes”.

Wild explained that the protagonists in Nolan’s films are gripped by the search for definite answers which are often beyond reach. His characters are frequently morally ambiguous and driven by philosophical belief. Typically the plots are complex and the narrative is non-linear. Although he is regarded as an auteur, Nolan’s nine films have grossed more than $4.3B, so he a popular and commercial auteur and his latest work (Dunkirk”) will consolidate that reputation.

The three-hour course was focused on three Nolan films with a montage of clips from each:

  • “Inception” (2010 – see my review here
  • “The Dark Knight” (2008)- see my review here
  • “Interstellar” (2014) — see my review here

Wild’s approach to film analysis is based deeply on psychoanalysis (“I’m a faithful follower of Freud”) so much of her material was heavy-going. I would have preferred a more cinematic examination of Nolan’s work.

For a list of Nolan’s films, see here.

For an “Observer” profile of Nolan, see here.

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Fifty years since the Six Day Arab-Israeli War of 1967

July 25th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

At this time of year, my professional commitments are light, so I sign up for a number of short courses at the City Lit further education college in central London. My first such course of this summer was delivered by Dr Noman Hanif – UK born of parents from Kashmir – and it was titled “The impact of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war on contemporary politics”.

In fact, we discussed the war very little and contemporary politics hardly at all because Dr Hanif became stuck in trying to explain the historical background to the conflict. We actually started with a reference to the expulsion of the Jews by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 135 and, by the time we reached 1967, we were two and a half hours into a three hour course.

Our lecturer posed the question: what is this war about? His answer was “The attempt to secularise a religiously rooted conflict”. In fact, he spent so much time arguing that essentially this is not a dispute capable of territorial solution and emphasising the fundamental religious position of Jews and Arabs respectively that, at the very end of the course, I asked: “Are you arguing that the Arab-Israeli problem is fundamentally insoluble?” He answered: “Yes”.

If you want a short background to the Arab-Israeli conflict, you can read my book review here.

If you want to know specifically about the Six Day War of 1967, the BBC has a useful account here.

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A review of the movie “War For Planet Of The Apes”

July 24th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

“War For Planet Of The Apes”

This is the third movie in the rebooted franchise which has used some confusing titles. In 2011, we had “Rise Of ..” and then in 2014 there was “Dawn Of ..” when really title-wise it should have been the other way round. Now (2017) comes “War For ..” but actually this is not a war so much as a battle and the third title would have been more appropriate for the second film.

So viewers need to appreciate that, notwithstanding the title, this latest segment in the saga is the most subtle and humanistic of the trilogy and it is the apes and not the humans who show these humanistic characteristics.

Indeed this is by far the most ape-focused of the three works with only one significant speaking role for a human: the Colonol played by Woody Harrelson. His character is immensely evocation of the mad Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalyse Now” and he rules from above over his work camp of brutalised apes like Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List”.

So, if there is no full-scale war as suggested by the title, there are huge connections with the Vietnam War and the Second World War.

This is a dialogue-light film with few characters – notably the apes leader Caeser (once again brilliantly realised by Andy Serkis) – actually talking, while other apes make sounds translated as sub-titles and some humans are simply mute.

Instead this work is a visually treat with some wonderful cinematography as well as state-of the-art special effects. The image of four apes riding horses across a beach is a stirring one and the coast scene cannot help reminding us of the iconic concluding scene of the first “Planet Of The Apes” movie half a century ago in 1968.

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Getting to know Democratic Party hopeful Kamala Harris

July 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Kamala Harris is the newly-elected Democratic Party senator for the state of California and only the second black woman to have been elected to the Senate.

Her mother, who was born in India, was a breast cancer researcher, and her father, from Jamaica, was an economics professor at Stanford University.

She started out as a deputy district attorney in Alameda county, California, before becoming district attorney of San Francisco. She later became California’s attorney general.

In her short time in the Senate, she has made waves and created a profile with some already talking of her as a possible candidate for the Presidency in 2020.

I first blogged about Harris here. You can check out a feature in today’s “Observer” newspaper here.

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A review of the movie “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

July 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

After three “Spider-Man” movies directed by Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire in the eponymous role and two “Amazing Spider-Man” films helmed by Marc Web with (British) Andrew Garfield as the titular super-hero, we have a sixth cinematic outing for the arachnid in a mere 15 years.

This time the director is little-known Jon Watts and Peter Parker is played by another British actor, Tom Holland who made a cameo appearance in this role in “Captain America: Civil War”. Essentially this is a stand-alone contribution to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, although there are short appearances by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and an all-too-brief look-in by Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

So, what’s new? Well, for once Parker – who is presented as a 15 year old a high school student – is represented by a genuinely young thespian (although Holland is 21) and we have the youngest Aunt May yet (an underused Marisa Tomei). Also we have a new sidekick for Peter, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and an interesting new villain called Vulture (a smart Michael Keaton).

Of course, any super-hero movie depends on effective special effects, which are certainly om show here, and exciting action sequences, which are on offer with histrionics at the top of the Washington Monument and on board a Staten Island ferry. So, all in all, a very satisfying addition to the canon.

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I am no longer old – according to a proposal from the Japanese

July 19th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

On the day that my 41 year old son had the news that he will have to work until he is 68 before receiving a state pension, I read of the proposal that someone of my age (69) is no longer to be termed old.

In Japan, a joint committee of the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society has suggested that, since so many citizens are living so much longer,  people aged 65-74 should be classified as “pre-old age”, while those between 75-89 would be termed “old” and those aged 90 and above would be described as “super-old”.

Whether I am termed old or not, I do feel rather privileged and have written some observations on “Why It’s Fun To Be In One’s Sixties In Britain”.

Posted in Miscellaneous, My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

Rising life expectancy stalls after health spending cuts

July 18th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of government policy in any particular country, but arguably a key measure is the life expectancy of its citizens. Obviously quality of life is important as well as length of life but the first tends to determine the second.

In an article in today’s “Guardian” newspaper, the following statistics tell a compelling story:

“In 1919 men lived for an average of 52.5 years and women for 56.1 years. That rose to 64.1 years and 68.7 years respectively by 1946. Life expectancy then rose in an almost unbroken gradual upward curve to 77.1 years for men and 81.4 years for women in 2005 and again to 78.7 and 82.6 in 2010, the year David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office.”


“A century-long rise in life expectancy has stalled since 2010 when austerity brought about deep cuts in NHS and social care spending, according to research by a former government adviser on the links between poverty and ill-health. Life expectancy> at birth had been going up so fast that women were gaining an extra year of life every five years and men an additional 12 months every three-and-a-half years. But those trends have almost halved since ministers made a “political decision” in 2010 to reduce the amount of money it put into the public sector, said Sir Michael Marmot.”

More on the story here.

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The coming referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan

July 17th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Regular visitors to my blog or Facebook page will know that I have been in Nairobi for 12 days visiting my son and his family. I flew back overnight and, in spite my tiredness, I found myself in serious conversation with the driver of my cab home.

When I asked him where he was from, he declared that he was a Kurd. He was surprised when I then identified him as an Iraqi Kurd and showed a little knowledge of the political situation there and the coming referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan scheduled for 25 September.

He insisted that 99.99% of Iraqi Kurds would like independence but declared that the region was not ready for it. He argued that the Bargain regime is corrupt and that genuine democracy should precede any independence. He insisted that current military forces are aligned to specific political parties and that a genuinely national army should be achieved before any independence.

My driver was also well aware that the governments of the other countries with substantial Kurdish minorities – Turkey, Iran and Syria – are totally opposed to any independent Kurdish state and that the big powers, notably the USA, do not want an independent Kurdistan at this time which they would see as massively destabilising for the Middle East.

He himself declared his support for the Kurdish political party called Gorran (which means Change), which is the official opposition to the coalition government in Iraqi Kurdistan, but he noted that its elderly leader had just died. Interestingly he spoke warmly of the success of Israel in achieving a progressive and democratic state in the Middle East.

You can read more about the referendum on this Wikipedia page.

You can read more about the component parts of the Kurdish people in my book review.

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Have you ever played Dobble?

July 14th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

No, of course not – you’ve never even heard of it, have you?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was visiting friends in Oxford and we popped into a games shop that their 10 year old son loves. It is called The Gameskeeper and it is in Cowley Road.

I explained to the friendly woman behind the counter that I was about to visit my granddaughter in Nairobi and wondered if she could recommend a game that was small, light and suitable for a six year old.

She suggested a card game called Dobble and I bought it.  After one week in Nairobi, I’ve played it lots of times with my granddaughter Catrin (she’s won every time!) and we’ve also played it with several of her slightly older friends.

It’s been a great success so, if you have or know young children, you might want to check it out here.

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