Word of the day: pareidolia

April 24th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, such as an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none actually exists.

Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations or pieces of food or features in nature, the man in the moon, hidden messages within recorded music played in reverse or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing indistinct voices in random noise such as that produced by air conditioners or fans.

Humans are pattern-forming creatures and tend to see patterns everywhere even where none exist or is intended. A classic example is the linking of random stars into constellations even though those stars are nowhere near each other. Today many conspiracy theories see connections where none exist.

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A review of the novel “Where My Heart Used To Beat”

April 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This novel by Sebastian Faulks is not a work to cheer the spirits, but it is really well-written and very thoughtful and thought-proving. I can recommend it and I’ve reviewed it here.

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A short guide to the French Presidency and how it is filled

April 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

On Sunday, the French electorate goes to the polls to vote in the first round of elections for a new President.  Unusually four candidates are doing similarly well, so the results this weekend are very uncertain.

If you want to know about the role of the French President and how he or she is elected, you can check out my short guide here.

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A review of the new film “The Sense Of An Ending”

April 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novella by Julian Barnes (which I have read – my review here), inevitably this film adaptation is diffrent from the original work. The structure of the book was a section of the (unreliable) narrator’s time at school and university followed by the present day coming to terms with revelations of that earlier period. The film is set in the present with lots of flash-backs to the past and that works well.

More questionably, the movie version of “The Sense Of An Ending” has a different ending which is not that of the author Julian Barnes or even that of the scriptwriter, the playwrite Nick Payne, but essentially that of the director, Indian film-maker Ritesh Batra (who made the delightful work “The Lunchbox”). The film offers us a conclusion which is more definitive and more upbeat that the novel but that is perhaps the nature of this different medium.

“The Sense Of An Ending” is slow and serious but not all films can be “Fast And Furious”. The pacing allows the viewer to admire the wonderful acting, primarily from Jim Broadbent as the narrator, retired and divorced Tony Webster, but also from some fine actresses, notably Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter and Emily Mortimer, plus some new young actors.

Like the source novel, this film is a challenging and moving examination of the malleability of memory. As Tony puts it: ‘How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?’ How often indeed …

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Did you know about the mass rape of Italian women by Allied troops in the Second World War?

April 20th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’ve been reading the novel “Where My Heart Used To Beat” by Sebastian Faulks. Part of the novel is set in southern Italy in the last years of World War Two and reference is made to an incident of which I had previously been totally unaware. Apparently it has been given the term ‘Marocchinate’.

‘Marocchinate’ is Italian for “those given the Moroccan treatment” meaning “women raped by Moroccans”) and it is a term applied to women who were victims of the mass rape and killings committed during World War Two after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. These were committed mainly by the Moroccan Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Alphonse Juin.

Monte Cassino was captured by the Allies on 18 May 18 1944. The next night, thousands of Goumiers and other colonial troops scoured the slopes of the hills surrounding the town and the villages of Ciociaria (in South Latium). Italian victims’ associations alleged that up to 60,000 women, ranging in age from 11 to 86, suffered from violence, when village after village came under control of the Goumiers. Civilian men who tried to protect their wives and daughters were murdered. The number of men killed has been estimated at 800.

You can learn more about this appalling occurrence here.

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How do people decide how to vote in an election?

April 19th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The calling of a snap General Election in the UK was a genuine surprise; the result is unlikely to be one though. A survey published on the day of the announcement put the Conservatives on 44% and Labour on only 23% while, when asked who would make the best Prime Minister, 50% went for Theresa May while a mere 14% backed Jeremy Corbyn.

So, if the overall result seems (sadly) in little doubt, how does the individual voter make up his or her mind how to vote? I put the factors as ‘the three Ps’.

Personality: Some voters decide on the basis of their local candidate, judging the calibre or reputation of that candidate. Many votes decide on the basis of the leader of the political parties, especially making a judgement as to who would be the best Prime Minister.

Policies: Some voters look at what the various parties have to say on policies that matter to them. These might be general issues like levels of taxation and public expenditure or the state of the National Health Services or schools. These might be specific issues such as a third runway at Heathrow or closure of a local hospital.

Principle: More so in the past that today, voters may decide in terms of the type of society they want to see. Do they want an economy dominated by market forces and individual choice or one where the state has a more interventionist role and promotes community values? Do they want a state where the rich and powerful are enabled to become richer and more powerful in a ‘free’ society or do they believe that a fairer distribution of power and wealth is better for all sectors of society even if it involves an active state?

I have always made my decision on the basis of principle which essentially means that, from election to election, I have nothing to decide.  I have never not voted and I have never not voted Labour. I shall do so again even though I have never supported Corbyn’s leadership.

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Sadly the Turkish referendum result appears to confirm a worldwide trend to the era of the strongman

April 18th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

We live at a time when so many political leaders attempt to give an appearance of democracy while increasingly controlling all elements of their society.

As this “Guardian” article explains:

“Strongmen leaders in Angola, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Belarus and Azerbaijan, and in central Asia and China, have all profited from “managed democracy”. Like Putin, they typically augment their electoral confidence tricks by suppressing credible opposition parties, controlling the media and conjuring up imaginary external threats.

Some parts of the world never got to first base, democratically speaking. This is largely true of the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Where genuine democracy did break out, as in Egypt in 2011, it was swiftly eviscerated. It is no coincidence that Egypt’s leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, sees Trump as a buddy and role model.”

Why are people increasingly looking to a strong man for political solutions? The article by Simon Tisdall suggests:

“All sorts of factors can be adduced to explain this general regression into authoritarianism: economic fears, globalisation, insecurity caused by terrorism, perceived loss of national identity and the numerous, only too evident failings of multi-party systems.”

Traditionally we have looked to the United States as a bastion of democratic values ar home and abroad but, in assessing the rise of the strongman, Tisdall points out:

“… one obvious reason is the rise of Donald Trump. Rightly or wrongly, his ascendancy is being taken as a signal by would-be autocrats everywhere that “strongman” leadership is back in vogue – and that the US, hitherto the most influential guardian of the international order, will no longer prioritise democratic standards, human rights and free speech.”

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The man who would be king: Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

April 17th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This weekend saw a narrow victory for the referendum to bring about fundamental constitutional change in Turkey, transforming the nation from notionally a parliamentary democracy into a presidential republic. The result was a personal victory for the president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following months of repression against all form of opposition and an enormous number of arrests and dismissals. The changes would allow him to remain in power until 2029.

Who is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?

In this profile, it it underlined that “all politics in Turkey is about Erdoğan. Turkish politics has often been dominated by oversize personalities who tried to reshape the state in their own image, from Ataturk to his successor, İsmet İnönü, to Adnan Menderes, Turgut Özal, Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit.

Now Erdoğan may be set to preside over one of the most important turning points in the history of the republic, crowning himself a leader of unrivalled power in Turkey’s recent history, towering over his predecessors.”

What are the changes that have been endorsed so narrowly?

The 18 amendments primarily deal with the powers of the executive and legislative branches. They include:

  • The abolition of the post of prime minister. The president will appoint the cabinet and will have a number of vice-presidents. Parliament will no longer oversee the ministers as their power to initiate a motion of no confidence will be removed.
  • The president will no longer have to be neutral, but will be able to maintain an affiliation to his political party. Currently the president has to sever ties with his party once he is elected.
  • The number of members of parliament will be increased from 550 to 600 and their minimum age lowered to 18.
  • It will be possible for the president to be impeached by parliament. At the moment he could only be prosecuted by the legislature if he committed treason.
  • The abolition of military courts.
  • The president will be able to appoint four out of 13 judges to the highest judicial board in the country.

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A review of the new comedy film “Going In Style”

April 16th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

There are very few films that feature older characters in main roles so I suppose we should commend “Going In Style” for making the effort. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin are all hitting or into their 80s and the three of them are very talented actors who are hardly stretched in this remake of a 1979 heist caper. It’s a comedy but with jokes that are too few and too lame and a narrative that is too predictable and lacking in any edge, but it’s entertaining enough if expectations are not too elevated and at least it only runs to 96 minutes.

I confess that I would never have gone to the cinema to see this movie but, when visiting a good friend in a major London hospital, I found that it was showing to patients and visitors courtesy of a British scheme called Medicinema – slogan ‘Feel better with film’ – that makes works available at the same time as their theatre release. So maybe not such a bad choice for this particular audience.

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North Korea: the most dangerous tripwire in the world

April 15th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

These are scary times: random acts of terrorism, an American attack on a Syrian air base, the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, and – above all – rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

It’s hard to know about whom one should be most fearful: the aggressive dictator in Pyongyang who has nuclear weapons and an increasing capacity to deliver them or the flip-flopping newcomer in the White House with the largest military arsenal in history and a willingness to use it.

I recently read a book entitled “North Korea: State Of Paranoia” which sets out some of the historic background to the current crisis. You can read my review here.

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