Which planet is most often closest to the Earth?

January 18th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

The closest planet to the Earth varies depending on where the various planets are in their orbits. So which planet is most often closest to the Earth?

The approximate statistics for which planet is closest to the Earth are:
Mercury: 46% of the time
Venus: 36% of the time
Mars: 18% of the time

It is a bit counterintuitive, because Venus’s orbit is closest to Earth’s orbit. Mars’s orbit is not much further. But Venus and/or Mars are often a long way away from Earth, on the opposite side of the Sun.

However, being so close to the Sun, Mercury is never as far away. At those times, Mercury is usually closer. And overall, it’s closest 46% of the time!

[My thanks to my friend Nick Hobson for drawing this information to my attention. He discovered it from this episode of the radio programme “More Or Less”.]

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My 16 predictions for the future of Brexit – how are things working out?

January 16th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Six weeks ago, I was rash enough to make a blog posting in which I attempted to make 16 predictions for how the Brexit crisis would unfold. So, a month a half later, how are things working out?

So far, the first four of my predictions have come to pass (although not always in the sequence that I anticipated). Now let’s see how many of my other 12 predictions work out. Meanwhile, as a reminder, this is what I forecast and what has actually happened …

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  1. IIn the House of Commons “meaningful vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, there is no majority for the deal. CORRECT – On 15 January 2019, the deal was defeated by 432 votes to 202 – the largest ever Government defeat in history.
  2. The Parliamentary Labour Party tables a vote of no confidence in the Government. It fails. CORRECT – On 16 January 2019, the Government survived by 325 votes to 306.
  3. The 1922 Committee tables a vote of no confidence in May as Conservative Party leader. It fails.   CORRECT – On 12 December 2018, May won by 200 votes to 117.
  4. May seeks to tweak elements of the deal with the European Commission. She achieves no substantive changes. CORRECT – I thought this would happen after the “meaningful vote” but in fact it occurred before.
  5. A group of MPs puts forward a ‘Norway plus’ deal. The European Commission is not interested and no real progress is made.
  6. A group of MPs  puts forward a ‘Canada plus’ deal. The European Commission is not interested and no real progress is made.
  7. The UK asks the other 27 Member States of the European Union for an extension to the Article 50 process to allow time for the holding a second referendum. A few extra months is granted.
  8. Parliament passes the necessary legislation for a second referendum. The only real debate is the choice to be presented on the ballot paper. The choice is Brexit on the terms negotiated by May or continued UK membership of the EU on current terms
  9. The Electoral Commission tightens up the rules on spending in the referendum.
  10. May campaigns hard for her deal.  Corbyn campaigns much less hard for staying in the EU.
  11. The referendum campaign is a bitter and divisive one.
  12. Turnout is even higher than for the first referendum.
  13. The result of the second referendum is almost a mirror image of that of the first one: 53% to stay and 47% to leave.
  14. May resigns as leader of the Conservative Party. There is a battle for the soul of the party.
  15. Labour demands of the new Prime Minister that a General Election be called. There is no election.
  16. Corbyn resigns as leader of the Labour Party. There is a battle for the soul of the party.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)


Ten of the films that I have most enjoyed in the last year

January 15th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This week, I started a 12-week course of evening classes at the City Literary Institute in central London. The course is titled “Contemporary Cinema” and the tutor is the American John Wischmeyer. We have 25 students on the course, many of them with a deep knowledge of the movies (one woman goes to the cinema five or six times a week).

At this first session, we were invited to draw up a list of the top 10 films of 2018. I would find it really hard to select the best works of the year, but I did manage to construct a list of 10 films that I have particularly enjoyed in the past year. In alphabetical order, they are:

“Avengers: Infinity War” – my review here

“Black Panther” – my review here

“Cold War” – my review here

“First Man” – my review here

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” – my review here

“Roma” – my review here

“Shoplifters” – my review here

“A Star Is Born” – my review here

“Widows” – my review here

“The Wife” – my review here

So as to demonstrate that the course would not always be about art house films, the tutor showed an extensive clip from a blockbuster success of last summer: “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” – my review here.

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A review of the recent film “The Florida Project”

January 14th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In 1984, I took my son – then coming up to aged eight – to Disney World in Florida and we stayed in a hotel in the delightfully-named little town of Kissimmee. I would never have imagined then that 35 years later I would view a film located in such an unlikely setting as a motel in this town.

But then this movie, directed and co-written by Sean Baker and made for a mere $2M, is so different from mainstream Hollywood and shows the underbelly of the American economy where so many working class folk really struggle to get by. Shot in a naturalistic style with a cast of largely first-time actors, it is not always clear what is being said or what is happening, but this is not a work with a conventional narrative; rather it is a series of emotional incidents, concluding with an odd scene so different from the rest of the style of the work that we are told it should not be taken literally.

The physical centre of the film is the purple-painted motel The Magic Castle where the drone of passing cars is endless and the clatter of a helicopter is a regular occurrence. The emotional heart of the movie is six year old Monique/Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince) and her young mother Halley (Lithuanian Bria Vinaite), who hustle and cheat to survive, with kind support from the hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe playing against his usual type of villain or oddball). Dafoe is excellent and and received several awards for his performance, but Prince is simply outstanding for her age.

This is not a feel-good movie but ultimately it is a celebration of the human spirit.

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Seven charts that show the world is actually becoming a better place

January 11th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

So many people think that the world is becoming a worse and worse place when actually the opposite is the case. How can there be such a divergence between perception and reality?

In short, it’s because we concentrate on the headlines – which are overwhelmingly negative – instead of looking at the trendlines – which are generally very positive.

Two recent books have argued this case in detail: “Enlightment Now” [my review here] and “Factfulness” [my review here].

If you don’t have time to read the books, at least read my reviews and this blog posting on seven charts that show that the world is becoming better.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)


What next for Brexit?

January 10th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This was the title of a discussion which I attended last night hosted by the “Guardian” newspaper at Kings Place in central London. The panel participants were Jessica Elgot, Martin Kettle, Aditya Chakrabortty, Lisa O’Carroll and Polly Toynbee.

All the speakers were Remainders who were close to despair at how the Brexit process was unfolding and at the unpleasantness of the debate. Nobody had a clear idea how it would all work out. However, there was deep concern that, unless Parliament approves something, the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal on 29 March.

The nearest that there was to a consensus on what is likely to happen is that we could be driven to a second referendum or people’s vote. It was suggested that the Leave campaign won the last referendum by making it about more than Europe and having the brilliant slogan “Take back control”.

Apparently the Leave team has already decided on a slogan for any second referendum: “Tell them again” – which would feed into the anger of Brexiters that a second vote had been called and evoke the sense that an elite was not listening to the people.

A suggestion was made for the slogan to be used by supporters of EU membership: “Remain and reform”. I think that this would be a terrible slogan: it would beg too many questions about what reforms are sought and how they could be achieved by one EU member state among 28. But it is certainly true that the EU needs reform and that UK continued membership would help that.

I would offer an alternative slogan for the Remain campaign: “Better together”. It is hard to oppose something which is ‘better’ and the slogan could have the double meaning of Britain and the EU being together and the people and nations of Britain being together.

Over a month ago now, I was rash enough to make 16 predictions on how the Brexit crisis might work out. One of the predictions has come true and some of the others could yet come to pass, although the precise sequencing that I envisaged is not happening, thanks to Theresa May postponing the meaningful vote.

As one panellist stated: “Brexit is not an event but a process”. This story will run and run …

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (1)


A review of the film “Disobedience”

January 9th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Like the earlier film “Apostasy”, “Disobedience” is a story of the restrictions and repression in an ultra-religious community in England told largely through the viewpoint of female protagonsists. Whereas “Apostasy” looked at members of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Manchster, this film is set in an Orthodox Jewish community in north London.

It is an adaptation of the novel by Naomi Alderman which, while not biographical, was shaped by her upbringing in such a location. She has said: “I went into the novel religious and by the end I wasn’t. I wrote myself out of it”.

“Disobedience” is a fraught love triangle between Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who has left the faith and the community in spite of her father being the religious group’s rabbi, Esti (Rachel McAdams) who once had a relationship with Ronit but has now settled for marriage with a man set to take over as rabbi, and Ronit’s friend and Esti’s husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). These three leads give fine, nuanced performances and the outcome is not obvious.

The lesbianism scenes are not up there with “Blue Is The Warmest Colour” for length and explictness, but Chilean director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio presents images of convincing passion in a sensitive manner.

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Is the decline of social democracy reversible?

January 7th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In a short but wide-ranging article that starts with the current weakness of the Labour Party in Israel and then goes goes on to look at the standing of social democratic parties and movements in Europe and the USA, Eric Lee – an American friend of mine living in London – sees a common trend: the abandonment of a focus on the needs and aspirations of the working class.

In his piece for the Times of Israel, he writes:

“In the beginning, a century or more ago, all those parties were basically labour parties. They represented not so much a specific platform or polices, but a particular social class. You voted for a social democratic or labor party because you identified as part of the working class. You believed that whatever policies the party would stand for would represent your interests.

But over many years, and after many years in power, most of those parties made compromises with reality (as they saw it) which weakened the link between party and class. This has been particularly true in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when general acceptance of what has been called “neo-liberalism” has severely hurt the parties of the moderate left.

Those parties have often led the way with austerity budgets, rivatization of public services, and costly bail-out programs for the finance sector. Their natural constituencies — the working classes — have felt, and in fact were, left behind.”

You can read the article here.

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Thought For The Week

January 6th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

“For the first time in human history, starvation kills fewer people than obesity; plagues kill fewer people than old age; and violence kills fewer people than accidents.”
Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari in “The World In 2019”

This is actually Thought No 970 in my long-running series. You can see all the previous thoughts and/or subscribe to future thoughts here.

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What does federalism mean in the context of the American political system?

January 6th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In the Autumn of 2018, I attended a series of six lectures at London’s City Literary Institute which examined the history of the American federal system.

I have used some of this information to update the section of my guide to the American political system that explains the nature of federalism which is so important to American politics. You can check out the section here.

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