The problem of card clash and how modern life can be so complicated

May 20th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

When I checked my credit card statement today, I found that last month I was charged for 12 journeys on London Transport even though I have a Freedom Pass. A quick check on the Transport For London website and I realised that I had fallen victim to the dreaded card clash – London Transport’s machines have been reading my credit card (which enables contactless payments) instead of my Freedom Pass, both of which are in the same wallet.

It’s amazing how long it can take to sort out such a simple issue.

First, I found that the number I was calling – obtained from the TFL website – was incorrect. Then, when I found the correct number on another page of the website, I was told that there was a problem with the contact centre and I should call later. Then I had to speak to several different contact centre staff and input credit card details before it was accepted that I had been the victim of card clash.

Next I had to make and receive further calls while a member of the centre consulted his supervisor to see if I could be repaid. Finally I was told that, because of the amount involved (£100 or so), I need to make an application by e-mail with copies of my credit card statement and my Freedom Pass.

I must have spent about half an hour in total on the phone waiting to get through and then speaking to around seven or eight members of staff.

When it goes smoothly, contactless payments are so convenient. When it goes wrong, it is so complicated and time-consuming to put right. It is not always easy being a consumer in this high tech era.

Posted in Consumer matters, My life & thoughts | Comments (2)

What’s the fastest-growing language in the UK?

May 20th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

According to this piece in today “Mirror” newspaper, it is the emoji. Indeed a survey has suggested that eight out of 10 people in the UK have used the symbols and icons to communicate, with 72% of 18 to 25-year-olds adding that they found it easier to put their feelings across using emoji than with words. I confess that even I use emojis sometimes, especially in text messages to relatives and close friends.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (1)

10 shocking truths about gun violence

May 19th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

In a special feature in today’s “Guardian” newspaper, it is suggested that there are almost one billions guns around the world and that over a million around the globe are injured by guns each year.

The most shocking situation is that in the United States:

“The US has more guns per person than any other country in the world. Stemming from a constitutional right to bear arms, it has given birth to an industry that in 2013 helped sustain a quarter of a million jobs, directly or indirectly, creating $38bn in annual economic activity.

Today, at almost 140,000, there are about 10 times more federally licensed sellers in the US than there are McDonald’s. They have plenty to sell – more than 10.8m guns were manufactured in the US in 2013, a 220% rise from a decade before. This does not include the 5.5m guns imported into the US that year.

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. The US has the highest per capita rate of firearm murders of all developed countries. While figures are hard to come by, data from the Center for Disease Control shows that in 2013 there were as many as 100,598 non-fatal intentional shootings in the US (the lowest estimate was 23,842). That year saw 33,636 fatal shootings (including suicides).

The data offers stark reading. In 2013, FBI figures show 1,075 people under the age of 19 killed by guns in the US, 37 of them under five years old. More American teenagers and children were killed that year by gunfire than US military in any given year in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Posted in American current affairs, World current affairs | Comments (0)

Why the Battle of Waterloo is wrongly named

May 18th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

In about a month’s time, on 18 June 2015, we shall be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo when the Duke of of Wellington, leading a mixed force of British, Prussian and other nationalities, defeated the French army of Napoleon.

I am currently reading a biography of Wellington written by Richard Holmes and published in 2002. Holmes points out that battles are named by the victor and Wellington chose to call the site of his victory Waterloo when in fact the conflict took place at Mont Saint Jean further south of Brusssels in Belgium.

Wellington’s thinking was that the British public would find it easier to pronounce Waterloo than Mont Saint Jean.  I guess he was right. Imagine a London railway station and tube stop named Mont Saint Jean.

Wellington and Napoleon were both fascinating characters and sometime ago I read a book which compared and contrasted the two. You can read my review here.

Posted in History | Comments (2)

My Thought For The Week reaches No 800 – would you like to join the circulation list?

May 17th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

Around 16 years ago, I sent out an e-mail to the 12 members of the Research Department of the Communications Workers Union which I then headed. It was a quote from a newspaper article which I found interesting and I jokingly titled the e-mail Thought For The Week.

Over a decade and a half later, that Thought For The Week missive goes out every Sunday to over 2,100 people all around the globe and today I have reached the new landmark number of 800. You can check them all out here.

If you would like to receive it, e-mail me.

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

Remembering Syria’s suffering people and threatened heritage

May 17th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

In the spring of 2011, Vee and I had a holiday in Syria and Lebanon [for account of our visit, see here]. We crossed the border from one country to the other on 9 March 2011. Mass protests erupted on 15 March in Damascus and Aleppo, and spread in the following days to more cities, while growing in size. The week of 15–21 March is considered by news media as the beginning of the Syrian uprising.

Since then, something like a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed and the deaths, injuries, displacement and destruction is not over. Every time I read or hear a news report from the region, I shiver and I remember our time in the Levant.

Although one cannot compare lives to structures, another terrible feature of the Syrian civil war – accentuated now by the emergence of ISIS – is the destruction of the country’s heritage which includes remnants of the world’s earlier civilisations.

Already major parts of Damascus and Aleppo – both with a claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited cities in history – have been destroyed. Now ISIS threatens the obliteration of the ancient ruins of Palmyra [for account of our visit, see here].

As an article in today’s “Observer” newspaper puts it:

“Palmyra is an ancient Roman site whose significance and value is exceeded by very few others: those in Rome itself, Pompeii, possibly Petra in Jordan. Its temples, colonnades and tombs, its theatre and streets are extensive, exquisite, distinctive, rich. The loss of Palmyra would be a cultural atrocity greater than the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan. It is hard to think of deliberate vandalism to equal it, despite the grim examples offered by the last hundred years.”

Rowan Moore writes:

“If Isis raze Palmyra, it would be a new demonstration of the evil and stupidity they have already abundantly displayed in their slaughters and enslavements, and in their videos of beheadings and burnings. It would also confirm Isis’s littleness: how could anyone be so threatened by ancient ruins, unless they lacked belief in their ability to create something themselves? It would make manifest Isis’s nihilism, their vision of the world as a desert populated only by themselves and their slaves. It is, of course, precisely the diversity of Syria’s heritage that Isis hate.”

Posted in History, My life & thoughts, World current affairs | Comments (1)

A review of the new blockbuster movie “Mad Max: Fury Road”

May 16th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

If you like action movies, then George Miller’s fourth “Mad Max” movie is a must-see. You can read my review here.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Should the North of England become part of Scotland?

May 16th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

Of course, it’s a crazy idea – but tens of thousands apparently support the bizarre notion as you can see here. I have relatives in Scotland, I was brought up in Manchester, and I live in London. I want to see a United Kingdom.

Around the world, people think that redrawing boundaries solves political and economic problems. It rarely does. Instead of changing boundaries, we need to change attitudes as I have argued in this essay.

Posted in British current affairs, World current affairs | Comments (5)

My 10th short story: “A Face At The Window”

May 15th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

It’s Friday; it’s almost the weekend; time to sit down and relax and read a short story. My piece this week is called “A Face At The Window” and you can read it here.

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

Has the new Cold War already begun?

May 14th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

It seems that, for the Russians, it already has. In the West, we see the Russians as the aggressors: intervening militarily in Georgia and Ukraine, constantly testing the security defences of other European nations, and backing a president who seems to want to isolate his country more and more from international norms.

Of course, the Russians see it totally different as this article in today’s “Guardian” newspaper makes clear:

“Rather than disbanding our cold war defence arrangement, Nato, we reinvented it as an alliance that could be construed only as being arrayed against Russia. We kept expanding it ever eastward, closer to Russia’s borders.”

Whichever interpretation we endorse, it is essential that we maintain a dialogue and seek to understand the intentions of the other side. Susan Richards makes the telling point:

“In America and Britain, government support for research on old Soviet bloc countries was slashed. The State Department and Foreign Office disbanded research units that kept politicians informed. Embassies focused on opening up commercial opportunities. Meanwhile, the press, facing its own economic crisis, also cut back on foreign correspondents. The west simply stopped thinking seriously, and in depth, about Russia and its neighbours.”

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (1)