Depressed by the Brexit decision? Look at the bigger picture: we are entering a new Renaissance

July 27th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Many of my friends and colleagues are – like me – still shocked and saddened by the decision in the recent referendum that Britain should leave the European Union. But there has never been a better time in human history to be alive, as I have tried to explain in my most recent column on Internet issues.

Check it out here.

Posted in Science & technology | Comments (0)


Question: when is a tall story not a tall story?

July 26th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Answer: when it’s about tallness but it’s true.

“Men and women have grown taller over the last century, with South Korean women shooting up by more than 20cm (7.9in) on average, and Iranian men gaining 16.5 cm (6.5in). A comprehensive global study looked at the average height of 18-year old men and women in 200 countries between 1914 and 2014.

The results reveal that while Swedes were the tallest people in the world in 1914, Dutch men have risen from 12th place to claim top spot with an average height of 182.5cm (5ft 11.9 inches).

Latvian women, meanwhile, rose from 28th place in 1914 to become the tallest in the world a century later, with an average height of 169.8cm (5ft 6.9in).

With an increase in height seen across the century in every country around the world, the British have also gained a few inches. Both men and women have added around 11cm (4.3 in) to their height since 1914, with the average man now 177.5cm (5ft 9.8in) tall and the average woman boasting a height of 164.4cm (5ft 4.7in).”

These are the headline messages from an article in today’s “Guardian” newspaper but you can also find detailed statistics for women and men in lots of countries here.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)


Understanding the different branches of Islam

July 24th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

I have now attended two sessions of the City Lit course on “Global Political Islam’. Recently we have been looking at the various branches of the religious faith.

Virtually from the beginning of Islam, there has been a major split. Unlike the divisions in the Christian world, the differences are not about theology and belief but about authority and legitimacy. The schism in Islam dates from a dispute over the leadership (khalifa) of the Muslim community (ummah) following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in AD 632.

The majority favoured the succession of the Prophet’s societal leadership by his four companions in order of seniority, with Ali ibn Talib coming last, rejected the notion of birthright and insisted that the caliph be elected by the ummah itself. Those who held this opinion became known as the ‘people of the tradition’ (sunna) or Sunnis.

Those who supported the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Talib, as the rightful leader (caliph) became known as the Shi’atu ‘Ali (‘the party of ‘Ali’; later the Shi’a). The Shi’as held that only ‘Ali and his direct descendants (imams) could be the rightful leaders of the ummah. Sunni and Shia regard the other as herectics.

Both sects have a large number of sub-groups.

So the Sunni world is divided into four dominant schools of thought, each of which has its origin in a leader operating in the late 8th century/early 9th century.:

  • Shafi (about 30%) – mainly the Gulf
  • Hanafi (about 20%) – mainly South Asia
  • Hanbali (about 15%) – mainly the Middle East
  • Maliki (about 15%) – mainly Africa

The differences between these four schools are quite small. In terms of sources to interpret Sharia law, all agree on the primary sources (the Koran and the actions, speech and silence of the Prophet known as the Sunnah) and the secondary sources (the consensus of the companions of the Prophet and divine analogy), but there is disagreement between the schools on the additional sources (tradition, the consensus of the scholars, the consensus of the people of Medina, and the public interest known as maslaha).

The Wahabis of Saudi Arabia are a subsection of the Hanbali school.

Shias are divided into three main schools:

  • Twelvers (about 12%) – overwhelmingly Iran
  • Ismaili (about 2%)
  • Zaidi (about 0.5%)

Most Shia believe that the 12th iman went missing but that he is still in hiding and will come back as the Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will rule for several years before the Day of Judgment and will rid the world of evil. If this seems a bit like the belief of many Christians in the Second Coming of Christ, then Shia tradition envisages Christ as the aide of the Mahdi against the common enemy who is the Anti-Christ.

The Alawites of Syria are a subsection of the Twelvers.

Although many in the West are terrified of the threat to lives from Islamic fundamentalist movements like ISIS (which is an extreme part of the Sunni tradition), we need to understand that most of the victims of Islamic terrorist movements are in fact Muslims. This is not a war between Christianity and Islam, so much as a civil war within Islam, which is why it is so important that we have some comprehension of the different strands of Islam.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (1)


A review of the Japanese film classic “Ran”

July 23rd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Any serious film fan needs to see some of the classics, including some foreign ones. I’ve just caught up with the 1985 Japanese work “Ran” which I’ve reviewed here.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)


U.S. presidential election (29): the vice-presidential candidates

July 23rd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have now chosen their Vice-Presidential running mates but, outside the United States, nobody has heard of them. So, who are they and why were they chosen?

The Republican candidate Donald Trump has selected Mike Pence who is the governor of Indiana. He is socially conservative and has 12 years experience as a member of the House of Representatives.  But he is not a good speaker and has wobbled on some issues.

More information here.

The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has selected Tim Kaine who is a senator from Virginia. His home state will be a key contest in the upcomg election and he speaks fluent Spanish, both of which are seen as electoral assets. But the appointment of such a centrist figure will be seen as disappointing by those Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders.

More information here.

The choices of Pence and Kaine are both seen as safe, even boring. The main conflict though – between Trump and Clinton – is never going to be dull. And we all have a stake in the result.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (2)


What happens when consumers complain?

July 22nd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

A new report from Citizens Advice examines the consumer journey, from the stage when consumers experience a problem and intend to launch a complaint, through the complaint process, until the problem is solved (or not) across a selection of consumer and public services markets.

The report finds that about half of all consumers who took part in the research have made a complaint in the last two years, with telecoms, energy and financial services topping the list. The report highlights that despite efforts to improve complaints handling in the public and private sector, a large proportion of people are still not satisfied with the final outcome of their complaint.

People are particularly unhappy about complexity of the complaint process, long response times and poor understanding of the issue by companies/service providers. Yet, despite low satisfaction levels few escalate their complaint beyond the service provider.

This blog posting by a colleague at Citizens Advice summarises the findings of the new report and provides a link to the full text.

Posted in Consumer matters | Comments (0)


A review of the remake of “Ghostbusters”

July 22nd, 2016 by Roger Darlington

This film has had mixed reviews and forced its black star to leave Twitter but I enjoyed it. You can read my review here.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)


The beginning and the end of the novel “War And Peace”

July 21st, 2016 by Roger Darlington

At the beginning of the year, I did a blog posting titled “Have you ever read ‘War And Peace’?” and then two months later another blog posting titled “How to cover ‘War And Peace’ in six hours”. Recently I read an article entitled “War and Peace: the 10 things you need to know (if you haven’t actually read it)”. The last point in this article stated:

“The book has the worst opening sentence of any major novel, ever. It also has the very worst closing sentence by a country mile, which you will have to read four times before deciding that its proposition is perfect nonsense. In between, its greatness goes without saying: what sometimes gets forgotten is that it is not just great, but also the best novel ever written – the warmest, the roundest, the best story and the most interesting.”

So, as a service to the readers of this blog, today I offer you the text of the opening and closing of “War And Peace”.

The first line is as follows:

“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”

The final paragraph is as follows:

“In the first case it was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist, and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.”

I confess that these extracts from “War And Peace” do nothing to encourage me to read the mammoth novel, but I’m sure that there are some readers of NightHawk who are ready to defend  the book’s virtues.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)


What Britain’s new Foreign Secretary had to say at his first media conference

July 20th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

“We can spend an awfully long time going over lots of stuff that I’ve written over the last 30 years … all of which in my view have been taken out of context, through what alchemy I do not know – somehow misconstrued that it would really take me too long to engage in a full global itinerary of apology to all concerned.

… There is a rich thesaurus of things that I have said that have one way or the other I don’t know how that has been misconstrued. Most people when they read these things in their proper context can see what was intended, and indeed virtually everyone I have met in this job understands that very well particularly on the international scene.”

Boris Johnson, 19 July 2016 – an utter embarrassment

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Half of low income households at risk of missing out on vital welfare benefits

July 19th, 2016 by Roger Darlington

You hear a lot of political propaganda in this country and others about how so many people choose to live on welfare benefits as a lifestyle choice when allegedly they could simply go out and obtain satisfying paid work. The reality is, of course, utterly different. It is estimated by the Government itself that the amount of benefits to which UK citizens are entitled but which they do not claim is over £13 billion a year.

I chair a body called the Essential Services Access Network and one of our members is a body called Turn2Us. New research by the organisation has found that almost half (48%) of low income households are not claiming the welfare benefits and tax credits to which they could be entitled. Turn2Us is currently running a campaign to encourage low income households to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)