November 28th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
Since Vee and I have each been to the Czech Republic more than 20 times, we have seen Prague in all seasons and all weathers and somehow it is a city which looks and feels magical in any circumstance. On this visit, the temperature is just above freezing and I’m glad that I brought a woollen hat that I can pull over my ears – not very sartorial but practical.
Our first trip here was in 1988 when the country was still Czechoslovakia and it was still under Communist control. It is exactly 25 years since the ‘velvet revolution’ and so much has changed for the better, although sadly much of the politics here is still childish or corrupt or both.
As always, the Horvaths have welcomed us and hosted us with great warmth and kindness. They are indeed our ‘second family’. The newest addition to the family is little Pavlik who is 14 months old and decided to delay his walking until a couple of weeks before our arrival – no doubt to impress us. He is such a cheerful fellow and we are going to have fun together. We brought him a little outfit but he seemed to be more excited by the wrapping paper than the contents.
November 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
In the late 1980s, Vee (whose father was a Czech pilot in the war) re-established contact with her family – the Kuttelwaschers – in what was then Czechoslovakia and, about the same time, we first met the Czech doctor Pavel whose wife and children – the Horvaths – became as close as family to us.
Since then, we have visited what is now the Czech Republic about once a year. We are travelling to Prague for a long weekend on what is my 25th trip and is Vee’s 23rd. The impetus for this particular visit is to see the newest member of the Horvath family who was born since our last trip about a year and a half ago. Little one year old Pavlik is the son of our dear friend Vojta (son of the original Pavel) and his lovely wife Kaca.
November 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
This autumn, I am doing a six week (five session) evening class at London’s City Lit on the subject of “American Political Institutions” and our lecturer is Malcolm Malcolmson. This week, the third of our lectures looked at the election, responsibilities and powers of the President.
As a bit of homework, at the end of the previous lecture, each student had to pick a slip from a bag of the names of all the US presidents. Then, for the one we selected, we had to find out a few interesting facts and one quirky detail.
My selection was Theodore Roosevelt who served as president from 1901-1909.
My interesting facts were:
- He took office unexpectedly after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 and then won a second term in his own right.
- He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiations to end the Russo- Japanese War.
- Although he was a Republican, he founded a new Progressive Party (known as the Bull Moose Party) and ran for president unsuccessfully as head of this party (but he did obtain 27% of the votes).
My quirky fact was:
- The Teddy Bear is named after him. This comes from his refusal to kill a captured American black bear while on a bear hunting trip [more information here].
November 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, who was commonly known as “Teddy” (though he loathed being referred to as such).
The name originated from an incident on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, to which Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino.
There were several other hunters competing, and most of them had already killed an animal. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds.
They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in “The Washington Post” on 16 November 1902.
While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter
[Text from Wikipedia]
November 26th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
Love them or hate them, we have to have them, lots of them. So this article from the “New York Times” is a fascinating look at this normally secret world.
This is an extract from the piece:
“Several years ago, I began asking my friends and family to tell me their passwords. I had come to believe that these tiny personalized codes get a bum rap. Yes, I understand why passwords are universally despised: the strains they put on our memory, the endless demand to update them, their sheer number. I hate them, too. But there is more to passwords than their annoyance. In our authorship of them, in the fact that we construct them so that we (and only we) will remember them, they take on secret lives.
Many of our passwords are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar — these keepsake passwords, as I came to call them, are like tchotchkes of our inner lives. They derive from anything: Scripture, horoscopes, nicknames, lyrics, book passages. Like a tattoo on a private part of the body, they tend to be intimate, compact and expressive.”
November 25th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
It’s very disappointing news that agreement has not been reached between Iran and the six Western partners on control of Iran’s nuclear programme, but the parties are still talking and there is a new timetable. As long as eight years ago, I did a blog posting pointing out that some observers saw the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel as imminent because allegedly we had reached a tipping point in the programme.
Thank goodness that bombing did not happen – not least because I had a visit to Iran planned which eventually took place in November 2009.
But an agreement still has many obstacles to overcome and, as this article explains, there are many who would like the negotiations to fail:
“The governments and leaders favouring a deal did not exactly lose in Vienna, but it is clear who came out ahead – the conservative rejectionists and clerical last-ditchers who dominate Tehran’s political establishment, parliament and media; the mostly Republican hardliners in the US congress who oppose an agreement at any price; Israel’s leadership and the Gulf Arab monarchies, who distrust everything Tehran says; and Islamist Sunni extremists in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, who exploit differences between Shia Iran and the west to pursue their vicious hegemonist fantasies.”
November 24th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and long lasting empires in history. At its peak, it included what today are Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, parts of Arabia, and much of the coastal strip of North Africa. It existed from 1301-1922 – an incredible six centuries.
Following the spread of the 18th century nationalist idea in Europe, the origins of Arab nationalism lie in what is called ‘al-Nahda’ (the Awakening), a cultural and religious renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Ottoman Empire effectively collapsed with its defeat in the First World War following the Arab Revolt in which the British officer T E Lawrence played a significant advisory role. The contours of the post-war Arab world were shaped by three documents of this time:
- The correspondence between Sherif Hussein of Mecca and Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, which promised the creation of an independent Arab state
- The agreement between British diplomat Mark Sykes and French diplomat Georges Picot which determined the division of the Middle East into British and French spheres of control
- The letter from British Foreign Secretary Henry Balfour to Baron Rothschild, the leader of the British Jewish community, which promised a national home for the Jews
However, the first two of these agreements were secret and the Balfour Declaration was brief and obscure.
It was only after the Second World War that the independent Arab states of today came into being. So most Arab states are recent – and, some would say, artificial – constructs. The only Arab states with a long history are Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
November 23rd, 2014 by Roger Darlington
I have read all three novels by Suzanne Collins:
This weekday, I saw the third and latest episode in the movie adaptation of the novels:
- “The Hunger Games”- my review here
- “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – my review here
- “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1″- my review here
One of the most memorable scenes in the latest film involves the singing by Jennifer Lawrence of the song “The Hanging Tree” which you can hear here:
November 22nd, 2014 by Roger Darlington
In the United States, the Republicans have lambasted President Barack Obama over his use of an Executive Order to introduce much-needed and long=delayed immigration reform. They have accused him of being a dictator because he has bypassed Congress which has shown itself utterly unable to legislate on the subject.
If Obama is a dictator he is not a very good one. He has used his presidential veto less often than any president since James Garfield in 1880 (who served for just 200 days before he was assassinated). He has signed fewer executive orders than any two-term president since Andrew Jackson, who left office in 1837.
You can read more about the role and powers of the US presidency on my web site here.
November 20th, 2014 by Roger Darlington
This autumn, I am doing a six week (five session) evening class at London’s City Lit on the subject of “American Political Institutions” and our lecturer is Malcolm Malcolmson. The second of our lectures looked at how the US Constitution had come about and why it distributes power as it does.
Following the American War of Independence with Britain, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia wanted to create a political system that was in total contrast to the concentration of power in the hands of a monarch like King George III.
At the time of the debates around a new constitution, the ‘Virginia plan’ (representation by population) versus the ‘New Jersey’ plan (equal representation for each state) gave rise to ‘The Great Compromise’. So the constitution was designed to share power between the 13 founding states but in a manner which did not give excessive influence to the small number of larger states in population terms (New York, Massachusetts and Virginia). This is why the seats in House of Representatives are allocated in population terms but the Senate has two members per state regardless of the population of that state.
The constitution also ensured that power was spread between the three arms of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – so that no one arm could dominate and each arm exercises ‘checks and balances’ in respect of the other two. In order further to ensure that volatile public opinion could not result in rapid changes, members of the House of Representatives serve for two years, the President serves for four years, and members of the Senate serve for six years.
Originally the legislature was intended to be more powerful than it is now, but the presidency has acquired more power over time (especially when Lincioln was in power during the American Civil War) and the Supreme Court has become more influential as such an old constitution has to be interpreted for modern times and as the legislature and the presidency have been in conflict.
It could be argued that the ‘founding fathers’ were very far-sighted in their drafting of the constitution because the original constitution managed to accommodate the expansion of the USA from the original 13 states to the present 50 and because the same constitution remains in force some 240 years later.
On the other hand, it could be argued that the US Constitution is exceptionally hard to amend and has ossified a structure that may have been appropriate to an emerging nation two and half centuries ago but no longer reflects the reality that America is now a global power in a globalised world. Furthermore, in the hands of highly partisan parties such as at present, Congress can be reduced to legislative and financial grid-lock.