Word of the day: aquila

July 12th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

As you will see from this essay on my web site, I’m interested in people’s names and how they acquired them and what they mean.

I am currently visiting my son and his family in Kenya and I have just spent a couple of days with my eldest granddaughter visiting a wonderful nature reserve called Sanctuary Farm. At this location, I met a young woman who is called Quily and learned that her real name is Aquila.

In Latin and the Romance languages, aquila means eagle. In the UK, it is the name of an educational children’s magazine. I have never come across it before as the name of a contemporary person.

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Word of the day: avocation

July 10th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’m currently reading the novel  “Alone In Berlin” by Hans Fallada. This was written in German and first published in 1947, but I’m reading an English translation of 2009.

At one point, the word ‘avocation’ is used which I had to look up. It means: something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especiallly for pleasure.

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The coming general election in Kenya

July 9th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I am currently in Nairobi for my fourth visit to my son and his family since he moved here two years ago for his work. What is different about this visit is that it falls just a month before a general election in Kenya and election propaganda is much in evidence. Now the political and economic performance of Kenya since independence from Britain in 1963 has been turbulent and disappointing, as explained by Daniel Branch in his 2011 book “Kenya: Between Hope And Despair, 1963-2011” [my review here].

The forthcoming general election is scheduled for 8 August 2017 and, especially given the violence after the election of 2007 which resulted in some 1,100 deaths, some citizens who can are choosing to be out of the country for the period around the balloting. The elections are for the posts of President and Deputy President, members of the National Assembly and the Senate, and county governors and ward representatives in devolved administrations.

In Europe and America, voting on a class basis has tended more recently to be replaced by voting on the basis of identity but, in Kenya, voting has always been on tribal lines. There are 23 tribes in Kenya with the largest being Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), and Kalenjin (12%).

The election is dominated by two coalitions of parties: one called Jubilee and the other titled the National Super Alliance or NASA. Jubilee is led by the current President Uhuru Kenyatta (who is Kikuyu) and the current Vice-President William Ruto (who is Kalenjin). NASA is headed by Presidential candidate Raila Odinga (who is Luo) and Vice-Presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka (who is Ukambani). Two other presidential candidates represent other coalitions and then there are three independent candidates.

Opinion polls mean even less in Kenya than they do in Britain or the United States but, genuinely or nefariously, it would be surprising if the Jubilee coalition did not retain power. Some 19.6 million Kenyans have a legal right to vote, but many young voters are equally disillusioned by the two leading teams and turnout by tribe will probably be the deciding factor.

But, writing recently in the Kenyan newspaper “The Star” about the forthcoming election in his country, Mwangi Githahu reminded readers of the victories of Trump in the US and Macron in France plus the unexpected performance of Sanders in the States and Corbyn in the UK and opined that “it is time we realised that absolutely anything is possible and the era of those we once thought were destined to rule may be over”.

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Should we write grandad or granddad?

July 4th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’m off to Nairobi tomorrow to see my son, his wife and my two adorable granddaughters: Catrin (aged six a half) and Kara (aged 10 and a half months).

Now to Catrin I have always been “Granddad Roger” as contrasted with “Grandpa David”.  But, while I spell it granddad, most people spell it grandad. I agree that the first option looks a little odd, but I feel that it is grammatically correct. After all, we write granddaughter and not grandaughter.

I was interested see that the Mumsnet website actually has a discussion on this theme here.

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How many countries have you visited?

July 3rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Top of my bucket list is – for as long as I have the health and wealth – to have visited as many countries as my age. I recently became 69 and I have currently visited 70 countries.

You can see a map and a list of the relevant countries countries here.

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My Thought For The Week reaches No 900 – would you like to join the circulation list?

July 2nd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Around 18 years ago, I sent out an e-mail to the 12 members of the Research Department of the Communications Workers Union which I then headed. It was a quote from a newspaper article which I found interesting and I jokingly titled the e-mail Thought For The Week.

Almost two decades later, that Thought For The Week missive goes out every Sunday to about 2,000 people all around the globe and today I have reached the new landmark number of 900. You can check them all out here.

If you would like to receive it, e-mail me.

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A review of this summer’s smash movie “Baby Driver”

July 2nd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

“Drive” meets “La La Land” in this smash success of summer 2017 both written and directed with great panache by the British Edgar Wright. Is this a car-chase heist movie disguised as a romantic musical or the other way round? No, it’s a genuinely fresh and original mash-up of genres with a plethora of tropes from other cinematic work.

Like “La La Land’, the opening sequence grabs the attention and sets the tone. The eponymous young man at the wheel, played with a mixture of innocence and brutality by Ansel Elgort, is revealed to be someone with brilliant driving skills that enable bank robbers to escape any number of Atlanta’s police vehicles but somebody who needs to overcome his tinnitus by playing loud rock music into his ear pods.

Following the opening titles, a stroll to a coffee shop has all the cleverness of other parts of “La la Land”. However, the story-line – a laconic loner who discovers a woman who might be his escape from a life of crime – is straight out of “Drive” which, as a thriller, is actually the better movie.

There is lots of action in this film, with cars and guns in scene after scene, but what really makes the movie is the acting. This is a work where so many of the support roles are filled by actors who can and have top-lined movies: Kevin Spacey as Doc, the mastermind behind the heists; Jamie Foxx as Bats who is the wrong side of crazy; and Jon Hamm as Buddy who exhibits an almost “Terminator”-like ability to keep coming back.

The female roles – notably Baby’s love interest Debora (Lily James) and Buddy’s partner Darling (Eliza González) are not so well-drawn. And the ending might be viewed as a little too sweet. But, heh, this is quality movie-making that is going to be a classic.

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A review of the 2015 bio-pic “Steve Jobs”

July 1st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

In the past few years, there have been two major movies about the life of tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs, the creative genius behind Apple.

The first in 2013 was called simply “Jobs” and starred Ashton Kutcher in the title role. The second in 2015 went for the title “Steve Jobs” and Michael Fassbender filled the eponymous role. Both films have at their emotional core the expulsion of Jobs from Apple in 1985 and his triumphant return in 1996, but the later work builds the narrative around three pressured product launches – the Apple Mac in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998- with flash-backs to seminal moments in the man’s turbulent career.

The second film is much the better one. It has a more accomplished director in the British Danny Boyle rather than Joshua Michael Stern. It has a much more creative writer in Aaron Sorlkin – the man behind “The West Wing” and the writer of “The Social Network” – compared to first-timer Matt Whitely. And the Irish Fassbender is just so much more impressive than Kutcher.

Indeed there are some excellent performances in support roles too, including Seth Rogen (as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak), Jeff Daniels (as Apple chairman John Sculley), and Michael Stuhlbarg (as senior team member Andy Hertzfeld). Another thespian strength of the movie is that it has a pivotal role for a woman, the wonderful Kate Winslet, as long-suffering – but loyal yet defiant – marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, plus a support role for Katherine Watertown as the mother of Jobs’ daughter whom he originally treated appallingly.

Like “The Social Network”, “Steve Jobs” is a wordy work but Sorkin is a master craftsman of dialogue with fast and furious exchanges that communicate so much about events and character. And the actors revel in the kinetic energy of the script and direction with Fassbender rarely off the screen in one bruising encounter after another. Fassbender may not look as similar to Jobs as Kutcher but he totally occupies the role and makes the movie.

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A review of the book “Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991” by Orlando Figes

June 30th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This is a work that covers a century of revolutionary history in a main text of just over 400 pages written by the well-known British academic Orlando Figes who teaches at Birkbeck University in London. It has the strengths and weaknesses of any non-fiction book that seeks to cover so much ground in such concise fashion. It puts the Russian Revolution in context by describing how it came about and what the consequences were so long as the Communist regime survived and it is written in a very readable and accessible style. But necessarily it races through the decades and is quite light on detailed facts, dates, and quotes.

Figes believes that the seeds of the Russian revolution are to be found in the famine of 1891 which, together with cholera and typhus, killed half a million people by the end of 1892 and then the ‘Dress Rehearsal’ of 1905 when there was a wave of strikes and demonstrations following the massacres of ‘Bloody Sunday’. But he explains the weakness of Tsar Alexander II and the powerful personality of Vladimir Lenin, plus the catastrophy of the First World War, as further vital ingredients in the success of the two revolutions of 1917 – the first, a social democratic revolt against the monarchy, in February and the second, a Bolshevik assault on the Provisional Government, in October.

Figes writes that “Few historical events have been more distorted by myth than those of 25 October 1917” and argues that “The Great October Socialist Revolution, as it became known in the Soviet Union, was in fact such a small-scale action, being in reality no more than a coup, that it passed unnoticed by the vast majority of the inhabitants of Petrograd”. Meanwhile the result of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the Germans was that Russia lost territories occupied by 34% of its population (55 million people).

When covering the following civil war, Figes notes that “The totalitarian state had its origins in War Communism, which attempted to control every aspect of the economy and society” and he argues that “This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy”. In chapters titled “The Revolution’s Golden Age?” and “The Great Break” respectively, Figes writes favourably of Lenin’s reformist New Economic Policy (NEP) and critically of Stalin’s Five Year Plan. Dark days followed with a widespread famine in 1932-33, in which up to 8.5 million died of starvation or disease, and the Great Terror of 1937-38, in which around 1.5 million were arrested and some 680,000 executed.

The Second World War and specifically Operation Barbarossa could have finished the Communist experiment and Figes underlines that “The invasion was the gravest threat to the revolution”, but at the last moment Stalin held his nerve and then a mixture of terror, coercion, patriotism and the cult of sacrifice enabled the USSR to defeat the Nazi war machine, although at staggering human cost (8.6 million in uniform alone). Figes records that “Stalin presented the military victory as a triumph for the Soviet system rather than the people’s achievement”.

The death of Stalin and his denunciation by Krushchev is narrated in a chapter titled “The Beginning Of The End”, the post-Krushchev era is covered in a chapter titled “Mature Socialism”, and the efforts of Gorbachev to renew the Leninist revolution leads to him being dubbed “the last Bolshevik”. Figes notes that “Nobody expected the Soviet regime to come to an end so suddenly. Most revolutions die with a whimper rather than a bang.”

In a downbeat summary, Figges opines that: “The collapse of the Soviet system did not democratize the distribution of wealth or power in Russia. After 1991, the Russians could have been forgiven for thinking nothing much had changed, at least for the better. No doubt many of them had thought much the same after 1917.”

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Word of the day: unicorn

June 28th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This week, I chaired part of a seminar discussing the impact of Brexit on the UK tech sector. A speaker referred to unicorns and I could not see any and did not know what he was talking about. As always, Google came to the rescue.

It seems that he term unicorn has different meanings in the business world:

In the venture capital industry, a unicorn refers to any tech startup company that reaches a $1 billion dollar market value as determined by private or public investment. The term was originally coined by Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures. It is an odd term in this context because unicorns are supposed to be non-existent, not exceptional or special. Clearly it was this use of the term that I encountered at my seminar.

In the human resources world, unicorn refers to a phenomenon that occurs  when those who are responsible for hiring candidates have impossible expectations. This stems from a mismatch between the expectations of the employers and who is available for hire. In other words, human resources is looking for a mythical candidate (i.e. a unicorn), rather than facing reality.

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