It’s looking a lot like Kamala

July 22nd, 2024 by Roger Darlington

If we were starting from scratch, I would have liked to see a variety of possible Democratic presidential candidates in action and I’m particularly interested on Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California. But already it’s looking as if Kamala Harris will replace Joe Biden as the Democrat candidate to face Donald Trump on 5 November.

She has the massive advantages of being the incumbent Vice-President and the recipient of Biden’s endorsement. She will appeal to women voters who are more likely to vote Democrat. She will be attractive to black voters who are substantially Democrat. She is the most likely unity candidate.

Above all, she’ll have the money – and American elections are hugely expensive. She will inherit Biden’s war chest and already has connections with and support from many Democratic funders.

She has not risen to the occasion as Vice-President, but it is a difficult role. She now has to rise to this awesome challenge and save the US and the world from a second Trump presidency. The stakes are massive.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

Thanks, Joe. Sorry, but you had to go.

July 21st, 2024 by Roger Darlington

Eight days ago, I did a blog posting arguing that Joe Biden needed to step down as the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. He has now – after much pressure and delay – agreed to go.

The selection of a new candidate is uncharted territory. I would like to see a contest rather than a coronation. Kamala Harris might be the person to beat Donald Trump, but I’m not sure of that. At this stage, I would back Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California.

We’ll see. The stakes are massive – for the United States and for the world.

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A review of “How To Read Literature Like A Professor” by Thomas C Foster (2014)

July 21st, 2024 by Roger Darlington

This book was recommended to me by my Canadian theatre buddy who teaches English literature in a high school in the United States. It was originally published in 2003 and became a classic guide, before it was thoroughly revised and updated for a new edition in 2014. It is written by an American (Foster was a professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint) for American students (most of the references are to work by American authors), but it is immensely illuminating for any reader of English-language works. 

It is primarily about literature, but the techniques he espouses work just as well for poetry, plays or – my favourite format for storytelling – films. The book has justifiably achieved long-term popularity because it is so informative and written in such an accessible style. 

Foster suggests that essentially “there’s only one story”: the quest. This consists of five elements: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and the real reason to go there. He insists that the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. He argues that what separates the discerning reader from the casual one is memory (of other stories and works) and the recognition of symbol and pattern (devices for metaphor and analogy). He thinks that “we want strangeness in our stories but we want familiarity too”.

So he points out – in separate chapters – how many stories are inspired by, or allude to, Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, fairy tales and Shakespeare and he underlines how all the choices of the writer are meaningful whether it is – again there are chapters for each topic – the location, the geography, the weather, the season, nature, animals, any disability, disfigurement or illness, eating and drinking together, travelling together, fighting together. 

It seems that, in good literature, nothing is simply what it looks on the surface: “it is never just rain”“ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires”“violence in literature while it is literal, is usually also about something else”, and “even when they write about sex, they’re really writing about something else”

Foster explains that, “if we except lyric poetry, nearly all literature is character-based”, that “plot is character revealed in action”. and that “the most important thing that characters can do is change – grow, develop, learn, mature”. So we need to know: who is the hero (noting that he or she is often marked physically in some way), who is the hero’s best friend (noting that this character is often destined to die), what is the motivation of the protagonist, and what is the intention (both literal and metaphorical)?

There are many ways of interpreting literature and Foster looks especially – again in different chapters – at religious, political and sexual interpretations. Ultimately, though, he wants to reader to bring his or her own interpretation and be able to explain or justify it: “you need to take ownership of your reading”.

In the course of some 350 pages, we learn so many rules or conventions, or at least tropes or themes, but sometimes the writer breaks the rule or inverts the convention and Foster insists that “irony trumps everything”. So, as Americans would say, go figure. 

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

A review of the new blockbuster movie “Twisters”

July 20th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

As “Alien” (1979) begat “Aliens” (1986), so “Twister” (1996) has now led to “Twisters” (2024), although with a much longer interval of almost three decades, meaning that the only common personage is Steven Spielberg in the executive producer role. So we’re back storm-chasing in the ‘Tornado Alley’ of Oklahoma, this time with some more advanced technology such as drones and the impact of social media. It’s not a sequel or a remake but a standalone. It was filmed largely on location and in season.

The narrative is very formulaic with familiar tropes (starting with: will the protagonist overcome the guilt of her early failure to achieve redemption? well, what do you think?), but the disaster movie is a genre that often provides satisfactory entertainment and this one works well enough, not just because of the tension provided by the tornados, but because of the chemistry between the two attractive leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Where The Crawdads Sing”) and Glen Powell “(“Top Gun: Maverick”). I wasn’t blown away, but it was uplifting.

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Another five star review for my latest book

July 15th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

“This is a fascinating collection of the life stories of a group of residents and staff members of two blocks of flats on London’s South Bank, in which the author’s interest in, and empathy for, the lives and the stories of his fellow men and women shines through.”

“The 40+ people whose stories feature in this volume have, for reasons of war, famine, oppression, love, opportunity, separation, family connections, human messiness or sheer serendipity all made their way to London at this point in their lives.”

“It is in helping us realise that we need to be more interested in our neighbours, and to listen to them better, where Roger’s major contribution lies in having curated this collection. In asking us to confront ourselves with the extraordinary, fascinating nature of other people’s lives, we make our own lives richer, and more fulfilling, too.”

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Joe Biden now needs to make the most difficult and honourable decision of his career

July 13th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

Joe Biden has been an excellent president – decent and progressive. If he had had a majority in both chambers of Congress, he could have been a truly transformational leader. But he needs now to do what is best for the United States and the world and recognise that, while he is still an able politician, his weakening physical and mental abilities cannot enable him to beat Trump in November 2024 or, if he should somehow win, be an effective president until January 2029.

An article in today’s Guardian” newspaper explains how the Democrats could choose a new candidate and win another presidential term:

“Over the past few days, however, energy has been building around a third, more optimistic solution. Advocates of this alternative model believe it could reinvigorate Democrats by putting the spotlight on young fresh talent, inspire the country with a powerful articulation of the party’s values and, critically, prevent Trump from returning to the White House bent on unleashing a full-blown attack on American democracy.

The idea is being floated by a loose affiliation of Democratic party stalwarts, including former senior government officials and elected representatives, major donors, and current party officeholders. They are calling their plan the “blitz primary”– a quickfire, tightly controlled selection process that would culminate with a younger successor to Biden being nominated at next month’s Democratic national convention.”

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (1)

Why we need proportional representation – even if we don’t like voter choices

July 6th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

A third five-star review for my new book “Rennie & River: Tales From Two Courts”

July 1st, 2024 by Roger Darlington

“This book is written expertly with great skill about every day people who like all of us have a history and a story.
With great talent and altruism this master communicator makes us reflect, smile and wince at the vicissitudes of life.
I highly recommend this thoughtful book to all and sundry and look forward to Darlington’s next effort.”

Andrew Kyprianou

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

A review of the new animated movie “Inside Out 2”

June 29th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

The original “Inside Out” was so good and so successful and it concluded with the discovery of a button labelled puberty, so I was sure that a sequel would soon follow. In fact, surprisingly it’s taken nine years for Pixar – with a new director Kelsey Mann – to provide us with the sequel, although in the narrative Riley has only aged from 11 to 13.

When I took my granddaughter to see the original film, she was only four and a half; now she’s 13 and didn’t want to see it with me but instead with her pubescent girlfriends. However, I now have two granddaughters and the second one (almost eight) was very happy to see the movie with me.

All the original five emotions are back, but now they are joined by four more, starting with Anxiety and including Ennui (boredom), which makes life particularly complicated for teenage Riley and at times a bit confusing for the viewer.

But the central message is the same: we all have a range of emotions and we need to balance them, ensuring that Joy always shines through. Again we have a wonderful palette of vibrant colours and some inventive scenarios such as the Mount Crushmore.

There is bound to be an “Inside Out 3” and I’m sure that we won’t have to wait another nine years for it. I wonder if the third film will have the courage to deal with Riley’s body changes and sexual awakening.

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Making sense of politics in India – the world’s largest democracy

June 27th, 2024 by Roger Darlington

Elections in a country of the size and complexity of India are huge and difficult affairs. The Indian Constitution requires that voters do not have to travel more than 2 km (1.2 miles) from their homes to vote. At the recent election in April/June 2024, some 969 million citizens were eligible to vote and some 642 million did so. Electors had a choice of candidates from some 2,600 political parties.

There is no way that such a poll can be conducted on a single day and in fact the last election to the Lok Sabha took place from 19 April to 1 June 2024 in seven phases with all votes counted on a single day: 4 June 2024. Almost 4 million staff were deployed to run the election. Administrative and security considerations meant that electoral staff and soldiers were moved around the country as the different voting phases took place. 

What was the result and how does it matter? You can check out my short guide to the Indian political system

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)