An understated performance from Nicolas Cage?!?

July 29th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Well, yes, in the new independent movie “Joe” which I have reviewed here.

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Nicolas Cage losing his s**t

July 29th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

I’ve just been to see the latest movie starring Nicolas Cage who is rather noted for his histrionic performances. In background reading about his new film, I found a reference to this YouTube compilation of some of his most over-the-top thespian scenes. Enjoy

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How life on Earth as we know it could have been transformed just two years ago – and only a few scientists noticed

July 28th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

I was at a barbecue in West Sussex this weekend and had an interesting chat with a family friend called Gerry Bond who told me about a recent event that could have changed life on Earth as we currently enjoy it.

On 23 July 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.

Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, the outcome could have been disastrous.A CME double whammy of this potency striking Earth would probably cripple satellite communications and could severely damage the power grid.

NASA offers this sobering assessment:

“Analysts believe that a direct hit . . . could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. . . . According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multiton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.”

You can see the latest discussion of this event here.

Of course, CMEs are the not the only occurrence that could transform or even destroy humankind. If you’d like to be aware of some other possibilities, check out this book review.

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The best photograph of my granddaughter Catrin and me

July 28th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

This photograph of me with my three and half year old granddaughter Catrin was taken by Vee’s nephew David at the home of his brother in Egham at a family gathering this summer. David had a copy framed for me as a birthday present. I love it. Thanks a million, David.

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Did Salieri kill Mozart?

July 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

In 1979, there were the first performances of a play by Peter Shaffer called “Amadeus” which postulated that Antonio Salieri drove Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an early death or even poisoned him. I did not see the play but I did view the 1984 American film “Amadeus” directed by Miloš Forman [see my review here].

This weekend, after 35 years, I finally saw the play. The venue was the Chichester Festival Theatre which has just been the subject of a £22 million refurbishment. “Amadeus” is the first play since the project was completed.

In a fine performance, Rupert Everett played Salieri, while Joshua McGuire was Mozart. In the play, Salieri is the central character as compared to the film. Also, although Shaffer wrote both, the play is ultimately dismissive of the notion of murder while the film seems to give it some credence.

So did Salieri kill Mozart? There is simply no credible evidence as explained here.

Posted in Cultural issues, History | Comments (2)

This week’s films – my reviews of three very different movies

July 26th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

As regular visitors to this blog will know, I am a keen movie fan. This week, I have seen three films all very different:

  • “The Railway Man”, set during and after World War Two, with some harrowing scenes – my review here.
  • “Begin Again”, located in today’s New York with lots of songs and a real feel-good tone – my review here.
  • “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”, set a little in the future in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco – my review here.

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How safe is it to fly?

July 25th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

There have been three aviation disasters in the last week: the shooting down last Thursday of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew, the crashing of TransAsia Airways flight GE222 while trying to land at a Taiwanese airport on Wednesday, killing 48 and injuring 10, and the crashing today of Air Algérie flight AH5017‬ from Burkino Faso to Algiers, which was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members.

So how safe is it to fly? The short answer is: in spite of these accidents, it is very safe to fly and becoming more safe over time.  You can see relevant statistics here.

I keep a flight log – that’s what comes of having a father and a father-in-law who flew with the RAF – so I know that I’ve made 542 flights totalling just over 1,000 hours in the air. I’m going to keep on flying because there are still many countries that I wish to visit.

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American presidents (2): Richard M Nixon

July 24th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

This summer, the City Lit in central London is running a series of evening courses with a session on most of the various post-war US presidents. I missed the one on Kennedy but have joined the course this week with the session on Lyndon B Johnson, about whom I have done a blog posting.

Last night, I attended the session on Richard M Nixon who served as 37th president from 1969-1974. This time, the lecturer was Mark Shanahan. Like the lecturer on Johnson, essentially he spoke non-stop for over two a half hours (there was a ten-minute break), but again the speaker was very knowledgeable and very fluent. Also, this time, we had visual aids – a succession of text-heavy slides and four film clips – and he gave us handouts (a total of five).

As with the Johnson session, the lecturer took us through a chronology of the politician and we were an hour and a half into the session before we reached the election that took Nixon to the White House. What this chronology made clear was that the personal characteristics that ultimately doomed Nixon as president were there from the start.

Although he was very bright and hardworking, he was a man who wanted to be part of the team but was actually a loner, he was insecure and paranoid, he fought dirty, and he kept a list of his enemies. So his first election campaign – for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946 – was deployed a negative and dirty campaign; in the House, his exposure of Alger Hiss (who was later revealed to be a Soviet spy) was ruthless; and his defeat of the Democrat for the Senate seat in California in 1950 was a brutal exercise.

Yet it was never certain, or even likely, that he would become president. After eight years as Vice-President under Eisenhower – who did not like him and did not give him responsibility – he lost both a presidential election (to John Kennedy) and a governorship election (in his home state of California) and had six wilderness years before he finally became president in 1969.

His foreign achievements are well known: he opened up relations with Communist China and signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)  and he ‘ended’ the Vietnam war but it was far from the ‘peace with honour’ that he proclaimed.

Our lecturer was keen that we should also appreciate Nixon’s domestic record: he promoted affirmative action and an Equal Opportunities Act, he established the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Air Act, and he even published a Family Assistance Plan, although this was rejected by Congress. On the other hand, his tenure saw a decline in manufacturing, rising inflation, rising unemployment and the US heading for recession.

Ultimately, of course, he was guilty of the Watergate cover-up exposed by ‘Deep Throat’ (now known to be Mark Felt) and he became the only president in US history who has had to resign.

You can read more about Richard Nixon here.

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How many countries are in the United Kingdom?

July 23rd, 2014 by Roger Darlington

As far as the Olympics Games is concerned,  the UK is one contestant although for some reason we call it Team GB. As far as football’s World Cup is concerned, we have four teams – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but we still do terribly.

Now, when it comes to the Commonwealth Games which opened in Glasgow today, the UK has seven entrants: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.  Is this crazy or what?

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (2)

Are we there yet? Christmas, I mean.

July 23rd, 2014 by Roger Darlington

If you ever travel with little children, you’ll know that their most common refrain is: “Are we there yet?” Little ones struggle to understand time and distance.

Well, it seems that they’re not the only ones. Today I received my first Christmas brochure. It was online and from Jessops.

I wish those guys would look out of the window. It’s summer!

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