Is Britain a world leader on reaching net zero?

September 22nd, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he’s “proud to be a world leader in reaching net zero by 2050”, but is it a world-leading target?

A total of 27 countries plus the European Union have passed net zero emission laws, according to the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank. While most of them have set a 2050 goal, Sweden and Germany are targeting 2045, Austria and Iceland have gone for 2040. Finland is aiming for 2035, and the Maldives has vowed to hit the target by 2030.

Eight countries are already net zero, according to Energy Monitor. Unfortunately, they’re among the smallest countries in the world, and have been able to achieve net zero (or in many cases are carbon negative) due to presence of large forests that absorb tonnes of carbon. These countries are Bhutan, Suriname, Panama, Guyana, Gabon, Madagascar, Comoros and Niue.

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The threat to democracy from the rise of populist parties

September 21st, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Almost one-third of Europeans now vote for populist, far-right or far-left parties, research shows, with wide support for anti-establishment politics surging across the continent in an increasingly problematic challenge to the mainstream.

Analysis by more than 100 political scientists across 31 countries found that in national elections last year a record 32% of European voters cast their ballots for anti-establishment parties, compared with 20% in the early 2000s and 12% in the early 1990s.

The research, led by Matthijs Rooduijn, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam, and shared exclusively with the “Guardian” newspaper, also found that about half of anti-establishment voters support far-right parties – and this is the vote share that is increasing most rapidly.

“There’s fluctuation, but the underlying trend is the numbers keep rising,” Rooduijn said. “Mainstream parties are losing votes; anti-establishment parties are gaining. It matters, because many studies now show that when populists secure power, or influence over power, the quality of liberal democracy declines.”

More information here.

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A review of the streaming film “The Unforgivable”

September 18th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

This story started out in 2009 as a British miniseries written by Sally Wainwright and titled “Unforgiven”. Then, in 2012, it was turned into a film and transposed to the United States as a starring vehicle for Sandra Bullock who was a co-producer.

Bullock plays a woman, released from prison after 20 years for killing a cop, who is determined to track down her much younger sister who was adopted after the crime. It is slow and serious, verging on grim, but Bullock acts against type to give an impressive performance and the viewer awaits an explanation and a resolution.

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A review of the new action movie “The Equalizer 3”

September 17th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

I’ve been a fan of Denzel Washington since he played young Steve Biko In “Cry Freedom” in 1987. Back then, I would never have imagined that he would be portraying an action hero in his late 60s, but this is an actor with charisma as well as ability. Since 2001, when he starred in “Training Day”, Washington has had a working relationship with another African-American talent, director Antoine Fuqua. Making up the trio that has produced “The Equalizer” trilogy is writer Richard Wenk.

So you know what to expect here and you’re not going to be disappointed. The brutal action begins pre-title and regularly returns as Italy’s Camorra meets its bloody match. It may be formulaic but it’s a successful and satisfying formula. The differences from the previous two films all add to the accomplishment: a glorious setting on the Amalfi coast, an atmospheric score from Marcelo Zarvos, and a key role for Dakota Fanning who was a child in Washington’s 2004 movie “Man on Fire”.

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A review of the new film “Love At First Sight”

September 16th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

I guess that many would call this a chic-flic. After all, it’s directed by a woman, written by a woman, and based on a novel by a woman. But I’m a bit of a sucker for rom-coms, especially those filmed in my home city of London. I didn’t expect much from this Netflix offering but I rather enjoyed it.

It deploys many of the tropes of the genre, including the meet-cute (the mobile charging unit at New York’s JFK airport), but there’s a late twist that gives the plot some grit. Above all, we have two young newcomers who bring real charm to the leading roles: Haley Lu Richardson as the American girl Hadley and Ben Hardy as the British guy Oliver.

Give it a try.

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A review of “Act Of Oblivion” by Robert Harris

September 7th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Over a period of three decades, British novelist Robert Harris has written 15 bestselling novels, mostly works of historical fiction, many set in Ancient Rome or around the Second World War. “Act Of Oblivion” is the eighth that I have read.

It is classic Harris but set in a different time period: the two decades of the mid 17th century, after the epochal events of the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles I, and the restoration of King Charles II. The narrative switches between England and New England and all the named characters, except one, were real people. Unlike some of Harris’s novels, we are not sure how this will end.

The odd title comes from legislation in the English Parliament which, following the restoration, absolved all parties from prosecution, except those involved in the killing of the king. The focus is overwhelmingly on two of the regicides – Colonel Edward Whalley and his son-in-law Colonel William Goffe – who escaped to the new colonies and their intended nemesis, Richard Naylor, clerk to the Privy Council and regicide hunter-in-chief (the one invented character).

“Act Of Oblivion” is meticulously researched, wonderfully crafted, and a joy to read. We learn a good deal about how people of that time lived and died and about both the depth and the division of political thought and religious belief of that era. It is bound to be adapted for television or cinema.

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A review of the 1953 classic film “Tokyo Story”

September 6th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

When film critics worldwide are polled on the best films ever made, this Japanese work directed and co-written by the famous Yasujiro Ozu usually comes in the top batch. It is a classic art house movie: black and white, slow, minimalist, portentous and shot in a very distinctive style (lots of static, low shots and wide angle scenes inside small rooms).

It is a simple tale of post-war, intergenerational relationships within a family, told in a gentle, closely-observed manner, centred on a visit to the Japanese capital by an elderly couple – who live in a rural location with one of their daughters – to see their son and the other daughter who are not exactly thrilled by the occasion. It is a quiet and oddly moving piece.

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Word of the day: pre-history

September 4th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

A friend recently told me that she was really interested in pre-history. I wondered how this term is defined and, of course, I found the explanation on Wikipedia:

“Prehistory, also called pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the first known use of stone tools by hominins c. 3.3 million years ago and the beginning of recorded history with the invention of writing systems.

The use of symbols, marks, and images appears very early among humans, but the earliest known writing systems appeared c. 5,000 years ago. It took thousands of years for writing systems to be widely adopted, with writing spreading to almost all cultures by the 19th century.

The end of prehistory therefore came at very different times in different places, and the term is less often used in discussing societies where prehistory ended relatively recently.”

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A review of a new book: “The Russo-Ukraiinan War” by Serhi Plokhy (2023)

August 26th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

On 22 February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, intending to occupy the country and install a puppet regime in a matter of weeks if not days. This book was written between March 2022 and February 2023, so it covers the holding of Kyiv by the Ukrainians, the recovery of the territory originally occupied by Russia in the north, and the establishment of a kind of stalemate between the two forces in the east and the south. I read the book in August 2023, by which time the Ukrainians had launched a long-awaited counter-offensive which is currently making only gradual and slow progress.

Plokhy was brought up in Ukraine and had an academic career there until, in the mid 1990s, he moved to Canada. Since 2007, he has been a professor of history at Harvard University. So he is not entirely neutral – who can be in what he calls “the first ‘good war'” since 1939-45? – but he is immensely knowledgeable and insightful and he has written a really informative and readable analysis that is thoroughly commended.

The first half of the 300 pages of main text (there are almost 60 more pages of notes) provides a very short history of the region followed by an extensive account of the build up to the 2022 invasion. The second half of the book describes the conduct of the war in each of the theatres and reviews the position of all the major actors (including Turkey and China).

This has been a war of surprises: that the Russians did not succeed in taking over Ukraine in short order; that the Ukrainians put up such a quick and effective resistance; that NATO adopted such a unified approach and moved so rapidly to impose unprecedented sanctions on Russia and supply ever-more numerous and sophisticated arms to Ukraine. What now? Plokhy makes no attempt to forecast when or how the war will end.

Instead he asserts: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine produced a nineteenth-century war fought with twentieth-century tactics and twenty-first-century weaponry.” What does he mean by this? “Its ideological underpinnings came from the visions of territorial expansion that characterized the Russian imperial era; its strategy was borrowed by the Kremlin from Word War II and postwar-era manuals of the Soviet Army; and its key features were not only precision-guided missiles but also intelligence-gathering satellites and cyber warfare used to different degrees by both sides.”

Plokhy is clear that “the Ukrainian nation will emerge from this war more united and certain of its identity than at any other point in its modern history.” Perceptively he suggests that: “China now has the best chance of any country to emerge as a key beneficiary of the current war and the enmity between Russia and the West that the conflict has created.” In his view: “Instead of the multipolar world that Russia was hoping for, the conflict presaged a return to the bipolar world of the Cold War, now centred not on Washington and Moscow but on Washington and Beijing.”

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Do you have a National Flag Day and, if not, would you want one?

August 24th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

My last holiday was to the three countries of the Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. I was struck by the observation that each of these three countries has a national flag day.

Wondering how common or how rare this practice is, I checked it out on Wikipedia and learned that over 50 countries – around one quarter of all nations – have a national flag day. Check out the full list here.

Notably absent from this list is my own country of the United Kingdom. Here public displays of patriotism – such as honouring the flag or singing the national anthem or displaying pictures of the national leader – are rare and the whole concept of national pride is somewhat understated. I confess that I rather like this.

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