Word of the day: metonym

February 16th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

A ‘metonym’ is: ‘a word or phrase used in metonymy, a figure of speech in which the name of one object or concept is used for that of another to which it is related.

As an example, “the crown” is a metonym for “royalty”.

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A review of the new book “Joe Biden” by Evan Osnos

February 12th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This is not so much a biography as an extended profile written by a staff writer on the “New Yorker” and adapted from an occasional series of articles written by the author for the magazine. It was rushed out for publication the week before the presidential election of November 2020 on the assumption that Biden would win the presidency which, of course, he did. So the book is both short (167 pages) and topical. 

Osnos quotes Biden’s friend Ted Kaufman:

“If you ask me who’s the unluckiest person I know personally, who’s had just terrible things happen to him, I’d say Joe Biden. If you asked me who is the luckiest person I know personally, who’s had things happen to him that are just absolutely incredible, I’d say Joe Biden.”

So, on the one hand, Biden had to contend with a childhood stutter which is not entirely absent now; days after his first Senate victory, he lost his wife and baby daughter in an horrific car accident which also injured both his sons; at the age of 45, he suffered a cranial aneurysm which resulted in him being in hospital for three months and out of action for seven months; he lost his elder son to a form of brain cancer; and his younger son has struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Politically he made two very poor runs for the Democatic nomination for presidency. 

On the other hand, Biden was elected to a Senate seat for Delaware, still only 29 on election day but (as required) 30 by the time he actually took his seat; his long service in the Senate included chairing the Foreign Relations Committe; he spent eight years as Vice-President to Barack Obama; and, when he ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency a third time, he finished a distant fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire before winning South Carolina by 29 points and on Super Tuesday taking 10 out of 14 states; and, in the actual election for the White House, Trump’s card of a strong economy was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Osnos recalls some of the many political mistakes made by Biden including opposing bussing, drafting the 1994 Crime Bill, and supporting the invasion of Iraq. He refers often to Biden’s verbosity and proneness to gaffs: “a harrowing tendecy to put his foot in his mouth”. But Osnos admires Biden’s resilence in the face of so much personal tragedy and he quotes lots of ancedotes underlining Biden’s humanity and empathy. 

The tone of this book is: cometh the hour, cometh the man. Osnos hints that, in spite of Biden’s unlikely assendency to the post of POTUS and him being the oldest person to move into the office, given his special qualities and the remarkable times Biden could turn out to be a far more progressive and successful president than one might have ever imagined and that “for a people in mourning, he might offer something like solace, a language of healing”. Let’s see … let’s hope …

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Word of the day: comity

February 11th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

In legal language, there is a term comity of nations which is the friendly recognition accorded by one nation to the laws and and usages of another.

More generally, the word comity means mutual civility or courtesy.

I came across the word in a profile of the new US President Joe Biden which suggested that comity is part of his political style. Sounds good to me.

Comity derives from the Latin comitas, courtesy, and from cemis, friendly, courteous.

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What’s it like to be on Channel Four’s #FirstDates programme?

February 10th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Almost five years ago, my wife of 35 years left me and, after some time, my mind turned to online dating. I dated quite a number of women but did not manage to establish a lasting relationship.

My young friend Spence told me about a programme on Channel Four television called “First Dates”. I had never heard of it , but I checked it out and enjoyed it. When my online dating did not work, he suggested that I apply to “First Dates”.

Two things appealed to me about the programme.

First, it was clear that they do a lot of research on applicants selected for the programme and make a genuine effort to match people who are likely to get along. Second, participants represent diverse groups in terms of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.

So I filled in an online application – and waited.

The programme is produced for the broadcaster Channel Four by a largely female-led company called Twenty Twenty Productions. In mid January 2020, I was telephoned by Tim from the company. We chatted for 30 minutes and he liked my story. Two days later, I did a Skype interview with Tim which he recorded for his colleagues. We talked for 45 minutes and he seemed to like how I came across.

Two weeks later, I was called to a central London studio to film the pre-programme interview which viewers see. The woman interviewed before me was clearly shorter than me and so, as I first sat in the interview chair, I hit my head on the overhead microphone. For some reason, this odd incident was included in the broadcast version of the interview.

Amazingly – given that only a few minutes were used in the end – the filming lasted a good hour and a half. I had a very skilled interviewer called George who left silences to be filled and asked probing questions. The programme makers want to know where participants are coming from and what they would like in a relationship. The task now was to find my “perfect match”.

All previous series of “First Dates” have been filmed in the Paternoster Chop House (then) opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Since I live in central London, I know the area well. However, the dating venue has now switched to a restaurant called The Refinery in the Spinningfields part of central Manchester. As it happens, I am from Manchester, although I left it when I graduated.

The meal with my date was filmed at the beginning of March 2020. Just two days before, the first coronavirus death had occurred in Britain and – although we did not know it at the time – just two weeks later the nation would go into its first lockdown. So there were no covid restrictions for the exercise. I was merely asked to compete a declaration that I had no covid symptoms and had not recently travelled aboard.

Before participants enter the restaurant, they have to be wired up. So a power pack was fitted into the small of my back and a microphone was located in hidden position.

I was first into the restaurant before my date. I was greeted warmly by Fred on the door and questioned gently by Merlin on the bar. Then my date Jean arrived looking glamorous but feeling a bit nervous. We were soon ushered to our table for a late lunch. Although all the cameras are small and unobtrusive, I spotted them immediately, especially the ones at eye level in the wall by our side. Now, whenever I watch the programme, I can often see those cameras. The cameras are everywhere – even in the washrooms – but participants forget that they are there.

Shortly after we sat down at our table, there was a minor technical problem. The patterning on my jacket was making the pictures look fuzzy, so I was asked to take off the jacket and put it over the back of my chair. Jean was a very congenial companion for lunch and all was going well. Then she told me that she’d knitted me a gift and handed over a package. When I opened it and found a willy warmer, I knew immediately that we’d now lost the narrative. The guys filming the encounter loved this turn of events.

First, our waitress CiCi came over to see my gift. Then Fred wanted a look. When we had our post-meal interviews, again they wanted to talk about the willy warmer. As we were filmed leaving the restaurant and walking to a taxi, they shot the scene three times and three times urged us to mention the willy warmer. We thought that the knitting had been aired enough and refused. But, when the programme was broadcast, the end piece of text announced that “we’re pleased to reveal his willy warmer fits like a glove”. I guess that’s entertainment, folks.

Jean and I had got along well and I was keen to meet with her off-camera, so that evening I went round to her hotel for a drink and a chat. We thought that we might see each other again but, on reflection, we both felt that we really didn’t have enough in common. However, we became Facebook friends and have stayed in touch.

Then we waited …

Of course, as soon as lockdown came along, the world changed and it took many months before TwentyTwenty could film new matches and complete a new series. But Channel Four liked our segment and it was decided to include it in the 2021 Valentine special edition of the programme. This meant that the company wanted another interview with me to tailor the material to the Valentine theme.

I had to wear the same clothes as for my first filmed interview almost a year ago (I was sent a picture showing what I wore at the time) and I had to look as I did then (so I had to remove a beard that I’d grown in what was now our third national lockdown). My interviewer was Jenny and we recorded about 30 minutes of further material, of which of course only a couple of minutes was actually used.

At the time of the actual meal, the sense of ‘star for a day’ was accentuated by the taking of post-lunch promotional photographs. This seemed a bit ‘over the top’ but, on the week that the programme went out, the “TV Times” featured photos of Jean and me to highlight the broadcast.

All the promotional material for the Valentine episode – and a voiceover introducing me on the programme itself – described me as a “retired politician”. In fact, only the first six years of my professional life were in politics and I never held elective office. Most of my career was spent as a nation trade union official – but I suppose that didn’t sound so exciting.

Obviously, once the programme went out, I was intrigued to see how all the extensive filmed material was cut and stitched together. Understandably, so little of the material is actually used, but I think that the team do a really good job to produce stories that are moving and entertaining and honest. So I found the process fascinating and fun.

The story has a happy ending. People seem to like the programme. And, although Jean and I did not see each other again, I went back to online dating and I’ve now found someone special.

Footnote: If you haven’t seen the programme and would like to do so, you can see the full episode (series 16, episode 4) by signing up to All4 or you can find a clip on YouTube (search for: First Dates + Roger).

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Something to cheer you up in these dark times

February 9th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This blog has readers from around the world but, if you’re resident in the UK, I have a treat for you this evening. On Channel Four television at 10 pm, there is a special Valentine edition of the series “First Dates”.

Each show pairs four couples and I’ll be the guy in the second couple. Tomorrow I’ll blog about what it was like to be on the programme and how it all worked out. Meanwhile: enjoy.

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Word of the day: meliorism

February 8th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Meliorism is the doctrine that the world tends to become better or may be made better by human effort. It comes from the Latin word melior which means better.

I first came across the term meliorism today when reading a new book: a biography of the new US president Joe Biden by Evan Osnos.

Osnos uses the word in the sentence: “The tensions afflicting the Democratic Party reflected a clash between liberal meliorism – the ‘long view’ politics of [Barack] Obama and [Joe] Biden – and the urgent movement that [Bernie] Sanders called a ‘revolution’ .”

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“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama (6)

February 6th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Large sections of the last 250 pages of the book are devoted to different areas and aspects of foreign policy. In so far as it is fair to summarise Obama’s approach in a single sentence, that would be his assertion that: “I was determined to shift a certain mindset that had gripped not just the Bush administration but much of Washington – one that saw threats around every corner, took a perverse pride in acting unilaterally, and considered military action as an almost routine means of addressing foreign policy challenges”.

As well the issue of climate change, he takes the reader through relations with Iran, Russia and China followed by discussion of the Middle East and the Arab Spring. As his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does in her memoirs “Hard Choices”, he explains some of the many conflicting considerations in any decision. “The world was messy”, he writes, and “in the conduct of foreign policy, I had to constantly balance competing interests, interests shaped by the choices of previous administrations and the contingencies of the moment”.

After the soaring expectations of Obama’s election, he concedes that “For most of my second year in office, we were in the barrel”. The reason was clear: “The economy still stank“. He refers to “the cumulative effects of exhaustion” and acknowledges that “Everybody was sleep deprived”. The mid-term elections are usually bad news for the party holding the presidency, but this time it was a disaster: “The Democrats had been routed, tracking towards a loss of 63 House seats, the worst beating the party had taken since sacrificing 72 seats at the mid-point of FDR’s second term”.

However, this volume of memoirs concludes with a chapter on the killing of Osama bin Laden, an action which was very popular with the US electorate. It is a dramatic conclusion to the book, but it is only two and a half year’s into the first term of the Obama presidency. So the second volume of these fascinating and eloquent memoirs will have to cover the next five and a half years.

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Ever heard of the Schumann resonances?

February 5th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

No, neither had I – until today. A friend of mine, who is very spiritual, explained that her troubled week might be related to a high value of the Schumann resonances. As a sceptic, I am profoundly doubtful about all spiritual phenomena or explanations, but I was assured that Schumann resonances are a real thing.

Having checked, I find that my friend is right. The Schumann resonances (SR) are a set of spectrum peaks in the extremely low frequency (ELF) portion of the Earth‘s electromagnetic field spectrum. Schumann resonances are global electromagnetic resonances, generated and excited by lightning discharges in the cavity formed by the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere.

You can learn more here.

If, unlike me, you see this scientific phenomenon in terms of the Earth’s aura in resonance with the human aura, you might be interested in this posting.

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A review of the new film “The White Tiger”

February 3rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Inevitably, this film will be compared with “Slumdog Millionaire”. Both tell the story of a young man’s rise in urban India; both are based on novels by Indian writers: both have Western directors.

But “Slumdog” – while including some tough elements – was ultimately a feel-good rom-com with a message of redemption, while “Tiger” is a darker film with more violence and a lack of morality in its narrative. Both unashamedly show the poverty in India, but “Tiger” underlines the caste basis of much of this poverty and the systematic corruption of the political and business worlds of this flawed democracy.

In an impressive performance, Adarsh Gourav plays the lowest-caste villager Balram Halwai who manages a spectacular rise to successful entrepreneur, initially using obsequiousness and cunning, but later deploying much more hard-hitting methods. In being the very rare creature who escapers from destitution, he is the white tiger – or, if you like, the black swan – of the title.

American-born director and writer Ramin Bahrani has done an excellent job in making a commercial film about what is essentially a political critique of modern India which manages to combine humour and excitement with darkness and even death. The colours and sounds of vibrant India are very much on display and there is some clever camerawork in a tale which is always enthralling.

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A review of the new film “The Dig”

February 2nd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

It’s 1939 and war clouds are gathering over Europe and fighter aircraft – from RAF Martlesham (incidentally now the site of BT’s research centre) – are in the skies over Suffolk. Wealthy landowner and widower Lady Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) engages local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the mounds on her land, leading to a wonderful discovery of Anglo-Saxon remains.

This might seem an unlikely narrative for a film but it works very well – in effect telling three inter-linked stories: the revelation that the Dark Ages were not so dark, the classic prejudices of pre-war Britain, and a subplot involving a romance between two young characters (played by Lily James and Johnny Flynn).

Fiennes is brilliant as the wise local and demonstrates a fine Suffolk accent. Mulligan is an odd choice for the role of Pretty since she is a full two decades younger than the character she is portraying, but she is a marvellous actor and I guess that the early declaration that this is “based on a true story” allows for interpretation rather than strict representation.

Having watched this quiet and charming film, one wants to run round immediately to the British Museum to which Pretty donated the Sutton Hoo find but, since Netflix released the movie in the middle of a third coronavirus lockdown, sadly this is not possible.

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