What do you know about the Dead Sea Scrolls?

August 20th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I recently watched an interesting television documentary about the Dead Sea Scrolls and I realised how little I knew about them: how they were found, how many there are, what they say, why they are important, whether more are to be found …

You can check out 6 things you may not know about the Scrolls here.

Or you can check out 25 fascinating facts about the Scrolls here.

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A review of a travel guide to Colombia

August 19th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

As I explained in an earlier posting, I’m about to have a holiday in Colombia. Therefore I’ve just read a travel guide titled “Culture Smart! Colombia” by Kate Cathey (2011).

This book proved to be a short but comprehensive guide to the country’s history, politics, economy, customs and traditions. However, the book was published before a landmark peace deal between the government and the main guerilla movement FARC which has reduced the violence and encouraged tourism.

Since Colombia obtained independence from Spain in 1810, this South American nation – which is now a country of approximately 45 million – has had a violent history: no less than eight civil wars in the 19th century, 20 years of bloodshed called “La Violencia” from 1948 onwards, and an undeclared civil war known locally as the armed conflict” which culminated in a peace settlement in 2016. But only once has there been a military coup – in 1953-57 when General Rojas put an end to “La Violencia.

Meanwhile the country has been blighted by the violence and extortion of the huge illegal drug trade (90% of the of the cocaine that crosses into the USA is processed in Colombia).

Although Colombia is a multi-ethnic country, political and economic power has always been held by the European minority and politics has been expressed through two major establishment movements called Liberals and Conservatives and influential families known as “power dynasties”. Income and wealth are spread very unevenly with the country exhibiting some of the worst poverty in the world and class hierarchies and racial inequaity so ingrained that “they are seen as the normal order of things” .

So, why go there?

Cathey – who lives in Bogotá – writes that “This is a magical country, full of spectacular landscapes, exotic wildlife and rare ecosystems, succulent tropical fruits, salsa and cumbia music, and kind, fun-loving people”. The guerilla war is largely over, drug violence is localised, while economic development is transforming cities like Medellin and there are wonderful colonial gems like Cartagena.

Cathey explains that “Colombians say their country is a first-, second-, and third-world country all at the same time” and that “Collectively, Colombians are going through a period of self-discovery”.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (2)

A review of the new movie “The Equalizer 2”

August 18th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

In his long and distinguished career of almost 50 films, 63 year old Denzel Washington has never made a sequel – until now. Like Liam Neeson with “Taken”, he has found a money-spinning action role in later life and he’s going to run with it.

Between the two “Equalizer” movies, Washington has turned director in “Fences” in which he was also the star, but retired CIA agent Robert McCall is a much more laconic character who speaks more through fists, guns, knives, and his old espionage skills.

In this sequel, we have the same director (Antoine Fuqua) and the same writer (Richard Wenk) but, starting with a pre-title sequence on a train to Istanbul, the action comes earlier than in the first film and then satisfyingly often.

This time, McCall is a cab driver in Boston who is pulled back into his old life when a former colleague meets a gruesome end in Brussels. As he performs the role of avenging angel, he manages to touch the lives of smaller folk in various acts of kindness. There’s nothing new here, but it’s a stylish work that entertains sufficiently that a third outing is assured.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Word of the day: Pastafarianism

August 17th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Pastafarianism (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarianism) is a social movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. According to adherents, Pastafarianism is a “real, legitimate religion, as much as any other”.

The word is in the news today because the Dutch council of state has ruled that Pastafarianism is not a religion, denying a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster the right to wear a colander on her head in her passport and driving licence photo.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

A review of the new film “The Escape”

August 16th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

How many women are unfulfilled by marriage and motherhood and wish to escape? Many more than we would dare to imagine, I suspect. This British film – actually written and directed by a man (Dominic Savage) – tells the story of one such tormented soul who is such a supporting character to her husband and children that we do not even learn her name until half way through the narrative.

Tara is played by Gemma Arterton who, wearing no makeup, gives the performance of her career to date in a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman lost. This really is her movie: she is rarely off the screen and has an executive producer role.

This is not a film that will appeal to those who only enjoy blockbusters because it is a remarkably minimalist work: very few characters, not much storyline, and sparse (often improvished) dialogue. The power and the pain comes from the acting, principally from wonderful Arterton but also from Dominic Cooper who is her husband Mark: a decent enough man who loves his wife but who simply cannot understand who she is and what she needs.

So, does Tara escape? Certainly for a time in a less compelling second segment in Paris, but the ending is left ambigous.

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Worldwide which are the best and the worst cities in which to live?

August 15th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Each year, the Economist Intelligence Unit produces a Global Liveability Index and it has just published this year’s results.

The ten most liveable cities in 2018 are:

1. Vienna, Austria

2. Melbourne, Australia

3. Osaka, Japan

4. Calgary, Canada

5. Sydney, Australia

6. Vancouver, Canada

7. Tokyo, Japan

8. Toronto, Canada

9. Copenhagen, Denmark

10. Adelaide, Australia

Vienna has dislodged the Melbourne as the most pleasant city to live in. The Australian city has clinched the title for the past seven editions, but a downgraded threat of militant attacks in western Europe, as well as the Austrian capital’s low crime rate, helped nudge Vienna into first place.

In the survey, Manchester (the city where I grew up) saw the biggest improvement of any European city, rising by 16 places to rank 35th. Manchester’s rise puts it ahead of London (the city where I have lived for the past 47 years) in the rankings by 13 places, the widest gap between the two cities since the survey began two decades ago.

The ten least liveable cities in 2018 are:

1. Damascus, Syria

2. Dhaka, Bangladesh

3. Lagos, Nigeria

4. Karachi, Pakistan

5. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

6. Harare, Zimbabwe

7. Tripoli, Libya

8. Douala, Cameroon

9. Algiers, Algeria

10. Dakar, Senegal

The survey does not include several of the world’s most dangerous capitals, such as Baghdad and Kabul.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

The 10 best jokes at the Edinburgh fringe

August 14th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

We need some humour in these difficult times. These 10 jokes  – some of which require thinking about – were collated by the “Guardian” newspaper:

Athena Kugblenu: Patriarchy is putting Jane Austen on £10 notes the same time as bringing in contactless.

Christian Talbot: Sometimes even I don’t understand feminism. And I’m a guy.

Jez Watts: I don’t know why, but for some reason all the cheeses in the dairy aisle have been named after porn search categories: Vintage, Natural, Hard, Semi-hard, Mature, Blue Vein, Goat.

Felicity Ward: I have a lot in common with post-first world war Germany. We both went through a great depression in our 20s. Then in our 30s a nice man came along. Great facial hair. I’m hoping for the best.

Angela Barnes: When I see Donald Trump I get the same thought in my head as I get after a particularly painful bikini wax. Bush wasn’t that bad.

Ken Cheng: In school I had the nickname “the human calculator”, which meant bullies would come up to me, say the number 5318008, lift me upside down and not let me go until I said the word “boobies”.

Aatif Nawaz: Just learned what perineums are. Let’s just say it’s nothing to do with Nando’s.

Rosie Jones: During birth, my shoulder got stuck coming out. Well, it was the 80s.

Matt Rees: No good at talking to women. I’m 28 and recently my grandmother and I had the “are you gay?” conversation. She isn’t.

Chris Turner: “Never Apologise! Never Explain!” – Sorry, that’s my motto.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

Is the current political crisis in the United States as bad as Watergate?

August 13th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

According to Carl Bernstein – one of the two “Washington Post” reporters who broke the Watergate story 44 years ago – it’s worse:

“Obviously there are similarities, not least of which is part of the story is about undermining the electoral process. You’re also dealing with cover-ups in both instances and special prosecutors.”

“This is worse than Watergate in the sense that the system worked in Watergate and it’s not apparent yet that the system is working in the current situation. No president has done anything like Trump to characterise the American press and its exercise of the first amendment as the enemy of the people, a phrase associated with the greatest despots of the 20th century.”

Full story here.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

Are you a middle child? If so, it’s your day.

August 12th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

As you probably know, the Americans have a day for almost everything and today they celebrate National Middle Child Day. Two thoughts occur to me.

First, it is widely thought that birth order influences personality and this idea is discussed on the Day’s web site. But I’m not sure how much scientific evidence there is for this notion. Second, in the developed world, the two-child family is now the norm so there are fewer middle children than there were. In China, there has been a one-child policy and, in many developing countries, the size of families is falling rapidly.

I’m actually the eldest of three children, I have a younger sister – to whom I have sent best wishes for National Middle Child Day – and a younger brother.

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

Who benefits when improvements in life expectancy grind to a halt?

August 11th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This week, the Office for National Statistics said the UK has experienced one of the largest slowdowns in life expectancy growth among 20 of the world’s leading economies. It confirmed earlier figures that show that, since 2010, Britons’ life expectancy has stopped increasing, with the change most pronounced in women.

There is major debate going on about the causes of this development. Most people believe that Government policy – specifically cuts in benefits and social services – has had a major impact. Others think it is more complicated than that with lifestyle issues – such as the rise in obesity – playing an important part.

What is not in doubt is who is benefitting from the slow down in longevity. It ‘s pension providers. As people are dying unexpectedly early, pension firms are bagging a £1 billion bonanza. This news could make you sick.

More information here.

Posted in Social policy | Comments (0)